Tobago Business Chamber chairman Martin George has accused the Government of paying lip service in its efforts to develop Tobago's private sector. George said if the Government was serious, it would repeal the Foreign Investment Act, immediately reopen beaches on the island, and remove VAT from all goods and services there.
His comments come three days after the Prime Minister gave the commitment that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA), once controlled by the PNM, will continue to shoulder the burden of providing employment, until the private sector is robust enough to take over.
Dr Rowley said the expansion of the island's hotel room stock was a step in the right direction.
The THA currently employs approximately 60 per cent of the island's workforce.
Contacted for comment, George, in a WhatsApp video sent to Newsday on Wednesday, described Rowley's promise as “unsustainable.”
He said: “We have consistently called upon the government and the leaders in Tobago to ensure that there is a robust, resilient, well-resourced private sector that can take up the slack in terms of the workforce and that can absorb persons who may be unemployed.”
He said what has been seen is the exact opposite.
“We’ve seen over the years the deliberate destruction of the private sector, the dismantling of all the processes and procedures which would support a viable and sustainable private sector in order to ensure that there is the continued dependency upon the Tobago House of Assembly.
"This, we have said, is unsustainable in the long term, it's unsustainable in the medium term, and it really is unsustainable even in the short term, because no country can survive when you have 60 per cent of the workforce being employed by the government. And then when you look at the annual budgetary presentations from the THA, and you look at the annual budgetary allocations from the Central Government – you have 88 per cent of Tobago’s budget goes towards recurrent expenditure. This is unsustainable.”
He said the government has been asked to take the necessary steps to ensure the revitalisation of direct foreign investment into Tobago by immediately repealing the Foreign Investment Act. He said the call has been made several times, including by himself.
“That has been the biggest obstacle and block to direct foreign investment in Tobago. In this scenario where TT is crying out desperately in need of foreign exchange, you have the government still maintaining this absurd, archaic, obsolescent piece of legislation which is blocking direct foreign investment. All other countries in the Caribbean are welcoming foreign investments, they are encouraging initiatives to bring in foreign investment, yet we in Tobago are so foolishly clinging on to this absurd piece of legislation which is blocking direct foreign investment.”
He also said: “At present, the stipulation and restriction on beaches being closed, that ought to be lifted and removed, because most Trinidadians who want to come to Tobago with their families, they must have access to the beaches in order to have a full family vacation. These are simple things, these are basic things that can be done and we ask that the government instead of paying lip service to the idea of trying to revive the private sector in Tobago, that they do the simple tangible things that are easily achievable which can be done and ensure that you have that.”