A EUROPEAN Union grant of $15 million has been offered to the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands for budgetary support as it seeks to enhance and promote better business relations within the territory.
“I would want to work without delay, full speed ahead with the private sector to put a reform strategy in place that focuses on improving business regulations, focuses on business development and improving job and career opportunities.”
Minister of Finance Washington Misick made this statement on Tuesday (August 27) at a press conference in the Department of Disaster and Emergency Management building, Providenciales.
During the meeting he announced the EU’s intention to grant the money to the TCI, providing the country can fix weaknesses in the system that were found during an analysis it conducted.
Misick noted that the reform strategy has to be detailed and agreed during the remainder of this year so that Cabinet can consider it and present it to the EU at the beginning of 2014.
Former Chief Economist, Dr. Richard Stoneman, has been appointed as Business Transformation Consultant to Government in this process.
He will be working along with the Minister and the Government’s Chief Economist, Dr Ubazdus Raymond and the team put together by the Minister.
Dr Stoneman will serve until next spring.
The money is intended as budgetary support for the Government, and the first tranche of approximately $4 million is expected before the end of March 2014. It will be put into the consolidated fund.
It is payable on agreed policies being successfully implemented.
To prequalify for the money, the EU conducted their research which highlighted a number of weaknesses.
The main weakness identified was the length of time for the processing of work permits and business licenses.
It was recommended that these two areas should be made more efficient.
“The process that exists today is time consuming and it adds cost, not only to Government, but it adds cost to the business community,” the Minister stated.
As a result, he added, the Government has developed policies to streamline the process and to change to a computerised system.
“The EU is particularly concerned with the regulations governing business activities or restrictive and damaging to the economic performance prospects for economic recovery.
“As part of its support for the Turks and Caicos islands, the EU has insisted that the burden of these regulations be made lighter and that they be made to work more efficiently.”
Misick observed that it is the consensus throughout the islands that some of the regulations tend to slow down the business process.
He added that the EU has done its research and as such, the evidence is on their side as to what happens in other countries.
“Our primary goal is to get the economy moving again, current businesses prosper, new investments occur, and new well paying jobs created. We need to make the Turks and Caicos Islands a fast growing economy.”
He added that the focus has to be on partnership and moving forward together with the business community.
“We cannot duck or play down the challenge placed to us by the EU in order for us to receive the $15 million they are offering to us… after the problems of recent years, Government needs every penny it can get if it is to play its part in rekindling economic growth… we cannot risk delays.”
As such, the Minister called on the business community to come to the table and work together with Government to get the economy moving again.
“In our circumstances… our business community is expatriate based and the labour force to a more or less extent, locals and so we tend to see different objectives.
“Part of what I plan to do is narrow that gap so that everyone, regardless of how they got here and what part they are playing in this economy can see themselves together in one boat, and that is important if we are going to grow.”
He named small business development as another important objective.
“Basically we face the same issues that most developing countries face where access to capital market and to funding for business creation is extremely limited.”
He added that Government is keen on finding ways of correcting that by supporting small and medium size enterprises.
There needs to a modern framework to help people develop more fulfilling jobs, careers and businesses, Misick said, adding that education and vocational training are only the beginnings of such a process.
“We need a system of career support where members of the community can find apprenticeship, internship, training programmes and where they can be confident that there is a career level at which they can advance with the right attitude, aptitude and performance, no ambition is out of reach.”
He said this is Government’s intention.
According to him, people need to think larger than the minimum wage being raised and focus on becoming entrepreneurs, and he added that it is his job to create the enabling environment where this can be achieved.
“We now need to develop a more formalised system so that a focus on providing small business and job opportunities becomes the top priority throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
In these areas, he added, the private sector has far more expertise than Government.
PRIVATE SECTOR CONCERNS
Later the same day, at a meeting with the business community put together by the Chamber of Commerce, the Minister along with Drs Stoneman and Raymond, urged the support of the private sector.
They were joined by Minister of Labour and Border Control, Don-Hue Gardiner.
Although the private sector signalled its support, there were a number of concerns raised.
Some of these dealt with the liberalisation of the labour force to bring in more professionals, reduction in the cost of work permits, the educational level of the workers available to the business community, proper remuneration of immigration officers so as to stamp out corruption in the public service, among numerous others.
Minister Gardiner informed the gathering that the Government has been on a path of review of the immigration rules since March of this year.
As a result of this, consultations on a number of bills the Attorney General’s Chamber is drafting will be conducted over the next several weeks.
He added that the ministry will soon be starting on a regime of regularising the status of those whose work permits have lapsed.
“Certainly, it is my view that persons who have come here, lived here and invested here… and have spent a reasonable amount of time here deserve to have their status regularised and updated… this is something that we will do going forward.”
Addressing the computerisation of the entire system, the Minister said this will allow people who have been granted work permits free and efficiently movement through the immigration check point.
He said the goal is to make the immigration system as user friendly as they can possibly can.
Responding to some of the suggestions put forward by the businesspersons, the Minister warned that the Government cannot move forward in as bold a fashion as they would like without proper consultations with the electorate.
“There has to be wide and deep consultation so any move that we make must be in keeping with, or at least after, those consultations.
“But it is certainly my vision that whatever steps we take be bold and brave so as to attract and keep the investors we have in Turks and Caicos Islands, in the TCI and to facilitate their transition from being mere resident to an investor or businessperson who has a real interest in the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
He added that many of the steps to be taken may not be what some people want, but the country has to be bold and decisive, and make them in the best interest of business. (DI)
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