As budget 2020 nears, business chambers in south Trinidad have been vocal about what they hope government will prioritise.
Wth a heavy blow to the economy due to the covid19 pandemic, many are braced for the worst.
Economic diversification, regularisation of the informal economy, strategic value added tax (VAT) charges and agriculture were some of the areas of concern.
Gasparillo Chamber president Anil Ramjit told Newsday on Monday that diversification has been a topic of interest for decades but was just a cyclical conversation.
He said, “We were hit by a double whammy with the closure of the oil refinery, and now covid19. It is a revolving door, where salaries are cut, people are sent home, businesses then closed. There is no assistance to stay afloat."
Ramjit said while he understood the government may be strapped for cash too, he hoped it would consider helping small businesses, because it has become difficult to survive.
He said, “The VAT refund that was distributed when the pandemic started was not a gift, this is what was owed, and only a few people in the Gasparillo area received it. Our businesses here have been suffering.
“We really need some liquidity here, and for small businesses as well, as to address the ease of doing business. People just do not have any money to spend at this time.”
Ramjit suggested commercial rental aid, regularisation of informal businesses, deferral of implementation of the property tax and access to foreign exchange were some of the items on their budget wish list.
He added that the community was scared and hoped the oil refinery would restart but believed the deal between the government and the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) was a farce.
Suggestions by the Couva//Point Lisas Chamber included investment and development in the areas of agriculture, digitisation, manufacturing, tourism and diversification and deepening of the natural gas value chain.
A document it sent to the Finance Ministry said agriculture should be a main focus, given the challenges brought on by the covid19 pandemic.
It said, “For far too long there has been talk about diversifying the economy, particularly with strong emphasis being placed on the agricultural sector. Despite calls for the agricultural sector to play a crucial role in the development of TT’s economy, the progress is minimal.
“We must start by identifying certain elements in the sector whether it be rice, peppers, etc. and then formalizing a plan with respect to each product. This plan must seek to create employment, increase acreage and production with a view to expanding exports to earn more foreign exchange.”
The chamber noted the challenges faced by the energy sector but said it was not dead, citing various avenues for revitalisation.
“Significant potential exists, but it requires greater collaboration, understanding the new reality and leaner digitised business models. The size of the industry will be smaller due to the reduced natural gas supply, but potential exists in increasing oil production.
Other chambers such as Cunupia, Point Fortin and Fyzabad wanted a focus on agriculture, infrastructure and small-business development.
Finance minister Colm Imbert has announced that thebudget will be read on October 5.