Tobago Chamber Chairman Claude Benoit says the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) 2018/2019 budget proposals by Finance Secretary Joel Jack on June 25 did not reflect the “new Tobago” about to happen and was not enough to kickstart growth and production on the island.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Benoit said the budget did not focus on areas to stimulate growth the island needs to lessen its dependency on central government. He also criticised the budget for failing to outline proposals for creating an environment to attract investors.
“If we are going to have autonomy… then the budget should have reflected that, and we didn’t see that type of reflection of challenges ahead with this budget.
“Our concern is that the budget did not create that climate where people see that they can come Tobago even at this time to invest. Something should have been in the budget to address the land licence aspect at least.”
Benoit said the budget should have placed more focus on tourism and agriculture. He said the budget lacked vision to place the island in a position for the coming years.
“How is this is to happen when the budget didn’t put enough things in place as it dealt with particular area such as agriculture, education and tourism. We know things will happen with the coming of the Sandals resort and the construction of the new airport terminal but knowing this is the case, then the budget should have addressed the process of getting there and invest in a serious way in agriculture, in the education system and the tourism system.”
Benoit also noted unresolved issues affecting farmers’ production such as pest control and predial larceny, noting that in the latter case, the THA has been encouraging farmers to production but larceny remains an issue.
“We must lessen the dependency in the area of agriculture so instead of the truckers and venders still having to go to Trinidad to buy the regular things, we can being to grow them here and start to treat the area of agriculture seriously,” he said.
“In education the Secretary (Jack) spoke about developing a public service academy to train public servants, while that sounds good, they intend to use the Tobago hotel school. I don’t think that fits into the development plan where education is concerned. Most of the investment should be done on the hotel school, not only to train Tobagonians but other from Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean, which will lead to more benefits to business on the island.”
“If it wasn’t tough times in Tobago, it would have been a good budget. Even if we go back to agriculture, every year they would have allocated funds for access roads, but that is done every year, so it’s a regular thing. We need to do something more. We are pleased with what is being done, but it is not enough to kick start production and growth in Tobago,” he said.
The Chamber’s Vice Martin George described the budget proposals as short on details with no real plan or leadership towards self-sustainability.
George said Jack did make some effort to present a suitable budget for the island’s current status but said the THA has to focus on growing the economy. He said both the THA and the Chamber must be on the same page to accomplish this growth.
“When you disaggregate the numbers and the projections you have to ask yourself how sustainable is it from an economic standpoint or from a business model perspective? It appears to be yet another version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist story, where Tobago goes annually to Port of Spain with its begging bowl “Sir, can I have some more please”?”
George said the continued heavy dependence on Trinidad was not healthy for the Tobago economy, and questioned the THA’s plans to diversify for economic growth.
He noted that the Sandals project was woefully lacking in hard details and information as to how the average Tobagonian could actively and meaningfully participate and be a part of this proposed massive economic development.