One of the most contentious issues in Dominica is whether Government is doing enough to develop an enabling environment for local and overseas private investment.
Many persons cite Government’s failure to put appropriate policies in place to facilitate private sector investment, as well as the existence of entrenched bureaucracies in public offices as major inhibitors to investment. They say this has caused local and foreign entrepreneurs to seek overseas options for investments originally planned for Dominica.
These critics acknowledge that Government has an overriding responsibility to protect Dominica from unscrupulous investors. They also accept that Government has every right to scrutinize the business bonafides of would-be investors and also to insist that they set up business in compliance with established laws and business practices.
But they contend that Government has been slow to attract and assist new investments in Dominica and this impedes the growth of the private sector. They also say the list of significant new investments created or supported by Government in the last five years is much too short to generate the type of economic upturn the island needs.
It seems fair to note that some of the investments under the auspices of Government did not unfold in a way that fully satisfied the public in terms of time-frame, magnitude or local involvement. A recent example is the ongoing public outcry about a geothermal project granted to a foreign company while a local one was seemingly sidelined.
It certainly looks as though Government has a lukewarm outlook on private investment. For example, Government’s proposed broadcast legislation contains severe restrictions on overseas investors’ participation in Dominica’s broadcast media. It also lists draconian criteria for the entry of local entrepreneurs to the broadcast media.
Potential investors often complain about crippling bureaucracies in the licensing and registration processes. Hiccups are to be expected in any business environment and no system is perfect, but if Dominica hopes to create a truly business-friendly environment, the problems caused by unnecessary ‘red tape’ must be fixed quickly and permanently.
Businesses cannot rely on Government or its agencies to make them viable, but if Dominica seeks to promote private investment to create national wealth, Government should help them as much as possible. If acquiring necessary licenses and permits is too slow or difficult, then Government should move decisively to streamline the processes.
Global economic forces have pushed Dominica into an era of free trade and open markets. This is the basis on which the island receives much of its foreign aid from the Western developed world. This is also the basis for creating an enabling environment for private investment.
Attracting and maximising investment in Dominica requires much more than a spoken commitment. Among other measures, there must be clear and precise moves by Government to give investors attractive concessions and to refine legal and licensing systems to support business, trade and investment.
It is not Government’s ‘lip service’ but the way investors are treated in ‘real terms’ that determines the business climate here. Protection of the nation and the people comes first when dealing with investors, but Government should fine-tune the process of wooing and retaining investors to turn the private sector into the engine of economic growth.
This Article was published in the Editorial section of the Chronicle Newspaper – September 19, 2008