Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Businesspersons launch website

By K. NANCOO-RUSSELL

Freeport News Reporter



FREEPORT, Grand Bahama-A group of businesspersons who hope to bring about change by presenting an informed opinion to the government on a number of issues that will directly affect Grand Bahama have launched a website to help garner public support.

Attorney Carey Leonard recently embarked on a series of public speaking appearances, presenting information on various topics which are related to the development of the island's economy, such as amendments to the Hawksbill Creek Agreement.

His latest address was at the Sunrise Rotary Club's breakfast meeting at Le Rendezvous restaurant yesterday.

In the past, Leonard has encouraged residents to become more vocal about concerns and ideas they may have, stressing that the only way change can be affected is through a united front. He said he has received a significant amount of support from members of the public who have pledged to become a part of the movement.

To this end, he said, the site, grandbahamafuture.com, was created as a communication tool to help spread the message.

It will be used as a means by which residents can learn more about how they can secure the island's future growth and economic success and promises to provide news and economic resources"to help you make Grand Bahama great."

Although Leonard acknowledged that there is not much content on the site yet, he encouraged members to sign up for the mailing list. The group is also making use of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, links to which are posted on the website.

Rotarian Jon Markoulis explained that on the site, there's also a link to a blog, which was designed for two way communication. Articles on specific topics will be posted on the blog by Leonard and others, he explained, and the public will be invited to have a dialogue with each other or with the author of the article in the section for comments.

Issues that will be addressed through the postings, he said, will include the real estate tax exemption, customs and The Bahamas'application for membership with the World Trade Organization, among others.

"The hope is that in a short period of time, we can get a lot of dialogue going that we would not be able to do by organizing community-wide meetings, because people are busy. Some people might get on the blog at midnight, some at four o'clock in the morning, it's hard to make a 7 o'clock meeting if its held once a month. It doesn't mean that we wont have meetings, but at this early stage what we're trying to do is use electronic media as a way of communication,"he said.

"This thing started because we have a deadline, the Hawksbill Creek Agreement exemptions all expire in 2015 and the WTO squeezes that date down to 2012. After 2012, you cant make amendments to the Hawksbill Creek Agreements without WTO approval and that's like asking the mountain to move. And so we only have a short period of time, and that should be a good motivating factor."

During his address, Leonard spoke about the country's proposed WTO membership, noting that it could have far-reaching consequences for the way local businesses operate, and it is up to businessowners to educate themselves about such matters in order to succeed.

"We all know that The Bahamas is attending to the negotiating process required for this country's admission into the WTO. We know that the"Goods and Services'Schedules to the WTO are extensive,"he said.

"We know that the minster confirmed to the WTO that The Bahamas has begun reforming laws governing both foreign and internal, yes internal trade. We know that these reforms will result in considerably improved conditions of access for foreign suppliers of goods and services in The Bahamas. We know that the way government procurement is done will change and this is just the beginning."

Leonard pointed to recent comments made by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce President Khaalis Rolle, warning that it was a major milestone and"would ultimately require protectionist beliefs to be abandoned and an overhaul of the country's tax system."

Leonard, himself a board member of the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce said he was confident that the Chamber is already fully engaged in the subject.

"Over the next 18 months, or so, matters relating to WTO will require a tremendous amount of the Chamber's resources to be able to provide the educational leadership to its members that this document requires,"he said.

"The WTO with all its schedules is some 27,000 pages long. Personally, I don't know how many of you are well versed in WTO, but I can tell you that I have only begun to scratch the surface of this book of rules that you and I, all of us, are entering into. Indeed, we must keep the WTO in the back of our minds as we move forward."

Carey said there has been no overall vision for the development of Grand Bahama since Wallace Groves first created the Port area, and residents must take control of their destiny and create a new vision for the island.

Outlining several steps he said must be taken before that vision can be developed, Leonard said The Bahamas"sits in a very large world that, whether we like it or not, we are a part of and must understand, a world that we must recognize affects how we live, how we shape our laws, how we create and sustain our economy, our everyday life.

"Some of you will say that The Bahamas is a sovereign nation and we can decide for ourselves what we wan to do. Yes we can decide what we want to do, but only within the rules set by groups of other nations. Those groups of other nations, be they the OECD, or the G20, or the members of the WTO, all have an impact on us."

The Bahamas must consider other countries and what they are doing in all its plans.

"If we know what they are up to and pay heed to any warnings that they may give, and they usually give warnings, then we may well be able to even turn such events into our advantage,"he advised.

Once a plan is created for moving forward, Leonard said all the information must then be tied into a first class, professionally prepared recommendation to the government and the Grand Bahama Port Authority.

"It will need to be first class for two reasons, firstly, to be from a group so reputable that the government will be able to rely on the accuracy and recommendations with confidence, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, because it will provide the basis for Grand Bahama's vision for an economic future,"he said.

"For too long, Grand Bahama's economy has drifted, so we must be sure that we have a solid, well-prepared plan for our economic future."

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