LETTER TO THE EDITOR BY DONALD DEMERITTE : THE CASE FOR SMALL BUSINESS

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ddemerite
Editor

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Dear Editor,

 

Re:      Speak Up Bahamas!! (Support your Local Businesses)

 

I have recently made a conscientious decision to become more outspoken on national matters of importance.  This, almost by definition, means that I have to begin paying more attention to national talk shows, as a preparatory measure.  My preference has always been to tune in to radio stations to listen to jazz and golden oldies.

 

My decision led me to tune in on several talk shows this week and I have been listening to a variety of dialogue, in the background, whilst I work.  One common theme or admonition that resonates in my mind is the call for Bahamians to become more vocal regarding things and events that ultimately impact us. 

 

There is a saying that the ‘squeaky door gets the oil’, so the corollary has to be – “when the ‘real voice(s)’ of The Bahamas remain quiet – any misrepresentation can and may prevail”.

 

Our laid back demeanour, as a people, or perceived lack of interest in national discussions, has perennially relegated the majority of persons living in our country to a ‘reactor’ or ‘audience’ status – as opposed to that of ‘interactive’ or ‘proactive players’.

 

As a result, we have permitted all manners of ‘red-herring’ or ‘distracting’ dialogue to publicly play out, whilst we have remained silent.  Our (perceived) inherent permissiveness has even allowed ‘known charlatans’ or ‘impostors’ to publicly present variations of the truth, untruths and pipe-dreams, on just about any topic, without fear of being called out. 

 

Unfortunately, it is still happening to this very day – without abatement!!

 

There is another saying that ‘evil flourishes when good people do nothing’ and this should be the wake-up call for every articulate, well-read, well-intentioned and nationalistic Bahamian – a constant call to arms.

 

“SPEAK UP BAHAMAS!!”

 

In my humble opinion and (perhaps) naiveté, I would love to see the Fourth Estate (press) lead the charge in ensuring that the burning and key ‘national issues’ are kept at the forefront of every national dialogue.  I do understand, however, that even the Fourth Estate – like governments – need the input and support of ‘we the people’.

 

In this vein, my first contribution is a cry out for the Small and Medium Enterprises/ businesses (SMEs) in this country.

 

As a management consultant, I had the good fortune of leading a national review and analysis of small businesses in The Bahamas.  I really appreciated the opportunity, as I was able to relate/ validate the struggles of our small and medium businesses to/ against the small business owners whom I train throughout the Caribbean region, as a master SME trainer for the Caribbean Export Development Agency.

 

The report, which was completed 12 months ago, should have been a clarion call for all and sundry who are entrusted to help legitimate entrepreneurs in our society.  It should have been a ‘Fourth Estate’ clarion call – to keep the collective feet of government agencies, politicians and all key stakeholders, to the fire.

 

The report, supported by statistical data, highlights the extent to which Bahamian small business persons are hurting.  It highlights the deep wailing and national cries of SMEs for help to mitigate against ‘unfair competition’, arrogant bureaucrats, ill-prepared/ ineffective Business Support Organizations and an uncompromising banking system.

 

The fact that small businesses are hurting is not new news but is oh so relevant and critical.  Criticality and relevance, in progressive societies, should always translate to national headlines and attention. 

 

In terms of gender and ethnic equality – this translates to ‘equal opportunity’ support for every legitimate business owned by a female, male, Bahamian, Haitian or any other ethnicity or grouping.  

 

The report contained salient recommendations, from both experts and business owners (directly), which if implemented or even considered, could quickly improve our business culture, employment figures and more. 

 

Most telling, however, it highlights/ echoes the cries from SMEs for credible business-demand driven solutions.  Solutions and technical support not handouts.

 

This critical ‘national security’ issue has never been the topic of the day!  This narrative that speaks to the plight and cries of legitimate residents – Bahamians, Haitians and others – appears to have been sadly cast aside in favour of what I consider secondary (at best) or self-serving, untenable and red-herring issues. 

 

Thousands of micro and small Bahamian businesses, thousands of unemployed persons and our graduating class of 2015 require the tabling of ‘real issues’, engagement of ‘real experts’ and delivery of ‘real’ solutions.

 

We read of the challenges facing Atlantis, Baha Mar, Unions (crying for more money), etc. but sadly very little regarding the plight of SMEs – the foundational bedrock of this country; the brave persons who put their reputation, family savings and well-being on the line – to contribute to our economy.

 

Contextually – the results from the SMEs interviewed paints an interesting picture, points included:

 

  • 90% (of SMEs) view the country’s formal business support structure (inclusive of public and private agencies) as ineffective,
  • 58% of small businesses cannot afford to invest in the training required to sustain their businesses.
  • Customer care and technical training rank ahead of financial training (pre-VAT)
  • Very few SMEs (6%) were reportedly Chamber of Commerce members and subsequently less than 5% ever sought any assistance (technical or otherwise) from the Chamber.  Similar views were expressed regarding government agencies.

 

If we are to accept that the contention that pulse of any national economy is directly correlated to the health and strength of its small business sector – then the above speaks to a ‘priority’ concern.  A concern that needs the attention of the country’s best and brightest minds – not espoused or conflicted experts, or imports, who do not understand or wish to understand the national culture and/ or idiosyncrasies.  

 

It is against this background that Neil Hartnell, (Tribune Business) in yesterday’s article, “Business ‘Screams’ Confirmed: 40% of workers can’t compete”, apprises us that the Hon Jerome Fitzgerald, Min

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. of Education, Science & Technology, in his address to the ‘eighth Inter-American meeting of education ministers’ highlighted the education/ training reality as a ‘threat to Bahamian economic stability in an increasingly competitive world’. 

 

If this does not underscore the plight of small businesses what does?  Large businesses, like Atlantis, Baha Mar, banks, etc., monopolize the (alleged) brighter minds, whilst small businesses are burdened with the problem of employing and training others.  We need focused support and training for the small business owners, who know exactly what (training) they need to expose their current and potential employees to. 

 

This speaks to and begs for a shared ‘national training program focus’, that not only prepares our youth and people for ‘potential’ jobs with large institutions, but also how to properly work with and support small businesses!  In addition, and equally important, where are the training programs for SME’s – current and new.  Self-Starter programs and seed-funding, without properly trained and prepared recipients, are recipes for disaster

 

Is this dialogue raging and who are the successful small business representatives and (SMEs) experts supporting Mrs. Marcelle’s efforts (for example) or participating in the national brainstorming?  (SMEs have indicated that the dialogue has to extend beyond the usual suspects or participants.)

 

The Small and Medium Enterprises Act is supposed to bring us some much needed answers, options and legitimate solutions.  (SME owners have also indicated that they want to see names and faces outside and beyond the usual suspects.)

 

The Bahamas (generally) and SMEs (specifically) needs to see the crystallization of this Act.   I really believe it can make a difference, if all stakeholders are represented, transparent and on the same page.  No hidden agendas.

 

Small and medium business owners, as highlighted above, indicate that they have no faith in our country’s (infrastructural) ability to deliver. 

 

We have to show them different.  The Fourth Estate has to chime in! All key stakeholders, public and private, have to chime in, as does every capable Bahamian with a conscience!  The Government, as regulator and champion, all distractions aside, has to push hard and purposefully. 

 

This is a ‘real’ not contrived ‘national issue’!

 

Love and respect to all.

 

Donald Demeritte

EPS Consultants

Director/ Member of Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants

11 February, 2015