By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Deputy Prime Minister yesterday said he wants the Bahamas to match Jamaica's 70th 'ease of business' ranking "in the shortest time possible", but admitted: "It won't be overnight."
K P Turnquest told Tribune Business he was under "no illusions" about the extent of the task facing the Government and private sector in hauling the Bahamas up the World Bank's index, acknowledging that regional rivals were still "out-performing" this nation.
Pointing out that the Bahamas remained in the world's "bottom half" for 'business ease', Mr Turnquest said significant improvement was "vitally important" for private sector confidence and this nation's ability to compete for foreign direct investment (FDI) capital.
The Bahamas saw a modest year-over-year improvement in its ranking, moving up two spots from 121st to 119th, and the Deputy Prime Minister pledged there would be further improvement within the next two-three years.
"We're clearly moving in the right direction," Mr Turnquest said of the improvement, "but it also signals there's a lot of work to be done. We're still in the bottom half of that [World Bank] list, and regional competitors are out-performing us.
"This is a competition for investment dollars. Not only are we competing regionally but globally, and we have to be competitive in all aspects, as capital is very mobile. We have to be as good as, or better than, the next guy to attract and keep it."
Asked about specific improvement targets, Mr Turnquest said the Bahamas needed to catch up, and match, the rankings achieved by Caribbean 'ease of doing business' leaders - specifically Jamaica.
"I expect to be in competition with Jamaica at 70," the Deputy Prime Minister told Tribune Business. "We have to look at our use of technology, see how we can better deploy our resources and make the processes more efficient.
"We're not in this business by ourselves. We have to benchmark ourselves and make sure we're in the game, competitive and attractive to foreign direct investment and local investment.
"I have personally challenged my Ministry of look at the top-ranked country [New Zealand] and benchmark ourselves against them, seeing what the impediments are to achieving the same level of efficiency, whether it's internal processes or legislative amendments to be made, and determine the path to getting there in the shortest time period," Mr Turnquest continued.
"Jamaica has made some significant advancements in investing in technology. We have no illusions that improvement is going to be overnight, but we have the internal will to get there as quickly as possible."
The Bahamas' 119th ranking in the World Bank's index, which measures the efficiency of a country's regulatory and business processes, places it behind economic 'powerhouses' such as Papua New Guinea and Malawi. It even lies behind the 114th-placed West Bank and Gaza strip, which have had to contend with decades of Israeli blockades, plus political and economic turbulence.
Among the Latin American and Caribbean region, the Bahamas ranks 20th out of 32 nations. Jamaica is the Caribbean leader in 70th position, followed by St Lucia at 91st, hurricane-ravaged Dominica at 98th, and the Dominican Republic at 99th.
The Bahamas is also behind Trinidad & Tobago and Antigua & Barbuda, although it is ahead of Barbados. While this nation has "stopped the bleeding" by ending successive years of decline in the World Bank's index, its modest improvement shows that fundamental reform is pivotal to reigniting economic growth.
The World Bank's annual 'ease of doing business' index is used as a key indicator by international investors to guide them in their decision-making, as it enables them to gauge how easy it is to conduct commerce in a particular nation.
They will be especially wary of allocating capital to projects in low-ranked nations, or those that have suffered consecutive falls such as the Bahamas, as this gives them the impression that their investments will be unsafe, and caught up in too much bureaucracy and red tape.
The Minnis administration has placed particular emphasis on improving the 'ease of doing' business, both in perception and reality, given that smooth regulatory processes are especially important to a Bahamian economy positioned as an international financial and business centre (IFC).
It has appointed a national 'ease of doing business' committee, co-chaired by Lynn Holowesko and Bryan Glinton, to develop recommendations and a strategy for alleviating bureaucratic bottlenecks and private sector frustration.
Mr Turnquest yesterday placed great faith in the committee's work, revealing that the Government was already considering "the first preliminary reports" coming from it on ways to improve the Bahamas' 'ease of doing business'.
"The ease of starting and continuing in business, paying taxes and regulatory oversight are important aspects that have to be addressed," he said. "All of these we are in the process of reviewing to make some significant improvements in processes. Hopefully over the next two to three years we will see some improvements in this regard."
The Bahamas' highest individual category ranking in the World Bank index was for the 'ease of paying taxes', where it rated 55th. The only other area where it ranked in the world's top third was on resolving insolvency (64th), and it made the 'top 100' on just two other indicators - obtaining construction permits, where it ranked 86th, and in enforcing contracts where it placed 74th.
The Bahamas still found itself in just 108th spot out of 190 on 'starting a business'. It also remained near-bottom on registering property (167th), due to the time taken on title searches and lodging/recording a conveyance at the Registry of Records.
The Bahamas was also ranked 142nd on the 'ease of getting credit'; 117th for the 'ease of getting electricity'; 129th on minority investor protection; and 157th for 'trading across borders'.