The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every industry, resulting in economic turmoil globally. Despite this global uncertainty, Min. of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration, the Hon. Elsworth Johnson is optimistic about the future of the financial services sector. The Minister expressed the government’s commitment in keeping pace with technology while delivering the national address from the Office of the Prime Minister, October 22, 2020. “It is a privilege and honour to stand before the people of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas today to give an account of my stewardship at the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration.
And the progress we have made with our future-focused agenda. He said that since COVID-19 over the past seven months, the government has taken several steps to care for the Bahamian people, bolster the economy and manage the nation’s finances. To this end, he said that the government intends to advance the relevant legislation while also implementing the necessary changes to bring about the modernization and digital transformation needed to not only engage with industry stakeholders during the pandemic, but to be competitive within a 21 st century, technology-focused world.
He said that in May, the ministry successfully hosted the first-ever Financial Services Virtual Symposium. He said that the turnout was ‘healthy’ and they received ‘overwhelmingly’ positive feedback from stakeholders. They intend to continue this trend of hosting and participating in more digital engagements in the future.
The Ministry’s website (www. mofstii.gov.bs) was also launched in May.
It will serve as a central access point for all of the Ministry’s activities and announcements, and a portal for industry-wide engagement. He said that strides have also been made in the Trade Unit, where they have digitized the process of applying for concessions under the Industries Encouragement Act. Further, he said that they have continued to make progress in the Department of Immigration with the implementation of the Immigration Integrated Management System to allow for cashless transactions, online application processes, exploration of online and external delivery of relevant client documents. He said this move would address the ongoing concerns about the speed and efficiency of operations as it relates to economic permanent residency applications.
Additionally, as a part of the government’s efforts to attract remote workers and students to work remotely in paradise, the Ministry is just weeks away from launching the Extended Visa Stay Programme. He pointed out that Monarch House will manage the launch of this programme. The Ministry will also launch the Tax Residency Certificate (TRC) by the end of 2020.
The TRC, he said, is a high priority item on the Ministry’s agenda, as there has been mounting international pressure to formally identify the expatriate residents and investors who are domiciled within Bahamian borders to ensure greater transparency of income and financial records, particularly for taxation purposes. He said that the government’s ultimate goal is to fully comply with international information exchange agreements according to the OECD’s Common Reporting Standards.
He said that capacity building has also been high on the agenda. Consequently, for the first time in five years, there is a director of financial services. In addition, the Ministry has hired – for the first time ever – a deputy director of financial services. Additional hires include a new director of the trade unit, as well as a consultant specifically tasked with overseeing the roll-out of new Alternative Dispute Resolution legislation to establish the Bahamas as a centre for International Commercial Arbitration. He concluded by saying that the Ministry is ready to take advantage of the opportunities available and to drive growth in new and unexplored ways.