||Last Updated: May 14, 2019 - 9:11:49 AM
Debate Immigration Amendment Bill
Senator, Hon., J.L. Coleby- Davis
Opposition Senator and Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs and Youth
Thank you Madame President.
As always I am grateful to God for granting me this opportunity to stand in this place and contribute to the building of this great country, The Bahamas.
Before I begin my contribution, I want to use this opportunity to wish my closest friend Lanecia Darville a Happy Birthday, she is like a sister to me, an auntie-goddie to my daughter, a very ambition and inspiring young lady, who, like myself, I am certain has much to offer in the building of this Bahamas for the benefit of Bahamians.
Madame President, today I do not wish to be before you long, as I stand to bring contributions to the Immigration Amendment Bill 2019 which the opposition WILL NOT SUPPORT AT ALL.
Madame President, as to the Immigration Amendment Bill before us today. There are two major concerns that I have with this Bill and so for a moment, I will deal with each separately to avoid confusion.
Commercial Enterprise Act:
Madame President, I stand here today on the shoulders of the ONLY Father of the Nation, Sir Lynden Pindling, and the proud legacy he left behind in the hearts and minds of many, a policy of Bahamianization! And as I address this senate, I am watching as the Bahamas is slowly being stripped away of that policy with legislation such as the one before us, which is a branch of the already passed, horrible Commercial Enterprises Act. This Act was one of the first pieces of legislation out of the gate for this Minnis Administration. And if you listened to members in the other place as they stood to support and defend the amendments in this Immigration Bill, NOTHING that they said in support gives Bahamians the hope of being entrepreneurs, business owners, advancement on the jobs, investors in new industries. NOTHING, absolutely nothing said does that. In actuality Madame President, there is not one scintilla of hope in the messages coming from this MinnisAdministration. Wait, let me correct that, there is not one scintilla of hope for the advancement of Bahamians from this Minnis Administration. Yea, the members opposite is going to stand and run on about ease of doing business, but the only thing they are making easy is for foreigners to enjoy free entry into the Bahamas.
Madame President, I heard members opposite in this place and the other place talk about the benefits of having investors and businesses enter the Bahamas under this Immigration Amendment Bill in relation to the Commercial Enterprises Act for the transfer of knowledge and skills to Bahamians. And Madame President, I agree with that to an EXTENT, we can agree that Foreign Investors in some ways form part of the Bahamian story, for many many years, you will hear the names of those who have brought much to the Bahamas and made an impression. I will not stand here today and insult the contribution of the foreign investor that have helped to build this great country. However, I question whether there was a need for this Commercial Enterprise Act or the said amendments to the Immigration Bill. The Bahamas Investment Authority if given the power, and the resources could efficiently and effectively manage this process for the country and if there are apparentinefficiencies in the work permit process at the Immigration level, then LET US FIX IT! For instance, delays at Immigration may be related to the timing of execution and turnaround time to respond to applications, which could be remedied with more manpower. Surely, Madame President, our answer to fixing the immigration issues cannot be what this FNM Government is offering, which is overriding the application review process and allowing free entry!!
Madame President, these amendments allow Companies to bring in their entire executive team, and then receive work visas within 14 days, and the argument in support is Bahamians will learn skills. When there are apparently no restrictions on how many times one person’s work visa can be renewed!
Who will monitor that skills are actually being passed down?
Who will keep a record of the amount of Bahamians excelling in these businesses?
Actually, who is keeping a record on the present benefits received since the passing of the Commercial Enterprises Act?
Did we have an influx of companies, are thousands of Bahamians getting jobs with these companies?
Last, I heard, two companies that this FNM government was bragging about opening offices in Grand Bahama, has shut down and went belly-up! This is why we must be realistic in our communications to the people. Persons will enter the country, with startup capital, hire maybe 2-3 Bahamians to do the everyday office jobs, and ifbusiness does not perform at a certain level of success in a specific period of time, the decision will be made to pack up, and leave this country, sending Bahamians home and back to the unemployment line, with no exponential skillset, no great package deal, no new ideas, just a little less hope! Additionally, we must be careful that these Companies are legitimately entering to do business in The Bahamas, and NOT that they are entering Grand Bahama, seeking to avoid regulations in their home countries. Do they really wish to grow the economy of Grand Bahama? Or is there some regulation they are avoiding, because we have yet to see any real modern regulations governing all these tech hubs. For all I know they could be tech money cleaning hubs? I mean Madame President, who knows?
Madame President, this CANNOT be the million-dollar idea this Minnis Administration painted to the Bahamian people. Madame President, this cannot be the one in a million idea that came out of this Government of 35 to 4. Please tell me they have yet to pull the rabbit out of the hat! Because, if all the FNM can come up with for stimulating growth in the Bahamian economy is OBAN and this Commercial Enterprise Bill then GOD HELP US ALL!!
Madame President, on the face of it, this appears to be a Government who has demonstrated they are willing to respond to the immediate needs of everyone BUT BAHAMIANS! And that is unfortunate!
I mean look at how fast they are moving with the necessary changes needed to facilitate the legal entry of persons under this Commercial Enterprise Act, yet we still have local issues that takes a while to be addressed. Inequality amongst women, Unions striking, VAT and Taxes cutting our hips left right and centre, Teachers and nurses fighting over and over for increase. NHI have yet to really make any sort of forward movement since the 2017 elections, BUT THIS GOVERNMENT FIND IT VERY IMPORTANT TO DECREASE TAXES/ DUTY TO BENEFIT THE WEALTHY, THEY ARE CHANGING THE IMMIGRATION LAWS TO ACCOMMODATE THE WEALTHY, THEY ARE ALLOWING ACCESS TO THE BAHAMAS AND BYPASSING IMMIGRATION!
And, Madame President, I keep hearing members in the other place talk about this trickle-down effect that can result from this Commercial Enterprise Act, and I say show me the proof! Because the proof is always in the pudding, you passed this Act in November 2017, so show us the proof of benefits.
How many businesses signed on and opened in the Bahamas since coming into force?
How many executive positions does Bahamians hold in these companies?
How many work visas permits have been granted following the coming into force of that legislation?
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being NOTHING, how much financial gain has the country received from the passing of the Commercial Enterprise Act?
Madame President, in my contribution to the Commercial Enterprise Act, I made it clear that NO BAHAMIAN in this 21st Century Bahamas cares to hear someone degrade their potential and possibility by stating the wealth will have to trickle-down, because the origin of trickle-down economics was actually used as a joke by Will Rodgers in a column in 1932!! However, money does not trickle down, water and crumbs may do so, but certainly not money! Put some money on the ground in this country and watch how fast it trickles up, before the day is out it would have already reached back in the hands of many Bahamian businessmen and women!
Madame President, before I end. I wish to speak briefly on the 32a Exemption that states:
(1) No person is required to obtain a work visa or short-term
work visa if that person enters The Bahamas for the purpose
of engaging in any activity listed in subsection (2) for a
period not exceeding fourteen days and the activity is the
only activity in which that person is so engaged.
(2) The activities referred to in subsection (1) are —
(a) attending a conference or seminar as a participant,
excluding the organisers of such conference or
(b) attending a trade show or summit, excluding the
organisers of such show or summit;
(c) working as a non-executive director of a business
being carried on in The Bahamas, where such person is
not involved in the day to day operations in The
Bahamas, but is visiting in his capacity as nonexecutive
(d) attending a business meeting with a local company in
the capacity of —
(iv) chief executive officer;
(v) chief operating officer;
(vi) chief financial officer;
(viii) legal counsel;
(ix) compliance officer;
(xiii) medical professional;
(xv) analyst; or
Madame President, there is a major concern with the sovereign protection of our professions, specifically, the Legal, Accountants and Medical Professions. While I understand the “ease of doing business” concept and the need to remove some of the unnecessary hassles that are imposed because of the requirement for work permits, even in situations when there is just a need to enter the country for meetings, seminars and conferences. As it relates to the current process, in some instances this amendment is just putting in black and white, in the law what may have already been the practice. However, Madame President, this section 32a is just too wide and goes beyond what is expected by some professions to be exclusive for citizens, permanent residents or legitimate work permit holders. For instance, in the Public Accountants Act section 13. (1) The Council shall, upon application in writing and payment of the prescribed fee, issue a licence to engage in public practice to any person, being a citizen of The Bahamas or a permanent resident etc. Then section 13 (2) goes further to allow persons who are not citizens to the receive the licence based on certain requirements including the need to be in possession of a valid work permit.
The young professionals are very concerned that this amendment is about to open the flood gates. Madame President, while the draftsmen must have intended to assist the Government with their ease of doing business policy, it appears that this section 32a is leaning of on the side of “ease of free movement of people!” AND I AM OF THE BELIEF THAT THIS MIGHT BE SOME WTO POLICY THAT WE ARE SEEING BEING IMPLEMENTED AS THIS GOVERNEMENT CONTINUOUSLY PREPARE THE BAHAMAS FOR ASCESION, DESPITE THE RECENT OXFORD REPORT SHOWING BAHAMIANS THE SKILL GAP IN OUR COUNTRY.
Instead there being a sought out plan to close the gap, this government is removing all of the barriers for entry by all professions, which will further lead to widening the skills gap and making the competition even more difficult.
Further, Madame President, Section 32a, provides no sort of guidance or criteria for determining whether or not a person is exempt or restricted from this work permit free entry. Look at the ACT, NOTHING, NO sort of guidance. Neither does the bill impose any limitations on the frequency of travel. So for instance Madame President, it is easy for persons to abuse the system, because they can now employ their professional from anywhere in the world and have them come and enter the country two weeks in every month as a consultant or for a business meeting, when in actuality they are fully employed.
Further, Madame President, in an effort to promote “ease of doing business” the Government must also balance protecting our borders.
Which is priority, Ease of Doing business or protecting our borders?
Because Madame President, there are no criteria for immigration officers to manage at the port of entry! Anyone can now land and say, here for a business meeting with this particular company, no need to show proof of meeting, no prior communication required from the Company to advise of entry. How are we going to protect our borders? We saw just two weeks ago that one of the principles in the Marina Project has a previous conviction of drug possession, prior to that we had principles of OBAN with previous fraudulent convictions! So Madame President, this FNM Government has had some issues since coming to power with properly vetting the foreign investors, it seems like they just jumping on any band wagon to say they have movement in the economy. Madame President, I have no confidence in this FNM government, because it is evident that even when investigations have been completed, there have been areas of a foreign investor past life that were missed until after they were granted entry and access to carry out business in the Bahamas.
Madame President, I am very concern about the future for our professionals and the protection of our borders if this amendment is passed with no restrictions, and criteria’s. In well drafted and tighter legislation persons find loopholes, so imagine now! There are probably many companies sitting waiting for this amendment to pass just so they can avoid making future payments to the treasury for short-term and long-term work permits! Because from now on, everyone will be entering to attend meetings! Madame President, the Government should rethink this amendment and try to tighten up what is allowed or remove some professions from the list to avoid any further dishonest entry and influx of foreign workers placing a greater disadvantage on Bahamians!
As I end, Madame President, what we should see coming from our leaders is the true Bahamianization policy, the Bahamian dream! While investors are very much so important and played a role in the growth of this economy, this new generation of millennials wants a paradigm shift, where we become the new investors, going all over the world and bringing innovation, technology, new industries, sustainable development to the Bahamian economy. Leaders must stop taking the easy road and just seeking investors, and switch the focus from granting so much benefits to foreign investors who have no allegiance to the Bahamas,but turn the focus to Bahamians. Educating our people and investing in their growth is what the new Bahamas should be doing. Young persons want to make their own mark in building this society, how about we start creating opportunities for young Bahamians to rub shoulders with industry stakeholders across the world and with the opportunity to bring back new ventures to our shores. Madame President, this FNM government cannot be so gong-ho on getting any sort ofinvestors here or there, and having the headlinenews of this HOA signing and that MOU signing, selling our assets; however, they must focus on bringing quality investors and projects that will have longevity in the Bahamas. But above all, Madame President, this Government must ensure they protect the sovereignty of the young Bahamian professionals and in every discussion and decisionBahamians must be the head and not the tail!
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