NASSAU, BAHAMAS – As Minister of Finance K. Peter Turnquest presented the government’s 2019/2020 Budget Communication in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, founder of the OWN Bahamas Foundation, Sebas Bastian, said he is encouraged by the government’s focus to support entrepreneurs, improve the Ease of Doing Business, as well as its efforts to improve education and training.
“The government’s guiding principle of ‘citizen empowerment’ presents new opportunities for the Bahamian economy to leapfrog into the future through bridging the skills-gap through immersive, technology-focused training,” said Bastian in a statement issued last night.
The mission of the OWN Bahamas Foundation is to create an ecosystem of support for Bahamian entrepreneurs, and according to Bastian, the government has made commendable progress on the Ease of Doing Business through its inter-agency working group.
“The introduction of Provisional Business Licenses, targeted at home-based businesses, sole proprietors, and other startups deemed ‘low-risk’ is also an essential step in the right direction for entrepreneurs,” Bastian said.
He noted that a survey conducted and released last year by the OWN Bahamas Foundation, suggested that entrepreneurs believed the third most significant obstacle to starting their business was “government red tape.”
Similarly, Bastian said the government’s investment in entrepreneurship to date is also noteworthy.
“Some $945,000 has been approved for either grants, equity, or government guaranteed loans through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC),” Bastian said.
Bastian said research conducted by the Own Bahamas Foundation has found that the most significant obstacle that confront entrepreneurs when starting their business was raising the start-up capital.
Yesterday, Finance Minister Peter Turnquest revealed in his budget communication that the government will expand its allocation to the small business sector to $8.5 million, up from $5 million in the previous fiscal year.
According to the minister, the funds will be used to fund operation and grants, as well as to underwrite loan guarantees and provide equity financing.
He noted that the government will leverage the $8.5 million to provide up to $12 million in financing for Bahamian SMEs (small and medium size enterprises) during the upcoming fiscal period.
Meanwhile, Bastian said as the government looks to boost its efforts to improve the Ease of Doing Business and “incentivize the export of services”— like accounting services, legal services, information technology, management consulting services, and financial services—the proposal to not tax revenues derived from the export of these services for Business License purposes or VAT may provide a much needed boost to entrepreneurship in emerging sectors that can help to drive Bahamian economic growth.
He noted that recognizing that the digital economy presents new opportunities for the export of services is essential, but equally as important is preparing Bahamians to take advantage of these opportunities.
“As I emphasized at the foundation’s OWN Talks event on May 23, 2019, Bahamians need to ‘skill-up’ so that they can both own businesses and be employable in the digital economy,” Bastian said
The OWN Bahamas Foundation founder said in the wake of the Oxford Economics WTO Impact Assessment, the need for expanded training and education to increase employment opportunities and to unlock economic growth outside of the traditional sectors which have stagnated or become uncompetitive over time has become apparent.
“As the government proposes an increase in funding for education and training, there must be a shift in the curriculum as well. From pre-school to our tertiary institutions, what students are learning needs to align more with the skills and know-how required to thrive in the digital economy,” Bastian said.
According to Bastian, this expanded training and education can focus on web and app development, data science and analysis, cybersecurity, user experience design, digital marketing, and other technology-based areas.
And to achieve real economic growth, Bastian suggested that this should happen in conjunction with the comprehensive reforms to the Ease of Doing Business, cost of doing business, and access to finance for SMEs.
He said the OWN Bahamas Foundation looks forward to the government’s continued focus on entrepreneurship, SMEs, and the Ease of Doing Business.
“And, as the Minnis administration increases its investment in education and training, we are hopeful that through civil society and private sector partnerships, the government will embrace the challenge of preparing Bahamians for the digital economy.”