By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Progressive Liberal Party’s (PLP) deputy leader is promising to “encourage the Central Bank” to grant commercial bank licences to three Bahamian groups if elected to office on September 16.
Chester Cooper, also its finance spokesman, told the PLP’s virtual economic summit that this would be a key element in the party’s plans to grow the economy and “Bahamianise” ownership of a commercial banking sector has been viewed by some as not sufficiently responsive to Bahamian needs.
“Stimulating the economy will include encouraging the Central Bank to grant commercial bank licences to at least three separate Bahamians or groups of Bahamians,” Mr Cooper said. “We are committed to Bahamianising the sector with a view to empowerment. We are also committed to finding solutions for the unbanked Family Islands.”
However, the Government cannot force or mandate the Central Bank to do this, hence Mr Cooper’s use of the term “encourage”. The banking sector regulator has significant autonomy and independence from the Government, which is guaranteed by law.
And it is very selective in who banking licences are granted to, applying rigorous due diligence and scrutiny to applicants, as well as enforcing all the laws and regulations relating to capital requirements, probity and other relevant standards.
A recent Supreme Court ruling revealed that the Central Bank has adopted a policy of ensuring that its payment services/money transmission operators have no owners with links or involvement in the web shop gaming industry.
Much of what was discussed and unveiled at the PLP’s economic summit was similar to initiatives that have been implemented, or tried, by the party’s last Christie government or the current Minnis administration. While much emphasis was placed on The Bahamas growing its way out of its present economic and fiscal crisis, there was little sign of the transformational ‘game changer’ Philip Davis said the country needs.
Mr Cooper said: “By getting the pandemic under control, we can place our absolute immediate focus on stimulating economic growth. Without economic growth, any attempt to increase government revenue would fail, businesses would suffer and unemployment would increase.”
Energy reform, and lowering costs by reducing reliance on fossil fuels while simultaneously investing in renewable sources, was cited as one element of the PLP’s plan yet successive administrations have talked about doing this for over 15 years yet have failed to make meaningful advances.
Mr Cooper added: “Encouraging and facilitating domestic investment, inspiring trust and confidence by investors and the business community, are priorities for the Progressive Liberal Party. To that effect, we plan to revamp and streamline processes to become one of the most business-friendly countries for local and foreign investors.
“We’re going to re-establish the Domestic Investment Unit, and fast-track domestic investment projects that have been lingering in the pipeline. We’re going to engage embassies, consulates and the diaspora to assist in promoting The Bahamas and its open investment climate.”
Many observers argued that the Domestic Investment Unit merely created another layer of bureaucracy when it was created under the first Christie administration, but Mr Cooper said: “We’re going to implement a competitive, robust ‘residence by investment’ programme, and we’re going to create a model for international infrastructure funds with private sector participation through public-private partnerships for infrastructure facilities, and air and sea ports.
“In addition to providing $250m over five years by creating private sector funds, we will create a one-stop-shop of all of the relevant government agencies to increase efficiency from advisory, to business license to funding to get business moving faster.
Michael Halkitis, former minister of state for finance and a PLP candidate in the upcoming general election, added: “The PLP will put $50m for small and medium-sized businesses (SME’s) for the first year with a total investment of $250m over five years.”
Speaking to the Bahamas Invest model in the party’s platform, Mr Halkitis added: “The key to getting us back on a growth track, and creating employment and creating economic growth, and more revenue for the Government, is to grow the economy.
“Key to growing the economy is making sure that those local Bahamian investors, as well as foreign investors, have their applications fast tracked and they’re not held up by bureaucracy. The purpose of Bahamas Invest would be to fast track investments by both locals and foreign investors, so that we can have those investments up and going, creating employment, creating revenue.”
Mr Cooper said: “We’ll incentivise joint ventures between foreign and local investors to increase fair competition and encourage Bahamian empowerment. We’re also going to go back to the National Development Plan to kick-start much needed reforms. This will include comprehensive tax reforms to make our systems more equitable, fairer and more progressive.”