By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas may need to completely restructure the way it does business to “stop the slippage” in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings, amid concerns the Government is incapable of solving the problem.
Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive, told Tribune Business it was “very concerning” that the Bahamas’ decline appeared to be accelerating.
As revealed by Tribune Business last week, the Bahamas slumped from 84th to 97th in this year’s World Bank table, and Mr Sumner said the country needed to adopt a “holistic approach” to determine why this “negative reputation” was attaching itself.
Suggesting that the Bahamas may have to “restructure” the laws, regulations and policies that impact how business is conducted, Mr Sumner agreed that it seemed to be standing still while other nations moved forward.
The BCCEC chief executive said the Bahamas could not think it had “arrived” simply because its economy was stronger than many others in the region, adding that this nation always had to be “at the cutting edge” to maintain its competitiveness.
Mr Sumner’s concerns were laid bare in an e-mail to other BCCEC Board of Directors members, in which he suggested that the Government seemed unable to remedy the Bahamas’ slippage.
“You will note that the Bahamas has dropped rank again, and of all the areas of doing business surveyed, the Bahamas dropped rank in all except one: We increased our ranking in the area of paying taxes,” he wrote.
“This certainly does not bode well for the Bahamas, and we as the private sector must find a way to stop this slippage, since the Government seem not to be able to fix the situation.”
In a subsequent interview, Mr Sumner told Tribune Business that BCCEC Board members had already started reviewing the Ease of Doing Business 2015 report, with the goal of developing a position paper/recommendations for consumption by both the Government and private sector.
He added: “We want to see why it is we have been dropping in the rankings for the last several reports, as opposed to other countries like Trinidad that have been improving.
“We want to see why this is, and stop this slippage. It’s very concerning, the ranking and the way that’s done.
“We’ve got to look at this from a holistic point of view, in determining what in the country and the economy is leading to this kind of negative reputation coming back to us,” Mr Sumner said.
“It may mean we have to look seriously at the way we’re doing business, and may mean we have to restructure a lot of the laws and regulations in place now, and address these challenges that have caused us to decline in this list in every successive report.”
Mr Sumner suggested that the Government and public sector should be as equally as concerned as the private sector about the slippage.
And he emphasised the need for innovation to “get off that decline and put us back on the right path”.
In his e-mail to BCCEC Board directors, Mr Sumner recalled: “One of the initiatives we recommended to the Government was to allow the BCCEC to administer the business register for business in the Bahamas.
“In all non-English speaking Caribbean countries, the Chamber of Commerce (or their equivalent) manages that function. We have been studying the Suriname model, which is perhaps the most successful model in the region.
“I met with the president of the Suriname Chamber of Commerce on two occasions this year, and they are quite prepared to assist us in setting up the systems as a national business registry if we are given the chance by the Government.”
Mr Sumner told Tribune Business that other Caribbean nations, unlike the Bahamas, had innovation centres and departments that were constantly thinking up new ideas that reformed the way business was done.
Suggesting that these countries were gaining a competitive advantage over the Bahamas, he added: “We should not think that because we’re Bahamians, and we have a strong economy and financial services sector, we cannot rest on that and think we have arrived.”
The World Bank’s 2015 ease of doing business rankings showed the Bahamas fell from 84th spot last year, dropping in six out of the 10 categories that are used to assess 189 nations.
This nation maintained its 125th spot when it came to ‘enforcing contracts’, and managed to improve its rankings in just three categories. One of these was a nine spot jump in ‘trading across borders’, where the Bahamas rose from 72nd to 63rd spot.
But one of the improvements was in the ‘registering property’ category - where the Bahamas managed to jump just three spots - from 182nd spot to 179th.
This leaves this nation just 10 spots from the ‘bottom of the pile’.
Then, in a development likely to be greeted with ironic cheers by some in the business community, the Bahamas achieved its biggest improvement - and highest rating - in the ease of ‘paying taxes’ category. This nation jumped from 45th to 31st in the world in this category.
Both the Christie administration and its predecessor have repeatedly promised to enact reforms that will improve the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ in the Bahamas, such as upgrades to the Registrar General’s Department.
Yet the rankings plummet indicates this nation is either failing to deliver on its promises, or that reforms are being ignored and the Bahamas is not getting the credit it deserves.