Bahamas government defends commercial enterprises legislation
Bahamas Prime Minister, Dr Hubert Minnis, has defended a Commercial Enterprises bill, saying it is designed to attract both local and international investment to the country in job sectors that do not currently or primarily exist.
"The bill is aimed at targeting investment in specified enterprises, including captive insurance, reinsurance, arbitration, wealth management, computer programming, maritime trade, nano technology, biomedical industries, data storage, call centres, and software design and writing.
"No other kind of business enterprise will qualify for incentives provided for under this bill," Minnis said in a statement.
But many have said that the legislation appears to be geared toward foreign investment and will disenfranchise Bahamians.
Former prime minister Hubert Ingraham has raised concerns that the bill does not address a cap for work permits per enterprise and that the legislation, which was passed in the Parliament late last month, acts as a legal guarantee for work permits for foreigners with a minimum investment of US$250,000.
Ingraham said that is a "fundamental departure" from what has prevailed previously in the country.
UNDERCUTTING THE MARKET
Chairman of the main opposition, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Fred Mitchell said that the government was seeking to "flood the country with workers from outside the country and undercut the market for young Bahamians".
He has said that the PLP will repeal the legislation when it returns to power, and warned investors and people who may accept the bill's benefits to "think carefully" before doing so.
"The government itself cannot decide what its rationale for this nutty bill is. First, they said it was to liberalise the granting of work permits, then they said it is to help Over The Hill. Now the Tourism Minister, Mr Motor Mouth, has come up with the ingenious but disingenuous rationale that it will reverse the brain drain. It will do none of those things," Mitchell said in a statement.
President of the National Congress of Trade Unions, Bernard Evans, said the Commercial Enterprises Bill is a "prostitution" of the country.
"Any bill that comes to the government now that is being proposed has a common thread, and that thread is about Bahamians and providing jobs for Bahamians, quality jobs," Evans told a news conference, adding "this bill was not sent to the congress prior to its tabling in the House.
"We just received it, I think, some time last week," he told reporters, noting that on the surface of the bill, it does not provide any protection for a certain level of Bahamians to be employed.
"It doesn't really spell out for me, what I have seen in the bill, that there would be some training or guaranteed training that after two/three/four years then that job that cannot be done by Bahamians would eventually then turn over Bahamians," he said.
"It seems as if we are trying to do a fire-sale in cheapening what The Bahamas is all about and the Bahamian experience," Evans said, adding that since it came to power in May this year, the government has not involved the unions in its decision-making processes.
Prime Minister Minnis said that industries taking advantages of the new bill will be required to establish training programmes for Bahamians and agree to strict timelines for the upward mobility of Bahamians within the enterprise.
"Limits will also be placed on immigration permits which are issued under the provisions of this bill. The long-term objective is to ensure that all positions within these companies become available to Bahamians as, and when, they are trained," he said.
"One thing this bill does not do is change the current immigration or other regulatory processes for anyone wishing to invest in businesses other than those designated industries that are covered under this new proposed legislation," the prime minister said.