I spent about an hour and a half on Tuesday night watching BIBA’s panel discussion Thriving in Crisis via Facebook. Thanks to BIBA for hosting this and for arranging for the live feed for those of us who couldn’t get down to the Grande Salle. From the look of the packed room, we would not have been able to fit in anyway. Lisa Cummins did a brilliant job
at moderating and I gleaned much from
I have to say that I came away at the end both encouraged and annoyed. How is that possible? Let me start with the annoyed part, although the word “annoyed” doesn’t deem strong enough. I heard Jeremy Stephen share some of the advice he has given to members of Parliament that would have helped the country before we got to this state, but which failed to be implemented for political reasons i.e. the importance of getting back in power.
I heard him as he talked about developments on the global landscape and the opportunities that could transform Barbados, but which the decision makers seem not to be able to see and grasp. For example, he talked about the fact that Apple may be looking to move its administrative offices from Ireland and lamented the fact that Barbados is not in Ireland making a pitch for them to set up here.
That reminded me of the vision of the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF): “To make Barbados the Entrepreneurial Hub of the world by 2020”. That vision was to attract major entrepreneurial companies to set up their headquarters in Barbados which is exactly what Jeremy is talking about with Apple. Can you imagine the kind of money that would be passing through Barbados and the impact that could have on our economy if we had Apple set up here?
The BEF Board knew that certain things had to be done in the country to make that possible, such as business facilitation. Today we are still throwing our hands up in frustration as we try to do business in Barbados. Bizzy Williams, at the panel discussion, lamented that there were too many regulations and hindrances to doing business. Jeremy disagreed that regulations were an issue in themselves but that it was a people problem. I think it is both. While regulations are supposed to be beneficial and make for good governance, they must make sense and must contribute to the efficiency of running the country.
It is therefore laughable (if it was funny) that we have so many regulations and rules for the private sector (and woe be it for us to break them), yet the government can seemingly do as it pleases. The Accountant General churns out a report each year where almost every government department and statutory organization is in breach of various rules and regulations and yet continue to operate without consequence.
Many of the issues raised lead to the fact that the government lacks the political will to do what is necessary for the good of the country. My position on that is if the political will to improve the country is lacking in the current government, or even the opposition, we need to completely change the people who we have running this country, including the ones just below them in positions of influence if we want to see Barbados restored to prosperity.
In terms of the private sector thriving in crisis, I came away with the feeling that “thrive” might be too strong a word, and perhaps “survive” might be a better description. The frustration of trying to do business in an increasingly taxed country was not only voiced by Tom Hall, CEO of the Williams Group, but was well articulated by a recent article in the press by Sir David Seale. They are, of course, not the only voices crying out under the heavy arm of the government’s fiscal measures. Every time I go to the supermarket, I add my lament as do many others.
The understanding that the Barbados dollar is in big trouble was also as clear as day. Jeremy’s calculation of there being seven Barbados dollars that are backed by each US dollar of foreign reserves that we actually have, tells the story in itself of the true worth of the Barbados dollar. And while the commercial banks currently have more foreign exchange than the Central Bank’s reserves, it is the Central Bank that controls how much money can leave the country and when. I know of a situation where a business took two weeks to get approval for £5000 to purchase material out of the UK.
One of the points also made by Jeremy Stephen was the fact that we need to find a new business model for Barbados. Tourism was great for a time but it is also a significant drain on our foreign currency because it currently spends more than it earns. Most of the time we probably don’t even see all the earnings being brought into the country in the first place. Retail is another drainer of foreign exchange and I have said in the past that we cannot continue to sustain import and resell industries.
I was therefore encouraged to hear Khalil Bryan, an optimistic young entrepreneur, who has been working tirelessly to push his transportation Apps in Barbados. Entrepreneurs like him give hope for the future. A future that must look very different from the past. A future that is built on “what we have in our house” which is a good communication infrastructure (despite our complaints), and intelligent, innovative people who have knowledge that they can sell to the world.
I believe that we are at such a place that those who don’t have anything to contribute (no vision, no political will, no good ideas) need to get out of the way so that new leaders can take this country forward. We cannot progress using the same strategies we used in the past and we cannot sit back and wait. We need to be creative and innovative in finding new ways to do things, new products to bring to the international markets and new ways of attracting foreign direct investment.
I am confident that with entrepreneurs like Khalil and businessmen like Tom, who find ways to get things done in spite of the difficulty of doing business, with advisors like Jeremy and strong, capable women like Lisa, Barbados can thrive again. But we can’t just rely on those in the forefront, we all need to do our part to make it happen.