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T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce: No value for money in budget

Published: 
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Minister of Finance Larry Howai, left; president of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce Moonilal Lalchan; T&T Chamber senior vice president Robert Trestrail; and CEO Catherine Kumar at the group’s annual post-budget analysis at the Trinidad Hilton and Conference Centre, St Ann’s. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA

T&T’s largest business group, the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce, said yesterday that billions are being spent annually and the country is not seeing value for money. President Moonilal Lalchan said the chamber continues “to ask for value for money as it relates to government expenditure. When billions of dollars are allocated to an initiative, it must be assessed to determine any positive returns on the investment.”

Education has again received the lion’s share of the budgetary allocation for fiscal 2014/2015 and the chamber is “happy that focus is being placed on provision of education.” “We have seen over the years that government funding for tertiary education has certainly delivered in making it more accessible to the population, and the chamber acknowledges its value to the country’s social and economic development. 

“However, while enrolment in tertiary programmes has increased, so too has underemployment, which underscores the fact that value for money is not being realised,” Lalchan said. 

He asked the Government “to truly consider that the subsidisation of any tertiary programme should be based on both a prospective students’ financial needs basis, and on the country’s current and future needs. Funding should be directed towards programmes that are aligned to the country’s diversification thrust and away from areas that are over saturated.”

Lalchan lauded the fiscal incentives to stimulate innovation in business, and the mention of procurement legislation, but said the chamber is still awaiting a timeframe for the legislation to be placed back on Parliament’s agenda. He said a key issue affecting businesses’ competitiveness and economic growth is labour availability, but the chamber “wholeheartedly agrees that there must be social safety nets to assist the most vulnerable in society.” 

However, the sheer number of social programmes, with more being added, cannot possibly live up to the mantra of sustained economic growth and prosperity.

Lalchan said while there is political value in social programmes such as the Unemployment Relief Programme and Cepep, they are heavily competing with the private sector for sustainable labour, “with many businesses in the retail, tourism and manufacturing sectors finding themselves paying well above the minimum wage in addition to other benefits, in order to attract and retain staff.” 

“We strongly believe that the resources and transfers that fund these programmes can be better utilised if they are redirected to more productive and educational activities that promote sustainable growth and new job creation.” He said the chamber held private-public focus groups and meetings with the Ministry of Labour but members “continue to lament the lack of available labour and, where labour is available, poor work ethic.” 

“This challenge continues to require a collective approach by the Government, business, civil society, labour and other relevant parties to find workable solutions,” he said.

The chamber president said “effective revenue collection is important for our economy in order to maintain crucial public expenditure programs and to address other economic conditions.” He said it is, “therefore, unacceptable that the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR), the body responsible for billions of dollars in revenue collection, is poorly funded and under-resourced.” He called on the Government to prioritise investment in the BIR to improve the taxpayer’s experience.

Lalchan also said it was unfortunate that there was no mention in the budget of new office space for the Central Statistical Office, a body that has a central and crucial role to play in the country’s planning and policymaking.

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