A Tobago accountant is advising businessmen to seek out creative and innovative activities, and outside of the island, to grow their business so as to not be so heavily dependent upon the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) as a source of income.
Wayne Diaz, in an interview on Tuesday, noted Tobago businessmen were facing a wide range of challenges but advised that incremental improvements to current operations were not enough to ensure survival.
“We have to start looking outside of Tobago and even probably Trinidad, for other sources of income and to be creative and innovative so as to not be so dependent upon the local government, in this case the Tobago House of Assembly. We need to navigate towards agriculture, because there is always need for that type of product,” Diaz said.
Diaz comments come amid reports that the THA was owing contractors for goods and services, and calls for action on kickstarting the economy by getting promised projects off the ground.
Businessman and former head of the Tobago Chamber, Demi John Cruickshank told Newsday Tobago on September 12 that contractors and businessmen continue to receive late payments, despite promises by Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles that ‘the days for late payment is a thing of the past.’
“That has not come to fruition. You still have those problems and the people in the Executive Council have to understand that if a businessman is not paid on time, there are serious repercussions. You have an uncaring public sector and it is very, very frightening. We have to clean up our act,” Cruickshank said.
Responding to the delays in paying the contractors, Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles on Monday told Newsday Tobago:
“Government is continuous and persons/institutions supplying services to the THA would always be creditors as there is a period of wait between delivery and payment and sometimes for varying reasons. Of course, we intend to pay for services duly contracted and executed,”
Cruickshank has also called for more action and less talk by the THA and central government on the economy, noting that “We (economy) are down significantly in Tobago… the promise of the new airport terminal, the promise of the Sandal project, the promise of all these projects by the central government, and by extension the Tobago House of Assembly, have not borne any fruit as yet.”
On Tuesday, Diaz said since 2014, Tobago has been experiencing a decrease in activity in three main areas - construction, tourism and retail.
On construction, he said:
“The boat situation would have also affected this industry to an extent, but I think that the main cause would have come mainly from the dependency on the THA. There are contractors that are owed, I know there was an attempt to pay off some of the contractors gradually, but probably not fast enough to prevent them from going under.”
And while he could not give an estimate of the sums of money owed to businessmen by the THA, Diaz said, “I know it is enough to cause some contractors to be in difficulties with their financiers, in terms of paying their commitments, loans etc, they are unable to meet all their commitments.”
As for the retail sector, he said most supermarkets would have seen a reduction in sales by as much as 15 to 20 per cent.
“They actually noted that it was because of the transportation situation between Trinidad and Tobago. It is not only that they would have had some difficulty in purchasing stuff from Trinidad, they also had a reduction in sales because of the fact that a lot of the local clientele weren’t buying from the local supermarkets, that was a noticeable thing,” he said. In other words, demand for goods had fallen.
In terms of a heavy decline in the tourism industry, which he reported as beginning in 2015/ 2016 and rolling into 2017, Diaz said:
“Since then the focus has really been on local tourism, the domestic market.
“In 2017, a lot of the local hoteliers, especially those that are directly linked to the Trinidad clients would have hinted to their losses, one person would have had a 40 to 50 per cent deduction in income and as a result they had to reduce their expenses.”