By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A small business adviser is pledging to “knock on the door” of the new government as early as today, arguing that “we can’t wait another five minutes” for the sector’s long-promised legislation.
Mark Turnquest, of Mark A. Turnquest Consulting, yesterday told Tribune Business that despite manifesto promises to aid Bahamian-owned small businesses, none of the main political parties had set a timeline for doing so.
Challenging the incoming government to pass the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) Development Act within 100 days of yesterday’s general election, Mr Turnquest warned that swift action was essential to restore hope among Bahamian entrepreneurs.
Two successive administrations, FNM and PLP, have failed to deliver on previous promises to take this Act through Parliament, and Mr Turnquest argued that the Bahamian small business sector will continue to “stagnate” without the structured support it promises.
“Right now, the business community is not growing how it’s supposed to, and we don’t feel excited about the environment where we work every day,” Mr Turnquest told this newspaper.
“You have to be here, working like I do with businesses on a daily basis, to understand the challenges they face.
“All the political parties’ manifestos imply that the SME Act will be legislated, but they don’t put a timeline on it. It could be five years, and we can’t wait another five minutes.”
Mr Turnquest said both the Free National Movement (FNM) and Democratic National Alliance (DNA) had pledged in their manifestos to pass legislation similar to the SME Act as originally proposed, while the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) promised similar support structures.
All were “singing a tune” that Bahamian small businesses and entrepreneurs have heard before, and Mr Turnquest said the sector was getting “tired” of waiting for action.
“It’s almost 10 years later, and it’s still going on,” he added, pointing out that much of the framework/groundwork for the SME Act had been completed from 2009.
“We need hope. My clients say: ‘Turnquest, they’re only trying to make you and I feel good by putting this in the marketplace’. They don’t feel like it’s going to be done soon.
“That’s why it has to happen in the first 100 days. We’ve had the gaming ‘referendum;’, the gender equality referendum.. the Small Business Act should be a priority for the new administration. We can’t create anything new without this legislation being passed, and it’s been ready since at least 2012,” Mr Turnquest continued.
“All they’ve got to do is dust it off, tweak it and determine the best way forward. It’s almost 10 years and nothing has happened yet. Today, the clock has started for the first 100 days, and the Small Business Act can only be a priority. What else is there to do? Whoever wins, I’m going to knock on their door on Thursday.”
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, 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 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.
Mr Turnquest told Tribune Business that the Bahamas’ economic “stagnation” showed a new development formula, which shifted this nation from its traditional reliance on major foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, was required.
“We talk about the ease of doing business,we talk about competitiveness, but we are in the same boat as Trinidad and Barbados with these downgrades flying at us,” he said.
“We still have high deficits, a high national debt, and we need GDP growth of 3-4 per cent or more. The formula of big business by itself doesn’t work. It’s obvious that the formula over the past two administrations doesn’t work.”
Mr Turnquest said the solution was to grow Bahamian ownership, entrepreneurship and small businesses, and rescue them from the “stagnation” experienced over the past decade.
Pointing out that small businesses are the driving force of most economies, Mr Turnquest said the clients advised by himself and his associates are “not hiring, not increasing sales”.
“For two years they’ve been really stagnant and cannot grow. We have to motivate ourselves when things are tough,” he told Tribune Business.
“The number one challenge is stagnation. There’s no growth in the community in the absence of serious commitment to small business growth.”