Speaking at the private sector sensitisation conference organised by the Business Regulatory Review Agency in Lusaka yesterday, Mr Hamilton said:
I am delighted that the British High Commission is co-hosting today’s conference with the Business Regulatory Review Agency (BRRA). The theme for today, ‘Fostering Increased Private Sector Consultation for Better Regulation in the Business Environment’, is a key factor in ensuring stability and consistency within the regulatory environment, which will be crucial in delivering sustained economic development and prosperity in Zambia.
Those who’ve heard me speak before will know that I don’t believe in making long speeches, especially when there is someone far more knowledgeable to follow; never has that been more true than today.
Having been in Zambia for 6 months, it would be foolish of me to think that I fully understand the regulatory market, but there are three over-arching themes that keep coming up when I talk to local, national or international businesses either operating in Zambia already or looking to invest.
The first is around consistency. All of the companies I’ve spoken to, whether involved in oil exploration, development of agri-tech opportunities, infrastructure projects or packaging dried pineapples, want to know the regulatory framework that exists within their sector, and they want to know that it’s not going to change. Decisions to arbitrarily change policy risk scaring potential investors and damage the medium-term opportunities for Zambia to prosper.
Secondly, they want to know that the environment they’re operating in is (relatively) straight-forward to understand, and that specific areas of responsibility have clear ownership. Complexities around which government department is responsible for which area has the potential to demoralise entrepreneurs and investors as they struggle to navigate the bureaucracy that exists.
Thirdly, a successful regulatory system has to be inclusive, and this is where the focus of today’s conference will lie. Building a closer relationship with all stakeholders when designing and implementing regulatory decisions will mean those decisions are more robust, easier to implement and have the buy-in of those they directly impact.
It’s essential to recognise that being inclusive doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get consensus around decisions. Each representative group will have its own agenda which it needs to try and deliver (and it is obvious to all that government must have the final, deciding voice), but the important issue is that we have those discussions in an open environment, with all parties, building a relationship of trust. Doing so will benefit everyone.
I should say that these three areas are not unique to Zambia, they are prevalent in virtually every Country, including the UK. But in organising this conference, and in having this discussion, Zambia can steal a march on many of its competitors, making it a better place to do business.
The Zambian government’s decision to establish the Business Regulatory Review Agency in 2014 was a major step forward. That the Honourable Minister is here to officially open our Conference and give welcoming remarks is a sign of their commitment.
The UK government is committed to supporting the work of the BRRA. Today’s event is not the first time we have worked together. Through the UK’s Better Regulation Delivery Office we have supported the BRRA to design and pilot a system of assessing the impact of policies and regulation before they are introduced; today’s discussion seems a logical next step.
Of course, there are broader challenges for the private sector: Access to affordable finance; difficult procurement processes, inaccessible rural markets and bureaucracy surrounding land acquisition are all areas where we can look to do more to prevent investors (both Zambian and foreign) being put off. The UK’s Department for International Development has a number of local programmes to help address some of these obstacles.
AgDevCo, it’s a specialist agricultural investment company, which provides early-stage capital and technical assistance to high-risk but high-impact ventures. It aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of these investments in order to bring in private funding and make a sustainable exit. For example, it is co-investing in a grain handling business in the Copperbelt alongside Golden Lay and NWK in order to link 10,000 smallholder producers to local and international markets, enabling them to access transparent and fairer prices.
We also fund the Private Enterprise Programme, providing training and business development services to help Zambia’s small and large firms grow side by side.And we run the Financial Sector Deepening programme - This programme works directly with commercial banks and microfinance institutions to ensure 12,000 small businesses get affordable access to finance.
I am sure there is more we can do more together.
Why is the British Government interested in business regulations in Zambia? Of course, we are looking to entice British businesses to invest here; we recognize the huge potential that exists. But we’re also doing it because we recognize the potential of Zambian businesses to succeed locally and internationally, which in turn supports Zambians in their efforts to build a more prosperous future. We can, and should, do more together. In 2015, Zambian imports from the UK were worth over £124 million while exports from Zambia were worth over £43 million. By engaging the private sector in policy making around regulations I believe that trade between our countries will increase.
There is inevitably, a ‘but’. The ‘but’ is that there is no option to stand still; a failure to take action will result in other international competitors forging ahead, pushing Zambia back in the desire to build a more prosperous future. We have to move forward.