For the last few years the administration of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who also has responsibility for finance and economic development, has made a concerted effort to reach out to the private sector, to hear and address its concerns on the progress of the national economy. The result is an office dedicated to public-private sector dialogue and the formation and planned expansion of the Economic Development Council. Concurrent with advances and setbacks in industry is the constant meeting of these powers in an effort to stay on the same page. Today the annual Business Forum addressed the theme of “Strengthening Partnership for Growth.” CEO in the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Michael Singh, who also chairs the Economic Development Council, developed the lines of discussion.
“On an annual basis we try to have an outreach to sit with the private sector, and to share what we’re doing, and to find out from thwe private sector what they would like to see us do. [It’s] more than talking to people about promoting Government agenda, it’s more a matter of us discussing, to ensure that Government agenda is where the private sector would like to see it. So it’s really a discussion session. We’re doing it in a different format this year. Traditionally [it] was a bunch of speeches. This year we’re doing panel discussions, and we’ve brought in people from key areas in government, key areas in the private sector, key areas in the productive sector, to sit and have discussions on specific topics, to discuss issues like competitiveness, education, skill needs, I could go through a long list, but I believe that there are four panels, after which there are question and answer sessions with the private sector. The Prime Minister is on hand to address any issue that they might have, and I also think for him it will be a learning experience as well, because it really is intended to be a two way thing, not a one way speech-giving activity.”
The panels discussed such things as business climate and service delivery, banking and finance from the perspective of lending and investments; competitiveness and innovation in investment and export trade, and developing infrastructure and technology. Director of Public and Private Sector Dialogue in the Office of the Prime Minister, Amparo Masson, says they aim to include all in this national discussion.
“Before closing I would just like to quickly share with you the additional developments being made to strengthen the partnership mechanism. At the end of October last year, the Government of Belize and Compete Caribbean signed an agreement to mobilize the strengthening of the Economic Development Council Project. Under this project, one of the major activities is the review of the structure, function, and the institutionalization of the EDC, for its continuity, sustainability, and effectiveness. The preparation of an EDC Action Plan is also currently in motion. Extensive consultations for both these activities began in April of this year and are still ongoing. Through the consultation process we’ve reached out to Government Ministries, departments, agencies, all the various private sector organizations, and other groups, such as the Association of Bankers, Bar Association, the academia, and the unions. The process is one of inclusion.”
The Prime Minister himself spoke of how best to bring both sectors together to achieve maximum growth and development.
“It is well, though, to reiterate that this is a two way street, and it is an accepted fact that government cannot do everything. Indeed, our declared operational division of responsibilities speaks of the public sector providing the enabling environment while directly productive activity, and this the bulk of the income, jobs and profits, flows from private sector investment and private sector trading and commerce. The actual apportionment of this labour is neither hard nor fast. There will be times when one side or the other will need to take on some of the tasks of the opposite number, in order to achieve specific objectives. The fact is, then, that there is every reason for private and public sectors to maintain this structural relationship on the issues we face, and on how to overcome them. There have been, at the practical level, several wins that we can already point to, and the advances just made in sorting out GST refund issues, and tariff classification anomalies, are only two of these.”
A consultant is slated to visit Belize to assist with plans for the Economic Development Council.