THE PRESIDENT'S CORNER
Caroline Toni Sirju-Ramnarine, President of AMCHAM T&T
It is an honour to virtually stand before you today as the 16th President of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM T&T). A business chamber that has always been best characterized by the altruistic actions of people committed to making a difference in the lives of others. So I begin by thanking our outgoing President, Patricia Ghany. Thank you Pat for the visionary leadership you brought to this organization. Of particular note during Pat’s tenure was a milestone that was achieved due to her commitment to empowering women in business and society; that was in achieving gender parity on our Board. I am pleased to say, this is something that we have maintained with this current Board with 9 women and 7 men. In 2021 and beyond, we will continue to lead with a commitment to diversity at the heart of our operations and publicly advocate for measures to create a society with fewer inequalities and more opportunities for all.
As you can see we have a very diverse and dynamic set of Directors on our Board, who are committed to the organisation’s ideals. We will continue to work through our hardworking committees who faithfully execute the organization’s vision and ensure AMCHAM remains the preferred business service organization in Trinidad and Tobago.
This of course can only be done with the professional service and commitment of our Secretariat, led by our CEO Nirad Tewarie. Our Secretariat rises to each challenge and binds together as a team, taking great pride in the service and value that they provide to members. Thanks to all of you at the Secretariat for the service, and dedication you have demonstrated in spite of the challenges we face at this moment to keep AMCHAM’s business and services running for the benefit our members. And for organising today’s AGM and Business Forum I thank Hema Son Son and Michelle Lagan for their work.
To you, our members, we very much appreciate your confidence in us and for your feedback in our many engagements over the last year, which have helped us to tailor our initiatives to better serve you. We look forward to meeting in person soon!
One of the ways in which we will be able to make this a reality sooner than later is to progress with vaccinations. All around the world one can see the evidence that countries that have pursued aggressive vaccination programmes are showing signs of a faster return to normal. In a short while we will hear from Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ian Saunders and we thank his government for their expected vaccine donations to our country and the region. Locally, we are pleased to see the recent progress on that front and encourage everyone to do their part in getting us back to normalcy as soon as we can.
In this regard, AMCHAM has been working with other chambers and private sector organisations on a pro-vaccination campaign that will encourage citizens to “Take D Jab Jab.” This catchy slogan is meant to unite us against the common enemy we all face today: COVID-19. This is not the time to allow fear to take control. This is not the time to point fingers, to lay blame or to see how we can have our personal opinions drown out the voices of others. There has been enough of that in the past year. It is a time for collaboration – a time for solving problems collectively, a time to put all else aside and to move forward together. Today, we must “Take D Jab Jab” because we want to eat a bake and shark at Maracas Bay, or watch cricket at the Oval, or take part in our many national and religious festivals, or just simply hug an old friend or family member we have not seen in a while. Of course, the value of having the nation’s workforce and productivity levels ramp back up to optimal levels cannot be understated – a point on which I will elaborate a bit further in a few moments.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many local artistes and social media personalities who lent their voices and time to this Take D Jab Jab effort and to the artists and organisations who allowed us to use their building facades to help promote this campaign with wall art. AMCHAM T&T will continue working with the government’s vaccine administration process and, while we recognise it is a personal choice, we hope those of you who can, when it’s your turn, that you too will do your part and Take D Jab Jab!
For AMCHAM however, doing our part isn’t new and didn’t start with this vaccine advocacy. All throughout the pandemic, we have been trying to do our part. We collaborated with the Restore a Sense of I Can on their Girls in ICT Day, we worked with the US Embassy and the Arthur Ashe Institute to do a summer programme for children in at-risk communities, which included the provision of almost two dozen laptops. Recently, we facilitated the donation of oxygen concentrators and other vital equipment from SEWA TT to the Ministry of Health through collaboration with our members Amerijet and Ramps Logistics to support our nation's efforts to battle COVID-19. We also hosted webinars on mental health, business continuity planning, enhancing trade and investment opportunities, and so much more.
Now even though we are still in a time of crisis, we must remain optimistic for a brighter future. Indeed it is also a time of great opportunity. It is a time for a new vision, for long term strategy and long-term planning and for collaboration. We must look at the new horizon that awaits us with the same bold assertiveness, resilience, and adaptability we demonstrated when we were forced us to adjust to a new normal. There is nothing that we can’t achieve or accomplish in this new horizon if we learn from our mistakes and channel the creativity, industriousness and innovation that was birthed during this disruptive phase and allow it to continue transforming our lives and our world.
In this regard, AMCHAM T&T is ready to make the commitment on 3 main areas of strategic focus that we see as being key to future-proofing our economy and they are 1) the Recovery of the Economy, 2) The use of Technology and 3) the preparation of our Youth and the Workforce for the Future.
The question today is how can we make the pandemic situation a pivot point to a new future for Trinidad and Tobago? The simple answer starts with businesses being able to recover and bounce back strongly. For this to happen, we have to re-instill confidence in the economy. Confidence stemming from meaningful collaboration and dialogue followed by consistent and decisive action. As we seek to find opportunities out of the crisis, we need a plan. We need a big vision with clear objectives and targets.
A key element to recovery will be attracting additional Foreign Direct Investment. It will also require significant local investment. Liquidity in the financial system is high. Local companies are listing on the Jamaica Stock Exchange, and some are even moving their headquarters there. We have to make Trinidad and Tobago a more attractive place to do business.
One of the ways in which we can do this is by having strong institutions and these institutions must be supported by laws such as the Public Procurement Legislation, which is an absolute necessity if we aim to recover successfully. The full operationalization of this Act has been long in coming and we reiterate our call on the Government to act now.
RULE OF LAW
The rule of law is also a key prerequisite to investment attraction and a welcoming business environment. Countries that display a commitment to the Rule of Law often have high levels of economic freedom, social mobility, and economic growth.
Indeed, the US Chamber of Commerce hosts the Rule of Law Coalition. And you will hear from Kendra Gaither, the Executive Director of that Coalition in a short while to explain how Trinidad and Tobago compares to other countries and why the Rule of Law matters in attracting investment.
As you know, AMCHAM T&T is a member of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce of Latin America and the Caribbean (AACCLA). This is the hemispheric association of the 25 AmChams in this hemisphere. At the AACCLA, on whose Board our Past President Patricia Ghany and CEO Nirad Tewarie sit, a Rule of Law Committee has been established to work on improving the rule of law in the countries of this hemisphere. We’re sure that you will agree that enhanced transparency and consistent application of rules are good for business and absolutely necessary for the attraction of investment.
As such, over the coming months, AMCHAM T&T will be working with the US Embassy and other stakeholders locally on a series of RoL initiatives with the possibility of establishing a multi-stakeholder, Rule of Law Committee.
TECH SECTOR DEVELOPMENT
Another strategic area of focus for AMCHAM T&T moving forward is the development of a tech sector in Trinidad and Tobago, which we believe will be a key enabler for the recovery and future competitiveness of this country. As we seek to build other sectors of the scale and quality as our oil, gas and petrochemical industries, we are certain that it is possible to create a tech sector in Trinidad and Tobago that is globally competitive and that will include a mix of foreign and local companies.
With efforts focused on re-shoring and nearshoring, coupled with the transformation imperatives laid bare by the pandemic, we have a golden opportunity to make the goal of creating a tech hub, a reality. In addition to the benefits of creating a tech industry, we also have to harness the transformative power of technology. In this vein, the digital transformation of businesses and of Government agencies and processes will be key to a successful recovery.
We recognize the priority the government has placed on this and are eagerly awaiting tangible outcomes and indeed opportunities emerging from the Cabinet-appointed Digital Transformation Advisory
Committee’s work and the line Ministry’s two-year transformation programme. On AMCHAM’S immediate agenda with technology I remind you to join us in less than two weeks for the third edition of our Tech Hub Islands Summit featuring global tech experts.
WORKFORCE OF THE FUTURE
The third strategic pillar of AmCham will be on Youth and preparing the Workforce of the Future.
Attention must be paid to building a “Culture of Curiosity” that molds a cadre of young people with analytical thinking skills and other critical skills for the future. This requires significant work that must be done in examining the role of schools and on the current curriculum. While the pandemic has shown that online school cannot work in totality, we have seen many new tools and techniques being incorporated into the way teachers teach and how students learn. Therefore, our education system must see technical and vocational skills ranging from specific software to soft-skill training as investments into our future. This is how we build the workforce of the future that will make Trinidad and Tobago competitive intellectually and economically.
While we actively invest in our young people, we still require a concerted commitment to working collaboratively today, to achieve our goals. Let us not simply pay lip service to working differently. We have a very real opportunity today, to immediately embrace new ways of working - a hybrid model of sorts – which allows for flexibility for both the employer and the employee in how we mobilize our workforce, the tools we use to conduct business and how we create a modernized climate to support and sustain these types of changes. This mindset is required in several spheres, including the requisite shift away from a traditionally adversarial industrial relations climate, to one which collaboratively and pragmatically assesses and onboards changes that can bring about value and increase the quality of life of our citizenry. As a simple example, by taking advantage of what we have learned and applied during COVID in both the private and public sectors, we can alter traffic levels on our roadways, push the delivery of more services to the digital realm and leverage technology to our mutual benefit.
I know it may seem that these are some tough times right now and that these commitments may seem like just another set of lofty goals we have all heard of before. But if we can’t see the opportunities past the crisis, then we are bound to keep repeating the same mistakes that have left us immobile and less productive that we ought to be.
COVID-19 may have altered our reality, but it hasn’t knocked us out yet. We still have time to put things back together, not entirely the way it was before the pandemic, but perhaps how it should have been all along. I’m talking about a world with more collaboration among competing actors and agencies, more inclusive spaces for different persons, allowing the rule of law to work for and not against us, and just simply having the vision to do things differently to achieve greater results. If there is just one word that you take away today from these remarks – let it be that extremely powerful word – collaboration! It is our hope that through collaboration with you our members and with other key stakeholders that we will achieve these results!
I thank you once more for this incredible honour to serve you as the President of AMCHAM T&T and I look forward to engaging with each of you as we work towards building a more progressive and business-friendly environment in Trinidad and Tobago.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.