Chaguanas, Trinidad – October 15, 2021: The Central Finance Facility (CFF) held its annual Post-Budget Breakfast meeting on October 8, 2021. The stage well amply set for our discussions as our President Ms. Letitia Telesford and her Board, were pleased to hear of youth entrepreneurship initiatives as these were consistent with proposals submitted by the CFF to the Ministry for Youth Development and National Service. These proposals included initiatives for our credit Union Movement to mentor youth cooperatives who engage in import substitution and export earnings.
Following the opening remarks by our Vice President Mr. Lyndon Byer, the feature address was delivered by The Honourable Foster Cummings, Minister for Youth Development and National Service. His delivery was entitled ‘Building Financial Health for a Brighter Tomorrow’ with the focus being on youth diversification and entrepreneurship. This is well aligned with CFFs resilience building initiatives with the non-financial cooperatives and the counselling support provided to displaced young persons.
Such diversification is at the core of CFFs Project 2020 initiatives which can be exemplified in our Technological Committee’s digitization project with the IDB.
As concern for our younger generation grows, the Honourable Minister highlighted how his Ministry was in a position to strategically promote the work being done by the CFF and the credit union movement as a whole. He affirmed that this was of particular significance for the Ministry and related it to Vision 2030, stipulating that it was a key factor in the nation’s post Covid-19 recovery.
Fifty-two (52) participants from eight (8) local credit unions attended the ‘zoom platform’ facilitated event. In general, this virtual Thought Leadership meeting was aimed at discussing and examining the many lessons learnt and adjustments made by the movement, as the entire nation continues to be challenged during this pandemic era. Of special interest was how it pertained to the changes to members’ (and consumers in general) financial lives.
Particular focus was placed on the younger members: the future of the movement. Light was also shed on how strengthening of the credit union’s capacity to adapt to consumers’ changing financial circumstances could play a role in fostering people coming together and taking ownership of sustainable enterprises to help re-ignite the economy.
The esteemed panellists for this event effectively put a microscope over the 2021/2022 National Budget and showed where and how, as a movement, credit unions could take advantage of the opportunities provided.
Especially highlighted was how the movement’s collaboration with Government Ministries such as Youth Development and National Service, could leverage focus on the well-being of young members and prospective youth. Such alignments could effectively create avenues to encourage entrepreneurship abilities and enhance the potential of this demographic. This in turn, would foster creation of a movement towards the diversification, economic boost and sustainability previously alluded to.
Participating in the panel discussion were Dr Marlene Attzs (Development Economist and Former Head of Department – University of the West Indies [UWI]), Dr Vaalmikki Arjoon (Lecturer- Finance, Economics & Statistics- UWI) and Mrs. Aklima Beekham-Maharaj (Business Development and Marketing Manager- CLICO Credit Union).
In the context of this year’s budget, Dr. Attzs’s contribution focused on building resilience as we navigated a “Covid-19 adjusted” Trinidad and Tobago economy. She also examined the different tiers of social and economic challenges being faced. This included an increasing Debt to GDP ratio, as well as the indicators within our society’s new normal, which strongly suggested links between the ‘Lockdown’ and surges in social ills, such as domestic violence and crime, especially amongst the younger demographic.
To foster an easier navigation during this period, Dr Attzs emphasized some pros which the new budget brought to the table. Some key ones were:
- Attention paid to youth
- Reduction in tax rate of 5% for SMEs, whose core business, as it relates to technology solutions, digitization and construction, accounted for more than 50% of annual revenues
On the flip side, some of the obstacles which the budget brought forth were highlighted as:
- Little attention to the ease of doing business challenges
- No mention of education ‘Fallout’
- No overarching vision
- Continued heavy dependence on the energy sector
- Persistent deficit
With these factors active, she led the audience through the “way forward”. Here a calibrated recovery response was mapped and the critical role to be played by the credit union movement in this scenario was highlighted.
Following a short question and comment segment, Dr Arjoon’s post budget review encompassed the diversification thrust toward entrepreneurship and innovation coming out of this year’s budget. There was a focus on strategic partnership and linkage opportunities available with the credit union movement.
The final speaker, Mrs. Aklima Beekham-Maharaj, focused on opportunities coming out of the budget which could prompt young members to build their financial health through the credit union movement.
Factors fostering this were opportunities in the Digital Sector to include tax reduction incentives and the $100M Small Business Liquidity Support Facility to be managed by the movement. These circumstances were also deemed to give the movement an opportunity to adapt to the needs of this market segment, where the focus should be on product digitization.
In closing, Credit Unionists were reminded by Mr Byer that the role of credit unions and the cooperative society was becoming more relevant in the growth and development of our society. He urged members to be more cognizant of the fact that the CFF needed their support when it came to compiling pertinent data to develop strategies to guide the movement as a whole, to be able to play the more effective role with which it was now being charged.