Last October my column was complaining about regulation gone mad – the recruitment company that had to cease operations for two weeks because it had displeased a government department by not filling myriad forms (that actually contained no information of any real use to anyone).  This year, and this month by pure chance, you’re going to get part two.

You might be familiar with the Ease of Doing Business survey that the World Bank publishes each year.  It is supposed to be a guide to exactly that: how easy a country is to do business.  Countries move up and down a bit each year; some of them make quite a fuss about trying to move up the scale in order to attract foreign investment. The trouble with the survey – in my personal opinion (which doesn’t make it true, by the way) is that it’s very much theoretical and relies on surveys to government departments asking them what they do for new investors in the country.  I’ve been in business for more than 30 years and I have never been asked by the World Bank how easy it is to do business.  Chambers of Commerce ask members the questions, but they hardly get the attention the World Bank attracts.

So, in my view, the survey is open to manipulation if one regulation is tweaked for new investors, or another investment pathway is made easier. There seems to be no taking account of what existing investors have to go through on a daily basis.  Some governments make a lot of noise about how easy it is to set up and register a company.  That may be true, but once the company is established then it has to deal with the quotidian issues that ALL the companies in the country face, every day, all the time.

Case in point: we recently moved office and needed to inform the authorities. In the UK or Australia, for example, this is done online or by downloading and completing a simple form. Not for us: we had to supply signed copies of 13 (yes, 13) documents along with the form which, in effect, asks for permission to move our office, and would the government department be kind enough (sarcasm intended) to amend their records?  Ridiculous.  It was all so unnecessary as well as costing quite some time and money.  What will they do with that pile of papers?

My point is that this is the regulation that could be amended. Rather than concentrating on making a shiny new regulation to attract a few new people, look inside at the millions of companies that have to endure this kind of oppressive regulation every day. Do something for them that truly makes doing business easier – that would be worthy of headlines around the region, not to mention the millions of dollars saved by companies and governments alike.

As usual, let me know if you have any particular topic you would like to see covered here.

Gary Woollacott is an executive search consultant who works for Horton International in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.  He can be reached at+84 8 3910 7682 or via