AMCHAM T&T INTRODUCES ITS NEW PRESIDENT AT ITS ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago elected its new President at its Annual General Meeting at the Hilton Trinidad Conference on Thursday 11th May 2017. The fourteenth President, Mitchell De Silva is currently the Regional Vice President - Corporate Banking - RBC Merchant Bank (Caribbean) Limited, and has been an active participant in AMCHAM T&T for the past decade.
In his inaugural address he underscored the immediate need for the “Private Sector to take up the challenge to cede from the Government the position of being the main driver of our economy.”
He informed the two hundred plus crowd at the AGM, that high on AMCHAM T&T’s advocacy agenda was the intention to “press the Government to adopt fiscal rules.” He maintained that the implementation of codified and legislated fiscal rules is a necessary step to follow if the Procurement legislation is to be effective, as the two will work in tandem. He explained that “one, broadly speaking, is designed to ensure efficiency in expenditure and the other is intended to preserve or, one might say establish a strong correlation between what we spend and what we earn. Fiscal rules and Procurement are not a panacea for what ails us, but they form the basis for creating a more accountable and responsible form of Governance, not only at the political level but across the entire society.”
On the topic of labour, he noted that the “already tense relationship between business and labour is more likely to deteriorate than it is to improve.” To this he advised that both sides should “unclench their fists and extend their hands” and seek instead to bridge the divide. He added:
“I recognize that a degree of tension between the forces is necessary and a requisite for a healthy industrial relations climate, but what I do believe and what I do foresee, is that to continue as is will only lead to a further fracturing of our society. Now is not a time for unyielding commitment to ideology but to find new ideology to fit our reality. I am not advocating that we abandon our core principles but that, as we discuss the future, we incorporate these into a shared sense of purpose for the benefit of all. We have no choice but to search for a better way. In this regard, it is my hope that
the unions will see it fit to return National Tripartite Advisory Council and that Government Business and Labour come together on some key initiatives to drive our socio-economic recovery.”
There was also a few changes to the AMCHAM T&T Board of Directors and sees Dominic Rampersad, President Pheonix Park Gas Processors Ltd. as the vacant VP spot. The list of Directors are as follows:
President – Mitchell De Silva, RBC
Vice President - Catalina Herrera, Citi
Vice President - Dominic Rampersad, PPGPL
Secretary - Glenn Hamel-Smith, Hamel-Smith & Co.
Treasurer - Patricia Ghany, Esau Oilfield Supplies Limited
Other Directors to the Board are: Ravi Suryadevara, TRINVALCO; Hugh Howard, Hugh Howard & Associates; Simon Aqui, IBM; Nicholas Galt, TSL; Frances Correia, Microsoft; Sana Ragbir, First Citizens; Giselle Thompson, bpTT; Jason George, United Airlines; Gayle Pazos, Scotiabank; Ravi Bajaj, Chevron and Erojus Joseph, GE Oil & Gas.
AMCHAM T&T RESPONDS TO THE MID-YEAR REVIEW
AMCHAM T&T has considered the Minister’s Statements in the Report on the Finance Committee and acknowledges that the Government is on budget at this point in the fiscal year. We also note that this will still require significant deficit financing at the end of this period. The minister articulated that within current circumstances we are on track to achieve fiscal balance by 2020. That said, there is much time between today and fiscal 2020 and our expectation is that the Government will maintain the current course to ensure balance by year the 2020 or before. Further, in curtailing expenditure, our hope is that low spend is not linked to an inability to execute or non-implementation of plans and programs, but rather a result of real savings.
Within the presentation, the Minister of Finance addressed measures being taken on the implementation of the Property Tax. While the focus in the interim is on residential properties, it is our hope that there will be adequate discussion on industrial property tax prior to its implementation. Earlier articulation surrounding the tax on industry suggests that there may be a negative impact on re-investment and new investment.
We also note that the Minister recognized increased tax revenue from the SPT. In previous presentations, the Government committed to a review of this tax in an effort to boost oil production. Ultimately boosting oil production will lead to greater revenue and we urge the Minster to make the necessary revision of the SPT in the 2017/2018 National Budget.
The Minister has also requested that the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago give priority to trade and manufacturing. This is, as we understand, the status quo and will unlikely result in any significant change. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago needs to articulate a clear set of long-term plans and initiatives to address these and other issues to inspire greater confidence in the local economy.
As always, we remain committed to collaboration with the Government and other stakeholders as we represent our members’ views and work collectively in the interest of our country.
AMCHAM T&T EXTENDS CONDOLENCES ON THE PASSING OF DR. ANTHONY SABGA
AMCHAM T&T is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Anthony N. Sabga.
Dr. Sabga led a remarkable life. He was a true pioneer and titan of business. He played a significant role in the creation and development of several businesses in T&T and has left an indelible mark on the economic landscape of the entire Caribbean. Deeply committed to the development of the region, Dr. Saga supported numerous social causes through the ANSA McAL Foundation.
Dr. Sabga’s life stands as a testament to the value of hard work, commitment and extraordinary vision.
He was a man who, in many ways, was ahead of his time, and earned the respect of people across the region.
We extend a heartfelt condolence to his family and his loved ones.
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) is concerned about the lack of clarity on the implementation of the proposed Property Tax.
AMCHAMT T&T understands the urgency of increased revenue collection and supports the need for a Property Tax. However, the re-introduction of any policy measure must not occur in an environment of uncertainty. We urge the Government to provide details on the valuation and implementation of the Property Tax, particularly where it relates to uncovered plant, rigs, and machinery.
Proper implementation of the Property Tax is key to reducing any negative impact on the business community that has already been significantly taxed over the last few years. It is also fundamental to the ability of the country to attract new investors. We are concerned that this may be a deterrent to new investors whose deployed capital in the form of new plant or equipment, will now attract an exorbitant Property Tax before depreciation can be applied.
AMCHAM T&T has been requesting clarity and underscoring the need for greater discussion since 2015. In September 2015 AMCHAM T&T CEO Nirad Tewarie, in his address at our Doing Business in Latin America forum, stated “We anticipate that in the upcoming budget there may be a return to the Land and Building tax. If so, we urge the government to be mindful of the impact on business and to provide clear and detailed information on how it will be implemented.”
AMCHAM T&T again raised the issue in June 2016, when the chamber submitted its budget recommendations to the Ministry of Finance, where we asked for a “Review of Lands and Building Tax regime in consultation with stakeholders” and we reiterated the call for collaboration and clarity in our response to the National Budget presentation. Further, AMCHAM T&T’s President Ravi Suryadevara wrote to the Minister of Finance on Friday 24th March, 2017 requesting a meeting to discuss the tax, but to date, no response has been received.
If the Government would like to promote public-private sector partnership they must create an environment that encourages investment, entrepreneurship, and diversification, greater effort must be made to foster the trust and open dialogue to facilitate such.
In a global environment where nothing is certain, and concerns about our economy linger, the Government must make a greater effort to reduce ambiguity and promote confidence to drive growth.
AMCHAM T&T AND IDB LAUNCH ITS WOMEN IN LEADERSHIP MENTORSHIP PROGRAM
“The time is ripe to see more women in leadership positions in the ICT sector.” This was the sentiment expressed by Nuria Simo, Chief Information Officer, and General Manager Department of Information Technology of the IDB, during her visit to AMCHAM T&T, on Thursday 13th April 2017. Following her meeting with senior female ICT executives of AMCHAM T&T’s member companies, the business organisation and the IDB launched their Women in Leadership Mentorship Program. Addressing the group of leading women in the field of Information Technology she led the discussion on the challenges that she and many other women face when navigating the ladder of success. “We need role models for girls and young women to see that it is possible to be successful in senior ICT positions.”
The mentorship program which will be done in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank seeks to pair five (5) mentees with senior regional professionals in the fields of Science, Information Technology, and Economics. The mentors were selected from the IDB’s vast network of professionals.
An organisation which is known for its unapologetic stance on gender parity in the workplace, AMCHAM T&T’s CEO Nirad Tewarie stated that “this initiative is an extension of the theme of our recently concluded Women’s Leadership Seminar held in February #Be Bold For Change. We are ensuring that we make a conscious effort to not only add to the discussion but to be part of the solution.” He also added, “We are fully committed to seeing this through along with our partner the IDB, and it is our hope that this pilot project can serve as a template that other business service organisations can adopt and that we can expand.” Carina Cockburn, Chief of Operations for the local IDB office, echoed this sentiment and reiterated the IDB’s position that promoting gender equality is pivotal to its goal of accelerating the process of economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean
While applicants can only be selected from AMCHAM T&T membership base, it is important to note that AMCHAM T&T’s diverse membership covers all sectors of business.
For more information on the program, please visit our website www.amchamtt.com or contact Francisca Hector @622-4466.
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T), The Energy Chamber, and Trinidad & Tobago Manufacturers Association (TTMA) wish to reject in the strongest possible fashion any suggestion that our concerns about the operations of the Industrial Court is either an attack on the institution or an attempt to return the country to colonial days as has been suggested by the Joint Trade Union Movement.
The business associations have for some time had concerns about the Industrial Relations Framework in Trinidad and Tobago and the operations of several institutions, including the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are confident the expression of these concerns falls within any reasonable definition of fair comment.
We are of the view that there is a need for greater clarity on how and why the Court arrives at its judgments, and the awards made by the court. The members of these associations see this as crucial in building trust in our institutions and in ensuring that all parties feel that they are being treated equitably.
At the heart of our concern is our vision for an IR Framework that is modern and reflective of today’s reality. Why for example is Trinidad and Tobago the only country in the Caribbean where it is necessary for an individual to join a trade union in order to bring an action before the industrial court against an employer? Why must a worker have to pay dues to a union and, should they be successful, share their earnings with the Trade Union simply because they do not have access to the court on their own? We feel this needs to change and the IR framework modernized.
The business associations are also concerned that in this time of economic challenge and when several surveys have shown the urgent need for increased productivity, the IR Framework and the operations of institutions limit the country’s ability to improve productivity levels and give us a better chance of weathering the economic downturn and protecting the jobs of workers and revenue to the state.
We have proposed legislative changes which are all in keeping with conventions of the International Labour Organisation. We feel the time has come for a frank discussion, by all parties, on the need for legislative and operational changes and the way forward as we try to update and reform the IR framework in Trinidad and Tobago.
A reformed, modern and progressive IR framework, underpinned by sound laws will benefit individuals, businesses, the labour movement and the country.
AMCHAM T&T DISMAYED BY POLITICAL WRANGLING OVER CRITICAL FATCA LEGISLATION
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) is deeply disappointed by the continued political wrangling that is contributing to the delay of the passage of the critical legislation governing the implementation of Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). While we believe that debate is the trademark of a healthy democracy, we assert that this should not occur at the expense of best interest of the country. Our elected leaders are entrusted by the citizenry to always put country first and to rise above the myopic political tactics that could cripple our financial institutions and be detrimental to our ability to do business with the rest of the world.
AMCHAM T&T has been very vocal on this issue and our views remain unchanged. We believe that there is no need for a Joint Select Committee to be set up to review the Tax Information Exchange Bill. The minor amendments which may now be desired can be made without going to a JSC, which will unnecessarily delay the passage of the legislation within the timeline which T&T itself provided to the Government of the United States of America. Non-compliance by the stipulated deadline could pose a major challenge for operations within financial institutions and in turn gravely affect our ability to do business with the rest of the world. This will also adversely affect our trade relationship with the U.S., who is still a major trading partner T&T.
We urge all legislators, in particular the Opposition, to let good sense prevail, and commit to passing the legislation forthwith. We also take this opportunity to point out that co-operation between the Government and Opposition will be required over the next few months to ensure that our country meets its Caribbean Financial Action Task Force commitments to credibly show that we are committed to fighting money laundering, the financing of terrorism and other financial crimes.
We trust that our elected leaders will put politics aside to ensure that the interests of Trinidad and Tobago come first.
AMCHAM T&T’s INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE 2017 NATIONAL BUDGET
The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad & Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) acknowledges the philosophy and the framework of the Budget, as we strive to address the current economic challenges. The government has recognised that it cannot be business as usual and has taken steps to cut back on expenditure, but we are of the view that more needs to be done particularly in reference to transfers and subsidies. We would like to thank the Ministry of Finance for taking on board the recommendations of the private sector particularly those outlined by AMCHAM T&T, in particular moves to boost investment facilitation and raising revenue through the sale of shares in state enterprises.
Moreover AMCHAM T&T welcomes the full operationalisation of the Public Procurement Act, the appointment of a Procurement Regulator and the establishment of the Office of the Procurement Regulator and procurement units in the public service in the next six months. We commend the Government’s commitment to establish the Revenue Authority, and we await further details.
We commend the review of the Petroleum tax regime inclusive of the Supplemental Petroleum Tax (SPT), and we hope to be included in these discussions. However, we are disappointed in the introduction of the 30 percent increase in Corporation Tax on chargeable profit of one million dollars. The increase in this tax is counter-intuitive to the thrust of developing entrepreneurial activity. In addition, the higher effective tax rate will act as a disincentive to new investments, particularly in the non-energy sectors. This is an additional burden coming on the heels of the increase of the Business and Green Fund Levy.
We recommended and support the consideration of transfer pricing legislation. We however urge consultation, early and meaningfully, as the country should not enact legislation which goes so far that it acts as a disincentive for investment and economic activity. This is pertinent as we seek to encourage trade and export and more of our local companies are themselves seeking to become multinationals.
The Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy for education is an extremely positive step as the country seeks to create a modern workforce that can compete in the knowledge economy.
We also welcome the sale of shares in the state enterprises and the creation of the high level team to review significant investments.
The FATCA extension is welcome. We urge both sides not to squander the opportunity and for the Government and Opposition to set and agree on clear timelines in Parliament for passage.
The reduction in Transfers and Subsidies, particularly restructuring the URP and CEPEP programs has long been advocated for by AMCHAM T&T. While there has been successive announcements of returning these programs to their policy moorings, AMCHAM T&T is concerned that sufficient action has not been taken to give effect to reducing these expenditures to sustainable levels.
AMCHAM T&T is disappointed that the Minister announced the online tax without consultation as he committed to discuss with AMCHAM T&T and other stakeholders prior to the budget.
We await details on valuations for the property tax and once again urge that uncovered plants, rigs and machinery not be included in the value of the property, as this would present a challenge to some companies.
The removal of VAT on ship repairs is a very positive move, as we believe this will this will assist the industry. It is important to note that this is an export industry which earns foreign exchange.
Overall we believe that this is a positive budget and we believe that the announcement of Private Public Partnerships (PPP) is welcome as consultation needs to continue. AMCHAM T&T is committed to playing our part.
AMCHAM T&T ADVOCATES FOR PASSAGE OF FATCA LEGISLATION
The American Chamber of Commerce of T&T (AMCHAM T&T) strongly urges the Government and Opposition to work together to ensure the passage of the Tax Information Exchange Bill 2016 (commonly referred to as the FATCA legislation) by the deadline date of September 30th, 2016.
We are of the view that our country is on the brink of being demoted to the periphery of the global financial system largely due to inaction on the part of politicians on both sides of the political divide. This is a crisis manufactured by politics to the detriment of the national interest. The former Government had ample opportunity to pass this legislation during its tenure, and the current Government has also had more than a year to ensure that this important piece of legislation was properly vetted, reviewed and passed.
We are mindful that there has been limited, if any, consultation with stakeholders on the legislation which is currently before the House. However, AMCHAM T&T is of the view that there is still enough time for both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament to complete deliberations on the Bill and to ensure its passage before the 30th September 2016 deadline. The foregoing is critical since there has as yet been no indication that an extension of time is being contemplated by the U.S. Government.
Should this Bill not be passed by the deadline, the costs of participating in the international financial system can be impacted and ultimately, a possible loss of correspondent bank relationships could occur if this and other obligations are not met which could, in turn, lead to difficulties in conducting, for example, credit card transactions and wire transfers. This would mean that everything from buying goods or services online, to transferring money to pay university fees or purchase inputs for businesses would be affected. Potential shortages and consequential increases to the prices of goods and services already in scarce supply would also arise over time as a consequence of the deadline not being met.
AMCHAM T&T is mindful that once the Bill is passed, guidelines for compliance will be developed by the regulators of financial institutions, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago and the Securities Exchange Commission of Trinidad and Tobago. To this end, we encourage stakeholder involvement in the early stages of the development of these guidelines.
We caution that once this piece of legislation is passed, other critical pieces of legislation require urgent attention to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago comply with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing obligations. Failure to do so would continue to jeopardize our country’s links to the international banking system.
Several CARICOM countries, including Jamaica, Barbados and the Bahamas, have already passed their ‘FATCA’ legislation. It is our view that legislators on both sides of the aisle should put country first and work toward the passage of this legislation by the deadline. The consequence of inaction is not something that we can either afford or entertain.
JOINT CHAMBERS MEET WITH INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANISATION (ILO) TO DISCUSS IMPROVING INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ENVIRONMENT
The Joint Chambers – AMCHAM T&T, The Energy Chamber, T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, TTCSI & TTMA – met recently with a team from the Caribbean Office of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO Decent Work Team was headed by Claudia Coenjaerts, Director of the Office of the Caribbean and included Dagmar Walter, Rainer Pritzger and Shingo Miyake. The Joint Chambers were represented by the CEOs of the respective organisations – Nirad Tewarie, Dr. Dax Driver, Catherine Kumar, Radha Permanand & Dr Mahindra Ramdeen – and Chair of the Joint Chambers Industrial Relations Committee Teresa White.
The meeting was requested by the Joint Chambers to get the ILO’s perspective on the current industrial relations (IR) climate as well as suggestions for improvement through the adoption of global best practice. In addition, the Joint Chambers took the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns on the IR environment.
Both parties agreed that T&T would benefit from stricter adherence to ILO Conventions to which this country is already a party. In this regard, some issues surrounding the rights of workers, including the right to access the industrial court directly as an individual, were discussed. During this discussion, the fact that the current conversation has resulted in minimal discussion of the responsibilities of workers was also raised, with both parties
agreeing that both workers’ rights and responsibilities need to be discussed concurrently as they go hand in hand in creating and maintaining an effective industrial relations environment.
Government’s creation of the National Tripartite Advisory Committee (NTAC) came in for some praise as all present expressed optimism that this mechanism will create an avenue for more regular, positive engagement among the tripartite actors. In this regard, the possibility of a Labour Code, expansion of the definition of worker, the efficacy of the Industrial Court, the tardiness in concluding collective agreements and the possibility of a Code of Conduct for discussions were also raised. Such a Code of Conduct could possibly involve something like an ILO publication on “National Tripartite Social Dialogue”, which would be a “guide” for improved governance.
Following the meeting, the Joint Chambers will be hosting a consultation with their members, with the support of the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business on 20th
April 2016 at the Yara Auditorium of the ALGSB. The event is being held to present and get feedback on the work the Joint Chambers have done on industrial relations legislation and improving the IR environment to enhance national competitiveness and create jobs. The ILO Caribbean Office will make a presentation at the consultation. Following this consultation, the Joint Chambers will make a joint submission to the Ministry of Labour & Small Enterprise Development by the end of April 2016.
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