Agriculture and tourism must be Tobago’s main focus to drive the island’s socio-economic development.
So said Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, speaking on the debate of a motion at the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) plenary on November 23 to have the Executive Council manage the affairs of Tobago and advance the island’s socioeconomic development agenda by managing the THA’s resources for fiscal 2018 through policy measures recommended by the Executive Council.
Charles said the THA’s aim was to put emphasis on tourism, agriculture, specialised services to ensure a robust education system, create dynamic health sector and reformed public service in 2018.
“All Tobagonians must participate in the developmental process by recognising that we must increase productivity, increase our services and this will lead the island on a path of growth,” he said.
“The fact that we are at a point debating whether Sandals is coming or not coming is critical because when you are seeking to persuade an investor to come to the island one has to understand that how they perceive you is important.” Minority leader Watson Duke, in his contribution to the debate, accused the Executive Council of having no policies measures to deal with the economy.
Also speaking at the debate, Minority member Farley Augustine, representative for Speyside/Parlatuvier/L’Anse Fourmi, contended that creativity, imagination and collaboration was needed to treat with economic issues in Tobago.
“We understand the (economic) climate we are in and we understand that now more than ever, there must be a call for extraordinary ways to our approach for governance and also to managing the economy of Tobago.
“If we are to ensure Tobagonians aren’t pressured by the state of the national economy and the challenges regionally and internationally, then we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and change our political behaviour,” Augustine said. He blamed mismanagement of Tobago finances on the PNM-led THA. “We cannot pretend away our economic misfortunes. All our economic misfortunes are not a result of our own doing. You cannot control what happened beyond the THA control, but pretending there is not a problem would not solve the problem. The problem will remain. What we should have been doing is a critical analysis of the problem… Augustine noted that a 2014 report titled “Poverty is Hell” showed that 15,000 Tobagonians were living under the poverty level.
“The report reveals that poverty in Tobago increase from 19 percent in 2005 to an alarming 24 percent in 2014. When you are doing a re-budgeting exercise, one expects you look at the entire picture and say have we moved to a better position,” he told the House. Augustine noted that projects listed as priority by the THA have been pending for some time.
“It’s not happening now, it has been happening for a long time and then year come year go and it’s the same promises, regurgitated without reason…Those on the other side need to be more honest on how much revenue we actually do generate.
“Nobody should come to Tobago to ask and force people to respond because some of these THA state companies have been in existence for a while and their reports should be public,” he said. Minority Councillor Faith B Yisrael, argued that the THA must redo its budget as a $2 billion allocation cannot cover the $5 billion requested by the THA in its budget for Tobago. Noting significant shortfalls in requests for current expenses, capital development expenses, URP and Cepep, Yisrael conteded that “no amount of tweaking could make the $2 billion work”.
“It’s either the budget before was a sham and you knew you only needed $2 billion or we going into the fiscal year not knowing our head from our tail.” Yisrael also said that the THA has failed to provide information on its revenue from investments of special purpose entities, and that her research has shown $21 million invested in these entities but “ it seems as though these companies made zero dollars, I could not find those numbers.”
She listed these companies as the Eco Industrial Development Company of Tobago Limited, Tobago House of Assembly Venture of Capital Equity Fund Limited, Tobago Cassava Products Limited, Fish Processing Company of Tobago Limited, Milford Road Esplanade Limited, Tobago Information Technology Limited, Tobago Cold Storage and Warehouse Facility Limited, Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute Pigeon Point Heritage Park Company Limited and the Tobago Project Development Authority.