Ed Harris at Large!!
Many of my readers are likely to expect me to preach a sermon as we close the year 2002. What a year it was? Many of us cannot wait to see the end of it all. There are many lessons to be learnt but I feel the need to look at the small business community, identifying some of the things we need to deal with. Unity, Money, Opportunities, etc., etc..
This is the time of year for introspection, retrospection and projection. What could I have done better? What I did and how did it impact on others? For me there were many disappointments but greatest among them was the lack of the Entrepreneurs of St. Lucia coming together and sharing ideas, doing projects together for the benefit of the nation. It had been very disappointing when because of the lack of business people co-operating with each other, rallying behind the various Private Sector Associations to which they belong or could become involved. There is too much self. The lack of trust continues to be the most difficult obstacle to surmount. When we begin to trust each other, we will begin to do business with each other and cooperate in other areas of endeavour. It is very clear that united we stand, divided we fall.
Let us look around and reflect upon the treatment being meted out to the business community by the banks. There is no window for serious refinancing. New businesses which cannot provide track record have serious difficulty to borrow. The ability to repay must be proven, not projected. Where is the risk content in the Banking Business? There is risk associated with business. However, the banking community seems not to be associated with such a word. It is important to note that in spite of their high charges for services and interest rates, the risk is not corresponding. The higher the risk, the higher the rewards.
The reality on the ground is that the people with the ideas do not have the money to establish themselves. The mooted benefits of the Eastern Caribbean Securities Exchange (ECSE) is not for cutting edge new innovative businesses, as companies seeking to be listed must have a profit history of at least two years. Many small businesspersons are shocked to learn that lending institutions are only doing businesses with businesses, in existence two years and over. Efforts are on going to get them to establish special facilities for financing new businesses.
While the small business sector has been loud in its cry for help from Banking institutions, we are yet to hear from big business. It appears as though that all is well with big business. The Banks are prepared to sacrifice small businesses. The Government must respond. It was a coincidence listening to the 6:00pm newscast on R.S.L as I write the article that Hon. Walter Francois, Member of Parliament for Soufriere was chastising the Banks with their high interest and other hidden charges. Effective interest rates can be as much as 22 + percent. Something must be done and soon. It will take a new approach to lending to take the nation out of the present depressed economic situation. While there are indications that there is good evidence of a turn around in the economy in the first quarter of 2003 most of this is dependent on Tourism performance. The base for a turn around must be broadened; new businesses should now hit the ground running. When it comes to small businesses, this sector is eagerly awaiting the establishment of the Small Enterprise Development Company which is expected to replace SEDU. It has been promised for sometime now but we have been given the assurance that this institution should be in place by the next Budget. I sincerely hope that given the experience of SEDU which gave officials of that institution a close up view of the problems of small businesses, especially in the area of finance that their introduction of SEDCO will offer new creative ways of meeting the financial needs of the small business sector.
While we are hoping for a change in the financial environment there are a few things we can begin to do, principally among them is for us to get together and form a formidable force that our voices can be heard. John the Baptist crying in the wilderness didn’t work instead they beheaded him.
Another disappointment is the reluctance of our businesspersons to venture into new areas of business. It is not always that it is possible to be the champion but support is always welcome. There are many unique opportunities for mentoring and joint venture with graduating students of the National Skills Development Center. Young people armed with new skills are being turned out in large numbers. They need guidance and financial assistance. Many established businesses need a new income stream. Here is a real opportunity to network and develop alliances.
Mr. Meuret, a member of the St. Lucia Manufacturers Association is doing a great job with the business students and is a great friend of the institution. I was encouraged by the efforts of the Management Team of the Institution led by Mr. Azeez, a young man with a dynamic personality, guiding the affairs of the institution with passion. He needs the support of civil society. There are many retired professionals who can make a difference. The young people are very receptive to ideas by persons who have been there, done it and who would like to share experiences with them. I had a two-hour session with them two weeks ago and what an experience it was. My theme was “Nothing Good happens Without God” The National Skills Development Center must be encouraged; the students need to be given an opportunity to try out their new found skills in the real world. They need job attachment opportunities in established businesses. Give the Placement Officer a call at Tel# 458-1677.
I have said this before and I will make the point here again “ If we do not take care of the less fortunate in our midst, those who cannot by themselves achieve the status in life to make a real contribution to themselves and society, in spite they have the ability to, will rise up to make life intolerable for many”. When we witness the many problems of our society, it is simple that we have to do more for those who need help. In many instances, the opportunity do something that would have impacted positively on our fellowmen – young and old alike is lost. We were just not looking in those directions. Our society definitely demands of all who have been blessed to follow a path of success to give back to our communities. If we are in business, we must endeavour to be good corporate citizens. Professional must share their knowledge. My final disappointment is the lack of my pet project - Goat Racing. I continue to be optimistic about this project but I am very unhappy with our lack of interest in things outside of our knowledge. We have many opportunities around. It is my sincere hope that we would be more readily receptive to new ideas.
Looking forward, we are living in an era when the role of Civil Society is being rapidly expanded and good governance is well articulated. The need for transparency cannot be over emphasised. Leaders in society must engage the citizens. The need for education and information is vital if the nation is going to move forward. I have made several appeals for Town Hall type meetings through out the island, soliciting ideas as they relate to meeting the demands of our changing world. Our leaders at all levels must get out and share and solicit information. There is need for many more Mr. Selwyn Vincent, Parliamentary Commissioner. He is definitely in touch with the people. Continue the good work, Mr. Vincent.
Early in the New Year, I am hopeful that as I drive through the highways of our beautiful island, I will see speed limits boldly placed on the routes. Street names and road maps at strategic locations will be great assistance to locals and visitors alike as they seek to find their way around the island whether on foot or by motor vehicle. There are fantastic advertising opportunities in these projects. I do hope they will be up for tender bi-annually.
I sincerely hope that our people will make greater use of the Internet in communicating and surfing the net. There is also need for many of the websites to be updated. We need to pursue this area aggressively as many opportunities exist through this medium to get ahead of the local competition and get on the Global Platform.
Finally, feel the need for us to be a gentler and kinder people seeking every opportunity to share and care for the less fortune in our midst and make it a policy in seeking out situations whenever we can be of help. Never assume that it is OK with other persons.
As we step forward into the dawn of 2003 may God bless us all abundantly.