Prominent local businessman Ralph Bizzy Williams says he is eager to answer Government’s call to invest and grow the ailing economy, but he laments the length of time it is taking him to get necessary approvals.
In recent weeks authorities have been calling on private sector officials to take the lead and invest more in the local economy to help bring about much needed economic growth.
However, Williams pointed out that while he was ready to invest in a major renewable energy project that should help stimulate growth, and while Government should be lauded for some progress in reforming a number of processes to improve the ease of doing business here, the time it took for projects to be approved was still too long.
“We want to expand and grow the economy and we are working towards it as quickly as we can,” Williams told Prime Minister Mia Mottley during the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) January luncheon as she fielded questions from the audience.
“We are very much interested in expanding rapidly. We are very keen to do what the Government wants us to do – to expand and grow the economy. But we are still taking too long to get permission and licence. We have about four things to do before you can get a system going. It is taking a long time and it is very frustrating,” he lamented.
Williams, who has made several investments in the renewable energy sector over the years, is seeking to set up a green energy park.
At the same time, he is calling on Government to consider ways to help more locals invest in the growing sector as the island seeks to become 100 per cent reliant on renewable sources of energy by 2033.
“I am a strong believer that the alternative energy industry should be owned by Barbadians rather than external people coming in. Can the Government negotiate to borrow funds in US dollars to support the buying of the equipment that is required and lend to local people to invest in the industry?” he asked.
Responding to Williams’ concerns, Mottley stated that the green energy park “will come”, but insisting that Barbados was a country governed by rules and there were several reasons for the delay in the granting of approvals including the time the proposals were submitted.
The Prime Minister, who has responsibility for the Town and Country Planning Department, said she was now in possession of the energy park proposal and it would be reviewed “in good faith and in good order”.
“Your company and the Sanitation Service Authority have been in discussions and have put a proposal before the Government in order to have a green energy park, and that is in satisfaction of the fact that we have negotiated down SBRC payments from $23 million down to $13 million and that the length of time we took to negotiate it delayed us from being able to get the proposals from you for the green energy park,” she explained.
“We also have over our head, a claim from Cahill that we are also still trying to manage and balance back out,” said Mottley.
She further explained that only late last year she had to take a policy decision to allow the Fair Trading Commission to make necessary changes to the feed-in-tariff policy, pointing out that not everything the regulatory body did was regulatory but some of it is policy.
“We are going to get there,” she promised. “You will find that the times will improve.”
In relation to Government seeking new ways to help locals invest in the renewable energy sector, Mottley said her administration was currently mulling over “a novel idea” regarding the issuance of US-dollar bonds on the local market by local companies.
She said the green financing idea was still being fine-tuned but she was hoping that in another three months a concrete plan could be in place.
“So that if you issue a US-dollar bond, in order to be able to raise the money, you redeem it, not with the payment of persons in interest, but with the redemption being the reduction in your electricity bill and therefore the benefit of the bond is attached to the house as oppose to the individual,” Mottley explained.
She added: “So when the house is sold the house will carry the value of the benefit of the income stream from the bond. That is a very novel idea globally and we are not yet at the point where we have completely refined it.”
At the same time, Mottley pointed to the billions of dollars in the local banking system, saying that sector was still reluctant to fund some newer type projects.
“The banks have also to be prepared to have an appetite for the things that matter in this country – like tourism. The ability for them to lend more aggressively to the tourism sector is absolutely necessary. I know they have an appetite for the renewable energy market because that is seen like a clear one, but there are a number of areas in agriculture [that need funding],” she said.
The Prime Minister promised that her Government would be actively promoting the agriculture sector by encouraging individuals to get involved in specific areas.