Leading tourism sector officials are calling on lawmakers to take decisive action towards improving the doing business environment in Barbados so that more locals can invest in the sector.
In addition, they have issued a call for a complete overhaul of the banking system to make it easier for local entrepreneurs to obtain funding to establish new businesses.
Veteran hotelier Gordon Seale suggested that perhaps the time had come for a “business czar” to be put in place to help speed up turn-around times on certain applications. He also proposed that the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) become a private entity.
Seale told an online discussion forum on Wednesday that Barbados had a “big problem” with bureaucracy where people who wanted to set up a business or carry out certain transactions were being made to jump through too many hoops.
Singling out CAIPO and the Town Planning Department as two of the government agencies where improvements were needed to get decisions in a timely manner, Seale said the level of bureaucracy was “over the top” and “killing business”.
“It is stopping a lot of people from actually getting into business,” Seale said.
Earlier this year, CAIPO officials announced that the services of that government department would be fully digitized, which should ultimately make it easier to do business in, and with Barbados.
However, Seale said: “You have to use lawyers for things that you shouldn’t have to use a lawyer for in this day and age. A lot of the forms should be online and they should be filled out by the people who are entrepreneurs and sent in to the department. Unless there is something seriously wrong then they should be approved.”
Seale was speaking as a member of a panel during the second episode of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) webinar series, which examined the topic Increasing Local Ownership in Tourism: Is it Achievable?
“I think the number one problem for business in Barbados is that the people who are making the rules and who are enforcing the rules often haven’t got a clue about how difficult it is to run a business,” said Seale.
“I see the Government goes out and hire economists and so on and so forth, but we need to have a business czar where for that person the number one requirement is that they must have started and set up a business exclusively on their own, run it and make a success of it.
“It doesn’t have to be a Bajan . . . and they need to be in a position to remove the bureaucracy so they can get the things done that need to be done and to clear out some of the barriers that have been set up by people,” he said.
Seale said while he did not believe people who processed business applications were intending to make it difficult for entrepreneurs, it was perhaps a situation where they were just sticking to what was in a policy or law instead of treating to specific circumstances.
His wish was to also see CAIPO become a “licensed private sector-run organisation”.
“There is absolutely no reason why CAIPO could not be made a private sector operation and paid on the basis of efficiency getting things done,” he said.
Long-time tourism consultant Josea Browne agreed the doing business climate in Barbados was in need of urgent improvement but said she did not believe there was need to hire anyone to get this done.
She said some of the government departments and agencies simply needed to be operated “like businesses”.
“It is not rocket science. We don’t need a consultant to tell us that. We don’t need anybody to come in and tell us that. We need to run the organisations as if they are businesses,” said Browne.
“If you know you are supposed to do 80 per cent of applications in 30 days then we the public need to know they have passed this particular benchmark that was set and these are the things that are being done. You run it like a business with full public accountability. We don’t need to complicate an already complicated process. We actually need to simplify it,” she said.
She also called for a change in the banking system, suggesting that there was a level of favouritism.
“I have worked with several of my clients who have developed fantastic concepts, who have done the magic of marketing to bring these things to fruition and have taken it to fruition. You can write a document with the perfect business plan, you can sell this to the hilt and everybody will love it, but there is always a question that is asked – ‘who owns it?’ And from the time that question is asked if that name is not the ‘right’ name sitting behind that project you have reached a hurdle in your financing,” Browne explained.
“This is some serious favouritism in financing and approval of funds that happen to the detriment of fantastic projects that sit on this island,” she said.
Also zeroing in on the issue of access to finance, Chairman of the Intimate Hotels of Barbados Mahmood Patel said despite the billions of dollars in the local banking system, the difficulty in access funding was hindering critical investment from taking place.
“That money is not available to us as business people because of our existing banking structures and financial institutions. That needs to be deconstructed. If we are going to talk about inclusivity and local buy-in to our development we need to change the banking system,” he said.
Patel said he was calling on the ministers of finance, tourism and small business and entrepreneurship to have serious discussions about entrepreneurship and how it should be funded.
“Even if we put $20 million or $50 million a year towards that, I don’t think the money will be wasted because it would be put into the economy, and there is something called circulation of velocity. The funds will be spent and it will create jobs.
“Of course we would have to set up mechanisms and safeguards, but this is a call-out to have a serious discussion among our legislatures and our governance to look at entrepreneurship in Barbados,” said Patel. [email protected]