***”E-capability is essential in the provision of financial services.”*** The Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, Minister of Financial Services and Investments.
The Ministry of Financial Services and Investments has been given responsibility for developing The Bahamas as a choice location for offshore e-commerce business, according to Prime Minister the Hon. Perry G. Christie. Minister Maynard-Gibson also points to the administration’s *”commitment to e-government as an essential part of a commercial environment that will strengthen the financial services sector.”*
Last week the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 2003 and the Computer Misuse Act 2003 were brought into force in The Bahamas. The Data Protection Act, which also successfully passed through Parliament earlier this year, has not been brought into force as yet, pending the appointment of the Data Commissioner required under that legislation.
The **Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill** creates the environment for the legal certainty necessary to instill confidence in online commercial activity in The Bahamas. In general terms, this Act clarifies that wherever a law or legal requirement exists for writing, signature, originals, copies etc. the requirement is now satisfied if the writing, signature, original and copies are generated “electronically”. Likewise, it is now acceptable to form, negotiate and conclude contracts and other legally binding arrangements between parties using electronic devices.
The Act also provides for the establishment of an E-Commerce Advisory Board within the Ministry of Finance for the purpose of advising the Minister on matters related to e-commerce, information and communications technologies developments and their relationship to the nation’s socio-economic development. Prime Minister Christie has said such an advisory board *”is an important feature in all evolving information-based societies that rely heavily on the advice of such bodies in formulating continuing national policies generated by developments in ITC.”*
The **Computer Misuse Bill** creates a series of (six) offences arising out of the unlawful interference with computers and computer systems. It is an important element in meeting security and privacy concerns about conducting business electronically.
The **Data Protection (Privacy of Information) Bill** requires that information should be obtained by fair and lawful means and used in a manner consistent with that for which it is collected. It implements the privacy principles established by the OECD under its Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data. The Act does not apply to personal data necessary for national security purposes, information that the law requires the data controller to make available to the public, kept by an individual for family or household affairs or only for recreational purposes, deliberations of Parliament and pending legal or international legal assistance procedures.
This Act also provides for the establishment of a Data Protection Commissioner for the purpose of administering the provisions of the Act. This Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is empowered to issue enforcement notices, information notices and prohibition notices for compliance with the Act. The inspection of premises for “violation of the Act” can be undertaken, but only upon a warrant granted by a Magistrate.
At the time of readings in both the Upper and Lower Chambers, Government Officials pointed out that the legislation was designed to create certainty and reliability and build trust and confidence for the on-line commercial world. BFSB described it as the latest strong signal that The Bahamas, already a well-established financial centre, is fully prepared to provide international services in the digital economy.
Speaking at the Annual Conference of the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organisations (CANTO) last week, the Hon. Bradley Roberts, Minister of Public Works and Utilities, said the telecommunications sector has experienced unprecedented growth in the global arena, undergoing a technological revolution sparked by new competitive forces, privatisation, and the emergency of a host of new global service providers. In The Bahamas, he said, the Government recognises that the development and provision of a world-class telecommunications infrastructure is critical to ongoing economic and social development, and that privitisation and libralisation of the sector is a critical pre-condition for development.
In this connection, the Government has established the necessary framework within which additional improvements in infrastructure and service delivery can take place, and within which both foreign and domestic investment can be encouraged. Under this framework, for example, a 49% stake in the local Bahamas Telecommunications Company is being divested to a strategic partner, together with management rights.
At that same conference, Prime Minister the Hon. Perry G. Christie also commented on the need to build the sector and its infrastructure – to ensure it is reliable, cutting edge, cost-effective and efficient — to accommodate the new and advanced skills and entrepreneurial interests of the young people who have gone out across the globe to acquire such. He further called for a benchmark in “technological literacy” to be set for the Caribbean region as a whole, and each country within it. Mr. Christie said the Caribbean’s ability to make the transition to digital economies would drive its success in maintaining a global competitive advantage.
Government’s Telecommunications Sector Policy also includes the provision of the most modern services possible at reasonable and affordable rates, the promotion of competition, the improvement of The Bahamas’ position and competitive advantage in global markets, the transition of the country to a digital economy and the position of the nation as an e-commerce hub.
According to Paul Hutton-Ashkenny of Systems Resource Group, The Bahamas now has all the building blocks in place, enabling it to market itself as an e-commerce jurisdiction. SRG is the parent company of DigiTel Networks, the private company recently licensed to provide voice services in competition with the Bahamas Telecommunications Company. This will be done through a wireless network offering mobile, high-speed voice telephony and broadband Internet services.