Seeking efficiencies in the delivery of public services

The Bahamas needs to make it easier for businesses and the public to access public services.

Too often, progress in the delivery of public services and the reduction of bureaucratic red tape is followed by new government-imposed requirements or relapses to practices that hinder the ease of doing business or accessing public services.

Some improvements were short-lived.

Photo driver’s licenses originally issued both in New Providence and on the Family Islands are now processed in New Providence only, as machines on the Family Islands have not remained operational. And nowadays, renewals of driver’s licenses require the presentation of a passport.

Satellite passport offices at overseas Bahamas consular offices were introduced. Now passports may only be obtained in New Providence and longstanding passport holders are required to obtain and pay for new versions of documents like birth certificates, affidavits and marriage certificates – previously provided to the Passport Office and existing in the records of the Registrar General’s Department – in order to obtain a renewed passport.

The processing of business license renewals online is markedly reducing the time involved. However, a new requirement for small businesses to have accounts certified by an accountant has increased costs for such businesses.

While National Insurance Board (NIB) “letters of good standing” required for business license and work permit renewals may now be obtained online, manual payments of NIB contributions by businesses remains a time-consuming process.

Many businesses are encouraged by the removal of the previous practice of individuals attending business or board meetings in The Bahamas requiring “temporary work permits”; however, nowadays, requirements attached to long-term work permits are being required for temporary permits.

Improvements on the exchange control front are tempered by persistent complaints by investors and business persons over the requirement for single applicants to submit the same documents to multiple government regulatory agencies, e.g. the same passport, police certificate and financial references to satisfy “Know Your Customer” standards related to investment must be submitted separately to the Bahamas Investment Authority and to the Central Bank of The Bahamas. They may subsequently have to be submitted again to the Department of Immigration if residency status or a work permit is applied for by the investor.

Additionally, delays in Central Bank approvals for the repatriation of funds from the sale of real property by international persons is yet another hindrance particularly when both parties, the vendor and the purchaser, hold Central Bank approved investment status.

Progress made with online services at the Registrar General’s Office is diminished by challenges with online title searches and delays in getting receipts for documents submitted for registration. Further, documents that were previously stamped at the Public Treasury on the same day nowadays take a week or more to be processed at the VAT office where payments are only accepted by bank draft or manager’s check.

While the payment of VAT process is efficient, inordinate delays in having legitimate queries addressed persist notwithstanding that complainants are required to pay disputed sums regardless of the department’s slow response.

The implementation of the customs department’s online processing project rather than speeding up customs clearance is reportedly making the process lengthier.

And, developers of subdivision and builders of commercial building and residences continue to face challenges with the timely receipt of required approvals and permits. This is further aggravated by delays encountered in connecting new buildings to public utility services from Bahamas Power and Light (BPL) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation (W&SC).

The BIG hindrance to doing business in The Bahamas is the government and its agencies.

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