By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A well-known QC yesterday repeated calls for greater liberalisation of the legal profession if The Bahamas to sustain and grow its financial services industry.
Sean McWeeney, the Graham, Thompson & Company senior partner, addressing an anti-money laundering/counter terror financing conference, said The Bahamas needed to permit specialist international attorneys to practice in this nation if the sector is to attract new business.
He argued: “We simply don’t have the specialist lawyers to sustain, much less to grow, the financial services industry. There are close to 1,200 lawyers in The Bahamas but, of this number, the trust specialists can be counted on your fingers. When one looks at securities lawyers, the numbers are equally few.
“We simply cannot grow our trust business or our investment funds and securities business with such thin legal resources on the ground. It is is an open invitation to send the business elsewhere; to send it to other jurisdictions where the required legal skills are to be found in abundance or, nearly as bad, to bring the business here but then outsource the heavy-duty legal to lawyers in other jurisdictions.”
Mr McWeeney argued that foreign attorneys must not be viewed “as predators who are only interested in stealing our lunch”. “We need to view them instead as collaborators, and as an ever-replenishing source of new business for The Bahamas. The Bar is too closed. We have to open it up a lot more,” he said.
Mr McWeeney also called on Bahamians to “up” their game, referring to all stakeholders within the financial services industry. “We talk a great deal about getting to the next level, but just being a Bahamian can no longer be the litmus test for getting ahead or just getting by,” he added.
“We have to equip ourselves to go eyeball-to-eyeball with our counterparts anywhere else in the world. The thirst for excellence, not some sense of nationalist entitlement, must be at the apex of the value system that propels us forward.”
Mr McWeeney continued: “As the markets are shifting more and more to Latin America and, in time, possibly to Asia as well, we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we are really preparing ourselves for the next level up. Are our language skills, for example, being diversified?
“How many Bahamians in the industry have bothered to personally invest in the study of, say, Spanish or Portuguese or, farther afield, in Mandarin? And how many Bahamians are prepared to pull up stakes for a while and work abroad to get the exposure and the experience needed to climb the ladder?”