The Internet has yet to have much direct impact on the conduct of offshore business from the Bahamas, but as with all other aspects of business activity, no one can doubt that there will be an impact, that it will be soon, and that it will be substantial.
Former Minister of Financial Services and Investments Allyson Maynard Gibson set a formidable program of goals for the development of e-government in the Bahamas, and in January, 2003, was able to report significant progress, with computerisation of the Companies Registry of the Registrar General's Department accomplished on time by the end of 2002.
The newly-computerized Registry allows for a wide range of functions to be carried electronically:
- Electronic submission of incorporation documents;
- Paperless procedure for incorporation;
- Comprehensive name edit: Uniqueness, name endings, embedded sensitive words, etc;
- Registry approval and filing initiates automated incorporation process;
- Payment via credit card or Payment on Account;
- Electronic receipt issued to Agent;
- Documents, electronic as well as paper, company particulars, payment history, etc. available for agent review via online Company Inquiry.
In June, 2005, Mrs Maynard-Gibson announced that the deeds and documents section of the Registrar General's Department had been fully automated and is available to the public online.
Said the Minister: "Customers will be able to perform electronic searches of the index of Deeds and Documents from 1993 to the present."
The Registrar General's Department has since announced plans to fully incorporate e-commerce into its services.
"If you wish to access information from home, in the same way you would go to any website, you would use your credit card to buy access time," said Mrs Gibson. "The biggest benefit is to clearly demonstrate that The Bahamas is a leading international financial centre, serious about e-business in all of its aspects, and fully in the twenty-first century," said Mrs Gibson.
The Minister said that the Central Bank of The Bahamas is working on making real time payment methods available in conjunction with the clearing banks. However, in the meantime, payments would initially have to be made on an account at the Registry.
Mrs Maynard-Gibson expects to increase the Department's already substantial earnings through the new initiatives.
The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 2003, and the Computer Misuse Act 2003 both came into effect in June, 2003. A Data Protection Act was also passed by Parliament in that year.
The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act is designed to facilitate online commercial activity in the jurisdiction, and according to the BFSB: 'In general terms...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 requires the creation of an e-commerce advisory board to advise Financial Services and Investments Minister, Allyson Maynard-Gibson on e-commerce, IT, and telecommunications development matters.
The Computer Misuse Act creates a number of offences arising from illegal interference with computers and their security systems.
The Data Protection (Privacy of Information) Act requires that information should be obtained through lawful channels, and used in an appropriate manner consistent with the purposes for which it has been collected. It also provides for the appointment of a Data Protection Commissioner.
However, in late 2003 a leading economist at the College of the Bahamas criticised government policy towards e-commerce, arguing that recent legislative measures would not be enough to establish information technology as the ‘third pillar’ of the Bahamian economy. Dr Olivia Saunders said that the e-commerce sector had been “bandied about as a liberator from our reliance on tourism and financial services,” but she said the policy was bound to fail if the government’s only goal was to see a computer in every classroom. According to the report, only 28% of the Bahamian population had access to a personal computer and a mere 15% had access to the internet.
In June, 2004, former Minister of State for Finance Senator James Smith told an information technology conference that the government remains committed to the goal of making the country a world leader in the sphere of e-commerce.
"As the government continues preparing the country for the inevitable challenges and opportunities of globalisation, it is firmly committed to the view that, across all sectors, information and communications technologies are fundamental to the sustainable growth of the Bahamian economy and the social development of our people," Senator Smith told the seminar entitled "Trusted Information Sharing in Global Markets."
He continued: "For this reason the government has set as a long-term, broad-based objective, the transformation of the Bahamian economy to a digital one as a means of generating viable opportunities for Bahamians to participate in the global economy."
Smith outlined a four-pronged policy approach to achieve these objectives: legislation; regulation; service provision at governmental, business and individual level; and educational policies.
He stressed that legal certainty is a particularly important factor to enable e-commerce growth, and explained that significant progress has been made in the respect with the passing of key legislation in 2003.
In August, 2005, the government of the Bahamas signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian government that it said will help with the acceleration of e-government throughout the Bahamian public service.
The Bahamas government stated its intention at the time to harmonise all current e-government initiatives, update the Government's e-government policy and set a strategy for meeting short-term (one year), mid-term (three years) and long-term (five to ten years) goals.
In her remarks at the signing ceremony, then Financial Secretary, Mrs. Ruth Millar acknowledged Canada's pre-eminence in e-government services and welcomed the alliance as one that would greatly assist the Bahamian Government in meeting the primary challenge of ensuring that users of its government services, wherever they are located, have equal opportunities to satisfy their needs. She highlighted the fact that both countries shared similarities based on the Westminster style of government.
The Canadian Government's Department of Consulting and Audit Canada, under the direction of Mr. Ram Narayan, was slated to lead the project. The CAC team visited The Bahamas in May of this year for a preliminary scoping mission, which involved dialogue with various public and private sector stakeholders.
Consulting and Audit Canada has provided similar consulting services to other countries across the globe.
For information about the impact of e-commerce on a number of the main offshore activities which take place in the Bahamas, click on a link below to go to our specialist E-commerce site Offshore-e-com.com
To see an analysis of the current state of legal and tax issues surrounding offshore e-commerce, click here.