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Bills passed to improve ease of doing business

Parliamentarians yesterday passed the Securities Industry (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest, are key to improving the ease of doing business in The Bahamas.

The bills address deficiencies in the protection of minority shareholders in companies and provide for additional rights and transparency in shareholder governance.

During debate on the bills, Turnquest said the government was guided by the World Bank Group’s annual Ease of Doing Business Report.

“To be clear, the ultimate measure of improved ease of business that we seek will be evidenced by increased investments, more business activity and greater employment of Bahamians. The report provides a set of criteria and ratings that highlight where some of the greatest improvements might be achieved. For these reasons, as well as the fact that the jurisdiction’s reputation for ease of business will be formulated, by many, based on the report, the government has made a conscientious effort to delve into the metrics and bring about or encourage changes to improve our rating and ranking,” he said.

The Bahamas’ overall ranking and score on the Ease of Doing Business Index 2018 was 118, an improvement from the ranking of 119 in 2017 and 121 the previous year.

“Over that period our rating or ‘score’ has improved from 56.65 to 58.90. The government, however, is actively pursuing a net increase of some 20 points, which would lift The Bahamas dramatically in terms of its rank on the list,” Turnquest said.

“To make this a reality, one of the prime areas identified, where the government could introduce the necessary reforms to both improve the ease of business, and our rating on the report, was in the area of protecting minority investors.”

While Deputy Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chester Cooper said the opposition supports the Securities Industry (Amendment) Bill, he said the Companies (Amendment) Bill seems rushed.

“With the amendments to the Securities Industry Bill, this brings the industry in line with best practices in the governance structure of the Securities Commission of The Bahamas.

“We recognize that the Securities Commission of The Bahamas is the competent authority on these issues and we are satisfied that it has been appropriately consulted. And the bill is relatively straightforward and does not warrant significant debate. So, we support the amendments to the Securities Industry Act,” he said in the House of Assembly yesterday.

“With the amendments to the Companies Act, we will not unnecessarily withhold support as we do not object to the general themes and principles of the bill. We do note though that the amendments seem, in large part, rushed and counterintuitive to the ease of doing business and should have been more broadly consulted upon.”

The Opposition’s main concern with the amendments to the Companies Act, according to Cooper, is that the bill might will impose numerous governance restrictions on small and medium-sized companies, pushing them into non-compliance or increasing their cost of compliance.

“So, technically, yes, the legislation ticks the box of ‘ease of doing business’ and we want to improve our overall ranking. But small businesses represent 70-plus percent of the businesses in this country and we must take care that provisions we pass make life easy in a practical sense,” he said.

“We always caution this government on seeking to appease international agencies to the detriment of those who actually live and work in this country.”

Paige McCartney

Business Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Paige joined The Nassau Guardian in 2010 as a television news reporter and anchor. She has covered countless political and social events that have impacted the lives of Bahamians and changed the trajectory of The Bahamas.
Paige started working as a business reporter in August 2016.
Education: Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2006 with a BA in Radio and Television News
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