The main challenge was to get the economy back on track

As Ralph de Sousa’s term as President of GCCI comes to an end, he elaborates on the various challenges that came by his way during his two-year tenure

You took over as President of GCCI during the pandemic’s peak. How did that work out for you?
It was a formidable job and a difficult call. One has to face challenges and we saw that the Goan economy, like the rest of the country, and the world was in bad shape. We had to get the economy back on track and I was extremely fortunate to have a good advisor in my immediate past president, Manoj Caculo, a man of immense wisdom. He was by my side and we moved ahead together in the beginning and it was a very good start for me. As we progressed, we noticed that there were a lot of other people who were interested and they came up with specific solutions. The government was worried and had no clue on how to reach out to every sector of the economy. The Chamber was one of the channels through which they could reach out and we have 15 verticals including two non-industrial sectors that are education and health care. When I started my term, we invited the Chief Minister along with all his secretaries, headed by the Chief Secretary. We collected sector-wise information, across the spectrum of all industries and presented this data to the bureaucracy sitting with us. The government got a gist of the problems and could plan its strategy accordingly.

What were the various challenges that you faced during your term?
One of the challenges as I said earlier was getting the economy back on track. We had to move with the times. Today, technology has come to play a very important role and financially our industry was completely over-stressed. In order to renovate and innovate we had to get good financial deals for the various sectors of the economy.

We got the RBI on board, we made sure that industry members benefitted from the various schemes floated by the Central Government, and followed up with the banks to disburse these schemes so that moratoriums were offered, interests were lowered and we were able to sort out our financial issues.

The second was Ease of Doing Business. There are so many hurdles and stumbling blocks in the way of progress for industries that most of the time was wasted in clearing off these roadblocks. So we sat down with the government on a regular basis and gave them our suggestions so that they could get in more revenue.

Another issue in the wayof EoDB was licensing and we went on to increase the validity of these licenses to five years. The Chamber also saw that there were many rules and regulations that were totally outdated and requests for documents like NOCs and other licenses were not relevant at all. All of this was done away with and this gave way to improved EoDB. There were a lot of applications and government requirements that were migrated from a personal level to online mode which also helped us greatly.

What were your primary goals during your tenure and do you feel that you achieved everything that you aspired for the benefit of the Chamber?
The primary goals are always huge and one cannot always finish what they have started. But to a great extent it was with the help of our secretariat, the managing committee and our members, we managed to achieve a lot. The biggest problem that the industry was facing was that of the Goa Industrial Development Corporation. There was so much to be done and irregularities to be fixed along with the huge amount of paperwork and to put all this in place, the Chamber worked along with the government.

We worked with the government and were fortunate to have the support of Mauvin Godinho, the Industries Minister and he came in with a new Managing Director, Abhishek Pravimal who is an excellent hands-on person. Now there is a lot of progress along with EoDB and discipline that has been introduced in all areas of the industrial estates. The Chamber is very much a part of this as it has accompanied the Managing Director to different industrial estates to get first-hand knowledge of the difficulties faced by industries. Besides, we have also worked towards investments and put in effort to encourage IT. The Chamber’s IT Committee which is headed by Milind Prabhu had a developers’ meet where we had a thousand delegates come on from all over to discuss tech solutions. These are the foundations on which good industry planning is built.

During your term, how have you connected with the industry to further the aims and objectives of GCCI?
As we know GCCI has many different committees, what we did this time was that one member of the managing committee was a mentor of various sub-committees. He was the bridge between the sub-committee and the managing committee.

The committee comprised of people from the particular sector and they didn’t have to be members of the Chamber. We had a good number of people from whom we would get first-hand information through our sub-committee on what was lacking in that particular sector and all this information would come to the managing committee. We would have regular meetings with the government and developed a good rapport with the secretaries and ministers. The Chief Minister himself visited the Chamber on four different occasions and the Governor has visited the Chamber a couple of times. It has been a great honour for us and that shows how much they respect the Chamber.

We would take prior appointments with the government, sit down with them, put our problems before them and present them with a brief plan of action. We discussed crucial points with the ministers and made sure that everyone was in the loop. The Chamber achieved a lot during this period. For example, the Logistics Policy has just been published, wherein a draft was given by the Chamber with various suggestions.

We also want to assist the retail sector in the state. We have to keep in mind that when the big players enter and huge supermarkets come in, they can wipe out the smaller stores. There has to be a proper policy and we have already drafted it and presented it to the government. We have tied up with BITS Pilani, GIM, Goa University, and Engineering College to come out with papers, study the suggestions in detail and present it to the government. One place where the Chamber has done well is in the area of taxation. We had to rationalise the impact of taxes, whether it was GST or otherwise and there were suggestions made by the Chamber in this aspect. We went to Mauvin Godinho who is on the National GST Committee and had a brief interaction with Union Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, as well when she came to Goa. Some of our suggestions did meet up with expectations and they were addressed. But where we really had the upper hand was in the State Budget.

We always had a preliminary discussion with the government and would submit a pre-budget memorandum. This memorandum was based on the requirements of the entire sectors of Goa. We took the suggestions that had a macro effect on a large number of industries and made suggestions to the government on how they could enhance their revenue. We suggested to the government the areas where they could bring in revenue and where they could help the industry. We put forward twelve suggestions and from these ten of our suggestions were, accepted by the government.

The latest has been reducing the tariff on piped gas. We wanted this reduction as the government has banned the use of furnace oil which is also a pollutant. In order to help green industries, piped gas is the best way to go. Thanks to this we were on par with other states. There were a few backlogs when there was a migration from sales tax to GST and this led to arrears in assessment. The government was not in a position to access the money and we helped the government to come out with laws and schemes in order to address the issue. Everything today is on a clean board.

As a travel and tourism entrepreneur you have been vocal about the industry. How do you see the fate of tourism in the State?
I have been in the tourism sector for the last 30 years. Back then, Goa was a laid-back destination visited mostly by senior citizens to unwind and breathe in the fresh air of the state. Things have changed today and it is mostly the younger generation who are coming in, be it from the international markets as well as all over India. Once the younger crowd came in, we had to shift our perspective and way of functioning to meet their requirements. We had to change the way Goa sees entertainment and we had to set up nightlife here along with clubs and evening cafes. Our Goan entrepreneurs rose to the occasion and brought in these activities which are looked forward to by the younger crowd. Then came covid and with this virus, there was a complete ban on international tourism. We had to depend solely on domestic tourism, as to date international tourism is limping back to normalcy.

Domestic tourism is shaping up in a big way as the world closed up and these tourists had to go somewhere. The next best place for them was Goa. As Goa opened its doors to domestic tourism, many people came in to holiday or work from home and discovered our peaceful state. Goa became a place for the rich and the famous either to holiday or invest in. The biggest change that I have seen is there is huge pressure on the luxury sector. Today, we have a shortage of at least 2500 luxury rooms. To put this in the right perspective, the Taj has 21 properties in Goa and this itself tells you a story.

What are your thoughts with regard to the changes being brought about to the tourism industry during the G20 meetings held in Goa?
As far as Goa is concerned, it is an apt state for a cruise destination. Goa is among the 5 states that have a natural deep sea harbour in India. Every country that has a port wants a cruise to come in there. When we talk about a standard, it should be one that is in comparison to the standards of other successful cruise destinations. We have to treat people properly and we have to remember that the cruise touches a place for 24 hours. People want to see two or three wonderful places, have a meal in an authentic restaurant, and have a good time. These people are our ambassadors so that they can come back on a holiday again. This is what cruise tourism is all about and this is how we have to look at it. But mass tourism is not for Goa. We have our size and carrying capacity to consider. We cannot have footfalls for the sake of footfalls.

The highway has changed the scale of Goa. We have got two airports, we have fast trains which can reach Mumbai in 6 hours and all this will open floodgates into Goa. Just because there are people coming in, we cannot keep on building or developing. Soon there will be nothing left and people will desert Goa. There are other destinations opening in the north and south of Goa and people will begin going there in case we over-concretise our state. Our niche should be small boutique hotels, luxury brands, and quality which bring in revenue rather than quantity for which we do not have a place. We cannot keep anyone out but we should concentrate on quality rather than quantity.

What do you think are the top three essentials a young entrepreneur has to keep in mind when they begin their journey with the Chamber?
The first thing is they have to come up with a project that they enjoy doing. If they are happy doing it, they will be successful. The second is they should not be in a hurry. There’s a saying that one can’t hurry love. In the same way, one cannot hurry toward success. Never hurry, everything takes time and all good things are worth waiting for. The third, which is the sum of everything, is focus, focus, and focus.

There are so many temptations and distractions today. Technology is improving every day, by the hour and minute. There are so many opportunities that we did not have. We are an old brick-and-mortar generation but today’s is a tech-generation. There is the lure of making a fast buck and one should not lose their focus. Once you are convinced that you are on the right track, keep your focus and reach your destination.

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