Minister of Trade Vasant Bharath

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ACCOUNTABILITY OF INSTITUTIONS IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO

There is a saying that "If you continue to do the same things in the same way, you will get the same results."

This has not been our reality, doing the same things has actually put us in a worse position in the global rankings of Ease of Doing Business and the Global Competitiveness Index. Our score has remained marginally unchanged while our ranking deteriorates – the rest of the world is moving ahead and we are not even playing 'catch-up'. If we are to aggressively pursue improvements in these two indices we must make significant changes to our modus operandi.

At a recent breakfast meeting with the Chamber, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment Senator Vasant Bharath, indicated that there were a number of agencies under the purview of the Ministry, some of which carried similar mandates. Given this country's limited resources, historic lack of accountability and duplication of efforts, the Chamber agrees with the minister that there is a need to rationalise the many agencies, Special Purpose Companies and the various government committees that are in existence.

However, rationalisation by merging and re-branding is simply not enough. The Chamber has been advocating for the development of key performance indicators, procedures for adequate governance and accountability in not only State Agencies but in all ministries.

We cannot continue to invest monies into activities that yield no return or show no tangible results whether it be in the short, medium or long term.

The Minister of Trade indicated that over the last five years $80 million has been allocated to the TT Entertainment Company and the Film Company of Trinidad and Tobago, 50 per cent of which went into administrative costs. However, it was felt that there have been no tangible results to show that a return on this investment was being realised. As such, we now have a national Creative Industries Company to oversee the development of these industries and a board which comprises of businesspersons who have been successful in their respective fields. Having one umbrella company may result in cost savings through shared services, but the Chamber is not convinced that a simple name change and a new Board will result in a better managed and more profitable industry. Further, given the haste with which the emergence of the new Creative Industries Company occurred one has to wonder if a proper analysis was done into the activities being undertaken to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The Committees charged with the development of the seven sectors for diversification would have had strategic plans, which were reviewed. Further, we trust that the work undertaken so far by the various committees will not be lost in course of the attempts to re-focus the entities.

It was announced during the 2013 budget that the Business Development Company was also rebranded as ExporTT in order to achieve a renewed mandate that focuses on exclusively building competitiveness of our local firms to be export ready. Again, the Chamber argues that a change of name will not necessarily result in a more focused organisation. What is required is a robust performance management system and consistent accountability to the line ministry, in this case the Ministry of Trade. Structural reforms and re-branding exercises require significant resources and can result in significant cumulative costs even though it may not appear obvious.

It concerns us that there seems to have been a lack of consultation and communication before deciding to implement these plans for rationalisation of state agencies. Any rationalisation should be beneficial to the nation by giving us a less burdensome administrative process, greater accountability, less duplication of effort and clearer lines of responsibility. The methods and processes used to achieve rationalisation must strive for collaboration and buy-in from management and staff and all relevant stakeholders.

The Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development was said to be producing a National Performance Framework which will detail key performance indicators (KPI) and benchmarks attached to the Medium Term Policy Framework (MTPF) 2011-2014. We wish to underscore that we are halfway through the period stipulated by the MTPF and we still await such a report on those indicators.

One reform to doing business in Trinidad and Tobago that the Chamber is pleased about, is the Single Electronic Window otherwise known as TTBizLink. The automated process within the TTBizLink will result in a reduction in the time taken to complete trade and business facilitation transactions and will hopefully make government agencies and services easier to navigate. The TTBizLink will hopefully allow Trinidad and Tobago to gain a competitive edge as a nation "open for business". Related to this, we eagerly await the proclamation of the Electronic Transaction Act and the relevant amendments to the Ex-Chequer's and Audit Act to truly bring us into the 21st century.

A number of other reforms that the minister mentioned will also require legislative reform, a process which can be quite lengthy. One such reform is addressing the issues faced by the trading community at the Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division of the Ministry of Health and the Customs and Excise Division of the Ministry of Finance and the Economy. At the Chamber's breakfast meeting, Minister Bharath indicated that the aim is to rationalise the procedures of these Divisions for them to realise a facilitative role rather than just a regulatory one. Given the lengthy process of legislative reform, it has to remain a priority.

We acknowledge that one Ministry cannot by itself transform Trinidad and Tobago into an efficient, transparent and attractive business hub. Achieving competitiveness and making our investment climate attractive has to be a common goal undertaken by all ministers, the entire government, the business community and civil society. The Chamber will continue our work with all stakeholders to help support this effort.

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