Paray: Special economic zones must benefit all, not just chosen few

Mayaro MP Rushton Paray. -
Mayaro MP Rushton Paray. -

Mayaro MP Rushton Paray says the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) Bill 2021, which was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday last week, fails to address matters which are critical to the success of SEZs.

At the UNC’s weekly news conference at the office of the Leader of the Opposition on Sunday, Paray said the entire country should be a special economic zone to ensure every citizen benefits and not just a few chosen friends of the government.

The bill was passed with 32 members of the House voting for, none against, and there were no abstentions.

“In principle, there is nothing wrong with the idea of SEZs,” Paray said.

“Properly designed and managed SEZs have been key drivers in several jurisdictions. One only has to look at Jamaica to see the critical importance of a properly well-oiled and managed operation.”

He said the problem is the PNM’s inability to deliver anything for the past six years.

“You just have to be reminded of this PNM government’s record of non-achievement to what I refer to as an economic minefield of failures and fiascos, disasters and debacle.

“The report card of this PNM regime includes failed or cannibalised projects of the industrial wasteland they have created in Point Lisas.

“Does anyone remember what the PNM referred to as the six game changers? Those turned out to be six game failures,” he said, identifying the failed Sandals Resort project, Dragon gas deal with Venezuela, closure of the Petrotrin refinery, the La Brea drydocking facility, Atlantic’s Train One debacle, the gas-to-liquids project, and the US$200 million plywood factory.

Paray pointed to three critical areas which, he said, will affect foreign interests setting up shop under these SEZs. He said these include the level of serious and violent crime. Paray said if not urgently addressed, this would be a disincentive for any foreign operator or multi-national company willing to do business in TT.

He said crime-generated newspaper headlines also act as a disincentive, and used the example of headlines from the police’s use of tear gas on protesters around the Queens Park Savannah “on the doorsteps of multi-national partners” on January 16 to make his point.

“What’s the message that was sent back to the countries of origin of our multi-national partners? This was not Tel Aviv, this is not the Gaza Strip.”

Paray said the ease of doing business in TT was also not addressed, noting that a period of nine months to get a connection from TTEC does not augur well for any potential foreign investor.

He also drew attention to the 2020 Investment Climate Report out of the US State Department which identified issues stifling foreign direct investment in TT. Among the issues, he said, are forex shortages resulting in a delay in paying foreign companies, and the alleged widespread perception of corruption among public officials and lack of transparency in public procurement.

He questioned how the SEZs would assist in controlling the out-of-control price of food, which sees a loaf of bread costing $16 and $17. He said he has called on Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, several times in the past, to make an intervention on the taxes placed on shipping charges to bring some relief, like Guyana did.

“How will these SEZ help the small and medium enterprise businesses stay open? How will the SEZ help them to acquire critical foreign exchange? How are the SEZs going to help pay the almost $3 billion in outstanding VAT refunds to small businesses?”

For small businesses, he said, VAT refunds are usually their working capital, and it being held in abeyance makes it difficult to expand, pay salaries or invest in machinery.


"Paray: Special economic zones must benefit all, not just chosen few"

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