FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert waited until his appearance at the post-budget forum of the TT Manufacturers’ Association to offer up his goodie bag to the local manufacturing industry, a $50 million fund to increase exports.
The money will be used for overseas market development and export promotion.
Describing manufacturing as the engine of the economy, Mr Imbert told the manufacturers that the Government was depending on the sector to pull us out of the current situation.
It’s a welcome demonstration of support for the private sector, but large-scale manufacturers are a comparatively small employer in the local economy, and much of that sector is the downstream petrochemical industry.
The Finance Minister has said little about the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that comprise a much larger part of the employment and self-employment profile of the local economy.
Mr Imbert noted as unacceptable the length of time it takes to access permits and information related to business processes.
But that’s not the same as removing the significant roadblocks to establishing and running a business in TT.
TT ranks poorly on two critical measurements for business success: as measured by the World Economic Forum, we are found at 78 out of 140 countries on the Global Competitiveness Index; and at 112 out of 180 nations on the Economic Freedom Index.
The reasons for both underperforming rankings, which have hardly budged over the last two decades, are stifling government bureaucracy, lack of transparency and corruption, poor work ethic and crime.
In a statement before the budget presentation, the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce called on the Government to improve the national business environment, specifically citing the need for more attention to business incubators and incentives for entrepreneurs and startups.
In January, the chamber’s CEO, Gabriel Faria, called on the Government to put greater emphasis on small and medium businesses, pointing to Jamaica as a Caribbean neighbour navigating difficult economic times by encouraging small businesses.
Cabinet must be well aware that the lethargy that has accompanied the full proclamation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Property Act of 2015 is an indictment of Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
The country can no longer afford profligate spending on vanity projects and careless monitoring of the public purse in the face of falling revenues in the oil and gas sector.
The Government must take a hard look at its own business and governance processes, and make tough decisions about what it needs to be directly involved in and what is best left to entrepreneurs.
The hand of governance must more clearly be seen and felt in creating an enabling environment for a growing private-sector role in the recovery of the economy.