MINISTER in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy and Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said a $50 million allocation to the assembly announced in Tobago on Wednesday is Government carrying out its polices and not an election gimmick to help the PNM win the December 6 THA elections.
They made these comments on Thursday while dismissing claims from other quarters that the release of the allocation was linked with the elections.
At the post-executive news conference in Scarborough on Wednesday, Dennis announced the assembly has received a further $50 million from the Government to assist hoteliers and displaced workers in the accommodation sector still reeling from the impact of the covid19 pandemic. Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced the allocation to the THA when he presented the 2022 budget in the House of Representatives on October 4.
Webster-Roy, who is also Tobago East MP, said there was nothing unusual about the timing of the release of the $50 million to the assembly.
"The budget was recently passed and usually around this time, ministries and departments would start receiving releases on their allocation."
Webster-Roy said, "Thus, the $50 million released to the THA to assist hoteliers and others affected by the covid19 pandemic is not an election gimmick or an attempt to woo the Tobago electorate.
"It is simply the Government carrying out its policies. In and out of election season, the PNM has always prioritised national advancement and citizens' socio-economic wellbeing."
Webster-Roy dismissed claims by UNC deputy leader Jearlean John that the PNM had ruined Tobago's economy and entrepreneurial spirit over time.
"People development has been promoted by successive PNM governments and the PNM Executive Council through programmes and initiatives aimed at fostering innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship."
Webster-Roy said Tobagonians have benefited from grants or technical assistance for business development, either from the assembly or various government ministries.
"Tobago has been designated by the Cabinet to lead the push toward digitisation of the public sector."
This, Webster-Roy continued, "will provide opportunities for Tobagonians to explore business-development opportunities in the information and communication technology sector.
"Notwithstanding difficult times, successive PNM administrations have recognised and valued Tobagonians' potential.
"I would encourage Tobagonians to remain focused and level-headed and to recognise that, even in these difficult times, the people of Tobago and the island of Tobago have not been forgotten."
Webster-Roy was confident that the continued belief of the people of Trinidad and Tobago in the PNM would be reflected at the polls on December 6.
Dennis: It's a continuation of what THA has already been doing
Dennis said, "This $50 million tourism and hospitality sector support programme, is a deliberate and strategic plan to further stimulate the Tobago economy."
He said the money would also support individuals and businesses in Tobago that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
"This represents a continuation of what we have been doing for the last 18 or so months."
Last March, Government announced a $50 million fund to help hoteliers, guest-house operators and bed-and-breakfast owners to refurbish their properties. Dennis said $30 million of that money helped several Tobago hotels to upgrade their facilities. This provided much-needed revenue and employment in Tobago.
"From the beginning of the pandemic to now, we have spent $20 million, in support to small businesses on the island." Sums of $12 million and $6 million have been spent on food support and rental assistance respectively.
"It is a continuation of what we are doing. It is no response to election."
Dennis recalled that Imbert indicated on October 4 that, based on additional requests from the assembly, given the closure of the tourism sector owing to the pandemic and related restrictions at the time, a further $50 million which the THA received on Wednesday would be provided.
"Immediately we began to plan and put the processes in place to determine how we were going to utilise that funding this time around."
With the budget having been approved by Parliament and all the planning completed, Dennis said, "I announced yesterday (Wednesday) how we will send that money."
On Wednesday, Dennis said $15 million of the latest $50 million, will go to the accommodation sector; $5 million to small and medium businesses – those directly affected by the closure of the tourism sector or affiliated to the sector; and $10 million to the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd (TTAL).
For people who believe the assembly should wait until after December 6 to continue to help Tobagonians affected by the pandemic, Dennis said, "Their bread buttered. That is why they could say that."
He countered that the ex-gratia payment promise being bandied about by the PDP is an election gimmick. PDP leader Watson Duke publicly told Tobagonians to vote for the party on December 6 and "get some money before Christmas. The PNM is not saying that.
"We are saying displaced people in the tourism and related sectors, who are currently without income, who are currently without bread ,will get some support. That is the stark difference."