Business head calls for Customs to be fixed /

While busi­ness­es have wel­comed the pay­ment of out­stand­ing (Val­ue Added Tax) VAT re­funds and a pos­i­tive eco­nom­ic pro­jec­tion as an­nounced by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert dur­ing his mid-year bud­get re­view on Mon­day, they be­lieve, how­ev­er, that more must be done to en­able a more con­ducive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment which the min­is­ter could have in­clud­ed.

The Busi­ness Guardian reached to sev­er­al en­ti­ties in­clud­ing the Ch­agua­nas Cham­ber which ad­vised there are sev­er­al vari­ables need­ed to be im­proved to en­hance pri­vate sec­tor ac­tiv­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to its pres­i­dent Richie Sookhai.

For in­stance, he said, bu­reau­cra­cy at in­te­gral pub­lic agen­cies must be min­imised as this con­tin­ues to stymie busi­ness process­es.

Ac­cord­ing to Sookhai, im­porters are «al­ways at the mer­cy of Cus­toms’ red-tape prac­tices» which hin­der the time­ly clear­ance of im­port­ed goods for re­sale or even raw ma­te­ri­als and ma­chin­ery.

«If they (Cus­toms) are not sat­is­fied with the doc­u­ment com­pli­ance which were al­ready pre­sent­ed to clear the same goods suc­cess­ful­ly, the im­porter would now have ad­di­tion­al bur­dens of com­pil­ing oth­er un­nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion which takes time and re­sults in de­lays as this pre­vents the im­porter from ac­cess­ing his goods.

«This in turn de­lays his busi­ness op­er­a­tions and al­so dri­ves up his costs of do­ing busi­ness fur­ther,» Sookhai ex­plained.

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, he said there’s too much bu­reau­cra­cy when it comes to ac­cess­ing li­cences and per­mits.

For ex­am­ple, Sookhai cit­ed that al­though the process for ap­ply­ing for a build­ing per­mit has tran­si­tioned to an on­line plat­form, there are still many hin­drances re­gard­ing the sign­ing-off of ap­provals due to a lack of suf­fi­cient­ly qual­i­fied per­son­nel at State agen­cies.

Fur­ther, Sookhai said these ob­sta­cles al­so present prob­lems to for­eign en­ti­ties op­er­at­ing lo­cal­ly which, he added, have al­so been de­ter­ring them from want­i­ng to ex­pand and even new en­ti­ties which may have been in­ter­est­ed in in­vest­ing in the lo­cal econ­o­my may now be­come hes­i­tant to do so.

The Busi­ness Guardian al­so reached out to Pres­i­dent of the T&T Cham­ber Ian De Souza on what else Im­bert could have in­clud­ed in his re­view to fur­ther as­sist busi­ness­es.

De Souza said he pre­ferred to stick with­in the con­fines of a press re­lease is­sued ear­li­er by the cham­ber which not­ed that it has been ad­vo­cat­ing for VAT re­funds to be made cur­rent for sev­er­al years, adding that it is pleased that $1.6 bil­lion of the ad­di­tion­al ex­pen­di­ture will go to an in­crease in pay­ment of re­funds for April to Sep­tem­ber 2022.

Say­ing it has al­so not­ed the min­is­ter’s in­ten­tion to set­tle out­stand­ing pay­ments to sup­pli­ers and con­trac­tors, as well as the pay­ment of ar­rears to util­i­ty com­pa­nies, and out­stand­ing gra­tu­ities to pub­lic sec­tor con­tract work­ers, the cham­ber added that these pay­ments are ex­pect­ed to re­sult in a much-need­ed stim­u­lus to the econ­o­my.

But for­mer cham­ber pres­i­dent Gabriel Faria said, «I think there was a state­ment about $4 bil­lion still owed af­ter the $1.76 bil­lion. If that’s so it means re­funds climbed to $6.76 bil­lion which is high­er than the amount owed two years ago.

«What is the plan to ad­dress the bal­ance owed and solve this on­go­ing is­sue?

«This high­lights that the Gov­ern­ment did not ho­n­our its oblig­a­tion made in the 2020 bud­get to keep re­funds cur­rent.»

Oth­er mea­sures which could have been im­ple­ment­ed

Ac­cord­ing to the T&T Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (TTMA) the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, dur­ing his pre­sen­ta­tion, could have giv­en an up­date of cer­tain items that were in­tend­ed to be part of the stim­u­lus pack­age of the na­tion­al bud­get in Oc­to­ber, 2021.

It iden­ti­fied these as the Ex­im Bank Cat­alyt­ic Fund, re­duced tax rates by five per cent for ex­ist­ing ex­porters and 50 per cent ex­emp­tion on charge­able in­come for new pro­duc­ers in­volved in ex­ports and the pro­posed re­search and de­vel­op­ment al­lowance of 40 per cent for the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty.

Im­bert, dur­ing his re­view, had al­so not­ed that for Oc­to­ber 1, 2021, to March 1, 2022, an over­all deficit of $4.754 bil­lion was pro­ject­ed but in­stead, Gov­ern­ment record­ed a sur­plus.

«And that was based on the pre­lim­i­nary da­ta avail­able to the Gov­ern­ment back in Sep­tem­ber 2021. How­ev­er, I am pleased to re­port that in­stead of a deficit of $4.754 bil­lion at the end of March as was ex­pect­ed, based on rev­enues re­ceived and ex­pen­di­ture in­curred, the Gov­ern­ment has ac­tu­al­ly record­ed a sur­plus of $654 mil­lion,» the fi­nance min­is­ter al­so not­ed.

He al­so said that some $5.408 bil­lion high­er than the pro­ject­ed in­come in the first six months of the fis­cal year.

Im­bert at­trib­uted that sur­plus to the high­er than ex­pect­ed re­ceipts of tax­es on in­comes and prof­its stood at $3.2 bil­lion, adding that be­cause of the pos­i­tive cash flow based on in­creased en­er­gy prices, this was more good news.

Asked about how con­fi­dent the TTMA was re­gard­ing Im­bert’s pos­i­tive out­look growth, the TTMA said this along with the CSO’s fig­ures for the first three quar­ters of 2021 in­di­cat­ed that ef­forts have been fruit­ful.

«TTMA will con­tin­ue to pur­sue av­enues with­in its pow­er to stay on this tra­jec­to­ry for the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor via trade mis­sions, the ex­port boost­er ini­tia­tive and our an­nu­al trade and in­vest­ment con­ven­tion, to name a few.

«The TTMA al­so looks for­ward to work­ing close­ly with the Gov­ern­ment to im­prove the ease of do­ing busi­ness in Trinidad and To­ba­go. We be­lieve this is a vi­tal cog in stim­u­lat­ing eco­nom­ic ac­tiv­i­ty in the coun­try,» the or­gan­i­sa­tion added.

How­ev­er, the TTMA em­pha­sised that in­te­gral for the sus­te­nance of lo­cal busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ty must be ad­dress­ing the crime sit­u­a­tion; tack­ling trade fa­cil­i­ta­tion chal­lenges such as port in­ef­fi­cien­cies, prop­er­ly re­sourc­ing bor­der agen­cies such as Cus­toms; as­sist­ing in build­ing labour pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and en­sur­ing that the right leg­isla­tive frame­works are en­forced.

It al­so main­tained that pro­vid­ing mech­a­nisms to pro­tect lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing against il­lic­it trade would go a long way in cre­at­ing an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for the sus­tain­able growth and de­vel­op­ment of busi­ness op­er­a­tions.

The TTMA al­so shared some in­sights as to what ex­tent has there been an ex­pan­sion in the de­mand for goods and ser­vices from its mem­bers dur­ing the last year or so.

It cit­ed that in 2021, there was an in­crease de­mand for food and bev­er­age, tex­tiles, in­clud­ing PPE, chem­i­cal based prod­ucts such as hand sani­tis­er and clean­ing prod­ucts and con­struc­tion.

And, ac­cord­ing to the TTMA trade mis­sions have al­so pro­duced an in­crease in de­mand for the goods to ful­fil new ex­port or­ders.


LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian

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