FOR TASHIA BURRIS, the budget has left a lot to be desired.
“I was left feeling a little disappointed,” the THA Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation said last week. “We’re still not giving the kind of attention that we should to tourism.”
Ms Burris had hoped for “something radical, something bold, something progressive” from Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, especially since Tobago’s tourism industry is now emerging from the shadow of the covid19 pandemic. Other countries in the Caribbean, she observed, have launched a range of drastic measures to rebuild their markets.
Tobago received an allocation of $2.5 billion, $185 million more than it received last year. However, $2.2 billion of this allocation will serve recurrent expenditure, $18 million is for URP and $9.2 million is for CEPEP. The THA development programme for the year totals $300 million.
Mr Imbert noted Tobago has access to loan financing and indirect allocations through state agencies and ministries of about $731.5 million. Hundreds of millions, he said, will also be spent on transport links and national security.
But such financing has long been a consistent feature of the relationship between the central government and the THA. What is particularly frustrating is that it has not resulted in any meaningful change.
The lack of bold measures has begun to add fuel to another longstanding Tobago issue.
“Autonomy is more than making Tobagonians feel like men and women,” THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said last week in the wake of the budget. “It is also about giving us legislative authority for some simple things that we do not now have.”
But autonomy might as well already be the touchstone of the relationship between the tourism policies of both Trinidad and Tobago. To date, there remains a wasteful separation between the special-purpose state agencies mandated to promote the sector.
As a result, Trinidad and Tobago have duplicate memberships in the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, which convened a tourism showcase in London mere days before Mr Imbert’s budget speech. (Tobago, and not Trinidad, was the special “headline partner” of this year’s proceedings at the Leonardo Royal London Hotel.)
Mr Augustine had met with Mr Imbert (whose ministry is also corporation sole for CAL) before the budget speech. One of the key measures affecting Tobago in that speech was a planned increase in air- and seabridge fares, something which Ms Burris argues is poorly timed, while Mr Augustine notes it is not tied to any clear boost in efficiency.
The historic Tobago carnival planned for later this month will be a major test of the THA’s own vision for the island and its ability to make do with the resources available to it.