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Financial centre gets new ceo

By By Asha Javeed

In May 2010, the People's Partnership Government shelved plans for an International Financial Centre.

The plan was conceived by the former People's National Movement (PNM) administration and Finance Minister Winston Dookeran had deemed it "ill-conceived".

"The economics of the IFC were never there. The legal and taxation framework were not there," Dookeran had said.

In his 2011 national budget he had committed to restructuring the IFC into an International Business Centre (IBC).

By 2011, the plans had been dusted off, a board was appointed and the company — the Trinidad and Tobago International Financial Centre (TTIFC) — was given a new lease.

But it's more than simply being housed on the 7th floor of Tower C at the Waterfront Complex in Port of Spain.

Work has been apace to set up a running IFC with a broader mandate — not just to be a financial platform for international banks and finance houses to set up shop but to also attract foreign direct investment into Trinidad and Tobago.

The man tasked to realise this mandate is Ram Ramesh, former chief financial adviser to former CL Financial (CLF) chairman Lawrence Duprey as well as former chief executive of Caribbean Money Market Brokers (CMMB), now called First Citizens Investment Services.

He was appointed chief executive of the TTIFC in March.

Prior to his recruitment to the IFC, Ramesh was a Principal at KPMG Advisory.

Ramesh's contract at CLF and his involvement in Duprey's empire were raised during Sir Anthony Colman's ongoing Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the Hindu Credit Union.

He told the Business Express last week that he was now settling into the new job and declined to chat about his reasons for taking on the TTIFC challenge or what he expects to accomplish for the TTIFC.

Salic Reesal, a director on the TTIFC board, was more candid.

He said in a phone interview last week that when the new board was appointed on March 11, 2011, they inherited a company that was run ragged.

The board comprises chairman- Franco Siu Chong and directors-Terrence Lougheede-Walker, Christlyn Moore, Andre Phillips, Ramlochan Ragoonanan, Sharon Ramnarine and Reesal.

"We inevitably have to start a company from scratch," Reesal told the Business Express.

"We've had our ups and downs," he pointed out, but declined to go into details.

The company is now seeking to employ some 25 people, Reesal explained, with specific mandates.

He said the board was guided by a Terms of Reference which was given to it by the Ministry of Finance.

Dookeran had appointed a Ministerial team to review the IFC.

While still in its infancy, Reesal said there are a couple of things to smile about: "We are treading carefully on what is being done. While we are working on the guidelines given to us, we are also conscious of our own value we bring.  We now have a chief executive, so we are now in a position to be more progressive."

He was quick to point out that a project like the IFC would not come about overnight but needed a gestation of two to three years.

The TTIC, primarily, is a diversification thrust to wean this country off revenue from the energy sector.

Already, that job is spread out through several State vehicles — Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Company (e TecK), the Ministry of Trade and Industry as well as the Tourism Development Company (TDC).

Dookeran's mandate, which he gave at a consultation in November 2011 was very clear: to have a collective approach to handling foreign direct investment.

"Be it the Export Import Bank of Trinidad and Tobago whose job is to find it and make it possible for exporters to have an advantage or be it in the free trade zone area which provides certain incentives for exportation as well, or be it in e TecK which has responsibility for generating new investment and with specific reference to the new sectors of the economy, or be it perhaps in issues that are affecting the Tourism Development Authority or indeed the Foreign Investment Act as it applies to Tobago and the responsibility of the Tobago House of Assembly in working together to encourage an environment that is supportive, we recognise that these multitude of institutions must be brought together in a coherent whole, not as a single institution by any means but with a collective mandate to improve and increase foreign investment," he said at an IFC stakeholder conference on November 8, 2010.

He'd explained that foreign investment had to be given a wider frame with industrial estates being viewed as institutions to bring home investment.

"It is not there to manage real estate, it is there to create investment. New rules must be put into place to ensure that that is so and our recent decision to place on the stock market the Pt Lisas Industrial Estate for a further issue of funds is but a step in that direction, but there is much more to be done and therefore we must now view our industrial estates all as institutions for the promotion of investment in general. It calls for a different approach, a different mandate, a different set of rules," he'd said.

He'd tasked the TTIFC to consider the creation of new sectors in the economy in which there are some nascent capability like the maritime industry, renewable energy, broadband initiatives and ICT development.

The PNM had already appointed a steering committee, had selected consultant PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Oliver Wyman and had secured a commitment from RBC to take up office space at the IFC as well as expressions of interest from Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch.

"We recognise that the International Financial Centre as an entity may have lost its relevance, if it ever had one, but the fact that there can be a magnet for encouraging financial-type activities to be located not only physically but virtually in Trinidad and Tobago as the gateway to the southern Caribbean and indeed to Latin America has great potential.

"Already Trinidad and Tobago is seen as a seat for financial transactions that service a large part of the Caribbean and already many of our banking institutions have established presences in all parts of the region. But now there is need to build upon that and to explore the possibilities of widening our involvement to include the mineral economies of the Caribbean, for they are involved in creating new opportunities for their own population and a new synergy must now be developed in the financial sector," Dookeran said.

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