Hazel Thompson-Ahye

PERENNIAL PROBLEM: Hazel Thompson-Ahye

Several scholarship winners are earning an income driving taxis while others qualified in the field of law are unemployed because the State has not placed them in jobs.

This, while the Solicitor General’s department is understaffed and in need of more attorneys.

This was one of the concerns raised yesterday during a meeting of the Joint Select Committee of Finance and Legal Affairs, enquiring into the ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago.

The issue of staffing was raised by Committee member Dinesh Rambally, who questioned whether the Solicitor General’s department was adequately staffed to allow for speedy resolution of matters before it.

Solicitor General Carol Hernandez conceded there is a need for more attorneys, adding that the Solicitor General’s chamber never has enough attorneys and “the establishment needs to be expanded”.

Hernandez noted there is a constant turnover of staff and the Solicitor General’s department is always losing its senior attorneys.

Chairman of the committee, Hazel Thompson-Ahye, said short staffing is a perennial problem at the department and she questioned whether attorneys are being paid sufficiently to avoid such a high staff turnover.

She suggested that compensation packages for attorneys in the various departments of the Attorney General’s office be improved, which would act as in incentive while also reducing the cost to the AG’s office of retaining private attorneys to handle State matters.

Understaffed departments

Chief State Solicitor Sean Julien however said the salary rate is not the only reason for the high turnover of staff. He said some attorneys leave because of stress-related factors.

Nevertheless, Thompson-Ahye lamented there are qualified scholarship winners still waiting to be placed in jobs after completing their studies and she said they could be employed in these understaffed departments.

“There are many lawyers out there, even some who are scholarship winners and are supposed to be employed by the State,” she said.

She noted that she has met many such persons who have complained that they have not gotten a job.

“We have to work on these processes so they can get into the job early because we have many lawyers unemployed. I understand some of them driving taxi and doing all sorts of other things because they just can’t get jobs,” she said.

She said proper staffing in key agencies is crucial to T&T’s ease of doing business.

“If you have no one to attend to business, you can’t have ease of business...A number of people are suffering because they can’t get their things done because they don’t have the workforce to deal with it,” she added.

Economic survival

Thompson-Ahye said if Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is to recover following the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, the country must improve its Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) ranking and put measures in place to be-come more business friendly.

T&T has been placed 105 out of 190 countries on the World Bank’s 2019 EoDB index which ranks countries against each other based on how the regulatory environment is conducive to business operation. Economies with a high rank have simpler and more friendly regulations for businesses while those that rank lower are deemed to have more restrictive regulations that make it difficult to operate a business.

Thompson-Ahye said many businesses in T&T have collapsed as a result of the pandemic and these businesses are necessary for T&T’s economic survival.

“Post Covid-19, we hope to see a resurgence of business activities,” she said.

“Our economic survival depends on that taking place but this will happen only if there is ease of doing business in T&T. If businesses are to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the pandemic, T&T must become a place where local and foreign entrepreneurs can say of us that bureaucracy is at a minimum, that start-up processes are efficient, swift and reasonably priced and that we are a business-friendly environment,” she said.