WHEN the government and pharmacists came to a “win-win” agreement last week, there were those who were quick to portray it as a success for the government.
Things came to a head after pharmacies closed for a day – leading to people expressing concern online over how they would fill their prescriptions, and queues forming outside hospital and clinic pharmacies.
Some had painted it as a malicious action by pharmacies – although in today’s Tribune, pharmacists clarify that action.
The president of the Bahamas Pharmaceutical Association said it wasn’t a decision based on “sticking it to the government”. Instead, she said it was a decision made to prevent pharmacies from being fined.
She said: “I would say to you the pharmacy is heavily inspected. My store may get inspected twice a month sometimes, so we know inspectors come. In the event that an inspector goes to any location, the first line item is $5,000, it’s a $5,000 fine.”
She said the move was to protect pharmacies from those fines, because they were not ready for a November 1 deadline.
The government agreed to talks after the pharmacies closed their doors – and the outcome was one which Economic Affairs Minister Michael Halkitis said was actually “an even better outcome we believe than we originally had”.
What is the lesson to take from that? One would hope that it would encourage government to sit down for talks with industry representatives before imposing controls that may be unmanageable, and being open to discussion to find ways to make things work.
Sitting down with the pharmacists gave the government an “even better” result – so why wouldn’t they sit down with them at the start of the process to outline what they were trying to achieve?
Which brings us to food retailers – who are sitting down with the government tomorrow to find their own resolution to difficulties with the announced price control changes.
They’re hoping to follow in the pharmacists’ footsteps to come up with a solution that meets the government’s needs without being too onerous on businesses.
John Bostwick, attorney for the Retail Grocers Association, said members are looking for a solution they can live with, rather than the initial government proposal which they felt meant “they could not survive”.
He said: “They felt caught between a rock and a hard place, and coming out from behind that rock will be good enough.”
He added: “I really do hope they can come to terms. I’m hoping that we can reach a consensus and a peaceful resolution.”
No one knows a business better than the people who are running it – so it makes sense if government is looking to overhaul substantial sections of how that business is controlled under the law that they should sit down for proper discussions on how to do it.
Of course, there will be many who question government’s right to interfere with running a business at all – but where consumer protections and so on have to be in place, at least work through it with the sector beforehand.
This is not just a failing of one administration – time and again, we hear after any given Budget that something has been dropped on a company overnight and they have to scramble to figure out how to deal with it.
The lesson from talking to the pharmacists is that by being open to dialogue, the government got a better result.
If it could do that across the board, imagine how much extra that would mean for such things as government revenue. Imagine what it would also mean for companies’ ability to deal with red tape, if they know it’s coming.
Will this administration learn this lesson? Well, let’s see what comes of the meeting with retailers.
A win-win-win would be welcome for all concerned.