Cooper: Focus needed on “major overhaul” of business environment

Cooper:  Focus needed on “major overhaul” of business environment
Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper. (FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — There needs to be a focus on “major overhaul” of the way business is conducted in The Bahamas, Exumas and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper said yesterday.

Cooper, who was contributing to debate in Parliament on a compendium of business bills, noted, “We have an ease of doing business problem in this country.

“While we are looking to spur economic growth, we continue to hinder the ability of businesses to function efficiently. That, frankly, impacts our quality of life.”

Cooper noted that the country’s ease of doing business ranking has continuously declined in recent years.

“We must aspire to a higher standard. It’s difficult to do business here. You don’t need the World Bank to tell you that. Any investor can tell you that. Any Bahamian can tell you that,” said Cooper, adding, “What we need is to focus on major overhaul of the way business is conducted in this country and make the ease and affordability of doing business better. Make doing business easier, watch the business sector grow and watch the economy grow. You get more people with jobs, more people paying taxes and you can better fund programs to develop the country and her people, providing for more economic expansion.”

Cooper also expressed deep concern that a new minister of finance has yet to be selected since the resignation of East Grand Bahama MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest.

“With the greatest of respect, while the prime minister is a man of talents in some fields, I do not think it wise for him to hold that position for any extended period of time. That it’s been a week now, gives me some pause. You may not believe this, but I want the government to succeed. If they succeed, The Bahamas succeeds. But this is the worst economy we have seen in nearly 100 years. You really need to get moving on that appointment,” said Cooper.

Cooper called for the appointment of a minister of finance who is competent in the field of business, accounting, finance or economics.

“We have the EU, FATF and the OECD breathing down our necks. We already got blacklisted at least three times since 2017,” he said.

“We have a desperate need for capital investment that cannot be given anything less than the minister’s full attention. We have suffered downgrades to deep junk status. We’re borrowing at exorbitant rates. The NIB director just resigned. We have tens of thousands out of work. We really need to get this right, and fast. Let’s bring some reassurance to this ministry, and our country. This isn’t something we can just wing; we are facing serious financial crises.”

Pointing to the bills, which were ultimately passed in Parliament yesterday, Cooper said, “The Rule Against Perpetuities (Abolition) Bill is simple. It’s just clarifying ambiguous language, which is fine.

“The Foundations Bill is for these organizations to benefit anyone anywhere in the world, which is fine. However, I have a general issue with the fact that the attorney general must sign off on foundations and not-for-profit companies. I think it’s hindering a lot of good work that can be done and ease of doing business. It can take up to a year to get a sign-off, which is tragedy. I should be able to register a non-profit company in a matter of days.”

He added, “I understand some of the rationale. The AG signs off because non-profits are subject to a higher degree of scrutiny. The intention is to protect the public from unscrupulous persons who may claim they are operating charities but are actually misappropriating donations and contributions from the public. You want to scrutinize the objectives of the non-profit and examine who the directors and officers are to make sure they are persons of good character. But even with all that, it should not take up to a year to get approval.”

Cooper noted that the Companies Act amendments are “long overdue”.

“One of the things it is doing is to make it easier to do business by doing away with the mandatory requirement to use a seal. We should have done this while we’re in here debating how to pass those bills to appease the EU that effectively dismantle our financial sector. This actually helps. The industry has long been asking for the use of seals to be relaxed and especially on execution of deeds and documents. It’s how corporate and other business was practiced in the 1960s. These were promised years ago and are just bubbling their way up but better late than never.”