Monday, July 26, 2010

Helping Small Businesses

Puerto Rico has been in a recession for the past five years, and many economists see entrepreneurship as one of the possible solutions to help the economy get out of its funk. Movimiento Empresarial ("entrepreneurship movement) is one such government initiative to promote the unemployed to start their own businesses. In many countries throughout the world, like the U.S, small businesses serve as an engine that can drive an economy forward. After all, they generate employment, taxes and spur innovation. Most of the revenue generated by small businesses also tends to stay within the community, another added bonus. I have always been a huge supporter of small mom and pop shops, as I myself come from a family of entrepreneurs.

In order to help encourage the start-up of companies, as well as helping existing small businesses flourish, the government must create an environment where the process to start a company is streamlined and the collection of taxes is done in a transparent and efficient manner. According to a CNN Money article, Singapore is the best place in the world to start a business and New Zealand came in at second place. In the latter country, it only takes 24 hours to start a business. One of the common factors which creates a business friendly environment is the utilization of technology to help achieve efficiency, especially in terms of collecting taxes. The objective is to minimize government bureaucracy. I believe the Puerto Rican government should benchmark such practices. On the island, too much time is wasted at government agencies standing and waiting. How can business owners succeed when they have to spend so much time dealing with red tape?

Several weeks ago, I was at el Departamento de Hacienda (the Puerto Rican tax collection agency) for nearly the entire day trying to work out an alleged outstanding tax payment. To make a long story short, the representative at Hacienda nonchalantly said there was an "error" ("hubo un error en el sistema") in the system. Turns out we owed practically nothing in taxes. It was a huge relief, but I still couldn't believe my eyes and ears. Nevertheless, this is not a first time occurrence. Our family business, which is in the beverage industry, has been operating for over 40 years and there have been many instances where we have found ourselves in such situations. Having a small business is no cakewalk, especially when the government doesn't have its own house in order.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Weekend Highlights

The events which took place this past weekend left much of the island abuzz, and even caught the headlines of some of the mainland U.S' media outlets. Late Saturday morning, law enforcement authorities arrested one of the Caribbean's most wanted and notorious drug traffickers, José Figueroa Agosto (alias "Junior Cápsula"). He had been on the run for the past eleven years, when he managed to escape from a Puerto Rican prison by presenting a fraudulent release order. His capture has been hailed as a major victory by both Federal and local law enforcement authorities, as this so-called "Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean" is allegedly responsible for transporting huge amounts of cocaine from South America to North America, as well as Europe. Mr. Figueroa was also the target of Dominican law enforcement authorities, as he had for many years operated his drug empire form the Dominican Republic since fleeing Puerto Rico.

Another event which was the subject of much local media attention, and also dominated my Twitter feed, was the postponement of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayaguez. Strong winds sent tents, lighting poles and the stage flying on Saturday afternoon, hours before the opening ceremony was scheduled to begin. Some images showed cars had been smashed by fallen poles. Several people were injured but there no were serious fatalities reported. According to some, the stage was also shoddily set-up and it simply couldn't withstand the strong wind gusts. Luckily, the maintenance crew made a last minute scramble to undo the damage left behind. The opening ceremony successfully took place yesterday, Sunday, instead.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, thousands of people took to the streets of Hato Rey to protest against what many consider to be the "abuse of power" by the local police at the state capitol on June 30th. At the march, which was given the title: "Alto a la represión y la violación de derechos humanos" (translation: "Stop the Repression and the Violation of Human Rights") most called for the resignation of Police Superintendent, José Figueroa Sancha. Also demonstrated by during yesterday's march was the growing discontent over the way Gov. Luis Fortuño is doing his job. Thankfully, the march occurred without any major incidents.