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Industrial Court judge on terminating workers: Follow proper procedure

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 22:18

ANDRE WORRELL

Industrial Court judge Gregory Rousseau says that most employers lose judgements at the court for failure to follow due protocol and procedure in the termination of employees.

Rousseau was delivering remarks at a conference put on by the Employers Solution Centre entitled “Landmark Court Judgement—Compensation for Emotional Distress” held at the Hilton Conference Centre in Port-of-Spain yesterday.

“If you examine many of the judgements from the Court over the 50 years of its existence, in very many instances where the court found that the dismissal of a worker was harsh and oppressive and contrary to the principles of good industrial relations, would be in circumstances where there were procedural errors,” Rousseau said as he delivered his presentation titled “Manner of Dismissal: Lessons for employers.”

The event was geared towards providing employers with guidance on proper industrial relations practise by using a judgement handed down by the court in 2016 as the point of reference.

The case involved a lawsuit brought against the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) by the Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) for the wrongful dismal in 2011 of a Nigerian doctor employed with the NWRHA.

The Court found that the NWRHA’s termination of the doctor, Jacqueline Shafe, was “effected in circumstances which were harsh and oppresive and contrary to the principles of good industrial relations practice.”

The NWRHA was ordered to pay Shafe total compensation of $923,570.80 for damages and emotional distress incurred as a result of her wrongful termination.

Rousseau was a member of the tribunal panel that handed down the ruling in favour of the dismissed doctor.

The judge also recommended that employers invest in training and developing employees internally in industrial relations protocol so as to resolve disputes before they got to the level of the Industrial Court.

He said: “All disputes cannot be eliminated. However, as part of the preventative approach, companies should consider developing and growing their own industrial relations people in-house because there is something unique about industrial relations that is related to the culture and the DNA of the workplace.

“There is absolutely no evidence that employees trained in industrial relations are at any disadvantage with any attorney.”

Also speaking at the event was attorney Keith Scotland who represented the BIGWU in the landmark judgement.

Scotland said it was important for employers to consider the value of an employees’ work to them personally and to society in general.

“Employers must understand how important one’s work is to their livelihood and as a form of societal contribution.

“The court recognises the significance of someone’s work to their life as it relates to awards for emotional stress and damages,” he said.

Scotland added that a precedent had been set in the UK where a case was presented and upheld for the effects of workplace stress on employees, and local employers would do well to consider the psychological conditions under which employees are made to work.

“There is a case that came out of the UK where the court is laying down a process which says if your work place provides a stressful environment that breaks down a worker’s resistance psychologically, you now may be sued for emotional distress,” Scotland said.

Yara workers get 7%

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 22:16

Yara Trinidad Ltd and the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) have reached agreement that would pay the workers at the ammonia complex on the Point Lisas Industrial Estate a seven per cent increase for the period from August 1, 2016 to July 31, 2019, a statement yesterday from the Ministry of Labour said.

The agreement for the new collective agreement averted strike action.

The offer agreed to is two per cent for the first year, two per cent for the second year and three per cent for the third year

The offer was accepted after 27 hours of negotiations, which lasted from Tuesday at 1.30 pm to yesterday at 4.30 pm.

The teams were represented by President General Ancel Roget of the OWTU, President Richard de la Bastide of Yara Trinidad Ltd and Sabina Gomes, Chief Labour Relations Officer of the Ministry’s Conciliation Unit.

Up to late last night, the parties werere still at the Ministry of Labour’s South Office on St James Street finalizing the details of this settlement.

The settlement was reached on the last day that the Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development had to conciliate in the statutory 14-day period. Section 51:1 of the Industrial Relations Act provides for unresolved trade disputes to be reported to the Minister of Labour for conciliation.

The trade dispute was reported to the Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development Jennifer Baptiste-Primus on March 14 after several bi-lateral meetings between Yara Trinidad Ltd and the OWTU ended in stalemate.

Republic down $2.99

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 22:13

Overall market activity resulted from trading in 11 securities of which four advanced, four declined and three traded firm.

Trading activity on the first tier market registered a volume of 85,922 shares crossing the floor of the Exchange valued at $528,315.56.

JMMB was the volume leader with 43,325 shares changing hands for a value of $52,534.25, followed by Sagicor Financial Corporation with a volume of 18,217 shares being traded for $163,955.54.

Trinidad Cement Ltd contributed 7,629 shares with a value of $32,080.04, while Point Lisas Industrial Port Development Corporation added 6,117 shares valued at $22,938.75.

Scotia Investment Jamaica registered the day’s largest gain, increasing $0.20 to end the day at $2.50. Conversely, Republic Financial Holdings Ltd registered the day’s largest decline, falling $2.99 to close at $102.00.

Clico Investment Fund was the only active security on the mutual fund market, posting a volume of 4,158 shares valued at $93,555. Clico Investment Fund remained at $22.50.

The second tier market did not witness any activity.

Guyana to build logistics hub

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 22:12

GEORGETOWN—

The government said that it will be investing US$500 million to construct the onshore facility on Crab Island, which is located in the Berbice River, during the course of this year. The facility will serve as a logistics and supply base to the offshore production.

The Guyana Lands and Survey has been advertising leasehold interest in close vicinity to the Island.

The facility is expected to create some 600 jobs which the government said could bring significant relief to residents of Berbice who continue to complain about lack of employment.

It said the supply base could consist of components which include maintenance, fabrication, warehousing, spares, housing, and spares handling among others.

Technical skills such as welding are job opportunities that will be made available when the facility is functional but opportunities will also be made available during construction.

Natural Resources Raphael Trotman said last year that jobs which will be created through the establishment of the onshore supply base facility will enable and enhance the labour force.

ExxonMobil and its partners discovered significant hydrocarbon reserves in the Liza Field. The oil find was officially declared to be of commercial quantities last year. The company has presented to the government and stakeholders its development plans for the Liza field with the projected year 2020 for oil production. CMC

PM meets four oil giants on US trip

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 01:40

Prime Minister Keith Rowley will meet with energy companies BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and EOG Resources during his trip to the US which starts today.

Rowley will travel to Houston, Texas today for several rounds of energy talks with leading companies in the industry, according to a statement from his office (OPM).

He will be accompanied by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young.

Discussions with the four energy companies “will centre around strategies for navigating the challenges facing the energy sector and opportunities for growth and partnerships here at home and in the region,” the OPM statement added.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert will act as Prime Minister in Rowley’s absence.

When Rowley first announced the US trip two weeks ago at a news conference, he said he would take a week’s vacation after the Houston trip. He’d noted he’s been “on his feet” since last August 2016 when he had his last vacation.

Rowley did not say what his upcoming vacation plans are, if they would be in the US or if he’d do health checks as he did during his last vacation in 2016.

During PM’s last vacation he visited a California clinic for 10 days for tests related to prostate changes. These were detected by local doctors. On his return, Rowley had said the US tests showed no ailment. Rowley had said, based on the US examinations, his doctors had requested he visit them in nine to 12 months.

He said he’d been seeing the US West Coast doctors for more than 20 years and they had his medical records, and he trusted their ability.

Yesterday, Opposition MP Rudy Indarsingh called for the PM to share with the public, if he would have any check-ups during his week long vacation.

“He needs to account to citizens, having regard to his last vacation when he had check-ups. Naturally, we’re concerned about his health and well-being, so he should at least say if he’ll have any check-ups while abroad,” Indarsingh added.

It’s particularly necessary since he’d said last year his US doctors had wanted to see him several months after. So obviously people would be concerned about him and would seek assurances, that he’s fit and proper for work.”

At the end of May, Rowley returns to the US for his daughter’s graduation and soon after, pays a state visit to Chile.

Government still pursuing aluminium downstream options

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 01:39

Finance Minister Colm Imbert said yesterday while Government is not pursuing the Alutrint Smelter, it is actively pursuing a key aspect of the original project.

Imbert said Government is meeting Alutech representatives on moves to produce large quantities of aluminium downstream products. He said this included pressed aluminium, coils, aluminium sheets for the vehicle industry and wheel rims. Aluminium ingots will be imported to make cast aluminium products.

He said it will be the first in the region and will create “thousands of jobs.” Talks are on-going to firm up the bid. Cost of the plant hasn’t been fixed yet.

Imbert dismissed a question by the Leader of the Opposition Business, Wade Mark as to how the new venture would survive given that the country recently announced there was a severe shortage of gas.

“The fact of the matter is these are activities that are products produced by electricity. They are not produced by gas. In the case of the smelter natural gas was a key component of the process. In the case of these products electricity is the main source of energy,” he added.

Speaking in the Senate, Imbert said the multi-million Alutrint aluminium smelter plant would have initially produced the hot metal for the downstream aluminium products.

“However ingots will now be imported and combined with start of the art technology to manufacture cast aluminium products.

“The Alutech plant will be the first of its kind in the Caribbean and will provide the opportunity to further diversify the Trinidad and Tobago economy,” Imbert said, adding that the new company will also play “a key role in generating revenue, earning foreign exchange and creating employment”.

In 2010, the then People’s Partnership government pulled the plug on the controversial Alutrint aluminium smelter project saying it had no intention of continuing with the construction of the multi-million dollar smelter plant that had been started under the Patrick Manning administration.

The Kamla Persad-Bissessar led People’s Partnership, originally, an amalgam of five opposition parties and trade unions, had supported calls by environmental groups for the project to be scrapped.

TCL makes takeover bid for Readymix

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 03:58

Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL), recently acquired by Mexican cement giant Cemex, has announced an all-cash takeover bid for Readymix (West Indies) Limited.

According to the offer circular sent to shareholders yesterday, TCL will pay TT$11 or US$1.62 per share to acquire the outstanding shares that it does not already hold in Readymix. TCL currently owns 71.1 per cent of Readymix’s issued share capital or 8,531,977 shares of the company. The remaining 28.9 per cent of shares are owned by a number of institutional and individual shareholders, with Republic Bank being the single largest shareholder owning 12.93 per cent.

At a per share price of $11, TCL would need to spend $38,148, 253 to acquire all of the Readymix shares it does not already own.

Readymix, a publicly traded company on the T&T Stock Exchange, specialises in the production of concrete, aggregate and pitrun and also own a number of quarries in Trinidad.

According to the circular, Readymix’s performance in recent years has been hampered by a number of factors, particularly a decline in construction activity in T&T and increased competition in the d0mestic market.

“Within recent years Readymix has seen a decline in financial performance with falling sales as a result of a marked slow-down in the local construction industry over the past three years and more so towards the end of 2015 as well as increased competition from a number of new entrants into the Trinidad and Tobago market, all of which have resulted in depressed prices of concrete and aggregate and lower profitability. The company is further burdened by the reporting requirements and associated costs of continuing to be a publicly traded company listed on the TTSE and registered as a reporting issuer with the TTSEC,” according to the circular said.

The circular also added that Readymix has not paid a dividend to its shareholders within the last seven years, and has experienced a steady fall in its share price over the last five years, moving from $31.35 to $10.80 at present.

The offer represents a 1.9 per cent premium over the closing share price ($10.80) of Readymix as at the close of trading last Friday.

Commenting on the motivation behind the offer, the circular said: “Despite the financial and operational challenges faced, Readymix, as part of the TCL Group, provides an avenue for the vertical integration of the production of cement and eventual sale and distribution of premixed concrete. With this in mind, the offeror thought it fit to seek to acquire the remaining ordinary shares not already owned, thus providing the minority shareholders with an opportunity to realise their investment in Readymix with the eventual goal of applying to the TTSE and TTSEC to have the Company de-listed and de-registered as a reporting issuer respectively.”

The offer period expires at 4 pm on May 1, 2017.

DOMA: Let TT dollar float

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 03:55

The Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) yesterday described T&T as being at a critical crossroad and the business group opined that preferential allocation of foreign exchange to the manufacturing sector “will have disastrous implications for our economy.”

The business group advocated that, instead of proving preferential access to foreign exchange, the Government should allow the T&T dollar to find a more realistic rate.

In a statement issued yesterday by the association’s president, Gregory Aboud, DOMA warned that “further manipulation” of the allocation of foreign exchange could “further enhance the now thriving black market for US dollars, while providing “the underground economy a decided advantage over the regulated visible economy.”

The business group argued that the black market trade in US dollars not only gives the underground economy an advantage, but “is destined to not only weaken and destroy visible business operators but will most definitely also erode the governments revenues and receipts in VAT, customs duties and taxes.”

DOMA said the scaling back of demand for foreign exchange can be achieved by facilitating a more competitive exchange rate.

DOMA said: “Much of the adjustment in allocation that the Minister is looking for can be administered if the market is allowed to set a more realistic rate of exchange for the T&T dollar.

“The fear that a runaway T&T dollar will cause food inflation and cost of living challenges for the most vulnerable has to be balanced against the peril of stagnation in investment and capital flight which will be a direct result of lack of faith in the value of the T&T dollar.

“A straightforward consequence of this scenario is inertia in construction and resistance to business expansion which we are already beginning to experience. The danger of chronic unemployment will follow on directly.”

According to DOMA, a realistic exchange rate “would greatly assist in making our exporters and manufacturers more competitive, allow manufacturers to compete locally with imported products and generally dampen the current raging demand for foreign exchange.”

The business group said while T&T’s manufacturers have done an admirable job for the country, there are many other unsung economic contributors in our country that will be hurt in a manipulated foreign exchange allocation scheme.

“Many items that make up the demand for foreign exchange that are attributed to the “voracious appetite” of importers and distributors are crucial to many downstream industries that provide critical support to the T&T economy. Easily coming to mind are technology imports, components for the construction sector, spares and parts, fabrics and accessories for the fashion industry, school uniforms and for the flourishing cottage industry for reupholstered furniture—this is to name but a few.

“There are many other critical needs including the service industries of woodworking, joinery, electrical maintenance, and plumbing trades. No ministry of Finance can arbitrate among these diverse and justifiable needs better than the mechanisms provided for by the market as it relates to allocation.”

The association also said the Government at the start of its term of office had pointed to Barbados as a model of the benefits of a managed exchange rate.

“That Barbados picture has quickly turned into a horror of loss of confidence in the Barbados dollar, stagnation in investment and capital flight as confidence in the Barbados dollar is being quickly eroded,” DOMA said, adding that “efforts to attract foreign investment have failed despite substantial subsidies and tax exemptions and Barbados is now facing a forced devaluation and a fiscal crisis as it hurtles into the arms of the IMF.”

THA passes motion to phase out polystyrene products

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 00:43

The Tobago House of Assembly on Friday passed a motion to phase out polystyrene foam products on the island at its plenary sitting.

The motion, which was moved by Infrastructure Secretary, Kwesi Des Vignes, surrounded preserving Tobago’s environmental integrity through the phasing out of the importation, production and use of polystyrene foam products and the promotion of alternative products.

“We have to save our planet (Tobago) from ourselves...for ourselves and for our future,” was the central statement by Secretary Des Vignes, as he delivered the introduction at the second plenary sitting 2017.

Des Vignes said that there was need to rethink how the environment is treated and the habits that inform local consumption and disposal.

According to the Secretary, the Department of Environment has actively pursued strategies and initiatives which focus on four R’s, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover.”

The 5th “R,” now added by the Secretary is “Rethink.”

“Tobago must lead the way on this policy direction...in over 100 countries, they have already banned polystyrene products,” he stressed.

The motion comes from concerns over the findings of recently conducted Situation Analysis; and a Waste Characterization Study of the local wasteland.

Therefore, deliberations were geared at sensitising Tobagonians of the threats polystyrene foam products and improper disposal have on the environment, health and the Island’s economy.

Styrofoam, the secretary said, because of its non-biodegradable and non-renewable characteristic, contributes primarily to urban litter which threaten marine and wild life and ultimately the health of humans.

In the first instance, caterers and suppliers to the Assembly and at Assembly events are to use alternative packaging, many of which are already on the market.

“This motion would give us the opportunity to explore new areas in manufacturing and exporting...there is big business in alternative products for Tobagonians,” the Secretary said.

Moreover, among other direct initiatives, the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment (DIQE) would move to table an executive note for the formation of a multi-stakeholder committee to do further research and devise a longer-termed action plan in the direction.

The Committee is to comprise the private sector, environmental activists, environmental engineers and other community groups.

Further, the secretary indicated that the Division is partnering with the Ministry of Planning to treat with implementing legislation to phase out Styrofoam products in Tobago and to forge supporting policy which complement the successful implementation of ecologically friendly and economically sustainable plans.

EDAB presents diversification plan

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 00:42

The Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) presented a draft diversification roadmap to the ministers and permanent secretaries in attendance at a meeting last week.

The roadmap comes out of a recognition that the negative economic impact of the sharp fall in oil and gas prices since mid-2014 as well as the decline in the production of both crude oil and natural gas is forcing T&T to diversify its sources of income.

The Ministry of Planning and Development in collaboration with the EDAB, led by economist Terrence Farrel, have been pursuing measures to diversify the economy, a statement from the ministry said. 

At this meeting, it was agreed that private public and private sector coordination, stakeholder leadership and partnership, inter-ministerial collaboration, resources and focused actions are some of the key variables for this journey. 

Some of the other factors highlighted were the development of research and development in the public, private and tertiary education sectors in Trinidad and Tobago.  Worker productivity and work ethics were also seen as challenges to be overcome.

The draft diversification roadmap presented by the EDAB identifies seven industries to drive diversification which include manufacturing for export, nearshore financial services, creative industries, tourism, energy services, digital platforms and business process outsourcing and trans-shipment, ship repair and maritime-related services. 

Also highlighted are seven enablers which serve as initiatives which must be addressed for the efficient and effective realisation of the diversification agenda as well as overcome obstacles to development. 

These are: infrastructure, both physical and “soft” such as health and education; diaspora engagement; foreign direct investment; economic and commercial diplomacy as well as branding T&T; innovation; private sector and university collaboration and institutional reforms. The draft diversification roadmap is a rationalisation of what must be done towards the short, medium and long term in order to achieve a partial to fully-diversified economy. 

The ministers and permanent secretaries present will further analyse the document at the levels of their various ministries and more work will be done on the ideas presented to further enhance the concepts laid out and transform them into actionable plans for success.

Planning Minister Camille Robinson Regis called the meeting to further discuss actions towards diversification with Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan; Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon and Finance Minister Colm Imbert on Friday.

Royal Castle opens at C3 Centre

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 01:53

Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein has recommended that incentives be offered to investors and business owners who provide opportunities for local farmers and manufacturers.

Speaking at the opening of a Royal Castle outlet at the new C3 Centre at Corinth, Ste Madeleine, yesterday, Hosein added that it is a good time to invest in south Trinidad because of the Solomon Hochoy highway expansion.

The minster said the C3 Centre is picking up steam and is growing into one of the most popular malls in the country.

“People from Port-of-Spain are coming to San Fernando. I am happy to see this kind of investment in the south city.

“People are saying that with the downturn of the economy it is not a good time to invest but with the highway on stream we will make sure that investments are lucrative,” he said.

Hosein commended Royal Castle for expanding at a time when the economy is in a slump.

Royal Castle director Sandy Roopchand thanked customers for making the fast food chain a profitable enterprise. She said another outlet opened in Sangre Grande recently.

Roopchand said all the produce used by the company comes from local farmers.

Customers were treated to free products for one hour after the restaurant was officially opened.

ANSA Merchant profit increases

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 01:50

ANSA Merchant Bank Limited has recorded an increase in both revenues and profit for the financial year ended December 31, 2016.

Published financial results show that the company generated $813.8 million in revenue, a 13 per cent increase from its revenue figure of $721.1 million in 2015.

The bank’s profit after tax moved from $247.4 million in 2015 to $251.7 million in 2016, a year on year increase of 1.7 per cent

Commenting on the bank’s performance, chairman Anthony Sabga said in spite of a contraction in domestic economic activity, the company was bolstered by favourable conditions in the global market.

“Despite a declining national economy, results were enhanced by an improvement in international markets toward the end of the year which had earlier witnessed some unexpected geopolitcal events,” he said.

Sabga also highlighted the bank’s acquisition of Consolidated Finance Company Limited (CFC) in Barbados which he said “will facilitate the expansion of our regional footprint”.

He added that the bank was able to benefit from three months of CFC’s positive earnings in the final quarter of 2016.

On a per share basis, the bank’s earnings moved from $2.89 in 2015 to $2.94 in 2016, an increase of five per cent.

The bank’s total assets also registered double-digit growth, moving from $6.7 billion to $7.4 billion, a gain of 11 per cent.

Highlighting the company’s dividend payment Sabga said: “The directors have approved a final dividend of $1 per share which brings the total dividend for the year ended December 31, 2016, to $1.20, an increase of $0.15 per share above aggregate 2015 dividends.”

Sabga said he remained optimistic about the bank’s future in spite of the challenging economic environment.

“I am confident of the opportunities we have for continued growth through the delivery of our unique product offerings and improved service to our valued clientele,” he said.

Private sector divided on Imbert’s forex proposal

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 01:48

T&T’s private sector was yesterday divided on Thursday’s announcement by Finance Minister Colm Imbert that strong consideration would be given to providing manufacturers with priority access to foreign exchange.

The T&T Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) said yesterday that it was “extremely pleased” at the proposal but the T&T Chamber expressed disappointment at the announcement, saying that it might signal a return to what would, in effect, be a regime of exchange controls.

And economist Dr Valmiki Arjoon said an increase in the allocation of foreign exchange to local manufacturers would have numerous benefits for the economy as well as for manufacturers whose current capacity is underutilised and who have outstanding liabilities to suppliers.

The TTMA said the proposal to give manufacturers priority access to foreign exchange was “welcomed within the manufacturing community as it is critical to our operations and export growth mandate.”

The group said it “optimistically awaits details as to the mechanisms that will be employed to ensure that there is a full and comprehensive rollout of the policy measures that will be put in place to make this a reality.”

Manufacturers said they hoped the Government would “design the mechanism in such a way that all manufacturers have fair and equitable access to foreign exchange, which we consider critical to the overall growth of small, medium and large enterprise development.”

The TTMA said that it stands ready to provide the necessary support and communication for a full understanding of manufacturers’ needs, “which we also consider critical to the framework’s design”.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce said: “As laudable as the honourable minister’s objective might appear to be, if he fails to change the underlying management of the exchange rate, such a measure, as proposed, would further decrease the amount of foreign exchange available to other key sectors and industries in our country.

“Government can be assured that numerous other groups which regard their businesses as just as significant as the manufacturing sector, will make equal or superior claims for access of foreign exchange.”

The chamber said it agreed that government policy should seek to encourage the growth of the export business for manufacturers. But that must not be done at the expense of providers of services.

“Ironically, a more dynamic and proactive management of the exchange rate would have achieved this,” the chamber said, adding that better management of the exchange rate would have permitted the TT dollar to find its right balance.

“If this flexibility is not permitted and instead exchange controls are implemented, this could be followed by a deep devaluation of the TT dollar,” according to the chamber.

Commenting on Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s suggestion that more foreign exchange be given to manufacturers, Arjoon said at present some manufacturers cannot get foreign exchange to import raw materials, machinery and technologies essential to their production processes.

“This has slowed down output generation in this sector, as reflected in its 4.3 per cent decline in the third quarter of last year,” he said.

Arjoon said manufacturers are already facing a heavy tax burden with a high cost of borrowing. A greater allocation of foreign exchange will ease their financial woes and help to expand their production activities, he said, adding that it will also save jobs in the sector and prevent the downsizing of some companies.

Arjoon said many manufacturers have unpaid liabilities to foreign suppliers and improved access to foreign exchange will allow some of them to service these liabilities and ensure they do not lose supplies and have to look elsewhere, which could be costly.

He said the manufacturing sector is currently underutilised by approximately 30 per cent.

“This initiative can help to eliminate the underutilisation of capacity in this sector which would not only help to boost the sector’s growth but also create further employment,” he said.

Arjoon suggested priority allocations of foreign exchange to manufacturers who have the potential to boost exports and be net earners of foreign exchange.

However, he advised that the minister also pay attention to other sectors with the capacity to earn foreign exchange, including agro-processors and small and medium enterprises.

Before implementing the initiative, he said the Government should “articulate how much will be allocated to manufacturers and from where will this forex come.”

Government must also ensure other sectors are not deprived of foreign exchange to facilitate the manufacturing sector, especially those with growth potential, he said.

(With reporting by Rosemarie Sant)

Forex priority for manufacturers

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:43

Finance Minister Colm Imbert is seriously considering giving manufacturers priority for foreign exchange (forex).

“....Because that’s where this country has to go,” he added at yesterday’s weekly post-Cabinet news conference.

“It can’t be that all forex can go to things like importation of cars and finished goods coming from abroad all the time. We have to focus our forex on the companies in T&T that are employing people, generating economic activity and exporting goods made in T&T,” he said.

Imbert said a statement will be made on the situation soon.

Imbert confirmed there’s still a difficulty with forex availability. “And the problem will continue unless the country’s petroleum revenues recover or T&T generates more exports,” he said.

He said two years ago T&T was earning $19 billion a year from petroleum. But now T&T is earning $2 billion. Imbert noted that was $17b in foreign exchange which was gone. He also noted petroleum revenue is managed in US dollars.

Imbert noted the forex issue was raised by the Courts group at Wednesday’s annual meeting of the T&T Chamber.

The chairman of Unicomer, the parent company of Courts, called on Government to “support the business community” and had alluded to shortage of forex among some problems affecting business.

But Imbert said the focus needed to be shifted, “...from entities that simply import manufactured goods and thereby don’t really create any jobs, and towards assisting our local manufacturers who are exporting goods to South America for instance.”

“In fact, it’s one of the things we’re looking at in terms of the foreign exchange system where we’re looking seriously at whether I should exercise (my) ministerial authority under the Exchange Control Act to direct forex towards manufacturing as opposed to imports.”

Imbert said: “It’s something I’m looking at very seriously and a statement will be made in the near future.”

After the briefing, Imbert told reporters he was very seriously contemplating forex for manufacturers as a priority. He explained this would involve liaising with Central Bank, which is empowered to deal with the banks, and instructing the Central Bank to put that in place. The Finance Minister has supervision of the Central Bank.

On detractors who accused Government of spending too much and needing to cut back, Imbert said economic experts have advised Government could not spend less than the budget’s $52b, lest the economy crash.

He said a certain amount of money needs to be spent in order to keep the local economy moving. Imbert said Government is the largest spender in the economy - contributing one third of GDP.

“So if we reduce expenditure, the economy will collapse. The advisers say we can’t go below $52b which is needed for the economic programme, to provide job stimulus and investment and to recover from recession. If you spend less, what do you cut? Public servants? The social safety net and disability payments? Stop building roads?”

Imbert denied Opposition accusations that he was being “disingenuous” when he said Petrotrin had a $4.2b loss. He said he wasn’t surprised the Opposition said that ,since it was under their past tenure the loss was incurred

“I wasn’t being disingenuous, the refinery between 2011 and 2016 lost $600m to $700m a year,; Petrotrin also owes $1.3b in unpaid taxes and royalties which we’ve said they must now pay,”

Imbert said debts could be passed off as assets for only a limited length of time and if a company was expected to make a profit after that. But he said auditors have said the loss cannot be passed off as assets any further.

ANSA McAL looking at new acquisitions

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 04:41

Group chairman and CEO of the ANSA McAL Group Norman Sabga has signalled the conglomerate’s intent to bolster its growth through a number of acquisitions soon to be finalised.

“We are looking at two acquisitions right now. One is pretty close to finalization which would give us greater reach across the Caribbean in the manufacturing sector and significantly strengthen one of our existing businesses,” Sabga said as he presented the group’s 2016 financial results yesterday at the group’s head office in Port-of-Spain.

Sabga noted that the group’s 2016 performance was affected by a number of “one-off” events that impacted its revenue and profitability.

He said: “There were two setbacks that have impacted our results. Firstly, a fire at Carib Glass Limited resulted in the shut-down of one furnace, which impacted profitability by $38 million. Secondly, the increased rate of corporate taxation resulted in a one-off, non-cash hit to our after-tax earnings by $38 million.”

For the year ended December 2016, ANSA McAL recorded revenue of $6 billion, a 3.4 per cent decline from 2015 when the company registered revenue of $6.2 billion.

Sabga attributed the revenue decline to the sale of a supermarket chain in Barbados and the glass furnace fire.

The group also registered a 9.9 per cent decline in profit after tax, moving to $803 million in 2016 from $891 million in 2015.

The ANSA McAL chairman noted however, that in spite of the contraction in revenue and profit, the group was able to increase its dividend payment by $0.10 for 2016, increasing the total dividend to $1.50 per share in 2016 from $1.40 per share in 2015.

On a segment-by-segment basis, the group continues to make prudent investment decisions while realigning certain operations to better treat with the current business environment, Sabga said.

“We have invested in our OECS breweries. Our new brew house in St Kitts and new malt-handling system for Grenada will improve production efficiencies. Manufacturing production capacities have been expanded across the sector in coatings, glass bottling, film extrusion and plastics packaging. In media, the print optimisation will reduce costs. In financial services, the integration of Consolidated Finance Co Limited (CFC) in Barbados will accelerate ANSA Merchant Bank’s regional expansion plan,” he said.

In terms of completed acquisitions, Sabga said that the two made in 2016 are expected to generate healthy US dollar cashflows in 2017.

He said Easi Industrial Supplies Ltd (in T&T) and Indian River Beverage Corp (in Florida) have been integrated into their respective sectors and are expected to generate strong US dollar earnings in 2017.

Sabga said that the group is focused on capitalizing on opportunities as they presented themselves in spite of the economic slowdown .

He said: “We are seeing opportunity. We have not decided to sit back and say gloom and doom. The economy has shrunk, but its not in our DNA to take our foot off of the accelerator.”

Trinidad Saudi Chamber opens offices in La Romaine

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:13

Former Director of the Institute of International Relations, UWI, St Augustine Campus Dr Anthony Gonzales believes T&T should develop air links and diplomatic representation in the Gulf States of the Middle East to encourage investment opportunities during tough economic times.

He was speaking at the official opening of the Trinidad Saudi Chamber of Commerce headquarters in La Romaine yesterday. The function, held at Paria Suites Hotel was attended by legendary businessman and Chairman of Tanmiyat Investment Group (TIG) from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Sulyman Al Majed.

Delivering the feature address Dr Gonzales said because of the turbulent economic times, T&T could gain if it explored investment opportunities with the Gulf States, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.

Describing the Gulf States as important global players because of their massive energy resources, Gonzales said T&T could benefit if it followed in the footsteps of some Latin American countries, which have expanded relations with the Gulf states to an unprecedented level.

“T&T and the rest of the Caribbean can no longer ignore this development and continue to rely on traditional sources of investment,” Gonzales said.

Praising the Trinidad Saudi Chamber of Commerce for strengthening links between the two regions, Gonzales said: “Initiatives range from the sending of investment missions to the Gulf, the establishment of fast track application and approval processes top the provision of counselling and advisory services for prospective Gulf investors.”

Gonzales noted the lack of diplomatic representation in the Gulf State with only two Caricom countries, Jamaica and Guyana, having embassies there.

Al Majed who spoke briefly said he was interested in Caribbean investments. However he said T&T must improve its marketability in the Middle East. Al Majed has expressed interest in developing multi-million US dollar real estate projects and first arrived in T&T in 2015.

Minister of Local and Rural Development Kazim Hosein also welcomed the Saudi businessman and commended the Chamber for forging ties with the Middle East investors.

Courts chairman on ease of doing business: T&T must address three major issues

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:09

The chairman of the parent company of Courts, the appliance and furniture retail chain, yesterday highlighted the role of government in creating an environment conducive to supporting business activities during economic downturn.

Unicomer group chairman Mario Siman said there were three aspects of doing business in T&T that the government needs to address.

“One is the tremendous inherited red tape that a business has to overcome to get business done. The second area of concern is the unavailability of foreign exchange. We are constrained by the shortage of US dollars to meet our needs. The third constraint that impacts some of us more than others is the limited availability of properties to expand our business at a reasonable pace and cost,” said Siman.

He was delivering the keynote address at the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce annual general meeting and business luncheon held at the Hilton Trinidad in Port-Of-Spain yesterday.

In an address entitled “Defying the Odds: Thrive in Turbulent Times”, Siman said that in spite of the economic downturn presently gripping T&T, the local business community should remained focus on the future and approach the current situation with a renewed commitment to the country.

“In times like these I always remember the words that my father used to tell me. He would say: ‘never give up on your country when it needs you most’. Right now Trinidad and Tobago needs all of us to do what we can to keep the commercial system running.”

Siman noted that even in the most trying of economic circumstances, opportunities always existed for businesses to sustain themselves in new and creative ways.

He said: “When a business is faced with challenging times, the key to survival lies in the belief and confidence in the future. Just as we all go through many cycles in life, the situation in Trinidad and Tobago is also a cyclical one. In my view, the low petroleum prices, and the resultant impact on the economy have set the stage for many businesses to re-examine themselves.”

As chairman of the Unicomer Group, Siman presides over one of the largest retailers in the region - the group’s operations span across Central and South America, the Caribbean and the United States of America with over 1000 stores in 24 countries, and employing more than 15,000 people.

Locally, the group is most recognized for its Courts chain of retail stores, Lucky Dollar stores, Courts Optical and most recently the Ashley furniture store.

The Unicomer executive added that key to the survival of any business during these times, including his group, was a constant evaluation of changes in customer needs and preferences.

“It is critical to evaluate how relevant a company’s offering is to the end users today. As customer’s needs change, the question must be asked ‘how can the existing products or services be shaped to better serve the customer needs?”

The event also marked a changing of the Chamber’s executive guard with current president Robert Trestrail handing over the presidency to Ronald Hinds, the chief executive officer of Teleios Systems, a local software services company.

Hinds gave a spirited address on the urgent need for collective change in T&T.

Delivering his first address as president, Hinds noted that “declining economic, social and public sector activity affected all of us” and that solving these issues “required the efforts of everyone to fight corruption, support public sector reform, and to move towards greater economic transformation and diversification”

Brazil meat exports collapse in wake of inspection scandal

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:03

SAO PAULO

Brazil is struggling to contain the scandal, in which investigators say that health inspectors were bribed to overlook expired meats and chemicals and that other products were added to meat to improve its appearance and smell. The government has largely tried to downplay the extent of the corruption, while also criticizing the federal police for how they have communicated about it.

The result has been a stampede away from Brazilian exports.

On average in March, Brazil exported more than $60 million worth of meat each day, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi told a Senate committee yesterday. That figure was $74,000 on Tuesday, a few days after investigators revealed the probe.

That precipitous fall in exports shows how serious the crisis is and the government should not try to downplay it, said Michael Gordon, CEO of Group Gordon, a corporate and crisis PR firm.

“Even if it is a handful of bad actors, the issue is that those bad actors are tainting the entire culture of meat production in the country,” he said. “That’s why a systemic response is needed.”

The government has suspended exports from the 21 companies under investigation and noted that only a handful of 4,000 plants were involved, but that has not quelled concern abroad.

South Africa was the latest to join the growing list of countries that are instituting partial or total bans on Brazilian meat. The others include the European Union, China, Japan and Mexico.

In a statement yesterday, its Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said that it would block products from the companies implicated in the probe. Port inspectors will also test every container of meat from Brazil for pathogens such as Salmonella.

The consumer protection lobby Idec is calling for a general recall and more information about which meat might be affected. So far, Brazil has not instituted a recall, but instead is pulling samples of products from shelves and sending them for testing.

Maggi has assured the public that meat is safe — but also said there would be a recall if any problems were found during the testing. (AP)

Republic drops $0.51

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 00:02

Overall market activity resulted from trading in 18 securities of which four advanced, four declined and ten traded firm.

Trading activity on the first tier market registered a volume of 179,535 shares crossing the floor of the exchange valued at $1,757,320.56.

JMMB was the volume leader with 78,729 shares changing hands for a value of $95,999.38, followed by Sagicor Financial Corporation with a volume of 30,000 shares being traded for $270,300.00. Guardian Holdings Ltd contributed 19,889 shares with a value of $318,428.57, while GraceKennedy Ltd added 11,183 shares valued at $29,746.78.

TTNGL registered the day’s largest gain, increasing $0.20 to end the day at $22.84. Conversely, Republic Bank Financial Holdings registered the day’s largest decline, falling $0.51 to close at $105.48.

Clico Investment Bank was the only active security on the mutual fund market, posting a volume of 13,800 shares valued at $310,652.00. Clico Investment Bank remained at $22.51.

The second tier market did not witness any activity.

HSF $$ for SOEs ministries, THA

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 01:40

Funds from the second drawdown from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (HSF) will be used to partially fund this year’s development projects in 21 Ministries, 100 state enterprises and the Tobago House of Assembly, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said yesterday.

Imbert gave the information in the Senate replying to Opposition questions on Government’s second drawdown from the HSF of $1.71 billion, which is equal to about US$251 million.

The drawdown was announced on Friday. He said the drawdown is being done this week.

“As the country continues to experience severe revenue shortfalls as a result of depressed petroleum prices, the HSF will be carefully used by Government to ensure the country’s financial stability,” Imbert added.

He said the 2017 Budget had stated that the 2017 Public Sector Investment Plan (PSIP) would be financed by a combination of borrowing and HSF withdrawal.

The drawdown will only partially fund PSIP plans since the PSIP is $5 billion.

That is $3.4 billion more than the amount of the drawdown.

Imbert, rejecting Opposition perception that Government was “raiding” the HSF, said the drawdown was done according to law which provides for use of savings and investments from surplus petroleum revenues to cushion the impact on/or sustain public expenditure during periods of revenue downturn.

The HSF law allows for withdrawals of either 60 per cent of the amount of any petroleum revenue shortfall of a year when such revenue is down by at least 10 per cent.

It also allows for 25 per cent of the balance standing to the credit of the HSF at the beginning of that year.

“In this case, 25 per cent of the balance in the Fund would be (US)$1.43 billion and 60 percent of the shortfall in revenue is (US)$251 million. So the lesser amount has been used,” Imbert said.

Citing the HSF’s stability, Imbert said the net asset value of the HSF last Friday was US$5.721b, having increased from US$5.595 billion since March 3 - an increase of (US)$26m in two weeks.

“Looking at the period May 16 2016 to March 17, 2017, the HSF had increased in value by US$301 million,” he added.

“That is, from US$5.420 billion in May 2016 after Government’s first drawdown from the fund to US$5.721 billion as of last Friday.”

Imbert said this week’s drawdown of US$251 million is US$50 million less than the income earned by the HSF over the last 10 months.

“After this second drawdown, the actual value of the HSF will be US$5.470 billion—that is (US)$26m more than previously estimated and (US)$50m more than the balance after the first drawdown in 2016.”

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