Address by The Hon. Prakash Ramadhar - Minister of Legal Affairs
TTCSI EXCELLENCE IN SERVICE AWARDS
MONDAY, 31ST. OCTOBER, 2011
Deputy Secretary General of the Caribbean Community Dr Lolita Applewaithe
President of the TTCSI Mr Rabindra Jaggernauth and other TTCSI Directors
TTCSI CEO Nirad Tewarie
Members of the Head Table
Permanent Secretaries and other Government officials
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed an honour and privilege to be here this evening for this “EXCELLENCE IN SERVICE AWARDS’, organized by the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries.
I believe this is an excellent way to launch your activities for National Services Week 2011.
It is truly important to recognize those who have excelled within your sector.
Not only is this a great motivator and a way to encourage the members of the TTCSI, but I see it as a way to put on record the development and progress of TTCSI members.
Even though your organization is just 5 years old, it has certainly come a long way and with each passing anniversary, the people of Trinidad and Tobago are learning more and more of the enormous impact you have had on our nation’s economy.
Your member organizations account for 51 percent of our country’s GDP, worth over $43 billion.
By any standards that is a significant portion of our economy. As the vice of the services sector, the TTCSI is a key Business Support Organisation which has earned the right to be recognized as an important local enterprise worthy of our respect and assistance.
And when you seize the moment to salute your outstanding members and their members, as you are doing here tonight, you are in fact taking note of their strides.
I am very impressed with quality and effort displayed here tonight and want to applaud you for this initiative.
Clearly, the TTCSI is staying ahead of the curve and looking to the future.
In years to come, these companies would look back at tonight’s ceremony with a certain degree of pride.
May I also take this opportunity to congratulate the leadership of the TTCSI for the various activities outlined in your schedule for the National Services Week.
Clearly, a great deal of thought went into the process and the schedule demonstrates the progressive thinking of the TTCSI as you have chosen some very significant aspects of the Service sector and put them at the top of your agenda. I understand that during the week you will focus on Fashion, ICT and Film before you end with a bang of sorts when you host Nassim Taleb on Saturday. That is an event to which I am looking forward. The government could certainly benefit from the advice a man who made money while the stock markets were crashing!
By highlighting these and other service sector industries, the TTCSI has taken the lead in educating our citizens about some of the new and emerging players on the domestic economic horizon.
We have been talking long and loud about economic diversification and creating new industries and platforms upon which we can build a better future.
These targeted service industries, which are relatively under-developed in our economy, represent part of our new future and they are worthy of our support.
I am extremely confident that these seminars and workshops will go a long way in opening up new avenues for our entrepreneurs.
And as they do, the Government and the Ministry of Legal Affairs stands ready and able to assist.
On assuming office around the middle of last year, one of the first departments within my ministry that was targeted for expansion and development was the Intellectual Property Office.
Our IPO, as it is called, is a relatively small office which operates with limited manpower and financial resources.
Yet, despite its size, it has emerged as the finest Intellectual Property Office in the Caribbean and one of the most respected in the hemisphere.
Under the leadership of its Comptroller, Ms. Mazina Kadir, and with policy support from the Government, this office has taken quantum leaps in protecting the creative output of our people.
Your Government sees creations of the mind as the new economic driver that will exist long after the last drop of oil has been extracted or the last fumes of gas have been burnt.
Creations of the mind, as far as I am concerned, are the new property in the same way that we regard land and buildings and material things as property.
And similarly, they deserve protection in the same way that we seek to protect land and buildings and other material things.
Your Government, and certainly my Ministry, therefore sees Intellectual Property as having the potential to create the wealth that will sustain us into the future.
In recognition of this, we have taken several important steps that are geared towards protecting our entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators.
For starters, we have made it easier for such persons to access the services offered by the Intellectual Property Office.
It is our hope that by making it easier to access our services, more persons would be inclined to make use of them. As part of our outreach, last year we were pleased to collaborate with the TTCSI during Services Week 2010 on an intellectual property workshop which was, by all accounts, a huge success.
Secondly and very importantly, we have taken steps to ensure that the process of registration and gaining protection becomes less cumbersome and less expensive.
As some of you may know, under the present system anyone wishing IP protection for a particular product or service, must make a separate application to every individual country in which he wishes to claim such protection.
It means if you wish to be protected in thirty countries, you must file thirty separate applications – one in each country.
In addition to paying the individual application fees, there are the legal fees associated with every individual application.
The result is a process that is both time-consuming and ridiculously expensive – so much so that it is prohibitive and therefore serves as a disincentive to persons who may wish protection.
My Ministry recognizes the tremendous negative impact this is having and will continue to have on our creators, if we do not act quickly.
And in recognition of this fact, we have moved quickly.
The Hague Protocol on Intellectual Property was developed several years ago and provides for persons to register his Industrial Designs, just once, in any country which is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Given there are approximately eighty countries that are members of WIPO, it potentially provides protection in up to eighty countries – with one single registration.
The creator can choose how many, and which, of those eighty countries he wishes to be protected within.
For some reason best known to those in office at the time, and despite the pleas from our own IP Office, this Protocol has been languishing for all these years.
I want to announce publicly today that after just one-and-a-half years in office, Cabinet has agreed to Trinidad and Tobago acceding to the Hague Protocol on Intellectual Property Protection.
The process has been initiated and we understand it usually takes about six to nine months to be completed.
The Hague Protocol, ladies and gentlemen, caters specifically to Industrial Designs.
There is another category of Intellectual Property that has to do with Copyright.
The system of seeking international copyright protection is similar to what I described before.
However, there is a Madrid Protocol which provides for the same kinds of solutions – where a product needs to be registered just once in any WIPO member country.
While some have objected, practitioners in the creative industries will not only benefit from accession but are calling on the Government to do what is in the best interest of its citizens and in the best interest of the country at large.
To this end, my Ministry will approach the Cabinet to also approve this country’s accession to the Madrid Protocol on Intellectual Property Protection.
Of course there will be accompanying infrastructural and organizational restructuring of the IPO to facilitate these initiatives.
Nonetheless, our little twin island Republic, is way ahead of many larger countries of the world in terms of our progress on Intellectual Property Rights.
I recently attended the 49th Annual General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization in Switzerland and let me tell you that our country is at the forefront of things necessary for the advancement of Intellectual Property Rights.
And on a matter more directly focused on the TTCSI!
Our IP office has been in discussions with your organization, with a view to establishing a structure whereby banks and other lending facilities will be more open to funding projects that involve IP creations.
This initiative has come from the TTCSI out of the on-going conversations between our offices.
It recognizes the tremendous difficulty which some of our bright and creative countrymen have in accessing the resources necessary to turn their ideas into something tangible and profitable.
One can only guess as to the vast amount of revenues foregone because our lending agencies were too afraid to finance projects of this nature.
The time has come for our banks to recognize that tomorrow’s economy will not be characterized only by expensive fixed assets which they can hold as collateral.
Tomorrow’s economy with be characterized and driven by people’s intellect and creativity.
I challenge our financial institutions therefore to think outside of their traditional boxes.
I urge them to rise to the challenge of taking greater risk in things non-tangible and in so doing offer a resounding vote of confidence in our most valuable asset – the human capital of Trinidad and Tobago.
I believe that the TTCSI proposal to develop a methodology to place a value on intellectual property as a means to access financing is a win-win proposition. It will bring financial benefit to both those who access the loans as well as those who lend. Indeed, an entirely new revenue stream is likely to develop and I look forward to this project getting off the ground.
It was my hope to announce today the composition of a committee to further develop this project, however things in the Government service do not always move as quickly as one might want them to move.
But you can look forward in the coming weeks, to that committee being announced.
We at the Ministry of Legal Affairs and at the IPO certainly look forward with anticipation to this project bearing fruit.
The potential benefits for our country are mind-boggling.
My friends, with the right attitude and with the right initiatives our economic future can be a bright one.
In the midst of growing uncertainties around the world, we are very fortunate to have at this time in Trinidad and Tobago, a Government that is attempting to stay ahead of the curve.
Certainly we at the Ministry of Legal Affairs are doing our part to stay ahead of the curve, in so far as the services we provide are concerned.
We recognize that with over a thousand citizens visiting our offices every day, we are one of our country’s most vibrant providers of Government services.
I’ll have to talk to my Permanent Secretary about our ministry becoming a member of the TTCSI.
Cognizant of the role we play as a major service provider, the Ministry of Legal Affairs has certainly been staying ahead of the curve in the way we conduct our affairs.
We have committed ourselves to using our resources to set a new foundation upon which we shall facilitate a stronger and better economy, by making it easier for you to do business.
I’ll give a few simple but significant examples.
Anyone wishing to set up a company in Trinidad and Tobago must have that company registered and incorporated with the Registrar General’s Department of my Ministry.
This usually involves a process of searching for and reserving the company’s name, followed by the actual incorporation and registration procedures.
We have taken a number of steps over the last seventeen months, to make this process a lot less cumbersome and a lot faster. Our goal is to reduce every year, the number of days which it takes to register a business in this country.
We have also introduced a much higher level and quality of assistance that is available to persons who want to register a company – or to undertake any kind of transaction.
In order to make your time at the Ministry shorter and less frustrating, we have placed a number of Customer Service Representatives on every floor to assist persons with their documentation.
In the past persons would fill out their documents and arrive at the cashier, only to be told that the documents contain incomplete or inaccurate information.
Sometimes the correction would require persons to return to their homes of businesses to acquire the correct information.
What we have done is place our CSRs on the floor to evaluate applications and to verify documents so that you do not have to waste time in a line when there may be need for you to get additional information.
Additionally, we have doubled the number of cashiers in the Companies Registry so you don’t have to wait as long to pay application and other fees.
These may seem like simple things that shouldn’t even be worthy of mention.
But it is these little things that can have a big impact on the way we facilitate business development.
Why should it have taken us all these years to simply add another cashier or to hire a few persons to verify documents?
Least you should go away thinking these represent our entire effort to facilitate business, let me assure you they are not.
Cabinet has already approved additional staffing for an expanded office in San Fernando.
Within weeks, Cabinet will be approached to approve additional staffing for an expanded office at Arima.
My ministry intends, in both instances, to establish mini versions of our head office – each offering the full range of services currently available only Port-of-Spain.
It means that once these expanded offices are established – and that process has begun – persons will be able to register companies at both the San Fernando and Arima offices, in addition to Port-of-Spain.
Immediately, this would eliminate the need for persons from East and South Trinidad to come into Port-of-Spain.
Simultaneously, we expect it would cut by fifty percent, the number of people who would be demanding these services at our head office.
The spin-off is that those who use the head office would be able to get through their transactions much, much faster.
We anticipate this would ease a lot of the burden on our staff and make their interaction with you much more pleasant for everyone.
I have to tell you, I’m extremely excited about this project because even while we work to make it happen, we’re already thinking about what will come next.
As you may know, the Ministry of Legal Affairs has taken the lead in utilizing technology to make life more convenient for our citizens.
Testimony to this fact is the remarkable results we’ve had from expanding our electronic registration of births and deaths.
This service has cut the waiting time for delivery of birth certificates from months, to mere days.
Furthermore, persons are now receiving their birth certificates at their homes through registered mail.
The days of coming-in to apply for a birth certificate and then coming back days later to collect it, are over.
This has been made possible through our use of technology and our willingness to embrace new ideas and to step outside the proverbial box.
Consistent with this new approach and our determination to facilitate economic development, this kind of service is being expanded to our Companies’ Registry.
Already, persons have on-line access to a limited number of services offered by the Companies Registry of the Registrar General’s Department.
For instance, you can search for and download information about any company registered in Trinidad and Tobago.
You can obtain forms for any service we offer… and there are other things you can already do on-line.
We have asked the Government to expedite drafting and passage of the Electronic Transactions Bill which, when it becomes law, will revolutionize the way we interface with the business community.
This bill will facilitate on-line payment, via credit card, for all transactions.
When it comes into effect, we will be in a position to offer all our services on-line… from application for a name search to formal registration of a company, without you having to come into our offices.
This is the kind of forward thinking I refer to when I say almost boastfully that we at the MLA are way ahead of the curve in terms of the services we offer.
All is still not one hundred percent and there is much to do but the point is that WE ARE DOING THEM… and you will be the beneficiaries.
There is one other thing I want to mention briefly which I know many of you would welcome.
In his 2012 budget presentation, the Minister of Finance announced a waiver of penalties for non-filing of annual returns.
This was the direct result of representations made by my Ministry and was intended to benefit hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small businesses and non-profit associations such as the members of the TTCSI.
In some cases, companies which had not filed annual returns for several years were indebted to my ministry to the tune of more than twenty thousand dollars.
We recognized the tremendous hardship that would accrue to smaller companies, in particular, if they were forced to settle this debt.
So, at a cost to the state of more than thirty million dollars, we agreed to wipe off that debt and give these companies till June next year to file their backlog of annual returns.
Again, this represents another attempt by my ministry to facilitate business growth and development.
Ladies and gentlemen, all of this ties in neatly with your Government’s overall plan for the long-term development of Trinidad and Tobago.
I want to challenge members of the TTCSI to take advantage of the opportunities available in the new economy and to make your contribution to the effort.
The possibilities are endless, the potential is there and the time is now.
I urge all of you to position your companies and utilize your expertise, so that you can maximize the benefits that are available.
When you succeed, the economy will succeed and when the economy succeeds, our country will succeed.
Your government has attempted to create the environment in which business can flourish and investments can bring positive returns. It is now the turn of the local business community to seek more export opportunities as well as local investment opportunities. If you are genuinely interested in doing more business and find that there are obstacles in your way, I give you the assurance that the government will work with you to remove them. It is however, for you to take advantage of the opportunities which are available.
I hope, for instance, that next year at least one of the winners of these awards will be listed on the junior stock exchange which we are seeking to create.
I am also appealing to the business community to be more open to local re-investment than to taking your money outside of the country. This is our home and it is only through our collective efforts will it become our palace. A utopian society may be only a dream but an egalitarian, resilient, sustainable, fair and equitable one is possible if we all do our part. I will do mine to ensure that the government is responsive. I appeal to you all to do your part to develop more globally competitive services and products.
As we continue to build our nation and further develop our economy, I look forward to collaborating with the TTCSI in the future. After just 5 years of existence, the Trinidad and Tobago Coalition of Services Industries has come a long way in supporting the growth and development of the services sector.
I congratulate everyone for their efforts in this exercise.
I wish you every success with the National Services Week 2011 and I thank you once again for your kind attention…
God Bless You
God Bless our nation
And thank you very much.