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Updated: 2 hours 26 min ago

TTMA pledges support for diversification

18 hours 40 min ago

Senior officials of the T&T Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) led by president Dr Rolph Balgobin paid a courtesy visit to Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon at her Nicholas Tower Office on Wednesday. 

During the visit, frank discussions were held about the current state of the local manufacturing sector and plans to ramp up the business model and variety of goods being produced, as well increasing the manufacturers’ export opportunities. 

Gopee-Scoon called on the manufacturers to assume their critical role in the nation’s diversification agenda. 

“Given the current economic climate, the private sector, in particular the manufacturing sector, is integral to the Government’s diversification agenda. We need to see the sector grow more and to do this, it is imperative that innovation is present in the development of new products.” she said.

“We need to utilise opportunities in our trade agreements and penetrate new markets for our local exporters.” 

Balgobin gave the commitment of the TTMA to support the diversification thrust stating: “The sector is prepared to work together to ensure the best economic interests of Trinidad and Tobago.” 

He also spoke of the need to work more closely with the ministry’s state agencies—exporTT and TTBS—to ensure smooth access into untapped markets of interest. Accompanying Dr. Balgobin were directors Ashmeer Mohamed and Christopher Alcazar and CEO of TTMA, Ramesh Ramdeen.

ExporTT CEO: T&T businesses have head start in Cuba

18 hours 41 min ago

Although diplomatic relations have been re-established between the United States and Cuba, T&T companies already have a head start on doing business, says Adrian Theodore, CEO of ExporTT.

“We have a history with Cuba that a lot of countries do not have, including the Americans. Even some of the options available to companies through the T&T Trade Facilitation Office are not open to the majority of countries in the world, so this is not something we should be afraid of. We are also happy for the Cuban people as there are positives to come out of this,” Theodore told the T&T Guardian.

Theodore made the comment following a lecture by Cuban Ambassador to T&T Guillermo Vazquez Moreno on the US blockade against Cuba at the Institute for International Relations, University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. He said ExporTT, the main agency for non oil exports in T&T, is responsible for the Trade Facilitation Office in Cuba and they have been strengthening that office by hiring more staff and targeting more trade promotions there.

He said there will be a trade show in Havana in the first week of November and T&T companies will be there.

“A lot of this stuff is very new but I think that local companies are really on board. One of the problems we had with Cuba is the communication and the back and forth. There was a lot of lag in terms of the feedback. What we are aiming to do is to get rid of that lag as much as possible. We follow up on behalf of the local companies to assist getting negotiations done at a faster rate,” he said.

Theodore said ExporTT will continue to work with and help people break into the Cuban market.

“A lot of people are scared because of lack of knowledge of how the Cuban market operates, as it is different from a market economy,” he said.

Dr Jacqueline Laguardia Martinez, said given Caricom’s long history with Cuba, its companies and businesses should have an even greater presence than now.

“The main thing now is to enhance more economic co-operation between Cuba and Caricom. The US wants to establish a strong economic presence in Cuba but there is not enough economic presence from the Caribbean countries there and we must try to change this,” she said.

Camacho retires from Guardian Group

18 hours 44 min ago

Douglas Camacho has retired as an executive and director at Guardian Group effective September 30.

An accountant by profession, Camacho joined the field of insurance in 1980. 

A decade later when Guardian Life acquired insurance company, Crown Life Caribbean Limited, he played a key role in the integration of this acquisition. 

Since then, he served in many important leadership positions in the Guardian Group, most notably serving on the board of nearly every member company and on that of Guardian Holdings.

Camacho was instrumental in Guardian’s acquisition of the Jamaican and Dutch Caribbean business in 1998 and the early 2000s respectively. 

In his capacity as president of Guardian Life and group president-Strategic Investments, he focused on people development, enabling Guardian’s sales and administrative staff to achieve unprecedented levels of performance for which the group has now come to be known.

He also became involved in leadership positions of local, regional and international insurance-related organisations, such as the Association of T&T Insurance Companies (ATTIC). 

During his chairmanship at the T&T Insurance Institute (TTII), the industry in partnership with the University of the West Indies was able to create a chair for insurance, which is now in its fifth year.

Regionally, Camacho led the Insurance Association of the Caribbean (IAC) and the Pan Caribbean Business Coalition for some years. Internationally, he was the first Caribbean person to be appointed to the Board of LL Global.

A former national hockey player and still a hockey administrator, Camacho contributed for 24 years on the National Olympic Committee of T&T (NOC). During his time with the NOC, he set about uniting the region to form a Caribbean Olympic Committee. 

This regional Committee was granted the broadcast rights for the Games in Rio on a pilot basis by the IOC, the income making the NOCs more financially independent.

Camacho was also chairman of the Committee responsible for Sport and Youth preparing the Vision 2020 roadmap, served on a government-appointed committee to prepare a national sports policy and was instrumental in changing the CXC syllabus to include passes in physical education.

He was part of the nascent Unit Trust Corporation and is involved with Crime Stoppers, and micro-finance company Miped, run by bpTT in Mayaro.

Although Camacho retires from the senior management of Guardian Group, he will continue to serve on the Board of Guardian Holdings Limited as a non-executive director.

PPGPL rating downgraded

18 hours 49 min ago

Phoenix Park Gas Processors Ltd (PPGPL) has had its corporate credit rating downgraded by a notch. The Caribbean Information and Credit Ratings Service Ltd (CariCRIS), said the natural gas producer’s rating was lowered from CariAAA to CariAA+ on its regional ratings scale. Meanwhile, its rating on the national scale has gone down from ttAAA to ttAA.

According to the ratings service, PPGPL’s ratings show that the company’s level of creditworthiness, when compared with that of others obligors, is high.

CariCRIS said PPGPL was able to maintain its relatively high rating because of likely support from its parent company, the National Gas Company (NGC), in the event of financial distress, low operating costs and low break-even prices and healthy debt servicing and liquidity metrics despite declining revenue and profitability.

However, the rating agency noted that the downgrade was in part fuelled by this decline in profitability, which it said affected other players in the market beside PPGPL. According to CariCRIS, this decline is in its third year and is expected to continue into 2015. 

Other factors that have increased PPGPL’s risk profile, said CariCRIS, are low oil and gas prices internationally, persistent gas shortages in the upstream sector caused by under-investment in exploration and production as well as increased competition in its traditional markets.

The rating agency said additional factors that may impact on PPGPL’s rating in the near future are a further 20 per cent decline in sales over the next 12 to 18 months, continuing loss of its LPG market share and a change in the credit worthiness of its parent company NGC.

Sankat backs rapid rail plan

18 hours 49 min ago

UWI principal Professor Clement Sankat has endorsed plans to introduce a rapid rail system in T&T, saying it will ease traffic problems.

“You cannot take economics out of anything, including the rapid rail. We built roads, over passes but the challenges remain. One of the biggest riderships is the UWI population which has grown to 18,000. Then there are 3,000 members of staff. You are looking at a captive ridership of about 21,000. This coupled with the inability to find parking spaces,” he said.

Sankat, who was speaking yesterday at the opening of the Conference on the Economy (COTE) hosted by UWI’s Department of Economics, said apart from comfort, a rapid rail system and the train stations that go along with it will generate additional business.

“You go to a rapid rail system or a subway station and it is like a shopping mall. Could you imagine the benefits for that here? I have always had a big vision for the development of our country to make it a truly world class, industrialised country. If you look at small countries like Singapore they have invested,” he said.

He said even if the resources are not there for some types of large infrastructural works, a country’s leadership must be resourceful and innovative to solve the problems.

“There are countries around us with less resources, challenging times and they are still building their infrastructure. Jamaica is building roads from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios. To use it you must pay a toll. This says that the days of complete freeness is over, if you want to build a country,” Sankat said.

New technology chief at TSTT

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 09:20

As a technology enthusiast who loves a challenge, Roger Richards, TSTT’s new chief technology and information officer, is well positioned to help lead the company’s efforts to maintain its leading role as primary provider of communications solutions and services for T&T.

Richards, who will be responsible for driving the strategy and direction of TSTT’s technological innovations, has a Bachelor of Science with Honours from Rutgers University and an MBA with Highest Honours from The University of Texas at Austin.

Prior to working at TSTT, he established an extensive career in the field of information and communication technology. This includes his work as IT strategy practice leader for Ciber, a global billion dollar IT services company, for whom he built key relationships with leading Fortune 500 CIO’s and CTO’s as a trusted solutions partner.

He also served as the managing principal at Cadignet Digital where he successfully developed and implemented TV/video and mobile apps platforms to provide innovative audience engagement and any screen, any time anywhere IP broadcast capability to broadcasters and enterprise clients.

Over the course of his career, Richards says he has “developed a reputation as a problem solver and a fixer,” qualities which are also evident in his choice of personal hobbies. As a trained pilot, he often divides his rare moments of free time between flying and building “anything remote controlled” including airplanes and high speed !remote controlled cars.

Richards said the main focus for him and his team will be apidly improving the robustness and reliability of TSTT’s network and services, but he also intends to put a great deal of focus on developing the people that keep the network running.

“We have some great people and with the right development we!will take what I would consider an already very good workforce to an excellent and world class workforce,” he said.

Economist: Real deficit is $21b

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 09:18

Economist Indera Sagewan-Alli is not optimistic Government can bridge the $21 billion deficit between expenditure and revenue by selling national assets and raising taxes.

In her contribution to the OWTU's post-Budget symposium at the union's headquarters in San Fernando, Sagewan-Alli warned citizens not to be fooled and contended that the real budget deficit is $21 billion, not $1.8 billion.

“The minister speaks to a deficit of $1.8 billion and that gives us a sense of, wow, it is a relief, we are moving away from deficit budget. But the real deficit is not $1.8 billion. The real deficit is the difference between $63 billion of expenditure and the $41 billion of revenue that the Government is hoping to generate, so there is actually a real deficit of $21 billion and I want you all to take stock of that,” she explained.

The economist, who described the budget as being “interestingly crafted”, said Imbert was proposing to deal with the shortfall through the sale of national assets. 

“We are selling our assets in order to maintain a national expenditure of which over 50 per cent is in transfers and subsidies and a larger part of what is left is recurrent expenditure, not expenditure that is going to contribute to growing the economy, and that is cause for concern,” she said.

She added that there was no guarantee Government will generate the intended revenue: “I want you to reflect on the Prime Minister and his very sobering words when he said post budget, ‘To remember these figures given to you are based on assumptions, assumptions over which we had little control over’.’’

Sagewan-Alli said she was grateful to get information on the state of the economy, but added: “We have no control over what happens to the price of oil. We have no control over what happens to the global supply of oil and gas. We have no control over the global geo-politics. We have no control over those things. Those things have major control over us, because without it , we are in trouble.”

She called on Government to move citizens away from State dependency, adding that exorbitant expenditure on various sectors will not necessarily trigger results. 

“For the last five years on average we allocated close to $8 billion per year to national security, so when you multiply let's say $8 billion by five, eight fives are $40 billion—$40 billion spent only in the last five years. Where are we with crime? So is it really about spending more money?” she asked

Sagewan-Alli said T&T has developed an unsustainable model based on State spending. 

“I want to be optimistic but I have to tell you having done this type of analysis for quite a while, my level of optimism is quite low in terms of what to expect.”

She said she did not think the establishment of a Revenue Authority would generate $5 billion as expected: “If you have a decline in the economy, one where your productive sector is not generating revenue, from where are you going to collect the increase in revenue? 

“We need to have growth in other sectors—in agriculture, in maritime services, in tourism. We have to engage in robust analysis in order to determine where we have comparative and competitive advantage and we have to go there.”

She said students who benefitted from the Government Assistance for Tertiary Education (GATE) should have a responsibility to repay their loans so children from upcoming generations could also benefit. She also expressed hope that Government will engage in widespread consultation with the citizens before embarking on its policies.

Christie: bpTT not ruling out job cuts

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 09:17

Norman Christie, regional president of bpTT not ruling out job cuts at the company. 

He said like other companies in the energy sector, bpTT will be looking at all aspects of its operations and making wise decisions to deal with the effects of falling oil prices. 

“To be honest with you I think the entire industry will be assessing where the prices are now. I won’t make any prediction. What I will say is, if there is a company that is not looking at all aspects of their business, that will be unwise. 

“BP will be looking at all aspects of our business—costs, head count and importantly, we will not do that without our values being number one. 

“It’s not going to come ahead of safety and it’s not going to come ahead of our values. 

“The short answer is we will look, just as any other company is looking, we will make wise decisions.”

Christie’s comments followed Finance Minister Colm Imbert announcement during his budget presentation on Monday that “total energy exports are estimated at only US $7.5 billion in 2015, a significant decline when compared with an annual average of US$12.7 billion in the period 2010 and 2014.”

Asked whether the company is feeling the pressure now that revenue numbers are down, he said bpTT has been through similar situations and he is confident it can weather this “storm.”

‘It was end of the fiscal year’

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 09:16

Former Finance Minister Larry Howai has confirmed that Government’s account at Central Bank was in overdraft—but he says this can happen coming to the end of the financial quarter and also because this was the end of the fiscal year.

Howai clarified the situation briefly following Imbert’s criticism on Monday in his 2016 Budget speech, of the People’s Partnership’s economic management. He also confirmed that he had spoken to Imbert to hand over the Finance portfolio after elections, but didn’t speak to him at all about the new PNM Government’s 2016 Budget.

Among detailed criticisms in Imbert’s Budget speech, the PNM minister had said the PP’s “inordinate haste to ramp up expenditure” in the last quarter of the fiscal year, which happened to coincide with the pre-election period, created a serious cash flow challenge for the Government. 

Imbert said this was facilitated in part “by increased access to Central Bank overdraft facilities which almost reached the legal limit by hurried central government borrowing and by an accumulation of payments arrears; in fact at one point in September 2015, just after the general election, with no new contractual obligations on the part of the incoming Government or new items of expenditure, the overdraft at the Central Bank reached 98.0 per cent of the legal limit, with barely enough funds available to service the country for a few days.”

Imbert also said: “....In order to maintain its inordinate and unsustainable levels of expenditure, the previous Government maxed out our overdraft at the Central Bank, taking us from a positive cash position in 2010 to a perilous situation in 2015, where we were running ‘on fumes’, to use the local parlance, dangerously close to the legal overdraft limit.” 

Imbert added that the true state of the economy “were all kept hidden from the population” by the last administration. 

Howai is on vacation, reportedly overseas. In response to emailed queries from the T&T Guardian on Imbert’s claim, Howai said he met with the Finance Minister on his request, after advising the former Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar of his intention.

Howai said the meeting was to assist in ensuring an orderly hand-over of the Finance portfolio and to apprise the new minister of urgent issues that needed attention.

“The discussions did not include, nor did I have any input, in the Budget that he was in the process of preparing,” he said.

“The account at the Central Bank was in overdraft but I did advise that this can happen coming to the end of the quarter and as well given that this was the end of the fiscal year as Government's revenues come in at periodic intervals but expenditure occurs on a consistent basis.

“This, however, was not a problem as $13 billion in cash inflows were expected over the seven week period after September 7 to clear the overdraft and provide cash in hand. Among the inflows were $3.8 billion from Trinidad Generation Unlimited, $1.5 billion from the IPO of the Phoenix Park shares, $500 million from NGC, $6 billion from normal quarterly taxes and $1 billion from a TT dollar loan. The important issue was to ensure that these cash flows were properly followed up.”

Another former PP Finance minister, Winston Dookeran didn’t reply to calls.

IMF sees growth for region’s oil importers

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 03:03

The growth outlook has improved for oil importers in the Caribbean but the decline in the global price of the commodity will be a drag for exporters of oil such as T&T, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said at Tuesday's launch of the World Economic Outlook (WEO).

Speaking at a news conference to launch the WEO at the IMF/World Bank autumn meetings at the National Museum in Lima, Peru, IMF official Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti predicted growth of 3.8 per cent for the region in 2015 and 3.4 per cent in 2016.

Milesi-Ferretti, the deputy director of the IMF´s research department, said the reasons for the improving growth outlook for Caribbean oil importers were the strengthening in the US economy and the large decline in the price of oil.

"Yet, these economies still face growth challenges as they still have low growth and fiscal situations that are extremely precarious.Unfortunately with precarious fiscal situations the scope for fiscal policy to support growth is very limited," said Milesi-Ferretti. 

At this point, he added, the choice has to be what is the best way to achieve a standard of fiscal consolidation that does not rely on cutting social expenditure and support for the poor and that is as pro growth as possible.

"That is what our direct involvement in the region has been trying to achieve," said Milesi-Ferretti, adding: "It is a difficult endeavour with low growth and high debt, which are not problems that can be solved rapidly, but improvements in the terms of trade thanks the decline in the oil price will help."

He said the decline in the price will be a drag for the oil exporters. Citing the success of the IMF`s extended fund facility with Jamaica, the IMF researcher said progress has been made and is being made for the Caribbean as a whole, and with the right policies, there was hope that the growth rates across the region could climb.

In presenting the WEO, the director of the IMF´s research department, Maurice Obstfeld, said the institution was reducing its forecasts for growth of the global economy in 2015 to 3.1 per cent from 3.3 per cent.

Obstfeld said: "With increased exchange rate flexibility, higher foreign exchange reserves, increased reliance on FDI flows and domestic-currency external financing and generally stronger policy frameworks, many emerging markets have increased their resilience to external shocks." He said: "Exchange rate depreciation has generally been a useful buffer for countries experiencing growth slowdowns—and has already been substantial-but could cause balance-sheet effects where there is foreign-currency borrowing."

(The author is on an IMF Fellowship, covering the autumn meetings of the IMF and the World Bank)

WTI crude price jumps to US$48.53

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 03:01

One day after Finance Minister announced that the national budget will be pegged on an oil price of US$45 a barrel, the prices of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent Crude rose on international markets.

The increases followed a report from the US Energy Department which showed that crude oil production declined by 120,000 barrels per day in September compared with August. The agency also expects oil production to decline from an average of 9.2 million barrels per day this year to 8.9 million barrels per day in 2016.

In an immediate response, WTI crude jumped US$2.27 to close at US$48.53 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils, rose US$2.67 to US$51.92 a barrel in London.

When he presented the $63 billion budget on Monday, Imbert also announced that the fiscal package was based on a gas price of US$2.74 mmbtu. 

Private sector has role in T&T’s revival

Wed, 10/07/2015 - 03:01

Government and the private sector must work together to help revive T&T’s economy, Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said yesterday.

“Today all governments are looking for ways to stimulate economic growth and the question is whether it is the sole responsibility of the government to stimulate that growth and development. While policy makers may lead the way, it is businesses that are important so that all the dynamics are well understood and investments flow naturally,” she said in her contribution to the American Chamber of Commerce of T&T’s (AmChamTT) Post budget presentation at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Centre.

Gopee-Scoon said while Government must provide a stable environment for economic growth, the country “needs the private sector to invest and be wealth creators.” 

She added: “Investor confidence is perhaps the most important in re invigorating the economy, especially in light of the stark economic reality revelations that were made by the Minister of Finance during the budget presentation on Monday.”

Noting that the gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the export sector declined this year, the minister gave examples of how badly the T&T economy had fared over the last few years.

“Total energy exports estimated at US$7.5 billion in 2015 when compared to an annual average of US$12.7 billion in the period 2010 to 2014. In 2015 there was an overall balance of payment deficit and loss of official reserves of US $720 million. At one point in September 2015 the overdraft to the Central Bank was approximately TT $9 billion and it had reached 98 percent of the legal limit,” she said.

Apart from the shortcomings of the last government, Gopee-Scoon said there are structural shortcomings the country must overcome for the economy to revive. These include crime, corruption and low productivity.

AmChamTT president Ravi Suryadevara called for more value for money spent.

“We are faced with the current imperative that public expenditure needs to derive greater value for money spent. The Finance Minister has announced the formation of the General Accounting Office,” he said.

Suryadevara said the country is facing the “shock” of the fall of external commodity prices.

“The common factor is the significant decrease in government revenue, that in 2008 led to a shortfall of $10 billion and at present day an even greater shortfall. Undoubtedly the Government would be considering how this rationalization and prioritization of expenditure affects people, communities and business,” he said.

MD designate named for Republic Bank

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 06:29

Republic Bank Ltd yesterday announced the appointment of Nigel Mark Baptiste, as Managing Director Designate of Republic Bank Ltd and President and Chief Executive Officer Designate, of Republic Financial Holdings Ltd. 

He currently holds the position as the bank’s deputy managing director. These appointments came into effect on October 15. Baptiste will replace David Dulal-Whiteway upon his retirement from the bank, which takes effect on February 11, 2016, after a distinguished career of 25 years.

Baptiste’s career with Republic Bank spans 24 years during which time, he successfully progressed from junior management to executive management, leading diverse functions within the group, including the bank’s retail, corporate and overseas functions and as a director on several group boards. More recently as deputy managing director, Baptiste spearheaded a number of key strategic projects including the formation of Republic Financial Holdings Ltd, as well as, the acquisition of the Suriname operation, Republic Bank (Suriname) NV. He was also closely involved in the acquisition of the majority shareholding in HFC Bank (Ghana) Ltd. 

He holds Bachelors (First Class Honours) and Master’s degrees in Economics from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Baptiste is an associate of the Canadian Institute of Bankers and a graduate of both the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking and Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Programme. 

In addition to Baptiste’s appointment , the board of directors has also approved Jacqueline Quamina and Roopnarine Oumade Singh, be appointed executive directors of Republic Bank Ltd, effective January 31.

Quamina joined Republic Bank in 1995 and is the bank’s group general counsel and corporate secretary. Quamina has extensive experience in corporate law in the Caribbean, as well as, in corporate governance and compliance. She is a graduate of the University of the West Indies (LLB, Executive MBA) and University College London (MA). She is a member of the Bar in England and Wales (Grays Inn) and in T&T. Quamina is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Programme and the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking. 

Quamina serves on several boards within the Group and is also a Director of Unilever Caribbean Ltd and the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute. 

Oumade Singh holds Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Economics and an Executive MBA from the University of the West Indies, and is a graduate of the Stanford Executive Management programme. His career in Republic Bank spans 20 years, during which time he has held several portfolios at the senior and executive management levels including, Forex, Group Treasury, Risk and more recently Corporate and Investment Banking.

Higher NIBTT rates from July 2016

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 06:27

Executive director of the National Insurance Board (NIBTT) Niala Persad-Poliah said the decision to increase contribution rates and maximum insurable earning (MIE) was one of the best short term measures to ensure fund sustainability.

“The decision is in keeping with the findings of the ninth actuarial review which recommends a robust mix of short-term and long-term reform measures to fortify the fund in coming decades,” she said

With effect from July 4, 2016, the contribution rate will increase from 12 per cent to 13.2 per cent and the MIE is expected to increase from $12,000 to $13,600. 

Persad-Poliah said increasing the contribution rate and MIE will safeguard the National Insurance System, improve fund stability, and ensure it continues to be solvent and viable now and in the future. 

She added: “The NIBTT has been entrusted with the mandate of operating and managing the National Insurance System and given recent global trends such as lower birth rates combined with increasing lifespans it is now incumbent on policymakers to implement measures to ensure preservation of the fund in the interest of the thousands we serve.”

“The national community can be confident of the prudent management of the fund and that benefits that are promised will continue to be delivered now and in the future.”

No surprise

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 06:25

Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s $63 billion budget which “seeks to re-establish fiscal discipline” came as no surprise to political analysts Dr Bishnu Ragoonath and Dr Maukesh Basdeo.

Giving an immediate response to the fiscal package presented in Parliament yesterday, Ragoonath said a lot of what was said by Imbert had been anticipated.

“I won’t say it is an unfair budget based on the context of the falling oil price. In fact I think they have done a lot better than I anticipated,” he said. Ragoonath added, however that he did not expect a decrease in Value Added Tax to be implemented so soon: “I expected that to be delayed. 

The increase in income tax allowances, the increase in NIS and the other increases in OJT are things that they had to do in order to bring the economy on a level playing field.”

He added that the minimal increase in the business levy from 0.2 per cent to 0.6 per cent will not have any major impact on business profitability. “That increase is not significant but any increase that the business community has, they normally pass it on to the consumer. 

The business community will experience an increase in the cost of goods based on the price of transport and they will pass it on to the consumer so cost of living will go up and that may have ripples in the economy. Taxi fares may also go up and that may increase the burden,” Ragoonath added.

He said the return of the property tax was inevitable and it was commendable that government decided to start with the old rates.

“The proposal that the PNM had in 2008 and 2009 was penalizing people in certain areas so they need to properly review that arrangement,” Ragoonath said. He said he did not agree with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar view that the budget was deceptive. 

“There was no time to facilitate consultation so if I was Minister of Finance, I would have gone with projections put out by technocrats of the ministry and bring a supplemental appropriation bill later on after I hold consultations,” he said. Ragoonath said he supported the decision to raise taxes from the gaming Industry.

Basdeo said many of Imbert’s policies were in keeping with the economic realities and he commended government for its proposal to establish a General Accounting Office and independent Economic Research Unit for the Parliament. “I also agree with increasing the disposable income bracket as this will provide a safety net for the working class,” he said.

Basdeo said the policies seemed to be a continuation of what existed before 2010. The vice president of the T&T Contractors’ Association Ramlogan Roopnarinesingh said he was not surprised at the budget proposals. “The government has to find revenue, so raising the business levy and the green fund levy were expected but it should not affect the business community drastically,” he said.

He expressed support for the VAT reduction saying it will get more people to comply with the stipulations. “Raising the cost of fuel by 15 per cent also should not affect us as much. We have been subsiding fuel for many years,” Roopnarinesingh said.

Saying he was pleased with the budget, Roopnarinesingh said the business sector would benefit by getting more OJT apprentices. He said the Government did not have the money to start mega construction projects and many of the plans would have to be reviewed and re-prioritised.

More support for farmers

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 02:50

The farming community can look forward to more support, says Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Avinash Singh.

Although he did not offer any details when he spoke at the opening ceremony of the World Cocoa and Chocolate Day 2015 at UWI, St Augustine, Singh said: “I anticipate that the farming population would be more comfortable now to produce more. I have every confidence that farmers could produce in this country and at the end of the day, we need to know that we have a market, we need to know that our produce is actually reaching somewhere.” 

Commenting on the current state of the local cocoa industry, Singh said the sector “is so fragmented everybody is trying to do something on their own.” 

He said: “Our approach would be an umbrella approach to give the farming population, as well as stakeholders, the tools and avenue to really have sustainability within themselves in their own operations and make it into a nationwide initiative, so the country could benefit.”

He said it was important to target the right market for T&T’s high quality cocoa, so it might not be necessary to produce cocoa in bulk. The farmers will benefit, he explained, from the sale of the cocoa to countries willing to pay a high price.

“At the end of the day, people want to see profitability, people want to see dollars and cents. The ministry’s role is not to compete with farmers, we are here to facilitate the industry.”

Prof Wayne Hunte, Pro vice chancellor research, announced that an International Fine Cocoa Innovation Centre will be established by the Cocoa Research Centre. The facility, which will be located at the back of Nestle factory on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, will showcase an orchard plantation system, processing facilities, business incubators, chocolate restaurant, museum and shops.

Hunte said the cocoa industry is languishing and production is in serious decline, dropping from 35,000 tonnes to 500 tonnes.

We need to move with urgency

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 02:49

Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon has told officials of state agencies under the purview of her ministry that they have to “actively get the private sector on-board to produce new revenue streams in keeping with our diversification agenda.”

“We need to move with urgency,” she said as she facilitated a series of meetings get assess the current programmes and initiatives of the agencies.

Gopee-Scoon, who met with senior executives of exporTT, invesTT, eTecK and CreativeTT over three days last week, commended them for their current performance.

During the meetings, exporTT Limited’s senior management outlined four key strategies for ‘creating internationally competitive firms in the non-energy manufacturing and services sectors. These include capacity building through targeted training and standards certification; ensuring the required systems, institutions, agreements and services are in place and functioning efficiently and effectively; market access through researching and exploring new markets and leveraging the Caribbean diaspora; and identifying and strengthening elements which distinguish and increase the competitive edge of T&T products and services in global markets. The importance of placing focus on economic diplomacy was also emphasized.

The executives of invesTT Limited presented details on their achievements, development and diversification initiatives related to lucrative investment opportunities in the ‘pipeline’, public-private partnerships, diaspora engagement and trade missions. The agency’s current strategy involves targeting the top 15 sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) for promoting investment in T&T’s targeted sectors. 

CreativeTT Limited executives showcased the organisation’s key achievements through FashionTT, FilmTT and MusicTT, its subsidiaries. These included the development of a French Caribbean Mission Lookbook, ModeTT, to effectively market T&T’s fashion industry in French Caribbean markets; the launch of a strategic plan for the local fashion industry; involvement in recent TT Film Festival and the Secondary School Short Film Festival; and the successful hosting of an advanced songwriting and production camp. 

Gopee-Scoon told the CreativeTT executives: “We are committed to the industry. The objectives must be met so that this sector will be a success story.” 

Acting Permanent Secretary Norris Herbert added: “CreativeTT is a critical component in the diversification agenda and we must ensure that this importance is always quantified so that the profitability of the sector is recognised.” 

eTeck’s senior management presented a background on the history of the organisation, its plans to improve the current infrastructure and operations of existing economic zones/industrial parks; optimize existing industrial parks on a commercial basis and develop new modern economic zones. 

Officials also took the opportunity to highlight the agency’s 2014/15 achievements, namely the opening of the Tamana Intech Park Flagship Office and its proposed development works and initiatives.

Each agency will return for more detailed discussions on their plans and programmes, after the appointment of the various boards. 

Develop a meaningful revenue strategy

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 02:40

Opposition MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie says Government should develop a revenue strategy that is meaningful for T&T, particularly with declines in revenue due to falling energy prices.

In a radio interview ahead of today’s budget presentation by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, the former Planning Minister warned against adopting a singular approach to dealing with the financial pressures expected to affect this country.

“I want say that if the government makes the error—and I want to advise them against that—of managing the fiscal space alone, the economy will go further into contraction,” he said.

“Therefore, what they need to do, as well as manage the fiscal space, is to have a growth strategy for the economy and that is where it is critical. You have got to manage expenditure in relation to revenue and what that means is, you’ve got to decide whether he (Imbert) is going to cut expenditure and what he is going to cut to bring it down.”

Tewarie said Imbert must decide whether to change the pattern of expenditure and how to reallocate resources. He said he also has to decide between the new expenditure and the new revenue he hopes to generate and how much deficit he is prepared to work with. 

“Once he does that, he then has to decide whether or not he is willing to borrow—whether the government has an appetite for borrowing. On the basis of that he can decide what he wants to borrow for and how much he wishes to borrow. I think those are the critical areas and zones around which he has to manage his budgetary allocations, his revenue strategy, his deficit management and basically managing the fiscal space,” he said.

Tewarie said the ideas espoused by the new administration were in the People’s Partnership economic blueprint and would have been policy had the coalition party been returned to power.

“If you read the manifesto you would see that on page 79 we have managing under reduced oil and gas prices and there is a whole outline of what we would do with that. We said we would budget at US$45 for oil and US$2.25 for gas. We said we would limit the subsidies on fuel at the pump on the basis of that oil and gas price. 

“We said that we would cut the subsidy on premium gas. We said that we would instruct all state enterprises to begin the process of living within their means understanding that we would have to reduce subsidies over time and ultimately eliminate it and they would have to make a profit. All of those things are said in the manifesto,” he said.

“We also talked about a shareholding democracy in which we talked about selling some of the states employees to employees and also introducing that in the private sector, talking with the private sector to do that. We talked about a home owning democracy in which we would distribute land and houses so that people could be property owners in the system and we talked about ten projects that were all scheduled for public, private, partnership. 

“The manifesto is very clear. I stand by it. It is good policy for the country.”

Tripartite Commission to be revived

Mon, 10/05/2015 - 02:38

Labour Minister Jennifer-Baptiste Primus has promised that no new labour legislation will be passed without stakeholder participation.

“I know consulting takes time and I am not very patient with things taking a long time. When I headed the Public Services Association (PSA), whatever action we took, there were always clear timelines to be met. I like to see the realization of plans,” she told participants at a National Bipartite Meeting hosted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) at the Kapok Hotel, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

Baptiste-Primus, who said she strongly believes in the concept of tripartite discussions, added: “I will be re-establishing the Tripartite Commission. All of us in this process will not always agree because there would be areas of very strong positions,.”

She said the National Bipartite meeting which brings together the social partners in T&T facilitated by the ILO reflects the increasing requirements of the new global economy for building relationships.

“The 21st century has ushered in new technologies and new ways of doing business and the onus is on all of us to adapt and reinforce mechanisms for dialogue and collaboration,” she said.

The minister also assured that in formulating plans, Government will include trade unions at early stages and not at the end of the process.

“Labour will play a pivotal role in the embryonic stages, not at the end stage. 

My experience as the former leader of a trade union—that was always one issue that affected us—that Government would only consult with us at the end stage, then they would only rubber-stamp,” she said.

Neil Derrick, vice chairman of the Employers’ Consultative Association (ECA), said tripartisim is not new to T&T and the country has tried it before.

“We also had an attempt at social dialogue compact in 2000. Those exercises, however, have not really borne the fruits that we think they could,” he said.

Used car dealers worried about budget

Sat, 10/03/2015 - 05:50

Foreign used car dealers are concerned that the upcoming budget will contain severe measures that could lead to the closure of the industry. 

Visham Babwah, president of the T&T Automotive Dealers Association (TTADA), said dealers are currently allowed to import six year old cars. 

He said if that is lowered to five, four or three year old, that could be the death knell for the industry as many car dealers will not be able to compete. 

Babwah said changes to the tax structure will also be deterimental to the industry. 

The TTADA president complained the the used car industry is being infairly blamed for contributing to traffic congestion, although personal importers brought in more vehicles than used car dealers and new car dealers combined. He said current government policy allowed for anyone over the age of 18 to apply to import a vehicle and this has contributed to congestion as well as the emergence of con-men who operate as dealers. 

Babwah said the combined sales of used cars by registered dealers amounted to around 10,000 vehicles annually. He said the industry directly and indirectly affected approximately 25,000 persons who made a livelihood from selling cars as well as providing after sales services and consumable products to vehicle owners.