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THE ISSUE: United call to action

Eric Smith

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The economic crisis facing Barbados, as indeed many other nations worldwide, has forced a rethink in the way we have done things for many years.
The traditional approach – a good education and guaranteed job, sometimes for a lifetime, within either the public or private sector – has all but come to an end.
The politicians who for years have swelled the ranks of the public sector and indeed the parastatals with their supporters have recognized that this can no longer obtain.
But with thousands of people coming into the job market annually and much tighter and leaner companies resulting in the shedding of jobs, the importance of entrepreneurship is now being stressed, both for the highly educated and those with various skills.
The objective has been to start new businesses, developing new products and services.
The plea has been for those completing their tertiary or technical education to develop their passion even in the midst of challenges and adversity, yet experts have indicated that many of these new ventures fail.
Dr Basil Springer, change-engine consultant with Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc., has said: “Entrepreneurship is a difficult task, as the majority of new businesses fail.
“Why do they fail? Apart from “Acts of God”, they fail because of weakness in the management of marketing, operations, people or money. We must therefore devise strategies to address those weaknesses and mitigate the risk of failure.”
Springer pointed out that mentoring, hand-holding or shepherding to mitigate the risk of failure is therefore an essential support mechanism if “we are to convert failure into sustainable success. There are other support mechanisms, such as Government policy. . . .”
It is this issue of Government policy and moreso the general bureaucracy which many have said is the real challenge to ensuring success for the start-up venture. Even the foreign investor willing to bring large sums of foreign exchange and create new jobs has been hampered by our “very laid back and take-things-easy” approach.
As business executive Peter Boos has said, “I believe that the great recession, as it is being called, requires a response beyond ‘let’s wait and see how this turns out and we’ll be back to business as usual’.
“We need to create a new type of economy that it is going to produce sustainable results.”
He felt the country needed what he termed “a call to action”.
“How many more discussions, reports, papers, committees and subcommittees must we accumulate before we act? We have been talking about the same problems for 20 years.
“Why is getting Town Planning approval so difficult, registering a professional practice so tiresome, getting a work permit so traumatic, or repairing the Joe’s River bridge so inefficient and costly?”
However, the situation seems to have continued unchanged. There have been numerous complaints and calls for less bureaucracy and enhanced facilitation for business in Barbados.
Wayne Kirton, CEO of Invest Barbados, a Government-owned agency to help facilitate business development, has noted that bureaucracy has not gotten better in recent years – the length of time it takes for an investor’s project to reach Cabinet or get it executed after approval is no shorter today despite the public outcry.
Regarding investment projects lost because of tardiness in various Government departments and agencies, Kirton said, “These were investment projects we’d lost that totalled maybe 750-plus jobs and anywhere between US$256 million and $556 million, depending on what technology was used on one of the alternative energy projects; projects still awaiting approval, some as long as three years, so that investments are in danger of being lost – these totalled over US$200 million in investment, and maybe 1 700 jobs.”
Kirton warned that Barbados needs to take a stand against inertia and bureaucracy since we can no longer afford this type of attitude towards business development in the country.
“The bottom line is that it takes too long to get anything done.”
The efforts to make Barbados a premier international business centre have, however, continued to receive substantial support from the private sector, which sees it as the engine of growth and the best way to take the country forward.
A former president of the Barbados International Business Association has identified improved business facilitation as one of three key areas on which it would focus. He warned that talk must translate into action.
He told the 2010 public-private sector national economic consultation held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre it was “disappointing” to see so many of the business facilitation goals identified by Government being repeated year after year without full implementation and execution.
Howard warned that “we must have transparent and timely accountability . . . the best strategy is redundant if there is no mechanism to deploy it and no effective monitoring of progress”.
It is felt that Singapore, which was once on par with Barbados, should be used to guide business facilitation if this country is to grow and continue to be one of the best places to live and do business.