An implementation plan is what is missing from budget 2022. This was the consensus of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s Beyond the Budget virtual analysis on Tuesday.
TT Chamber president Charles Pashley said Trinidad and Tobago was experiencing a downturn in the economy pre-covid. He said the role of the government was not to compete with the private sector but to provide a policy environment and implementation that deal with the efficiency and effectiveness of the provision of services to enable smooth business.
He said the budget nodded at the necessity for energy transition and climate change with the promotion of green spaces, tax credits on carbon capture and storage and enhanced oil recovery, removal of taxes on electric vehicles, and the revamp on the oil and gas regime.
The panel said digital ID, the electronic funds transfer window and other measures will improve interaction with the public service and allow for a facilitative environment for businesses.
Pashley said he noted the government’s move to prioritise efforts to protect the vulnerable, including the use of fuel and gas cards and rebates on utilities.
Price Waterhouse Coopers TT territory senior partner Brian Hackett said there has been a surge in international commodity prices and a rise in food inflation. He said people needed to take advantage of free and low-cost options for developing digital and soft skills, including time management, communications and conflict management. He said even before the pandemic, the education system was not functioning as it should.
“We had whole classes of people who were not where they should be. I would give up all the scholarship winners for a 15 per cent improvement across the board.”
Chamber CEO Gabriel Faria said one major initiative which would add to the ability of businesses to contribute to the economy would be prompt repayment of VAT refunds.
Development economist Dr Marlene Attzs said she noted the support to people with disabilities, and the commitment to having no one left behind. She said the conversation around food inflation included shipping costs, foreign exchange, the increased price of food items, the effect on the diet of people in the lower echelons, and widened the number of items not subject to VAT.
“We need to rewire the education system. Covid19 exposed the gaps in our education system, as we can’t innovate to teach our children. Education cannot be a panacea if we don’t inculcate different values into the curriculum. This is an opportunity for us to have a plan that requires collective responsibility and intervention.”
She said while the Finance Minister was not keen on interaction with the IMF, he was pleased with the increase with the country’s net reserves, which reaped the benefit of drawdowns from that institution due to the covid19 pandemic.
“He missed the opportunity to make a point, in talking about foreign direct investment, about the repatriation of foreign exchange by companies, as opposed to companies sending foreign exchange outside TT.”
She said the measures for micro-, small-, and medium enterprises were important, as these businesses provide opportunities for diversification.
“The fact that they have not capitalised on the grants made available to them shows there is a need for basic infrastructure to support them. We need to recognise that they are on a learning curve and not all SMEs are created equally. There should be different kinds of architecture to allow them to grow into a dynamic sector to contribute to diversification.”
BHP Billiton TT president Vincent Pereira said the major players in energy are moving towards renewable energy and there will be competition to produce as many hydrocarbons as possible. He said TT needs to focus getting as much out as possible and using its energy resources to create economic growth.
“We need to determine how we transfer our human capabilities to wind, energy, solar power. We use natural gas in our processes already. We need to transform future-facing products and make them green. There is a need for infrastructure and energy efficiency.”
Pashley said he looked forward to details of how the private sector could invest in the change to renewable energy.
Economist Dr Terrence Farrell said what is needed is a plan with elements to implement the initiatives announced in the budget, along with consultation with the public as to why some of the measures had been put in place.
“I don’t believe the government has the capacity and knowledge to say what businesses and industries should exist,but should have a preference as to which ones can address the external marketplace.
"We need to create an ecosystem where startup and existing businesses are enabled to get closer to consumers and solve problems through innovation. We must have collaboration between industry, government and university, all which have to be reformed to foster innovation.”
Inter-American Development Bank country representative Carina Cockburn said digital ID interoperability was a complex and digital initiative, and the key was to look for short-term ways to build digital credibility. She said there needed to be a fundamental restructuring of the economy where the lessons learned from oil and gas industry can be translated into energy efficiency and renewable energy.