Global experts conclude: NOT EASY DOING BUSINESS IN T&T

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……..and we are lagging behind Jamaica, St Lucia, Dominica

By VASANT BHARATH

Trinidad and Tobago cur­rently ranks 105th of 190 countries – in the bot­tom half – in the creation of an enabling environment for doing business.

That, in essence, means that there are 104 countries in the world where it is easier to do busi­ness than Trinidad and Tobago.
Starting and doing business is a nightmare in T&T, judging from the findings in the latest annual Ease of Doing Business study of the World Bank.
This is a dramatic fall from 66 in 2014, when, as Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment, I had worked with relevant agen­cies to introduce mechanisms to promote efficiency and produc­tivity and to improve regulatory systems.
From a historic high of 66 to a dismal placing of 105!
We had reduced the timeframe for starting a new business from 43 days to three days.
Several other crucial measures were being implemented in 2014 and 2015 to further improve the business climate and to speed up paperwork to make T&T more conducive to investors.
At the rate at which reforms were being introduced, T&T would have approached modern and efficient societies like New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark, Hong Kong, South Korea, Geor­gia and Norway.
All these hard-worn gains have been abandoned and reversed by the Rowley Government, and now T&T is back to the red tape, bureaucracy, incompetence and wastefulness that is the hallmark of PNM regimes.
We are now witnessing the flight of business operators, such as Unilever, a major product man­ufacturer and employer.
Arcelor Mittal and other indus­trial corporations have also fled under PNM rule.
Berger Paints recently an­nounced their closure after 68 years in business in Trinidad and Tobago.
Doing business is once more bogged down in protracted bu­reaucracy at a time when the country requires domestic and in­ternational investments to boost a stagnant economy.

Imbert made no mention of the Ease of Doing Business index

In his budget address, Finance Minister Colm Imbert made no mention of the Ease of Doing Business index, obviously em­barrassed about the abject state of affairs.
So, what does the ease of doing business mean and how impor­tant is it to Trinidad and Tobago?
The index is a catch-all term of relevant systems and procedures in establishing a new business in a country.
They include setting up a lim­ited liability company, obtaining construction permits, getting electricity and water, registering property, obtaining credit, paying taxes, trading across borders, en­forcing contracts and adhering to labour regulations.
There are rigorous and well-researched benchmarks for these important dimensions, and they are common to all the economies that are analysed by experts of the World Bank.
Trinidad and Tobago has slumped in most of these crite­ria, and is especially inefficient in dealing with construction per­mits, registering property, trad­ing across borders and enforcing contracts.
In the region, we are lagging behind Jamaica, which is ranked at 75, St. Lucia (93) and Dominica (103).
An open economy like Trinidad and Tobago cannot flourish with­out private sector investments, and the Ease of Doing Business index is an appropriate guide to prospective entrepreneurs.
The index is even more impor­tant in an era in which invest­ments are no longer constrained by geographic borders.
Business ventures are the life­blood of an economy, generating income. providing jobs and stim­ulating activity.
Under the current administra­tion, there has not been a single international investment, com­pared to the annual US $1.6 bil­lion worth of direct foreign busi­ness which was attracted from 2012 to 2015.
As for local Corporations, they have either invested in more business-friendly countries or have simply parked up their
wealth.
In fact, over the past couple years, there has been a flight of capital valued at more than US $1 billion each year.
A conservative estimate is that at least 50,000 public and private sector workers have lost their jobs over the past four years.
There is over $3.5bn in cash sitting in our banks, looking for an investment home.
Against that debilitating back­ground, Trinidad and Tobago urgently requires capital invest­ments, in order to engender eco­nomic momentum.
But instead of creating a more facilitative environment, the Rowley Government has slipped back into bungling and ineptitude in all the essential regulatory pro­cesses.
Imbert has acknowledged a flat economic performance in the im­mediate future, but has clearly not seen the fundamental need for fostering a more attractive in­vestment setting.
As Trade Minister, I appreci­ated that a good Ease of Doing Business ranking was a warm, open door sign to international companies and an indicator that our country was progressing.
It told the world that we are open for business and we are an ideal home for their investments.

From red tape to red carpet

Indeed, the motto of the Minis­try of Trade under my tenure was ‘from red tape to red carpet’.
In 2014, Trinidad and Tobago was among the top 10 economic reformers in the world, and we were credited as being in the frontier of regulatory improve­ment.
Businesses saw inherent ad­vantages in considering a modern reformist economy, with obvi­ous advantages, incentives and a business-friendly administration.
The decline in the ease of doing business is coupled with a fall in the Global Competitiveness In­dex (GCI), with T&T now placed 79th out of 141 countries.
GCI assesses institutions, skills, infrastructure, health in­novation, labour market and other indicators.
There is evidence that other countries are improving stan­dards and becoming more com­petitive – while T&T is on a downward slide.
The top countries in the Ease of Doing Business ranking have such features as strong regula­tory standards, public service ef­ficiency and effective automated systems.
In some instances, official ap­provals are granted in a day.
In certain countries, state-of-the-art technology processes ap­plications in record time.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has been protesting about the produc­tivity of public officers.
There have been no measures at public service reform.
During my ministerial term, the Customs and Excise Depart­ment merged its Asycuda System with the Single Electronic
Window, leading to a fast-paced and well-organised pro­cess.
The Ministry which I had the pleasure of leading appreciated the obvious and far-reaching ben­efits of modernising and improv­ing professionalism and delivery in every area of activity.
That is a cornerstone to mak­ing Trinidad and Tobago a more attractive investment destination.
The Unilever story depicts T&T’s sorry state
In contrast, Imbert bemoans the “fragile economic environ­ment”, blaming international economic realities instead of charting T&T’s own course in upgrading the regulatory frame­work.

The Unilever story depicts T&T’s sorry state.

The company has had a foot­print in this country since 1929, through two predecessor compa­nies, and, in 1964, morphed into Lever Brothers.
The company is sending home 285 workers and reviewing its T&T operations.
But in Singapore, where Uni­lever found a home more than 50 years ago, the situation is dramat­ically different.
Unilever’s country manager re­cently said: “Singapore’s superb business infrastructure, excel­lent human capital, connectivity, and strong base of supporting industries, combined with the support provided by the Singa­pore Government, make it an ideal place for a regional business
hub.”
Compare that with the current business environment in T&T under PNM rule and contemplate what the future holds for us under this incompetent bunch.