Photo author Roderick Wells. Director for Planning at the office of the Prime Minister, Dr. Nicola Vrigil Rolle, with IDB Governance Sector Specialist Robert Pantzer
When I blogged 2 months ago, outlining the ramifications of the NDP, I emphasized that an improved institutional capacity for planning and investment assessment would ensure better economic performance and ultimately contribute to the sustainability of public finances. All this sounds right but somehow a bit dry and theoretical, even esoteric – it needs to be translated into practical terms that speak to the Bahamian people. Fortunately, the NDP now enters its critical stage of consultations with Bahamians, which we launched with a governance seminar for public servants last week. Their passionate and sparkling response inspired me and compels me to write these lines.
Why I am excited about this? Under the umbrella of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) the government may launch a series of important reforms: the IDB has an extremely well developed tool kit and deep experience across the whole region that could be tapped and implemented with relatively modest resources.
There are numerous opportunities in The Bahamas for targeted governance reforms that will have a huge impact. At the forefront is revamping and modernizing e-governance: The main question here is how to turn e-governance into a tool to support the country’s economic and social development and keep citizens informed and happy. As a first step, The Bahamas may need a digital development strategy, to revamp its e-government platform and expand its range of public services over the Internet for citizens and businesses.
Having lived in The Bahamas for the last two years I have had the opportunity and privilege of making some very good Bahamian friends and we talk a lot. One issue which comes up again and again is the frustration with public service. For example my mother’s nurse was setting up her business and it took her much patience and time to hop from one official to the other in getting all signatures on the required paperwork. One appointment was particularly frustrating since the official had run out of ink and could not print and sign the required document needed for her business license! This is terribly frustrating since it not only slows down the process of business registration but also adds to carbon print and the traffic jams with the people driving through downtown Nassau trying to comply with the requirements of a rather inefficient bureaucracy.
The example of my mother’s nurse and her efforts in registering her business touches another subject: The Word Bank’s Doing Business indicator in 2015 moved Jamaica, for example, up 27 ranks (from rank 85 up to 58) in the list, gaining grounds mainly on topics such as the time to set up a business and to access credit. In the same time the Bahamas worsened its already bad ranking from 96th to 97th. Losing ground mainly on issues such as credit access and business registry but also getting electricity and dealing with construction permits. With the help of the IDB, improving those indicators would be a quick fix and a low hanging fruit and would attract potential investors to the country, since they are very sensitive to the World Bank’s Doing Business Indicator list when deciding on investing or not in The Bahamas.
With support from the IDB, The Bahamas could develop a one-stop shop Web platform of electronic services to save Bahamians time and money. Such a platform could allow Bahamians to quickly access online a wide range of government services, including issuing business licenses and identification documents such as driving licenses, searching for jobs, etc.
There are other areas in Bahamian government where targeted reforms could have a disproportionately powerful impact, and relatively modest resource commitments could leverage big gains in terms of outcomes. Measures to improve the capacity and coordination of the public service come to mind, among others. The public discussion around the NDP and the FOIA will hopefully gain more traction in the upcoming months. The momentum is now to pull up our sleeves and start working on citizen services, e-governance and doing business indicators catching up to the country’s future.
The IDB stands firm with the Bahamian people and Government to meet those challenges head-on.