Outdated statistics are among the impediments that the Economic Development Board (EDB) faces as it sets about its mandate to develop an overall strategy for economic development, says EDB chairman Dr Thackwray Driver in an interview with the Business Guardian at his office on Level 17, Tower D, International Waterfront Complex, Port-of-Spain, last week Friday. “The biggest challenge we have across all the sectors is data, (there’s) not enough good, timely data available, not for us to properly map what is happening across the economy and getting robust timely data is one of the biggest challenges we face,” he said. There is no quick fix available to address the problem of outdated statistics, as it requires a great deal of time and a lot of work. Driver said the EDB is trying to partner with the University of the West Indies to tap into their research, as well as the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business. While there is need to have timely and reliable data in place, Driver also sees a need for dialogue between the board and the relevant stakeholders to ascertain the growth areas of the economy and to identify the stumbling blocks to economic development. The EDB was formed in the first quarter of 2011, and in December 2011, Driver was appointed chairman. Asked why he believed he was chosen to chair the EDB, he said, “My ability to get things done, my reputation with the chamber and my ability to effect change with the chamber probably made people think I can do it. I work for the name of country. It’s the opportunity to develop T&T.”
Driver also serves as the chief executive officer of the Energy Chamber. Asked if there was conflict between his two roles, he said: “The roles conflict only in terms of my time. There are areas of overlap between the two roles. My role in the EDB is as non-executive chairman. My role is to chair the EDB meetings and to ensure that the EDB sticks to the strategy that it has to implement. The ‘doing’ work is done by the staff here. At the chamber I am the CEO, so I have to do the work.” The pace at which the local public sector moves has always been slow but Driver is not daunted. “It’s much easier to direct resources where they need to be directed in a private-sector, rather than a public-sector body. It is much easier in the chamber where I have control over my staff, the urgency to make quick decisions and have things implemented and have control over your budget. Here (at the EDB) you are working with the public-sector system. “You just need to know that that is the system which you are working with and that some things take a little longer in the public sector. The main way to overcome that issue is to engage properly with all the stakeholders around the public service and make sure they understand what you’re doing.” The first sector that the EDB is targeting is the energy sector, then tourism, maritime, creative, food and agriculture. There are various challenges and issues that affect these sectors but “the one thing that is common around all of them is getting the clarity around: who is doing what, what the vision is.” Driver said one of the challenge in getting everyone from those sectors on an equal footing mainly surrounds change-management issues. “The most important way of overcoming the change-management issues is to create unity behind a vision and constant communication around what you are trying to do. The task is to ensure that there is constant and regular and honest communication between the different people involved.”
Asked whether the EDB needed legislation to operate, he said “the right attitude” was needed to operate efficiently and effectively as a board. This means having the right people who are willing to work together towards a clear vision.
The EDB works in collaboration with the Council of Competitiveness and Innovation which has the responsibility to ensure that T&T improves in its competitive rankings to become a more competitive economy. Driver said the EDB is not a talk shop. “Don’t think of it as work in which we submit nice pieces of paper which get put on a shelf somewhere. It is a constant work in progress, we have a conceptual framework for the sectors which we believe have the greatest chances for success, five value chains which we are working on and the enabling sectors to make economic development capable of taking place.” Asked how would the creation of clusters help T&T achieve its diversification goals, Driver said, “The data shows that companies working in clusters tend to be more competitive, compared to companies that are not part of the bigger conglomeration. That’s because when you are part of a cluster, you have geographical closeness, you can share resources, you can share knowledge and it makes your business more competitive.” A business cluster is a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters increase productivity, so that companies can compete, nationally and globally.
Clusters already exist in T&T but need to be moulded. “One of the things you want to do is to build on the existing ones to blow them out to make them bigger. In Chaguaramas, you have a yachting cluster with the people who rent space for boats. You have a petrochemical cluster in and around Point Lisas. You have the plants and you have the other support which is structured around it. You have an education cluster which is around St Augustine. You have an entertainment and Carnival cluster in Woodbrook; they are already there so you need to work with them and pack the additional ingredients to make them more successful.” According to Driver, the EDB’s role is to identify what the clusters are. “We are working with the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business on that. You need to get to the people who are working in those clusters then find out what the barriers are for them, often they are around decision making. There are a number of things which everyone knows need to happen, but the decisions have not been taken for whatever reason. The role of the EDB is to point out to Cabinet what these decisions are and to facilitate them and give the information that is needed to make decisions.” Driver said the work to achieve this will take decades. “It has to be non-political and has to happen over a much longer time. It is not a five-year job, it is a 20-year job.” Both Singapore and Rwanda have been successful in establishing economic development boards in their respective countries.
The EDB board comprises people from a wide range of sectors:
• Ian De Souza, general manager, corporate investment banking, Republic Bank Ltd
• Gail Sooknarine-Ragoo, operations manager, Venture Credit Union Co-operative Society Ltd
• Kazim Boodoo, executive director, Lifetime Roofing Ltd
• Bruce Mackenzie, executive director, Caribbean and South America, ASCO
• Aiyegoro Ome, foundation member of the National Joint Action Committee and CEO of the Nigerian Chamber
• Peter Mitchell, senior planning officer, Ministry of Planning and the Economy
• Maurice Suite, permanent secretary, Ministry of Finance