Address by the President of The St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce: Establishment of National Competitiveness and Productivity Council

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Honourable Stephenson King, Permanent Secretary, Minister of Finance, Economic Affairs and National Development   Mr.Isaac Anthony, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.  I am humbled and honoured having been asked to make some remarks on this auspicious occasion.  I am particularly pleased to note that a serious move is being made to establish what I hope will be constructive, honest and open dialogue between the public and private sector who are first cousins -one can't do without the other.

 As far as the Competitiveness and Productivity Council is concerned, the Chamber applauds this long awaited institution. It has been over ten years that the Chamber has pleaded with successive governments for the establishment of a national body to champion the improvements in Productivity across all economic sectors on the island. We had initially suggested a National Productivity Council modeled on the Barbados Productivity Council, but this institution we hope will do and meet the objectives we had set out.

  We must point out that as it stands the productivity of labour in St. Lucia is generally low. This stems from the poor quality of education received at the primary and secondary school levels. Therefore there must be some attention paid to improving outcomes at primary and secondary schools. Our education system needs to be revamped as a matter of urgency.

Another related area which requires attention in developing human resources, is that of training. While many programs have sort to train persons for employment very few have focused on the needs of existing firms for specific training which will enhance their operational efficiency. There must be some attention to firm/corporate level competitiveness as it is firms that compete and not governments or countries.

 Thus productivity and competitiveness can only be improved if we take a holistic approach to national development.

 At the other end, the inefficiencies of the public and private sectors need to be examined at all levels. There are firm/corporate level inefficiencies as well as public sector inefficiencies that compound the problem. Sometimes these problems appear systemic. Competitiveness can only be improved if we have an open honest discussion about it and accept that there is need for major change. For instance, since 2007 a number of areas of difficulty (long processes, costly methods etc.)  in the business environment had been identified by the Ease of Doing Business Report conducted by the World Bank. To date not one reform has taken place and St. Lucia,  while maintaining the number one in the English Speaking Caribbean spot has, dropped in the global ranking from 27 to 53. I trust this will be addressed and more so as a matter of priority.

 

There are many areas over which the decision makers in the public sector have control where productivity can be measured where the time to provide basic services can should be significantly reduced... These areas include but are not limited to obtaining:

 (1)    A driver's license

 (2)    A passport

(3)      A birth certificate

  (4) An Alien Land Holding License.

 One year from today we should be conducting an evaluation or a time and motion study to ascertain whether the time to achieve the above was cut by 50% for the least. Do the same thing in the ensuing year with an aim towards alleviating the problem of senseless delays completely/entirely.

 These are some of the little things that as a country we must start to do to improve competitiveness, not to mention lowering the time and cost it takes to clear goods from Customs., to register land, to get a company search done and to make our public transport system more efficient etc.

As I understand it, currently there are no formal opportunities for public-private dialogue in St.Lucia. While this initiative is late in coming I salute the government for taking the bold step in establishing a National Competitiveness and Productivity Council. I have not been provided with any information with respect to the full mandate of this council, suffice it to say however, that if the members or representatives from both sides public and private, don't come to the table with the interest of the people and country as their first priority then expect to fail.  In other words it must be service above self.

We live in very challenging times today, with country after country falling into financial and other related problems.  In fact I can say with certainty that the world is in crisis and St.lucia is no different. About one year ago we suffered one of the worst natural disasters of all times.--the passage of Hurricane Tomas from which we are yet to recover.

The effects of Tomas coupled with the effects of the world's financial meltdown have severely hurt our economy and have had many of us to change our way of life.  There is one thing that we must not do and that is to sit back and remain idle.   We must find ways and means to get our economy moving and working -this is why I welcome the appointment of  a steering committee to oversee the establishment of the NCPC.

Ladies and gentlemen if this council has to be successful in its objectives, the first step that must be taken is to build and improve the level of trust between the public and private sector. There is distrust on both sides and in some cases even on the same side. To be open inspires credibility and trust; to be closed fosters suspicion and mistrust.

Nothing is as fulfilling as a relationship of trust. Nothing is as profitable as the economics of trust... Nothing has more influence than a reputation of trust.  This is therefore what we must work towards in St.Lucia in making this union of Public-private sector National Competitiveness and Productivity a success.

Ask yourselves the question.  Do you consider us productive in this country?  The answer is a resounding -NO!  For a nation to be productive, its people must be disciplined, respectful, and empathetic. They must be prepared to make sacrifices for the benefit of others. We must be hard working and our productivity must be high and our goods and services competitive. We must also be innovative.  Do we pass the test?

The World Economic Forum's Global Competivtieness Index was developed in 2004 and includes 12 categories of indicators for 142 countries.  They include quality of infra structure such as roads, ports and electricity supplies, quality of higher education and training; macro economic factors such as government budget balances and national savings; and market development... The ranking also includes information from surveys of leading business executives in each country.

For the third consecutive year, Switzerland led the overall rankings, while Singapore moved up in second position ahead of third place Sweden. (Excerpt from Globe and Mail (Newspaper Canada).  I say all this to bring Singapore into the picture.  A country previously occupied by the British, a country under the leadership and management of Malaysia.  The British pull out and Malaysia left Singapore on its own.  A country at the time with no natural resources, save for a resilient people and a strong leader in the person of Lee Kuan Yew.  Some may say that Lee Kuan Yew was a dictator yet great leaders from all over the industrialized world including Britain and The United States of America consulted him.  Say what you wish but one thing is certain, he transformed Singapore and turned it from what was then a third world country into a first world country, the envy of many. Can we do the same in St.Lucia?  The answer is a resounding -Yes We Can!  

 Mr Prime Minister, I would encourage you to ensure that every member of parliament, everyone who decides he or she wants to represent us in the Honourable House, everyone who is chosen to serve on this Council be compelled to read the Lee Kuan Yew's book entitled.  "From Third World to First World-The Singapore Story."

 What is so special about the Asian counties and people?  Take a look at Japan that just suffered the worst earth quake of all times. The people got together to help each other-no looting, no price gouging, no political in-fighting.  The priority is to rebuild the nation through public and private sector cooperation.  Not through everyone sitting back and waiting for government to get everything done. Government does not have the resources, financial nor human to rebuild a nation on its own; this is responsibility of all of us.  Through Competitiveness and Productivity reform let us build this nation through a change in attitude---let us create entrepreneurs and turn St.Lucia into the Singapore of the OECS...

How can we do that?  Put this council to work and give the members the tools they need to get the job done. When recommendations are put forward, ensure that the proposals are not put in binder collecting dust while awaiting the formation of another council. The council members must be persons of integrity; they must be committed, loyal, cooperative, and honest and must fear no one, but God.

 Allow me to get back to the question of trust because I cannot over emphasize the importance of this virtue. You see many meaningful events in business, history, literature and life have hinged on profound moments of trust-on people who were willing to extend trust in amazing ways.  I trust this union between the public and private sector will be built on that level of trust so that at the end all the stakeholders will come together with the common vision -One People, One Nation, One Destiny.

 I Thank You

 

 

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