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Immigration Policy Kills Arbitration

EDITOR, The Tribune

AS LONG ago as 2006, imaginative lawyers like Bar leader Peter Maynard as well as financial executives began encouraging arbitration in the Bahamas.

Enthusiastic seminars were held. In 2010 an Arbitration Act became law. In December 2013, Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder announced formation of the nine-person Arbitration Council, given the “green light” by the Prime Minister. In March 2014, a visiting expert told a conference here that the Bahamas has the potential to become the centre of arbitration for the Americas, and in October our Attorney General formally endorsed the concept.

I take great interest in this subject because my older brother, Robert Coulson, was for many years President of the American Arbitration Association based in New York City. Occasionally serving as an arbitrator, his main task was to travel not only the USA but much of the world preaching the cause of arbitration, explaining how it works, how in most commercial disputes it is better than litigation and helping to educate panels of arbitrators, even achieving success behind the Iron Curtain.

Thus I was distressed to read in last week’s Tribune that Bahamian attorney Caryl Lashley, a member of our Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, believes that government must remove a major obstacle before we can hope to become a jurisdiction for arbitration and international dispute resolution.

Ms Lashley bluntly identified the obstacle, the elephant in the room that government nervously tip-toes around - our immigration policy. Any in-flow of qualified foreign counsel and arbitrators is impossible under present inflexible rules. These are lawyers who have no intention of displacing our local bar but simply need, often on short notice, a few weeks or months to represent their clients, but nevertheless find themselves barred, unable to get work permits.

A good immigration policy must have two sides: “reject the bad guys and the indigent”, and “invite the good guys and the productive”. Minister Fred Mitchell is ferocious on the first, but his grim-faced tirade at this year’s Business Outlook Conference showed he has zero commitment to the second half of the policy. He had not a good word to say for the immigrant races whose families are now fully integrated here, or any proposals to attract more of the foreign technocrats who enhance our economic growth.

He either is ignorant of, or has no interest in, the balanced policy of high-growth Singapore that actively encourages arbitrators and other qualified immigrants.

Sadly I must agree with Ms Lashley’s doubts about the near-term future of international arbitration in the Bahamas. Divisive as Fred Mitchell may be, Mr Christie is unlikely to risk a Cabinet row by sacking him or up-ending his immigration regime.

So the road-block to arbitration may continue, as another brake on our economy, another brake on foreign investment, despite Fred’s recent words of fatuous optimism.

RICHARD COULSON

Nassau,

July 26, 2015.

Comments

Economist 6 years, 9 months ago

Immigration policy is also killing foreign investment and creating mass unemployment.

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