The Way Forward for Doing Business

Speaking ahead of the recent Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Luncheon on Wednesday, February 29 Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte fielded questions from the St Lucia media regarding St Lucia’s standing in the 2012 Ease of Doing Business report. The Doing Business report put together by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation is meant to measure business regulations and St Lucia’s ranking out of 183 world economies dropped from 52 in 2011 to 48 in 2012.
Issues highlighted in the report included: Starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering properly, getting credit, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across boarders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. St Lucia’s ranking fell in every aspect with one exception, enforcing contracts where the ranking improved by one point.
In the words of the island’s recently appointed Commerce minister: “The Ease of Doing Business issue includes the whole procedures and bureaucracy, you may be aware that the prime minister appointed a three man team just about last month to start looking at that. Also at the ministry of commerce we’ve started doing quite a bit of work on that, so today we are going to share our activities with the Chamber and see what they have done versus what we have done so we can determine the way forward.”
“The report has outlined at least ten basic issues that really require attention,” Hippolyte continued.
“One of them is actually E-Commerce, the way we deal with how we purchase things and pay for them electronically and that includes St Lucia having specific legislation. We also have the issue of trading across boarders, so we’re looking at the procedures. It affects several government agencies, our ministry, customs, so a lot has to take place. We are sitting together and the commitment I’m giving today to the business community is that my ministry is willing to work with them to improve the procedures and processes. Some of the short term recommendations have already been implemented, we are now working on the medium term ones.”
President of the Chamber of Commerce Gerard Bergasse tackled questions from the media on who was to blame for the island falling short of success or improvement in the report.
“It’s a national issue,” Bergasse expressed. “The idea of Ease of Doing Business is not just about policy makers and changing laws, it’s a philosophy. It’s a way of thinking where we should be constantly trying to improve the business environment. It’s not down to one person or one individual business owner or government minister or the civil service; it is national. Everybody should be interested in that. Everybody should be advocating. If you’re a business person and there’s a particular process or procedure on the government’s side that is frustrating your business then the onus is on you to advocate, to have that changed so it makes it easier to transact business. There is no blame.
“We do not feel that we have all the answers,” the Chamber president added. “We want to hear from everybody who is in the business world to say what is it that is impeding business for you, so we can pull together a report for the prime minister and say these are the things we need to look at and here is the priority of what we should look at first. We have pooled many associations across the economy to ask them exactly that question. The committee has started work and the report is to be released or presented to the prime minister on March 15.”
In a press statement issued on February 29 government responded to the “current negative trend for Ease of Doing Business in St Lucia” stating that a comprehensive statement would be made in the 2012/ 2013 budget on Government led initiatives to restore confidence in St Lucia’s investment market.
The statement read in part: “In presenting Government’s response to the current situation, Minister Hippolyte stressed her Ministry’s commitment to ensuring that the requisite action is taken to “stimulate, support and fuel business activities in areas that will generate and sustain economic growth and development in the medium term.” As such, the Government of St Lucia will restructure the National Development Corporation (NDC) into an investment Promotion Agency and consolidating into its mandate all support services required to facilitate both local and foreign direct investment; so that this agency effectively functions as a single window or one stop shop for prospective investors. [Government will work to] accelerate the work of the National Trade Facilitation Task force in addressing all administrative and regulatory hurdles identified in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business survey, implement the electronic business registry (A project funded by the World Bank) which will allow new businesses to simultaneously register with all relevant agencies, enact E-Commerce legislation and develop a Services Policy that will facilitate and encourage new modes of business and electronic transactions, establish a Business Incubator in the very short term, to provide a structured and more supportive environment (both physically and virtually) for businesses that are at critical start-up and/or scale-up phases and revise the fiscal incentives and trade concessions that government has provided to businesses in the past.”

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