Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper. Photo: Donavan McIntosh/Tribune Staff
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The deputy prime minister yesterday pledged that the Davis administration will “not give the shop away to investors for a bowl of porridge” as he revealed it is presently reviewing the tax breaks granted to them.
Chester Cooper, in his 2022-2023 Budget debate contribution in the House of Assembly, disclosed that the Government is seeking to balance “rationalising” the multiple incentive regimes with maintaining The Bahamas’ competitiveness as a destination attractive to foreign direct investment (FDI).
“We are doing a review of concessions being offered for investment to see where we can rationalise them whilst ensuring that we are competitive. We must not give away the shop to investors for a bowl of porridge.” Mr Cooper repeated the “bowl of porridge” phrase twice for emphasis, even seeking to tease Kwasi Thompson, Opposition MP for east Grand Bahama, by tying this to the controversial Oban oil refinery deal under the Minnis administration.
Mr Cooper, also minister of tourism, investments and aviation, also unveiled what he branded a Shovel Ready Projects Initiative (SRPI) where the Government will seek to match fresh, incoming investors with previous FDI projects that failed or were shuttered under previous owners.
He mentioned numerous Grand Bahama developments, such as Ginn sur mer, the Royal Oasis (Harcourt Developments), the Xanadu and International Bazaar as falling into this category. “All large and small resorts and projects that were not completed or failed, we will match with appropriate investors. This live database will present these projects with all approvals subject only to financing and due diligence on the investor,” Mr Cooper said.
Tribune Business sources yesterday said Mr Cooper and the Government were serious about this effort, which appears to be modelled on a similar initiative employed by Jamaica’s investment promotions agency, JAMPRO. They revealed that “interrogatories” have been sent to investors behind stalled and/or incomplete projects, and their Bahamian representatives to learn what their intentions are, while talks have been held with local realtors to find potential buyers.
“He and a team are doing an audit of all the files and project proposals that have been put in to find out what investors are doing, whether their projects are up for sale and what they intend to do,” one contact, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed. “He’s quietly been asking round for buyers for these projects, and met with people in real estate to see what they can do.
“What they are trying to do is something that should have been done a long time ago.” The Government is trying to “pre-package” existing projects that can be matched with potential investors in the same manner as JAMPRO. Once the investors is determined to be credible and reputable, has the necessary financing and complies with the rules and regulations, they receive all the necessary permits and approvals to proceed within 45 days.
“In terms of investment, which goes hand in hand with tourism, we have already restructured the National Economic Council. This has already reaped significant results,” Mr Cooper said yesterday. “We have also already started the transformation of the Bahamas Investment Authority (BIA)” into the Bahamian version of JAMPRO.
“We’re restructuring it by revamping the organisational structure for swift and transparent investment approvals and investment promotion,” he added of the Bahamas Investment Authority. “The finished product will be called InvestBahamas. We are looking at that launching in September of this year.
“As we speak, we are working to eliminate the BIA backlog and establish a digital portal for lawyers and investors to track their investment status. We have seen an encouraging level of serious enquiries in various industries: Tourism, marinas, logistics, renewable energy, maritime, dry dock and ship repairs and agri-business.”
Using the 60 percent decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into The Bahamas in 2021, as measured by a United Nations (UN) agency, to blast the former Minnis administration, Mr Cooper added: “It showed that FDI inflows for 2021 fell 60 percent to $360m, the lowest level in five years.
“This is a clear indicator that the world had lost confidence in the FNM government, or that its policymakers showed little focus or frankly did not understand the significance of FDI or simply did not know what they were doing. Or all of the above.”