The right direction for Trinidad and Tobago – Part 4

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The TTWhistleblower continues a series of policy proposals which amount to an alternative budget for 2018 and beyond to forward a strategic direction for Trinidad and Tobago, for the good of all people of this country.

In Part 1, we explored the broad issues affecting Trinidad and Tobago and the course that must be set so that the right policies can drive growth, economic expansion, a better quality of life and sustainability. In Part 2 we looked at economic recovery, the Energy Sector, reform of the Public Service and expenditure audits and Public Sector Investment. Part 3, we examine confidence, revenue, growth and investment, and fiscal measures.

Today in Part 4, we look at crime and criminal activity, the justice system, economy and the property tax.

Crime and Criminal Activity

One of the must burdensome crises facing our nation is a seeming inability to protect itself, its citizens, its working population and its assets.

Our nation seems at odds with itself with the various Security authorities appearing to campaign for popularity using numbers and statistics tells the criminal element that there is a free track to run.

What is required is every Security agency acting in tandem with each other, speaking the same language, working with the same aggression and talking results only when there is a marked decrease and a feeling of a marked decrease in crime.

Security agencies with less time to talk and more time to work means that the criminal element will be thinking twice before committing their next crime, because they know there is a strongly coordinated, aggressive and results oriented security infrastructure at work.

It will also mean that the young men and women who feel excluded from the social and economic whole will be discouraged from taking what seems to be an easy way out of poverty.

Prison Reform

A significant part of crime reduction must come withprisons reform. We house thousands of prisoners feeding them, clothing them and providing their basic human needs at the expense of taxpayers.

We must put prisoners to work in areas where they can discover their own skills such as minor road maintenance; agriculture; small-scale construction and similar skills needed by the economy. And this must happen in a way that it does not affect the employment status of law-abiding and hardworking men and women.

We can achieve three goals with one swoop:

·         We put prisoners to work in productive areas where labour may be hard to come by and for essential services such as I mentioned like minor road maintenance;

·         Public finances that would have been channeled in that direction can then be put to better use like training for prisoners who have clearly chosen to become contributing citizens on release, and

·         We tackle the issue of recidivism; giving ex-prisoners a way out of what they perceive as a need to return to criminality to survive.

Technology

Technology will also play an essential role in future anti-crime strategies. When crimes are committed, we must be able to track and remain on the tail of criminals with ancillary security services working to capture.

This will require a complete overhaul of the current systems, making CCTV monitoring, Police Cameras, GPS tracking and appropriate zoning for districts to ensure that no single Police Unit has responsibility for more persons that can be managed.

The average citizen is able to tell when there is heavy traffic, road-blocks, or Police presence on the roads and highways using an app called ‘Waze’. If it is possible for road users to tell where the Police are, then the Police must be able to tell where road-users are, particularly those of interest to investigations.

With this reality, it is proposed that a high-level security Police-focused app be developed, in tandem with the Licensing Division of the Ministry of Transport so that all drivers’ permit holders can be electronically-tagged if they become persons of interest to the Police, or if they themselves become victims or potential victims of crime.

Electronic tagging might also be considered a standard for all new and used, inspected vehicles, also giving the Police and Security Agencies the ability to track motor vehicles which will only come to their attention only when the vehicles and/or car drivers and owners are brought to their attention for crime or potential crime reasons. Balancing crime control means we also respect the right to privacy of law-abiding men and women.

Tagging will mean that no one is ever able to hide from the Police, and if they are using cars that have been stolen, the new tech-based system will ensure that the Licensing Authority is immediately advised as such as these stolen vehicles will also be tagged via the Police app, for quick intervention and speedy arrests and impounding.

The use of technology in the Police Service will also spread to the use of Police cameras installed in cars and on the person of the officers so that every step of the interaction between Police and suspect can be recorded as evidence, date, time and location stamped.

The necessary legislative amendments will reflect this, following engagement and discussions with the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.

Criminal Justice System

Discussions with the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) will also be required for improvements to how this country administers justice through the courts.

Making the criminal justice system work will also require reforms to the judicial system which is something that must centre on the JLSC as an independent arm of the State.

This will require all three arms – The Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial – working together with a common purpose, and NOT a new Government foisting policy on a JLSC that was not involved in its own reforms.

And these discussions must not be long, drawn out conversations. All parties in discussion will set timeframes and targets to ensure that a stronger Policing and Judicial system can be expeditiously delivered.

ECONOMY

In terms of Economy, there is far too much unused potential in our economic system.

Value must be placed on knowledge in a way that can be capitalized on.

Particularly in energy; a lethargic capital markets system; a financial services system that can do much more and reach much further in investment and savings services; a Services Sector that has not yet had the opportunity to stretch its legs and stand fully on its own feet.

Our manufacturing sector can compete with any sector in the world if the economy is configured in a way that delivers opportunity for companies to benefit from economies of scale, ease of doing business, access to skilled labour, ease of import and export with a robust Port system, and a menu of incentives that encourages manufacturers to venture into new areas that are as yet untapped.

One such area is linking manufacturing to the energy downstream sector – we produce far too many raw materials that are simply exported and then we import products made from these raw materials, such as melamine and plastics. It is one major leakage in the economy’s revenue potential that can be reconfigured.

Through the suite of bilateral and partial scope agreements that are in place, and that can become a reality, we must also be pursuing opportunities that allow foreign producers to set up manufacturing plants here in this country, in partnership with the local sector, for many of the goods we import – such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, computer hardware and security devices.

The economic space exists, and can be capitalized upon and used as the Government pursues a policy of retreating from the economy as a major competitor for the factors of production.

What this means can be answered by one simple question – what in the world is a Government doing by involving itself in the business of producing flour, when a number of private sector entities are in this particular industry and operating competitively.

Economic policy must focus on reducing the State’s role as a competitor in the economy and allowing that space to the taken, profitably by the business community.

The State is in the business of producing flour, quarrying, community maintenance services, media, telecommunications and others, but why?

A Government is regulator, legislator, protector, educator and Guardian and facilitator of the constitution and laws of a nation. It is not a business entity.

While some of these State companies deliver profit to the State, the intention must shift to divesting the profitable companies allowing citizens to buy shares through the Stock Exchange.

A company that has shareholders to answer to will automatically shift to operating efficiencies aimed at profit, employment creation, social responsibility and expansion.

Divesting profitable companies in this way creates a path for the Government to maintain a regulator role, but puts ownership and alternative income sources in the hands of the population.

Higher personal incomes mean more income tax dues to the Government. More efficient enterprise means higher corporate tax dues to the Government.

And these taxes will not create additional burdens on shrinking GDP, but rather create new streams from expanding GDP and a much more robust capital markets system.

Leaner and more agile Government means State operations at a much reduced cost without denying the most deserving of support; without cutting jobs and without passing the burdens of economic hardship on the population.

This, as you will expect, will involve a package of policies geared towards giving the Financial Services Sector the steam it needs to really flex its muscle, expand, divest and become the kind of powerhouse sector it can be, but with the Government’s strong but not oppressive regulation to ensure working men and women have a fair deal at every turn.

It will also mean a realignment of the functions of the Minister of Finance as Corporation Sole which can be more fully discussed with legislative amendments that go to the Parliament.

Property Tax

The Property Tax that is currently proposed should be suspended for review with a proposal to apply a standard rate charge, across the board of 1% of the rental value for all private residences, 2% of the rental value for all residential/commercial properties, and 3% for all commercial entities with an asset based of under TT$100m.

In a time of economic transition that should be economic transformation, we cannot avoid the fact that we must pay something, even a small amount for the properties we own and enjoy. It is a fundamental fact that we place greater value on the things that we must pay to uphold and upkeep, but at the same time, it must not place undue burdens on a population grappling with a transforming environment.

The working population might have the opportunity to have these annual charges deducted from their monthly incomes to make payments easier and collections far more effective.

This will mean for example that someone working for $7000 per month, living in a house valued at $1 million with a monthly rental value of $5000 per month will have to pay an annual charge of $600, or have $50 deducted from his or her monthly income.

Revenue from this adjustment will be less, yes! But it will also mean a working population that feels more confident about his income and his job tenure spending more, which will keep businesses running comfortably, which will keep more people employed, which will mean that dues from PAYE and VAT will sufficiently provide the Government with the revenue it needs to operate.

And remember that the policy shift being suggested here is smaller, leaner Government, whose recurrent expenditure has been trimmed without sacrificing social security, and whose capital expenditure has been refocused while giving the private sector more economic room to expand, create jobs, and generate higher revenues.

Commercial entities with asset bases larger that $100million will have their tax formulated using a number of factors, which include its commitment to corporate social responsibility; the industry within which it operates and the importance to GDP; the fact that it may be a business operating in a sector marked for economic diversification, and by the number of people employed by these entities.

For businesses as well, the need to pair fair amounts of taxes must not overshadow the company’s contribution to the present and future economy.

More important, wherever there are households earning less than $10,000 per month, that property should be exempt from the property charge. Also exempt should be persons who are disabled, pensioners, single parents and families where one or more children are not working as a result of being enrolled in technical, vocational or tertiary level programmes.

One year following the graduation of these young people and their enrolment in paying jobs, the property tax may apply as proposed in this economic policy reform approach.

Read: Part 1,part 2part 3 and part 5 of this serie. ,

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