Express Business Filler #1

AS THE Government gets ready to embark on a digitisation initiative, the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries (TTCSI) believes it is essential that all its services be delivered online.

“Business processes must be reengineered, and the mindset of public officers transformed to radically improve the public customer experience,” said President of the TTSCI Lara Quentrall Thomas.

She observed that in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Trinidad and Tobago currently ranks 158 out of 190 countries for registering property, 174 out of 190 countries for enforcing contracts and 166 out of 190 countries for the payment of taxes.

“These indicators all support what we experience every day, the frustrating and costly difficulty of doing business. And let’s not even get started on the nightmare that is Customs,” she said at an virtual pre-budget forum yesterday entitled, “Digital Government and The Ease of Doing Business/Recommendations for the 2021 National Budget” yesterday.

“Many of our processes can be done online now—but only up to a point. Payment and document submissions cannot always be done online. In some cases, aspects of the process must be completed in person. The Global Enterprise Registration Network (GER) gives the T&T business registration website a below-average score of three out of ten for its single electronic window and 4.5 out of ten for providing information on how to register a business. Clearly there is significant room for improvement.

“An integrated digital infrastructure is critical to enable cashless transactions for businesses and creates opportunities for the emergence and inclusion of entrepreneurs. A number of frameworks, policies and legislation, and 13 key digital projects have been highlighted for implementation over the next three years, to facilitate an Enabling Digital Environment in Trinidad and Tobago post Covid. We shall be monitoring the situation to ensure these are realised and this is not just more talk,” she assured.

She observed that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused extreme hardship for most businesses.

“Many have reduced their workforce or closed altogether. A significant number of our members innovated and pivoted and adapted to survive. But of particular concern are our tourism, event management and cultural sectors. Overnight these were decimated,” she said.

“And whilst we appreciate the short term relief that was offered via grants and low-interest loans, now more than ever, we need our Government to demonstrate its commitment to the long-term rebuilding of our economy and these sectors, through innovative and impactful incentives and reforms. We believe that deeper collaboration is essential, among the Government, private sector and labour if we are to successfully navigate the next 12 months,” she said.

She urged the Government to reconsider statutory payment requirements for those businesses that have received no income for the past six months.

“We appreciate the need to raise revenue through taxation, but special consideration and incentives must be given to those in tourism and other sectors so badly impacted by the pandemic. Many micro and small enterprises in the services sector—salons, massage therapists, consultants, spas—have seen their revenue evaporate overnight, and despite their dedication to compliance with Covid protocols and our consistent advocacy, they still need support,” she said.

Quentrall Thomas said the TTCSI also joins the call for the immediate and full proclamation of the Procurement Act, as a key mechanism for reducing corruption and rebuilding trust in doing business with the Government.

University of the West Indies economist Roger Hosein and director of TTCSI, Rabindra Jaggernauth, also made presentations at the forum. Minister of Public Administration and Digital Transformation, Allyson West, did not participate in the virtual forum. She was represented by Hassel Bacchus, Minister in the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation.

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