Claude Benoit, Chairman of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, says a promised committee to address the state of Tobago’s economy will be in place by this week.
On March 13, the Chamber met with the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) to discuss concerns raised by the business community that the island’s economy was in a state of collapse. At that meeting, economist Dr Vanus James, in a presentation on behalf of the Chambe, said 34 small and micro-businesses had closed doors over a six-month period preceding March. Dr James recommended that Government consider a $450 million emergency bailout package over a five-year period for Tobago.
Benoit told Newsday Tobago on Friday:
“We are in the process of putting together a committee on behalf of the Chamber. This would be very interesting because the committee will comprise Chamber members and THA members and we are trying to put that together. Once that is together, you would imagine the work that could be done with the Chamber and THA… but we should get this done within a week or so.”
Asked for comments on the state of the island’s economy at this time, Benoit said that would be discussed when the committee is set up.
Meanwhile, in a previous interview, Vice Chairman of the Chamber, Martin George, said Tobago must ready itself to capitalise on the opportunities.
George said the island’s income earning capacity and capability must be addressed before a conversation about the economy could take place.
“We have to examine, even when we have events such as the Tobago Jazz Experience and our Easter weekend activities, all the events that are planned … we need to analyse and assess how much income is actually been earned by Tobagonians, by persons in Tobago, by the business people in relation to these activities.
“If you have a scenario where the majority of the income is actually being earned outside of Tobago and the event is just been hosted or promoted in Tobago, then it still does not redound to the benefit of the people of Tobago,” he said.
He said the Chamber has a responsibility to ensure that its members and the wider public are alive and alert to the opportunities and possibilities in doing business.
“That we get ourselves in a gear to ensure that we are properly tooled, we properly market ourselves, we are properly trained, our staff are in the proper place that we can capitalise and maximise on the opportunities that come along because there is no point complaining about the lack of business opportunities if …we are not ready or prepared to embrace and maximise the opportunities,” he added.
George said as of now, Tobago is in recovery mode but has “suffered several severe setbacks.”
“One of the fundamental things that we would like to see occur is the complete repeal of the land licence regime which would send an immediate signal that we are open for business in terms of being able to have that flow of foreign exchange coming in, having the investor confidence rebuilt and then maybe you can look at a phased approach to restructuring of the land license regime but at this point, the call would be for an immediate repeal of that land licence regime to send that strong and very clear signal that we are back in the market ready to do business in terms of the foreign investment,” he said.
Commenting on Dr James recommendation for a rescue package, George said it was not really a final decision for the Chamber.
“It’s really the politicians with the input from the business community, the economists, the financial analysts to be able to say this is what is necessary. What we need to be always mindful of is that it is not always cash injection alone that is going to turn around an economy.
“We also have to have a fundamentally sound and viable business plan going forward. In other words, what are we doing with the cash injection, how are we harnessing that to ensure long term sustainability,” he said.
George also raised the matter of access to Tobago by air and by sea.
“There is talk about the airport expansion, there is talk about the possibility of Sandals coming in, so therefore the question arises, how then do we position ourselves, how do we ensure that we are competitive to be able to participate.
“We need the input of the politicians and the leaders within the THA and in central government to ensure that Tobago gets its fair share of the projects, the contracts, the distribution, the opportunities,” he said.