Amcham: Crime, ease of doing business among top concerns

Police at a murder scene in La Horquetta on Christmas Day, December 25, 2022. - File photo/Jeff K Mayers
Police at a murder scene in La Horquetta on Christmas Day, December 25, 2022. - File photo/Jeff K Mayers

CRIME and the ease of doing business were among the top concerns for businesses going into 2023, according to the TT American Chamber of Commerce TT (Amcham)’s 2023 Economic Outlook Forum held at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann's on Wednesday.

Zack Nadur, partner in strategy and transactions in Ernst and Young presented the outlook based on a survey of business leaders. He said that while 2022 was a year of post-pandemic recovery, owners were still worried at the increasing crime rate.

“Recovery was largely driven by the increase in our gas prices along with the increase in covid19 vaccination rates which enabled the economy to re-open in 2022 and activity to accelerate,” Nadur said.

“However the country’s crime rate continues to be a significant concern, with the murder toll rising to 35 per cent to 605 in 2022 – further impacting the overall safety and security of citizens and potentially hindering economic growth and development.”

Amcham president Toni Sirju-Ramnarine added that economic growth would be moot if crime continues to spiral out of control.

“As we seek to improve our economic well-being we must address crime,” she said. “We cannot have an economy with upward growth projections and increasing revenue alongside a murder toll that is breaking records and skyrocketing. That does not bode well for conducting business, incentivising trade opportunities and citizen security. Growth and economic development in the midst of uncontrollable crime is unsustainable.”

She said last year’s crime rate should serve as a wake-up call to the entire country and must be a collective priority for the nation as a whole. She said Amcham has joined with other business chambers to find constructive and positive ways to play a part in the reduction of crime.

“We would very much welcome input from you, our members, to formulate anti-crime strategies. So let’s put our heads together and work collectively to make a difference.”

She said anyone willing to contribute ideas should contact the Amcham secretariat.

In Nadur’s presentation, he said cybercrime and cybersecurity were also priorities among businesses, noting that 87 per cent of respondents agreed that cybersecurity is important.

“As companies adapt to the new normal, the shift to remote work and the increased use of digital platforms have created new vulnerabilities to cyberattacks,” he said. “Furthermore with more data and information being stored digitally the risk of data breaches is greater than ever before. As a result, businesses must prioritorise cybersecurity to protect their assets.”

Ease of doing business was also chief among the concerns for business owners as they complained about a range of issues that made the business environment in TT harder to navigate.

“The biggest challenge identified by respondents is inefficient government processes, in particular the difficult and tedious bureaucratic processes, inconsistent application of standard operating procedures and lengthy wait times,” Nadur said.

Zack Nadur, partner at EY Caribbean, addresses the Amcham TT Economic Outlook Forum 2023 at the Hilton Trinidad, St Ann's on Wednesday. - Jeff K Mayers

“Supply chain disruptions caused by covid19 and the Ukrainian war had a significant impact on businesses, causing delays and increased costs. Access to foreign exchange has been limited, making it harder to import goods and access international markets.”

Business owners also complained about processes at customs and inefficient policing.

Sirju-Ramnarine raised the issue of escalating food prices because of inflation and climate change. She said with inflation expected to continue to trend upward this year, the purchasing power of consumers, already facing hard times, would be met with added pressure.

She suggested that incentivising opportunities for farming and agriculture may soften the blow.

“While we may not be able to do much about the disruptions in supply caused by the war in Ukraine, we can look at making our agriculture sector more attractive to our young people, locals and even our migrant population.”

“We need to invest in smart agriculture, unlocking innovation within agriculture, implementing crop insurance for farmers and enhancing our agro-processing industry so we can reduce our import bill, improve the country’s food security, propel economic diversification and create employment.”

Sirju-Ramnarine said the economic outlook on the macroeconomic has improved, largely because oil, gas and petrochemical prices expected to be higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“The IMF has forecast growth to increase to 2.1 per cent in 2023, while government revenues are expected to grow by an average of 11 per cent during the period 2022-2025,” she said. “All of this is expected to contribute to a decline in our fiscal deficit from more than 11 per cent of GDP in 2020, to less than two per cent for the period 2025-2027.”

She identified the increased demand for energy commodities coming out of the war in Ukraine as one of the main factors for increased revenue in TT’s energy sector. She warned that TT should be careful in its spending, given the factors contributing to the increased revenue.

“We should be prudent in our spending given the volatility of the external shocks these growth projections are hinged on,” she said. “It is imperative that we use this increased revenue to implement programs that will generate future growth in diverse sectors.”

“Very importantly we also have to ensure that the expected improvement in macroeconomic conditions is felt at the micro, or individual level. As we all would agree, that would be the ultimate measure of success.”

Chairman-designate of Massy Holdings Ltd Robert Riley spoke on the qualities of a leader in the conglomerate which could be emulated to make leadership in other companies even greater.

“You need to be conscious and aware of self. With a sense of awareness of your personal impact there is a very good chance that you could be a compassionate and caring leader. Over time, it starts to transform the way you think about business problems, business solutions and the kinds of things that you would dare to take on,” he said.

He said serving people was also a major part of being a Massy leader.

“I am still learning to say that I serve people. Even when I have authority, even when I have the right to decide, I still serve.”

He added that leaders should also cultivate enduring relationships rather than one-off transactions.

He said he had confidence in the future of TT business, despite the fact that they would have to face difficult decisions.

“I feel confident about this group of people simply because they are thinking of the future from a position of abundance and not one of survival or insufficiency,” he said. “I am seeing responsibility and accountability taken to another level and it is seeing results.”


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