The Bahamas Government plans to release an **Electronic Commerce Policy Statement** early this year, according to Minister of State for Finance, Sen. The Hon. James H. Smith, C.B.E.

Speaking at this week’s Bahamas Business Outlook forum, the Minister said the policy statement could be regarded as an important step in the economic development of The Bahamas since it would articulate the Government’s strategy for transforming the Bahamian economy to a digital one. He said, *”The policy would set the foundation for the Bahamian Digital Agenda in order to ensure that we are globally competitive and have in place the necessary information and communications infrastructure to sustain electronic business activity.”*

The Minister noted that a digital economy could reduce the cost of delivering public services, and improve transparency and efficiencies in the public service. The Government proposes to establish an E-business Development Office within the Ministry of Finance, which office will have responsibility for implementing the strategy. In order to effectively support this initiative, supporting E-commerce legislation will be introduced to address matters such as rules for commercial transactions; protection of intellectual property rights; security; interconnectivity of information systems; privacy and confidentiality of consumer information. Additionally, steps will also be taken to establish an effective clearing and settlement system for E-commerce transactions.

Minister Smith said these efforts should be complemented by a privatised Bahamas Telecommunications Company Limited, an exercise expected to be completed within the first half of this year. *”Privatisation of the telecommunications company should not only provide additional funds to Government for debt reduction in 2003, but should also provide increased capacity for expanding information technology, including high speed data transmission capabilities which are essential to the E-commerce development effort.”*continued the Minister.

Prime Minister Perry Christie also presented a keynote address at Bahamas Business Outlook, and he too took the opportunity to promote the development of The Bahamas as an important E-commerce center as an attractive option in international services. In order to achieve this, he said, it is vital to have the necessary body of legislation in place safeguarding intellectual property rights and related matters, to have the highest quality technological infrastructure available in the telecommunications sector, and to have a highly educated and computer literate work force available. He reiterated the Government’s commitment to the development of the necessary legislative and regulatory platforms for E-commerce.

The Hon. Leslie Miller, Minister of Trade and Industry, addressed the same issues at a recent Brand New Hope Summit. He urged Bahamians to bridge the “digital divide” between the developed and the developing world, noting that that such has been recognised as necessary to maximise benefits from opportunities posed by advances in information and communication technology.

Minister Miller said the Government recognises the importance of continuing to prepare the Bahamian people and economy for the acceleration of trade integration and inter-connectedness associated with globalisation. *”It is our aim to have the highest quality technological infrastructure available in the telecommunications sector and to have a highly educated and computer literate work force,”* he advised Summit participants.

Prime Minister Christie has indicated that the E-commerce legislation “for a new industry in The Bahamas” should be up and running before June of this year.