By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Government was yesterday urged “not to lose eyes for the prize” in reinvigorating the Bahamian small and medium-sized business sector, a well-known consultant disclosing that long-awaited reforms were likely to be implemented in the New Year.
Mark A Turnquest, of Mark A Turnquest Consulting, told Tribune Business he understood that the Government now wanted to the legislative and structural changes to occur simultaneously.
Mr Turnquest, a well-known consultant to Bahamian small businesses, said that while the legislation could be passed rapidly, the organisational plan for the accompanying Small and Medium-Sized Business Development Agency (SMEDA) - which will give teeth to the reforms - was taking longer.
The Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Bill, much touted by both the current government and former Ingraham administration, appeared to have disappeared into a ‘black hole’ and been forgotten about as other issues took priority on the legislative agenda.
Acknowledging that the Government had been pre-occupied with Value-Added Tax (VAT) and web shop gaming, Mr Turnquest said: “The Small Business Bill has been completed, and the planning stage for the Small Business Development Agency has been completed.”
While suggesting that the legislation would have made it to Cabinet by now had it not been for VAT, Mr Turnquest said SMEDA would not be structured and ready to go until year-end. He described the latter as the Bill’s “execution arm”.
“The Bill is before them, but the country is having such challenges economically that they put it on the back burner,” Mr Turnquest added.
“I have no problem with that, but the Government must make sure it doesn’t lose eyes for the prize. I don’t care what you do, you must develop small and medium-sized businesses.”
Bahamian small and medium-sized businesses are estimated to account for between 90-95 per cent of all companies in this nation, but they are seen as lacking the access to capital and necessary support services/mechanisms to transform them into sustainable long-term enterprises.
The Bill and SMEDA are intended to cure such woes, helping to foster greater ownership and entrepreneurship by Bahamians, and ultimately stimulating economic growth and job creation.
Mr Turnquest also urged the Government to focus on creating sustainable economic activity in the Family Islands, ensuring each became known for a product/service where it held a competitive advantage and ‘clustering’ businesses around it.
He advocated a private-public partnership as the platform to achieve this, with the Government providing the infrastructure and helping to unlock Family Island wealth that was tied up in real estate holdings.
And Mr Turnquest also called on the Government to detail in advance which Customs Duty and Excise tariff rates would be reduced, and by how much, to compensate for VAT’s introduction on January 1, 2015.
Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive, also expressed confidence that SMEDA and the accompanying legislation would be implemented.
“I think it’s going to be re[-presented at some point,” Mr Sumner said of the Bill. ‘The Ministry of Finance is looking at it now. We know the design produced by the consultants is being reviewed.
“We’re waiting for them to present back what the final draft of SMEDA is going to look like, and the final draft of what the legislation will look like.
“I’m quite confident it’s going to be going forward, and the Government is working through various departments to make that happen.”
Mr Sumner agreed that other priorities had taken the Government’s attention, and added: “SMEDA is still an important initiative. We fully support its implementation.
“I’m quite confident that the work is being done, and we expect to see SMEDA come to fruition at some point in the near future. We’re satisfied the work is being done.”