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Friday 13 December 2019
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Tobago

Self-government key to economic resilience

Charles hopeful for 2020

Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles  -
Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles -

Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles is hoping the issue of internal self-government for the island will be brought to the Parliament soon.

He was addressing the Division of Finance and the Economy's 13th Annual Tobago Economic & Business Outlook Conference on Tuesday, at the Magdalena Grand Beach & Golf Resort, Lowlands.

The conference, one of Finance Month's signature events, was titled Advancing Our Development Agenda Through Innovation, Industry and Investment.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert said in the October 7 budget the legislation for internal self-government is expected to come to the Parliament in the first quarter of 2020.

Reflecting on the conference's theme, Charles said Tobagonians, having an understanding of their circumstances, are best suited to govern their affairs.

"Nobody understands the opportunities, the indigenous resources and the things we need to do in our economic space than we who live here and see them on a daily basis," he said.

"And, therefore, for us, part of advancing our development agenda, is the realisation of our dream for self- government.

"For Tobagoinans, as it were, to take charge of the decisions that affect our lives and that we suggest, ladies and gentlemen, is essential in building and having economic resilience in Tobago."

Charles said internal self-government will give Tobago the authority to engage in financial transactions and to source funding to facilitate the island's development based on its own credit worthiness.

He added it will also allow for greater predictability in the planning and economic development process in Tobago.

"It will also give the assembly the authority to make laws on specific matters for the good governance of the island.

"Laws and legislation is really the tool that translates policy into action. And, it is my sincere hope that the issue of self government can be resolved very shortly."

Charles said advancing Tobago's development agenda requires a greater focus on innovation and creativity.

"We will only develop comparative and competitive advantages in the various industries in which we operate if we engage in continuous innovation.

"In other words, we must continuously strive to reinvent ourselves to find new ways of doing the things we now do and to find new things to do."

Charles said while the THA has resolved to play its part in creating avenues for innovation to thrive, shifting from Assembly's status as the island's major employer remains a challenge.

He said: "I suggest, ladies and gentlemen, that industrial development is another key element as we seek to shift the status quo with Tobago from one where the state is the main employer to one where the private sector employs a greater proportion of the labour force."

Charles added: "I am sure that you have heard it said on many occasions that approximately 60 per cent of the labour force in Tobago is engaged by the THA. And arguably, such cannot bode well for the development of the island."

In this regard, Charles envisages a greater role for the private sector.

"We need to shift so that the private sector takes the responsibility for providing opportunities for greater sustainable jobs in the development of the island."

Charles said inadequate funding for development programmes is also a major challenge for the THA.

"A significant challenge we continue to face is inadequate funding for our development programmes. "

He said over the past decade, the THA's allocation from the central government has been on an average 15 to 20 per cent its request.

However, Charles said given the historical patterns of shortfall in budgetary allocations, "we continue to explore a range of strategies to finance development expenditure here in Tobago."

He said one of the measures actively being pursued is the use of $300 million bond financing initiative for development projects which the finance minister had announced in the budget.

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