By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ALTHOUGH Free National Movement parliamentarians unanimously voted to pass the Commercial Enterprises Bill in the House of Assembly last week, Press Secretary Anthony Newbold, in the face of criticism from some, yesterday said the administration will consider “recommendations and suggestions” for the bill and incorporate those it believes have merit.
It’s not clear what timeline the government has set for considering the recommendations and debate on the bill, which begins in the Senate next Monday.
Mr Newbold’s comments came after former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham criticised most of the bill’s key provisions in an interview with The Tribune on Monday. Mr Ingraham said tradeoffs for Bahamians are not clear and the bill represents a piecemeal approach to changing longstanding immigration policies when a more comprehensive, bipartisan approach would be useful.
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.”
Asked if the Minnis administration is comfortable moving forward with the bill in view of the criticism, Mr Newbold said: “The administration has to accept that recommendations, suggestions, criticisms - that’s a part of the whole process of public consultation. The bill passed in the House of Assembly will be debated in the Senate beginning Monday. The attorney general has committed to speaking with several civil society groups, including the Chamber of Commerce who published a list of concerns they have. Whatever recommendations and suggestions the government thinks have merits, will be incorporated into that bill. No sane government will deliberately hurt its citizens.
“The former prime minister is a good Bahamian citizen, distinguished one actually, a three-term prime minister; he like everyone else should have a right to make commentary.”
Mr Newbold also appeared to reiterate Dr Minnis’ view about the health of the financial services sector. Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has said the sector is “dying” but Mr Ingraham said Monday the sector is “dynamic” and “evolving.”
“Financial services…has been on life support for some time now,” Mr Newbold said. “It’s been under threat for at least two decades. The Commercial Enterprises Bill is designed to do something differently from what we’ve been doing the last 40, 50 years. We all agree the economy is anemic; been that way for some time. We can’t keep doing that the same way; we have to do something different.”
Traditionally, the National Economic Council (NEC) has been responsible for considering investment policies and matters.
Mr Newbold yesterday refused to reveal who Dr Minnis has appointed to this council.
“I will let the prime minister decide [to release the identities],” he said. “He hasn’t given me approval to release those names yet. I’m not going to give you anything, but he will.”
Both the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) and the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) have released press statements calling on the administration to disclose the identities of the people on the NEC. But the administration, which campaigned on a pledge of transparency, have not done so as yet.
It’s not clear whether those on the NEC advised the government on the Commercial Enterprises Bill.
Opposition Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said yesterday: “I’m not only interested in who they have appointed, I want to know if they had impact on this bill. Transparency, accountability, they are catchy words. If they say they are transparent, release the names.”