President of the Couva Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce, Mukesh Ramsingh, centre, collects an award on behalf of the chamber from Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry Ayleen Alleyne-Ovid, left, and CCIC President Richie Sookhai. (Image: SHASTRI BOODAN)

The economic growth predicted in 2022 from the petroleum sector should be invested in sustainable economic development, according to Richie Sookhai, President of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CCIC). 

At the time of his assertion, Richie Sookhai was speaking at the CCIC’s annual awards function on Thursday night, at the Passage to Asia Restaurant, Chaguanas.

Sookhai said the debt-to-GDP ratio continues to worsen as T&T faced economic contractions in 2020 and 2021.

“What are we seeing here, is it just darkened skies or is it the silver lining?”

The CCIC president said qualified persons are fleeing T&T or are forced to do menial jobs because they are unable to get employment. He said the business community must work together with the government to ensure the betterment of all T&T.

“The business community is there to assist, but we need government help,” Sookhai said, noting that business chambers have to constantly lobby for sustainable changes such as infrastructure, security and technology.

“Recently the chamber donated a drone to the T&T Police Service.  With that initiative we brought forward, it opened a door to how technology can enhance policing in Chaguanas,” he said.

The chamber president said he is saddened by the fact that customs and excise need to speed up their processing time but instead, bombard businesses with so much bureaucracy that business owners are forced to leave goods on the port and incur rental charges that are, in some instances, are higher than the cost of the actual goods.

Responding to Richie Sookhai, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ayleen Alleyne-Ovid, who chairs the Trade Facilitation Committee at the Ministry, said it meets regularly with the Comptroller of Customs to look at ways to deal with bottleneck issues at Customs.

With regard to the current pandemic, Sookhai said after the COVID-19 virus struck, many were praying for a vaccine to return to a state of normalcy, but a year later, the situation has worsened because of vaccine hesitancy and the reluctance by individuals to observe measures to protect themselves and others.

He pointed to the CCIC’s partnership with the Couva-Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce in 2021 to bring the vaccine to the people, yet hesitancy persisted.

He said: “Our local individuals had the vaccine at their mouth, yet we saw many non-nationals stepping up their game, begging to be vaccinated.  What’s the issue?”

Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ayleen Alleyne-Ovid, commended the CCIC for its leadership, noting it is a leading chamber in the Central region and a key stakeholder at the Ministry.

She said the Ministry is guided by Government’s Vision 2030 to create a culture and climate for entrepreneurship and innovation.  Alleyne-Ovid said the export boosting initiative at the Ministry seeks to build capacity and strengthen institutions.  She also revealed that $50 million would be pumped into a capacity-building programme for the competency of small and medium business so they can meet statutory obligations.

At the CCIC’s annual awards function on Thursday night, awards were presented to Raveena Basdeo (Excellence in Education); Balkaran Gayah Persad (Excellence in Business); Epharm (Excellence in Business); The Price Club (Philanthropy); Ian Alleyne (Philanthropy); and Couva Point Lisas Chamber (Partnership).