Jason McDowall, CEO and President of the country’s largest and most used website, BahamasLocal.com, yesterday welcomed initiatives announced recently by government to lift The Bahamas out of what he called “an antiquated paper-based” business platform and transport it into the 21st century.
“In an age when the largest retailer in the world is an online business, Amazon, official business in The Bahamas is still being conducted by paper transactions,” said McDowall. “That’s like choosing to use a rotary dial phone in a smart device era.”
McDowall’s comments came after Prime Minister Hubert Minnis acknowledged the country must step up its game, reeling off one stunning low ranking after another on the World Bank’s most recent Ease of Doing Business Report. Out of 190 countries, the prime minister noted, The Bahamas ranked 119th overall in ease of doing business, 106th in obtaining a building permit for a simple warehouse structure, 142nd for obtaining credit and 167th in registering property.
“The Bahamas should be in a leading position as a great place to do business, both for locals and for foreign investors, but over the years we slipped further down the scale of places friendly to business,” said McDowall. He is keeping a particularly close eye on regional rankings as he gets closer to launching CaribbeanLocal, expanding the concept that has made BahamasLocal.com the Google of the Caribbean. “The Bahamas has everything going for it. Geographically we are the closest country to the largest markets, U.S. and Canada. We have an English-speaking population, our currency is on par with the U.S. dollar, we have a highly skilled and professional labour pool.
“Despite all that we are falling behind. Jamaica, Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Cayman are all ranked higher and moving higher as we continue to slide. We have to ask ourselves why.”
The answer, said McDowall, is “right before our eyes in nearly every government office where there are piles of paper and people moving the paper around. We are a dinosaur in a space travel age.”
In recent months, the cry for change has amped up as a backlog of letters of good standing from National Insurance Board offices have increasingly held up business license renewals, Customs bonds and other matters related to conducting what should be routine business affairs.
Shortly after coming to office, the prime minister noted the roadblocks.
“The age of advanced computer algorithms and Smart Technology, waiting weeks or even months for the processing of certain documents or approvals must be a thing of the past. The business license process takes too long and must be shortened,” he said. “The inertia in the process must be removed.”
Earlier this month, he revealed initiatives to lessen those roadblocks including business license application handling within seven days.
“We live in an electronic world,” said McDowall. “Our BahamasLocal.com ad banners are shown over 400 million times per month, our business listings are clicked on more than 1.5 million times per month and our pages are viewed over four million times per month. But at NIB it still takes more than a dozen people, I am told, to handle a single request for a letter of good standing that should be automatic and instantaneous upon online request with a check that the account is up to date. I am thrilled to hear that the prime minister and others, including the Ministers of Tourism and Financial Services, Trade and Industry, are on board and understand what our antiquated way of doing business is doing to our international reputation and to local frustration. I offer my technology services to the government and will be happy to assist in any way I can.”