By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government’s small business development strategy is “too fragmented”, a consultant yesterday urging it to “tie” all activities to the sector’s long-awaited legislation.
Mark Turnquest, of Mark A. Turnquest Consulting, told Tribune Business that the promised Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) Development Bill needed to drive all initiatives designed to advance entrepreneurship, not the other way around.
He suggested that the small business development strategies pursued by previous administrations had been hopelessly muddled and confused, with the likes of the Bahamas Development Bank (BDB), government-sponsored venture capital fund and Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) all doing their own thing with no central co-ordination.
Disclosing that Cabinet Ministers had “signalled” they were prepared to bring the promised legislation forward, Mr Turnquest said the SME Development Act could serve as the tool that would prevent government agencies operating in isolation.
“If you want to develop Over-the-Hill, plug that into the Small Business Act,” he told Tribune Business. “If you want to develop the Family Islands, plug that into the Small Business Act. If you want small business centres, plug that in.
“Every initiative should be tied directly to the Small Business Act. It’s supposed to speak directly to the entrepreneurship centres, the tourism centres; everything is supposed to be tied into the Small Business Act, all of them, not the Act tied to them.
“It’s too fragmented,” Mr Turnquest said of the current small business support structure. “Every strategic initiative to drive small business now is fragmented - BAIC, BDB and the venture fund. All of them are supposed to be tied into the Small Business Act, not the Small Business Act tied into them.”
The Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) Development Bill is now into its third administration, having initially been conceived under the last Ingraham government between 2007-2012. Its Christie administration also failed to bring it to Parliament, meaning the proposed legislation has now been around a decade in the making.
The SME legislation, as initially drafted, proposed the creation of the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDA), which was to function as the ‘one-stop shop’ for providing and co-ordinating assistance to the sector.
SMEDA’s proposed role was to assist small businesses with crafting business plans and access to capital, as well as co-ordinating the necessary support they required from other government agencies and the private sector, such as marketing, accounting and human resource functions.
The Christie administration initially conducted much work on the draft SME Act, engaging consultants to develop the draft legislation and support agencies/structures, and consulting with the private sector.
However, the momentum stalled and the initiative appeared to be overtaken by the National Development Plan (NDP). Khaalis Rolle, former minister of state for investments, previously told Tribune Business that the Government wanted to ensure the SME Act aligned properly with the NDP’s objectives.
The Minnis administration’s manifesto committed the Government to assist Bahamian small businesses and entrepreneurs, placing emphasis on former FNM initiatives such as the Fresh Start and Jump Start programmes. Since taking office, it has also focused on the Small Business Entrepreneur Centre planned at the University of the Bahamas in partnership with the US Small Business Development Centres.
Mr Turnquest yesterday said his Deputy Prime Minister namesake had indicated to him that the Government would put the SME Bill forward for legislating prior to year-end 2017.
“I saw what I call signals that it was going to be legislated between now and December,” he told Tribune Business.
However, he criticised the Government’s failure to-date to seek input and advice from entrepreneurs in the sector and consultants such as himself.
Mr Turnquest urged it to speak to those who have “skin in the game” and “understand the dynamics” before it finalised its strategy to support Bahamian small businesses.
“They don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he added. “It takes too much time. As I speak, we don’t have a national definition of what is a small business in this country.
“I don’t want the FNM government to run into the same problems as the PLP. We’re not asking for money; we understand the country is broke. But right now I have people, small businesses coming to me and saying they’ve about given up again; there’s nothing happening.”
Mr Turnquest urged the Government to first focus on passing the SME Bill as enabling legislation, plus come up with a definition for what constitutes a small business in the Bahamas. Once that was accomplished, it could then target strategies to cure the sector’s ills.
“The Government is working from the top down, not the bottom up, and that has failed the country for 10 years,” he said. “You have to get the Small Business Act framework first, and then plug into that all the development strategies and clearly articulate what is going on.
“We have 15 different strategies going 15 different places without any co-ordination. The Government thinks they know what they’re doing, but they’re going on the same path with no one direction and it’s not focused.
“I must thank them for signalling they’re willing to help small businesses, and I know they have the motivation to do so, but the problem is that the strategy is not aligned with the vision, and that will cost us time, money and waste a lot of resources.”