Every citizen of TT should have a physical and digital legal identity, said Nirad Tewarie, CEO of Amcham TT as he made the case for digital transformation of the government.
At a pre-budget panel discussion hosted by the TT Manufacturer’s Association (TTMA) at the Trinidad Hilton on September 10, Tewarie said the business sector has been “holding the line and surviving in an economy that has been comatose.”
He said there is a need to return to fiscal discipline and an economic agenda that is more developmental to TT’s long term needs.
He said the need to have a unique national identification number, open data and e-payments implemented in the government sector should be priorities in the coming fiscal year.
“This must be done in the context of TT needing a clear vision and a plan if the country is to see growth and attract investment.
“Central to this new vision and plan is the necessity to improve the ease of doing business to facilitate positive growth and investment.”
Tewarie said according to the Parliament’s website there were 171 pieces of legislation passed in TT over the past ten years, but only 43 per cent of these laws have had an impact on business.
He said that’s an average of only 17 a year, and given the number and necessity of reforms required to improve the ease of doing business, “that’s woefully inadequate.”
“There needs to be a shift in the conversation about not just what the government can and should do to activate the economy but how government can make lives easier. While there is a persistent demand for government to spend more, we are not seeing the growth.
“According to the IMF, when debt-to-GDP ratios cross 60 per cent, as we have in TT, the fiscal multiplier effect – or the amount of additional spending that each government dollar generates – is negative. If you are running deficits, you are financing inefficiency,” Tewarie said.
TT’s debt, he said, can be better managed if there is a switch from cash-based accounting to implement accrual accounting so that a clearer picture of the national debt will be revealed, which will force transparency, foster good governance and facilitate a thorough understanding of the country’s fiscal position.
With respect to the influx of Venezuelan migrants to TT, Tewarie called for a comprehensive national migration policy that will allow for the skills and abilities of all migrants to be registered. (In June, 16,523 were registered giving them an opportunity to work for one year. Last week, government disclosed 5,148 applicants had been verified by Venezuelan and TT authorities and Interpol, and some 3,091 migrant registration cards had been processed.)
Also in this fiscal year, Tewarie said Amcham would like to see the government honour its commitment to have the procurement legislation fully implemented.
“The establishment and operationalisation of the TT Revenue Authority is also high on the organisation’s agenda as Amcham... sees this as a way to collect taxes from people and businesses who are currently avoiding taxes,” Tewarie said.
Glenn Mahabirsingh, president of the TT Contractors Association (TTCA), said on the association’s wish list for the 2019/2020 budget is also the full implementation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act. Mahabirsingh said it would allow businesses to operate in an environment that is transparent and predictable.
The association will also like to see the registration and licensing of contractors because it will facilitate raising the bar, ensuring proper construction standards are upheld.
"This will also ensure contractors are managed in such a way that they deliver. Once a business is registered there would be safety systems, management structure and technical expertise.
“Contractors will be in compliance with all the statutory requirements, which include VAT, NIS and insurances. There are a lot of those things to be fulfilled.
Mahabirsingh said contractors should also be encouraged to seek markets outside TT – in the Caribbean – as a strategy for earning foreign exchange for the country. "This is definitely one initiative we can support,” he said.
Six business support associations came together to voice their expectations from the October 7 national budget in the pre-budget discussion.
The business community had many common areas of concern, primary among them being addressing the VAT payments to SME (small to medium enterprise) sector, foreign exchange earning shortages and improving the ease of doing business.