By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian entrepreneur is “a bit afraid” of plans to consolidate the Government’s small business support agencies into one, suggesting his business would never have advanced under such a structure.
Mervin Sweeting, owner of Switcha, the growing Bahamian drinks producer, told Tribune Business that his company would never have received what it needed to develop had the Bahamas Development Bank (BDB) been in charge of the proposed Small Business Development Agency (SMEDA).
This newspaper revealed how Mr Sweeting and Switcha, who are now building a new 22,000 square foot production facility in Nassau, and have ambitions to expand internationally and to Andros, were turned down for financing by the BDB in 2009.
While the BDB branded Switcha “non-viable”, Mr Sweeting disclosed that it was the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) and its former chairman, Edison Key, who “loved my project” and helped him find its initial site .
“If the BDB was in charge, I would not have the land and couldn’t have got the financing,” Mr Sweeting told tribune Business, as he urged the Government and private sector to proceed cautiously with plans to consolidate the former’s business support services and agencies.
“It’s a good thing if they get it going, but it’s also dangerous in the same context,” Mr Sweeting said of the SMEDA plan, which aims to fold several agencies into one.
“You have to look at it from different angles. It [SMEDA] is needed, but now I’m a bit afraid of it based on the political climate.”
Instead of having the ability to go to several agencies for financing and business support services, Mr Sweeting said entrepreneurs could have just one reference point with SMEDA, making their plans vulnerable to being blocked by “political victimisation”.
“Knowing the political climate, the Government agencies cannot be trusted to perform honestly,” Mr Sweeting told Tribune Business. “The people there right now are not ready for that transparency and equality.”
As a result, he suggested that they be kept separate, with the focus placed on greater business support and recapitalising the likes of the BDB.
The Government’s proposed Small and Medium-Sized Businesses Development Bill envisages SMEDA as a ‘one-stop shop’ where small businesses and entrepreneurs can access all their needs. The private sector will have significant input into SMEDA’s direction and how it is run.