With the national budget to be revealed in less than a month, the business community yesterday expressed common areas of concern.
During a panel discussion held at the Hilton Trinidad several stakeholders waded in on topics such as the $6 billion owed in Vat refunds, the forex shortage and improving the ease of doing business.
Lara Quentrall-Thomas, President of the T&T Coalition of Services Industries,(TTCSI) noted there ought to be a proper registry for all Venezuelans in T&T.
“We’ve been told anecdotally and through a couple other businesses that of the 16, 570-odd, many of them (Venezuelans) did not get their registration cards from the Ministry of National Security.
“So there are many of them who are still unable to work legally.
“The second question is all of those who received their cards in June/July, the cards expire in January. Immigration has indicated that there needs to be an assessment before they can be issued a six month extension, because initially they were meant to be working for 12 months,” Quentrall-Thomas said.
She questioned who is doing that assessment and how is it to be done.
“Are you assessing all 16,000 in one week? Are you coming to the work places? Or does the employer bring Venezuelans to the Ministry? Nobody knows. It’s all a mystery. Employers are also asking what are their legal responsibilities in terms of NIS, PAYE etc,” Quentrall-Thomas added.
She noted the services sector is a real opportunity for members to employ Venezuelans through a wide variety of projects as their work ethic is generally very good.
“But without the proper information from the Government…we’ve called national security, immigration, nobody seems to know who’s got the cards,” Quentrall-Thomas said.
Nirad Tewarie, CEO of AMCHAM TT cited the need for digital transformation within businesses.
He emphasised the importance for T&T to embrace the digital platform if this country wants to compete and remain competitive in the global environment.
Quentrall-Thomas, who endorsed this, noted Government must address public sector inefficiencies.
“Without addressing such inefficiencies in the largest sector in the country, all efforts to move the economy forward to compete on a level platform without international services and goods would be slowed to a creeping pace and our competitors would widen the margins that separate us, “ she advised.
Eugene Tiah, President of the Energy Chamber of T&T who also spoke highlighted the special petroleum tax which is meant to encourage and secure the oil producing companies in T&T, allowing for the country to have some future incomes eliminating from this sector.
Regarding construction, Glenn Mahabirsingh, President of the T&T Contractors Association recommended that there ought to be a more efficient system for treating with delayed payments on State projects.
‘” Given the construction market has shrunk, bid-prices and mark-ups have also been reduced.
“ When works are completed and payments are delayed by the State, this incurs significant cash-flow strain on contractors as contractors would have already paid for input labour, material, equipment etc,” Mahabirsingh noted.
He suggested the implementation of a client payment bond to mitigate the risk of delayed payment from the State.
Mahabirsingh also recommended incentives for local companies to develop research and programmes which would allow the creation and improvement of new construction products and building systems.