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Sunday 22 September 2019
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Vasant: Huge benefits coming for TT

TRINIDAD and Tobago has climbed 12 spots in the “Ease of doing business ranking” this year; from 91 out of 189 economies in 2014 to 79 in 2015, and has been hailed as one of the “top ten” most-improved economies in the World Bank’s “Doing Business Report 2015” report, published last Wednesday (October 29).

TT was the only economy in Latin America and the Caribbean to have achieved this, which Trade, Industry, Investment and Communications Minister, Vasant Bharath says is “a huge benefit for our country.”

However work remains to be done in certain areas, including reducing the time it takes to get construction permits, as Bharath acknowledged during an exclusive interview with Business Day earlier this week at his office on Level 17, Nicholas Tower, Independence Square, Port-of-Spain.

“I feel very proud...that TT has climbed 12 spots in the rankings,” Bharath shared, “because a lot of work, effort and time has gone into it. (There’s) also a deep sense of pride and gratitude that we’ve arrived at this position but this is not the end of the journey by any means.”

The World Bank noted that TT now stands at 113 in the ranking of 189 economies on the ease of dealing with construction permits. This put TT at the bottom of a chart of six other Caribbean economies, and below the Regional Average ranking for the Caribbean and Latin America, listed on page 25 of the “Economy Profile 2015 — Trinidad and Tobago.”

Jamaica was the highest ranked Caribbean economy at 26, Antigua and Barbuda ranked 30, Grenada ranked 40, Dominica ranked 43, Suriname ranked 79, the Dominican Republic ranked 96 while the Regional Average ranking was 92.

Questioned about what’s being done to address the ease of doing business in TT’s construction sector, Bharath, who is also a Minister in the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, told Business Day that issuing of construction permits is under the purview of the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, “and ultimately links to the Town and Country Division of the ministry.”

Hence the Trade, Industry, Investment and Communications Ministry has been “working with them (Planning Ministry) to try to reduce the number of days, and the number of procedure, it takes to actually get a construction permit in TT.”

Specifically, the ministries have begun “a couple of pilot projects to be able to indicate and prove to the World Bank that we are making visible steps to address this (so that) TT can achieve a much higher ranking in (construction permits).”

Bharath shared some details about one of the pilot projects, currently underway in Port-of-Spain and Chaguanas, “Where we’re looking at doing away with the requirement that a Limited Liability Company get a WASA (Water and Sewerage Authority) Clearance Certificate. Outside of the fact that the legislation requires it, there’s no practical purpose for it. So we’re working with WASA on that.”

The “Dealing with Construction Permits” indicator is calculated by considering the number of procedures, time and cost for a business to obtain all the necessary approvals to build a simple commercial warehouse in the economy’s largest business city, connect it to basic utilities and register the property so that it can be used as collateral or transferred to another entity.

The Trade Ministry on Monday said it is working with the Planning Ministry “to improve the delivery of this service and to make it less time-consuming and less costly, as well as to allow for greater transparency and accountability.”

It also noted that the Planning and Development Land Bill (2013), which would require the use of private “Registered Professionals” (RP) for the submission of applications for large buildings, has been passed and is awaiting proclamation. “This is expected to improve the efficiency of building approvals and reduce existing transaction costs,” the ministry stated.

As such, the Trade Ministry has held discussions with WASA, the Law Association of TT and the Bankers’ Association of TT regarding the possible removal of the need for purchasers of property to obtain a WASA Clearance Certificate.

“Instead of removing the Clearance Certificate, WASA has given assurances to banks and conveyancing practitioners,” the ministry said, “that a ‘revised customer statement’ would suffice and represent all claims owed to the Authority.”

This reform will apply to Limited Liability Companies and be executed on a phased basis, starting with companies in POS and Chaguanas. When implemented, this is expected to reduce the time taken and the number of procedures involved in registering property in TT.

“An increase in the rankings is good on its own,” Bharath noted, “but what needs to be reflected is how it impacts positively on the ability to do business in TT.”

Reiterating his advice to local businesses of late; that TT is competing regionally and internationally for the same “investment dollar”, the Trade Minister said the question we must ask and answer correctly is, “What do we do to encourage that investor to come to TT?”

“Once he/she is here, what measures do we put in place to ensure that we keep the investor? How do we keep them and how do we ensure that our institutions receive that investor in a welcoming manner, in a manner that is competent to allow the investor to make a proper decision.? These are the things we are wrestling with in terms of becoming better day by day,” Bharath revealed.

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