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Gabriel Faria, CEO T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce

With weeks away from the budget, concerns were again raised about the billions owed by Government in VAT refunds to businesses, some of which are struggling to survive amidst economic challenges.

CEO of the T&T Chamber Gabriel Faria while speaking at a seminar titled, Pivoting the Caribbean Economy, said manufacturers which are exporting are especially penalised.

“Every cycle there are VAT refunds. We have written the Minister of Finance. We have begged to do something to support and we need to understand that the budget is not a strategy plan. It is a bookkeeper’s document,” Faria said.

He said therefore, there is a “bookkeeper” who is trying to balance certain things but which are not based on a strategic aim.

“And I don’t think the bookkeeper has taken any strategic plans. I need somebody to tell me if he will,” Faria said, adding that the country, instead, ends up with a bookkeeper’s document.

According to Faria if capital investment and exports are to be increased then the burgeoning problem of VAT refunds must be addressed.

“We are disincentivising the same thing we want to accomplish,” Faria maintained.

Regarding the contentious issue of property tax, Faria said while businesses are willing to pay their dues, levying such taxes on equipment is counterproductive.

Faria said he will continue to bring such issues to the fore even though he knows no one will listen.

According to the Chamber CEO all business, whether big or small, in T&T adds value to the country’s fiscal purse, noting that there will be those which will excel despite the difficulties.

He said if there are entities which cannot survive in T&T, there are other options including exploring the CSME.

“We can sit here and become victims of that predictable outcome or we can determine that we are going to chart our course and that can be changing the business that you do or changing where you do your business or changing how you do your business,” Faria explained.

He added that businesses will go where they and their capital are welcomed and where they can get the best return on it.

However, he said if people venture into business to earn foreign exchange then they are doing so “in the wrong country” and therefore ought to look elsewhere.

Noting that he has worked in the Chamber for over five years and despite his recommendations Government, “does not listen.”

“We have asked the Minister of Finance, and he is not going to listen but we will still ask him, to create an incentive to mobilise all the money sitting in the banks and to create a tax incentive so that people can invest in entrepreneurs and get a tax benefit,” Faria added.

The event was hosted yesterday by the Lok Jack GSB Business.