The Roadmap committee, appointed by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to come up with short-term plans to get the economy going and long-term strategies to make it more efficient and resilient, is expected to present its initial report by the end of the week.
Once again the country has selected some of its most talented citizens to come up with solutions to finally propel T&T forward and allow all of us, and future generations to live in a country that we all know is possible.
One in which there is prosperity, law and order, good governance, respect for each other, highly-trained and motivated citizens, with all the structures in place for people to achieve their full potential. It will never be utopia and our strategies will have to be refined as time passes but what will not change is the need for focus, tenacity and discipline. Without these and the requisite leadership, we will be spinning the proverbial top in mud.
If we had any doubt about the need to chart a new course and make or economy more sustainable was the news on Tuesday that the Canadian-owned petrochemical company, Nutrien Ltd. will be shutting down one of its ammonia plants in T&T for a minimum of three months.
In a news release, the company said it had made the difficult decision to temporarily shut down one of the four ammonia (NH3) plants at its Trinidad facility.
According to Nutrien, the temporary shutdown is in response to the current market price of ammonia.
“We expect the shutdown to last for a minimum of three months. We will continue to monitor market conditions going forward as we assess any further changes in production,” the release ended.
This is the third petrochemical plant to shut down on the estate in the last six months with Yara shutting its doors for good and Methanex not producing at its Titan plant after failing to reach an agreement with the NGC on a new natural gas price.
It’s another dagger in the heart of T&T’s petrochemical sector, which has been struggling for the last five years under low commodity prices and the concomitant relatively high prices for natural gas, the main feedstock in the production of methanol, ammonia and urea and a shortage of gas supply.
I am not one of those who argue that we should not focus on the energy sector but rather on the need to diversify away from the sector.
I think the opposite is what is required. We need to fix the energy sector. We need to find a way to ensure our natural gas prices are competitive and it allows us to compete with shale gas.
We need to think about whether we can go further downstream of these petrochemical plants and link it to the manufacturing sector.
We must understand that unlike what some may feel T&T remains a world-class oil and gas province and we have to go after the oil and gas now, while it still has value notwithstanding recent events in the USA with West Texas Intermediate prices.
That means an enabling environment for the search and development of crude oil both on land and offshore. We must ensure that we get the above the ground measures right and staff the Ministry of Energy with the right talent and pay them salaries that are competitive so we can retain that talent to work in the interest of T&T.
This must be done while aggressively pursuing all the other avenues to diversify from oil and gas, in the process ensuring maximum returns.
Co-chair of the Roadmap committee and Public Utilities Minister Robert Le Hunte said the short-term objective of the report will be about how to jump-start the economy with a focus on creating and sustaining jobs, increasing aggregate demand, increasing spending in the economy, increasing aggregate supply, enhancing and dealing with the social programmes, so that no one is left behind.
The committee’s vice-chair said the country also had to look at other areas of revenue since core earnings were insufficient to maintain T&T’s current lifestyle. He was quick to add that if the Revenue Authority was able to ensure that the 200,000 people who are not today paying taxes were to pay their fair share, there will be enough money for the country to function.
If Mr Le Hunte’s numbers are correct and 30 per cent of the workforce is not paying taxes and if as the government says the lost revenue is estimated at $15 billion—or almost 10 per cent of GDP—then there is no doubt that the T&T Revenue Authority has to come into effect sooner rather than later.
According to the Ministry of Finance website the TTRA will be a government agency, which will be responsible for the collection of government revenue and the provision of other services for the protection of government revenue, including investigation of tax evasion, the conduct of audits and border protection.
The TTRA will subsume the powers, responsibilities and functions of the Board of Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise Division under the provisions of the Exchequer and Audit Act and all other relevant revenue legislation and regulations.
The Government has also taken a decision that all staff in the Inland Revenue Division and the Customs and Excise Division will transition from their respective positions to the TTRA at terms and conditions, no less favourable than those that they currently enjoy, if they so desire. That means that any member of staff who desires to transition to the TTRA will be guaranteed a position in the organisation. One objective of the TTRA is to better compensate, incentivise, train and equip staff to execute their duties more efficiently and effectively, the website boasts.
Faced with consistent deficits since 2014 and with the reality that the high oil prices of 2007 to 2014 are over, the country cannot continue to bleed money like this.
It is inherently unfair and wrong that individuals, businesses, professionals and the rest who do not pay their share of taxes continue to place all the burden for the running of the country on the shoulders of so few.
There is a kind of smartmanism that prevails in the society that allows some to feel that gaming the system makes them a hero and how does that differ from those who feel they can use graft to take from the state what is not due to them?
What the discussion should be about is not if the TTRA should be established but ensuring that it meets its objectives and importantly making sure that the additional revenue that goes to the government is not wasted and frittered away.
This country has a lot of challenges and the TTRA is not going to solve them all but it will give us a fighting chance to at least meet our expenditure profile. It is for this reason that I cannot fathom why the UNC, who purports to want to return to power, does not want to pass the legislation that will help them should they assume office?
For those of us who have more years behind us than ahead of us this kind of zero sum politics is what we have seen for way too long and which has us, a decade later, still unable to pass the TTRA bill.
In this time of reset we must pass the bill. We fail to do so at our own peril.