Minister of Financial Services, Trade, Industry and Immigration Brent Symonette argued that the government’s Commercial Enterprises Bill, 2017, will have a “trickle down” effect on middle and lower class Bahamians.
“Mr. Speaker if the tide rises and the boats float, all Bahamians will benefit from that issue,” Symonette said as he wrapped up debate on the Commercial Enterprises Bill on Wednesday night.
“If they (the opposition) want to be [like] Canute on that side and try and stop the tide from rising…nothing is going to happen.
“If that is what the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) calls progressive, I feel sorry for them because they will be in opposition for many years to come.”
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”.
Symonette said the government must liberalize the economy.
“It is not about giving it away,” he said.
“We are talking about growing the economy.”
The St. Anne’s MP was responding to concerns raised by the opposition that the bill appears to be geared toward foreign investors and will disenfranchise Bahamians.
The bill was passed on Wednesday night. All four members of the opposition voted against it.
Symonette said that the government wants to “grow the business [sector] so the pie is bigger and the trickle down effect will happen”.
“…This government won’t be there with their hands out restricting the trickle down to a certain selective number of people within their program,” he said.
“We have had consultation from the private sector.
“The bill is recognized as a strong step forward, streamlining the work permit process and increasing the ease of doing business to make The Bahamas more competitive for investment.”
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 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.
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper, in his contribution, charged that the government is rolling out the “red carpet” for foreign investors.
“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.”
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.”
But Symonette said the bill allows for foreign investors to train Bahamians, which he said will greatly benefit the country.
He argued that successive governments have been granting permanent residence applications, with the right to work in your own business, for years.
“They granted it and I granted it before and I’m granting it again, subject to Cabinet approval,” he said.
“So we attract people to come here and bring their business.
“One of the businesses we are looking at, Mr. Speaker, is headquartering, big business.
“Let’s get headquarters of international firms to come here. We may get a Google. We may get one.
“They headquarter here. They bring their senior management here. When we do that they will be employing Bahamians in different levels, which will gradually rise up.
“The casinos are a good example.
“Resorts International used to have, when they had the casino, about 80 percent of the croupiers, if not higher, were non-Bahamians.
“Now if you go to the casinos very few of the people in the casinos are [foreigners].”