Cooper: PLP won’t support controversial bill
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper yesterday raised serious concerns with the Commercial Enterprises Bill, 2017 charging that the government is rolling out the “red carpet” for foreign investors but ignoring Bahamians.
“Regrettably, the opposition cannot and will not support this bill in its current form,” Cooper said.
“I would be happy to reconsider should suitable amendments be considered.”
Cooper asked,“Why are we running to roll out the red carpet to attract businesses from abroad, small businesses investing $250,000 at a minimum, when we need reforms for small businesses domestically in
The Bahamas and small business people who have been crying and crying and crying for more reforms that make it easier to start a business?”
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”.
According to the bill, “The director of immigration shall determine any work permit applied for not later than 14 days after the filing thereof and the payment of the application fee, failing which the work permit shall be deemed to have been granted pursuant to this Act, and may only be later revoked if the director has reasonable grounds for so doing on the basis of public safety, public morality or national security.”
Cooper said the bill is a hard sell.
“It’s a hard sell to Bahamian people when we say it’s their time and then you’re making it easier for foreigners to open companies and get work permits without identifying and explaining the upside and the benefits in detail to the Bahamian people,” he said.
“On my part, I don’t think the intention was anything sinister, Mr. Speaker, misguided perhaps.
“But thankfully, I’m not the one who has to sell it.”
Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, in his contribution to debate on the bill, cautioned the opposition on playing to the “greatest fears of Bahamians”.
“I want to encourage the side opposite, please stop dumbing down to people in this country,” Turnquest said.
“Stop playing to the greatest fears of this country.
“Again, the fears of this country is not about positive immigration. It is about migration.
“We must not confuse the two because to do so is to the detriment of our country.
“We need economic growth. We have to figure out how we are going to stimulate and cause that to happen. It is not going to happen by having regressive immigration policy or investment policy.
“We have to open up the economy.
“We have to invite people to participate. We have to encourage Bahamians to invest.”
The list of enterprises in the bill include 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.
The Exuma MP said that he does not “have a xenophobic bone in my body, Mr. Speaker, but we should always seek to level the playing field for Bahamians”.
He continued, “Firstly, Mr. Speaker, let me say at the outset that on this idea of the work permit being deemed to have been issued if not responded to is of concern.
“Whilst I get the attempt to make the system less lethargic, we must vigorously protect our borders.
“It would be international best practice to do due diligence upfront, not on the back end.
“This is a dangerous world where terrorism, terrorist financing, money laundering and criminality is rampant. I am concerned this is a potential recipe for abuse and potential reputational risk for our fine country.”
Cooper said what the government should be doing is mandating that the Department of Immigration respond to all work permits within 14 days, instead of default approvals.
The bill describes a specified commercial enterprise as an enterprise “established with an investment of not less than $250,000”.
Cooper charged that “a business that is formed with $250,000 is not a large business and should not be entitled to any relaxation of immigration policy”.
“I doubt it will create that many jobs for foreigners,” he said.
“It certainly will not create any jobs, if any, for Bahamians who can perhaps apprentice in some of these niche areas.”
He said the government should look at an amendment and consider whether a more appropriate level might be in the $1 million range.
Turnquest said that government decided to lower the threshold to $250,000 because “small business drive the majority of economic activity”.
“What we are trying to do is to encourage, again, these niche investors, both Bahamians and foreigners, to invest in The Bahamas even if it is a sole proprietor,” he said.
The East Grand Bahama MP continued, “We don’t know which one of these $250,000 investments is going to be the one, is going to be the next Facebook, the next Google or the next Microsoft.
“We don’t know.
“We know that the U.S. policy right now, today, is unattractive to some engineers and software developers.
“So why aren’t we not interested? Why should we not go out and attract that kind of talent to our country?
“They are not on social services. They are not coming here to live off the fat of our land. They are coming to contribute and to add to the fabric of our country.”
The bill was passed shortly after 7 p.m. yesterday with all four members of the opposition voting against it.