Democratic Labour Party (DLP) spokesman on business matters Ryan Walters is questioning Government’s plan to enter into a private-public partnership to improve the operations of the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO).
Calling for clarity and greater transparency, Walters complained that in an effort to improve its ranking, currently 129th out of 190 countries, in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, the government has committed to a public-private sector partnership that essentially outsources the management of the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office operati.
“All agreements were decided with minimal public disclosure, in an environment where the overwhelming mandate, given this administration, is now being utilized as an effective barrier to opposition queries and public scrutiny,” he said.
Minister of International Business and Industry Ronald Toppin announced last month that Government was “committed to entering into a public/private partnership to outsource the management of operations at CAIPO”, as he reaffirmed Government’s commitment to improving the business facilitation environment here.
“This partnership will provide greater efficiency and timeliness in the registering of new businesses and the operations of CAIPO generally,” Toppin had said.
But Walters questioned why the country needed to engage the services of “an outsider” to fix the problems, while questioning how much it will cost taxpayers and if there would be a tendering process.
“These are the questions taxpayers require to be answered by an administration that consistently pledged transparency and accountability,” said Walters.
“What will the new system provide that is not already being done or planned for? What special skills does ‘the professional management team’ bring? CAIPO is fundamentally a keeper of company records and an adjudicator of property transfer tax and stamp duty on share transfers. Why should a foreign company do this now?” he further queried.
Insisting that there was a lack of transparency, in the process, which Toppin said would be addressed in the first six months of this year, Walters said Government remained “tight lipped on who the private sector partner is, the process this partnership will take and more importantly how much it will cost taxpayers”.
“It is disturbing that with two ministers paid to manage the business affairs of this country, this Government has still found funds to pay outside parties to do their job and that of qualified competent public officers. It is now par for the course that solutions to solve the issues of the day seem to be designed only to be of benefit to one or two persons, while the costs to do so are carried by already over-taxed citizens,” he complained.
He said the DLP was of the view that Barbados should be able to carry out the necessary reforms needed to transform the department without “running the risk of losing integrity due to increased exposure of investor information”.
“We are also firmly opposed to this administration’s continual assaults on the treasury . . . while at the same time harping that they found it empty. There are obvious steps that can be made to improve efficiency and service within this critical area without having to pay an outside source,” he insisted.
Walters suggested that the training of civil servants and communicating regulatory changes to stakeholders was an “obvious” solution.
“Research has shown that countries which invest in training workshops and effective communication among stakeholder groups have been able to reduce the length of time it takes to start a business by approximately 12 days.
“Another area for exploration is the improvement in the online presence of CAIPO. For almost three years, registered agents (mainly lawyers) can search, complete forms, pay fees and get responses, all from the comfort of their offices via online interactions with CAIPO,” he said.
Offering up further suggestions, Walters said Government could also seek to introduce “a one-stop-shop” where applicable.
“This can be done by identifying, and grouping under one umbrella, the many related registration processes that are currently spread over various government departments. [But], the questions still remain, exactly what will this new arrangement cost taxpayers, who will pay for their service/management and what improvements can the public expect from this new arrangement?” he said.
“Barbadians must demand greater transparency in this hot and sweaty rush to privatize or sell state-owned enterprises and departments” he added.