The island’s private sector this afternoon took Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to task over his comments Monday about a World Bank Group report on the ease of doing business here.
In fact, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) is contradicting Stuart’s account of reaction to the report at a meeting of the full Social Partnership.
“The overwhelming feeling [at the meeting] was not that the [World Bank] report was inaccurate . . . but the story that it tells is a story of how important the ease of doing business is for Barbados and that it has not been doing well,” BPSA Chairman Charles Herbert told Barbados TODAY.
Following Monday’s eight-hour meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Stuart told journalists the report, which ranked Barbados 119 out of 189 countries on the ease of doing business, had contained “perverse” information, and the meeting had felt that some of the information was incorrect, but it was a perception that could influence investors who wanted to do business here.
“We do not know to whom these people are talking when they come to Barbados, but some perverse information is making its way into the public domain and into the international arena and we are committed to ensure that we get to the bottom of it and that Barbados’ position is not perversely misrepresented,” the Prime Minister said.
However, Herbert said it was unwise to discredit the report, which, although not perfect, painted an accurate picture of the situation here.
More worrying, he said, was the fact that the problem appeared to be worsening based on the country’s ranking, which reflected a decline of three places when compared to 2015. In that report, Barbados ranked 100 in starting a business, down five places from last year; 158 in dealing with construction permits; 164 in enforcing contracts and 166 in protecting minority investors.
“So I think it is wrong to simply discredit the report. No report is perfect, but the general story is true and that is how the private sector feels. And it is an urgent, important issue for Barbados to get the ease of doing business right,” the head of the umbrella agency of private sector organizations said.
Herbert advised Government not to “soft peddle” the issue, adding it was important to form sub-committees of the Social Partnership to examine how to reverse the slide.
“We all agree that the report is of grave concern. Basically, it showed Barbados is declining when places like Jamaica has improved substantially in the list . . . .The worse performers are things to do with Town Planning and land transfer and anything to do within the legal court. They are no surprise to us,” Herbert declared.
The BPSA chairman said the problem extended beyond the Town Planning to water and electricity and the like. While the report placed Barbados at 87 in the ease of getting electricity, even that reflected a decline of five places from last year.
“I commend the report to you. It really sets up and shows the length of time to get approval or to get things done in Barbados [is] sometimes three times as long as it takes even in some of our Caribbean countries,” Herbert stated.
The business executive also addressed the foreign exchange reserves position, terming it as critical.
He also called for a major and urgent overhaul of Government finances.
“Nobody wants to overplay that because we don’t want to create panic, so we kind uh say that softly. And the second one is Government’s finances are awful . . . . They [Government] are not paying refund, VAT and income tax refunds are sometimes four and five years outstanding, so there is a major problem with Government being able to settle its debt and there is a major problem that its official debt level is becoming so high, that it is crowding out their ability to do anything else,” Herbert told Barbados TODAY as he assessed Monday’s gathering.
“And every time we have a deficit in a Budget, that means that the debt has to get even higher. So far from trying to get our deficit down to two or three per cent, we actually have to start having fiscal surpluses so that we can start reducing our debt. So we need major overhaul of Government’s financing and finances.”
Herbert described Monday’s meeting as an excellent one, reporting that the private sector had achieved its goals of getting the tripartite grouping to accept foreign exchange, Government finances and ease of doing business as critical issues.
“The Government has agreed to form sub-committees for the Social Partnership to work on those three issues immediately, so that was our objective,” Herbert pointed out.