Proclaiming that there was no such thing as simple in Barbados anymore, prominent businessman Ralph Bizzy Williams Tuesday joined the growing chorus of frustrated investors who are quite fed up about the apparent unease in doing business on the island.
The chairman of the Williams Group of Companies made his concerns known in a letter to the editor, in which he complained bitterly that despite having been engaged in legitimate business in Barbados for over 30 years, his company, like many others, continued to be “stifled” by what he called “overly burdensome regulations”.
In the letter detailing his concerns, the businessman shared a recent experience he had in trying to invest in a new finance company, formed by a group of experienced finance professionals.
Initially, Williams was admittedly “full of enthusiasm” after hearing that something more was being done to support business activity and growth. In fact, he was so impressed after hearing about the new venture, that he immediately committed to depositing an undisclosed sum into the unnamed finance company.
“Sounds simple enough, but alas I was soon to find out that there is no such thing as simple in Barbados any more,” said Williams, who went on to complain that “our regulators are leaving no stone unturned to make sure that they make it as difficult as possible to get anything done in Barbados now”.
In his letter, the businessman never said if he eventually was able to complete the money transaction, but the head of the Williams Group did not hide his dissatisfaction over being asked to complete a list of eight regulatory requirements, before the deal could be approved.
(a) a certificate of incorporation.
(b) the name(s) and address(es) of the beneficial owners(s) (anyone owning ten per cent or more of the company) and/or the person on whose instructions the signature on the account are empowered to act.
(c) Memorandum, Articles of Association and By-Laws (and any amendments thereto)
(d) Resolution authorizing the opening of the account and conferring authority on one signatory to operate the account. Resolution, including full names of all directors and their specimen signatures and signed by no fewer than the number of directors required to make up a quorum
(e) Copies of Powers of Attorney or other authorities given by the directors in relation to the company;
(f) a signed director’s statement as to the nature of the company’s business. the source of the company’s funds to invested and estimated total investment;
(g) Principal place of business, registered office and mailing address;
(h) Contact telephone, cell phone, business phone number, email address. Copy of ID (Passport or drivers licence) of signatory empowered to operate the account. Details of the company bank account to be used to make or send withdrawals (copy of cheque or top portion of bank statement showing bank, branch and account number).
Pointing out that the requested information would have already been requested of his company when it was opening its bank account, a frustrated Williams demanded to know “why the unnecessary duplication?”
He also pondered if his experienced business was facing such red tape how difficult it must be for start up enterprises on the island.
“Can you picture a young business person who has recently started his or her business and is working non-stop to get production through the door to make ends meet, having to stop, seek a lawyer or corporate secretary and pay to get all these things done?” he pondered, adding, “Are we hell bent on being at the head of the list of the most difficult countries to do business in the world?”
Based on the Ease of Doing Business global rankings, Barbados currently ranks 117 behind such countries as Mauritius at 49, Jamaica at 67, St Lucia at 86, Trinidad & Tobago at 96, Dominica at 101 and Belize at 112.
This concern has not been lost on two recently appointed Committees of the Social Partnership, set up to by the Prime Minister to advise him on the economic way forward for the island, with its 2-to-1 peg with the US dollar already showing cracks, and an all-out balance of payments crisis now a possibility given that Government’s debt rose above 110 per cent of gross domestic product at the end of last year while international reserves fell to $682 million, the lowest level since 2009.
In its interim report issued on March 22, the Foreign Exchange Working Group specially called on the private sector to submit to Government a list of stalled projects which may be in the Town & Country Planning Department and Corporate Affairs to see whether they could be fast tracked.
In a more detailed consideration of the matter, the Fiscal Deficit Committee in its report dated April 12 warned that Barbados was not likely to be top of mind for those seeking to establish businesses who reference the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 Report since “it takes significantly longer in Barbados to get basic business requirements completed”.
The Committee specifically called for the following:
– re-engineering of the Town & Country Planning Department’s processes and regulations to reduce the average approval of construction permits from the current 14 months to less than three months.
– the enactment of flexible working arrangements legislation to allow businesses to operate 24/7 without elevated wage rates, e.g. double time;
– complete roll out of ASYCUDA World and connection to the electronic single window so as to reduce time and transaction costs associated with imports.
– the introduction of an electronic property register to reduce the average time for registering properties from the current 105 days to less than 20.
– establishment of a credit bureau to allow for faster adjudication and more transparent access to credit.
– increased access to venture capital by way of exploring alternative financing with a view to having easier access to startup capital, more businesses and a higher rate of employment