straight to the point – from different points of view

Why we lost WI-Pay

Why we lost WI-Pay

There are some matters of economic and financial management that are very simple to understand and on which we all agree. Here are a few items that we would all look at as positive with respect to any company domiciled here –

  • Is profitable and pays its taxes here
  • Generates net inflows of foreign exchange
  • Employs significant numbers of people in rewarding jobs
  • Is designed to prosper and grow in an information driven world economy
  • Has proven itself without government support
  • Has credible international expansion plans
  • Has attracted leading local and international companies as business partners

When we think of the way forward for our economy, a company fitting that description is one that we should covet. In fact, every other nation aspires to either develop or attract companies of that ilk to their shores. Such companies are few and far between

That is why I am angry today. You know that I’ve complained frequently abut the inability to support any such local companies trying to break into the markets. There is no real risk capital available nor are there decision makers in government with the foresight and understanding to identify companies and technologies that have the potential to meet those laudable objectives in a short or medium term time-frame.

When one such company (WI-Pay) emerged without public sector assistance I was eagerly supportive. I wrote the following –

“That is why the announcement last week about the WI-Pay/MasterCard initiative is so welcome. It was reported that in collaboration with MasterCard, WI-Pay is offering to provide the technology for a national E-Identifier for FREE. Additionally, each citizen will be given an ID card which could, if they choose, also work as a bank card.

There will be issues, just as with any other supplier, most notably reliability, data security, data access etc to be addressed. The nation must be satisfied that these issues are resolved regardless of the chosen supplier. The same standards must apply whether local or foreign supplier is chosen.

Having a local provider of this core technology also gives other local developers direct and easy access to those developers which in turn improves their ability to design and build fully integrated solutions for health, education, national security and any other parts of the Public Service. The benefits that accrue from such clusters are well documented.

WI-Pay/MasterCard have set out their stall to expand regionally with this operation. They already provide services in some other islands. A local development cluster working in close collaboration with them opens the door to a very profitable export sector in a shorter time horizon than any other diversification strategy currently being considered and at negligible cost.”

WI-Pay is set to become a regional powerhouse. Its expansion plans reportedly cover the entire Caribbean and with investment from Republic Bank and support from MasterCard they are unlikely to fail. We have been blessed with the creation of a company that ticks all the boxes listed above. It is exactly what the country needs and claims to be seeking.

Furthermore, companies like WI-Pay at their stage of development, inevitably spawn a technology Eco-system on the back of their success. It provides example and inspiration to other entrants to the technology and finance fields. It boosts our claim to be an emerging International Financial Centre. The gods have smiled on us, thanks to the intellect and drive of our young entrepreneurs.

You can then understand why I was so angry to hear last week that WI-Pay is to move its head office out of T&T by the middle of next year. The assuredness with which the decision was announced tells me that our government is not making any serious efforts to persuade WI-Pay to remain here. I find it incredible that we have not even heard from any government Ministers as to why this has happened and what they are trying to do about it. The opposition in Parliament has had nothing to say either.

I wish to draw a contrast. WI-Pay is guaranteed to be paying taxes and generating net foreign exchange for years to come. It provides many other positive returns for our economy and we seem prepared to let it leave our shores without any apparent effort to keep it here.

Yet a few months ago we were eager to invest 500 million US dollars in order to attract Sandals under an arrangement that generated no tax revenues for 20 years and whose billings were to be done overseas so that no foreign exchange would be generated for T&T. That was considered a good investment but we do nothing to keep WI-Pay here.

Apparently three other Caribbean nations are in the frame to become the next headquarters for this promising new company that is set to be a leader in financial services across the Caribbean. They are Jamaica, Barbados and Guyana. It would be instructive to know what they are offering to WI-Pay to induce the company to select each of those destinations as their new home. It would also be instructive to know what we offered or what was requested of us before this decision was made to move.

Evidently, our neighbours recognise what kind of company should be sought under the New Normal. We hear all these grand speeches about digitization and diversification but when a perfect specimen smacks our leaders in the face they turn away. I fear for our future.

WI-Pay offered us a free E-Identity platform, as reported above. Our politicians have committed to deployment of such a platform. How can we refuse such an offer that fits perfectly with our stated aims, given that it is free, it is local and it supported by MasterCard? Have decisions already been made to contract with Estonia to use their E-Identity card and perhaps other system? Are we once again scorning the best tenets of procurement practice by entering into yet another secret government to government arrangement?

I’m here to tell everyone that it is not too late for our leaders to see the light and get into the game. We should not allow this company to leave our shores without making a valiant effort to keep them here. We need to hear their reasons for their decision. Have they been offered inducements by other nations and are we not inclined or able to compete? Is there some failure or weakness over here within our financial or investment systems that is not conducive to their growth? Is there some other reason?

Whatever is the problem, we should make every effort to find it and fix it. This experience will put us in a better position to ensure that we do not lose out again should a similar opportunity present itself. This does not bode well for the future. We can and must do better. We should all be angry.

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