Put the people first. It's the top item on the Supermarket Association of TT's wishlist for the 2023 budget which the Finance Minister, Colm Imbert, presents on September 26.
Its president Rajiv Diptee says Government should consider how people have been affected by high prices, international shocks and the socio-economic effects of the covid19 pandemic.
"The administration must carefully consider how the population has been affected in terms of their earnings and spending power, and this will impact the wider inflation already being felt. We urge careful restraint in the public interest where these decisions are to be taken."
Diptee said the post-covid19 world is being dominated by exorbitant energy prices in petrochemical markets and the lingering concerns of people turning to a life of crime to deal with the financial pressures.
"Mechanisms should be continued to ensure assistance and grants are available as social safety nets to protect these most vulnerable families and persons. Crime, in particular, needs to be addressed by the acknowledgement that the business community continuously operates in an environment of uncertainty, insecurity and fear."
He added that attention should be placed on the process of firearm users licences applications (FUL) as a means of protection.
"In lieu of an efficient response system by the police service, consideration must be given to expedite the existing applications for FULs with the requisite initial training and subsequent evaluations. We also feel that crime needs to be treated more directly by creating harsher penalties and deterrents for offenders as violent crime has increased alarmingly. Crime also has an impact on deterring local entrepreneurs and foreign investment where the cost of security in particular, remains among the highest cost items in operations."
Diptee said the larger problem at hand is food security because of the many pressures that contribute to high prices.
"Hopefully, some of the input cost pressures in the supply chain will ease in the coming year, but that depends on developments in Europe and China and their impact on supply chains."
He said the agri investment forum and expo held in Port of Spain in August reflected useful synergies for local producers locally and regionally.
"We want to see that expanded upon in the budget allocation for agriculture as the sector receives priority. Any impact on fuel prices and upward adjustments to rates and utilities can create inflationary pressures for a population that is still only recovering from the pandemic."
The American Chamber of Commerce of TT (Amcham) on the other hand hopes for the acceleration of the digital transformation of operations in the country to bring a sense of economic recovery and growth.
"This will require implementing the digital policy and data interoperability framework to enhance innovation and develop solutions to support citizen service delivery. We are aware that the Ministry of Digital Transformation has been working to increase its internal capacity and set the stage for what we hope will be a year of delivery, as the Government has repeatedly committed to these initiatives," said Nirad Tewarie, CEO of Amcham.
He added that he expects to see clear objectives, progress reports that can aid in the betterment of the business sector and activities that will result in the improvement of the quality of life for people in TT. He said priority should be placed on the National Statistical Institute (NSI) and its resources to fill data collection gaps and improve the decision-making process on economic issues. The NSI would be a restructured Central Statistical Office equipped with the necessities to ensure accurate information is released.
"The Prime Minister recently announced that the Government will be laying the NSI Bill in Parliament in this session. We urge the Opposition to support it, and, if there are deficiencies in their view, to clearly identify them so that there can be a meeting of the minds to pass the best legislation. Should the latter be the case, we hope that the Government will meaningfully engage the Opposition and other stakeholders to come to a consensus so that the NSI can be up and running in the first half of 2023."
In keeping with the digitisation theme, Tewarie said to improve the ease of doing business, there should be implementation of a fully automated customs process.
He said, "(This can be done) by ensuring a functional integration with TTBizLink, increasing the use of the automated system for customs data (ASYCUDA) platform, revamping customs hours, including tackling unnecessary overtime and redesigning locations to increase the efficiency at the airports and seaports."
"Amcham is also recommending that customs fully implement and use the risk assessment module of ASYCUDA to prevent long delays for shipments; re-implement the 2011 procedure of clearing commercial shipments valued at $20,000, or below without an entry; and setting the de minimis value at US$400 to ensure a much more efficient system that would lead to increased collection of much-needed revenue."
Tewarie is also asking for standard operating procedures to be placed at each port to prevent ambiguity, reduce delays, and prevent opportunities for corruption. He said he would like to see concrete measures to deal with the effects of corruption and that the Government should see to strengthening the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and appoint a director of public prosecutions of the unit.
"We also believe that the Government should support research and development in private companies through the allowance of a write-off of 75 per cent of the working capital used to support innovation against chargeable income tax, up to a limit of two per cent of a company’s annual revenue in the prior year. This has the potential to enhance competitiveness and export capacity while simultaneously increasing jobs."
TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Charles Pashley said in addition to economic recovery, stability and growth, robust policy initiatives to attract local and foreign investment should be considered. He also touched on the fully automated customs processes and added that there should be an expansion of the e-tax payment that allows for online payments under $100,000.
Pashley added, "We note that the Government has provided the small to medium enterprises loan guarantee which was very well subscribed following the revision of the criteria in 2021. Going forward we recommend that the guarantee support be targeted to loans specific to digitisation, information and communications technology updates and innovation."
He said he also wants to see more support for the entertainment sector by offering producers in the industry 50 per cent off of fees for the use of state facilities and venues for cultural events and fetes until the end of 2023. He said this can help the sector recover from losses endured during the covid19 lockdowns.
"More partnerships with the private sector, as the events and Carnival bands executed by the private promoters have generated high demand by tourists and generates foreign exchange. Metrics related to the development of the Carnival product should be established."
Pashley said the chamber is also looking forward to the TT Revenue Authority (TTRA) Act being fully operational as it is geared towards improving taxpayer compliance and minimising revenue leakage.
"The TTRA is designed to provide a significant increase in revenue collection to any administration in government, in the billions of dollars. Priority must be placed on reformation of the tax administration system to achieve equity in the tax net."
He added, "A revision of the six per cent tax on industrial properties to apply strictly to physical property and not installed cost of plant, machinery and equipment inside or outside. To introduce a top line tax on businesses’ revenues will become a serious disincentive for further investment in a time when the emphasis is to create an enabling environment for business growth."
The Green Fund Executing Unit of the Ministry of Planning and Development was established to provide financial assistance to eligible community groups and organisations for activities related to reforestation, remediation, environmental education, and public awareness of environmental issues and conservation of the environment. Pashley said the balance is now nearing $8 billion and should be utilised to provide seed capital or grants for start-up businesses and SMEs whose operations contribute to a cleaner sustainable environment.