By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Cabinet minister says the Minnis administration stopped a development “free for all” by introducing new laws and regulations similar to what foreign investors must comply with in their home nations.
Romauld Ferreira, minister of the environment and housing, pushed back against assertions from real estate developers that the introduction of the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP) had merely created another layer of bureaucracy and added to the costs of doing business in The Bahamas.
“I would disagree with that,” he told Tribune Business. “A lot of these developers come from countries that have environmental laws and regulations. We never had any before. All we’re asking you to do is comply with the rules. We didn’t have them before. It was a free for all.
“Now they have to comply. I’ve made every single developer comply with the law and associated regulations. I made them say ‘Uncle’.” He responded after Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) principal, told Tribune Business that furthering improving the ease - and lowering the cost - of doing business in The Bahamas needed to be a priority for the next administration.
“We have to go and make it easier for locals and foreign investors,” the ORG chief argued earlier this month. “At the moment, it’s incredibly difficult do to that and this year we’ve added another layer of complexity with the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP).
“We didn’t make it easier to develop; we made it more difficult. I’m not saying it’s [the DEPP] not necessary, but it’s added another layer to the cost and bureaucracy of doing business. Add more taxes, and people will be flying over The Bahamas to Barbados and Jamaica. Government has to recognise we need to be competitive.
“I was just talking to an investor the other day who is going to Panama. They’re going to Panama because it’s too expensive to operate in the Bahamas. Power is too expensive, bureaucracy is too expensive and there is too much corruption with too many hand-outs.”
Mr Myers added that it was critical for the next administration to “work harder and work smarter” if The Bahamas’ ease and cost of doing business concerns are to be satisfactorily addressed, and growth and job creation increased, to enable the economy to start repaying the debt incurred as a result of COVID-19 and Hurricane Dorian.
Mr Ferreira, though, praised the appointment of Rochelle Newbold as the DEPP’s director, adding: “She won’t let the standard drop.” He added that he was “proud of the work done” during his time in ministerial office, when numerous environment-related laws and regulations were passed by Parliament, and said: “I’ll stand by my track record.
“Whoever comes after me, PLP or FNM, won’t have the skill sets I have, but we’re in a good place.”