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Getting more with le$$

Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, February 16 2017

click on pic to zoom in

There will be significantly less money on the table when the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB) presents its next fiveyear Country Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago in the coming weeks.

Once approved by Cabinet, the 2016 - 2021 Country Strategy will have a starting budget of approximately US$250 million.

That’s a cut of more than 75 percent from the estimated US$1.5 billion the IDB allocated to TT in its 2011 - 2015 Country Strategy.

The IDB’s Country Representative to TT, Tomás Bermúdez, told Business Day the budgetary cutback was largely due to “a lot of projects not being fully executed” during the last five-year plan. “So, we’re trying a different approach now – allocate a smaller amount, on a piece-by-piece basis, for ready-to-go projects.” Bermúdez assured that the smaller budget “is not really a ceiling in any way” because if there are additional projects that can be executed in a timely manner, the IDB “could do a bigger (budget).” He said the Dr Keith Rowley administration is “very much aligned with this (because) they realised it’s a better approach, especially in times of fiscal constraint. It’s also a better way of managing the budget for the IDB.” The 2011 - 2015 Country Strategy proposed, as the IDB states on its website, “a significant increase in lending.” The priority areas included financial sector regulation and supervision, public sector management, education, social protection, climate change, energy, water and sanitation, and transport.

“TT’s development challenges are addressed in a cross-cutting manner, with a special focus being given to the priority areas of energy, climate change, and water and sanitation,” the IDB stated.

While not everything identified in the 2011 - 2015 plan will ‘carry over’, water and sanitation projects are among those that will be included in the upcoming plan.

Bermúdez told Business Day the IDB’s “interventions, in general, will be in areas of modernisation of the State; so water and sanitation are going to be big, crime and security is another important element.” “Innovation too - the new strategy is geared towards diversification of the economy, finding ways of generating income outside of the energy sector. We understand TT is going to continue to be an energy economy for a long time but we need to find other sources of income to compensate for down times.” The IDB has identified, through research, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector as a viable path for TT’s much-needed economic diversification.

“TT has particular advantages in ICT services. We’re working on a programme to develop and bring in high-tech companies like Google, Airbnb. (Find out) their specific needs and try to do a finishing school of ‘Trinis’ to provide services for those companies.” “Giving ‘Trinis’ the tools,” Bermúdez explained, “to be able to work in a high-skilled, valueadded, type of industry (while) creating a niche for ‘Trinis’ and people from the rest of the Caribbean to invest in and build this sector.” Health is another item high on the agenda for 2016 - 2021, specifically how best to address the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the four main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases; such as heart attacks and strokes, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases; such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma, and diabetes.

Revealing that the IDB is “really proud” of how it makes a difference in people’s lives through the projects it funds, Bermúdez said the bank is “working with the Ministry of Health to launch an NCD programme that we’ve been working on for a while.” Lamenting how NCDs can have a debilitating effect on a person’s quality of life, Bermúdez said the State is also affected when more and more persons seek treatment for preventable diseases.

“There’s been an explosion of NCDs in the region; over 400 percent, in the last few years. So it’s important to have the kind of intervention TT is (undertaking) because NCDs can led to a health crisis down the road, with huge financial implications for the Government as well... all from something that is perfectly preventable,” Bermúdez told Business Day

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