Government officials in the Bahamas are attempting to stay abreast in the competition for attracting international investors and businesses. The island nation recently passed the Commercial Enterprises Bill, which makes it easier for foreign companies to land there and obtain permits for non-Bahamian workers.
The bill, which was passed by both the Assembly and Senate in recent weeks, has drawn criticism from the opposition Progressive Liberal Party, which says some of the provisions in the bill put Bahamians and Bahamian-owned businesses at a disadvantage.
One of the more controversial elements in the bill is a default mechanism on immigration. Current wording gives the government 14 days to process foreign worker applications. If it fails to do so, the permits are automatically approved. The move is meant to speed up the process to be more in line with competing countries, such as the Cayman Islands. Companies that have a specified business license can bring in workers for a year with nothing more than an application that needs to be submitted 30 days before they arrive.
Labour Minister Dion Foulkes was quoted in local media, Tribune 242, as saying the bill would not hurt Bahamian-owned businesses and would give the economy a boost.
“We are losing a lot of business to other jurisdictions, such as the Cayman Islands, for example, because of their ease of doing business and the rate at which they turn around applications,” Foulkes was quoted as saying, “whether it’s business licences [or] work permits. We are determined to … be the major player, as we have been, in the financial services industry.”
The bill also requires new businesses to invest a minimum of $250,000 into their companies. Edison Sumner, CEO of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employees Confederation, said he does not think that figure is high enough for international corporations and was too high for Bahamian-owned businesses, especially small businesses.
“We felt the playing field should have been more leveled,” Sumner said. “That has been addressed to some degree in the amended bill.”
The amendment removed the requirement for Bahamian-owned businesses, but kept the US$250,000 threshold for foreign-owned companies. Sumner said the government seems more interested in quantity rather than quality in appealing to outside businesses.
“It’s an attractive bill for foreign investment,” he said, calling it a “step in the right direction.”
That is, as long as it does not hurt locally owned business.
“The door’s open to the foreign investment, but the Bahamians who have been working in the economy ought to be given the same level of consideration,” he said.
He is expecting further modifications to the law. “We’ve seen some amendments being made,” Sumner said. “As it goes further, I think we’re looking to see further amendments.”