The Deputy Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Joel Jack has begun a series of meetings as part of the preparations for his presentation in June of the THA 2020 Fiscal Budget.
Newsday was told the Division of Finance and the Economy engaged businesses, trade unions, civic and NGO organisations involved in the delivery of financial and social services to Tobago to highlight their proposals for consideration by the division in preparing a comprehensive and inclusive Tobago budget statement.
The first meeting took place on Monday afternoon, among Jack, administrator Wendy Guy Hernandez, president of the Tobago Agricultural Society Dedan Daniel, treasurer of the Bee-Keepers Association James Keron and a team from the Division of Finance and the Economy.
Jack said the agriculture sector will continue to be a focus of the budget and the THA is giving the sector the attention it deserves. He said in the past some recommendations from the agricultural sector have been included in the budget document.
He said there will be continued support and investment for access road programmes, which should result in increased business activity for farmers. He added that the tendering process for the Goldsborough irrigation system project is nearing completion and when it is installed, there would be relief for farmers, especially in the dry season.
Daniel said the agriculture society is keen in becoming a real market player, as it hopes to move the sector’s Gross Domestic Production (GDP) contribution from the current one per cent to about ten per cent by 2022. The national average is around four per cent.
He said the society plans to undertake some key strategies that would propel the sector to a level of prosperity and sustainability. Among its plans are to redefine farming as a business and not a hobby, engage more women and youth participation, identify and close marketing gaps, use the model of “good and sustainable farming” practices and brand Tobago products under the name of "Bago Fresh."
Included in the proposals from the Bee-Keepers Association and the agricultural society is the establishment of three training production apiaries in Castara, Lowlands and Roxborough that will train 12 beekeepers in each area.
Representatives from the Tobago hotel sector also held discussions with Jack and his team. On Tuesday morning, president of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association (THTA) Chris James, president of the Tobago Unique Bed and Breakfast & Self Catering Association Kaye Trotman and THTA directors Gloria Jones Knapp of Café Havana and Winston Pereira of Miller’s Guest House made a presentation at the secretary’s office.
James said both international and domestic arrivals have declined since 2006, for a number of reasons. On the international level, there are no direct flights into Tobago, and within recent times, the breakdown of the air and seabridge continued to affect domestic travel negatively.
He pointed out that there are high taxes which affect the Tobago industry, such as corporation tax, business levy, Green Fund and duties on supplies. He suggested the room tax should be at ten percent and be used for tourism marketing.
He said with over 500 properties on the island, the association is hoping to start social-media training for all property owners expected to last at least 12 months. Jack suggested an information and communications technology component should form part of the training in alignment with the THA’s concept of an "intelligent island."
Jack believes the 13 per cent contribution to GDP by the sector can be increased and said there must be linkages with other sectors such as agriculture and other service sectors.
He will be meeting next with Minister of Finance Colm Imbert before his budget presentation.