The world is rapidly moving towards an integrated digital economy, based on renewable energies, artificial intelligence and automation. As a gas and oil-based economy, we will face challenges in growing and maintaining revenues, jobs and expenditure. By 2040 most developed countries will have phased out combustion engines in favour of electric vehicles, changed power generation to renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and plastics for consumer use will be replaced by environmentally friendly metamaterials. This combined with other significant supplies of oil and gas from new producers will severely decrease demand and prices for our energy products. Artificial intelligence and automation will result in less conventional manufacturing jobs for people as all businesses will seek out the most efficient means of production and operation. As a nation, we must adapt to this new reality and must do so immediately.
THE WAY FORWARD
The way forward requires us to improve our attitudes towards work ethic, acquiring knowledge and treatment of our fellow countrymen. The world waits for no one and to move forward together we must abandon the blame game and speak of ideas, positive policies and plans in a cooperative manner for the benefit of all our people. The reality is while many of us have differing opinions on everything under God’s sun, we often vent these opinions in a counterproductive way which only adds to our collective detriment. Each and every one of us is guilty of this behaviour at times, whether purposely or not. The UNC must lead the charge to engage those who may have different opinions from us in a positive and cooperative manner.
Viewing those who support different political entities and opinions as hostile enemies is not the way forward as these people may be our relatives, neighbours, friends and co-workers. We are all countrymen/women together. Let’s engage each other respectfully, insightfully with ideas and plans rather than attacks and blame. We must move forward together.
To this end the UNC has been rolling out plans and ideas for implementation upon our return to service in 2020. Since April 2018 and in my last budget speech I have been putting out plans regarding proposed improvements for education, crime alleviation, job creation, and state enterprise sector reform. I would like to focus on some ideas for improving the economy to increase productive capacity, increase foreign direct investment, improve the ease of doing business and thus facilitate job creation. These can be implemented as soon as possible.
- Lower corporation taxes to a minimum of 18% over the next five years. Businesses know best how to utilize their own money for growth. We should not overtax them only to attempt to return said taxation in misdirected subsidies. This will be particularly helpful to small companies, who for the past three years have been struggling with little profitability and a sizeable cost of doing business.
- No property taxes on plant, equipment, land and building of our local manufacturers.
- Deregulate and simplify the processes for environmental clearances and approvals for new and existing businesses. Over regulation and prohibitive initial requirements increase start-up costs, cause time delays which chases away new businesses and often stifles fledgling ones. Often, after initial requirements are met there is no continuous assessment and the result is environmental degradation over the course of operations. To address both these issues, we should instead mandate businesses, once they are up and running, to implement an environmental management system such as the ISO 14000 series. This measure would lessen initial requirements, speed up time of getting the business operational and, yet provide continuous monitoring of operations over the course of its life span.
- Pursue double taxation agreements with more countries in south America, west Africa and other commonwealth countries in order to increase the attractiveness of our country to highly skilled and professional foreigners.
- Strengthen legislation to protect minority shareholders, which is currently one of the problematic areas in our ease of doing business.
- Aggressively enhance legislation regarding contract law and mediation. Currently it takes between four and six years to settle contract disputes. A stronger legislative framework will serve to make contracts more secure, shorten resolution times and prevent unwarranted litigation, thus encouraging investor confidence.
- Implement Spanish as a compulsory second language in all schools from the preschool level. This will enhance the ability of our local businesses and workforce to infiltrate the South American market with a consumer base of over 422 million persons.
- As a matter of urgency implement computer technology and software development as core parts of the education syllabus. We must prepare to survive in the digital economy
- Improve the ease of doing business by implementing a quality assurance management system such as ISO 9001:2015 in specific units related to business development, statutory approvals, credit facilities, tax clearances, financial accreditation in the following organisations: Legal affairs, utilities (WASA, TTEC, NGC), customs and excise, BIR, EMA, Town and country, FIU and building inspectorate. Aligning all these units under a common quality management system will make it easier to do business in Trinidad and Tobago.
- We can reduce our costs of exporting a container of locally manufactured goods by ; 1) improving road infrastructure to decrease transport costs to ports from factory; 2) hiring of more customs and excise personnel to increase efficiency of their operations; 3) investing heavily in improving port infrastructure to attract new shipping lines; 4) Increasing the number of bonded areas offsite the ports thus freeing up space within the ports for exporters; 5) strengthening management and technological systems to reduce inspection and documentation times and speed up throughflow times; 6) Utilization of blockchain technology as a way of keeping track of transactions and documentation as well as for asset management.
- Invest and expand the T&T Bureau of Standards to enhance their ability to test imported products and reject inferior products from entering our country. We are inundated with dumping of inferior products which is detrimental to our local manufacturers who adhere to higher quality standards
- Work with fellow CARICOM members to create new and enhanced trade agreements. As CARICOM, we will be in a stronger position to get more profitable agreements.
These are just a few of our ideas and plans for implementation as they are not capital intensive and are easily attainable. They can increase efficiencies, make doing business easier, encourage new business and investment, while at the same time, create productive jobs.
While some ideas may find favour and others not, I wish to point out that the UNC has a proven record of delivery that cannot be disputed. In PM Rowley’s own words and graphs he showed:
– The UNC is a job creator with at least 41,000 plus jobs 2010-2015.The UNC brought down the unemployment rate to the lowest in our history to 3.3%.
– The UNC saved the most in our history in 2014; cash in bank (Foreign reserves and the HSF) US $13.1 billion or TT$91.7 billion.
– Our incentives in the hydrocarbon sector resulted in increased production for T&T.
– Our spending 2010-15 resulted in a net positive growth rate for the country which reflects high quality spending. Low quality spending does not increase growth as is being seen presently.
PM Rowley’s own words and graphs have corrected many untrue statements that he and his government have propagated since 2015. I encourage all persons to mind their business and truly look at the numbers about employment, savings, gas production, energy exports, growth rates and one may find that PM Rowley’s own words and graphs have betrayed him. As we start a new year, let’s adopt a new approach, let’s build for the future together. The people are what matters most so let’s get T&T working again.
K. Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP