Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 8th 2015 Contents MARCH 8 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COVER STORY | SBG5
Moonilal Lalchan, the 57-year-old out-
going president of the Trinidad and
Tobago Chamber of Commerce, is
proud of what he has been able to
accomplish. "Over the last two years,
my philosophy has been to build
bridges with key stakeholders across
the country. I said that in my very first speech and I think
I was able to accomplish that, because we worked very closely
with a number of institutions to have things like the procure-
ment legislation in place right now." Lalchan said.
He is very concerned about the state of the country. The
Chamber president has spent much of his life and career,
overseeing the development of young people and talent for
the greater good of T&T.
As the Vice President of Finance and Administration at
Atlantic LNG, he has been involved in the mentoring of talent
and has been part of the process that has created a talent pool
that is 99 per cent local. He says too many are prepared to
sit back and pay lip service to the idea of development, without
actually doing anything to see it happen. For him, ethics and
corruption are front burner issues.
"This is something that has haunted us for a number of
years. The whole issue of dealing with corporate governance,
the corporate governance code. It started before me, but I was
able to help in that. The whole political code of conduct that
was recently signed, all those were signed under my leadership.
We had a lot of people involved in doing it. But I am glad that
those three things we were able to accomplish."
However, Lalchan said becoming Chamber president was
the furthest thing from his mind.
"I really never had the intention. I said, this little boy from
the back of Princes Town, what business does he have with
Years before the Chamber and Atlantic LNG, Lalchan, the
little boy from Princes Town had a very humble upbringing
in Irie Village.
Lalchan recalled getting up at four in the morning to bring
the family s water from Princes Town, in an oil drum, using
a cart. That was a three-hour trip.
"We lived downhill and as you were going downhill, some-
times you reach to turn to go in by the house and the whole
barrel would fall. After three hours on the road. Sometimes,
you want to put your hand and stop the barrel, but we were
small guys. Pre Common Entrance. Once, the barrel fell on
our fingers and we lost our fingernails. After a couple days,
it turns blue and it falls off."
Lalchan s father, who he is named after, shared a life-long
love with his wife, Zohara Lalchan. The marriage was mixed,
Hindu and Muslim. The family eventually converted to Chris-
tianity and Lalchan said this gives him a very unique perspective
on life, being able to see all three points of view.
His father was a carpenter at Texaco and with nine mouths
to feed, money was sometimes tight.
But Lalchan didn t see his life as hard. He spoke of his child-
hood and of playing with friends surrounded by fields of cane.
"Those were very lovely days." he said, "We grew up as a
close-knit family. Sports wasn t things like Ipad and television.
Sports was waiting in the evening, after you were done carrying
the water, to meet with your friends on the road. And you
played marble pitching, tree hole and top. On weekends, you
would go on the ground and play cricket, inter-village com-
petition and so on. That was recreation, going and shooting
birds, catching fish in the rivers and lagoon."
School work through his primary, and much of his secondary
school life was done by pitch oil lamp or using flambeau.
"I went into primary school from about 1962. I remember
when we got Independence. We got these little chocolates. In
1971, I passed Common Entrance."
Lalchan, who referred to himself as doing "reasonably well"
throughout his school career, obtained a place at St. Stephen s
College, where he secured 6 O level passes and 3 A levels.
The chamber president said he had initially wanted to pursue
a career in electrical engineering because he loved "breaking
apart and putting radios and televisions back together". However,
his family did not have the money for that.
Lalchan said he saw an ad in the paper. The ad was for a
position at what was then known as DeLoitte and Touche.
" It said, Become a chartered accountant. Earn $1,200 a
month. In the 70 s that was good and it excited me. So I
applied and I had the interview and I had two of the best
mentors in those days. They were working for Deloitte and
Touche. They were Willam Lucie Smith and Joe Esau. William
was my immediate boss and Joe was the partner. So I had the
benefit of their experience, two very successful persons. I
credit my success to them also."
This was in 1977. He moved to the then Neal and Massy
Group in 1978 and at that time started studying for the Asso-
ciation of Chartered Certified Accountants qualification, buying
the manuals and going at his own pace.
"Having to travel three hours for the day and study at night
was difficult. But eventually I ended up writing exams, failing
half, passing half, because in those days you didn t have the
types of schools that you have right now." said Lalchan.
He changed jobs again in 1981, this time going to Trinidad
Tesoro. This company sponsored a scholarship that enabled
Lalchan to go to England to finish his ACCA in 1986. When
he came back five months later, he assumed the position of
Junior Accountant. By the time he left the company now
named Trinmar in 1994, he had worked his way up Acting
After that, he worked at the Point Lisas Industrial Port
Development Corporation or PLIPDECO or the for two and
a half years, where he spearheaded a successful IPO.
He got a call from a headhunter for a position at the newly
established Atlantic LNG in 1996.
Referring to his job at PLIPDECO, he said:
"I had a good, responsible position. It was 15 minutes from
home, why would I want to come to Port of Spain? But even-
tually they convinced me that it might be a good job. And
I think they convinced me right. Because I moved and I came
across, as the financial comptroller. I was very instrumental
in setting up a lot of the systems and processes and over the
years I ve worked in several positions, Support Services Manager.
Vice President, Planning. Today I am the Vice President,
Finance and Administration."
It was at Atlantic LNG, he would be able to complete his
MBA at Auburn University in Alabama and the Advanced
Management Programme at Harvard through company spon-
He became involved with the Chamber of Commerce six
years ago when the organisation was looking for an "energy
person" to round out its board.
"So I went in, not knowing that 6 years later I would be
president," said Lalchan.
With great power
The Sunday BG asked Lalchan about a release from the
Chamber asking the Prime Minister to consider the potential
effects her last re-shuffle could have on the perception of sta-
bility in the country. Lalchan said while he and the organisation
are non political, they had a duty to intervene and comment
on the important issues of the day and not only because they
"What we are saying is that we the country have elected
successive governments under the premise that they will make
certain changes and we believe the time is long overdue when
we start to hold people accountable. The electorate has put
you there for a particular purpose and we should be holding
people accountable for their promises and their actions if we
have to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren."
"We need to set the correct tone. I believe that too many
decisions are being made, that may not necessarily be in the
best interests of the country. As a chamber, the biggest and
strongest business organization, we need to speak out and to
continue to speak out. We not going to speak out on any and
every issue, but on issues that we think are fundamental to
the smooth running of the country. Especially things like
crime. The whole issue of white and blue-collar crime. The
whole issue of corruption. We need to take a stance on these
things because they are a hemorrhage on the country."
A blessing in disguise ?
Given his energy background, it would be expected that
Lalchan might have focused on the negative aspects of the
sharp decline in crude prices since November last year. But
the Chamber president said he sees this as a "blessing in dis-
guise" for the country.
"Once you have a lot of cash coming into the country, there
is really no rush to bring efficiencies and address the issues
of productivity in the country. Once you have the money run-
ning, you have a lot of subsidies, you have a lot of social pro-
grammes which I support, but it should be to the persons
who really deserve it."
"The price of oil and gas has dropped, so the revenue streams
to the country have gone down. But we fail to address the real
issues of wastage in the country. You have over 80 something
state companies and out of that, if you have five state companies
that are profitable, you have a lot. Our question is why do
you continue to run these unprofitable state companies? It s
a drain on the Exchequer, you have these transfers taking place
and you continue to encourage wastage."
Lalchan said that productivity and labour shortage also con-
tinued to be problems in T&T.
He said the chamber in principal, had no problem with
social programmes such as CEPEP, even though they helped
create some of the labour shortage.
"You need to deal with the social issues, but also get these
people weaned off after a couple of years and going into more
He also called on the business community to recognise their
role in making their companies attractive to potential employ-
"There is the question of some of them do not want to
work for the companies because of how the companies treat
them but that could be addressed. You need to set the correct
tone from a business point of view. to make sure we treat out
employees properly. So that they will be encouraged to come
and work for us."
Lalchan said the low oil prices may also be the catalyst this
country needs to focus its diversification programme. He men-
tioned fishing, tourism and repair and maintenance of marine
equipment as some areas for attention and noted government
was making some attempts in these areas.
"Those are the kinds of things we need to deal with, diver-
sification and all the wastage, productivity and subsidies, so
we can t wait for the oil and gas prices to start to rise and
then start to waste again. It is a whole cultural adjustment
that needs to be done."
From country to chamber
president of the Trinidad
and Tobago Chamber of
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