By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known small business consultant says he will “push the Government hard” to pass legislation deemed vital to the sector’s growth prospects by March 2015.
Mark Turnquest, principal in Mark A. Turnquest & Associate Companies, told Tribune Business that the consultant team working on the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Bill had completed its task, and submitted its final report and recommendations to the Government.
Emphasising that it was now the Christie administration’s decision on how to move the proposed Bill forward, Mr Turnquest warned that its impact - even when passed - would not be felt “overnight”.
Disclosing that much “infrastructure development” was required once the law was passed, he explained that it would likely take six months to properly structure the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDA).
SMEDA, which the legislation will create, is intended to play the key role in implementing a Bill its provisions - which are all designed to foster a more sustainable, thriving small and medium-sized business sector.
Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business he would press for SMEDA to be operational by 2015 year-end, as it will effectively co-ordinate the work of all the Government’s existing business support agencies.
Mr Turnquest, who was part of the consultant team that worked on the Bill, revealed to this newspaper: “We just concluded on the strategic plan for SMEDA. It’s finished, and we have given it to the Ministry of Finance.
“We finished the report by Jennifer Edwards in reference to how SMEDA should look. Everything is finalised in terms of how its operations should be structured. All the groundwork is finished.
“The only thing is for the Government to finalise how they want to proceed. The only thing the Government has to decide is when they want to bring the legislation.”
Tribune Business previously revealed how the August 28 report, by Compete Caribbean’s Dr Jennifer Edwards, recommended that SMEDA only allocate 20 per cent of its funding to cover operational expenses, freeing “no less than $8 million” per year to assisting Bahamian entrepreneurs.
The report also called for the Bahamas to draft regulations to accompany the Bill, and give it enforcement teeth, plus bring its definition of the small business sector into line with that of other Caribbean nations.
The Bill has been a long time in development, having initially been proposed and drafted under the former Ingraham administration before it was voted out of office in May 2012.
Some observers have privately expressed concern to Tribune Business that it might go the same way as the proposed Contractors Bill, which has undergone numerous revisions under multiple administrations, and has yet to make it to Cabinet, Parliament or the statute book.
In fairness, the attention of the Government, and its Ministry of Finance, have likely been distracted by other pressing policy issues in recent months, such as Value-Added Tax (VAT) and associated fiscal woes, plus the gaming legislation.
Now, with these matters progressed closer to completion, Mr Turnquest and others in the small business are hoping the Christie administration will move on the SMEDA Bill in the New Year.
“I’m going to push the Government hard to have it legislated by March next year, and most definitely to have SMEDA done by the end of next year,” Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business.
“It’s going to take six months after the legislation is passed to get SMEDA fully functional, with staff, chairman, a Board of Directors and proper location.
“It’s not going to be done overnight. There’s a lot of infrastructure development.”
SMEDA’s main role will be to arrest the relatively high failure rate among Bahamian start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, and aid many more in making the growth transition to medium-sized and larger businesses.
It will effectively be established as a ‘one stop shop’ for various forms of business support and advice, with SMEDA putting entrepreneurs in contact with marketing, accounting, legal and other forms of professional advice.
The agency will also likely help entrepreneurs develop viable business plans that can be presented to potential financiers and capital providers. However, SMEDA itself will not engage in lending to small businesses and entrepreneurs, though it may provide guarantees.
The initial strategy had called for the Government’s other business support functions and agencies, such as the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC), Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund and Bahamas Development Bank (BDB), to be incorporated into SMEDA.
Mr Turnquest, though, told Tribune Business that the revised plan was for all these agencies to now remain as standalone entities, with SMEDA acting as ‘the glue’ binding them together.
The BDB, even though less than 30 per cent of its outstanding gross loan portfolio is ‘performing’, will remain “an optional” source of debt financing for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“All of them will be standing alone, and SMEDA is just going to be a supporting mechanism,” Mr Turnquest explained.
“It’s going to be the overarching mechanism to make sure that all the business service organisations are focused on small businesses, run efficiently and effectively, and there are synergies between the organisations.
“It’s to make sure there’s harmony and a good business environment, so that all businesses can succeed.”