PRESIDENT of the Chaguanas Chamber (CCIC) Richie Sookhai is hoping Santa Claus will bring wisdom to those who are vaccine-hesitant, as the pandemic continues to threaten lives and the economy, or they will risk being put on the naughty list.
Pointing to the contraction of the economy by seven per cent in 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, and projection of a further one per cent contraction for 2021, Sookhai expressed concern that, with a worsening debt-to-GDP ratio, all that is being seen are darkening skies.
The CCIC has been involved in several vaccination drives, yet, Sookhai said, in spite of its efforts to enable people and the economy to breathe again, there is a reluctance to get vaccinated to save lives.
“Where is the silver lining?” he asked, insisting that 2022 must be better. “Hopefully, Santa Claus would bring wisdom to those against the vaccine, who possess the hesitancy.
"If he doesn’t, I guess the rest of us would be on the naughty list for the rest of 2022.”
As he addressed the CCIC’s annual award ceremony on Thursday night at the Passage to Asia Restaurant, Sookhai expressed some optimism that there will be a turnaround in the oil and gas economy in 2022, bringing with it much-needed revenue.
“But is that sustainable money?” he asked.
While energy resources are important, he said the most valued asset Trinidad and Tobago possesses is its human capital.
He referred to the award winners, including third place 2021 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) winner Raveena Basdeo, who became an author at age 12; Price Club Supermarket entrepreneurs; Crime Watch host and founder Ian Alleyne; founder of MC TV Balkaran Gayapersad; Presentation College, Chaguanas alumnus Navin Deonarine; pharmacist Kevin Mahabir; chemical engineer, and Deepak Lall, engineer, who together developed an ultra-convenient innovative pharmacy app to provide safety for the elderly and those with comorbidities during the pandemic, as examples of what Trinidad and Tobago has to offer to the world.
However, he noted, “We are losing that human capital daily, due to our inability to find jobs. You have people with masters’ degrees who are well decorated and yet find no hope. They are doing anything they can to make a living.
“As chamber, it is our duty to build a future not only for the business community but the whole of TT.
“How do we do that? How do we revitalise? We do it in collaboration with Government, we speak on their level and invite them to see problems and issues. It is not a fight, because we will end up nowhere.”
While pledging business support for the Government’s initiatives, Sookhai called on the chambers to recognise and acknowledge their strength and worth as they lobby for betterment for their community and TT.
“How many times we talk, over and over again, about the infrastructural work that needs to be done in Chaguanas?
“How many times do we need to talk about a traffic plan, about access to Wi Fi or free internet service?”
To this end he thanked the title sponsor, Digicel, and CEO Abraham Smith for partnering with the CCIC.
He expressed renewed hope that new, digitised initiatives would bring about changes, not only for business, but strategically in terms of security issues which the borough grapples with daily.
“Not just a change for today and tomorrow that is a quick patch for covid 19, but something sustainable that could take TT forward, internationally.”
He pointed to the recent donation of a drone to the police central division, which he said has enhanced the way policing is done in Chaguanas.
Referring to international challenges covid19 has presented to the business community, among them the crashing of the global supply chain, issues with the supply of raw material, port and logistic issues, Sookhai said local agencies are not doing enough to facilitate businesses.
“We have digitalisation, we have processes – but yet when you go to customs with your document, they send it back to valuation and back to you and then back to translation and then God knows where. By the time you are done, you end up paying more rent and demurrage in duties than for the actual item
“Customs need to step up their game to be able to filter the goods that are coming into this country in a fast and efficient manner so we could make TT a commercial hub.”
He suggested collaboration with government agencies and other stakeholders is needed to bring about this transformation.