Chairperson of the National Ease of Doing Business Committee (NEDBC) Lynn Holowesko said that errors made by the persons selected to fill out the World Bank’s ease of doing business index questionnaires contributed to the country’s low ranking.
And while she doesn’t think the government wants to “micromanage” how the questions are answered, Holowesko said the NEDBC is “interested in trying to find out who is getting the questionnaires, so that we can inform them of any updates that have been made in any of the fields they have been asked to contribute in”.
The World Bank would have recently sent out 40 questionnaires to various stakeholders across numerous sectors to answer questions on the ten categories that are used to grade a country’s ease of doing business, the NEDBC chair confirmed.
Last week, Opposition Deputy Leader Chester Cooper accused the government of attempting to “artificially improve ratings” by calling businesses and company representatives who respond to the annual survey.
Holowesko, who confirmed she has been selected this year to complete the questionnaire on registering properties as well as starting a business, said incorrect responses can be damaging for the country.
“What the World Bank said about registering property in The Bahamas was that the cost increased because The Bahamas added ten percent in VAT to the cost of registering property. Well there are two errors there. One is that the legislation replaced the stamp tax with VAT. So, the increase was 7.5 percent, which used to be the stamp tax and they said that that was an increase and did not recognize and weren’t informed by the contributors that it was actually VAT taking the place of stamp tax. So that’s an example of the errors that can be made,” she told Guardian Business yesterday.
“As far as registering property itself is concerned, another thing that concerns us is that some of the contributors start out by discussing how you buy property. How you have to get an agreement for sale; and you have to get a lawyer; and you have to have a title search and they go on through all the steps. And finally, they get to the registry which is where the question really begins. What does it take to register property? Not to buy property. So again, contributors sometimes are not clear about what the question is and that has hurt us in the past.”
The Bahamas ranked 119 in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 index.
One of the areas The Bahamas scored the lowest in was ‘the registering of property’, of which The Bahamas scored 30 percent and is ranked 181.
Holowesko provided another example regarding the electricity sector, on which the country received a score of 76.7 and a ranking of 81 on the category ‘getting electricity’.
“There was another example some years ago where someone from BPL was asked does the electricity company monitor downtime and the answer was given, no it doesn’t. And of course, that was wrong, it does monitor that. And it cost us points and it was quite damaging,” she said.
“So, nobody is trying to coach the results, we’re only trying to make sure that people who are going to be filling questionnaires are aware of any of the any improvements that may have been made that would affect the way that they answer their questionnaire.”
Holowesko confirmed that there has been nobody on her committee who has reached out to the persons who fill out the questionnaires, after Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest last week admitted that the government is “contacting companies” and “contacting people who would be participants in the surveys to coordinate the response”.
Holowesko said as far as she knows, individuals are randomly selected to participate in the surveys.
“They span the whole sphere of doing business in The Bahamas. I mean there are one or two people from the electricity department but then there are people who have businesses in electricity and providing electricity. Construction is the same story. There are institutes where a single office would have three or four people in their firm who are answering three or four of these questionnaires,” she said.
“Any suggestions from government would look like they’re trying to micromanage. I don’t think the government is trying to do that. They’re just trying to get an accurate report out there. An accurate report would show improvement in most of the categories.”
The Minnis administration has made improving the ease of doing business a priority since the beginning of its term, having established the NEDBC in June of 2017 shortly after gaining governance.
Holowesko clarified, however, that the purpose of the committee is not to improve the nation’s ranking on the World Bank Index.
“The prime minister did not create this particular committee that I chair to improve the World Bank rating. He created it to improve doing business for Bahamians in The Bahamas,” she said.