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A strange society

Dr Frances Chandler

A strange society

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We’re a strange society. Here we are with our economy in a bundle of trouble, yet we seem determined to destroy small businesses and dissuade start-ups. On the one hand, entrepreneurship is on everyone’s lips, and we have a number of excellent initiatives aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs, like the Scotiabank-sponsored Bank On Me TV show, the Sagicor Visionaries Challenge and the Caribbean Innovation Challenge, to name a few.

Then on the other hand, we’re continually adopting some developed world paraphernalia guaranteed to kill any initiative one may have. Of course, there are also the bureaucratic hurdles which big business and international business must conquer in order to achieve success. Even Mr Evelyn Greaves, himself a former parliamentarian and government official, recognises “the amount of hoops and loops and things you have to jump through to get a simple answer and get something done”, noting: “I don’t know why the bureaucracy has become so anti-developmental and so anti-country.” We look forward to Minister Donville Inniss fulfilling his promises of relief in that area.

Some even feel the reason why Barbados seems to be showing potential in the hurdles at international track and field events is because of the numerous hurdles we’re faced with from birth, so we don’t lack practice. Of course, there are also those who feel our skill at the hurdles is because “scaling palings” is embedded in the Bajan DNA.

Seriously though, one of these “procedures” we’ve been hearing about for years, but which has more recently come to the fore, is this HACCP compliance which businesses must attain. It means Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, a system which evolved from the necessity to produce very specialised food for astronauts during outer space expeditions.

While it’s obvious that we must ensure businesses meet adequate hygiene standards and other safety measures, particularly with food production, and that there’s some traceability of the inputs, you can push regulations to a point where they become ridiculous and you probably don’t even know why you’re enforcing the “rules”.

Then there is the paperwork involved. When you add the paperwork necessary to comply with the Health And Safety At Work Act, the Employment Rights Act and now HACCP, the cost becomes prohibitive for small businesses and the emphasis shifts from the actual work to the compliance. Many people have told me that they won’t start a business or expand their current businesses because of all these “hurdles”.

Some of the major problems are in the agro-processing area where one person noted recently that it “took guts and stamina” to start such a business. Barbados is not known for serious outbreaks of food-borne diseases, and Barbadians buy food from large and small operators. We have an abundance of centenarians who have lived to that ripe old age without being protected by all these regulations. In the developed countries, however, where these “rules” originate, we continually hear of serious disease outbreaks. Furthermore, it’s ironic that the United States, which has promoted all these regulations, supposedly to keep its people healthy and safe, apparently has no problem with an eight-year-old shooting a sub-machine gun or marijuana being legalised.

I’m not advocating that we don’t maintain high standards in everything we do, but instead of blindly following others, we need to produce regulations suited to our own situation – regulations which would allow businesses to start up and gradually develop capabilities. Of course, if one is exporting, the conditions set by the importing country have to be followed, but not all businesses are interested in export. Furthermore, it would be interesting to find out whether all the companies we import from are compliant with all these regulations our own businesses are expected to follow. I very much doubt it.

Another ironic situation is that while businesses are expected to comply with these rules and regulations, Government seems to have fallen short with its part of the bargain. When will we have the necessary legislation and infrastructure to allow those companies which are HACCP and otherwise compliant and which have overseas orders for meat and fish to supply these orders, and when will the Employment Rights Tribunal be functional?

What we need are reasonable rules which don’t strangle businesses at birth, but nurture and guide them along a path to the required standard.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former independent senator.

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