By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
DEMOCRATIC National Alliance (DNA) interim leader Chris Mortimer yesterday slammed the controversial Commercial Enterprises Bill as “poorly constructed and unfocused,” contending the bill, as presented, is a complete departure from the government’s promise to “facilitate the empowerment of Bahamian entrepreneurs”.
In a statement released by the party Wednesday, Mr Mortimer branded the Minnis administration a group of “grandstanding hypocrites”.
Mr Mortimer also backed the criticism the bill has faced, insisting it promotes the interests of wealthy foreigners over Bahamians.
The Commercial Enterprises 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 Mortimer stated: “The idea that this sham of a legislation will somehow expand the middle class or create opportunities for Bahamians will undoubtedly fail, leaving our already fragile economy in a more precarious state.”
He said the bill was so severe in nature, it forced former Prime Minister and Leader of the FNM Hubert Ingraham to speak out against it.
Mr 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.
“Rather than the same old outdated, and FDI-reliant policies, the Bahamas must implement country first, SME focused economic model which strengthens small and medium size Bahamian enterprises,” Mr Mortimer insisted.
“This is the kind of policy that has proven to be the growth engine of every strong economy.
“The DNA has long advocated policies which provide incentives for such entities including a significant reduction in the cost of capital, and an overhaul of the currently regressive business licence structure to a flat rate structure which allows business to keep more of the money they earn.
“Coupled with plans to drive down the cost of energy and improve the ease of doing business such policies would quickly usher in an era of economic prosperity for all Bahamians,” Mr Mortimer continued.
He also claimed he was disappointed by the government’s insistence in the face of the bill’s opposition, claiming the government is pursuing the same visionless course of action which has stagnated economic growth in this country for years.
Mr Mortimer furthered: “Equally disappointing, has been the reaction of the Official Opposition who, after failing in five years to stimulate any real economic growth, is now filled with righteous indignation and are threatening to repeal the bill if returned to office.”
Mr Mortimer asserted that in the face of the PLP’s dismal record on the economy during its 2012-2017 tenure as government, PLP Leader Philip ‘Brave’ Davis’ threats now “ring hollow” and stand “eerily reminiscent” of the empty threats waged by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis on Baha Mar while in opposition.
“Bahamians no doubt found it curious to hear the finance minister condemn the assertion of a repeal as unfortunate, dangerous and harmful to investor confidence when the leader of his own party just months ago threatened to execute a ‘real sale’ of the largest investment in the country.
“Where was Mr Turnquest’s rebuke of those statements then, where was his outrage?
“The DNA admonishes both the government and opposition to abandon this exercise in political grandstanding and work together, putting country and Bahamians first, to find real dynamic solutions to pull the country out of the economic doldrums,” Wednesday’s statement concluded.
Debate on the bill begins in the Senate on Monday.