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THE HOYOS FILE: Down the economic rabbit hole

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

THE HOYOS FILE: Down the economic rabbit hole

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Everywhere you go in this country, it seems, somebody is complaining about the Government. Now, under normal circumstances, this is as it should be.

Even if your Government is doing a pretty good job overall, we would, and should, always find something to complain about. Yes, it may be unfair, but it’s just the way it is. I mean, who works for whom? Of course, the citizens are the bosses of their representatives in Parliament. Right?

However, the kind of complaining you hear these days is quite a few decibels above the normal buzz of frustration and annoyance which even a fairly competent civil service engenders. And again, there are plenty of people who work in Government who really do care and try their best. But the system itself is so generally oppressive, the culture of arrogance now at such a high level, that we the citizens are really being overpowered.

Our team is being pulled closer and closer to the line in this unequal tug-o-war.  Of course, competent ministers like Donville Inniss (commerce) and Chris Sinckler (finance) are the first to not only admit, but also to identify, all of the areas in which the service is deficient.

And so it is now part of the cultural norm, if you like, that the very people you thought were there to fix things now just enumerate and comment on the same problems as if they were, well, no more than just citizens too, not members of the Cabinet.

So why would anyone be surprised when the latest competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) shoved our lovely island even farther down the list, mainly due to dismal ratings from people who live and work here?

Barbados has been ranked 72nd out of 138 countries in the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report, down from the number 55 spot two years ago. (The country was not ranked last year due to insufficient information received by the WEF, a Swiss-based organisation which promotes public-private sector cooperation.)

In 2012-2013 Barbados was ranked 44th and fell three places to 47th the following year. We certainly are tumbling down the economic rabbit hole now. In the new rankings, Jamaica was ranked 75th and Trinidad & Tobago 94th, the only other English-speaking Caribbean countries featured in the report. Jamaica, however, improved its ranking by 11 spots, while we lowered ours by 17.

Now, please don’t ask me how it all works because I haven’t got a clue. All I can fathom about its mechanics is that the Global Competitiveness Report assesses the competitiveness of 138 world economies, using a mixture of quantitative and survey data. Countries are ranked overall by combining several different indicators under twelve categories, called pillars.

Within these categories, Barbados ranked 136th for market size, which is to be expected. But perhaps the most unkindest cut of all was our ranking at 129 out of 138 countries for macro-economic development, under which we placed 122nd for “government budget balance”, and 127th for both “gross national savings” and “government debt,” all as a percentage of GDP.

In the report, the heading “most problematic factors for doing business” is defined as follows: “From the list of factors, respondents to the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey were asked to select the five most problematic factors for doing business in their country and to rank them between one (most problematic) and five. The score corresponds to the responses weighted according to their rankings.”

Under these criteria our most problematic problems are “poor work ethic in national labour force”, and “inefficient Government bureaucracy”.

Did we really need a survey to tell us that? These are followed by “tax rates” and “restrictive labour regulations”, then “access to financing” and inadequately educated workforce”. Boy, the surprises just keep coming.

Just to give you a little more of the picture, here are a few more of our ratings within our overall 72nd spot on the Hot 138: We were No. 29 for higher education and training, No. 30 for infrastructure and No. 31 for technological readiness. 

We were ranked No. 42 for labour market efficiency, No. 44 for institutions, and No. 45 for health and primary education, followed by No. 51 for business sophistication, and No. 53 for innovation.

But it gets worse: We were No. 62 for financial market development, under which we ranked 112th for “venture capital availability”, and 113th for “ease of access to loans”. 

And Barbados was also ranked No. 86 for goods market efficiency, under which it was ranked 94th for both the “number of procedures to start a business” and “time to start a business”, and 129th for “trade tariffs”.

Now, that last one is a bit ironic, in that while it supports the tirades meted out by our minister of commerce about red tape and inertia in the civil service holding back investors and entrepreneurs, it gives an even worse ranking for those ridiculous trade tariffs which he is in a position to do something about. Or does he only get to remove the tariff on cement?