New President’s Inaugural Address
Following the Chamber’s Annual Meeting on April 13, 2011, Members welcomed Andrew N. Sabga as the new Chamber President and thanked outgoing President Angella Persad for her loyalty and commitment to both the Chamber and the country. Following is an edited version of Andrew Sabga’s inaugural address which focuses on five priority areas:
This year the efforts of the Chamber will be governed by our new Vision Statement – To be the voice of business in the ongoing development towards a strong sustainable national economy.
In delivering on this vision I turn my attention to five areas of focus for collaboration between Government and Private Sector: Crime, Stimulation and Diversification of the Economy, Governance, National Productivity and Regulatory Reform.
It is no secret that the worsening state of crime and criminal pursuit has become a priority issue for all citizens and stakeholders in this country. Deliberate acts of violence continue to be perpetrated on the business community, citizens, local and foreign investors, and we reiterate our call for the Police and the Ministry of National Security to implement effective approaches to addressing this national scourge, urgently.
Crime is the enemy of social order, and not unexpectedly, it now wages war on our country’s competitiveness. For 2011 we intend to increase our involvement in support of crime prevention, and I wish to publicly affirm that the Chamber stands ready to deepen our partnership with Government in addressing this issue in a holistic and effective manner. We advance the following considerations in this regard: the dispatch of adequate human resources, improved working conditions and terms of employment for police officers, more judicious discretion on the part of the magistracy with respect to the granting of bail, and the prompt passage of relevant legislation in Parliament.
Stimulation and Diversification of the Economy
A diversified economy helps to buffer against international shocks. In recognition of this the Chamber last year launched the Diversification through Innovation Round Table, and apart from the seven sectors for diversification put forward by the Government, we have singled out cultural tourism and export agriculture as having the potential to assist in our development and to make our economy more resilient.
Already we have initiated discussion with the University of the West Indies and the Ministry of Agriculture on a sustainable agricultural cocoa initiative, which seeks to develop a solid export industry of products made from this commodity.
In further contemplating this issue of diversification, I advance too, the need for a quantum change in conventional thinking on several levels and I challenge my colleagues in the private sector to seek out bold and inspired initiatives.
Trinidad and Tobago is recognized as one of the most advanced countries in the Region in terms of the institutionalization of corporate social responsibility practices. There is also a pivotal role to be played by the private sector in the area of governance particularly in “raising the bar” regarding responsible business practices. The Chamber will continue to uphold the highest ideals and values of good governance and transparency, clearly exemplified in our Code of Conduct.
Investment in productive capacity must be made to generate new economic activity and to enhance the productive growth of the goods, services and public sectors of Trinidad and Tobago. Professor Porter Michael underscored that prosperity is a function of the level of productivity within an economy, i.e., the more productive a society is, the more prosperous it will be.
In Trinidad and Tobago however, we still seem to be dogged by an inability to increase productivity across most sectors. This is troubling since, for us to sustain expansion of our economy in ways that would meet the social and economic demands, we have to find ways to translate these investments into greater levels of output. I need not remind that foreign investors are looking more closely at the levels of labour productivity, the efficiency of our technology platforms, the style and pace of our administrative and legal systems and our country’s general business culture, when determining where to locate their operations. Trinidad and Tobago stands to lose out on securing top investments if we fail to raise the quality and the level of our productive output.
We in the private sector are fortunate to have our Chief Executive Officer sit on the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation. Through this seat, the private sector now has a tremendous opportunity to collaborate in identifying, developing and championing reforms which will enhance Trinidad and Tobago’s competitiveness and generate further investment.
The Chamber commends Government on the improvements that are occurring in growing smart partnerships between the public and private sectors in the areas of trade policy formulation. We extend our hand of partnership to the Government in making Trinidad and Tobago “the Gateway to the Americas”; however, if we truly wish to be internationally competitive and establish ourselves as the Gateway to the Americas we must be relentless in eliminating bureaucratic inertia in the interest of establishing a highly efficient culture which facilitates business. Specifically, I refer to a re-dedication of efforts towards strengthening our regulatory regime and engaging in fundamental infrastructural reforms which are vital to our long-term progress.
We have a unique opportunity at this time to make some long-overdue changes in our regulatory system which is no longer facilitatory and conducive to doing business. There is a widely prevailing view that some of our regulatory agencies still function according to modalities that were crafted and suited for the 1960s. Exporters and importers alike are confronted with administrative hindrances which result in delayed release of cargo, slow processing of documents, bottlenecks in customs, unnecessary delays at the port and prohibitive shipping costs. Only recently the Government launched one such reform, the TT BIZ Link, the brand name for the Single Electronic Window, also known as SEW which should alleviate some of the bottlenecks and allow for a more efficient and transparent system.
There is an urgent need for modernization and reform among key institutions which support our country’s competitiveness. Even so in some cases, strategic intervention can be made to ensure that these key institutions, e.g. the Chemistry Food and Drug Division and the Customs and Excise Division are properly staffed and resourced. In other instances what is required to support our competitiveness are legislative changes that are neither profound nor terribly difficult.
There is no doubt that a deep legislative reform agenda awaits us. However, if Trinidad and Tobago is to keep pace with the rest of the world, there are several opportunities within the existing legislative framework which can cause our institutions to better serve the private sector and the wider society.
The agenda before us is packed with a number of urgent issues, but time has permitted me to touch on just a few. Over the coming year, I have no doubt that there will be different shades of opinion and varied perspectives on how we should advance our agenda. However, I believe that we can and will get there through consultations, consensus, decisive action and strong collaboration.
Under my watch, the Chamber’s Mission, “To seek the interests of our members and the wider business community by forging a sustainable framework for successful business through effective advocacy, representation, facilitation and enablement of legitimate and responsible enterprise” will be upheld with alacrity.