Noting the present constraints on Government funds, the Hon. Perry G. Christie, Prime Minister, in his recent 2002/2003 Budget Communication said it is important to make the maximum possible use of available resources to diversify the economy sensibly and to bring employment opportunities to the Family Islands. He said the Government will be mindful not to add concessions, exemptions and protective tariffs which could impose a burden on the economy and which, in any event, will have to be dismantled in a free trade environment. *”The diversification which we will be seeking is intended to result in strong Bahamian commercially viable industries which are suitably dispersed geographically, and which can face international competition and provide meaningful employment for qualified Bahamians.”* said the Prime Minister, who also serves as Minister of Finance in the new Government elected in the May 2 General Elections.
A major component of the diversification drive will be the rapid movement towards the implementation of the enabling framework for e-commerce, and the promotion of The Bahamas as a centre for e-commerce. According to the Prime Minister, this is an industry which is built primarily on the availability of persons with good computer skills with access to the most efficient telecommunications services possible. *”Because of these features, e-commerce could be developed throughout the Family Islands as well as in New Providence.”* he continued.
Prime Minister Christie further noted that the enabling legal framework requires that the necessary legislation be in place without further delay for ensuring the authorisation, security and integrity of personal and financial data stored on computer systems, and of the computer systems themselves. This legislation will ensure that financial transactions through computer systems are fully secure and meet proper standards.
*”The enabling framework for e-commerce also requires state-of-art telecommunications and in that regard, my Government will be moving most expeditiously to privatise Batelco.”* Mr. Christie said the process of privatisation of the public sector owned telecommunications company has been protracted and that it is essential to bring it to a conclusion. It is envisaged that the preparatory stages will be concluded within the next few months so that the privatisation process can be launched about October, 2002. This schedule means that the privatisation of Batelco could be completed finally in the first months of 2003.
The promotion of e-commerce falls within the portfolio of the new Ministry of Financial Services and Investments. As stated in the Budget Communication, this Ministry, through consultation with appropriate interests in the economy, is expected to be a powerhouse of ideas and proposals for encouraging investment in e-commerce. *”We expect that the new Ministry will move forward at the fastest possible speed to promote and the development of e-commerce because otherwise we will see other competing jurisdictions attract businesses which could be located in The Bahamas.”* the Prime Minister concluded.
In an article submitted by the Ministry of Finance for an industry publication last year, it was noted that a compendium of proposed legislative enactments had been developed, in full consultation with the private sector, both locally and internationally. At that time, it was anticipated that the package of bills comprising an Electronic Communications Act, a Misuse of Computer Act and a Data Protection Act would be presented to Parliament in due course. Said the Ministry, *”In the meantime revisions to existing intellectual property laws continue as a work in progress to ensure that international standards applicable to such matters arising out of Internet activity, particularly in the area of copyright and trademarks, are adequately provided for. This last aspect is being addressed within the context of The Bahamas’ application for accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO)”*