Monday, Nov 19, 2018
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A policy not for the people

Dear Editor,

Surprise! Surprise! Those of us who saw in the Commercial Enterprises Act a backdoor assault on Bahamianization have had to wait less than a year to be proved right. It turns out that the FNM’s sanctimonious proclamation of a reduction in labor certificate applications may reflect nothing more than the ability of would-be applicants to use this pernicious legislation to skirt the ordinary process for obtaining a work permit.

This should surprise nobody. After all, the economic rationale for the legislation never made an iota of sense. We were told that it would help us advance on the “ease of doing business” index, something that sounds good, but few people actually think about what it means.

Generally speaking, the poorest and least developed countries rank highest in many aspects of business ease, such as (lack of) regulations on health and safety, labor protective rules and (importantly) immigration rules. Jamaica ranks highest in our region in “ease of doing business”. It stands to reason that a net importer of labor like The Bahamas would have more stringent immigration rules than Jamaica. Few Bahamians would disagree with the policy behind this relative stringency, or with the rules that protect the Bahamian middle class by reserving local business activities and professions for locals.

Yet the creators of the Commercial Enterprises Act seemed motivated by little more than an underhanded desire to reduce these very protections, rather than focus genuinely on the many needless impediments to doing business in our country, including those that affect Bahamian-owned businesses.

Most of these impediments relate not to immigration, but to a banking industry that makes its own erratic rules as it goes along, often at the expense of businesses and the wider population and generally without a whisper from the government or “regulators”. For example, as a businessman, I can no longer have my customers make third-party deposits to my RBC business account. In an archipelagic country this is an outrageous impediment to the most basic of business needs.

Another example is the arbitrary ID requirements banks impose on us. Some of them arrogantly refuse to accept the ID document issued by the government that licensed them to operate, forcing us to carry around a passport (a document intended only for foreign travel) to access basic services. Banks also charge for services that are free in their home countries and recently Scotiabank has begun refusing in-branch withdrawals of under $1,500.

When you add to these indignities the business-retarding lending philosophies of the Canadian banks (which government ministers freely admit on television are “predatory”) it makes you wonder why their stated intention of removing obstacles to business did not begin in the most obvious place. Unless, of course, that was not their real intention, as the latest labor certificate figures would tend to suggest.

– Andrew Allen

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