Put small business under Trade Ministry
By Lara Pickford-Gordon Friday, August 3 2012
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SDA conference: President of the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) Dr Clinton Valley, second from right, poses with Dr Kern Tobias, president...
Poor work ethic, red tape getting permits for persons to work in TT under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and high interest rates for loans, are hampering businesses in San Juan. There has also been a decline in small and micro enterprises in the area, said the San Juan Business Association (SJBA).
“SJBA is of the opinion small and micro enterprises should be removed from the Ministry of Labour which is counterproductive and be realigned with Ministry of Trade which can lend assistance and support to develop small and micro industries,” said Abrahim Ali, president of the SJBA. Abrahim and members of the SJBA held media briefing at Union Club, Nicholas Towers, Port-of-Spain yesterday.
Small and micro enterprises dominate the San Juan business area and he said this sector can bring growth to TT’s economy. While interest rates overseas have dropped to less than three percent, banks in TT are still charging “exorbitant” interest charges for loans of more than nine percent.
Abrahim said, “With the risk and bureaucracy involved in the start up of new businesses coupled with the high interest rates mentioned, SMEs face an uphill battle which has to be addressed with immediate effect.”
On the processing of work permits for CSME, he knew of permits with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for over one year that had not been approved. Work permits were previously handled by the Immigration Department, Ministry of National Security. Abrahim said this had an impact on the country’s productivity. He also said Government was a “culprit” in the work ethic which had developed into the country. “We are calling on the Government to address this situation if we are going to move the economy from off shore to on shore we have to deal with the productivity level.”
SJBA education director Vivek Charran said persons from Caricom should be given priority in getting work permits. The SJBA has noted that persons from South America, China, Africa were getting permits easier than persons from Jamaica, Guyana, Grenada and St Lucia. Charran said low labour productivity, poor work ethic, rising labour costs and high interest rates could easily cripple new and innovative businesses. “On top of that is inflation,” he said.
Imtiaz Ali, trade director, said the question must be asked if TT was really serious about CSME, the free movement of labour, skilled persons across Caricom territories, since discussions have taken place on the matter over the past five years. He said everything in TT was “long and drawn out” and this was killing business. He said the Ministry of Trade worked to get its Single Electronic Window up and running to expedite processing of documents by customs. But a new delay has now developed — paying the cashier.
Imtiaz said despite high levels of unemployment the country had serious labour shortage. He said some SJBA members had permanent signs up for skilled workers wanted and still could not get workers.
Responding to a question, Imtiaz said there were skilled persons in TT but with an open market and competition there would be more work ethic. TT was competing on the international market with manufacturers around the world but the market for labour was not open.
Imtiaz is the director of Little Angel Garments and said 25 years ago the garment industry employed 50,000 but today labour is down to 2,500 in factories. He said the “make work” programmes which governments proposed time and time again were a disincentive to work and this “malaise” had even permeated many government ministries. Imtiaz said, “the attitude to work which has permeated our society is destroying us. And the only way we can survive in today’s world is if we work harder.”