Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis’ pledge that a Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) government would repeal the Commercial Enterprises Bill, 2017, is a very “unfortunate, wrong and dangerous” statement, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said yesterday.
Turnquest suggested that Davis’ comments could damage The Bahamas’ international reputation with investors.
“For them to have made this statement in a time when we are trying to attract investment, when we are managing a very fragile economy… I think is very unfortunate,” Turnquest said at his office.
“I would really encourage them to rethink what they are saying to, not only the Bahamian people, but what they are saying to the international community, because what they are signaling by their statement is that investors are not welcome.
“That is a very unfortunate and a very dangerous and a very wrong statement to make to the international community.
“If they think that this is only a statement for the local political fodder they are mistaken, because even as I was out on the road promoting our bond offering a couple weeks ago, one of the things that was clear is that investors look at the local newspapers.
“They watch the Parliament and they listen for clues as to where the country is headed.
“So when we make these kinds of statements, we are being very irresponsible and we are being very damaging to what we are trying to do in terms of trying to create an atmosphere of growth, a friendly investor environment that will cause employment to be created, whether domestic or international.”
In a statement on Sunday, Davis warned potential foreign investors to “think carefully” before accepting the benefits contained in the Commercial Enterprises Bill.
“The bill is an unnecessary intervention for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) or to support growth or empower entrepreneurship,” he said.
“During the debate in the House, nothing was advanced to justify the intervention of this bill.
“All that was said to justify the policy of the government can be achieved by improving management protocols and the efficiency of the public administration.
“We are also suspicious of the creation of specified enterprise zones.
“Such a designation of land will no doubt enhance its value.
“We know who the land barons are in this country.
“They hold too much of the wealth of the country as it stands.
“This will only further enrich them at the expense of the public at large.”
The bill was passed in the House of Assembly last Wednesday. All four members of the opposition in the House voted against it.
The bill seeks to “liberalize the granting of work permits to an enterprise that wishes to establish itself in The Bahamas and requires work permits for its management team and key personnel”.
Turnquest said yesterday that the opposition is being “shortsighted and counterproductive”.
“It sounds good to say that we can do this by ourselves, that we ought to just provide capital to local businesses and they will be able to create this activity on their own,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is that most Bahamians are risk averse, meaning that they don’t want to invest in start-ups. They don’t want to invest in ventures that may not have a return for three, four or five years.
“What we are attempting to do with this Commercial Enterprises Bill, is to attract businesses to The Bahamas that are not traditional, in areas that we as Bahamians have not been involved in that are underrepresented in our community.”
The bill describes a specified commercial enterprise as an enterprise “established with an investment of not less than $250,000”.
The list of enterprises in the bill includes businesses that deal in captive insurance, reinsurance, arbitration, wealth management, computer programming, maritime trade, nano technology, biomedical industries, boutique health facilities, data storage or warehousing, call centers and software design and writing, among others.
Turnquest said the bill is “really intended to be a jump start to getting us involved in industries that are knowledge based, which we know are normally higher paying careers”.
“So this whole argument that we are somehow giving favor to foreign business versus Bahamian business is really misguided in my opinion because this is not a zero sum game,” he said.
“It is not that we are giving some and taking away from others. This is trying to increase the pie so that everybody has an opportunity, that we start planting the seeds for new industries in this country that will give opportunity for our children who are off studying some unique things.”
Turnquest himself has been accused of dangerous utterances. His 2017/2018 budget communication that the PLP left “the cupboards bare” was panned by the opposition, which claimed Turnquest’s communication triggered a credit downgrade review.