If we were to accept and apply the logic of Senator Jepter Ince, parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, the Barbadian private sector, which comprises commercial entities by and large, are merely parasites feeding off the Government.
Delivering the weekly lunchtime lecture at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) last Friday, Mr Ince specifically used the words “parasitic plant within the bosom of Government” to portray the business community. And he made it clear he had no apologies to make for saying so.
But is this a fair and accurate characterization of the local private sector? One online dictionary defines a parasite as “a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return”.
While it is true that our private sector entities do benefit from Government concessions, the evidence shows it is not a one-way street.
Indeed, companies from the smallest to the largest do give back a lot to the country and economy. They do so through providing jobs, paying taxes which support the operations of Government, earning foreign exchange to pay for imports, and supporting charitable causes and community activities through sponsorship.
Ultimately, the contribution of the private sector impacts on economic activity and is reflected in the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), the principal yardstick used by economists to determine whether an economy is doing well or faring badly.
Contrary to what Senator Ince seems to be suggesting, blame cannot be placed mainly at the feet of the private sector for the under-performance of the economy in recent years.
Barbados operates what can be described as a mixed economy but it is the private sector, not Government, which is assigned the important role of engine of growth. For the private sector to deliver, however, Government as the entity responsible for establishing the overarching policy framework must do what is necessary to create the enabling environment and also promote the critical element known as confidence.
There are people in Barbados, including some who occupy the corridors of Government, who seem to have an ideological problem with the private sector because firms are in business to make a profit. It is about time that we move away from this old-fashioned, outdated socialist-era thinking that equates profit making with exploitation. Such thinking is retarding the progress of Barbados.
Profit making must be seen as positive activity because it generates wealth. And the more wealth a country can generate, especially in these times, the better off it will be for us all. If Government has concerns about exploitation, then it can address them through effective regulation. Indeed, Government’s role in the economy includes serving as a referee among the various actors, especially in the relationship between companies and workers and companies and consumers.
However, most important of all, Government must put the right enabling environment in place and instill confidence. Once this happens, the private sector will rise to the challenge. As construction magnate Sir Charles Williams pointed out yesterday in response to Senator Ince, it is the frustrating actions of Government, especially the inordinate time it often takes to get approval for projects, that has had a dampening effect on the enthusiasm of the private sector over the years.
From a businessman’s standpoint, time is money. Furthermore, what is a lucrative business opportunity today may not be in another year if a drastic change in market conditions occurs. Our Government therefore has to decide whether it wishes to continue being seen by the private sector as a frustrator or improve its way of doing business and be seen more as a facilitator. It makes no sense for our elected representatives to keep complaining that the problem lies within the bureaucracy. It’s their job, as legislators, to fix the problem.
Senator Ince’s unfortunate and unfair characterization of the private sector can have the effect of undermining a good working relationship between them and Government, which is critical to the success of current efforts to turn around the fortunes of the Barbados economy. How can Government truly expect to win the support and cooperation of the private sector when a key official decries them as parasites?
It may be that Senator Ince is buckling under the immense criticism which Government has received over its recent Budgetary proposals, especially the private sector. Cool heads need to prevail, however, in the national interest. Suppose the private sector leadership views this attack as the proverbial last straw that breaks the camel’s back and decides to withdraw cooperation with the incumbent DLP Government?
It would be a sad day for the country. Indeed, our prospects for economic recovery would suffer a major setback.