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Tuesday 10 December 2019
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Diversify Tobago economy

Chamber boss calls on THA, secretary Jack

DIVERSIFICATION NEEDED: President of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Claude Benoit seen at left in this Tobago Newsday file photo with past president Demi John Cruickshan, is calling for a greater emphasis on diversification of the Tobago economy.
DIVERSIFICATION NEEDED: President of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Claude Benoit seen at left in this Tobago Newsday file photo with past president Demi John Cruickshan, is calling for a greater emphasis on diversification of the Tobago economy.

AS THE island prepares for another budget presentation by Secretary for the Division of Finance and the Economy Joel Jack this morning, the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce says it is expecting to hear plans to diverse Tobago’s economy.

Speaking to Newsday Tobago, president of the Tobago Chamber Claude Benoit said it is time for the THA to stop “talking diversification and start to diversify.” He said, “we just can’t talk diversification without talking about it in context.

“You cannot just tell the people you have to diversify you have to look at the Tobago scenario and what we are doing and when you look at that you will see we are not producing enough on the island. We need to look at what area we need to be productive for that diversification and economic growth to happen.”

Benoit added he is expecting to hear plans to restore the island’s business sector after issues caused by the inter island transportation fiasco during the past two years. Benoit says businesses in Tobago have not recovered from the ferry woes lash, and he hopes the THA has included a “bailout” plan to restore the island’s private sector.

“Banks are not lending money to us, they are not helping out and understanding the situation as it exist in Tobago; they are very cruel to the people of Tobago. When the businesses doing well of course the bank will do well to but in times like these, the businesses need some kind of assistance; they don’t get that from the bank. I’m hoping to hear this assistance come out of the THA budget on Monday.”

Things have been so bad, he said, that our stakeholders are really struggling to bring back their businesses and despite what the island has recently came out of caused by the seabridge issues, banks are not lenient with businesses.

“We are now in big trouble and we are hoping to hear something where we can deal with the problem that caused businesses to be in trouble.” He described Tobago’s status as a unique situation where the THA always receives less than asked for.

“From that perspective it is hard to say how the THA can deal with this since they cannot guarantee to the people of Tobago that this budget will come with the funds to execute every project. If this was like that as the President of the Tobago Chamber I would have had plenty suggestions to allow the chamber to move forward.

“The budget will just be another wish list like the rest of the years and to make a pronouncement on a wish list is hard.” He said this has restricted the island from promoting its economic growth and added that he is also hoping the budget will include plans to initiate and encourage foreign investment in Tobago.

“Due to the present agreement with Trinidad you may have difficulties getting the Minister of Finance (Colm Imbert) to deal with issues which directly affect Tobago. Like how the Foreign Investment Act is preventing investment on the island, we would like to see some changes, that would make people want to invest in Tobago. Right now Tobago is not a good place to invest because of the Foreign Investment Act and the way it is administered,” Benoit said.

For its part, the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) said an international arrivals desk in Piarco to ease the passage of visitors to Tobago is one major expectation in today’s THA Budget presentation.

Association member Carolann Birchwood-James said, “the association met with the Secretary of Finance on June 12 and our presentation to the Secretary included funding a tourism plan previously presented to the membership by the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd.

“The THTA also requested assistance in data collection and corroboration so that any spend can be analyzed for effectiveness. We repeated our request for an international arrival desk in Piarco. This is especially important as we have no increase in airlines to Tobago during the next twelve months and therefore we have to make full use of international arrivals in Trinidad destined for Tobago.”

She said the THTA also discussed the rebate program and the inability of our members to access the fund. Our presentation highlighted the importance of tourism, its value and opportunity to the economy. Birchwood-James said she hopes more is done to market Tobago as a tourist destination.

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