Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye calls the start of the third virtual meeting of the JSC on Finance and Legal Affairs yesterday.

Renuka Singh

In an ironic twist, documents related to the ease of doing business were delivered late to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) as members only received them two hours before the group met.

The JSC members included Government Ministers Terrence Deyalsingh, Marvin Gonzales Hassel Bacchus and Opposition senators Jayanti Lutchmedial and Dinesh Rambally.

Chair of the JSC, Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye questioned the representative from the Attorney General’s office Sean Julien about the delay. Julien said that the Office only received the enquiry one week ago even though the questions were sent out three weeks prior, which accounted for the delayed response.

The JSC was convened to discuss speeding up the lengthy bureaucracy involved in setting up a business or getting business done in T&T.

Currently, the World Bank ranks T&T a lowly 105 out of 190 countries on the ease of doing business index.

“When we embark on these exercises it is because it is crucial and we’re about the people’s business and we need to ensure that we proceed with the people’s business,” Thompson-Ahye said.

“We want to move from where we in, in terms of the World Bank ranking, we want to be a friendly business environment. There are stumbling blocks and in some areas we are good and we are very poor,” she said.

Thompson Ahye also questioned how the Ministry of Trade and Industry was going to reduce the administrative cost and time for the import and export procedures and was told that a US$25 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank was used to facilitate the Single Electronic Window, which eased some of the bureaucracy. From that money, TT$30 million was allocated for 2021.

Acting Permanent Secretary at the Ministry, Ayleen Alleyne-Ovid said that that allocation was used to implement port systems at both the port in Port-of-Spain and in Point Lisas.

“Some of the key impacts of this initiative would include establishing interconnectivity of the border systems in T&T,” she said.

“The main objective is to simplify clearance procedures and reduce the time and improve the efficiency of clearance and cargo across borders,” she said.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry was represented by chief technical and operation advisor Randall Karim, who said that the Ministry hired an international consultant to assist with drafting a piece of the legislation which has already been sent to stakeholders like the Central Bank, Bankers Association, Chambers of Commerce.

“We have one round of consultations taking place by those stakeholders because as you would appreciate, it is a very complex matter,” he said.

“We are hoping in this quarter to get the legislation completed,” Karim said.

On the question of a process mapping and engineering, JSC member Hassel Bacchus questioned how the all the relevant processes were being managed and unified.

“We recognise that you have to go at the core of the business processed because unless the business processes are changed, what you find is that you retrofit new technology to fit existing process,” he said.

Karim said in 2018, the Ministry retained a UK-based firm to do a mapping of the business processes in T&T.

“We worked very closely with all the main border agencies and identified specific processes,” he said.

Karim admitted that not everything is perfect because when you attempt to change and standardise the process, individual judgement is removed.

“It is a difficult exercise to implement,” he said.