The World Bank’s poor ratings of doing business here merely confirm a secret that no longer bothers to remain covered: doing business is akin to pulling a tooth – with a rusted wrench.
In 2019, trying to complete even the simplest of tasks can hurl one back to the Stone Age, by car.
At a time when technology is available to complete almost any task, Barbados would pass for the hometown of Barney and Fred in the animated American cartoon series, The Flintstones.
Learner drivers sit parked in anticipation to take their driver’s test, only to wait an entire day before they take to the roads.
And God forbid that you fail that test; you may be made to wait as long as nine months for a new test date.
Those seeking to newly register and insure vehicles are often forced to take a day off to complete the process, involving arduous journeys to and from the Licensing Authority and the Barbados Revenue Authority to get this business completed.
This is exacerbated by the absence of integration between government agencies. Every authority wants individuals to bring original copies of the same documents for similar purposes – particularly birth certificates which are essential for national identification cards and passports. Additionally, emailing documents with scanned or electronic signatures – as commonplace as it may seem in most workplaces – is too much of an ask in Barbados in this 19th year of the 21st Century.
This simple measure could not only reduce wait times, but cut down on paper, saving both the government purse and the environment.
But let’s not forget that the Government’s job cuts have left even fewer clerical officers – in some cases none at all – to process these documents or even collect precious revenue for the State.
On another note, parents who use the island’s polyclinics to keep their children up to date on immunizations or routine checks are also forced to wait for hours and hours in uncomfortable waiting rooms, with yellowed books and decades-old magazines to help pass the time if cell phones are not in hand.
The same goes for people who may require vaccinations to travel or for health insurance purposes. Appointments serve only as time marked on a piece of paper.
Requests to switch to polyclinics nearer to a parent’s workplace instead of home address are met with curt dismissal, as there is no records-sharing system that has been fully rolled out, connecting records to patients across the healthcare system.
All these inconveniences result in the loss of a day’s work at a time when productivity is critical to the growth of the economy.
In short, this state of affairs could best be summed up in that unpleasantly apt Barbadian word, “poor-rakey”.
We have deserved better for too long.
But these complaints are not new. In 2016, then Prime Minister Freundel Stuart said that in a survey by the E-Government Unit of the Ministry of the Civil Service, 96 per cent of the respondents supported using online services – if the Government offered them.
It then comes as no surprise that Barbados is ranked 129 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the 2018 World Bank annual ratings. Although it was a slight improvement on 2017, when we were listed at 132, it is a clear indication of the work we say we need to do, but perhaps doing so at the speed rivalling that of a snail.
This administration’s promise of e-government and meetings with the island’s best and brightest information technology wizards should do more than fill the pages of a press release. Concrete proposals for action to use technology to collect, store and share personal documentation, supported by reasonable safeguards in law through advanced data protection legislation, are what are required. We have the brains to write code now; we needed reach for foreign, off-the-shelf solutions. But we need to act. Now. Before the year 2020 finds us with our vision still blunted and our systems still dating back to the parchment and quill of a colonial era our civil service and political leaders are too hide-bound to jettison.
Barbados was ranked 117 in 2016.
While Barbados is ranked better than St Vincent and the Grenadines (130); St Kitts Nevis (140); Grenada (147); Suriname (165) and Haiti (182), it is still behind the likes of Jamaica, which continues to hold the number one spot in the Caribbean, ranked at 75th, St Lucia (93); Dominica (103); Trinidad and Tobago (105); Antigua and Barbuda (112) and The Bahamas (118).