The Bankers’ Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT) views the 2022 national budget’s focus on institutional building, key sectors’ enablement, ongoing social development, improvement in public service efficiency, and acceleration of Tobago’s development as crucial for Trinidad and Tobago’s recovery from the financial and socio-economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Moreover, attainment of the budget’s objectives in these areas is also necessary for sustainable post-pandemic growth. BATT is committed to continue working with the government for the improvement of the lives of our citizens and the advancement of a supportive and competitive commercial environment for businesses of all sizes. Consequently, BATT welcomes the following
budget measures that are closely aligned to its advocacy thrust.
Ease of Doing Business
Digitization: BATT is encouraged by the Government’s continued investment in the digital economy strategy, including expanding the ambit of e-governance. Ongoing digital transformation of the public sector is a welcomed measure given its potential to substantially
improve public service efficiency and result in cost and time savings, particularly for the business community. To this end, BATT supports the proposed removal of all duties and taxes on computer hardware, software, and peripherals as a means of boosting productivity, enhancing competitiveness, and supporting the country’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, BATT is pleased that the government is seeking to implement digital inclusion initiatives which the banking sector has championed for some time to narrow the digital divide through expansion of TT WiFi, an increase in ICT Access Centres, provision of digital skills training, and delivery of broadband service to underserved communities. These actions will support digital
skills development and expand the capacity for small businesses, students, households, and communities to become producers in the digital economy, while more broadly building resilience and facilitating development of rural communities. Importantly, these initiatives must be backed by long-overdue legislation that supports an e-economy. Our expectation is for expedited legislative support, through the proclamation of the Electronic Transactions Act and the Data Protection Act, as the country keeps its foot on the digital accelerator.
Revenue Authority: ICT will no doubt continue to play an important role in the Government’s tax revenue mobilization efforts. As such, BATT eagerly looks forward to anticipated improvements in the efficiency of tax revenue administration, including disbursement of VAT refunds, through operationalization of the Revenue Authority. In addition to enhancing the government’s revenue generation efforts, improved tax administration will also enhance businesses’ cash flow.
National Statistics Institute: In seeking to enhance the environment for doing business, the Minister has certainly taken on board industry feedback. We are pleased, therefore, that the government is committed to creation of a National Statistics Institute, since we feel strongly that data deficiencies in respect of availability and timeliness place effective policymaking at risk, in both the public and private sectors. This is especially important during a pandemic when up-todate economic data are critical for evidence-based decisions.
Support for SMEs
Small business’ fulsome participation in the labour market is a precondition to the country’s economic recovery and we are pleased to see that the financial bridge for hard-hit businesses continues. With anecdotal estimates attributing 50% of employment generation to SMEs, stimulating growth in this sector is vital to create jobs, increase productivity and boost income.
Support measures such as the finalization of a Small Business Liquidity Support Facility of $100Million for the revitalization of micro and small businesses, managed by credit unions, will directly support SMEs immediately and beyond the pandemic. Similarly, the $30 Million Grant Facility for micro- and small businesses earning below $1 million in annual revenue is welcome news for the smaller SMEs which are no less valuable than their larger counterparts. This facility will encourage eligible enterprises to seek and receive credit support that was previously beyond their reach. In addition, relaxation of criteria for SMEs to be current with payments to the Board of Inland Revenue and the National Insurance Board to access the government’s loan stimulus facility is a much-needed relief for qualifying businesses to access loan facilities necessary to help them reestablish themselves.
As identified by the World Bank, BATT supports the view that financial inclusion is a key enabler to reducing poverty and boosting shared prosperity. As such, the development of a national financial inclusion strategy for Trinidad and Tobago will enable individuals and enterprises to access affordable financial products that meet their specific needs responsibly and sustainably.
Consequently, BATT supports government’s expansion and use of fintech solutions for financial inclusion will help to increase access to financial services for citizens who may have previously been unable to save and access credit.
Many businesses within the hospitality industry in Tobago including hotels, restaurants and bars are still struggling and need direct support. In this regard financial assistance through the Enterprise Assistance Grant and Enterprise Assistance Loan Programmes, in addition to budgetary allocations for the Tourism Accommodation Upgrade Programme, Hoteliers and Tourism Businesses provide important support where Covid-19 has struck hardest – to women, young people, low-wage workers, and small and medium-sized businesses in hospitality and tourism. Moreover, the allocation of $50 Million to the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Support
initiative provides targeted sectoral financial assistance to empower the industry for a postpandemic comeback.
BATT believes that the way to expedite the country’s exit from this pandemic is through fiscal and non-fiscal actions as well as partnerships between government and business.
BATT looks forward to working with the government on the announced reforms to support the country’s economic recovery and a Trinidad and Tobago that is more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable.