As we draw closer towards the end of September, we start gearing up for that important annual exercise - the National Budget presentation. Like other business services organisations, the TT Chamber looks forward to the presentation by the Minister of Finance, because it impacts directly upon the decision-making process for business for the approaching fiscal year. We also value the opportunity to meet with the Honourable Minister to present our Budget recommendations.
One of the concerns of the private sector in Trinidad and Tobago centres on the need to improve the national business environment and the ease of doing business. For most economies, the private sector is the engine that drives growth. However, sustainable businesses cannot develop unless there are policy measures in place to support efficient and effective operations. The business community looks to government – as custodians of the economy - to create an enabling environment that encourages sustainability, fewer barriers to entry and as level a playing field as possible.
Despite improvements in some areas, such as the time it takes to register a business and the Ministry of Trade and Industry’s (MTIs) Single Electronic Window (SEW), there is still much to be done. At present, some of the conditions to which business is often subjected can be described as difficult and time-consuming. Routine transactions which should last no more than 15 minutes in a government office are likely to turn into an all-day exercise. This, coupled with our archaic labour laws does nothing to foster efficiency.
The latest rankings speak volumes: In the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, out of 190 countries, Trinidad and Tobago ranked 150 for Registering a Property, 149 for Dealing with Construction Permits and 145 for Paying Taxes.
The TT Chamber is quite aware that de-regulation alone will not satisfy the needs of the private sector in promoting business growth. In last year’s budget, several incentives for business were announced. To the Government’s credit, these are investments for the future. But it would be interesting to find out how well those incentives have fared; what, if any, were the challenges experienced and if Government will return with an improved package of incentives for the next fiscal term.
Another of our concerns is our ability to develop and promote programmes targeting the promotion of innovation and increased productivity. And this is where we focus our attention on our business incubators. Currently, there are several of them in operation in TT. The Chamber has already begun engaging these incubator programme, as we provide solid support for the next wave of businesses to make a difference in the economy. But at the government level – are entrepreneurs and start-ups being sufficiently incentivised?
Improving the business environment and ease of doing business is no simple undertaking. In fact, it is the kind of task that extends beyond one term of office for any administration. If we want to count ourselves among the best and most productive, we – as a country – must take the necessary steps to implement the institutional support measures to help us to achieve that goal.