SUCCESSFUL self-made entrepreneurs, like Mr Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, must feel like they are on a treadmill. For Mr Stewart, the chairman of ATL/Sandals Group which incudes this newspaper, and other business people, have repeatedly raised the issues of overtaxation and government bureaucracy and the debilitating effects they are having on the growth of business in Jamaica.
In yesterday's edition of this newspaper, Mr Stewart, who runs a highly successful tourism, appliance, and motor vehicle conglomerate here and in the wider Caribbean, spoke to both issues again.
"A young person trying to start a business will constantly run into a brick wall," Mr Stewart said as he suggested that any serious politician should accompany such a young person through the process and witness the bureaucracy that is waiting to strangle them.
"Start with clearing goods from the wharf," he suggested. "The convoluted bureaucracy, red tape and stupid policies will frustrate even the most optimistic young professional. It gets worse if he or she wants to start exporting which, ironically, is what our country so desperately needs. There are more agencies and more madness to encounter around every corner."
As we said before, it's not for want of pointing out these problems that there still exist hurdles to creating a more conducive atmosphere to business.
To be fair, successive governments have designed policies to encourage business investments. However, based on the complaints we have received at this newspaper, a large part of the problem the country faces in capitalising on those policies is lethargy in the follow-up and implementation of related incentives.
Take for instance this talk of creating a one-stop clearing house at Jampro for investors. As far as we can recall, that amounted to mere talk. If we are wrong, we will be happy to be corrected.
What we do know, though, is that today, anyone wanting to set up business in Jamaica has to fill out a multiplicity of forms at too many Government agencies and wait an eternally long time for approval. The upshot is that they most times end up frustrated and throw in the towel.
By sheer coincidence, Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, in that same edition, pretty much agreed with Mr Stewart on the issue of red tape and bureaucracy. Addressing the Economic Reform Programme Stakeholders Conference last week, he said: "I believe that there are billions of dollars worth of investments that are being held up in the local authorities or the governmental apparatus which, if unlocked, could add another per cent or two to our growth rate." This hardly needs further comment.
In his piece yesterday, Mr Stewart also revived the issue of tax reform, about which our legislators have been talking, talking, and talking for the longest time.
It is time, we suggest, that our legislators show courage by implementing the necessary reforms that will not only attract investment, but help them thrive. Because, as Mr Stewart so correctly pointed out, "when businesses are doing well, the Government collects far more taxes".
And, given the country's economic predicament, the Government needs as much taxes as it can get, especially now that countries that would normally be generous with financial assistance are themselves experiencing economic difficulties.