Despite making a significant contribution to Barbados’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the years, the growth of the international business sector continues to be stymied by several “homegrown challenges” that need to be addressed urgently, a spokesman said today.
Executive Director of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA), Henderson Holmes, said the sector had tremendous scope to contribute way more than the $1 billion it did annually to national output.
However, he said besides a range of international and regional requirements, including the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the branding of the island as a tax haven, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) among others, there were some local issues that needed to be “dealt with”.
Among these is the issue of business facilitation. Holmes said there would always be investors seeking to comfortably and profitably do business.
However, he said a cursory glance at the international business sector today showed similarities with a list of issues that were identified close to 20 years ago.
“All we have to do is make sure that we are number one or in the top five . . . for the choice of jurisdiction to do business,” said Holmes as he delivered this week’s Democratic Labour Party (DLP) lunchtime lecture at the party’s George Street, Belleville, St Michael headquarters.
The latest World Bank Group Doing Business 2016 Report placed Barbados at 119 out of 189 countries, three notches down on its 2015 ranking, when it comes to ease of doing business.
There were no changes in the island’s ranking for enforcement of contracts or registering a property. However, the island slipped eight places down when it came to getting credit; seven places down under the heading “paying taxes”; and five places down for “starting a business”, as well as for “getting electricity”. The only improvement, three places upward, was in relation to “dealing with construction permits”.
Holmes complained that when it came to business facilitation, there were too many delays in getting approvals, work permits and certification from Government entities. He cited a need for “serious” service quality improvements in relation to Immigration, Customs and the Town & Country Planning Department, as well as the Copyright and Intellectual Property Office(CAIPO).
Holmes said his wish for Barbados was that it would become “the easiest place in the world for businesses”, suggesting that this should be “a national commitment”.
In addition, Holmes said there was need for greater agility in the creation and amendment of legislation.
“Our business legislation needs a complete overhaul. There are too many anomalies, too much disharmony in it,” he opined.
“Our legal system needs to be looked at very seriously and this is all in the nature of doing business in Barbados and what are some of our challenges. We need to look at both the practice of law in the country and operation of our law courts.”
He noted there were currently questions regarding the integrity of some lawyers as well as “the experience of the inordinately long delays in obtaining judgments” through the court system.
“This ought to be something that we Barbadians are very ashamed of,” said Holmes. “We would be naive to think that we could just ignore these things and the rest of the world will be comfortable doing business with us.”
Citing examples of international business companies with court cases, some as long as two years that were being continuously adjourned, Holmes revealed that some new entities were “writing Barbados law courts out of any contracts so that if there is a dispute, it will be settled in a court somewhere else”.
“That does not help our reputation, our claim to being an international business jurisdiction of some repute,” warned Homes.
He also observed that while implementing an e-commerce platform and improved technology in some Government departments, a change in attitude of some civil servants should also be encouraged.