Competitive practices drive innovations and ongoing efforts by businesses to increase both consumer value and shareholder value. Indeed for businesses to succeed in a free enterprise economy, they cannot be indifferent to either their consumers or their shareholders.
Consumers at this time of economic challenge and difficulty in meeting many of the commitments are very cost conscious and rightly so. Most of us as consumers are looking for a quality product at an affordable price. If competition leads to lower prices for products of good quality, we consider this a good thing. Quality is important especially when it impinges on the health and wellness of the consumer. So we should compare not only prices but the quality of goods.
The private sector is raising broad issues of fairness and transparency which are critical and important considerations impacting on the way business is done. These have to be examined on their merits and appropriate interventions made and solutions given where necessary and appropriate because unfairness in business when left unchecked undermines the private sector as an engine of economic growth. It creates humbugs and bottlenecks and dampen the alacrity of people to invest, and do business.
Regarding the issuance of licences to do business, this is handled by the Ministry of Finance. The matter of the issuance of work permits should be considered in the context of whether they meet the legal requirements for issuance. We will be concerned if the issuance of a work permit disadvantaged a local unfairly. In this regard a number of questions may guide us. Were the job vacancies advertised locally before “foreigners” were offered the job? Are the pay packages offered to foreigners materially different to what were offered to the locals? Will the employer get a local understudy?
At these times of high unemployment and under employment, we have to be careful not to disadvantage local people whether they are business persons or workers.
Finally, regarding the matter of fairness to local businesses, I believe very strongly that local businesses: our hairdressers, restaurateurs, farmers, retailers, wholesalers, distributors and professional community should be given special incentives to help them get started and grow. While we have sought to do some good work here via Small Business Development Act of 2009 which legislated a range of incentives arguably much more can be done. At the National Entrepreneurial Development Division (NEDD) we have instituted training opportunities for proprietors of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), these however can be more widespread and regular.
Financing is a critical challenge for SMEs both for start up, working capital and indeed to finance efficiency changes over the life of the businesses.
Perhaps this is an area in which the can do more in “unleashing domestic entrepreneurship”. Helping locals first and foremost must be a priority at all times.
Perhaps greater care may be required in categorizing all Chinese as foreigners, since some acquired citizenship by investment. As holders of St Kitts and Nevis passports, there are certain expectations, rights and obligations that flow naturally. We will have to look at a range of policy options in discussing the matters which are being raised by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and by others in the national community.
My Ministry stands ready to be part of the ongoing dialogue and solutions.