What are the government’s investment priorities?
ROLLE: The investment priorities of the government of The Bahamas are obviously in our staple, which is our tourism sector. Over the years, we have seen tremendous growth in the resort sector of The Bahamas. We have a major project, that is a $3.6bn project, taking place on Cable Beach in Nassau called Baha Mar. This is a multi-purposed mixed used resort funded by the Chinese EXIM Bank. We are very excited about that because we see that as an opportunity for the Bahamas to continuously redefine what we are and what we can offer people who come here for the sun, sand, and the sea. We are, for lack of a better term, upping the ante in terms of the quality that we can provide.
Where is the government investing today?
ROLLE: We still continue to look at how we build infrastructure to modernize the country. Obviously, with the level of investment we have had over the years, we have to continuously modernize public sector investment to accommodate the high level of private sector investment. The infrastructure has to be first-world. We have spent a considerable amount of money on the new airport, which is now one of the best in the Caribbean by far; I am comfortable maybe even saying one of the best in the hemisphere in terms of the quality, attractiveness, the ease of movement, and the ability to accommodate a tremendous amount of people and aircraft landings.
How is The Bahamas going to overcome challenges in attracting FDI?
ROLLE: We have positioned ourselves as one of the major destinations for foreign direct investment. If you look at all of the statistics related to the flow of foreign direct investment globally, The Bahamas, per capita, is among the top 5. Regionally, if you look at small island developing states, in 2011 The Bahamas received $1.5bn of foreign direct investment and that was the largest in the world. I think second to that was Trinidad & Tobago. We have positioned ourselves well by having a stable democracy, a stable economy, first rate people, and infrastructure that is great. We do whatever we can to ensure that when people invest their money in The Bahamas, they are comfortable they are making a good safe investment.
Which investments is the government most keen to promote to investors?
ROLLE: We are looking at many different opportunities. The resort sector, as I mentioned earlier, is a staple. But we are also looking at alternative investment. The cost of energy in The Bahamas is not something that we are very comfortable about. So we are making that transition from the traditional hydrocarbon to the alternative. LNG is one of the options that we are looking at, waste to energy, wind, and solar. We believe that because of our geography, our climate, and how we are distributed as an island nation, that we have the ability and the opportunity to accommodate a different sort of mechanism when looking at the distribution of the alternatives. Wind is something we can easily accommodate because of the climate. Solar is something we can easily accommodate because of all of the sun. Ocean thermal energy is one that we can accommodate because we are an island destination surrounded by water. Waste to energy is something we have been spending a lot of time analyzing and we firmly believe that will be in the mix as we make a final decision on the combination of energy alternatives that are available for investment. When you are making a transition from an existing system to new alternatives there is a huge opportunity for growth and investment.
Geographically speaking, where are you targeting investors?
We have positioned ourselves as one of the major destinations for foreign direct investment. If you look at all of the statistics related to the flow of foreign direct investment globally, The Bahamas, per capita, is among the top 5. Regionally, if you look at small island developing states, in 2011 The Bahamas received $1.5bn of foreign direct investment and that was the largest in the world.
ROLLE: Many of our investors have come from the US, Canada, Europe, and we have spent a lot of time recently looking at Asia. China is heavily invested in The Bahamas through the Baha Mar project. We have also partnered with the Chinese on a new national stadium. We are looking at Latin America because of our geography and because of the relationship we have had with Latin America over the years; we have done investment promotion missions to Brazil and to Panama. The Far East is one of the areas that we are considering. We have investment missions in 2014 designed to take us to the Far East.
From an investment standpoint, how would you like The Bahamas to be branded?
ROLLE: The easiest way to brand The Bahamas is based on our reputation. Our reputation is having a stable democracy, having an open and transparent system of governance, and having a stable economy. Individuals investing in The Bahamas can always feel comfortable that they will be accommodated by the government of The Bahamas and that they will have a safe haven for investment. We continue to sell that as our strategic advantage when you look at our hemispheric competitors.
What do the economic indicators tell us about the future of The Bahamas?
ROLLE: The indicators that we see that are performing extremely well under the circumstances are our GDP, which continues to grow at the rate that we want. We are looking at ways to bolster that. The level of foreign investment continues to grow. As I mentioned earlier, that among all small island developing states, The Bahamas led FDI. Our rate of inflation continues to be somewhat of a challenge and unemployment continues to be somewhat of a challenge; even though we have seen a small decrease, it is not nearly what we would like to see. We are comfortable that the economy will rebound in 2013 or 2014 based on the economic policies that we have designed. We are looking at fiscal consolidation and that is a major priority of this government. In addition to that, we are looking at reforming our current tax system, which is based on our border tax. We are looking at exploring the benefits of a value-added tax system, which we believe will provide us with the room that we need to generate the revenue that the government would need to continue to operate.