INAUGURAL ADDRESS OF MS. PATRICIA GHANY, PRESIDENT- AMCHAM T&T
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
DATE: JUNE 29, 2018
VENUE: HILTON TRINIDAD & CONFERENCE CENTRE
Today I stand before you as the 15th President of AMCHAM T&T, humbled by the faith that the Board has placed in me to lead this dynamic organization - an organization with a proud past and an exciting future.
It is with the grace of God, the love of my family and support from my Company and peers that I embark on my journey as AMCHAM T&T’s president — a journey that I am privileged to take with you all.
I stand on the shoulders of other past presidents with whom I had the honour of working with – Clyde Alleyne, Catherine Kumar, David Chaney, Nicholas Galt, Raymond Gatcliffe, , Eugene Tiah, Simon Aqui, Hugh Howard, Ravi Suryadevara, and Mitchell De Silva – all of whom provided strong leadership and who gave generously of their time, expertise and wisdom to this organization.
Through their passion, dedication and commitment they skillfully charted AMCHAM T&T’s course through multiple challenges, changing times and economic landscapes. To all of you, I say thank you very much for the various ways you have inspired and prepared me to assume this role.
My journey with AMCHAM T&T started twenty-three (23) years ago, when our company, Esau Oilfield Supplies, was encouraged to become a member.
When AMCHAM T&T was formed in 1992, Trinidad & Tobago had just come out of a bruising IMF structural adjustment programme. The economy had been significantly liberalized. Fiscal consolidation and structural reforms were being undertaken against a backdrop of social dislocation, global change and limited fiscal space for the government. Sound a bit familiar?
By the time I joined the organisation in 1995, the TT dollar had been ‘floated’. Public finances had been stabilized. The decision to go into LNG had been cemented – in fact Atlantic was incorporated in that year. But the economic recovery was neither complete nor secure.
It was a confusing time. It was an exciting time. And we knew our company had to build solid relationships not just to survive but thrive in the years to come. As part of that effort, we made a conscious business decision to join AMCHAM and have never looked back since.
During our first meeting we sensed that this was a business sector organization with a difference. A different pulse as it were. Dynamic, with a social conscience and a global outlook. Those distinctions and characteristics are important, core parts of our ethos even today.
As the first port of call for any US or international company seeking to do business in Trinidad & Tobago, AMCHAM T&T provides the perfect environment in which to meet and collaborate with contemporaries not just in the oil and gas sectors but along the value chain in almost every sector. We need only to look at our current board and the areas of expertise – ICT, banking and finance, local and international conglomerates, transportation and services. Thanks to the work of my predecessors, we are stronger than ever and getting even stronger still.
My involvement with AMCHAM T&T over the past twenty-three years has seen me serve at both the committee and board levels in positions that have allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. The knowledge and experience gained during these years have been invaluable.
Through my work with AMCHAM T&T, I was able to see the development of the economy and understand the business environment from many different perspectives. The discussions around the impacts of policy changes nationally, and internationally on various groups of members and the society as a whole, have been rich and enlightening.
What always strikes me is the role AMCHAM T&T plays as an aggregator of views and how willing our Board and Committee members are to forge positions which may not always be solely in their individual company’s interest but always in the interest of developing transparent, fair and open markets.
I have also been able to experience the personal rewards associated with volunteerism. Rewards that enrich not only the mind but the soul.
For at AMCHAM T&T, we believe that business must have purpose and meaning, to the enhancement of the quality of life and enhancement of the people and communities who form our customer base and stakeholder groups. And that is at our core – at my core – as we seek to enhance the business environment in Trinidad & Tobago.
As I take up the role as President, I know that my task will be a challenging one given the realities of our current economic environment. Nonetheless I am confident that, with your support and collaboration with the government and civil society groups including the labour movement - we can face these challenges head on, overcome them, and, in so doing, build a better and brighter future not only for ourselves but also for future generations.
My pledge to you today is simple - as President, I promise to bring the same passion, commitment and enthusiasm as I have brought during my time as a Committee and Board member to advocate on your behalf to create a better business and social environment in Trinidad & Tobago. This is my commitment to you, our members.
AMCHAM T&T has grown in strength over the years, and the heart of our mandate has never changed. We have been and continue to be, a pioneering organization, serving the needs of not only our members, but the wider society. In light of this, my vision for AMCHAM T&T over the course of the next year, is to strengthen our position as an organisation and catalyst, for the sustained economic development of Trinidad and Tobago.
To achieve this, our focus will be toward creating positive shifts in the following three areas:
1. WORKING TOWARDS GENDER PARITY
We recognize that diversity and gender balance are integral engines of innovation. If we are to champion broader and more inclusive representation at all levels of the private and public sectors, then we must lead by example.
One of Mitch’s goals during his last term was to hand the presidential baton over to a female. I applauded his intentions then and I admired his persistence in making this a reality. Today, I stand before you all as a testament of his vision and I am honoured to have played a part in helping him accomplish that goal!
As you are aware, AMCHAM is no stranger to female leadership. In 1991, two women, Sally Cowell, then US Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, and Nisha Lau, then GM of FedEx, were the original architects who drew up plans for this Chamber. Together they brought AMCHAM to life.
In 2000, we elected Catherine Kumar, then Chief Operating Officer of ALGICO, as our first female President. In 2003, I had the privilege of serving on the Board when Catherine Kumar was still president.
Indeed, women have ‘led the pack’ with successive female Executive Directors – each of them infusing the organization with various strengths and dynamism from 1993 to 2014. It is interesting to note that it was only in 2014, we had our very first male CEO, Nirad.
It is also worth mentioning that our highest level of female board participation peaked at 45% during the period 2015-2016. Today, with the re-election of Karrian Hepburn six of the 16 AMCHAM T&T Board Members are female. Even though this ratio is better than all similar organisations in Trinidad & Tobago, I intend to improve on this during my tenure as we continue our drive towards a fully gender balanced board!
Furthermore, through our Women in Leadership Conference, we will continue to champion gender parity within the public and private sectors. Our conference has been extremely successful in supporting and facilitating conversations pertinent to advancing the role of women in the workplace and society at large.
Over the last year, we worked with the IDB on a women’s leadership mentoring pilot programme and we will be entering an expanded phase two of that later this year. Our focus has always been about empowerment through experience and support.
2. Improving the Business Climate & Focusing on Investment
Another critical issue is competitiveness. As we would all agree, the competition for investment dollars is intense, both at regional and international levels. Global markets are changing. The tax reforms and shale oil and gas industries in the US are already having a disruptive effect on the structure of businesses in the hemisphere.
And other countries are adapting and starting to thrive. Jamaica, Guyana and Grenada in this region are actively changing the structure of their economies and acting with a sense of purpose.
The Dominican Republic has been one of the fastest growing economies in this hemisphere for near a decade. Trinidad & Tobago however, has lagged behind our counterparts.
For us to be an attractive investment destination, we cannot continue to make internal plans and goals in isolation. We cannot continue to talk and not do. Rather, we must understand what the other countries in the region and in the world are doing in terms of tax incentives, fiscal & monetary policies, developing human capacity and improving regulatory environments.
In this context, our Parliament must operate more effectively and strategically and the Government more swiftly, collaboratively and deliberately. To do otherwise is foolhardy.
We know several significant pieces of legislation will be debated in the next session of parliament. Changes to the companies act, amendments to industrial relations legislation, the revenue authority, Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing legislation, will all have a significant impact on business and we look forward to effective co-operation between the government and opposition as well as meaningful consultation with stakeholders.
In this regard, we again congratulate the government for the process employed thus far on the legislation to develop the revenue authority. However, we remain concerned about the impact and lack of clarity regarding the valuation process for industry under the property tax act.
Whilst it is no hidden fact that Trinidad & Tobago has weathered challenges in the energy sector, displayed its resilience, and at times defied logic, we are at a cross-road.
We seemingly are at an imbalance where our domestic agenda is not completely in sync with the factors that determine attractiveness for investments for which we compete globally.
Very often our conversations on being an attractive investment destination are focused on monetary incentives but we need to expand the conversation to other factors. How do we make Trinidad & Tobago an attractive destination for intellectual capital – both foreign intellectual capital and our own young minds who attend university abroad and never return? Inefficient processes, outdated legislation, weak institutions, systemic corruption and high levels of both white collar and violent crime are all disincentives to investment. Uber’s decision to withdraw from Trinidad & Tobago should be a major wakeup call.
Yet we believe that there is hope. We believe that our country’s best days are yet to come. Trinidad and Tobago has always had the potential to be the true pathway to the Americas. So we need action. With the right national and corporate policies and vision and commitment to execution, this can still be achieved. AMCHAM T & T is committed, ready and able to do its part.
As the ‘pathway to the Americas’, AMCHAM will continue to forge links with businesses across the Americas so that other lucrative markets can be opened to member companies.
Just this week, you would have gotten an email from us which would allow you to register for a webinar with John Murphy, Senior VP International Policy at the US Chamber, on the impact of the US tax reform on business in the hemisphere.
No other Chamber can provide the access, linkages and information that AMCHAM T & T can as a result of membership and leadership in the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean (AACCLA) – the network of the 24 AmChams in this hemisphere allied with the US Chamber of Commerce. We will continue to develop these links to provide value to our members.
3. Digital/Technological Transformation
Another area of focus for me as President will be digital transformation. We have all become familiar with the now clichéd examples of Uber and Airbnb as disruptors of two long standing industries. We all need to embrace the digital transformation that is going on if we are to survive, compete and grow. More than that, we need to be part of the healthy disruptions that are happening in the market.
It can be quite a scary thought to think about the potential of technology to change our businesses and business models forever but we need to embrace reality. That is why we have Tristan Relly speaking to you about the utility of blockchain and Provost Timothy Moerland focusing on the future of work in a short while.
To this end, I want to ensure that our member companies are well positioned to take advantage of rapid technological shifts that can allow our market share, clients, strategic alliances and partnerships to grow seamlessly, no matter where we’re positioned geographically.
To achieve these objectives, the Board will be working closely with our Digital Transformation Committee to develop strategies and provide insights for both the public and private sectors that can assist with digital transformation.
This committee headed by Fenwick Reid, Executive Chairman Massy ICT, Zia Paton, Partner PWC, and Devindra Ramnarine, Executive Director & Caribbean Lead, Government and Public Sector Ernst and Young, will spearhead efforts in assisting member companies in the process of competing in this Digital Age.
More broadly, AMCHAM TRINIDAD & TOBAGO must continue to voice its opinions and views on matters of national interest, and, where necessary, make recommendations. We will always speak truth to power while being solution oriented. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.
As I close, let me again pay tribute to our out-going President, Mitch. I thank you for your stewardship, your confidence in me, and your advice and counsel. We have all benefitted from your vision, your humour and knowledge during your tenure as President.
At this time allow me to express my profound thanks to the Board of Directors to for the invaluable contributions they make in so many ways to the organization. I look forward to a continued close working relationship to all of you.
To our ever resourceful and dependable CEO Nirad, and the passionate and dedicated members of the Secretariat who work tirelessly to ensure, that, as members, we engage more deeply, use our private sector voice in support of our mission, and fully leverage the benefits of our membership, I say a heartfelt thanks to all of you. I also wish to thank you for fostering an environment of excellence and creating a space where we all feel at home when attending an AMCHAM T&T event.
It would be remiss of me not to thank members of the Programmes & Events Committee and the Chamber Experience & Imaging Committee. Let me say that my love of AMCHAM was nurtured, fostered, and strengthened by serving on these committees with a remarkable group of individuals.
Ladies and gentlemen, member companies of AMCHAM, we must continue to collaborate with each other, we must build consensus, we must engage NGOs, we must partner with the Government, and we must partner with other private sector businesses and interests if we are to turn the tide of the current economic situation. I am reminded of our National Motto: “Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve”. It is my fervent hope that, together, we can accomplish all that we set our minds and concerted efforts towards.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
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