In recent months, several Government officials have been singing the common refrain from the same hymn sheet: Barbados is back, Barbados is open for business.
And certainly, today’s revelation from Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes that the economy is on the right track back to recovery may appear to back up the happy chorus.
He reported continuing improvement in public finances, the recovery in the international financial reserves and the lowering of the high fiscal deficit.
But there’s evidence that we need to get many notes right to create a perfect symphony of a growing economy.
Barbados is still way down the scale when it comes to the ease of doing business.
This week, Minister of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce Dwight Sutherland revealed the details of our worrying track record in the Ease of Doing Business Report 2019 as he addressed a forum hosted by the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association on Wednesday.
Barbados is ranked 23rd out of 32 countries in the Americas and ninth out of 15 Caribbean nations.
Sutherland disclosed that Barbados scored 56.78 points compared to the top-ranked New Zealand, which scored 87 points out of 100 in the report.
He noted that Barbados’ score was slightly below the regional average of 58.97 points for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Jamaica is the highest-ranked country in the Caribbean at 75th, while St Lucia is ranked 93rd and Trinidad and Tobago 105th.
And Barbados also ranks low on trading across borders, he said.
It takes much too long for the paperwork to be prepared and ready for both exports and imports.
Quoting from the World Bank report, the minister said: “It takes exporters 54 hours and US$109 to prepare, obtain, submit and process the required export documents and 41 hours and US$350 to comply with border clearance export procedures.
“The time requirements and costs for imports are even higher.”
Beyond the report are the seemingly endless anecdotes from the business community of frustrating encounters of the bureaucratic kind.
Beyond the issues highlighted by Minister Sutherland, few have not felt the pain and frustration of red tape to conduct the simplest transactions.
It still takes way too long and too may offices to secure even the very basics – a birth certificate, a driver’s licence, a health certificate, a goods clearance – and the list goes on
And in this digital age, we are still way too dependent on paper to conduct transactions.
Being serious about investment means we have to build an environment to first encourage domestic investment and then, as a rising tide lifts all boats, the good word will spread beyond our shores — Barbados is indeed ready to do business.
It’s critical we get it right, particularly when Government has spared no effort to lure new investors as it seeks to rebuild and diversify the economy. Just today, our honoured guest, the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta departed our shores after bilateral talks, that will hopefully lead to investment here from Nairobi and vice versa. We have also heard of similar initiatives with Ghana.
And of course, there’s the long-expected Hyatt Centric Resort, the Hilton Garden Bay, and the proposed $30 million investment by the former Chief Executive Officer of Coca Cola in the property near the Waterfront Café and Careenage, among others.
It, therefore, makes perfect sense to stop talking about it and get cracking on rooting out archaic systems, retraining workers and streamlining processes.
Authorities need to take onboard the business community’s suggestions to see where improvements are needed. If we fail to act, then Barbados will lose out to more efficient – and competitive – neighbours.
We need a smart Government that devises creative policies that investors, local and overseas, cannot refuse.
We acknowledge Government’ efforts thus far to turn the tide and hope that the steps will be decisive and bear fruit.
But we need strong and clear signals – not rhetoric – of action that tell the world that Barbados is open for business again.
Our economy cannot afford to languish at 132nd of 190 nations – or lower- by the time of the next Ease of Doing Business report – in 2020.