Interview with Bahamas Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder
Above: Nassau (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
Ryan Pinder was appointed as the Bahamas’ Minister of Financial Services following the Progressive Liberal Party’s return to power in May 2012. Pinder, an attorney by trade, heads a Ministry dealing with the second-largest economic sector in the Bahamas — along with the portfolios of trade and industry. Pinder, the Member of Parliament for Elizabeth, recently headlined the TMG* Talks in Nassau, which focused on the development of the creative economy in the Bahamas. To learn more about his work, Caribbean Journal spoke with the Minister about the Bahamas and the World Trade Organization, the financial services sector in the country and developing the Bahamian creative class.
What are the ministry’s biggest priorities right now?
It was a ministry that was recreated, so we have an opportunity to change the ministry and build it up as well. So certainly in the financial services industry, the priority is to be able to engage and interact one on one with the industry as much as possible, getting a sense of the issues and the opportunities that exist in the industry. So it’s to do that kind of listening tour, and we put that on right away. From the trade side, soon after taking office in June, we went to Geneva to have a working group session with the WTO, which we’re acceding to — we’re in the process of accession. So my technical team and I went and had a second round of working group sessions. So we’re still progressing and trying to get everything in order domestically. From an industry development point of view, it was very important that we engage industry and see what policies the government can do to stimulate current industry and to create new industry. A function of that was what we did [at the TMG* Talks], going in and listening to a forum of non-traditional industry and to see the viability of developing and supporting that type of industry.
You mentioned the WTO — do you have timetable for the Bahamas’ accession to the WTO?
Well, our goal is we would like to achieve that by the end of 2014. We just started our bilateral discussions, and we still have some economic and legislative reforms, including intellectual property legislation. But we’re aggressively pursuing that, and building a very strong technical team in trade. Hopefully, by 18 months, we’ll have acceded.
What are the biggest challenges in the Bahamas’ financial sector?
Well, financial services is a very dynamic industry globally. It shifts and it changes, and the focus and development of the industry shifts and changes depending on what’s going on internationally. So to be on top of that is a necessity, and one of the things we will recognize is certainly the FATCA legislation that will apply to Bahamian financial institutions, and every financial institution globally that has any kind of business with us. But inclusive of Bahamian financial services, it’s developing a government policy and assisting private industry in addressing that issue. It’s important that we see the shifts in the market. We see asset managers looking to relocate, and we see a shift in the geography of clients, such as Latin America, and it’s important to be able to position the Bahamas in a way that attracts that business.
You attended the TMG* Talks [last week], which focused on developing the creative sector in the Bahamas. What do you see as the best way to do that?
There’s a difference in policy between supporting the arts and supporting the creative class, and really creating an avenue of economic empowerment for the creative class. And that’s the distinction that a government has to observe. So you want to be able to be encouraging the sector and the like, but also being able to, from a policy point of view, to give them an avenue of creating their product and giving them an avenue of distributing that product, and the necessary investment to do so. We have the example of import duties with respect to paint — the purpose behind the import duties on paint is because we have domestic commercial paint manufacturing — for houses and the like. And so when you talk about paint for an artistic nature, [the artist buying paint] gets caught up in ways that are unintended. So we have to observe that as a government, and say how we differentiate between what is happening. We want to promote and develop our creative class, but we don’t want to do so to damage our domestic commercial paint manufacturing industry. And maybe creating incentive legislation for the creative industry helps solve that problem without putting another area in jeopardy.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the economy since taking office?
Well, I think that one of the biggest shocks when we took office were the deficit levels that the previous administration had built up over the last fiscal year. We were expecting anywhere from between a $250 million and $300 million deficit, which would have been manageable, and we would have still had the resources to be able to focus on the economic development and social development of the country. When we came into office, that was up over $500 million, which was rather large, and, certainly, when you’re as irresponsible as that with the financial situation of the country, the ability to rapidly invest in other areas is restricted — just by a resources level. So that was surprising to all of us in the government — the level of negligence of the financial management of the country in the last fiscal year. And we just have to be creative now, and be extra attentive and really come up with new ways to develop our social and economic agenda.
What is the Bahamas’ place within CARICOM?
As I mentioned at the TMG* Talks, from an economic point of view, we have the EPA with Europe and CARIFORUM, which is actually an interesting trade agreement as well. I had the opportunity, shortly after coming into office, to visit Jamaica for the Caribbean Growth Forum, which was a Caribbean a symposium on how we, as a region, develop economically. We see ourselves as being participants in CARICOM — really being, in some regard, leaders in CARICOM, and very close with our regional neighbours, especially from an economic point of view. I know from a diplomatic point of view as well. We’re encouraged with CARICOM, and we’re continuing to work with our regional partners.