Mr Speaker, development of the Tourism sector is a major pillar in our economic diversification and employment generation platform. Last year we attracted a record 407,000 visitors to Trinidad and Tobago and indications are that 2004 could see a significant increase.
We have been very successful in attracting new airlifts to Tobago, and the number of visitors has been increasing steadily. In 2001, the number of visitors to the island was 49,441. In 2002, this increased to 56,565. By 2003, the figure increased further to 67,240, and by August 2004 had reached 61,754. It is now projected that by the end of 2004 the number of visitors to Tobago will exceed 100,000. Mr Speaker, this has significant implications for the Tourism industry in Tobago. There are now not enough hotel rooms in Tobago to meet the increasing demand, and perhaps of even greater significance is the shortage of labour in the Tourism industry on the island.
To address these issues, as well as increase the sector’s overall contribution in the development thrust, we created a dedicated tourism agency - the Tourism Development Corporation, which will be charged with the responsibility for tourism investment promotion, product development and marketing.
In 2005, we plan to accelerate our efforts to market Trinidad and Tobago internationally. Negotiations are underway with several major US television networks, which are considering the destination as the backdrop for programmes that can highlight the culture and scenic beauty of Trinidad and Tobago. The print campaign will allow for a more targeted approach to the markets in which we have a competitive advantage.
Mr Speaker, to attain the critical mass of international quality business and resort hotel rooms, we propose to attract major brands that will bring with them, their own advertising, marketing networks and destination profile enhancement. Simultaneously, we will target hotel chains as well as potential developers and investors with the ultimate objective of placing Trinidad and Tobago on their investment list and selling them on specific project concept possibilities.
Mr Speaker, while most of these strategies and activities will be driven by the Tourism Development Corporation, they require the full collaboration of all the stakeholders.
Mr Speaker, we believe the agricultural sector can make a significant contribution to the national development effort. Our goal is to increase the sector’s contribution to economic and social development, and employment creation while providing an increasing level of the food requirements of the nation.
In pursuing this objective, we have been upgrading the agriculture infrastructure. We constructed access roads and bridges, established water management and flood control systems, and upgraded a number of fishing centres and markets to HACCP standards. The Ortoire Fishing Centre has been completed while construction of fishing centres in San Fernando and Toco are near completion.
We have made additional lands available for agricultural production at Oropouche and Plum Mitan by improving water management systems and agricultural access roads and bridges.
We installed three pumps at Depot Road, Longdenville and irrigated 160 acres of land, which will facilitate 35 farmers.
We provided increased access to agricultural credit and protection for domestic agriculture producers from unfair foreign competition through the CET and import surcharges.
Mr Speaker, our programme for revitalising the Agriculture sector is expected to gain momentum in the next fiscal period. Last year we trained 1,254 individuals between the ages 17 to 25 years under the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture, which is designed to develop practical skills in the area of farm management, production, marketing, post harvest management and food processing. An additional 1,500 individuals will be trained this year.
We will strengthen the current agricultural incentives programme by making it more production-based, and accelerate the distribution of agricultural State lands and Caroni lands to farmers and in particular to graduates of the faculty of Agriculture of the University of the West Indies, Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry (ECIAF) and the YAPA programme.
The Government has implemented through NAMDEVCO a food packaging and warehousing facility for the effective preservation of food products. The company will be establishing a multi-product processing facility that provides opportunities for product development. Our distribution of State lands for agriculture will therefore take into account the objective of establishing modern agro-processing facilities.
We will launch the National Agriculture Information System for the further modernisation of the sector. Databases already have been developed on technology, markets, livestock, crops, disease control, fertiliser use, seeds and other relevant agricultural information.
To increase competitiveness, priority will be given to developing and enforcing grades and standards; enhancing veterinary diagnostic laboratory facilities; and expanding and strengthening sanitary and phytosanitary, and food safety capabilities to international standards.
We shall promote fish production through the establishment of the Fisheries Monitoring and Surveillance Unit, and will put sustainable management techniques in place for renewable marine and inland fisheries.
Mr Speaker, the principal objectives of the Caroni reform programme are to create employment-generating alternatives for workers in a declining industry and to reverse the economic waning of many communities which were dependent on the sugar industry. The objective is to ensure a secure and sustainable livelihood for former employees of Caroni.
Many former employees of Caroni (1975) Limited are now actively engaged in the operations of the Sugar Manufacturing Company Limited and so too are approximately 4,000 private farmers who cultivate sugarcane for the Company. We intend to establish a Sugar Industry Authority to implement a quality based payment system for sugar cane.
In addition, Government is acting to catalyse economic activity and create growth poles on vacated Caroni lands through the establishment of light industrial, commercial and agricultural estates and development of residential sites.
The focus at this time is on provision of agricultural plots and residential lots to the former employers of Caroni as part of the enhanced Voluntary Separation of Employment Programme (VSEP). The agricultural plots would expand agricultural production in approximately seventeen (17) locations.
Work is far advanced on preparing the residential and agricultural plots for occupation by eligible former employees. Distribution of agricultural plots will begin as soon as surveys have been completed.
V. New Areas of Focus
Mr Speaker, a country cannot progress or secure its future, without constantly seeking to chart new directions. No matter how much you are succeeding with present activity, you must always seek to capitalise on new opportunities. You can never stand still, sit on you laurels or be complacent. This Budget reflects that creative drive of this administration, which I have the honour to lead. There are consequently new areas of focus.
Mr Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago has now emerged as the financial centre of the region. In 2003, bond issues for regional governments and corporations amounted to over US$500 million while investment in the region by TT financial institutions amounted to some US$250 million.
The financial sector in Trinidad and Tobago now accounts for 12.5 per cent of GDP and employs 7.5 per cent of the labour force.
We are convinced that we have an excellent base to become the Pan Caribbean Financial Centre. We have the advantages of our ideal geographical location, good air links and a well-developed legal code.
The legislative agenda for the financial system in fiscal 2005 will include the amendment of the Financial Institutions Act and the Insurance Act, as well as the modernisation of legislation relating to the Credit Unions and private pension funds. We are also examining a proposal whereby credit unions with an asset base of $100 million and higher, as well as those undertaking business of a banking nature will be brought under the supervision of the Central Bank.
We are moving towards a modern regulatory and supervisory framework. The White Paper on the Reform of the Financial System has set the agenda for the upgrading of relevant legislation and the development of the entire range of financial infrastructure including the introduction of a Single Integrated Regulator for all financial institutions.
We shall also address the need for the establishment of a Development Bank, largely funded by the Credit Union Movement, to service, inter alia, the requirements of the Small Business sector. We intend to engage the services of an international consultant to guide our future course of action.
Wallerfield Industrial Park
Mr Speaker, two other areas of economic activity identified for special focus are the Information Technology/Industrial Sector and the development of the Wallerfield Industrial Park.
The Park will encompass four zones of activity:
A Mixed Business Industrial Zone focusing on Technology and Software Development and Incubation Facilities;
A Manufacturing Zone concentrating on Light Manufacturing and Downstream Manufacturing from the Energy Sector;
A Knowledge-Based Zone which will house the University of Trinidad and Tobago together with a significant on-line distance learning capabilities; and
A Commercial and Services Zone
The Incubation Facilities will enable small businesses to start operations with minimal capital outlay and will offer the latest technological advances including Broadband Internet Access and Real Time Video Conferencing Facilities for the UTT and Industry use.
The Park will house Engineering Technology including Optical and Microsystems Technology; Material Technology and Software Development; Light Manufacturing including Plastics, Electronic Device and Petrochemical Manufacturing; and Services including Industrial Maintenance, Logistics and Distribution, and Training and Human Resource Development
The University of Trinidad and Tobago will provide synergies for industries on the Estate.
Mr Speaker, this Government believes that a competitive Telecommunications Sector can add to the diversification and development of the non-oil sector.
We have therefore established an independent regulator for the sector, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, which will implement policies to facilitate competition in a fair, equitable and transparent manner.
In the broadcasting sector, the Authority has a mandate to award additional concessions for television and multi-channel (cable) video broadcasting.
In addition to more choices for the consumer, the licensing of additional multi-channel broadcasters will provide additional opportunities for the provision of broadband Internet access at affordable prices to homes nationwide.
Within the first quarter of 2005, the Authority will be awarding further concessions to provide public mobile communications services. We expect competition to produce significant rate reductions, improve our service delivery and wider access to the service among other benefits.
Competition will also be introduced in the provision of international telecommunications services. This development, together with the registration of the international call centres, will result in a further reduction in rates for international calls.
VI Investment in Human Capital
Mr Speaker, Education and Health are critical to meeting the developmental goals of this Administration. We have initiated comprehensive reform agendas in both areas, which are already beginning to show positive results.
Education and Training
In keeping with our vision 2020 to position Trinidad and Tobago in the global economy we are in the process of revamping the entire education system to deliver total quality education. As part of our efforts to ensure quality education for all we are expanding from early childhood care and education to adult literacy.
In the New Year we shall construct 43 Early Childhood Care and Education Centres as we pursue our objective of universal access to pre-school education by the year 2010. This will make us one of the very few countries in the world to have targeted such an achievement.
In pursuing our agenda for quality education we have signed on to several international agreements as a means of benchmarking our progress.
We established the National Curriculum Council with a mandate to review and revise, if necessary, the national philosophy and goals of education. The Council will be responsible for recommending curriculum policy for all levels of the Education System.
The Government has also put in place research, development and evaluation committees to assess and make recommendations for the development of a textbook industry in Trinidad and Tobago.
In order for the education system to provide effective resources for our thrust in the knowledge-based industries, the government is pursuing a total infusion of technology into the system, which would involve the distribution of 3,000 computers at the primary school level, the establishment of IT Units in each educational district, and the implementation of a Wide Area Network connecting all schools. The ‘Schoolnet’ project will begin the transformation to deepen the use of computers and the internet as an integral part of the teaching/learning process in our schools.
Continuous professional development of the Nation’s teachers is a critical component of our total quality education agenda. To date, a total of 1,000 teachers have benefited from training aimed at improving the quality of education in secondary schools.
The Government recognises that education involves a holistic development of the student and therefore requires effective support services. The Ministry of Education has recently acquired 120 new members of staff to support the psychosocial development of the student.
161,000 students are benefiting from the Textbook Rental Programme for primary schools, which commenced in January 2004. We propose this year to distribute 400,000 textbooks on loan to students and to extend this programme to include large print copies for visually impaired students.
The Government is also providing 95,000 lunches and 30,000 breakfast meals under the School Nutrition Programme. This programme ensures that our students receive the recommended daily nutritional requirement.
The Government is pursuing a restructuring and decentralising of the Ministry of Education to provide for greater efficiency in management, service delivery and governance. To this end, we expanded the Local School Boards Pilot project to include 36 selected Government Secondary Schools for a period of two years.
Another aspect of our approach to delivering total quality education is our comprehensive programme for school construction and enhancement.
We intend to double the number of ‘A’ level places in the Nation’s Secondary School System. As part of our $2 billion dollar school building programme, we shall provide 16 new Secondary Schools and upgrade 100 others throughout Trinidad and Tobago. The programme also includes the construction of 13 replacement primary schools and the upgrade of 10 schools for special children.
Tertiary Education and Training
Mr Speaker, the Government has embarked on a revolution in tertiary education.
We aim for a Tertiary Education sector that is responsive to the socio-economic needs of the country. In last year’s Budget statement we stated our intention to establish the new University of Trinidad and Tobago. It has to be an extraordinary feat that in only one year we have already established this new University and admitted almost 2,000 students at the institution.
The University of Trinidad and Tobago will focus on programmes in engineering and technology, research, innovation, entrepreneurship and the humanities. Over the next three years, the UTT will expand its course offerings to include graduate programmes in the field of Offshore Technologies, namely: refining, gas processing and marketing, petroleum management, natural gas technology and electrical management. Degree programmes would be extended to manufacturing engineering, computer technology, earth sciences and maritime technologies.
In the new fiscal year we shall continue the expansion of the University of Trinidad and Tobago towards our ultimate objective of a networked multi-campus institution, including COSTAATT, CARIRI, the Institute of Marine Affairs, Metal Industries Company, San Fernando Technical Institute and John Donaldson Technical Institute. We shall also increase enrolment and offerings at the UTT through a complement of certificate and diploma programmes and Bachelor of Technology, Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree programmes in engineering and technology disciplines.
Additionally, we have introduced a Transitional Studies Programme under the direction of UTT to prepare CXC graduates and persons wishing to re-enter the education system for entry into the University’s programmes. The programme is to be conducted at four locations in Trinidad and one in Tobago.
We have upgraded the campuses of the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts and shall further expand COSTAATT to focus on improvement of facilities, new programme offerings, establishment of communications networks, student support programmes, and staff training.
We have established the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago to foster and maintain quality in national tertiary education and have also prepared a National Policy on Distance Learning.
One of our key objectives is to improve access to tertiary education. This is the essence of the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses program (GATE), which is available to all citizens, at both public and private institutions, and is of special significance to those whose financial situation does not allow them to immediately finance their development themselves. The programme is already very effective and it is no wonder that we have already witnessed an increase in enrolment in tertiary education in Trinidad and Tobago from 17,000 in 2003 to 24,000 in 2004; an increase of 40% in just one year.
In the new fiscal year, we shall increase the number of approved programmes and approved private institutions, thus increasing access to the GATE Programme. We have also decided to increase the scope and quantum of the GATE grant, to cater for additional categories of expenses that students normally face.
We shall also launch the Higher Education Loan Plan (HELP), which is an amalgam of the Student Revolving Loan and the University Student Guarantee Loan Fund, to provide low interest loans to students attending local and approved overseas institutions.
Skills Development and Human Improvement
Mr Speaker, through skills development, we are ensuring that our citizens can take advantage of the employment opportunities created by the nation’s development.
In this regard, another achievement of which we are justifiably proud is the re-introduction of the National Examinations Council programmes at the John Donaldson and San Fernando Technical Institutes. This is being done at no cost to the students of these institutions and will play a most significant role in the development of the skills required in an increasingly industrialised Trinidad and Tobago.
We have also established the Multi-Sector Skills Training (MUST) Programme in July 2004 to address training for employment in the construction industry for some 10,000 persons, particularly those who are ‘at risk’, financially or academically challenged, vulnerable or differently-abled. This will now be expanded to include the agriculture, tourism and hospitality, and the process manufacturing sectors.
Additionally, we have included the associate degree programmes at the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute and will develop human resource systems and international training opportunities for students at this institution.
We have now re-directed and enhanced the YTEPP, and merged the Helping You Prepare for Employment (HYPE) with the National Skills Development Programme (NSDP) under the Metal Industries Company; graduated almost 700 retrenched and displaced citizens through the National Re-training Programme; and graduated over 5,000 On-the-Job trainees from the National OJT Programme.
We have identified national labour market needs through appropriate surveys to encourage priority training for employment and constructed and equipped the Laventille Technology and Continuing Education Centre, which is already accepting students and will be formally opened next month.
Mr Speaker, to crown all this activity, I am pleased to advise this Honourable House and the national community of the following. This Government intends to ensure that by 2008, all nationals of this country will have access to tertiary education in Trinidad and Tobago, free of charge. I repeat. All Nationals, Free of Charge.
We also intend to achieve a participation rate in post secondary and tertiary education of 60 per cent by 2015. In other words, our objective is that within the next 10 years, 60% of our Secondary School graduates will proceed to attend university level or post- secondary level institutions. This is five times the current level of participation in tertiary education and will place us on par with the countries of Europe, North America and the Far East.
The revolution in Education and Training must and will continue.
Mr Speaker, I now turn to another of our priorities - the health of our People. We intend that by 2006 this country will enjoy a health care system that will set new standards of quality and accessibility.
In 2005, we shall commission the new wing at the San Fernando General Hospital, which will include an Intensive Care Unit, the out- fitting of a Burns Unit and theatres for Same Day Surgery. The outfitting of the Burns Unit will be in the coming year. We shall continue work in the Scarborough Regional Hospital, the National Oncology Centre, and the construction of a number of District Health Facilities and Enhanced Health Centres. Upgrade works will begin in 2005 at the Sangre Grande Hospital and construction of an Enhanced Health Centre in Sangre Grande will be completed in 2006.
Construction of the new Point Fortin Hospital will also start in 2005.
In addition to infrastructure development, we will also implement the Primary Health Care Systems Development, and the Training and Health Promotion Project.
The Government recognises the need to have adequate numbers of trained personnel at public health facilities. As part of this training programme, we will begin in 2005 to offer scholarships to train radiation oncologists and pathologists among others.
Most importantly, we will ensure a continuous supply of Registered Nurses by training approximately three hundred and fifty (350) Basic Nursing students annually and by providing post Basic Nursing Education for Registered General/and Mental Health Nurses.
To address the shortage of medical practitioners in the country we shall:
collaborate with the University of the West Indies to expand the Medical Faculty at Mount Hope to increase the intake of doctors and pharmacists;
pursue the provision of training for our medical students in Jamaica and Grenada;
expand the GATE programme to include the cost of accommodation and books for all students and extend its applicability to medical studies undertaken in Jamaica and Grenada;
provide additional medical practitioners, including nurses; and undertake, through COSTAATT, an urgent programme to provide assistants to doctors and allied professionals
Mr Speaker, implementation of the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS has begun. Particular attention is being paid to controlling the spread of the disease through voluntary testing and counselling, treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS, and the provision of anti-retroviral drugs.
Mr Speaker, the Chronic Disease Assistance Programme that provides free medication for persons afflicted with any number of Chronic Diseases, was initiated in October 2003. This programme has been highly successful and over 50,000 citizens have benefited from this programme to-date. During 2004 the scope of the programme was expanded to include Arthritis, Asthma and mental depression. In November 2004, the programme was made universal so that all citizen are now able to access free medication through this programme.
Mr Speaker, the expansion in the scope and eligibility of the CDAP Programme by removing the age restrictions now means that over 500,000 of our citizens would benefit at a cost of $50 million.
In order to increase accessibility of renal dialysis services to the general population, we will be providing before January 1, 2005 two renal dialysis treatment centres, one in the north and one in the south, each providing treatment for 200 persons. This will be supplemented by a Renal Transplant Surgery Programme to provide renal surgery at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex at Mount Hope.
The Charitable Cataract Surgery Programme, in conjunction with the Ophthalmology Society of Trinidad and Tobago, will continue to provide surgery for patients on waiting lists at the San Fernando and Port of Spain General Hospitals. To date, over 1600 surgeries have been done and we intend to eliminate completely the waiting list for this procedure.
The Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex will be expanded to include facilities for the treatment of cataract, glaucoma and a dedicated theatre for all types of eye surgery, as well as a full Cardiac Centre performing increased heart surgery.
We are providing open-heart surgery to the indigent and already 120 persons have benefited. We propose to expand this programme.
There exists in this country today an inequitable and pernicious system whereby residents of the Mt Hope and surrounding areas receive free medical treatment at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, while other citizens have to pay. We shall put a stop to that.
With effect from the First of January 2005, all medical services including the use of the medical facilities offered at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex will be free to all nationals of Trinidad and Tobago.
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