AMCHAM T&T’s LEGISLATION, TECHNOLOGY & COMPETITIVENESS SEMINAR 2018
DATE: WEDNESDAY 12TH SEPTEMBER 2018
VENUE: HILTON TRINIDAD & CONFERENCE CENTRE
Opening and Welcome Remarks
Delivered by: Patricia Ghany, President AMCHAM T&T
As we enter the final four months of 2018, and near the end of the country’s fiscal year, there is a definite sense of unease in the business community and the country. With news of the impending re-structuring at Petrotrin and the possible ramifications such action can have, added to an already distended economic ecosystem. It is safe to say that we are all concerned about the state of our economy, and we keenly await the 2018-2019 National Budget.
While the business community will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that the sectors in which they operate remain vibrant and profitable, we still depend on the Government to provide an environment that encourages growth and competitiveness, fosters fair trading practices and provide efficient services.
I am certain that every person here can share at least one instance when bureaucracy encountered while doing business with ministries and state agencies has caused avoidable delays and expenses. Government bureaucracy continues to be a major impediment to doing business in Trinidad and Tobago. According to the World Bank’s Annual Doing Business Report 2018, Trinidad and Tobago dropped in its global rankings from 96 to 102 out of 190 countries. This is a clear indication that more can be done to improve the ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago.
We hope that this event will provide new perspectives, solutions that leaders in private and public sector can apply to improve service delivery.
I firmly believe that as members of the private sectors we must seek ways to move forward despite the circumstances, and do what is best to improve our businesses, productivity, competitiveness and positively contribute to the economy.
It is in this vein of creating a proactive, solution-oriented environment that we continue to advocate for continued collaboration and dialogue between the public and private sector. Added to this, AMCHAM T&T collates the feedback and concerns of our members to submit a detailed Budget proposal every year to the Minister of Finance, and other relevant ministries and agencies. Each year, we have a dedicated section that highlights recommendations that will improve the Ease of Doing Business, and build a business environment that would improve the competitiveness of firms.
These recommendations encompass issues related to taxation, national security and many other challenges. The issues I will touch on are Taxation, Work Permits, Customs and Excise and National Security.
The issue of taxation and its effect on doing business is complex and far reaching. Some of the more pressing issues relayed by the business community involves the persistent delays in companies receiving their Value Added Tax and Corporation Tax Refunds. We think this can be addressed if the Government enacts the appropriate legislation to pay V.A.T online to assist in the time reduction for businesses to receive refunds.
While the business community was in agreement with the formation of the Revenue Authority, details of when this will be implemented has not been not revealed. AMCHAM T&T has continued to advocate for the development an Advanced Tax Ruling System and Alternative Dispute Resolution in Tax Disputes, in an attempt to make the processes of the Board of Inland Revenue or what will be the Revenue Authority, more efficient and practical for companies.
Another challenge the business community faces is the length of time it takes for the Ministry of National Security to approve a work permit. The requested documentation process is not clear as each application demands different supporting documents. The process needs to be simplified as the length of time it takes for an application to be approved is demotivating to many potential applicants. Despite this, AMCHAM T&T continues to do its part by offering training in work permit applications.
CUSTOMS AND EXCISE
I would first like to commend the Government for implementing the ASYCUDA (the Automated System for Customs Data) system. This has reduced the bureaucracy for exporters and importers by integrating all the requirements into a single window.
Customs and Excise is a critical area requiring improvement for many business, especially those in manufacturing and retail who depend on the timely clearance of goods at the nation’s ports. Far too often we hear of businesses being crippled by delays, especially in busy seasonal periods.
For any county that is serious about relieving economic hardship and increasing earnings from trade and business activities, priority should be given to removing any delays that hamper business activity. Delays of any kind can lead to loss of income and in extreme cases job losses.
In this area we believe the following recommendations should be considered:
We recommend that the Customs and Excise Division should seek to increase the number of competent customs officers, and consider the extension of hours at Port Facilities.
It should be noted, that the current legislation governing imports clearing, Customs Brokers and Customs Clerks Regulation, states that each Airway Bill will incur a fee of TTD$10.00. This means that for any item imported customers will pay for the duties, VAT and the airway bill fee. AMCHAM T&T believes that this cost in addition to the 7% Online Purchase Tax would place a severe burden on the courier industry. They would not be able to pass this cost on to the customer. Currently the TTD$10.00 fee is not applied as the courier companies still submit their information manually. However, when the Single Electronic Window becomes operational for trade, the airway bill fee would be applied. AMCHAM T&T suggests that the TTD$10 fee take the place of the O.P.T, as it would be a simpler system to adjudicate and collect.
Other recommendations include: training for staff to improve their productivity and reduce the likelihood of corruption; the implementation of the Authorized Operators (AO) programme by Customs and the removal of the Online Purchase Tax and implement a de Minimus rule instead.
While we must admit that there has been a thrust by government to improve such areas like the implementation of the Single electronic window, there is still too much to be done.
Last, but by no means least, crime continues to be forefront of our minds, not only as it relates to doing business, but for the safety of our employees, family and friends.
Victims of crime and their family are often ill equipped to deal with the after effects of such ordeals, which are felt long after the actual incident. Increased levels of anxiety and other mental health issues can also affect a person’s ability to work and be productive on their jobs. White collar crime also continues to increases the cost of doing business. In a recent event held in collaboration with on our members G4S, Senior Superintendent of the Fraud Squad, Totaram Dookhie, indicated that “The dynamic innovations and advancement of technology have fuelled fraud and financial crimes, and there is substantial haemorrhaging that occurs in the business sector. As such, we continue to advocate for adequate legislation that is up to date, but also acts as a deterrent to would be criminals.” He also spoke to the increased levels of corruption and fraud in the public sector.
With the need for companies to increase security at their businesses, this has put a strain on security companies who are now faced with delays in receiving firearm licenses for staff to carry out their duties. Companies have complained about the inefficiency and bureaucracy associated with the application process. AMCHAM T&T is calling on the relevant authority to formulate and implement a more timely transparent and efficient process for approval of firearm licenses.
These are just some of the recommendations that we have put forward in our 2018/2019 Budget Submission. For a detailed look at our Submission and our recommendations in the area of Debt Management; Ease of Doing Business; Digital Transformation; Energy Sector Policy; Diversification and National Security you can visit our website. Please feel free to send in your comments and concerns.
While I am unable to see what the future holds, I do know that times like this will not only define us as leaders but also as citizens. It is in times like this, that we need to hunker down and look at where we are going and what we need to do to get there. In times like this, we need to set aside individual interest in favour of reasonable solutions that will benefit us all in the medium and long term – as we actively strive to rebuild the economic vitality of our nation.
Public and private sector, business, labour, government and civil society all working together to do what is best for our country.
Before I close it would be remiss of me if I did not extend a special thank you to the AMCHAM T&T Legislative Committee, who worked assiduously to bring this event to life. The Legislative committee headed by Chair Wendy Kerry and Vice Chair, Karen Kelshall-Lee and coordinated by Research Officer Aurelia Bruce, looks at and comments on legislation put forward in Parliament that will affect the business community. At this time I would also like to thank the members who send in their comments and take part in surveys which help to inform our advocacy positions.
I would also like to thank the sponsors for this event. Microsoft, First Citizens, Massy Holdings and Guardian Holding Limited. We acknowledge that in this time of economic uncertainty that there is more scrutiny on where and what you invest in. We are happy that you chose to in invest in an event such as this, so that we can provide the public with necessary information to help them build more competitive businesses.
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