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Shelved again: Companies Office ease of doing business project put on hold

The plan by the Strategic Public Sector Transformation Project, SPSTP, to overhaul the Companies Office of Jamaica for the ease of doing business has been put on hold again.

The SPSTP previously invited proposals from qualified firms to offer services for the functional or organisation review and restructuring of the Companies Office in 2020.

The project was described as a radical redesign and modernisation of all business processes, with the purpose of “raising the business efficiency and effectiveness at all levels across the agency”.

The SPTSTP said in documents available on the Ministry of Finance and Planning’s website that the ultimate objective was to improve the ease of doing business in Jamaica by creating an enabling environment for local and international investors to fuel economic growth in keeping with the priority objective of the Government of Jamaica, GOJ.

The hope was that it would improve Jamaica’s standing in the world regarding the ease of doing business.

On Tuesday, SPSTP head Othniel Seaman declined to comment when asked for an update on implementation timelines and referred the Financial Gleaner to Lorris Jarrett at the Ministry of Finance and the Public Sector, who did not respond.

Later, however, the finance ministry said it was treating the query as an Access to Information request, which typically means a response would not be forthcoming right away.

A strategic review of the Companies Office was done in 2015 encompassing its legal and regulatory structure, operational efficiency and effective service delivery. It identified a number of deficiencies that limited the Companies Office’s overall effectiveness and efficiency which included: lack of coordination among service units for business processes; lack of an approved framework document; complex provisions in its functional legislation; an organisational structure, which did not reflect the agency’s current needs; obsolete information technology systems.

The Transformation Unit found that Companies Office’s services had expanded over the years without the requisite increase in capacity to handle them.

Meanwhile, multiple amendments to the Companies Act have resulted in new responsibilities, such as collecting information on behalf of several GOJ stakeholders and on beneficial ownership of companies.

The Companies Office’s current organisational structure was implemented in 1999 when it became an executive agency.

However: “The structure has largely remained unchanged although there have been changes in the agency’s functions,” said the Transformation Unit.

“For example, trademarks and industrial and provident societies have been removed from the COJ’s portfolio, while the business registration one-stop-shop, the NSIPP Registry and the Charities Registry have been added,” it said.

Companies Office is also began offering electronic registration to firms, with plans to offer more of its services online.

The Transformation Unit noted that some of the fundamental challenges faced by the Companies Office included multiple rejections of documents due to the agency’s two-tiered system of document examination; chronic staff shortage in key areas of operations, resulting in backlogs, inefficiencies, extended timelines and cost overruns; low compliance by business entities; and management of over 280,000 paper files in less than ideal conditions.

The upgrade of the agency’s IT infrastructure was said to be critical to meet the demands of the proposed re-engineered business processes.

The project, however, has been shelved for the moment.

The work of the SPSTC is jointly funded by the government of Jamaica, the World Bank, United Kingdom Department for International Development, and Inter-American Development Bank.

The World Bank has shelved its Doing Business reports, but the last time it ranked countries in 2020, Jamaica was ranked 71 of 190 countries. However, its ranking for the ease of starting a business was a well-placed six.

Jamaica’s business ministry, the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, did not respond to requests for comment on the Companies Office upgrade.

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