Foreign ownership in the retail and construction sectors

One could be forgiven if, taking a stroll down Bay Street between East Street and the Hilton British Colonial Hotel, you mistook the shops in the city for the shops on the main street in St. Martin where East Indian merchants predominate.

After a high point between the 1960s and the 1990s when Bahamian-owned and operated luxury shops dominated Bay Street, the area has undergone a slow slide into a strip of cheap T-shirt outlets and foreign-owned and operated low-end jewelry and souvenir shops interrupted notably by John Bull, the Linen Shop and Coin of the Realm on Charlotte Street – the last bastions as it were of Nassau’s once widely-touted upscale shopping experience.

Who are all of the obviously foreign persons behind sales counters on Bay Street? Indeed, there is even a beauty parlor which appears to be manned by Eastern European stylists!

What is their immigration status in The Bahamas?

How is it that businesses are permitted to be engaged in jobs for which thousands of Bahamian citizens are qualified and stand ready and willing to do?

What has happened to Bahamian-owned and staffed shops on Bay Street?

Why the dearth of Bahamian ownership?

Why has Bay Street, east of East Street, been all but abandoned by Bahamian commerce and given over to run-down vacant buildings?

Has the policy of reserving retail business for Bahamians been abandoned by the government?

Similar questions can be raised about the construction sector. A drive through Lyford Cay, Old Fort, Albany or Ocean Estates will reveal a plethora of construction company signs that bear no resemblance to construction companies we know to be Bahamian-owned.

And, who are those obviously foreign nationals seen being transported on the backs of trucks to construction sites all over the island?

The Bahamas Investment Authority’s webpage continues to list “wholesale and retail operations and construction companies, except for special structures for which international expertise is required” among the list of areas in the economy reserved for Bahamians.

What kind of special homes are we to believe are being built in those exclusive residential communities that require foreign construction companies and foreign laborers?

It is our view that these Bay Street retail outlets and other offending establishments, notably in home construction, do not require foreign ownership, special skills, sophisticated technology or processes that would justify exceptions to the longstanding policy of successive governments to reserve these businesses in The Bahamas for Bahamians.

At a time of persistent unemployment even in a growing economy, every effort ought to be expended to ensure that qualified, competent Bahamians are afforded their rightful opportunity to be gainfully employed in their own country.

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