THE Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce is hoping government would place greater attention on the southern part of Trinidad to offset the impact the closure of state-owned Petrotrin and covid19 has had on the economy.
Chamber president Kiran Singh wants government to give priority to the completion of the sale of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and the start up of the La Brea dry dock shipping facility
Singh has, in the past year, identified the negative economic effect the closure of the oil company has had on individuals and business in south Trinidad. He said several construction projects which have started there, and others which have been started, can be major economic drivers and instil confidence in the economy.
Focusing on San Fernando, he said he hopes Finance Minister Colm Imbert would address cost and completion date for the Skinner Park redevelopment project which, he said, is moving at an impressive pace.
Singh said the first phase of the San Fernando waterfront project, which entails the road improvement network, is well underway but timelines for the other phases should be highlighted.
He welcomed the announcement of a San Fernando parkade, for which the sod was turned just before the general election, saying it should be given its due recognition in the budget presentation as it will certainly remedy the perennial parking woes in the city.
In his 2020/2021 budget wishlist, Singh acknowledged that TT has not experienced positive growth, owing to local and international factors, and that Imbert would have an arduous task on his hands.
But he urged the minister not to utilise fiscal systems as a tool to increase government’s revenue.
“It is acknowledged that a heavy reliance is placed on the tax system to collect revenue for government expenses. The entire population is currently faced with extreme financial distress.
"The Heritage and Stabilisation Fund was created and sustained for whenever the country was in economic distress. This fund can be used until the eventual economic turnaround.”
In terms of government’s continued reliance on the energy sector as the backbone of the national economy, Singh said a robust diversification plan as a matter of urgency is needed in order to boost financial and commercial activity.
“In light of this, the chamber would expect to see greater fiscal and monitory incentives for the MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises) sector. This sector has the capacity to create and sustain jobs and bring investment to the table, but The MSME is currently in a financial crisis.
"Electricity is a major expenditure item for commerce. Can some consideration be given for a three to six month reduction in charges for business enterprises?”
Singh suggested, “Priority should be given to the completion of the Petrotrin (refinery) sale.”
Government has engaged Patriotic Energies and Technologies Company Ltd, the preferred bidder for the acquisition of the refinery and port.
Before the general election, Patriotic’s owner – the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) accused the government of stalling the process.
OWTU said then, it stood to lose the tens of millions of dollars it has invested if government does not sign off on the process soon. One of Patriotic’s directors Ozzi Warwick said after the election, the committee overseeing the transition has made contact with the OWTU with a view to continuing talks.
In terms of the dry dock earmarked for La Brea, Singh said this facility can generate employment from its construction straight though to its service capabilities for the shipping industry.
“Of importance, it can be a net foreign-exchange earner as our economy is in a precarious position.”
The chamber also wants government to incentivise the renewable energy industry, giving as an example solar power.
“As a member of the International Solar Alliance, new initiatives can now be introduced to decrease consumption of natural gas through lower demand on the electrical grid.”
The development of recycling of paper and plastics, he said, can also reduce demand on foreign exchange, and tax concessions can be considered to entice potential investors to this sector.
While welcoming the recent announcement by the Prime Minister to inject an additional $500 million in the agricultural sector, Singh suggested that the astronomical food import bill has to addressed by growing and buying local. Such a measure, he said, can also reduce the demand for foreign exchange.
He said he is interested to hear of the developmental plans for the digital economy as this will not only lead to greater efficiencies but increase the ease of doing business in the economy.