THE PRESIDENT'S CORNER
President's Address at AMCHAM T&T's 27TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
Patricia Ghany, President of AMCHAM T&T
BUSINESS IN THE NEW NORMAL
On behalf of the newly elected Board of Directors for 2020, I would like to welcome you to “Business in the New Normal”.
Let me first thank the members and Board of Directors of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) - for the confidence and faith placed in re-electing me as your President for another term.
In preparing for this speech, I revisited some of my previous speeches at AMCHAM T&T events. It’s tempting to say that the coronavirus has propelled us into a world of radical uncertainty where “none of the old rules make sense.” We would all, I’m sure like to take comfort in believing that macroeconomic forecasts at the start of 2020 are now out the window given the impact of a black swan event that has altered the trajectory of governments, economies and businesses.
But if we do so, we would be fooling ourselves. The old, fundamental rules do apply and COVID-19 was not a black swan event.
But, hey, don’t take it from me, here is what the Managing Director at McKinsey wrote 12 years ago at the end of the Financial Crisis in 2008, “It is increasingly clear that the current downturn is fundamentally different from recessions of recent decades. We are experiencing not merely another turn of the business cycle, but a restructuring of the economic order. The question is, “What will normal look like?” While no one can say how long the crisis will last, what we find on the other side will not look like the normal of recent years.
Bill Gates, numerous scientists, and even former U.S. President Barack Obama have been talking about the need to prepare for a pandemic for decades.
THE RULE OF LAW
So, what do I mean about fundamental rules? Well, one of AMCHAM T&T’s core principles is the promotion of the rule of law. Fairness and access to justice are key to developing a conducive business environment but so too are they to building a resilient and cohesive society. In the old normal or the new normal, strong adherence to the rule of law is key.
And so too are the development and articulation of a vision for both the society we want to create and role we want our companies to play in it. Our success as a country cannot be measured simply by GDP growth. Neither can our businesses’ success be measured only by profit. From what I have seen in my more than two decades as part of AMCHAM T&T and in my own business, for the most part, the business community has always taken an interest and supported both fence-line communities and the national community. Now, we may need to do a little more and, quite frankly, communicate what we do a little better. This is beyond CSR. It’s about building resilient communities and contributing to the overall sustainability of the country and, hopefully, the region.
In terms of vision, at our Economic Outlook event in January 2020, which now seems like a lifetime ago, I shared with you what we at AMCHAM T&T envisioned as a better future for our country. “We see a country that will be safe for all our young people to live, work and grow. We see visionary leaders and good governance. We see a flourishing business community where investors and entrepreneurs work together to create a booming economy that works for all our citizens. We see high levels of social mobility and equality.”
And that last point is where I want to tie it all together. As a country, we need to do a better job of fixing the systems that inhibit social mobility and perpetuate inequality. We cannot fool ourselves by talking about outliers who emerge successfully from structural inequity and try to hold them up as examples that can be easily replicated. As citizens, we should have a vested interest in making our society better. And as businesses, we should see that if the rule of law is assured for those who are often most invisible and on the “margins of society” it will be assured for business too, making the entire economy more efficient and attractive.
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INNOVATION
So, more specifically, during the past three months we have seen a wave of innovation unleashed by companies, government, non-profits, and individuals as we quickly tackled COVID-19 challenges.
For example, Angostura began producing hand sanitizer for our healthcare, CSP is producing fire-resistant face masks, engineers at UWI are developing ventilators. Supermarkets, food delivery services and logistics have come up with ways to ensure a safer experience for their customers and employees. None of these tasks have been easy, but individuals and organizations have demonstrated the motivation and behaviour mind shifts needed to research, innovate, and act quickly.
How do we continue to fuel and foster and reward this innovation going forward? How do we enhance our innovative capacity to take advantage of global supply chain re-alignment? This will require a paradigm shift, promoting an environment that stimulates creativity, creating the right regulatory environment to incentivize investment so that we can expand our markets regionally and internationally.
ACCELERATION OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
It will require an acceleration of our country’s digital transformation. So, let’s imagine, a digitally-enabled Trinidad & Tobago.
Over the past two months, we have seen signs of a shift in how consumers and businesses behave. Some of these changes are direct, short-term responses to the crises and will revert to regular levels once COVID-19 is contained. However, some of these shifts with remote learning, entertainment, and consumption will continue, creating a long-term digital disruption that will generate valuable business opportunities. The COVID-19 situation has ripped the band-aid off the need across the public and private sector to enable teleworking and remote learning across most households. To support this new normal, gaps need to be closed in ICT availability, affordability and adoption for a large cross-section in society, through public and private sector policies and initiatives.
Now, more than ever, there is a need to promote and accelerate the use of alternate, technology-based channels for the delivery of Government services and enabling integrated government, with a view to improving cost efficiencies and service quality. We congratulate the GOTT on accelerating the offerings of e-payments for statutory tax payments such as Corporation tax, Green Fund.
We look forward to the implementation of a unique National Identification Number system which will allow for the provision of government services in a less disjointed manner and instant verification of information provided by the customer. This is something that we have been speaking about for years and was a key recommendation in my AGM speech last year.
We encourage the GOTT Recommit Trinidad and Tobago to the Open Government Partnership and provide more data available in manipulatable format to allow the private sector to extract economic value from our Data with the appropriate privacy protections supported by data privacy and data transparency laws including the full proclamation of the Data Protection Act.
We also need to urgently address the deficiencies in the education system as it relates to
1) the appropriate use of IT in the teaching-learning process,
2) the teaching of teach-related skills specifically and,
3) at a base level, differentiated approaches to teaching to most effectively facilitate learning across the widest group of students.
As the energy sector remains the mainstay of our economy, and will continue to be in the short to medium term, it is imperative that we address issues around the energy value chain. I am not being alarmist when I say that continued inaction and reluctance to make decisions is putting the Pt Lisas Industrial Estate in jeopardy. We need to act and act fast on this but at this point, I prefer not to say more.
We also need to transition to renewable energy, leveraging both our natural assets but also the technology and expertise of the multinationals already operating and invested in T&T.
We need to accelerate initiatives around energy efficiency to reduce local wasted consumption.
And of course, the Government and private sector have to work more closely to further develop the export capacity of the energy services sector, in recognition that if our petroleum resources were ever to be depleted, we could still have a vibrant, foreign exchange-earning energy services sector.
CLIMATE CHANGE & RESILIENT ECONOMIES
My final point is that the integration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities into business strategy will be more important than ever as we build the “new normal.”
While the impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a worldwide disruption and lockdown, what has also emerged is the positive impact on the environment.
It also poses a unique opportunity to build economies that are more resilient and to engage in sustainable business practices. Protecting the environment is not a luxury, nor is it something we can leave for our children to fix. The cost of COVID-19 can be dwarfed if we do not deal decisively with climate change, which affects the most vulnerable in society. If we do not take action to protect sensitive habitats and species; conserve water, forests and other natural resources; and lobby for more stringent environmental protection enforcement, our ecosystems will collapse.
At AMCHAM T&T, we are cognizant of the role we play in society and believe that we need to tackle this problem head-on.
Last October, AMCHAM T&T signed an MOU with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and is the coordinator of the ARISE network in Trinidad and Tobago. AMCHAM T&T has a solid 23-year track record of providing strong direction and leadership on HSSE compliance for the sustainable future of companies, communities, and our nation. Through the work of our ARISE, we have been actively seeking to build resilience amongst the SMEs in Trinidad and Tobago. We are also cognizant that we have just started an active hurricane season so this year we will be working on disaster preparedness, BCP and early warning systems. AMCHAM T&T is also working with PREPARE TT on assessing the probable impact of an earthquake disaster in the country’s capital and would facilitate advocacy and planning around strengthening seismic disaster risk reduction and preparedness measures.
WORK IN PROGRESS
In these challenging times, the way in which individuals and companies, organizations have leapt into action with a clear sense of priority, urgency, and community gives me hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
AMCHAM T&T's vibrant internal culture has allowed us to leverage the current crisis as a catalyst for change in our organization. We remain confident that our ability to be nimble during this time will allow us to continue to be relevant to our members in the years to come.
In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to our C.E.O. Nirad Tewarie for his vision and leadership during these unprecedented times. Thank you to Secretariat, the staff at AMCHAM T&T, who work so tirelessly to building this organisation and maintaining contact and communication with our members.
To my fellow Board members, Officers of the Board and committee members, please know your hard work, passion, commitment and dedication is greatly valued.
And, to our most loyal and faithful sponsors and members thank you for the generous support and unflinching loyalty you have shown to this organisation over the past twenty-eight years.
Thank you for your time and attention and I sincerely look forward to our journey together over the next year as your President.
Stay safe, connected, and healthy,