Standards key to business and economic development
One of the many positive spin offs of the very popular PRYME program is the culture of entrepreneurship that it will engender, even among people who are not beneficiaries. More of our people will begin to think about becoming producers and not just consumers, while those already in business may consider how to become more competitive. That is good news for our people and the country as a whole as we seek to grow our economy.
The provision of easier access to financing through PRYME is welcome, but it is but just one pillar in the support structure needed by our private sector if it is to strive. Other pillars include the establishment and enforcement of minimum standards and the introduction of a safe, affordable and reliable means by which to conduct business transactions within the digital space.
Yesterday, the World Bank announced financing of US$30 million for a project to support the development of the digital economy in the St Vincent and the Grenadines, as part of a wider regional project. It aims to increase access to digital services, technologies, and skills by governments, businesses, and individuals (see story on page 5). This is excellent news, especially for micro and small businesses, many of which have no storefront and operate primarily within the virtual realm. A strong digital currency will help them to grow and open them to markets beyond the 150 square miles that make up St Vincent and the Grenadines.
But even before we consider market expansion, we must do the work needed to get the small things right. A few years ago, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority (SVGTA) introduced a system of quality assurance within the tourism sector. In order to receive the SVGTA stamp of approval, service providers across the board were required to meet certain minimum standards – any old way of operating was just not good enough. Those who could not meet the standards were sidelined.
We now need standards across the board. Local consumers also need to be assured that when they pay for a service or a product, they are receiving value for money.
Who certifies that locally made food, beauty and health products actually do what they claim to do and contain the ingredients listed on their containers? Isn’t it time that labels with expiration dates and nutrition facts be required for locally produced food and beverages? Which agency here checks that items produced for sale to the public are safe and fit for human consumption? Who checks to make sure that the blocks and balusters we buy to construct our homes can withstand a minimum pressure?
Are the places we frequent for beauty and spa services subject to inspection to ensure that they meet basic sanitary standards? If such inspections were not important previously, they certainly are now in the age of COVID-19. Food handlers need certificates of good health before they are allowed to operate and the public health department inspects restaurants and places where food is prepared. It is time to expand the list of businesses for which this sort of regulation is required.
We will never move beyond the micro, into the wider market unless we address these issues. The advent of the PRYME programme is the perfect opportunity to ensure that our micro and small businesses are registered and held to certain standards.
We should not wait until external agencies force us to meet their standards; we must do this for ourselves and in readiness to venture out into the wider economy.