By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration missed it’s opportunity to “properly clarify” that only investments in a handful of specified industries can qualify for the proposed Commercial Enterprises Bill, admitted Financial Services, Trade and Industry Minister Brent Symonette on Friday.
Pushing back against much of the criticism that has faced the bill since it was introduced, the St Anne’s MP, throughout a presentation at the Rotary Club of East Nassau, stressed that the bill would only address operations in a set schedule of industries.
That schedule, according to Mr Symonette, includes operations in Captive Insurance, Reinsurance, Mutual Fund Administration, Arbitration, Wealth Management, International Trade, International Arbitrage, Computer Programming, Software Design and Writing; Bioinformatics and Analytics; Maritime Trade, Nano Technology, Biomedical Industries, Boutique Health Facilities, Data Storage or Warehousing, Aviation Approved Maintenance Operations, Aviation Registration and Call Centres.
“As you heard here today, the bill is restricted to the industries mentioned in the schedule, full stop,” Symonette contended. “It is a very clear bill. It is a very precise bill that deals with those issues – the granting of work permits and the granting of investment certificates.”
Asked to respond specifically to the controversy surrounding the $250,000 threshold proposed by the government, Mr Symonette added: “The threshold, as I have said before and I will repeat, is at $250,000 because in a place, something like a call centre, the issue you are talking about is persons with a bank of computers. So it is not like you need $1m to attract these areas where you can start these programmes.”
He continued: “I used in my talk today at Rotary the question of the bulk chartering of ships. Those ships don’t physically come to the Bahamas, so all you need is a telephone and a rolodex. But you may employ 30 people in the process of doing it.
“So that is where the $250,000 threshold will not be that great. Now, those people will rent homes, buy cars and go to the grocery store; none of that is included in the $250,000, it is the initial investment in terms of telephones, computer systems, whatever.”
The Commercial Enterprises Bill passed in the House of Assembly with unanimous support from the Free National Movement last week Wednesday and is headed to the Senate.
The bill aims to liberalise the granting of work permits to enterprises that wish to establish themselves in the Bahamas in niche sectors and require work permits for management and key personnel.
If passed, the bill would allow foreigners or Bahamians to receive “economic concessions” if they establish specified types of businesses in the Bahamas with an investment of no less than $250,000. Such businesses would be entitled to a specified number of work permits for executives, managers and people with “specialised knowledge”.
Mr Symonette on Friday said he doesn’t expect any changes to be made to the bill moving forward, calling the legislation “very specified” and “clear”.
He also indicated the Cabinet was expected to meet Saturday to further review the level of ease Bahamians face in doing business across the country.
Mr Symonette contended the time was now for the government to do all it could to diversify the economy and encourage business.
Debate on the bill begins in the Senate on Monday.