Government is studying legislation to foster and encourage small and medium businesses in the country. Recognizing that over 80 percent of businesses in The Bahamas fall in this category and that collectively these businesses are the country’s largest employer, government wants to see more persons enter into business and succeed.
Government recognizes that its various plans and agencies for small businesses in the past have generally not given the intended results. This legislation is intended to simplify the process and have it managed by a nine-member board of knowledgeable but non-political persons.
The Small and Medium Size Enterprises Development Bill, SMEDA, is now being presented to the public for consultation and possible presentation to Parliament this summer. The SMEDA bill can be seen on the government’s website and is easy to understand. One of the first public consultation meetings was held on March 8 with the directors of the Abaco Chamber of Commerce.
Four board members will be appointed by the Minister and five will be independently chosen by the private sector. One each will come from the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce in Nassau, one from the Freeport Chamber and one from the Abaco Chamber. The final two will be chosen from other islands with Chambers of Commerce or business associations.
Grants, loans and other incentives now under the control of the following agencies or departments will be governed by the newly created SMEDA agency. Those yielding to this new agency are the following:
• Ministry of Finance – grants, duty exemptions, etc.
• Ministry of Financial Services and Investments – Industries Encouragement Act
• Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources – farming and fishing support
• Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation – project proposal support, farm and craft training
• Bahamas Development Bank – loans
• Bahamas Venture Capital Fund – equity contributions and loans
• Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture – grants
• Office of the Prime Minister – Hotel Encouragement Act
It is proposed that SMEDA will begin operations with a five-year annual budget of $5 million being a grant from government.
The proposed legislation as presented to the Abaco Chamber details how this new agency is to be formed and how the board will conduct themselves. The regulations on how the SMEDA agency uses its funding is likely to be made by the Minister and the new board working together. After the agency is up and running, it is intended that it functions beyond the minister’s control.
This desired independence from governmental oversight requires that the nine board members have a grasp and knowledge of small and medium business operations, challenges, obstacles, training, financing, marketing and other pertinent issues. Particular emphasis is on fostering entrepreneurs in the Family Islands and this requires knowledge of Family Island issues.
The three presenters from Nassau were Tonya Cargill Adderley, SMEDA Project Coordinator; Don Gray; and Merrit Storr, legal advisor from Chancellors Chambers.
Photo ID standing l to r, David Ralph and Leazona Richard of the Chamber, Tonya Cargill-Adderly and Don Gray of the consultative group, George Riviere, Dennis Lightbourn and Michael Albury of the chamber; seated – Brenda Jenure of Winding Bay, Rosnell Parker-Simons of the Chamber and Merit Storr legal advisor from Chancellors Chambers.