Thursday, January 11, 2018
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE Bahamas Development Bank (BDB) plans to offer itself as a "vehicle" through which government ministries can realise their goals in industries such as tourism, agriculture and culture.
Lynden Nairn, the bank's chairman, told Tribune Business that steps had already been taken to broaden its activities beyond solely being a lender to Bahamian start-ups and entrepreneurs.
He identified opportunities for the BDB to assist the Government's plans in areas such as agricultural distribution and marketing; the establishment of Junkanoo Museums; and the sustainable exploitation of the Bahamas' natural resources.
Mr Nairn added that the bank could also emulate its Jamaican counterpart and administer public-private partnerships (PPPs) on the Government's behalf, and revealed it was looking at creative ways to restructure its significant non-performing loan portfolio.
"Let me tell you what has happened historically," he told Tribune Business. "Historically, the BDB has been a lending institution, period, but if you look at the Act it is very clear: That the BDB is the only institution in the Bahamas that is legislatively mandated to pursue economic development.
"It's a catalyst for economic development and diversification. That's what we do. Lending, while a vital part of the strategy to advance that objective, isn't the only thing we should be doing.
"What we will be looking at over the next few years is not only how we expand the product offering, but how we can work alongside government ministries - the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, and the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture - to serve them and be the vehicle through which their objectives are pursued."
Explaining how this would work, Mr Nairn added: "Already we have formed a committee comprising persons from the Ministry of Agriculture and Resources to examine agricultural distribution and marketing.
"We're looking at that, and think in the end that an entity, a co-operative, a private co-operative, is going to emerge from this effort and be responsible for the marketing and distribution of agricultural products to allow farmers to farm.
"Once that is properly capitalised, we will be able to pay farmers in a timely fashion and look, at the same time, at addressing cost issues for farmers. That's an example of the things we're going to be looking at over the next few years. That's what was intended from the very beginning."
Mr Nairn continued: "We're also looking at natural resources. The Deputy Prime Minister has made it very clear to us that we need to examine what is there, and how natural resources in the country might be exploited for the benefit of the Bahamian people.
"We will be working with the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources as it relates to some of these items. We're also working with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture with respect to initiatives they're pursuing.
"One specifically is Junkanoo Museums that they are seeking to establish throughout New Providence and Grand Bahama," the BDB chairman said.
"Another big item that we're looking at which really excites us is we've met with the Ministry of Works and talked to them about PPPs. In Jamaica, their Development Bank administers PPPs, and we think we should consider doing the same in the Bahamas. There are a lot of other things we can do."
Just 28.4 per cent of the BDB's loans were rated as 'performing' at 2016 year-end, with some $22.731 million worth of credit were classified as at least 90 days past due. Only $9.935 million worth of credit was current.
Mr Nairn said that besides seeking to restructure the non-performing loans, the BDB was also examining the "underlying assets" and exploring whether other businesses are interested in managing or taking them over.
"We're really exploring a number of options," he told Tribune Business. "We've got about eight fly fishing lodges throughout the Bahamas right now in our portfolio, and all may be - with the exception of one - non-performing.
"That represents a very good opportunity to bring these entities under a single marketing umbrella. We're exploring that, exploring a number of marketing opportunities outside the Bahamas, and we expect that to be very successful. There are any number of other sectors as well."