Op-Ed: Mark Turnquest on Why the Bahamas Needs a Ministry of Commerce

Above: downtown Nassau (CJ Photo)

By Mark A Turnquest
Op-Ed Contributor

MISSION OF THE MINISTRY OF COMMERCE

My advice to the Bahamas’ Free National Movement government is to create a Ministry of Commerce without incurring any costs or expenses. Simply transfer a few existing staff from the Ministry of Finance and empower the present Minister of State for Finance to head it. If additional persons are needed, I am optimistic that business persons from the private sector would volunteer their services (on an advisory board) to improve the economic conditions of the Bahamas because it would be in their best interests to do so. I would be a volunteer if asked.

The Ministry of Commerce’s mission would to be to create policies and strategies that increase small- and medium-sized enterprises’ contribution to GDP and to diversify the economy. Large businesses, owned by Bahamians, would continue to receive government and public support. However, a special goal will be to immediately develop the SME sector because it has been neglected for too long by stakeholders who were supposed to assist in its growth and development.

GOALS OF THE MINISTRY OF COMMERCE

The main goals of the Ministry of Commerce would be to:

* Spearhead the formulation and implementation of the Bahamas SME Development Act The Ministry would work closely with both the public and private sectors to ensure the focus of the Act is to create and sustain SME development in the Bahamas.

* Establish a Family Island Development Board. This board would be responsible for formulating strategy and implementation plans on how we can shift about one third of the population from Nassau to various Family Islands.
Each Family Island will be analyzed to determine its economic, social and cultural potential, so that financial and other incentives can be offered to Bahamians who want to open complementary businesses and reside permanently on a Family Island. This initiative will increase the employment rate, improve the infrastructure of the Family Islands, encourage Bahamians to reside there permanently and entice more domestic and foreign tourists to the various islands. This Board will work closely with the Ministry of Tourism and BAIC.

* Encourage local commercial banks and international financial lending institutions to invest more in the Bahamas. The Ministry of Commerce will be an advocate for Bahamian banks to retain more of their profits for the purpose of providing adequate financial resources to viable SMEs. The Ministry will work directly with the Central Bank of the Bahamas to ensure that Bahamians SMEs can have easy access to international financing.

* Have regular meetings with professional organizations and unions. This will allow the Ministry of Commerce to be knowledgeable about industry-specific problems and opportunities.

* Oversee the management of all government agencies that cater to businesses. BAIC, the Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund, Business License and Evaluation Department and the Bahamas Development Bank, among others, would be mandated to synchronize activities that provide effective and efficient services to SMEs.

* Liaise with business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Bahamas Business Association and community groups in order to determine their needs and concerns, so that they can be addressed in a timely manner.

* Establish consumer and business protection agencies. These agencies would be responsible for ensuring that both the buyer and seller behave in a socially responsible manner when exchanging money for goods or services. In addition, the Ministry could partner with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the National Crime Committee to reduce all types of crime.

* Establish an Infrastructure Development Committee. This committee will work closely with the following: BEC, Water and Sewerage Corporation, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Bus and Taxi Unions etc. The mission of this committee would be to analyze the infrastructure requirements of the entire Bahamas for the next 10 to 15 years. This will prevent the outcry of business owners when infrastructural upgrading (road reversals, highway restructuring and “road digging” projects) negatively affect their livelihood. If this occurs, then business plans and models could be adjusted well in advance.

* Collaborate with international organizations such as the IDB, ILO, IICA and CEDA (Caribbean Export) to prepare Bahamian businesses to compete globally. The Ministry of Commerce will provide information in a timely manner about how international trade agreements (such as the EPA) and becoming a member of international organizations (WTO) would affect local SMEs.

* Encourage learning institutions and business support organizations to provide innovative and affordable services to SMEs. The College of the Bahamas and other tertiary institutions would be required to conduct more primary research initiatives on how to improve local industries and markets. Accountants, lawyers and  business, marketing, human resources and financial consultants would be given motivation (via grants) to reduce the price of basic services.

* Finally, the Ministry of Commerce will ensure that the Bahamas constantly experiences economic development. This could be accomplished by:

* Encouraging other government ministries and departments to focus on operational effectiveness and efficiency.

* Developing initiatives that reduce the nation’s debt, unemployment and inflation levels.

* Developing initiatives that increase foreign direct investment, GDP and economic diversity.

* Developing initiatives to reduce crime and protect our environment.

I hope that the FNM government will create the Ministry of Commerce because it is important to the economic development and diversification of the Bahamas.

Mark A Turnquest is a Caribbean management and marketing consultant, author, corporate trainer and small business consultant. He is the President of Outreach Sales & Marketing Management Ltd. He is also a board member of the Board of Directors of the Bahamas Agriculture and Industrial Corporation.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

 

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