By Patrick Haller
Institutionalized corruption, crime so high that it merits its own website, a state of emergency, low education levels and employee distrust of executives might not be the first things that come to mind when thinking of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T), but this archipelagic nation of just under 1,400,000 inhabitants has been plagued by all of these things –since pirates first landed upon its shores in 1498. This week Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said the State of Emergency and curfew implemented in several areas of Trinidad since August 2011 will remain in effect until security improves.
Put plainly, Is this the type of climate that will lure potential investors and clients for its services?
Given this situation, it would appear that the nation’s motto “Together we aspire, together we achieve” is easier said than done. According to Doing Business 2011 published by the International Financial Corporation of the World Bank, T&T ranked 97 for Ease of Doing business in a study of 183 economies; a two point decrease over 2010’s findings. It also saw decreases in other categories such as Starting a Business (74/63 -11), Dealing with Construction Permits (85/82 -3) and Paying Taxes (91/90 -1). One significant area that saw no change was Protecting Investors, ranked at 20 each period.
it comes to Enforcing Contracts, T&T shows a very low score of 169 for 2010 and 2011, it also showed the lowest of all nations at 183 for Closing a Business because no procedure has actually been established. There are some advantages that the study does not reveal, like the price stick model that was established to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) which fixed the utility and interest rates, with slight variations over time. This means that an investor can project what some of the costs will be for the next 20 years.
“There will come a time when oil and gas will no longer be the mainstay of the economy,” predicts Glenroy London, Strategic Project Manager Global with NU-WAV Management Systems Ltd., a provider of project management consulting to T&T’s energy sector. London possesses over 30 years of experience with this industry, but is looking at alternatives for his country. “The most invaluable thing would be to pursue a knowledge-based economy, but we don’t have all the infrastructure or bandwidth to support it.” A tech park was going to be established during the last presidential administration, but it never came to fruition. “We need to develop visionaries,” London declared, “I would consider myself a visionary in that respect and there are others in the diaspora. There are very innovative ideas in tech development. It is a matter of exploring the synergy between such people.” London sees that there is an opportunity in terms of transfer of information and knowledge using technology, but it isn’t currently being used. Part of the reason is that companies in T&T do not have CIOs, and many of the CEOs are from the industrial era and conduct business as usual. “Right now it is a mess. The transfer of info is not done in an optimum manner when a project pursues strategic growth and development, and when they are completed,” London explained, “There are paradigm shifts and we are transitioning from the industrial to the technological.”
While London believes that some members of the younger generation will have their own visions and are more likely to create a new future, he also sees that the ones that get absorbed into old way of doing things will submit to that system. In an effort to foster tech savvy, the federal government has given computers to students who have passed the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) Examination, an instrument used to facilitate the placement of students in Secondary Schools throughout T&T. Although this effort, according to London, is starting in right direction, there no thought about wisdom or knowledge and there is need to establish a Ministry of Innovation that would provide a framework for opportunities for people who want to pursue visionary innovation. Even if there was such a Ministry, there is still the need to improve the average education from high school to at least the university level.
Wages in T&T are lower than in countries such as Brazil and Chile, and the workforce tends to be loyal to their employers. However, said London, “with companies crashing, corruption and greed, workers look at management with a hawk-eye and are losing trust in executives and governments worldwide.” Furthermore, workers feel that the remuneration packages are not just compared to the company’s profits. “A new world order is looming and becoming a reality. The capital system does not have the same type of hold it used to have.”
Corruption Still High
The corruption index for T&T is quite high; in the private and public sectors,” said London. “The government has established a transparency institute, but laws and declarations of openness and governance have not been established in accordance with international best practices.”
Since T&T has done little internal gathering of data, London points to third-party studies as guides. “Look at the indices where studies have been done comparing countries, and look at where we are in terms of regulations, tech savvy, education, infrastructure.
There are a number of metrics that we can look at and see how we juxtapose to other developing countries.” Whereas Doing Business 2011 gives T&T negative scores, the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom compiled by The Heritage Foundation is a bit more optimistic. Out of 183 nations, T&T received an economic freedom score of 66.5, making its economy the 52nd freest in the 2011 Index. Its score is 0.8 point higher than last year, reflecting improvements in fiscal freedom, monetary freedom, and government spending. The Index also placed T&T 11 out of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region, and found that its overall score is higher than the world and regional averages. Even with these encouraging numbers, by all accounts, T&T has a long road ahead on all fronts if it is to become a viable sourcing destination and truly competitive global player.