"Welcome to the ninth annual St. Lucia Business Awards, and thank you all for your presence and your considerable commitment to this event. As grateful as I am, you might well suspect that I am going to ask for more.
Right off the top I want to say: This is the easy part. This is one night in 365 nights. This is one event in dozens of events. This is a few hours in a lifetime of business and the existence of our country. And there is dinner and an after-party, which always helps. But after that, what ...?
We still have to resolve the many pressing issues facing our country and ask ourselves whether we are doing all that we can... Whether we are pulling our weight... Whether we are doing enough to make our individual and collective expectations come true.
I say this with particular reference to those big issues like crime, on which we still need to speak and act decisively and in concert with Government. We simply are not doing enough, none of us, to fight this evil which threatens everything good that we are trying to build, sustain and preserve.
Last week, the Prime Minister shared with members of the Private Sector some of the critical steps his government has taken to help in this area. But clearly Government cannot do it alone. The Chamber needs you, me, and all of us to step up to the plate and stay there long enough to make a difference. And we can start by giving the gift of our presence at the Chamber consultations on crime and other vital matters.
Education, Health, Social Services, Child Protection, the Judiciary are some of the issues simmering on the back burner... Waiting to boil over. Maybe we should be thankful that the burner is on, but we ignore these at our peril. Our businesses cannot thrive for long in a dysfunctional society.
Or perhaps to say it with more bottom-line self-interest, there is so much more we can be doing right now to shape a more wholesome business landscape in which business thrives much more sustainably, returning benefits to all stakeholders.
Government will be happy for the tax revenue... Shareholders, for the dividends... Staff, for the wage increases... Customers, for better service and competitive prices... Suppliers, for full and timely settlement... Banks, for more viable projects ... As soon as we realize that we are in this development thing together, the list of possibilities goes on forever.
Societies do not die. But they do become inhospitable. And, if we are not to become just another seawater and sand economy, dependent on a single sector, we have to ensure balanced and sustainable growth across the economy.
That is why we have tackled, and continue to engage government, on the matter of its Domestic Investment Policy. We cannot simply take comfort in an Ease of Doing Business Index which understates the daily frustrations thwarting local businesses.
Incentives and waivers help individual firms who already have access and means. However, systemic tax reform would help the whole economy. The potential impact of the Single Window for trade transactions and documentation needs to be accelerated... It is a great idea... Maybe it should win an award here tonight.
If we address this issue head-on, we can also find integrated solutions to reform the Inland Revenue Department, as well as our archaic Price Control and Trade Licensing regimes. These are fraught with inconsistencies and subject to political manipulation. And they still do very little to protect the poor and the vulnerable in whose name they were first conceived. These systems are old, expensive, distortionary and cumbersome and do little for consumers, local businesses, industry pioneers, their employees, or for that matter the tax base of the Government.
The result too often is leakage. And, if you will permit me to run with that metaphor, I will mention the difficult issue of abuses in the Duty-Free Liquor regime. Any government concerned with revenue must be concerned about leakage in liquor related taxes. It is a traditional source of revenue, and ought to be better policed to ensure honest, free and fair competition.
The easy alternative is to tax the rest of us to make up for losses. But this is neither wise nor acceptable. It certainly is not sustainable.
This is not a litany of complaints. It is a call to action. Our nation is truly at critical cross roads. We need better governance of our affairs. Indeed we need Open Government and must look to exemplary countries like Canada where government is open by default not be exception.
All records are public. All transactions can be scrutinized. Government documents are routinely available on line. The citizenry is engaged and involved and empowered with real-time information. We need to get with that program. We need broad based participation in our democracy. And as for this private sector: even before we are called, we must be ready to answer, and to advocate.
Coming off a year where 60 murders occurred cannot be seen as ordinary or acceptable. We, meaning all of us, Government, Opposition, Public and Private Sectors, Citizens, need more than introspection and safe private discussion. This is our country and this is our Chamber, and nothing good was ever wrought by sitting there and feeling sorry for oneself.
As a Chamber, we remain resolute in being the voice of our members. We will re-engineer our Secretariat. We will address every legitimate concern of our members. We will represent issues of import without fear or favour. We have created vehicles to do so and we encourage our members to utilize these vehicles. Our recently designed Getting Down to Business is a case in point which addresses member concerns brought to our attention.
In related news...we are live and in living color tonight, thanks to Landmark Events and Media Zone/ Choice TV, both critical partners from inception. I am pleased to advise that as we move to celebrate our 10th Anniversary next year, we have conceived expanded roles for both these partners who we are confident will take these Awards boldly forward.
So in closing, by all means, let us celebrate tonight. But come Monday morning let us renew our agenda, our commitment to positive change, innovation and improvement.
Thanks to our hardworking Awards Committee, our production partners and their armies of service providers and volunteers, you will find themes of renewal and invigoration recurring in tonight's ceremony. Heed them and be moved. Be bold. Be the change you want to see.
This has never been a country of easy achievement. Every inch of ground has been gained by hard work, diligence and sensible collaboration. This world owes us nothing and cares little even if it does.
Stand with me, and I give you my word, I will not let you down. We will not let each other down. I Thank You All and know we will have a great evening."