T&T is economically situated in a place where it should be doing much better than it is currently doing when it comes to the ease of doing business. This according to the executive director of the Mona School of Business and Management in Jamaica, Dr David McBean.
Responding to questions posited by the Business Guardian, McBean said: “T&T with a per capita income of US$15,000 compared to Jamaica’s US$48,000, should be in a position to outperform its Caribbean neighbour given its resources.”
He continued: “A quick review shows that Jamaica is ranked 71st in the world for ease of doing business, while T&T is ranked at 105. While tables do not often tell the whole story, it is instructive to see what factors drive the rankings and how relevant they are to us as developing economies.”
In 2014, T&T was ranked 66th on the ease of doing business table, while Jamaica came in at 94th. However, Jamaica’s improvement according to McBean has to do with the countries decision over the last decade, to embark upon “a number of reforms (with mixed results) to improve its business climate.”
These reforms, according to McBean, have focused on reducing the bureaucracy, transaction costs and time taken to do basic things such as register a company, and “eliminating certain taxes below minimum thresholds (stamp duty, etc).”
Consequently, Jamaica is now ranked 6th in the world on the score for starting a business while T&T is at 79th. It is also ranked 15th for Getting Credit which, according to McBean, is “due to its implementation and enhancement of credit reporting systems, which is key to its 71st placing.” T&T is ranked at 67th when it comes to getting credit.
McBean noted that Jamaica was also “singled out for implementing the ASYCUDA Customs system, which would enhance its customs efficiency (Jamaica is actively pushing to improve its position as a major logistics hub, leveraging its Kingston Port operations).
“It is, however, instructive that Jamaica can score as high as 6th in a single category, but end up being 71st overall.”
He also noted that there are several categories that Jamaica ranks below 100 such as Getting Electricity which is at 120th. McBean said T&T was given low marks for paying taxes, ranked 160th, which is an increase from 166th in 2019 where it was “driven down by its decision to increase the corporate tax rate.”
According to McBean, “this illustrates how governments must balance what they believe is in their national interest to do, versus an EODB World Bank ranking”.
He argued that T&T has an opportunity to increase its ranking, by addressing some of the low scores such as its 126th ranking in the category dealing with construction permits, 158th in the category Registering Property, 160th in paying taxes, 134th in trading across borders and 174th in enforcing contracts.
McBean said the Caribbean has the infrastructure and human capital to deal with the aforementioned improved the various rankings, “but lack the political will to overhaul the structural inefficiencies in our legal and regulatory systems.
“Often we continue to have analogue systems and processes in an increasingly digital work.
“Change is often feared, as we see the potential downside of lost jobs in the short-term as outweighing the benefits of increased economic activity that benefits the entire society in the medium- to long-term.”
Meanwhile, the CEO of the Jamaican Chamber of Commerce Trevor Fearon said that country improvement was due to a collaborative and coordinated approach to making business processes easier.
He said: “I think what has been useful here is the fact that a number of agencies were coordinating their work through JAMPRO investment and trade agencies to look at the criteria that are used in making those assessments and actually developing their work plans around addressing those particular criteria.”
Fearon indicated that the focused work between JAMPRO (An Agency of the Government of Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) that promotes business opportunities in export and investment) and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation has been a significant factor in Jamaica’s development.
While Jamaica has managed to drill down into the specific metrics that contribute to the ease of doing business, Fearon said that the country has done very well in some areas and in other areas “we haven’t done as well”.
He said: “So at the same time that you point out that we have made strides in the ease of doing business overall, we have lost ground on transactions across borders.”
Fearon also said that countries should not just focus on putting actions or initiatives in place but should also assess the impact of these actions while comparing what is happening in other countries. He noted: “So you can actually be doing better than last year but your neighbour is moving things at a faster pace.”
When it comes to T&T’s fall from 64th to 105th in the rankings, Fearon said that a country can do better than its previous year “in terms of the initiatives you undertake, but you can still lose your place and slip down in the rankings.” He continued: “So I won’t presume what the situation has been in T&T if it slipped in the ranks. It can very well be that it did put in place certain initiatives but other countries, may have been doing things faster.”
The CEO of the Jamaican Chamber of Commerce explained that doing things faster contributed to Jamaica’s improvement. He said: “If we manage to get a number of things in place that contributed overall to the doing business upgrade, it can very well mean that other countries introduced measures, but we were able to do it at a faster rate over the period measured.”
He said that if a country was working on four or five initiatives in 2018, but did not manage to get them implemented in 2018, whereas another country had two initiatives in 2018, but managed to get them implemented, that second country would come out ahead on that particular metric, because “they managed to get things done to the point where it made an impact over the period being reviewed.”
Fearon said: “It’s not the number of things, it’s largely the pace with which these things come into effect. “
Fearon indicated that technology has “unquestionably” played a major part in the thrust towards Jamaica’s improvement in the ease of doing business. He said: “because now you can do so many things, for instance, customs, you can do so many things online.”
The CEO of the Jamaican Chamber of Commerce said the extent that one can perform customs activities online seamlessly: “You can sometimes rationalize what you are doing in the office (where it is open from 8 am to 4 pm), now it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a shift of people on the weekend doing customs-related matters in the organizations.” He noted that these implementations mean that the organization does not have to close “because a ship doesn’t stop at sea on a weekend - there are still activities that are taking place.”
Fearon noted that a country will leap forward based on the agility and resilience of its IT infrastructure.