A Government project designed to improve productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness in this country has been given a one-year general extension by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
This disclosure has come from Coordinator of the Barbados Competitiveness Programme, Terry Bascombe, who expressed the view that the recent extension was a manifestation of the Bank???s confidence in this country.
He declared: ???It is also an expression of the confidence the Bank and Government have in the project???s importance. We did not get the project implemented fully during the four-year period, but there is still the opportunity to fully complete some of the activities during the extension period, and to make significant progress in others, which may require a further extension to fully complete.???
Mr. Bascombe noted that his project unit would be pulling out all of the stops to ensure that when the officials from the Bank come to do an assessment in February 2015, they would be satisfied with the progress made to date.
???By then, all activities would be at various stages of implementation with some fully completed. For certain, most of the activities would have reached some stage of measurability, in the sense that we would be able to display some solid commitment to having the activities implemented. In the case where activities are well advanced, it is hoped that the Bank would give us the additional time to complete them,??? he stated.
Jointly funded by the Government and the IDB, the cost of the Barbados Competitiveness Programme is US $11.8 million, with Government injecting US $1.8 million. The four-year project started in 2010 and should have been completed in March, 2014. It has four components ??? ensuring a coherent framework to support business development incentives and regulations; ensuring a coherent business development services architecture for business development; improving trade logistics and trade facilitation and enhancing access to infrastructure; and strengthening public-private dialogue on competitiveness.
Mr. Bascombe disclosed that the Programme was an ambitious undertaking from the outset given its scope and complexity. He said it became necessary for those involved to meet and objectively look at its status; to examine which activities were still relevant given the time that had elapsed between programme formulation and implementation, and which deliverables could realistically be achieved within the one-year extension. ???It was after those considerations that we felt it was necessary to seek the approval of Cabinet to approach the IDB and request a reallocation of funds from some areas of the project to others. In other words, to have the project restructured,??? he explained.
Acknowledging that it is virtually impossible for a single project to adequately address every aspect of competitiveness, he noted, however, that the Barbados Competitiveness Programme sought to address some of the key areas that have constrained improvement in the competitiveness profile in Barbados over the years. Some of the areas he identified were business facilitation, Government bureaucracy, goods market efficiency and efficiency in the private and public sectors.
Component One deals with improving business development in Barbados from the perspective of taxes and incentives. According to him, an assessment of the direct and indirect impacts of alternative tax regimes on government revenue and economic activity would be done to complement the country???s fiscal consolidation efforts. He added that it was necessary to provide a proper framework within which businesses could be established in the shortest possible time without compromising the regulatory integrity of Barbados; and as a result, institutional strengthening would be undertaken at the Town and Country Development Planning Office to improve its efficiency and functionality.
The second component looks at implementing a more coherent business infrastructure in Barbados. Mr. Bascombe pointed out that there were several entities which facilitate businesses, but suggested there was a need for a more integrative infrastructure that would allow for much easier access to information and the resources these institutions provide.
???So, for example, we have several agencies that provide financial resources to businesses. In many cases they are very disjointed, there is duplication and sometimes persons complain that they didn???t know these facilities exist, and if they do, even when they try to access the resources being offered, they find it very difficult to do so. They lament that often the requirements to access the finances appear to be above their heads. However, there is an activity in the project that proposes to analyse all these different structures with a view to bringing them together in a more cohesive and integrative way,??? he said.
The Coordinator noted that the third component of the project is the largest and most significant, in a sense. He explained that it was this component which motivated the development of the project in the first place, and which must be honestly attributed to the private sector, in particular entities affiliated with the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He pointed out that the scope of the project grew as other activities were gradually added. The component has three specific deliverables, namely, improving trade logistics and trade facilitation; transportation sector developments and improving access to infrastructure through public private partnerships.
According to him, a conceptual design for a Cargo Examination Facility at the Bridgetown Port will be developed and the vast majority of goods entering Barbados will be directed there for inspection purposes. Mr. Bascombe stated that with a fully functioning facility, the clearance of imports should be more systematically undertaken and the level of surveillance should be enhanced.
Giving an update on the facility, he said: ???We have already gone through the first phase of the procurement process and we have made a recommendation to the Bank to move on to the second stage. A facility has already been identified at the Port, and we will shortly be seeking to hire a consultant to produce the conceptual design for the facility, which will, among other things, provide for a logistical flow of goods through the port to final importers.???
He added that the implementation of the Electronic Single Window (ESW), to which the private sector is eagerly looking forward, is also associated with the Cargo Examination Facility. The ESW is a mechanism that allows all importers and exporters to submit relevant information in a standardised manner to a single point.
???The preliminary work of establishing the Electronic Single Window has already begun. A critical part of it is the upgrade of the Customs system ASYCUDA++ to ASYCUDA World. Consultants are already in the island and we have embarked on the first phase of the upgrade, which included a change management workshop. Other consultants from the same organisation will be assisting with the completion of the first phase and embarking on the second phase of the upgrade. The ASYCUDA World will be a significant part of the Electronic Single Window mechanism. This is great news, not only for the business community, but also for Government and civil society,??? he stated.
The fourth component looks at strengthening public/private sector dialogue on competitiveness. Mr. Bascombe supported the view that since the tentacles of competitiveness are far reaching, matters related to the subject should be part of the discourse of the social partnership. ???Competitiveness is a national issue and should be treated as a top agenda item,??? he contended. ???Long after the project is completed, matters relating to competitiveness will still be a concern. The project recognises this and makes provision in component four for the institutionalisation of matters pertaining to competitiveness,??? he surmised.
The Project Coordinator pointed out that competitiveness could not be thoroughly discussed without making reference to productivity. He said that in light of the global economic challenges and their impact on countries, including Barbados, it had become more necessary than ever to revisit the defunct Commission on Competitiveness and to reestablish it in a manner that would guarantee its contemporary and future relevance, well beyond 2014.
In light of this, the Coordinator disclosed that two major deliverables from the project will be the development of a national competitiveness strategy and action plan, and the establishment of a technical unit, which will be responsible for implementing the various activities outlined in the strategy and action plan. He pointed out that eight firms had been shortlisted and once everything goes to plan, the consultant should be on board by September 1, 2014. This plan, he stressed, would chart the competitiveness road map for the country.
It is clear then that the way has been paved for Barbados to improve its competitiveness; and, with the commitment and perseverance of all Barbadians, particularly workers in both the public and private sectors, much can be achieved.