Remarks by Brian Louisy on behalf of the
St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture on the Occasion of the Opening Ceremony and Inaugural Meeting
of the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council
Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Kenny D Anthony, Prime Minister of St. Lucia, other Ministers of Government and Members of Parliament, Distinguished Business and Trade Union Leaders, Representatives of Compete Caribbean, Permanent Secretaries, Members of Civil Society other Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. I must commence by apologizing for the absence of the President of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce Mr. Gerard Bergasse who has to be off-island. He has asked that I extend best wishes to you all and to this initiative.
Some of you may be aware that as far back as 1998, the St, Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture with the St. Lucia Employers Federation called for a National Productivity Council to be established in St. Lucia. We were very clear in our perspective that such a body could play a critical role in the nation’s economic and social development. We were of the view that this body should embrace a tripartite approach, with the three crucial sectors of labour, capital owners and the government sitting together to address the issues which affect the productivity of the nation.
We proposed then, that Government should take the bold step and finance this institution from public funds, as the outputs and benefits of this institution would yield positive financial, social and economic returns that would redound to the benefit of the public purse and the nation as a whole. We even proposed that Government consider establishing the National Productivity Secretariat at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College to provide a fillip to this institution’s work in national development and more important in integrating with the business and wider community within which it operated and serviced.
Quite some time has elapsed since our first proposal and many others we forwarded to the powers that be at different times, yet the Private Sector’s appreciation for the need of such an institution has not lapsed or receded. We, as a private sector are extremely pleased that a National Competitiveness and Productivity Council has finally been established. It does not reflect all of the initial trappings which we envisaged, yet we are pleased that the essential goals and objectives are the same and will be pursued. I suppose we can say “it has come to pass.”
Having said so, the establishment of the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council does not in and of itself satisfy the St. Lucia Private Sector. We have witnessed the launch of too many bodies in the past with little real work or outcomes being realized. For example we saw the International Trade Council launched no less than three times. Yes, it was only launched three separate times. Nothing else was done.
We do not wish to see this body, this important institution suffer the same fate. These institutions and Councils all, like this National Competitiveness and Productivity Council, had noble objectives and noble intentions and noble persons involved , yet they were not sustained and their work and recommendations have not been implemented, nor do we know anything about their impact.
These words of caution are in no way intended to dampen the enthusiasm of those who have worked hard and have committed themselves to this institution and its important work like we have. But rather it is a call to arms, a call to arms in support of the work this institution can do and the contribution it can make to our nation’s development.
We have reviewed carefully the inception report and we note that these concerns have been echoed and attempts have been made to mitigate against their occurrence, yet we think that unless we, meaning, the public sector, the private sector, politicians, civil society, Compete Caribbean and the rest of the donor community as well as senior technocrats and staff of the soon to be established Secretariat treat with this issue seriously we may have all just jumped on a train to nowhere again.
The Inception report indicated that the success of this institution is in part dependent on the credibility it can establish in the eyes of the stakeholders involved. The credibility in the view of the Chamber starts, not only with what and how work is carried out, but also credibility starts with the process which has brought us to where we are even today. You have involved the crucial players, in consultations and discussion so they all can look to this Body as a vehicle to address the important issues which we all know need to be addressed? But we have to effectively sell the structure, the composition and the objectives, for instance, to the crucial players, so they start off giving the institution the benefit of the doubt? If so, will this ensure they will participate and work with, and even through the Council.
We raise these matters here, as the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, has high expectations of this National Competitiveness and Productivity Council. And we would want it to succeed. But a compelling question stands out: will this Council be able to influence Government at all? Will this institution be another talk shop, where recommendations are made and ignored by the public sector? Is this institution going to spend resources, intellect, time, and finance only to be told that there were more pressing issues and that Ministers and Permanent Secretaries and Departments, in “their own wisdom” have decided to do differently or act to the contrary?
The Chamber hopes that its views are taken as the advice and encouragement of a partner with profound interest in seeing an institution for which it has waited for more than a decade to see emerge be finally established.
As a nation, this Institution, the National Competitiveness and Productivity Council, is long overdue and can play an important role in bringing some level of focused attention to critical economic issues and social issues affecting our country. This institution can help rationalize through dialogue, research, the actions of other key bodies, such as the Ease of Doing Business Task Force, the National Vision Commission, the Trade Logistics Task Force, the Tourism Task Force, the National Plan, to name a few. More important it gives us an opportunity to break the usual silo-type mentality that seems to pervade the operations and actions (or lack thereof) of key state actors in St. Lucia.
The St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry Agriculture believes that the NCPC is an extremely critical a body to St. Lucia, and as such, we must get it right the first time. We must be clear that we will utilize this body to achieve the goals for which it is intended. These include:
· Promote awareness and understanding of the importance of competitiveness and productivity to economic wellbeing,
· Monitor all aspects of productivity growth and competitiveness vis-a-vis other countries
· Provide advice to Government on actions to promote productivity growth and competitiveness
· Monitor and report on progress on actions
· Assess specific competitiveness and productivity topics in greater detail
· Advocate on actions to promote productivity and competitiveness
We should also pay close attention to some of the critical issues identified in the inception report which states that:
• The capacity of the NCPC to elevate issues for decision and implementation will have to be carefully monitored
• Public sector support has to translate into action for the NCPC to gain credibility
• Consideration needs to be given to formalizing a decision making process that includes a commitment from senior levels of government to participate in the NCPC process
This institution has been a long time coming. It may not be perfect at this time, but flexibility has been built into the design to allow adjustments and changes to take place. Therefore the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture, congratulates the Government and the many institutions which have participated in shaping and driving the establishment of this body. We will actively participate and wish it every success.
Michael Porter defines Competitiveness and Productivity as follows:
“Competitiveness is defined by the productivity with which a nation utilizes its human, capital and natural resources. To understand competitiveness, the starting point must be a nation’s underlying sources of prosperity. A country’s standard of living is determined by the productivity of its economy, which is measured by the value of goods and services produced per unit of its resources. Productivity depends both on the value of a nation’s products and services – measured by the prices they can command in open markets – and by the efficiency with which they can be produced. Productivity is also dependent on the ability of an economy to mobilize its available human resources.”
The final line says that “productivity is dependent on the ability of an economy to mobilize its available human resources.” I urge that we as a nation combine through the National Competitiveness & Productivity Council, our human resources, both local and international, national and non-national to pursue our shared objective of improving the quality of life for all St. Lucians.
I thank you.