DR VANUS James wasn't being diplomatic about the economic prospects of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) when he responded to Newsday's questions about the THA's budget statement last week.
Tobago, James argued, must grow from a $1.7 billion economy to one delivering $6 billion in turnover.” It will take Tobago about 25 years, growing at five percent per year for that to be achieved," he noted.
The economist was appalled at the outlook for 2020, set by the THA at one percent growth. He’s also concerned that the budget exists only to decide how to spend the allocation from the Central Government and includes no revenue from Tobago itself.
THA Finance Secretary Joel Jack said in May that the budget would target tourism and agriculture development. Greater capacity and economic independence for the island, James believes, can’t be achieved through continued dependence on the Central Government for funding.
The Central bank is currently projecting incremental local recovery domestically based on increases in natural gas output and continued reduction in inflation.
Without more robust intervention and strategic planning, Tobago’s tourism, its most significant revenue source, looks set to stall further.
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation reported last month that the TT tourism sector declined by 2.2 percent despite double digit growth in arrivals during the first quarter of 2019 in the region. The only countries with greater drops in their arrival statistics were Bermuda and Haiti.
The decline of the local tourism industry has been felt most severely in Tobago, which has been hit by losses in international as well as local visitors after the year-long collapse of the seabridge.
The THA has favoured the volatile and risky event-tourism market with mixed success while failing to build infrastructure that targets the high potential cruise line market or, indeed, any other defined tourism market sector.
After the government proposed the planned Sandals Resort as a silver bullet solution to the island’s woes, there has been no new strategy announced for the Tobago tourism sector.
It’s hard to see how the THA will align Tobago’s faltering tourism profile with its new tagline, “Tobago, go beyond ordinary.” Conversations about industrial investment at Cove Estate, the site of a natural gas-powered T&TEC generation station, have hushed to silence.
In the absence of any plan to achieve growth, Vanus James fears that Tobago will remain cap in hand, asking for money from Trinidad and getting less than they need.
These challenges of economic parity are significant, and the THA’s lack of clarity in its planning to meet them and to craft a strategy for meaningful development is stifling any growth potential that the island might pursue.