AmchamTT head: Private sector ready to help, but…crime is government’s business

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

AmchamTT president Stuart Francoo speaking at the chamber’s AGM on Friday at the Hilton Trinidad in St Ann’s. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB – ROGER JACOB

STUART Franco, elected on Friday to serve a second one-term stint as president of the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham TT), says the business community is ready and willing to do its part to deal with crime. However, the government is ultimately responsible for tackling the crime situation, but so far, had not done so.

Speaking in his first address to members after being re-elected at the chamber’s 31st annual general meeting at the Grand Ballroom, Hilton Trinidad, Port of Spain, Franco said the private sector wants to assist in fighting crime but must be engaged and told about a broader anti-crime plan, and how it (the chamber) can help.

“When murders are being committed in twos, threes, fours, in hospitals, in housing developments, and on our roadways, crime is out of control,” Franco declared, adding that nothing AmchamTT projects “will come to fruition if we don’t stop the criminals from running rampant throughout our nation.”

He continued, “Fighting crime is the responsibility of the government. If crime can be solved by the state alone, then great (but) to date, we have not seen evidence that this is possible. It is time we put aside our differences and work together (to put) our beautiful nation first.”

Franco’s call for an all hands-on-deck approach to tackling crime mirrored a call earlier in the week by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.

On June 4, Hinds called a press conference to address serious crimes, 24 hours after a quadruple murder where three men were fatally shot while liming in Gonzales. while the fourth victim – who was also shot in Gonzales – was gunned down at the Port of Spain General Hospital shortly after he was brought in a van for treatment.

The minister said his ministry and by extension the government’s attempts to tackle crime were being thwarted by the legal system, among other hindrances, and added that a multifaceted effort, from all sectors of society, is needed to deal with the crime situation.

On the same day of AmchamTT’s AGM, a man was gunned down in Diego Martin.

Franco who is also the chief executive officer of Trinidad Systems Ltd (TSL) said he felt compelled to raise challenges affecting the private sector, particularly violent and white-collar crimes.

“If you know me, if you know us (the chamber), you ought to know that we don’t necessarily speak up all the time,” Franco said.

“Sometimes the media gets upset…when we indicate that we prefer not to comment on issues. But when we feel we must, we call it as we see it.

“And what we see today, what we have been seeing for some time now, is that crime is out of control. And no, that is not being said flippantly.”

Addressing white-collar crime, Franco began by saying the chamber supports the creation of the TT Revenue Authority (TTRA) – a new state agency responsible for revenue collection. Last month, the Court of Appeal ruled on the validity of the TTRA Act, giving it the green light to operate.

Franco said, “We have long advocated for widening of the tax net. We support the establishment of the TTRA. However, we continue to make the point that the TTRA is not strictly necessary to achieve this objective (of collecting revenue).

“AmchamTT has always advocated for the aggressive detection and prosecution of white-collar crime.” He said all citizens and businesses should pay their fair share of taxes as determined by the law.

On the flip side, the State, he said, is obligated “to ensure that credits and refunds are properly assessed and repaid in a timely fashion. Anyone who does not pay taxes and refuses to settle their obligations with BIR should be prosecuted.

“However, there should be adequate processes and opportunities for these to be settled,” Franco said, adding that the integrity of the tax collection entity is critical and taxpayer’s information must be kept confidential.

“To do otherwise,” he said, “is to undermine trust in the system.”

Franco said he strongly believes the private sector will always have a role in leading the country to harmony and prosperity.

“That role is not one we can play alone. Amcham TT has said many times before, we, the business community, can only play that role effectively through collaboration.”

Franco promised Amcham would continue to advocate for policies beneficial to its members, promote trade and investment, enhance security, and support sustainable business practices.