There has always a tension between policy and action. Policy should be the facilitating arm for action particularly for economic actors. It should lead to the creation of an enabling environment necessary for businesses to work effectively. However, in the region we have been unable to overcome the fetters of our post-colonial bureaucratic heritage. We have been context to hobble along with a policy making machinery that frustrates and can at times can act as a hindrance for firms.
There are many examples of when government policies and policy making processes burden attempts by businesses to either innovate, expand or respond swiftly to the external environment. I do not believe that this is an intentional action on the part of the policymakers, I believe that it is the expression of the institutional juggernaut which creates a huge deficit in the development of a responsive policy process.
Businesses have tended to walk away in frustration only engaging the process when they absolutely have to or when they are directly dependent on some government facility for their business success. However, I believe that we must develop new models for proactively engaging the policy process and steering the state into its true role as facilitator.
The recent action by the Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, the Hon. Donville Inniss demonstrates that there is room for manoeuvre and that the state can be responsive to business interest if we can find the right triggers. Minister Inniss’ move to temporarily reduce the import tariffs on poultry pending further inputs from the relevant private sector stakeholders should be lauded as a success for the business community. The analysis should not only look at the outcome, but at the effectiveness of the process of engagement.
I am fully aware that the sector has a dossier of tried and tested practices involving submission of evidenced based positions, formal engagement and advocacy mechanisms. However, I am suggesting that the focus has often been on whether the positions have been accepted or not, rather than how effective the process of engagement has worked. The two things are not the same. The position might not have been accepted but the engagement might still have resulted in some beneficial change overall.
The sector for want of a better term must think strategically about how it infiltrates and influences the policy making process. The strategic approach will need that long-term systemic gains are prioritized over short-term sector specific or even individualized gains. The focus must be on the development of a coherent strategy of policy engagement which targets specific inhibitors on inhibiting behaviors for change.
I posit that the key angle in the case of the high import tariffs on chicken was not the agreement to reduce the tariff itself but rather that the contending private sector stakeholders were able to forge at least a temporary solution in which they could all see themselves benefitting. The creation of a multi-interest consensus was perhaps the turning point which influenced the Minister’s agreement. Is it possible to engineer other such processes which can effectively propel change in the policy making process? This is a challenge the private sector should face frontally.