Professional Services, Public and Private Sector Associations
October 28th, 2022
Needed: Speed & Urgency
Access and deployment of technology is the way to level the playing field, gain customers and vendors globally and leapfrog other businesses in the economic landscape.
The ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago continues to be a work in progress,” notes Angela Lee Loy, Chairman, Aegis Business Solutions, Eve Anderson Recruitment, and Caribbean Resourcing Solutions.
“While some industries and government divisions have gone online in some processing areas, the digital transformation for the whole user experience from start to finish is still needed,” Lee Loy points out. An astute businesswoman with decades of experience, Lee Loy hats also contributed her time and talent to several associations and NGOs. She recognises more than most that it is now necessary to work with ‘speed and urgency to connect the dots and improve our process flow in both private and public sector services.’
Technology and legislation crucial to success
“There is a real opportunity for Government, private sector and citizens to embrace technology and tap into what already exists truly. The cost is not prohibitive,’” Lee Loy advises. “Platforms already exist for what you want to do. With that, you no longer need huge capital, and you can test many services via subscription payment options,” she adds. “Access and deployment of technology is the way to level the playing field, gain customers and vendors globally and leapfrog other businesses in the economic landscape,” Lee Loy emphasises.
Still, the legislative framework will play a key role too.
“The procurement legislation is important for transparency and accountability. This is key to avoiding corruption in the system which is essential for good governance and attracting investors. When the process is transparent from top to bottom, it allows every business to get a fair chance in the vendor selection process, particularly in a society of so many SMEs. A proper tendering process is important,” Lee Loy believes.
T&T’s economy has a high level of SME engagement – with a clear majority of registered businesses in the country operating with less than four persons. Driving greater engagement between these types of companies and the Government can positively impact the communities affected by the pandemic by empowering smaller businesses. “Public and private sector participation is a must. We must continue to build trust and encourage Public-Private partnerships (PPP),” Lee Loy elaborates.
Lee Loy recognises that there are many issues, some exacerbated by recent events. Chief among them is that food imports are rising, but so are energy prices. “We are already experiencing logistical challenges due to the Ukrainian-Russian war, so supplies for products are already being substituted. Every element of the supply chain will be recosted and passed on to the consumer, which is already happening worldwide. The cost of goods will impact us, and consumers will be more discerning regarding their spending. The price at the gas pump will have a negative impact on citizens. We will continue to feel the shock on our shores,” she explains.
“As a result of all of this, we have to be looking at food security. Agriculture should play an essential role in the Government’s projected outlook. We have land but we need to mechanise agriculture,” Lee Loy adds. She acknowledges that many businesses also need to place greater emphasis on customer service as well – which would be a key determinant in seeing Trinidad and Tobago as a worthwhile tourism destination.
Still, Lee Loy is confident and hopeful that positive outcomes are coming.
“The new industrial park in Point Lisas is a step in the right direction. If we look at the current Point Lisas Industrial Estate, we are the number one exporter of ammonium and methanol from a single site. We are one of the largest gas processing facilities in the Americas. We have such good oil and gas infrastructure here. We have so much liquidity in this country that we should be our own investors because we have done it before.”
She also notes that we are beginning to see significant investment in the hotel industry as travel picks up.
“The cottage industries have done really well as people continue to create and innovate. Citizens are appreciating more and showcasing our local artisans, local food and the new products that are emerging in the local markets such as cassava flour, local chocolates and a range of sauces. These are just a few examples but there are so many things to see, taste and do now in Trinidad and Tobago. I expect more of our local suppliers to be available online and delivery options to improve,” she observes.
Drawing on her wealth of knowledge and experience, Lee Loy reminds us that we have been here before. “In the 80s and 90s, when Trinidad and Tobago was in a recession, our manufacturing sector rose to the occasion and innovated. We do have resilience but sometimes we have to be pushed to get there. We have qualified people across many industries in Trinidad and Tobago and we need to value and maximise our own people in these areas. We have done it before,” she reiterates.
“Looking ahead, the Government must also focus on the education sector. Our education system has to move forward with technology and ensure we close the digital divide throughout Trinidad and Tobago. We need to ensure every citizen has broadband and it is affordable for everyone. We need to ensure children receive training to prepare them for jobs today and for the future too.”
Much work is needed, but the cornerstone, Lee Loy reminds us, has to be speed and urgency.
Now or Never
The service industry’s contribution to national GDP has been steadily falling since 2016, and our global competitiveness has been in flux for much of the same time. Vashti Guyadeen, CEO, Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Service Industries (TTCSI), believes that stronger mechanisms need to be put in place to mitigate this.
“Over the past year, according to official figures, the services sector has experienced stagnated growth. Production volumes are declining, and performance expectations were not delivered in relation to forecasts. In 2019, the services industry in Trinidad and Tobago contributed 53.4% of the value added to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This share has been decreasing since 2016, when the services sector represented 59.3% of the same,” Guyadeen notes.
Recognising that what gets measured gets managed, the TTCSI has been focusing on collecting and analysing trade-in-services data to support its members, as, according to Guyadeen, even these official figures are ‘not a true reflection of services.’
Our fluctuation in global competitiveness is also an area of concern for the organisation. Michael Porter, one of the world’s most influential thinkers on management and competitiveness, highlights that it is firms that compete in global markets, not nations. Guyadeen suggests that ‘robust’ annual research can enhance local firms’ competitiveness. “The National Services Exporters (NSE) Survey 2020 now fully equips the private sector, government stakeholders and policymakers with bespoke information to make data-driven decisions regarding the implementation of recommendations aimed at improving the competitiveness of the national services sector. The recommendations not only support the Government’s efforts to develop a diversified sustainable economy while supporting export-led growth of service industries but also support the wider regional services mandate,” Guyadeen adds.
The NSE survey pointed out that exporting has become much more difficult for these firms. “This is one of the reasons that drove us to develop this country’s first national #GoGlobalTTServices, the country’s national services export campaign designed to improve firm competencies and local export potential.”
The organisation acknowledges that ‘stronger political will, together with employing the right talent to lead the transformation of services in T&T, is what we need’. “We must make radical moves to ensure that the Caribbean region is a knowledge-based hub. This process entails revamping institutions that were traditionally geared to support the manufacturing sector,” the CEO adds.
There are immediate aspects that we must tackle with stronger political will.
“In a nutshell, we need to aggressively dismantle and remove bottlenecks to do business in T&T to start with. We then need to digitise the top 10 mandatory services for investors to do business in the country – urgently in one fiscal year. This will send a signal to global investors that we are serious about attracting and sustaining investments and business,” Guyadeen advises. “With respect to foreign exchange, we need to prioritise support to services exporters. Government can start with the most export-ready firms under TTCSI’s Gateway to Trade as well as UTC’s Scale UpTT and other export accelerator programmes.”
Will this all work in time as we witness regional partners also making aggressive moves in the global economy? Guyadeen is optimistic, “Our preliminary research indicates a positive outlook for business and professional services. However, vulnerable sectors continue to stagnate, and business closures are evident in tourism, yacht and marine services, and personal care services.”
The indicators suggest that it may be now or never.