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Govt not the only one with answers

Sanka Price

Govt not the only one with answers

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THERE ARE CERTAIN ASPECTS of Government that should be above partisan politics. The two most significant of these are national security concerns and matters which keep Barbados’ foreign exchange earning sectors ticking over.
Though different administrations would understandably bring different perspectives  and strategies, my view  is that in these two areas the expertise of the technocrats and the policies of the political directorate should combine to ensure that the interest of Barbados is always  best served.
Sadly, it seems that the political directorate has not been sensitive enough, particularly in one sector that earned this country millions in foreign exchange. I speak of the offshore business sector, which has been the second largest earner of foreign exchange here for years, and according to recently released statistics, pumped just under  $900 million into the economy in 2010.
 Shadow of its self
Today that sector is fast becoming a shadow of itself, having lost more than a dozen companies over a two-year period  and with their departure, a chunk of this island’s  tax base.
According to figures compiled by the economic contribution committee  of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA) in 2010, the sector provided $186.35 million to Government’s tax coffers, down from $240.18 million in 2009.
Talk in the sector is rife that even more companies may soon leave our shores. A report said to have  been prepared by the state-owned Invest Barbados, and quoted by Opposition Leader Owen Arthur, revealed that over 12 international business corporations had left in 2009 and 2010, at least  12 more were planning  to move and another  12 might be contemplating moving. To date no official has publicly refuted  this statement.
Then came the departure of Biovail Laboratories SRL as proof that the situation has become grave. What was significant about Biovail’s exit is that only three years ago it established  a $15 million complex, after operating here  since 1991.
As these companies make shrewd investment decisions centred around their profitability, what happened over the last five years [the time  in which the plant was being built and when operations commenced  to termination] to make them pull up stakes?
Based on what BIBA president Connie Smith said in that organization’s recent annual report,  the competitive edge Barbados once enjoyed  is quickly disappearing.
With this in mind  we therefore welcome Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s statement last month at an international business stakeholders’ consultation at Hilton Barbados that Government has undertaken a review  of the Ministry of International Business and the Corporate and Intellectual Property office. This move, he says, is part of an effort to improve efficiency and effectiveness within  the international  business arena.
We are pleased, too, that he undertook a promotional trip to Canada after that to let  it be known that his Government would be going all out to facilitate their organizations desirous of doing  business here.
I do not subscribe  to the view that the Prime Minister’s trip was a case of bolting the door after the horse has bolted.  I do believe, though, that Government was not proactive enough in dealing with this vital sector, given the concerns voiced by those with intimate knowledge of it.
 Above partisan politics
And this brings me back to my original statement that some things should be above partisan politics. Many  of those complaining  about the slowness of Government to respond  to the necessary changes needed to boost the sector were people associated with the former administration.
Apparently this was reason enough to ignore their warnings and dismiss their statements as no more than political claptrap. Only nearly three years after to be confronted with the stark reality that their warnings were on point.
This happened, too, when Government was warned about its burgeoning fiscal deficit, and the danger it was placing the economy in.
At one point we were all termed prophets of doom and gloom, verbally abused and accused  of trying to destabilize  the Government. Then nearly two years down  the line when it became clear these statements were truthful, the official word was that Government recognized the situation and was working on it.
With the persistent global economic situation and the crisis facing each Barbadian household,  the members of this Government need to stop behaving as if they and they alone know what is best for this country and have all the answers.  They don’t, and the two examples cited demonstrate this. And there are other examples of this.
One would hope that this tendency to be defensive or to see criticism as an attack will cease. However, with a general election due within months, I daresay that we are in for more  of the same. l Sanka Price is the SATURDAY SUN editor. Email him at sankaprice