AGM 2024 - President's Speech
Stuart Franco - President | AMCHAM T&T

Good afternoon, everyone. 

I am delighted to welcome you to our 31st Annual General Meeting and Business Forum.
I would like to begin by thanking all our members for the support you have given me over the past year. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to the Board of AMCHAM T&T for their continued faith and confidence in me as I begin my second term as President of this esteemed chamber. I look forward to working with each of you in the coming year. 

I started my term a year ago with an express wish to have a conversation with you on how we can generate more business and, in so doing, positively impact the lives of our employees and every citizen in our country.

You see, we at AMCHAM T&T consciously try to present solutions and opportunities instead of complaining. If we simply complain, then that would make us part of the problem. However, when seeking a solution, we must identify and understand the issue or problem. One can’t fix what they don’t know.

While the road ahead may seem daunting, it is our duty as business people to seek out opportunities to grow, provide new products and services, sustain & create employment, and contribute towards a better society. In summary, we are all expected to do more with less.

I am not going to paint a bright and cheery picture when each of us here knows that we are facing some difficult times.

What I want to do is speak frankly about the reality of our current situation while also laying the groundwork for how we can still find “Opportunities In Adversity”. Not only is this our theme for this year’s AGM and Business Forum, but it’s also the mindset and strategy we are adopting as we look ahead to the next year and beyond.

I strongly believe that the private sector will always have a role to play in leading our country to harmony and prosperity. That role is not one we can play alone. AMCHAM T&T has said many times before, we - the business community – can only play that role effectively through collaboration. 

AMCHAM T&T’s more than three decades of leadership and advocacy have certainly influenced policy and legislation that, at times and in pockets, created a more favourable business environment, resulting in increased trade and investment opportunities for businesses and boosting economic growth in our country, but maybe not enough. We all feel like we have more to do.

If you know me, if you know us, you ought to know that we don’t necessarily speak up all the time. Sometimes the media gets upset with us when we indicate that we prefer not to comment on issues. But when we feel we must, we call it as we see it. And what we see today, what we have been seeing for some time now, is that crime is out of control. And no, that is not being said flippantly. When murders are being committed in twos, threes, fours, in hospitals, in housing developments, and on our roadways, crime is out of control. At the risk of being obvious, that is a huge problem.

Therefore, nothing we promise for the future will come to fruition if we don’t stop the criminals from running rampant throughout our nation, threatening the lives and livelihoods of civilians, be they school children, pensioners, young men and women, doctors, mechanics, or business owners.

I want to repeat, and I suspect I speak for most if not all of you, when I say – again – that the business community is willing to assist. We want to assist. All we have to do is, be engaged and told what the broad plan is and how our help will fit into this plan.

Fighting Crime is the responsibility of the Government. If crime can be solved by the State alone, then great. To date, we have not seen evidence that this is possible. It is time that we put aside our differences and work together with a common goal of putting our beautiful Nation first.

Which ties into my next point. We have long advocated for widening of the tax net. We support the establishment of the T&T Revenue Authority. However, we continue to make the point that the TTRA is not strictly necessary to achieve this objective. I said the points are tied. AMCHAM T&T has always advocated for the aggressive detection and prosecution of white-collar crime.

Now this next point is a tricky one to make because people have some very passionate perspectives on it. So let me start with some simple statements. All citizens and businesses should pay their fair share of taxes as determined by the law. On the flip side, the State has an obligation to ensure that credits and refunds are properly assessed and repaid in a timely fashion as prescribed by the law.

Anyone who does not pay taxes and refuses to settle their obligations with BIR should be prosecuted. However, there should be adequate processes and opportunities for these to be settled. Of critical importance, however, is the integrity of the tax collection entity. Therefore, every taxpayer’s information must, by law, be kept confidential. To do otherwise is to undermine trust in the system. 

With regard to widening of the tax net, we were indeed heartened to hear the Chair of the TTRA, Nigel Edwards, who is one of our panellists here today, in a recent article speaking about the intention to increase the use of technology in the efforts to widen the net.
Similarly, with Customs, technology can help with both revenue collection and trade facilitation. We know it can also assist with strengthening border security. We still therefore, call for full implementation of the systems that would allow for paperless clearance of goods, an effective risk management system with traceability, a trusted trader programme and introduction of legislation to allow for de minimis values to be determined and implemented. 

We believe that doubling down on both technology as a service or tool and as an industry for future growth remains one of our biggest, yet largely untapped, opportunities. It’s going to take some time, but the private and public sector both have to continue to innovate and lead with digital transformation in every aspect of their operations.

In three weeks, we will be hosting the 6th Edition of the Tech Hub Islands Summit (THIS) Conference with the theme Breakthrough. This theme underscores the importance of breaking through limitations, embracing bold ideas, forging new paths to shape the future of technology, redefining what's possible, and leading the charge toward a future where technology knows no bounds. I hope you join us for that and continue investing in your company’s digital future. 

As we look ahead, I assure you that our commitment to these priorities and many more remains unwavering. We will continue to advocate for policies that benefit our members, promote trade and investment, enhance security, and support sustainable business practices. 

Together, we will build on our achievements and strive for even greater success in the coming year.

We continue to advocate for a view from business – a view that many of our members live and demonstrate every day – that true profit is not derived from shareholder value alone but also through initiatives that uplift society. Our work at the Russell Latapy Secondary School, Mural in Schools Programme, support for the Adopt A School Programme, and on our Women’s Leadership Mentorship Programme demonstrate our commitment to this value.
However, if businesses cannot grow and cannot make profits, there will be nothing to share and re-invest. The business community is a partner in national development. We want to help as much as we can. We hope the Government will engage us in a more meaningful manner in this regard.

I close by extending my heartfelt thanks to our dedicated board members, CEO, Secretariat, and all our members for their support and collaboration over the past year. It is through our collective efforts that AMCHAM T&T remains a strong and influential organization. I am excited about what we will accomplish together in the future and look forward to another year of progress and prosperity.

Thank You and God Bless.


WILMP 2023 Closing Ceremony - President's Opening Remarks
Stuart Franco - President | AMCHAM T&T