By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A well-known QC yesterday said he aims “to put the lie to the World Bank’s indictment” of The Bahamas’ ease of doing business, with the Government targeting a “15 percent” rankings jump.
Fred Smith QC, pictured, the Callenders & CO attorney and partner, told Tribune Business he had “undertaken to change” his firm’s previous approach of moving away from commercial work in Freeport because of the city’s economic needs.
Speaking after The Bahamas found itself ranked behind the conflict-ravaged World Bank and Gaza Strip in the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” rankings, despite moving up one spot to 118th place, Mr Smith said he had “this week taken on five to six clients that want to do business here” because “the economy is in such great need”.
“That was a very disappointing indictment of The Bahamas,” he told Tribune Business of the World Bank ranking. “I am aware that the Government has committed itself to streamlining and making the conduct of business less difficult in The Bahamas, but that has not yet been converted into reality.
“Thankfully my firm has seen a number of new commercial clients from abroad approach it on different matters in both Nassau and Freeport, and I have boasted about the Commercial Enterprises Act and the speed at which the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) issues licenses.
“I am looking forward to putting the lie to the World Bank’s indictment,” Mr Smith continued, “because we desperately need foreign direct investment (FDI), foreign resources, both human and capital, and the people of The Bahamas are likewise in desperate need of the economy growing.
“I urge the Government to redouble its efforts at cutting through the red tape and making doing business in The Bahamas transparent, fluid and less costly for both Bahamian and foreign investors.”
Mr Smith said he had noticed an improvement in the Immigration Department and GBPA’s response times to both short-term work permit approvals and license applications, while praising senior Customs executives for being “a breath of fresh air”.
The outspoken QC’s comments came as the Government yesterday pledged a more “aggressive” approach to achieving a faster rise for The Bahamas up the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” rankings.
This nation has improved by just three places over the past two years, but K P Turnquest, deputy prime minister, said in a statement that an inter-agency government working group was aiming “to see at least a 15 percent increase over the next few years”.
Based on The Bahamas’ current 118th ranking, that percentage translates into an 18-place rise, which would take this nation to 100th spot, but it is unclear what this percentage refers to.
The Government’s inter-agency group, which has been in existence for several months, features officials from the Ministry of Finance, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Inland Revenue, the Customs Department, the Department of Public Works, the Central Bank of the Bahamas, the Registrar General’s Office and the Securities Commission. It is separate from the Prime Minister’s own “ease of doing business” committee drawn from the private sector.
“As the New Year unfolds, we will be rolling out a number of significant initiatives that will have a positive impact on the daily lives of businesses and help us to continue our climb on the global ranking list,” Mr Turnquest pledged.
“We plan to alleviate frustration around the lengthy time it takes to start a new business; the time it takes to get a construction permit; the hoops you have to jump through to access credit, among other priority areas.
“There are certain structural changes that have to take place to advance these efforts fully, but there are also short-term steps we can and will take early in the New Year to relieve some of these pain points - simple changes such as improving the flow of communication between government service providers and the public, or digitising processes such as applying for a revenue exemption or applying for a construction permit.”