By Richard Coulson
In the first year of his FNM administration, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has been slow off the ground in announcing new business ventures. Of course, it’s not the function of Government to create commercial entities, but rather to set a business-friendly environment that will attract private sector applicants, select the most promising and then support them without bureaucratic red-tape.
Dr Minnis was initially held back by the legacy of the PLP leadership, whose inefficiency and lethargy, periodic corruption and general resistance to modern business principles drove away many investors, both foreign and domestic. Their devotion to statist control has long blocked the privatisation of obvious candidates BahamasAir and ZNS.
In the last few months, a welcome new breath is noticeable. The choice of Grand Bahama for a substantial subsidiary by hi-tech consultancy firm GIBC Digital is just the sort of news to revitalise that suffering island. Approval of the Emera electric power take-over showed another vote of confidence, as have the announced expansion plans in Freeport’s industrial sector, from Pharmachem to the Grand Bahama Shipyard. When the long-negotiated sale of Grand Lucaya hotel is finally consummated, Grand Bahama will be well on the way to recovery, with kudos to be shared by Government and the Port Authority - historical antagonists.
In Nassau, the new broom has swept out deadwood left by the PLP. The disastrous contract for US company Power Secure to run our public electricity system was quickly cancelled and replaced by a Bahamian management structure.
More recently, the tough decision, long-hanging fire, was made to import LNG as the principal fuel supply, a carbon derivative but a great improvement over the present seeping liquids.
The eternally vexing problem of the smoking and air-polluting landfill could not be solved by the PLP’s lap-dog company and will soon be assigned to a new candidate chosen by professionally managed competitive bidding.
The exciting news that Bahamas Petroleum Company (BPC) has found a major oil company to consider partnership in exploration leading to actual production could revolutionise our economic development, a high tide lifting all boats—provided the potential wealth is invested wisely, as in Norway, and not channeled to a crony group as in certain African nations. Government should allow BPC’s negotiations to proceed under careful regulation, without obstruction by strident arguments from well-meaning but misguided environmental extremists.
Unfortunately Dr Minnis’ image for experienced business judgment was tarnished by the highly visible Oban refinery project.
Although the venture may eventually prove feasible, his own inept and impetuous “missteps” have prejudiced its acceptability in the public eye, as questions still arise about legal approval, environmental impact and financial benefit to the country.
Dr Minnis could squelch these questions with a clear response, while also tackling other matters that have a direct effect on business: turtle-slow mail delivery and frustrating delays in building permits, tax certificates, immigration papers, and passport issuance - all the tedious stuff that fails to energise our civil servants but is essential in a modern economy.