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2005-09-15 18:29:30

Bahamas Just a Land of Talk

Where was the one-stop-shop with its red carpet and the helping hand?

Last week The Ministry of Financial Services and Investments - "billed as the ministry on the move" - published an interesting tabloid supplement outlining its achievements and the major foreign direct investments, either approved or awaiting approval.

After reading about Bermuda's tremendous success as the world's insurance Mecca and its secret of attracting business, we read Minister Allyson Maynard Gibson's statement in her ministry's supplement in which she said that the Bahamas' "environment for investment opportunities remains robust, and the government continues to commit to encouraging foreign direct investment and its policy of the implementation of anchor developments in the Family Islands."

A few days later the following Tribune headline caught our eye:

"Bureaucracy stalls $3.6m investment for two years - developers pinpoint lack of coordination and problems with Lands and Surveys for holding back eco-tourism resort".

The reference was to Flamingo Nest resort. We then went back to the ministry's special supplement to get a progress report on Flamingo Nest resort, the only anchor development proposed for Inagua. Flamingo Nest was listed under "approved projects not commenced". Since the Christie government came to power in May, 2002 much has been heard about this Ministry's red carpet. It was a carpet laid down to smooth the way to the one-stop-shop that was to welcome investors, cut through all red tape and hasten their investment approvals.

However, there must be something wrong with that carpet - it probably should go back to the manufacturers - because we have heard nothing but complaints about its many pitfalls.

According to Robert DeRose, assistant vice president at AM Best: "Bermuda's growth and enhanced tourist market position are the result of the island's now legendary operating platform, which enables Bermuda companies to set up shop quickly and allows them to operate with substantial competitive advantages over competitors in the United States and Europe."

It seems that the difference between Bermuda and the Bahamas is that the former is a land of action, while the latter is a land of talk. We hear so many complaints from persons trying to do business in the Bahamas that we are convinced that every time an investor casts his line it is caught in a net of bureaucracy.

According to the Ministry of Financial Services and Investment the proposals for an ecotourism resort at Inagua has been approved.

According to Flamingo Nest development Corporation it has had official approval for two years, but can't turn the first sod of earth at Inagua because Lands and Surveys has failed to determine whether its project has met the requirements of its leasing contract. If it gets clearance it can purchase the Crown Land.

But, said one of the three American partners in the development, the project has been on hold indefinitely because of the problems with various government departments. Obviously, the red carpet and the one-stop-shop has failed this company and an island that would welcome another employment outlet. Presently Morton Salt Company is the main employer at Inagua.

The partner said that the company had waited four years for a Lands and Surveys official to survey the property, but no one ever came. As a result the company hired a local surveyor, only to be told that his report would not be accepted because he was not government licensed. "So it was a total waste of money," said the investor.

Where was the one-stop-shop with its red carpet and the helping hand?

From time to time government officials would visit Inagua on a tourism development trip, praise Flamingo Nest's proposed project, but did nothing to help the company cut through the red tape. Meanwhile, the company held off investing money in a property it didn't own.

The building permit was another issue. Local Government Council in Inagua issued a building permit, only to be told by central government in Nassau that it had no authority to do so. All permits to a foreign company have to be issued from Nassau.

Another problem was the death of the company's Bahamian partner, who willed his interest to his daughter. However, she is having difficulty getting the necessary documents transferred into her name.

One of the American partners said they were encouraged to invest in the Bahamas, but they have had to put their investors on hold because they can't in good faith invite people to invest in something knowing that so many things are still up in the air.

And so the Ministry's listing of Flamingo Nest as an investment that has been approved is misleading. It seems that the ministry's red carpet has been pulled from under the Nest. It would be interesting to know how many other projects listed in this supplement are having similar problems.
Can one imagine such things being allowed to happen in Bermuda's efficient business centre?

Editorial from The Tribune - Nassau, Bahamas

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