By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The DNA's ex-leader yesterday blasted that his ongoing two-and-a-half year wait for an aviation charter licence proves "doing business in The Bahamas is a nightmare".
Branville McCartney, pictured, told Tribune Business that he "lives every day" what this nation's 118th place ranking in the World Bank's "ease of doing business" index highlights, with the bureaucracy and "red tape" involved in dealing with government agencies continuing to stifle Bahamian and foreign investment.
Arguing that "the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing" in many government agencies, the Halsbury Chambers principal described The Bahamas' business ease - or lack of it - as a "deterrent" and "turn off" to innovative entrepreneurs.
Mr McCartney revealed that he often "finds it easier to do business in a foreign jurisdiction" than The Bahamas, as he called upon the Minnis administration's many Cabinet ministers from the private sector to deliver on pre-election promises to reduce the cost and time associated with permit applications.
Reminded of the Government's campaign pledges to improve The Bahamas' "ease of doing business" rankings, the former DNA leader replied: "I'll tell you this: A comfort is a promise to a fool.
"Nothing has changed," he added of The Bahamas' one-spot rise in the World Bank rankings. "That's not significant at all. The reality is that doing business in The Bahamas is a nightmare.
"I live it, I'm in it, and with the variety of businesses I have I deal with it every day. It has been a nightmare. I'm sure I speak for every business person in The Bahamas. Trying to get things out of the Government agencies, many times they don't know what they're doing because certain circumstances have changed, policies have changed, and the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing."
Mr McCartney cited the continuing two-and-a-half year wait for an aviation charter licence, endured by himself and his brother-in-law, as a prime example of the obstacles and bureaucracy that "turn off" Bahamian businessmen from investing in their own country.
"We haven't got that licence yet," he blasted to Tribune Business. "I had to speak to the Minister, Dionisio D'Aguilar, who was very helpful because he was frustrated himself. He put a fire under the agency we had to go through to get the approval.
"For Christ's sake, if not for him we would be running into a brick wall at every step. They're now moving on it but the process is very slow. They also changed some of their policies and processes because of the recent crash [in Andros], and one department does not know what the other is doing because of the changes. I find it difficult. It's a deterrent."
Tribune Business revealed yesterday that the World Bank has seemingly concluded that it is easier to do business in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Palestinian territories regularly bombarded and blockaded by the Israeli military, than The Bahamas because they were ranked two places higher at 116th.
K P Turnquest, deputy prime minister, pledged that a "drastic improvement" will soon be forthcoming through the increasing use of technology in the Government's permitting processes.
He argued that this will warrant "a significant upgrade" to The Bahamas' standing in the World Bank rankings, with the Government set to give effect to recommendations from its "Ease of Doing Business" committee, chaired by Lynn Holowesko, when the mid-year budget is unveiled in the House of Assembly in early 2019.
Mr Turnquest also argued that The Bahamas was frequently "short changed" by assessments from the World Bank and other international agencies, which often failed to account for improvements and reforms enacted by this nation.
His assertion was backed by Michael Maura, The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce's chairman, who revealed to this newspaper that the World Bank had failed to follow through on promises to cut the time required to clear goods at the border by almost 50 percent.
The Government can also point to the Commercial Enterprises Act, which streamlined the Immigration regime for approved companies in targeted industries, and introduction of the "single portal" Internet window for Business Licence applications by start-ups, as moves that could have merited a much higher upgrade from the World Bank.
Mr McCartney, who has interests in sectors including law, education, pharmacies and real estate, said such reforms had yet to translate into tangible gains for the private sector. "On the ground, in reality, in practice, business people are having a very difficult time getting Business Licences," he added.
He also seized on the irony in the reforms that the World Bank did give credit for, namely the online system for filing and paying Value-Added Tax (VAT), with The Bahamas' highest category ranking relating to the "ease of paying taxes" in general.
The ex-Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader said "money is coming out of the Bahamian people's pocket" to enable improvements in the country's "ease of doing business" rankings, which had "confirmed what all Bahamian businessmen say: It's difficult to do business in The Bahamas".
"The word 'ease' should not even be in that sentence," Mr McCartney added, "and it's a deterrent for foreign investors coming to do business in The Bahamas when they could look at other jurisdictions, set up businesses and invest easier than they can do so in The Bahamas.
"If they can do something with greater ease, less bureaucracy they would go to that jurisdiction. It's a deterrent; it's a turn off. I'm frustrated every day trying to do things in this country. I have found it easier, and I'm at the airport now travelling to Fort Lauderdale, to do things in a foreign jurisdiction like the US.
"It's easier in a foreign country than I find it in my own country. It shouldn't be that way. That's one of the reasons you find many Bahamian businessmen are reluctant to invest or continue to invest in the country."
Mr McCartney urged the "brilliant business minds" in the Minnis Cabinet to "come to the forefront and put into practice" their election campaign pledges to reform the "ease of business" as rapidly as possible.
"The small businesses are the backbone of any economy, and we need to see they survive," he said. "The Government must make every effort possible to make doing business easy."