General

Playing god? Woman has to fight just to start business

In the last Ripple Effect, we reviewed the World Bank’s evaluation of a 185 nations in its “Doing Business” report.
Belize received an overall rank of 105 on the list, but when judged according to the ten specific variables, Belize’s rank for ease of starting a business was 158.
It reported that it would take a local entrepreneur 44 days to complete the 9-step process to start a business, at a cost of 51.9 percent of our Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, which the World Bank placed at US$3,691.
Again, please note that GNI is the Gross Domestic Product plus the net receipts from wages, salaries and properties income from residents who work temporarily or seasonally abroad or from migrant workers who are in Belize for a year or more.
GNI per capita, which reflects the average income of the country’s citizens, is derived by dividing the GNI by Belize’s population.
Jamaica, for example, which has an overall rank of 90, has a six-step process that the report showed can be completed in 7 days, at a cost of 6.7 percent of their GNI per capita. Barbados, ranked 88th overall, has an 8-step process that takes 18 days to complete, at a cost of 7.2 percent.
In countries like Slovenia, starting a business is absolutely free; there’s only a two-step process that can be completed in a week. In New Zealand, however, businesses can get started in one day, by using the one-step online process, at a cost of 0.4 percent of GNI per capita.
The World Bank’s report states: “Many [countries] have undertaken business registration reforms … Among benefits have been greater firm satisfaction and savings and more registered businesses, financial resources and job opportunities.”
Universal Transportation
The benefits of allowing the spirit of the free-market system are well-known, and we would assume that by now all developing countries would be desperately looking for ways to reap the rewards of allowing more businesses to emerge. But in Belize that doesn’t appear to be the case across the board at all.
It is hard to fathom why a young entrepreneur like Jennine Hamilton, the owner of Universal Transportation Services (UTS), has to be practically fighting with the Ministry of Transport and its Transport Board to get her permit to operate her two shuttle runs in the Los Lagos area and the Ladyville off-road areas such as the Milpa, Mitchell and Japan communities.
What’s also disturbing is the fact that this 25-year-old single mother has to now be meeting with Hon. Edmund Castro, the minister of state with specific responsibility for transport, who in a Channel 7 interview, said: “I think she is in the wrong business.
“She wants bus run and she got bus run. Now she is complaining that that is not enough. Alright, give her 10 and see what will happen. If the board gives her 10, do you think that she could handle it? If she can’t handle one, how can she handle 5 and 10? Come on!”
It is probably perceived to be very “kind” of the Minister to consider whether or not Hamilton can “handle” the runs. Maybe she can; maybe she cannot. But what every Belizean should find offensive, or at the very least very concerning, is the fact that in a democracy (not a feudal system) such as Belize, a young entrepreneur has to be jumping through hoops to operate a business that she has researched and for which she says she has found that there is a demand.
Hamilton told The Reporter in October that she conducted a survey in the areas for which she is trying to get the board to give her the permit. She said in only two evenings she amassed hundreds of signatures from residents who say they would need a run like the one she’s proposing.
Even Ladyville’s chairman signed the proposal. The Reporter later spoke with the Ladyville chairman who corroborated her story as it relates to the demand for another bus run.
What’s also interesting, is the fact that while the ministry and the board are inclined to inch her back into the business with one run—despite her adamant cry for her to operate her all-day shuttle for the specific areas identified—the banks were “brave” enough to lend Ms. Hamilton the funds to start her business back in 2008.
What’s the proof of that loan from the bank? Not much really, except the fact that Hamilton says that since the Transport Board refused to renew her permit in 2010, she has been unable to properly meet her obligations and is now in debt for more than $100, 000 to the bank—which has also seized the land that she had offered up as collateral.
So, the job-growth promises may have been just words after all, because here you have a single mother trying to do her own thing, who has to be begging to start her business. Does anyone else find something wrong with this picture?
Wouldn’t it make sense to just allow the new run, and ensure that all regulations are adhered to?
The authorities should stop playing God with this industry, and allow healthy competition among businesses in the same industry to move according to the dictates of the market forces.
If there’s indeed a demand, Hamilton—of course with the proper regulations by the authorities—would do fine. If there isn’t a demand, that’s her problem!
More importantly, should UTS be allowed to operate freely, it automatically provides jobs for the drivers, the mechanics, and conductors, who we could assume would have income to better support their families and even spend in the economy. It also would present another solution to the standee problem that the ministry has been tackling for sometime now.
Is the playing field fair?
It’s also interesting that Hamilton’s Ladyville permit was not renewed in 2010 for the alleged racing and belligerent behaviour of her drivers. She explained that she never received any warnings or suspension, but despite the accusations, she was offered the Hattieville route, while another bus company, which had its licensed, revoked the year before, was allowed to get back its permit.
Hamilton, the so-called violator, was then given a two-year permit for the Hattieville run. Is there less concern for the safety of Hattieville residents?
Of course not! It must be something else. The average Belizean would look at a situation like this and say that the entire scenario reeks of either political interference or just downright gender bias; because nothing else seems to make sense.
It makes even less sense, when we take into account the fact that a little over two weeks ago, a child fell from out of a moving Haylock’s bus and was nearly killed. That company got a one-week suspension; was inspected; and by Tuesday this week was back on the road.
It is agreed that one of government’s roles is to ensure that those who play in the market play fairly.
We the people don’t know what real grievances the powers that be have with Jennine Hamilton, but it cannot be much worse than a 9-year-old boy falling out of a moving bus and ending up in the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.
If Haylock’s Bus Service could offend in such an immense way and get back on the road, could the powers that be kindly explain what the problem with Universal Transportation Services is?
If it’s a fear of speeding on the road, that can be regulated. If it’s a fear of having too many buses on the same highway, shouldn’t that be the decision for the paying customers who already said they would like the additional run?
Socialism has its few advantages, but it is very important for the government and the relevant authorities to know where to draw the line, especially if they truly want to grow the economy and provide jobs.
Businesses are the backbone of the economy. They create permanent jobs, and standing in the way of businesses like Hamilton’s only adds validity to the World Bank’s report which places us at 105 out of 185 countries.

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