New executive director Martijn Balkestein reaches out his hands
“We are the spokesperson for the entrepreneur,” Martijn Balkestein defines the role of the Chamber of Commerce in Aruba. He has recently become executive director alongside Sonja Velthuizen and from 2020 onward he will take over completely. He is ready for the job.
“The Chamber of Commerce primarily has an administrative role, but we also have an important initiating, facilitating and advising function, both solicited and unsolicited.
In order to perform our task optimally, we should be involved as much as possible in government initiatives. This is currently not the case. We know what is going on with the entrepreneurs, and we are there for them to improve the business climate on the island. Ideally we do this in good consultation with the government.”
The ease of doing business, it is a slogan that often returns when speaking about the goals the new executive director wants to reach. Because, according to Balkestein, now it is mainly the cost of doing business that dominates. “Previous research conducted on Aruba shows that bureaucracy prevents the easy of doing business. That is exactly why the World Bank recently visited Aruba. They want to do a study on this topic and come along with recommendations.
Such a measuring moment is a good time to say: here we are, how are we going to improve the situation? I don’t believe in sentimental values; I believe in data. I have succeeded in my job when he World Bank index on the ease of doing business improves.”
In the meantime, of course, the satisfaction of the entrepreneur on site is also important, just as the way in which the Chamber of Commerce can influence the improvement of the general national economy. “It is an important period, where the government is watching the private sector with fear and the private sector is suspicious of the government. We have to break that, and the joint question is: what can we do to improve the economy?”
Two things that can play a major role in this are already underway: tax reform and a development towards e-government, a government that increasingly facilitates service online. “I believe in interpersonal contact,” says Balkestein, “but e-government can improve a lot here.”
The executive director of the Chamber of Commerce points out that it takes a lot of effort nowadays if an entrepreneur wants to start a business. “People just stand in line for hours to apply for the necessary permits, necessary documents, or to pay a business tax. That has to change.”
One stop Shop
Balkestein strives for a ‘one-stop-shop’, an online portal where all stakeholders that are important for the entrepreneur are connected, where it is clear at a glance what is necessary with regard to registrations and permits to start a business, and where one can also directly apply for the necessary permits and ultimately also pay tax online. “The importance of this is recognized by all parties and we will start implementation in 2020.”
The one-stop-shop is indirectly of great importance for further improvement of the economy, states Balkestein. “The financial situation of Aruba is better than in previous years, but the private sector is cautious, while it is the engine of the economy.”
That is why Balkestein wants to be a director who stands next to, between and for the entrepreneurs and who takes the lead in opening doors and new avenues, because he believes there are still a lot of possibilities in Aruba. “The environment we are in is changing rapidly, both economically and demographically. That brings opportunities for business. Of course, tourism is still the most important sector, but much more is possible. Aging is an important theme on Aruba that companies can follow up on. Technological developments, both nationally and internationally, are there to keep a close eye on. Maybe things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology are not of direct concern on Aruba, but we have to go along, stay informed and make use of new opportunities.”
With the Chamber of Commerce, Balkestein wants to support business from the bottom up in order to improve, in addition to tourism, sectors such as science, logistics, agriculture and the arts and culture industry. For example, he wants to promote agriculture to prevent Aruba from having to import everything, which puts pressure on the country’s foreign exchange stock. “For instance, there are opportunities in the field of vertical growing of fruit and vegetables, and irrigation systems can be better, simpler and more water-efficient.”
Balkestein knows what he is talking about. In the eighties of the twentieth century he studied Environmental Science in the Netherlands – “which at that time absolutely wasn’t a sexy study,” he laughs – and studied, among other things, ecosystems. He went on to study Public Administration at the University of Leiden and in 1992 he moved to Aruba with his brand new Aruban wife. There he worked for many years as a researcher at Central Bureau of Statistics and became executive director for some time. “A nice job at a nice institute,” he says. “It is a governmental body that serves everyone in Aruba. Everyone is happy with your service, and it has resulted in a large network, also in the private sector. “
After a period as risk manager at the Algemeen Pensioen Fonds Aruba, Balkestein became a political advisor for the last two years, where he, just like now at the Chamber of Commerce, puts his most important adage into practice: reach out your hand to help others before you expect anything. “That gives faith and that is important on an island where people work far too segmented. There is a different mentality than in the Netherlands. There is freedom of speech as long as you don’t say too much … You have to manage people in a different way. First reach out and indicate what you can do for someone. I have worked in various places, both in the private and public sector, and have noticed that doors will open when you act in this way.
So as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, I first reach out and make clear what I can do for the entrepreneurs.”