BY BRADLEY B. ROBERTS
FORMER CABINET MINISTER AND MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT
As Bahamians everywhere look to 51st anniversary of Majority Rule Day, now a national holiday to be celebrated on Wednesday, the 10th of January 2018, they have compelling reasons to expect public policy to facilitate the expansion on the franchises inherently guaranteed to them under the constitution. Bahamians fully expect greater personal, social and economic freedoms, lower barriers to trade and expanded opportunities to own a larger percentage of the Bahamian economy.
The Commercial Enterprise Bill (CEB), the brainchild of the FNM, liberalized immigration and stripped away the discretionary powers of the Department of Immigration at the stroke of a pen. The CEB, dubbed the Brent Symonette Bill, does not expand economic or social access for Bahamians to own the economy. What Bahamians need and demand is liberalized access to capital. They know how to access labour and other expertize on the international market. They have been doing that for literally decades.
I was heartened however to read in late December where the Central Bank of The Bahamas revealed that more proposals are underway to facilitate further exchange control liberalization. The Central Bank pointed out in its statement that the relaxed foreign currency financing access for SME’s owned or controlled by Bahamians took effect in April of this year. In announcing this policy from the floor of the House, then Prime Minister Christie fully recognized that given the dynamics of globalization, part and parcel of the economic empowerment process for Bahamians necessarily involved the ease of access to capital and capital markets for capital investment via non-developmental foreign financial institutions coupled with the affordable transfer of capital into The Bahamas. This investment policy lowers the barrier to trade and facilitates the ease of doing business.
I again thank Prime Minister Christie and his PLP government for their strength of leadership, vision and foresight. This landmark policy reform was established and announced amid but buried under the bruising and vitriolic rhetoric of a heated and emotive election campaign. The promise of Majority Rule must now necessarily focus on economic freedom and expanded access to ownership. The FNM clearly saw the wisdom in this policy and is continuing with its phased roll out.
I am troubled however by the manner in which the political head of the government is handling this policy. During a recent press conference held by Prime Minister Minnis, he pronounced extensively on the ongoing liberalized foreign exchange policy. I caution the Prime Minister that the Central Bank is the regulator of all local financial institutions and is therefore an independent institution under Bahamian law. The Central Bank must always seem to be and seen as operating independently. Prime Minister in his over exuberance to take credit for another PLP initiative clearly undermined the Governor of the Central Bank. This is wrong and Dr. Minnis must learn to respect institutional norms and conventions. He should allow the Central Bank Governor to take the lead and do his job.
The PLP in principle supports greater access to capital for Bahamian-owned businesses and recognize that the gradual and deliberative engagement between the Central Bank and the private sector on this important matter was going on for quite some time. Some may argue that the process moved along too slowly but the Bahamas government is generally conservative in its approach to monetary, fiscal and economic matters given our population size and the country’s open, vulnerable and highly integrated economy. Within the context of Majority Rule, this policy initiative is one of the solemn promises of this transformational and nationalistic grass roots movement and a promise whose time has come.