A BUSINESS survey conducted by American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) together with EY, in December, revealed that professionals continue to leave for better opportunities abroad, and that there is "scant" medium-term confidence in the TT dollar.
According to World Bank figures, TT now ranks 105th (out of 190 countries) in the world for ease of doing business, a considerable dip from 80th (out of 181 countries) in 2009.
TT struggles mostly in the endorsement of contracts, paying taxes and registering property, languishing in 174th, 160th and 158th spot, respectively, and well within the bottom 30 per cent of countries.
TT is only ranked among the top 30 per cent of countries in terms of getting electricity, sitting 43rd.
EY partner Zack Nadur relayed the findings at Amcham's 2020 Economic Outlook Forum last Thursday. The survey was conducted with the input of local executives from 19 industries.
The results were categorised into themes: appetite for investment, foreign exchange, outlook and emigration.
Amcham president Patricia Ghany, in her presentation, addressed the data and the implications for business development and investment, saying that certain aspects remain worrying. She was certain, however, that the business community in TT remains committed to realising a vision for the country.
"You might think – in the face of that data – it’s ridiculous to imagine a society that’s safe and fair, innovative and dynamic. But the opposite is in fact true," said Ghany.
"It is because of this data, these outcomes, that we need to do better. We say, if we can’t even imagine our ideal society then we will never be able to build it. We need to define and work toward our vision of the future more than ever before. We need to believe that we can be agents of change. We need to act to turn that vision into a reality. I have no doubt that the business community in TT is committed to this cause.
In fact, she said, the results of the survey show exactly how committed the business community is to our country.
Speaking on TT's economic outlook, Ghany said crime and ease of doing business statistics remain worrying, but with a vision and collaboration, the country can do an about-turn like the city of Medellin, Colombia did over the span of about two decades.
"In 1993, Time magazine named Colombia’s Medellin the most dangerous city on earth. Just 20 years later, in 2013, Medellin was celebrated as the most innovative city in the world by the Urban Land Institute. A city once known for cocaine and murder is now known for entrepreneurship and innovation. If Medellin can transform, so can we," she said.
What's needed is more collaboration at the political level. "We understand that politics involves some level of one-upmanship and we are not utopian in our thinking to believe that all decisions will be made by putting politics aside but surely, some big decisions can be made. Some consensus can be fostered."
A vision and plan for the country is a top factor in encouraging investment, she said, noting the results about the migration of professionals and moderate confidence in local currency.
"In the absence of a clear vision and, therefore, direction, we are reaping the havoc of virtually standing still. Our Caribbean neighbours, Jamaica, Guyana and Grenada are actively changing the structure of their economies and acting with a sense of purpose. So, we have to do better. Or, at least, do some things and stick to them. We say, if we can’t even imagine our ideal society then we will never be able to build it. We need to define and work toward our vision of the future more than ever before."
Proclaim procurement act, minus amendments
Ghany said Amcham was disappointed with Government's decision to proceed with proposed amendments to Section 7(2) of the Public Procurement Act – changes, the organisation believes, will leave much room for corruption.
The public procurement legislation is a powerful weapon in the fight against corruption and crime, she said, but warned that the proposed amendments will put the country in a "disadvantageous position."
"In order to have a society that is inclusive, safe and productive, we must also build a society that is fair and transparent.
"In such a society, opportunities would be available to everyone and not just to those who have the right connections. To this end, Amcham has repeatedly called for the full proclamation and operationalisation of the public procurement legislation."
The proposed amendments will limit the authority of the procurement regulator as it relates to public/private partnerships and government-to-government transactions.
"In order to build a truly fair and transparent society," Ghany continued, "we must have oversight over all institutions. Therefore, Amcham TT wholeheartedly supports our partners in the Private Sector/Civil Society Group (PSCSC) in calling for no amendments to section 7(2) of the act."
Finance Minister Colm Imbert said recently that the act will be implemented by the end of March, and introduced in Parliament "sometime in February."
Imbert's comments followed a public statement by the PSCSC, saying it was "deeply disturbed" by the non-operationalisation of the act.
Ghany said the chamber believes there should be no more delays in the proclamation of sections in the act which do not require proclamation of regulations.
"We can all agree that we need a fair and transparent society – let’s put that vision into action. Let’s start building the society we want today."