By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
A DAY after former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham gave a stinging assessment of the Commercial Enterprises Bill, Deputy Prime Minister K Peter Turnquest replied to the critique, saying everyone is entitled to their own view but should not sensationalise or read into the bill things that do not exist.
Pointedly asked about the former prime minister's concern regarding the bill's provision entitling businesses to a specified number of work permits, Mr Turnquest said: "Again we are attracting new industries. I cannot sit here and tell you for the sake of argument in a biomedical firm how many people they need to bring. I don't know.
"But any investment is going to have to go through the regular investment process where the business plan will be produced. They will have discussions with the BIA (Bahamas Investment Authority) about what they require. They will have conversations with immigration about what they require and what is available vs what is not available on the island and those decisions will be made.
"Again we are all entitled to our view but we must not try to sensationalise or read into this bill things that do not exist."
The bill's provision entitling businesses to a specified number of work permits were likened by Mr Ingraham to 1950s era policies that have long since been "discarded".
The bill would also 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." The bill's $250,000 threshold "is too low," Mr Ingraham said.
However, according to Minister of Financial Services and Immigration Brent Symonette, there are many businesses that do not require a "big set up".
He said there was no need to be scared about this aspect of the legislation.
Asked whether the government was of the mind to tweak the bill, Mr Turnquest said he could not answer the question, adding he believed the government was mindful of all the comments that have been made. He said officials would look to see whether the concerns were already addressed in the bill or whether there should be any amendments.
On Monday, Mr Ingraham critiqued the controversial CEB saying the Minnis administration should "rethink the bill and make necessary adjustments".
"I don't know if he attacked it," Mr Turnquest said in response to a question from The Tribune. "I think he has some concerns like a lot of Bahamians have some concerns. Certainly, we have to do a better job at educating the Bahamian public as to what it is we are trying to accomplish here.
"Again, there is no mystery here. There are no secrets or backroom dealings with respect to what we are trying to accomplish. As the bill outlines, we are trying to make the Bahamas more competitive so that we can attract these niche type industries that are either under represented or do not exist in the country and I think that's where Bahamians are getting a little confused and there's a lot of political spin around this and we understand that."
Mr Turnquest also echoed the sentiments of Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis in asserting the financial services sector is dying. This is something Mr Ingraham disagrees with, telling The Tribune on Monday that the sector is "vibrant and dynamic".
"We have to recognise that we haven't had any significant growth and in fact we've had negative growth over the last five years it's unsustainable," Mr Turnquest said.
"When we talk about disadvantaging Bahamian investors the truth of the matter is that if we could do this by ourselves we would have done it. We cannot grow this economy by ourselves. We need foreign direct investment. It is a fact because we are an open economy."
He also said: "The financial services industry is under a lot of pressure and we see it every time that we make an advancement in terms of conforming to so-called BEST practises the ball moves again and the latest right now is this base erosion profit shifting concept that has been brought in.
"We cannot sit here and do the things that we have done in the past not adapt our legislation. Not adapt our enabling environment to be competitive and to anticipate not just react but anticipate where the world is going and expect that we're going to have growth. This is about job creation for Bahamians. This is about creating opportunities for Bahamians that do not exist today.
"So when I hear this thing about the government favouring foreigners over domestic businesses that is nonsense. We are not about introducing foreign competition for Bahamian businesses. That is not what this bill is about.
"This is not about introducing foreigners to come and take jobs that Bahamians have or Bahamians are qualified to do. This is about creating new opportunities. This is about introducing new skills into the country that is designed such that those skills are transferred to Bahamians so that they could take advantage of those opportunities going forward," Mr Turnquest also said.