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.
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.
AMCHAM T&T RESPONDS TO THE MID-YEAR BUDGET REVIEW
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) credits the Government for reducing and containing expenditure and hopes that this discipline in expenditure is continued in the future. We look forward to future gains as we use technology to deliver government services more effectively, and improve processes to better monitor government expenditure and evaluate outcomes. We welcome the promises of fiscal transparency and the publication of real-time revenue and expenditure data. Another commendable announcement is the decision to lay legislation on the revenue authority before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament. This is in keeping with our call for greater bipartisan collaboration on critical national issues.
However, the most important point to note from the mid-year review is that even with increased revenue from higher petroleum prices and increased gas production over the last six months, as noted by the Hon. Minister “our core revenues from taxation are still fragile and still below $40 billion, while we are running a $50 billion economy”. This means that the deficit between income and expenditure persists to the tune of some $10B and is projected to continue over the next few years. While this gap is expected to be closed somewhat in 2018 by the sale of assets and the establishment of the National Investment Fund this year, such measures are unsustainable and therefore continued emphasis on expenditure reduction and containment needs to remain as a priority.
AMCHAM T&T stresses that concerted effort is necessary to not only reduce expenditure and close the fiscal gap but more pointedly we continue our call for the adoption of fiscal rules, alongside other revenue stabilization measures that would better manage the volatility that we experience in our revenue.
As such, we encourage the Hon. Minister of Finance and the Government to remain steadfast in their commitment to fiscal discipline. As the country uses this opportunity to restructure the economy to return to a period of sustainable growth, we encourage the Government to engage meaningfully with all sectors of the society, including the business community. AMCHAM T&T stands ready and able to work with the Government toward the long term growth of the economy and development of our society.
The U.S. Embassy will be hosting an incoming mission of eight (8) companies from the United States and has partnered with AMCHAM T&T to provide business-to-business matchmaking services. The following companies will be participating in the mission and will be meeting with local companies on the dates indicated. Members interested in meeting with any of the aforementioned companies can indicate their interest via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 1-868-622-4466 ext. 222 to discuss further.
Space is limited and members are invited to indicate their interest early.
Wednesday 9th May, 2018:
1. American Muscle Docks & Fabrication LLC – The company specialises in boat docks and boat dock hardware, aluminium gangways & all marina accessories. For commercial and residential applications, the company manufactures their own products and have the ability to customize all products to unique specification. View their website: www.AMDocks.com
2. QuiaCle Technology and Consulting, Inc – This company provides strategic consulting technology services and managed services to government organizations, commercial, and not for profit organizations. View their website: www.quiacle.com
3. The Impact Group, LLC – A proven and trusted advisor for non-profits, private businesses, and local, state, and Federal government, their services include: Infrastructure & Data Center Services, Business Process Improvement, Program/Project Management, Service Desk Support, Cloud Migration & Virtualization, Aglie Development & Dev0ps, Information Assurance, and ERP Solutions (SAP, etc). View their website: www.impactgroupllc.net
4. Troy Group – Specializes in security software, printers, inks and toners that add personalized layers of authentication, copy detection, and fraud deterrence to high value documents, thereby assisting to manage fraud, reduce operational risks and comply with government regulations. View their website: https://www.troygroup.com/
5. Zurena LLC – ZURENA is a unique blend of fresh citrus juices, spices, sweetness, and love. It was created by Nigel Smith, an innovator for some of the world’s most admired brands, and inspired by his late grandfather and renowned mixologist, Carlton Smith. Nigel’s goal was to create a simple, yet versatile cocktail mixer that would add an exotic touch to a wide variety of spirits and non-alcoholic drinks. View their website: https://myzurena.com/
6. Zuri Productions – Zuri Productions provides marketing and communications services, specializing in visual storytelling, community engagement and outreach. Their Emmy and Grammy award-winning teams focuses on education, health, employment, environmental services, and economics. View their website: http://www.zuriprod.com/about.html
Friday 11th May, 2018:
7. State Industrial Inc. – The company is a Certified Business Enterprise (CBE) District of Columbia based commercial construction firm specializing in the construction of highways and streets, concrete driveways, sidewalks, curb & gutters, sewer mains, pipe, and connections, utility line (i.e. sewer, water), water main and lines. View their website: https://www.stateindustrialinc.com/
8. Synergetic Information Systems – This company provides IT services and solutions for the U.S. Federal Government, the District Government, and other clients. A minority-owned small business enterprise with an excellent track record of performance, Synergetic serves a wide range of clients with a strong focus on customer service and quality deliverables. View their website: www.gosynergetic.com
AMCHAM T&T EXTENDS CONGRATULATIONS
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes on becoming the nation’s sixth President – and the first female to hold this office. It is indeed significant as the inauguration comes on the heels of International Women’s Day and during the world’s celebration of Women’s History Month – the event being a history-making occasion in itself.
Having clearly recognized and articulated the challenges that we face as a nation, and the need for concerted action to remedy these, we remain hopeful that Her Excellency’s tenure will be one of purposeful action toward the betterment of our country and society. This defining moment in our nation’s history should be met with reflection as citizens look back on where we have been; take stock of where we are; and chart a course forward to, in the words of the President, “bring light to the darkness”.
The cooperative approach adopted by members on both sides of the political divide to elect our first female President is noteworthy. AMCHAM T&T has been calling for more bi-partisanship to confront the challenges or country faces. It is our hope that this collaboration endures not only in the Parliament or in the sphere of politics, but across all sectors of society for the benefit of Trinidad and Tobago.
The task before Her Excellency, President Weekes is not an easy one, but if her career is any indication, we expect that she would be a faithful servant of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, executing her duties impartially and valiantly. We take heed of Her Excellency’s call and stand ready to do our part to walk with our new President toward and into the proverbial light.
AMCHAM T&T’s WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
HYATT REGENCY, TRINIDAD
FRIDAY 9TH MARCH, 2016
REMARKS BY: MITCHELL DE SILVA, PRESIDENT AMCHAM T&T
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen
I am incredibly honoured as President of AMCHAM T&T, to address a room of outstanding women (and some men) as we commemorate International Women’s Day. In an economic climate of such uncertainty, the continuity of this or any event is not guaranteed. I am delighted to say the conference is in its fifth year, continues to grow in size and depth of content and has become a signature event on AMCHAM T&T’s calendar.
Unfortunately, the celebration of this milestone is bittersweet. The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report clearly highlights why we say this. Whereas previously the report estimated that it would take an astonishing 170 years to achieve gender parity, it now estimates that it will take 213.
If this remains true then women today, their daughters and possibly granddaughters, will not have the opportunity to live in a world where true gender parity exists.
As a leading business chamber in Trinidad & Tobago and one whose ambition and reach spans throughout the Western Hemisphere, AMCHAM T&T firmly believes that we must take the lead in discussing the power of women in business and the importance of gender parity in society. We believe that gender parity is an important achievement that has a major impact on how and whether economies and societies advance. Successfully engaging about half of the world’s talent pool, and harnessing their contributions will have a huge impact on the growth, competitiveness and economic transformation.
However, when I reflect on the findings of the Global Gender Gap Report, I believe that we in the business community must honestly ask ourselves – “Are we doing enough?”
Do we look around our boardrooms and ask ourselves “Why is there only one or sometimes no women present?”
Is the business community doing enough to speak out against sexual harassment in the workplace, and are we taking the necessary steps to ensure that organizations are safe and comfortable for all genders?
Are we doing enough to address violence against women? There are some women who feel safer at work that they do in their own homes. Their job is not only a source of financial independence but provides a temporary reprieve from the violence they face. What do we do when bruises turn into sick days and eventually reduced work performance? Do we stick to our K.P.Is and the numbers that influence of company’s profit and loss? Or do we begin to re-evaluate the value we place on the lives, mental health and overall well-being of our workers?
Is the collective conscious of business ready to ask the hard questions and take the necessary steps to press for progress?
While I do not purport to have all of the answers, I do believe this is why this conference and others like it are so important. My hope is that this event not only empowers us, but emboldens us to create a new level of expectancy and accountability of ourselves and our leaders.
I believe that in the same way I am my brother’s keeper, I am also my sister’s keeper, my mother’s keeper, my neighbour’s keeper and even my employee’s keeper. We must continue to come together, to support each other.
Before I close I would like to thank the organizations that have chosen to partner with us for this event. Our title sponsors Scotiabank and bpTT. Other major sponsors, United Airlines, Hyatt Regency Trinidad, McDermott Inc, Esau Oilfield Supplies Limited, Balroops and Caribbean Bottlers Limited, and our media partner Heartbeat Radio.
I thank you for your attention and wish you a productive and successful event.
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad & Tobago, hosted its first Member Business Engagement Seminar on Thursday 1st February 2018 at the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.
The forum is part of AMCHAM T&T’s and the US Embassy’s effort to create an avenue to address any questions or concerns businesses may have concerning trade and business relations with the United States. Representatives from the embassy were: Kyle Fonay, Embassy Political & Economic Officer; Kevin Ogley, Deputy Consular Officer; and A.J. Jagelski, Embassy Public Affairs Officer.
High on the agenda was the issue of business travel facilitation. Embassy officials stated that the U.S. was very open to and interested in travel and investment between the two countries. They indicated that on average four out of five persons applying for visas are successful with their application.
Another topic discussed was pre-clearance, an issue AMCHAM T&T has advocated for with the current Government and its predecessor. AMCHAM T&T believes offering pre-clearance into the U.S. at Piarco International Airport would offer clear advantages in terms of fostering a better relationship with the United States, as well as positioning Trinidad and Tobago as a portal for increased business travel throughout the Western Hemisphere.
Embassy officials emphasised the importance of the U.S.’s relationship with Trinidad & Tobago, and spoke to the implementation of the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016, which is seen as a means of expanding U.S. engagement and its strengthening relationship within the Caribbean. They continue to invest in the TT community through work with organisations in the areas of at-risk youth, community safety, security, disability rights, and entrepreneurship. The panel also addressed concerns relating to taxation, terrorism and anti- money laundering legislation.
A very pleasant good morning to you all…
It gives me great pleasure to address you today on this eight iteration of the AMCHAM T&T National Youth Productivity Forum, affectionately known as NYPF.
AMCHAM T&T is deeply committed to assisting in shaping a better Trinidad and Tobago- a Trinidad and Tobago with a productive work force, positive economic and social indicators and most importantly a T&T in which all citizens, especially our young people, realize that meaningful dialogue and inclusion are the only means that we will we make good choices. The adage that you are tomorrow leaders, ring hollow if you are not equipped to contribute to your schools, communities, and country. You need to understand the shifting world that you are about to inherit. You are not only the future of society, but you are, very much a big part of our PRESENT. And we try through the NYPF to prepare you for that role.
The NYPF engages our young people in the comprehension, articulation and discussion of national and global issues, as well as being part of the solutions by employing the tools of critical thinking, presentation skills (oral and written), innovation, research and entrepreneurship. Students are sensitized to the interconnectivity among the major stakeholders in society – business, labour, government and civil society- and the need for collective responsibility and collaborative solutions and implementation thereof- what we strive for in the ‘real world.’ These ladies and gentlemen are the elements of real education and as Nelson Mandela said "education is the most powerful weapon which you
can use to change the world.”
We are encouraged by the fact that the Ministry of Education, the Tobago House of Assembly, UTT, Office of the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Equal Opportunities Commission, First Citizens Bank, Massy Technologies, parents, teachers and corporate sponsors are giving tangible support to this project. Needless to say, we have always been impressed and inspired by the keenness and commitment with which you have aligned yourselves to the initiative. This year we had an overwhelming number of schools register- this is the largest number of schools to register for the Fourm to date, and whilst we are excited to extend the Forum to accommodate you all, I caution you to understand the role and commitment that you have made. As our future leaders, we will hold you accountable to meet that deadlines of this initiative that you have committed. We also expect that you would contact us, in any urgent circumstances. Your participation not only affects your school, but also the other schools in the Rounds, and whist we have had that problem in the past, I am sure we would not have that problem with this group of students!
This Forum has been supported by the Honourable President Carmona, who has been the patron of the Forum for the last four years, and prior to President Carmona the patron of the initiative was the former U.S. Ambassador to T&T Mrs. Beatrice Welters. We hope that the incoming President, the first female President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago would be in a position to also support this initiative. It is important for us to pause here and acknowledge the impact of this country having its first female President -this would definitely assist in making gender equality in leadership normal. AMCHAM T&T strongly supports the nomination, as we believe it would open the eyes of our young people to the fact that leaders come from all backgrounds, colour, races and definitely gender.
The topic of the NYPF this year is “Health..your Wealth… Towards a more Productive Trinidad and Tobago”. According to a recently published Non Communicable Disease Report by the Ministry of Health, Trinidad and Tobago, research has shown that a quarter (25%) of school-aged children (5 – 18years) is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity remains a major concern due to its impact on the development of risk factors leading to chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and strokes later on in life. There has already been the emergence of CNCDs like diabetes in our children and youth populations. Trinidad and Tobago, at 60%, has the highest overall percentage of deaths due to CNCDs within the Caribbean region, heart disease is the Number 1 cause of death in Trinidad and Tobago accounting for 25% of all deaths, the diabetes prevalence rate among adults is approximately 12% - 13% and 50% of persons, 24 – 64 years, already has 3 or more risk factors for CNCDs. This high prevalence of CNCDs in our adult and children populations is related to unhealthy diets (high fat, salt & sugar), insufficient physical activity and low consumption of fruits and vegetables (less than 3 servings per day).
I am looking forward to hearing students passionately impress peers to the wisdom of limiting consumption of unhealthy fast foods and to embrace local nutritional foods and engaging in exercise. We are looking forward to innovative solutions to deal with the Health scourge we are facing.
We have incentivized the Forum, with some of the prizes (cash grants) being awarded to the teachers, who we know go beyond the call of duty to ensure that their students participate and get the additional assistance they need. And yes, we would also give our students some cash grants, and for the project component, the winning school will receive $TTD12,000 (in addition to the teacher’s grant) to successfully implement the project. You would get the details later today, but let me just say that we are using this Forum as a catalyst for creating critical thinkers and an improved learning experience.
We hope that the lessons you learn through this exercise will impact your families, schools, communities and country.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Event: AMCHAM T&T’s Economic Outlook 2018
Venue: Hyatt Regency, Trinidad
Remarks by Mitchell De Silva, President AMCHAM T&T
All protocols observed, Good Morning.
It is both a pleasure and a privilege to be here this morning to address you; a pleasure because every opportunity to engage with the membership and wider Trinidad and Tobago is always welcomed and a privilege as today we bring to you some of our country’s most prominent thought leaders, whose views I am sure you are anxious to hear. That said, please permit me the indulgence of your time, as I attempt to put into context why we are here and our desired outcomes.
Put simply, this event aligns with our emphasis on more meaningful engagement, AMCHAM T&T firmly believes that it is only by encouraging dialogue and creating appropriate forums for views to be articulated, shared and challenged that we will realize many of the objectives that we set ourselves as a country. That said, the burning question is what are those objectives or more importantly what should those objectives be and why? I dare say that many of us in this room may not be entirely clear on the current policy agenda and if and how that agenda will lead to:
1. Improved fiscal discipline and accountability
2. Economic growth and diversification of our revenue base
3. A curtailment of crime and criminality in all forms
That list can go on, but I believe those three areas, broadly speaking, are representative of some of our most pressing concerns, which hitherto have not been addressed either as frontally as we would like, or perhaps in a manner which does not align with our expectations.
On the issue of improved fiscal discipline, in his latest address to the Nation the Prime Minister rightfully highlighted the tremendous strides that his administration has made in reducing expenditure from approximately $60Bln to approximately $50Bln, a significant achievement to say the least.
What we have not heard in the debate thus far and pardon me if I have missed it, are details on measures we are putting in place to prevent a reoccurrence of what I would like to term exuberance in planned expenditure. As our recently appointed Director, Bruce Mc Kenzie highlighted in our post budget event, we have tendency to significantly increase planned expenditure as planned revenue increases. Emphasis on the word planned, especially in relation to revenue. A pattern which AMCHAM T&T firmly believes cannot continue. What we need are fiscal rules, which will impose a discipline on us that has been prescribed by the IMF for Jamaica and Grenada and possibly others, but which at this juncture may be appropriately designed by us to meet our unique circumstances. Let’s not await the prescription but take decisive steps now. This is an area that my former colleague and one of today’s panelists Marla has been long advocating for and I am certain she will have a thing or two to say on this topic.
I am sure all panelists will have views on diversification and each may have a unique and insightful perspective, one possibly more than the others.
Clearly, the need to diversify is self-evident and the questions into what, the scale of those initiatives and whether or not they can augment and or overtake our current main contributor to the national purse are complex and require careful consideration and deliberate measureable actions. It is certainly not my expectation that our economy will be meaningfully diversified in the short to medium term, but it is not unreasonable to advocate that steps be taken today towards that outcome. This is where we, the private sector, need to be decisive and lead the State into the areas that we view as having the potential to shift our revenue base. The recent announcement of a Prime Ministerial appointed committee to act as an interface between the Government and Private sector to presumably achieve that outcome is interesting. Not wanting to be provocative or skeptical, but somehow that initiative feels and sounds as though there is some overlap between it and another that was constituted at the start of this Administration’s term. Let me be clear, AMCHAM T&T supports all meaningful initiatives that are designed to spur and encourage actions that will improve our current situation and outlook, but we are somewhat guarded when announcements are made with limited details provided.
While Ravi will speak more about this in his presentation, I feel compelled to make the point that anti-business language from policy makers, an unpredictable legislative and tax environment and unnecessary bureaucracy all make it more unlikely that capital will deployed in T&T in the midst of a recession. Our hope is that in 2018, the economy further stabalizes, that there is more co-operation between Government and Opposition and that there is more meaningful engagement among Civil Society, Government, Labour and Business on key national issues.
Immediately action is needed to pass anti-gang legislation, cyber crime legislation, legislation to bring us in compliance with our AML /CTF obligations and e-payment legislation, to highlight but a few. There is likely consensus that far too many of our laws are outdated. We need a modern legislative framework – laws that are relevant in the 21st Century – to enable a competitive economy. Our Parliament must do more. For that to happen, we need to see more bi-partisanship. Our country is at a crucial juncture. Our leaders must rise to the challenge.
Turning to my third highlighted issue; much has been said about crime and criminality with a decided focus on prosecutions, arrests and detention. As we all know, these deal and treat with the symptoms of crime but fail to address the root cause. Faster detection, swifter prosecution, greater visibility of law enforcement and regulators alike are essential yes, but a thorough analysis of what gives rise to these issues is what is needed and again the recognition that the benefits of the actions we take today will not be immediate, rather gradual at first and increasingly impactful with the passage of time.
Allow me to emphasize the point on regulatory visibility and enforcement, I think we would all agree that there is a correlation between white collar and violent crime, yet on a relative basis our detection and prosecution of the former appears to significantly lag the latter. All too often the Private Sector’s commentary on criminality is perceived to be skewed towards violent crime, while that may not necessarily be the case it is a perception that for some is a reality. We must change that perception and be equally vociferous about all forms of illegal activity and in so doing share our burden of the blame and shoulder the responsibility for developing solutions by giving generously of our time and talent, something that far too few of us have done. The Private Sector’s efforts in getting procurement legislation passed and a board and regulator appointed are apt examples of what we can achieve if our efforts are focused. We must be willing to give the same level of sustained commitment and sacrifice in matters such as the Revenue Authority and other critical areas that will ultimately allow for the creation of a more just, equitable and safe society.
In conclusion, my hope for today’s event is twofold. Firstly, we leave you with a more informed perspective of our economic reality and secondly, we all recognize that it is only through meaningful engagement and commitment that we will return our country to prosperity.
Thank you ladies and gentlemen
AMCHAM T&T: MORE ENGAGEMENT NEEDED
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T), welcomes the Hon. Prime Minister’s Address To The Nation as part of the Government’s effort to keep the population informed about the current state of the nation’s economy.
We acknowledge that the Hon. Prime Minster outlined several critical issues in his address and intentionally dealt with the macro-issues. Moving ahead, we look forward to more specific information on many of the initiatives proposed by the Government, including those that will deal with the on-going crime scourge. The timely delivery of clear, accurate and detailed information is critical for investor confidence, and is characteristic of a Government that is committed to transparency, accountability and good governance in all its affairs.
AMCHAM T&T recognises that the Government has reduced Government expenditure since coming into office. We encourage them to now enact fiscal rules (detailed in our budget submission) for Government spending to ensure discipline, rigour and accountability.
We understand that managing an economy in the current economic climate is challenging, and acknowledge that hard decisions must be made as we restructure our economy to be competitive in today’s world. We also appreciate the Hon. Prime Minister’s call for all sectors of the society to work together to overcome the country’s challenges. In this vein, more meaningful engagement is required to arrive at the best solutions in the shortest possible time.
AMCHAM T&T would also like to see more bi-partisan co-operation in the Parliament, as this will be a critical component of ensuring that our legislative framework is suitable for the changing global economy.
In this regard, AMCHAM T&T remains ready to engage with and assist the Government in any way needed as we all work towards economic stability, leading to socially inclusive growth and prosperity.
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