Special Economic Zones Law Promotes Transparency | Local company

Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis said yesterday that the Trinidad and Tobago Special Economic Zones Bill 2021 includes special clauses to ensure the highest levels of transparency facilitating the public scrutiny and government accountability. The bill passed parliament last week with 32 House members voting in favour, none against and no abstaining.

The minister added that it was extremely important that the government respond to the concerns and criticisms raised by opposition MPs that, if not properly managed, the new legislation on special economic zones would be open to corruption, poor working practices and weak enforcement. The new law will lead to the creation of a Special Economic Zones Authority.

In a press release issued by her department, Ms. Robinson-Regis said the bill addresses these concerns through the government’s commitment to the national development goal of “ensuring good governance and excellence service”, as stated in sections 7, 10 and 78 of the bill. Article 7 deals with the appointment of directors to the board of directors of the SEZ Authority.

She said what is striking about these appointments is the staggered nature of the appointments:

• the Chairman and three other members are appointed for a term of four (4) years;

• the Vice-Chairman and two other members are appointed for a term of three (3) years;

• three members are appointed for a term of two (2) years; and not all of these appointments expire on the same date.

• In addition, any appointments to the Board, subsequent to the term of the first Board appointment, will be for periods not exceeding four years and appointments will not exceed eight consecutive years or in total for each member.

This simple innovation ensures that the entire board does not resign at once, avoiding the confusion that follows such existing scenarios. In addition, Section 10 requires each member of the Board of Directors to submit an annual statement indicating whether or not they have any actual or potential pecuniary or other interest in an Operator, SEZ Enterprise, Single Zone Enterprise regulated by the Authority or if he is a candidate who has already applied for a permit under this Act or does business with the Authority in the performance of his duties.

Subsection 10(4) provides that any member who fails to comply commits an offense and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years, or upon conviction guilty by indictment, a fine of $1,000,000 and imprisonment for ten years.

In addition, Robinson-Regis added, Section 78 directs the Authority to establish and maintain public records, physical and electronic, which will be available for public inspection. These logs must contain the following information relating to each license:

• name, address and description of the commercial activity of the operator,

• SEZ Enterprise or Single Zone Enterprise to whom the license is issued;

• date on which it was issued;

• area to which it relates; and

• benefits granted to any Operator, ZES Company or Single Zone Company (Clause 64).

The Department of Territorial Development (TCPD) of the Ministry of Planning and Development, by the provisions of the planning and development facilitation law (PAFD) or the territorial planning law ch. 35:01, will also work with the Department of Trade and Industry to facilitate enforcement action against an operator for non-compliance, under clauses 44, 45, 59, 60 and 61 of the SEZ Bill.

Clause 7 (2) (d) of Part III of the Bill provides that a senior official of the TCPD shall be a member of the board of directors of the Economic Zones Authority of Trinidad and Tobago with the mission of provide any necessary guidance in this area.

While Section 30 of the SEZ Bill provides for the designation of areas as Special Economic Zones, the PAFD Act will deal with relevant land use planning factors as provided in Section 30. These include the type of permitted land use, site location, topographical considerations, adequacy of physical infrastructure and utilities, and environmental issues.

“These clauses are tangible proof of the progressive nature of this legislation and of this government’s insistence on transparency in all transactions where taxpayer funds are used,” Robinson-Regis said.