The Bahamas government is allocating resources to facilitate the transformation of the financial services sector. The 2018/2019 fiscal budget was passed in the House of Assembly on June 18th, 2018. In his contribution to the budget debate to the Bahamian Parliament, The Honourable T. Brent Symonette, the Bahamas Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration, unveiled plans to accelerate the pace of Human Capital Development and to improve the Ease of Doing Business. Both initiatives will facilitate a deliberate economic transformation toward a sustainable future for the country’s financial services sector as well as other elements of the Bahamian economy.

“We must first be proactive in investing in human capital through education and diversity to achieve service quality that is second to none,” said Minister Symonette.

“By improving our talent pool, we will ultimately increase efficiencies in the “ease of doing business” in The Bahamas.”

In this regard he said the establishment of a “Centre for Excellence” for professional skills development in financial services in the region is a priority. He stated that, “Through a grant from The European Union (EU) facilitated by The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) a roadmap was developed to enable us to demonstrate our commitment to educating and equipping our financial services workforce to meet and maintain quality standards in the provision of financial services through the Centre for Excellence. This project is envisioned as a public-private sector partnership to create a financial services “SMART CITY” for education, research and development, and internship.”

Minister Symonette added that the Ministry of Financial Services  will  not onlywork  with the Ministry of Education to strengthen financial services education at the tertiary level but  also intends to work with the University of The Bahamas to integrate into its business program opportunities for research and internships.

Minister Symonette added, “We must realize that although we are an independent and sovereign nation, we exist in an interdependent, and integrated ever-changing global economy. This means that we must embrace and adapt to change this is the only way we will be able to create opportunities for ourselves. He went on to stated that, “We must be innovative in our services and product offering while also putting in the framework for policy, and innovation that will foster flexibility for the creation of new products and services as well as investment in new areas of financial services.”

The Minister contended that the Bahamas brand label has to become a label of quality, creativity, innovation and technological advancement.

“We live in a knowledge based era, where these things are the key to future advancement. We must develop a Financial Services Technology and Innovation scheme where research centres and innovation libraries can be bred for user experience, data science and machine learning. This is where technological advancement is, it is happening now and   we have to embrace it.”

The commitment of the government to education as the means for transformation was emphasized when, in closing the debate on the 2018/2019 budget, Dr. The Honourable  Hubert Minnis, Prime Minister of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas announced that beginning in September 2019, all full time Bahamian students who meet certain entry requirements for University of The Bahamas will receive free tuition. “This major investment in education will help scores of young people to realize their dreams as we build a more equitable society,” said the Prime Minister.

With respect to the ease of doing business, The Minister Symonette noted that said the ease of doing business touches across the whole economy of The Bahamas, but is of particular importance to the financial services sector. “There has been a lot of talk surrounding this issue, but the goal of eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic protocols and practices in our administration for daily business operations is coming to fruition,” he said.

According to the Minister,  although improvements in the business license process are in its infancy phase, the business license fee for new businesses have already been eliminated over the past year.     The Minsiter stated that “Already, we are seeing greater communication between departments where the provision of information between agencies is being streamlined. This has enabled most of the transactions for obtaining a business license to occur in one place.”

In outlining some of the improved efficiencies within government, Minister Symonette  cited improvements and advances in the Registrar General’s Department, but added that there are plans to increase efficiencies even more to improve processes for turnaround time and accessibility of information. He went on to highlight efforts to streamline the account opening process, when he stated that “We are also looking at amendments to legislation coming from the Central Bank of The Bahamas, around making the process about Know Your Customer, Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing less regimented and more fluid, effectively making it easier to open accounts and transact business.”.

In addition to the initiatives outlined above, the government is also engaged in discussions with the Governor of the Central Bank on calls to relax exchange control measures and the Securities Commission of The Bahamas is also making amendments to the Investment Funds Act which will aid in enhancing this service.

While taking steps to ensure that there is a cadre of professionals to support the sector and seeking to ensure that persons who choose to do business in The Bahamas do not encounter obstacles, it is apparent in the Minister’s presentation that maintaining the integrity of the jurisdiction also remains a priority for the government.

The Minister also emphasized the Government’s commitment to keep abreast and compliant with global financial initiatives. Last year, The Bahamas signed the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters and the Multilateral Convention and Competent Authority Agreement for the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard on the Automatic Exchange of Information. The first exchanges will commence Reporting by The Bahamas for the Standard begins in September of this year. The Bahamas also became a member of the Inclusive Framework for the implementation of Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) and is working assiduously to implement the BEPS minimum standards and to meet its commitments to the EU directives by the end of 2018.

Minister Symonette highlighted that, “Signing on to these initiatives sends a loud and clear message to our international counterparts that The Bahamas is serious in its commitment to adhering to international standards relative to tax compliance and co- operation.”.