Prime Minister Patrick Manning delivered the 2005/2006 Budget on Wednesday 28th September 2005
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present the National Budget for the fiscal year 2005-2006.
Before proceeding, however, I must thank all those who participated in the pre-Budget activities. I especially want to express my gratitude to the private sector and civil society groups for sharing their perspectives and recommendations on so many issues; and my Cabinet colleagues and other members of the Government for their work in shaping the strategies and programmes that form the core of the Budget. I also salute those public officers who continue to demonstrate the highest levels of professionalism and dedication in preparing all the documents laid before this Honourable House today.
Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding our immediate challenges, we approach a new financial year with a great sense of optimism in the future of Trinidad and Tobago. In recent times, we have had the deep satisfaction of seeing this country evolve to become a global leader in the gas and petrochemical markets; the centre for financial services, business and manufacturing in the Caribbean; a preferred destination for investment in the Western Hemisphere; and one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and the Caribbean.
I am pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that the journey to a society to which all citizens can aspire has begun. The initial phase of planning has been completed. A Draft National Strategic Plan has been prepared by the Multisectoral Group, which was given full autonomy in this exercise. May I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago to thank the members of that Group which was chaired by Mr. Arthur Lok Jack and all those who contributed to the formulation of the Draft Plan and participated in the various Vision 2020 exercises undertaken throughout the country. Your efforts, in spite of the cynicism and lack of faith of some, demonstrate that you are indeed true sons and daughters of this blessed Nation.
This Budget continues to strengthen the platform for achieving the goals of Vision 2020 by responding to those fundamental needs that we desire and deserve to have fulfilled. It gives priority to the issues affecting the family as well as our collective concerns for security and safety, a relevant education system, quality health care services, adequate housing and poverty reduction.
Mr. Speaker, achieving Vision 2020 will require a great deal of introspection on the part of all of us in this country. As a people, we must re-examine our values and attitudes. We must develop a greater sense of national and personal pride, community ownership, environmental sensitivity, respect, discipline, tolerance, responsibility and a culture of performance and excellence. If we want to enjoy a higher quality of life, we must also be prepared to work harder and be more productive.
This Budget, therefore, zeros in on those basic elements that will ensure our future prosperity and, ultimately, our ascension to the standards of the developed world.
But Mr. Speaker, while we work towards this development, we must continue to deal with the issue of crime and safety of our citizens.
Mr. Speaker, the escalation of violent crime and anti-social behaviour constitute the most fundamental threat to the economic and social development of our country and the well-being of our people.
Understanding the Problem
Any effective strategy to control crime must be based on the fullest understanding of the dimensions of the problem. Trinidad and Tobago and other islands of the Caribbean are located directly between the major cocaine producers of South America and the major consumers of North America and Western Europe. The recent seizure of nearly six tons of cocaine in our territorial waters has been described by our international partners in the fight against drug trafficking as possibly less than 10 percent of the amount being trans-shipped through our waters.
This illicit trade in drugs has created a criminal elite with considerable financial resources with which they corrupt public institutions and officials and recruit our sons and daughters for all forms of criminal activities. The proceeds from this trade are also used to finance the procurement of illegal arms and as a result sophisticated arsenals end up in the hands of competing gangs which in turn fuel the murder rate. Over time, other criminal activities emerge, the most sinister is kidnapping. There can be no doubt as to the debilitating effect of kidnapping on the law-abiding majority, the fear and anxiety it creates and the extent to which it contributes to the perception that our country is not safe.
Mr. Speaker, the situation is further compounded by criminal deportations from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. These add significantly to the challenge of law enforcement by bringing to our country the sophistication and expertise of the most advanced international criminal networks.
In the face of this, we are experiencing a significant increase in all forms of anti-social behaviour. The carnage on the roads which directly leads to a depreciation of the value of life, the disruption of commercial and social life, the bomb scares, and the tendency to resort to violence in settling the most minor dispute are all indicators of the deteriorating fabric of our society.
Within this context, therefore, crime, although manifested nationally, is co-ordinated and directed both locally and internationally. Accordingly, solutions must go beyond the community and national borders to regional and international cooperation. The corruption, intimidation and violence, which go hand-in-hand with organised crime, undermine law and order and threaten the very essence of democratic governance.
Response of the Government
Mr. Speaker, over the past year, the Government made a number of strategic interventions that we believe, in time, will go a long way to address the current crime wave on a sustainable basis. Some of the more important initiatives are:
• Acquisition of state of the art crime fighting technology. The package includes:
• an aerial surveillance system outfitted with radar and imaging systems;
• a forward-looking infrared camera;
• twenty-four mobile police units;
• sky watch units;
• a 360 degree radar system which will be available in the next few days;
• Four armed helicopters;
• Six fast patrol boats; and
• Three Offshore Patrol Vessels.
Tenders for three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV's) are to be awarded in the next month; the first two of these are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2007.
We also established the special anti-crime unit, SAUTT and we have intensified operations of our inter-agency task force in areas where gang warfare is most prevalent.
We established an Incident Co-ordination Centre to facilitate information sharing and more effective response by law enforcement officers. Several persons from a number of specialized agencies have been selected to staff the Centre.
We are conducting frequent Police patrols and random searches on the nation's highways and within communities.
In November 2005, the Police Service will take possession of one hundred and forth-nine (149) additional vehicles. Work on five police stations (in Mayaro, Gasparillo, Belmont, Tunapuna and Toco) began this month and the project to rebuild six police stations (Roxborough, St. Joseph, Manzanilla, Maracas, Old Grange and Matelot) has been transferred to NIPDEC.
As part of the initiative to transform the Police Service, we commissioned Professor Stephen Mastrofski whose recommendations to strengthen the Police Complaints Division are being implemented.
Mr. Speaker, prison reform and the rehabilitation of prisoners need to be part of the fight against crime since it is critical that the revolving door syndrome of criminality be arrested. To this end, a Prison Reform and Transformation Unit has been established. Candidates to staff the unit have been selected. Cabinet has also approved the acquisition of a property at Tumpuna Road, Arima, to accommodate the Prisons Training College. The T&T Prison Service has taken occupancy and training has commenced.
Mr. Speaker, we feel strongly that our fight against crime must also be integrated with a strategy to provide alternative opportunities for socialization and training for our youth to woo them away from deviant behavior. For this reason, Government is accelerating the implementation of three Military-Led Specialized Youth Programmes which will provide training for 1,100 young persons.
(1) Three hundred and sixty (360) young persons will commence a residential programme of attitudinal and academic training under the Military-Led Academic Training Programme (MILAT);
(2) Two hundred and forty (240) persons between the ages of fourteen to twenty-five will commence a residential programme of skills training in the Military-Led Programme of Apprenticeship and Reorientation Training (MYPART); and
(3) A total of five hundred (500) persons between the ages of eighteen to thirty years will participate in a programme designed to render community service throughout Trinidad and Tobago.
Contracts have been awarded for the refurbishment of the Mt. St. George Youth Camp, the Mausica College and Vessigny High School for start-up of the Programmes.
All indicators point to the fact that to manage crime successfully in Trinidad and Tobago, our law enforcement agencies require the material support and co-operation of countries with the experience and technical competence.
With the objective of securing this support and co-operation, a series of high-level meetings has taken place between the authorities in the United Kingdom and a team from Trinidad and Tobago. We are also in touch with the American Authorities to provide expert assistance to SAUTT. At a practical level, the Trinidad and Tobago team was able to observe measures currently utilized by the British in their fight against crime and terrorism.
An essential component of the reform is the introduction of state-of-the-art technology and the necessary training of members of the armed forces and police service.
We are targeting Scotland Yard to establish a Unit in Trinidad and Tobago that will provide equipment and expertise to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. The FBI will be targeted to establish a Unit to assist with the re-organization of the Service.
Mr. Speaker, natural disasters are now a fact of life. The tragedy on the US Gulf Coast one year after events in Grenada reminds us of our increasing vulnerability to the forces of nature and the importance of preparation and co-ordination for effective relief efforts. We have established an Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management, which is responsible for the development of a Disaster Management Policy to deal effectively with natural and man-made disasters.
Mr. Speaker, we are working on a new regime which will involve:
1. a National Building Code and a Nationwide Early Warning System; and
2. a permanent approach to dealing with the aftermath of a disaster by putting mechanisms in place before hand.
T&TEC has designed a system to increase stand-by power generation capacity, upgrade Emergency Operation Centres; and establish back-up communications systems. The emergency power arrangements would also guarantee a temporary water supply.
The CEPEP manpower resources of approximately 7,000 persons constitute a potential resource which could be put to meeting emergencies in the event of a disaster. This is buttressed by the school feeding programme which has the capability to prepare 100,000 meals in six hours.
ACHIEVEMENTS IN FISCAL YEAR 2005
I will now turn to our performance in other areas over the past year.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to lead a Government that continues to record tremendous economic success. But, success has not come easy, nor has it been by chance or sheer good luck. Success has come because of our good economic polices, because of the talent of our people and the vibrancy of their entrepreneurial spirit.
Indeed, two international credit rating agencies: Standards and Poors and Moodys recognised the quality of our macro-economic management and increased Trinidad and Tobago's credit rating. Standard and Poors, in upgrading our local and foreign currency rating from BBB+ to A-, noted our growing net public sector creditor position which, I must emphasise, was considerably stronger than the 20 percent median for A-rated sovereigns. Our prudent fiscal and monetary policies were also contributing factors. In raising our foreign currency rating from Baa3 to Baa2, Moodys cited essentially the same strengths.
Mr. Speaker, real GDP increased by 6.5 percent. This was the twelfth consecutive year of positive growth in Trinidad and Tobago and could be somewhat of a record among developing countries worldwide.
Our non-energy sector has also registered positive growth rates as a result of the buoyancy of the construction sector, increased activity in manufacturing, tourism and the expansion of small business activity in distribution and services.
Economic expansion has led to the creation of more than 28,000 jobs in 2004 and a reduction in the unemployment rate to an average of 8.3 percent with the rate in the last quarter of 2004 being 7.8 percent; as a result of which skill shortages have arisen in some sectors. I wish to indicate, Mr. Speaker, that this Government is accelerating the expansion of training programmes to deal with these shortages.
Inflation, which has been subdued for several years, has risen slightly in 2005. For the most part, this has reflected high food prices due to the impact of inclement weather on domestic agricultural production and to the increase in import prices related to the rise in the international price of oil.
Our external sector has been particularly strong with the country's external reserves now at a comfortable level of US$3.8 billion, or the equivalent of 7 months of imports.
Mr. Speaker, the year 2004/05 was also another year of disciplined, efficient and responsible fiscal management.
In terms of the broad picture, the Central Government registered a surplus of $299.7 million, which is significantly larger than originally expected.
Honourable Members may recall that for revenue purposes the 2005 Budget was predicated on an oil price of US$32.80 per barrel. As it turned out, the average oil price received for our mix of crude oil exports was US$41.16 per barrel which resulted in oil revenue collections of $11.1 billion, some $3.2 billion higher than envisaged in the Budget. With non-oil revenue also slightly higher than budgeted, total revenue collections exceeded the Budget estimate by $4,185.4 million.
Total expenditure for the year is estimated at $27,901.3 million. It is important to note, Mr. Speaker, that this expenditure is $3,893.4 million more than the original Budget figure.
Permit me, Mr. Speaker, to explain to this House and to the population at large, how the Government spent the revenue collections.
(i) While in the Budget we had undertaken to transfer $1.4 billion to the Interim Revenue Stabilisation Fund, we in fact transferred $2,593 million. That is responsible fiscal management and underscores this Government's commitment to putting aside savings for the welfare of our children and grandchildren.
(ii) We spent some $1.4 billion on subsidies to maintain the price of gasoline and other petroleum products. This was partly funded by the Production Levy on oil producing companies. I am sure that Honourable Members of this House would know that fuel prices have reached astronomical levels both in the region, as well as in the developed countries. And as fuel prices go, so do the prices of bus and taxi fares, of electricity and indeed the prices of a whole range of items that are significant in the Budgets of the middle and lower income groups. Without subsidies, a gallon of 92 RON unleaded gasoline which now sells at $2.70 per litre would have to be sold at $5.20 per litre, $1.48Bn is a very significant outlay on petroleum product subsidies, and Trinidad and Tobago will in due course have to decide what would be a reasonable size for this "Oil Dividend" and at what prices it would be reasonable to sell this increasingly precious commodity on the domestic market.
(iii) Education, National Security and Health, clearly our three priority areas, accounted for $7.5 billion or 20 percent of total expenditure: interest payments amounted to $2.6 billion and pensions, another category of statutory payments, amounted to $2.0 billion.
(iv) Transfers to the THA and to local authorities amounted to $1.6 billion while other similar transfers (to deal with CARONI and BWIA, to maintain water and electricity rates and to subsidize inter-island transport) amounted to another $1 billion.
(v) Mr. Speaker, an amount of $426 million was spent on the Unemployment Relief Programme in the past fiscal year. While this Programme has had its challenges, it has been an important instrument of poverty alleviation providing approximately 50,000 temporary job opportunities for individuals.
(vi) Expenditure under the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) amounted to $2,847 million.
We have reduced the ratio of public debt to GDP from 48 percent to 40.5 percent.
In the process of building such strong economic fundamentals, Mr. Speaker, the lives of many people across the country have been improving. This Government is justly proud about the successes achieved during the current fiscal year. We honoured our commitment to distribute the benefits of development to all citizens through enhanced healthcare, education reform, improvements in infrastructure, provision of housing, job creation, training opportunities and quality social services.
Mr. Speaker, while the respective Ministers will outline the achievements in greater detail, I would like to highlight the following:-
• The establishment and rapid development of the University of Trinidad and Tobago is nothing but a spectacular success. With the advent of UTT and the introduction of our GATE financing programme, enrolment in tertiary education has increased by forty percent.
• We have had several other successes in our thrust to develop a high-quality seamless education system - the launch of our pre-school education programme, the initiation of a programme of home-work centres and the introduction of a system of local school boards cementing the links between the schools and the community.
• The Textbook Rental Programme, the School Transportation Programme and the School Feeding Programme were all expanded. The number of books provided increased from four hundred and fifty thousand in fiscal year 2004 to 1.2 million in fiscal year 2005 and included primary and secondary schools. The provision of breakfast meals increased from 25,000 to 37,208 and lunches from 92,000 to 94,736.
• Under the GATE programme, we processed 24,117 applications at a total value of $138 Mn. This represented more that twice the number of applications processed by the Dollar for Dollar Programme in fiscal 2004.
• In health, despite all the setbacks, and all the industrial issues that always seem to arise at the most inopportune times, we have been making significant strides in providing quality health services to the country. We have drastically reduced the waiting lists and the waiting time for a whole range of surgical operations, including cataract, hernia, prostate, orthopaedic, and certain gynaecological conditions.
• The Chronic Disease Assistance Programme (CDAP) has been a phenomenal success providing thirty-six (36) drug items free of charge for persons suffering from cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes and a host of other ailments. To September 2005, over 500,000 prescriptions were filled on behalf of approximately 150,000 citizens.
• From January I, 2005, we increased access to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, making services not provided at other public health institutions available to the public free of charge on referral from other public health institutions. The result has been overwhelming.
• Our housing programme has been an unparalleled success. Over 6,000 houses were constructed in fiscal 2005.
• We also established the Family Court Project to facilitate settlement of family disputes in an environment which is different from the confrontational atmosphere of traditional courts
• We distributed Caroni lands as promised. A total of 7,247 former workers received two-acre plots of agricultural land for intensive cultivation while 6,755 persons will receive residential lots shortly. This distribution should set the basis for a resurgence in domestic agricultural production. We also fulfilled our commitment to provide training for former CARONI workers. As much as 2,854 former daily paid and 751 monthly paid workers have already benefited from training through agricultural programmes, and technical and computer literacy courses. Mr. Speaker, this is yet another demonstration of keeping our faith in the country and to Caroni workers.
• Despite operational deficiencies, WASA improved the levels of service to more than 50,000 persons in over 32 communities including Arima, California, New Grant, Carenage, Square Deal, Maraval, South Oropouche, Carlsen Field, Siparia, Sangre Grande, Paradise Heights, Vion Hill, Buccoo and Signal Hill.
• The Municipal Wastewater Treatment Facility at the new Beetham Plant was completed and will serve Port of Spain and environs from Diego Martin in the West and Mt. Hope in the East thereby providing a better service to over 300,000 individuals.
• In 2004, our hotels recorded the highest ever occupancy levels. Trinidad averaged 80 percent while Tobago averaged 85 per cent.
Mr. Speaker, of the many successes in the energy sector, I must single out the manufacture of the second-locally fabricated platform – the Cannon-ball constructed for bpTT in our fabrication yard at La Brea, by Trinidadians and Tobagonians. This feat spells the dawn of a new industry in Trinidad and Tobago, (the platform-manufacture industry), and constitutes a significant boost for our local content strategy.
Mr. Speaker, by any standard, these are remarkable achievements that give the Government and the public sector the confidence to carry on with the transformation of Trinidad and Tobago.
STRATEGY FOR 2006-2008
Mr. Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago is at a most critical juncture in its history. We are on a steady advance towards a transformed, diversified economy – one that will produce self-sustaining growth and increasing welfare for all the population. On the other hand, we are currently facing some acute social challenges, which if not successfully addressed could undermine the gains and the potential that are ours to exploit.
This Government recognizes and accepts its responsibility to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. We will continue to build a strong economy by adhering to a responsible macroeconomic agenda. We will maintain prudent fiscal and monetary policies and a strong balance of payments position and increase real GDP growth with the aim of full employment with quality, sustainable jobs.
Our social strategy will continue to build a cohesive and caring society in which all citizens can participate in the generation and distribution of the country's wealth. It will strike a balance between providing immediate and direct relief from the hardships that people face on a day-to-day basis with measures to eliminate the social and economic conditions that produce inequities in the first place.
We will accelerate our efforts at social intervention, particularly in the areas of crime prevention, social services delivery and elimination of poverty. Our approach will emphasise the family and family values; greater community involvement in designing and delivering solutions; and the forging of meaningful alliances with the private sector, religious groups, NGO's and with local Government. Mr. Speaker, we will work and support all those who are genuinely interested in building this great country of ours.
ECONOMIC PROSPECTS (2006-2008)
Mr. Speaker, following an unusually rapid pace in 2004, the rate of growth of global output slowed to about 4 percent in 2005 although remaining above long-term potential. As a result of rising oil and commodity prices and less expansionary macroeconomic policies, global economic growth is expected to slow further to around 3 to 3.5 percent in 2006.
Mr. Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago's economic prospects for the next few years are particularly encouraging. We do not expect oil prices to fall below US$45-$50 per barrel over the medium term and also expect natural gas and petrochemical prices to remain buoyant. With BHP Billiton's operations moving towards capacity, oil production is expected to reach 165,000 barrels per day by 2006/2007, reversing the trend of the past several years. In terms of natural gas, the start-up of Train IV will increase total gas utilization for LNG production and almost double output from the LNG facility to 15.1 metric tones per annum (mtpa). This increase will position Trinidad and Tobago as one of the leaders in LNG production in the world. Output in the petro-chemical sector is also expected to expand sharply with the expected commissioning of at least five (5) new plants in the petrochemical sector.
In the non-energy sector, construction activity will remain at a very high level as a result of our housing thrust, our infrastructure works programme, and ongoing work on several large public sector construction projects, while our tourism sector will continue to post significant gains. With the aid of measures included in this Budget, we envisage increased activity in manufacturing and the start of a turnaround in agriculture.
Real GDP growth is projected to increase from 6.5 percent in 2005 to around 8 percent in 2006 with the unemployment rate declining to below 7 percent and inflation contained to around 5 percent.
PRIORITIES FOR 2005-2006
Mr. Speaker, in support of our objectives to promote sustainable growth and employment and improved welfare for all our population, the Budget for 2005/2006 underscores a number of interconnected priorities, including:-
(i) Increased emphasis on personal security, about which I have already spoken;
(ii) Building strong families;
(iii) Strengthening the education, training and innovation systems;
(iv) investing in quality healthcare by expanding the availability and strengthening the delivery of health and wellness services;
(v) providing affordable housing; and
(vi) offering effective social support to the poor and vulnerable.
We will also undertake strategic investments to ensure that:
• the economy continues to grow through higher productivity levels and greater local participation in the global value chain;
• our infrastructure base and public services function effectively;
• our environment is clean and healthy; and
• Government is made increasingly more efficient and effective.
PRIORITIES FOR FISCAL 2005-2006
Focus on the Family
Mr. Speaker, the family is the basic unit of society: the main building block. If you can fix the family, you can fix society.
Mr. Speaker, the ordinary family in Trinidad and Tobago faces several daily challenges having to do with:
• securing sustainable well-paying jobs;
• access to quality education at all levels, to efficient transportation, decent affordable housing as well as to proper health care and wellness services;
• assurance of adequate water and electricity services;
• guaranteed safety and security;
• access to social services to deal with the impact of drugs, domestic violence, parenting; and
• breakdown in family life.
This Budget, Mr. Speaker, is a reaffirmation of the Government's commitment to implement a policy framework that:
(i) guarantees access to an adequate level of housing including related basic facilities and services for all families;
(ii) creates an integrated security infrastructure which ensures that issues of crime, public safety and security are addressed on a sustained basis;
(iii) ensures a modern and relevant education system whilst promoting a culture conducive to lifelong learning and training;
(iv) establishes a regime conducive to delivery of high quality health and wellness services along with mechanisms for the prevention and control of communicable and lifestyle diseases; and
(v) assures sustainable high quality jobs and equal opportunities for all groups in society.
In addition the Budget seeks to make available support mechanisms for the unemployed and other vulnerable groups to enable them to meet their basic needs. We also have a responsibility to instill, in all citizens, national pride, individual and community responsibility and environmental sensitivity.
The Government is of the strong view that many of our social ills stem from a loss of traditional values and from the widespread breakdown of traditional families. Accordingly, we intend to ensure that a more targeted, comprehensive and co-ordinated approach is utilized to treat with issues confronting the family as a unit.
Mr. Speaker, there are some who, in good conscience, think that all our resources should be directed to policing, and building more jails and increasing punishment. We think that we should also direct resources and attention to the root cause – the breakdown in the family and to what we can do to rebuild the family and by extension, the community.
We recognize, Mr. Speaker, that the Government alone cannot provide all the remedies for the problems of dysfunctional families. We absolutely need the concerted collaboration of other social partners, especially the NGO's, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and the private sector.
In addition to the Ministries concerned with security, public utilities, education, health and housing, the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs will be mandated to give particular focus to family based programmes.
Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Social Development is a key player in the process of strengthening the institution of the family, having as its mandate social sector planning, development and monitoring, social research, social impact and review and social services delivery. In the upcoming fiscal year, the priority initiatives of the Ministry will include:
(i) the formulation of a national family policy through a collaborative process;
(ii) the design of infrastructure to identify and case manage individual families, including counseling and the decentralization of services;
(iii) the development of community outreach programmes that would sensitize citizens about services available to families; and
(iv) a media outreach on rebuilding positive societal values with particular attention to healthy family life.
The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs also has a critical role to play in the overall strategy geared to restoring the family. Based on the tried and tested philosophy that it takes a community to raise a child, the Ministry focuses on building and sustaining a stable and secure community context for family life.
EFFECTIVE EDUCATION, TRAINING AND INNOVATION SYSTEMS
Mr. Speaker, priority number two is education. The success of our economic and human development strategy will hinge on the quality of our human resources and our ability to build an integrated knowledge network that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship.
Our strategy for human resource development is being guided by three essential principles:
• Increased Access;
• Improved Equity and Equality of Opportunity; and
• Enhanced Quality.
Pre-Primary to Secondary Education
Mr. Speaker, our education programme is being built on a platform of:
• a modern and comprehensive curriculum at all levels that is supported by relevant school plant and state of the art furniture and equipment;
• enhanced and innovative teaching and learning strategies; and
• improved teacher education and training to assist teachers in curriculum delivery.
Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)
Our goal is to achieve universal Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE) by 2010. This calls for the construction of 600 Early Childhood Care Education Centres to cater for some 30,000 three (3) to four (4) year olds. Fifty (50) of these centres will be completed and established during this fiscal year.
In support of this thrust, a high-intensity training programme is currently being implemented to train some 1,500 Early Childhood Care Education teachers. At least 100 teachers will be trained during this fiscal year.
At the primary level, the Government will rebuild some 150 primary schools to replace schools which are up to 50 years old. In fiscal 2006, twenty of these schools, which cater for approximately 10,000 pupils, will be reconstructed.
At the secondary level, the major initiative is the de-shifting and conversion of junior secondary schools to 5 and 7 year schools as well as the conversion of Senior Secondary Comprehensive Schools to 7 year schools. At present, two-thirds of our secondary school population attend 5 and 7 year schools.
We have already started with the de-shifting and conversion of 10 junior secondary schools to 5-year schools. This has benefited approximately 8,000 students. In fiscal 2006, an additional 10 schools - five junior secondary and five senior secondary – will be de-shifted allowing an additional 3,200 students to benefit from full day schooling during this academic year.
When the de-shifting exercise is completed approximately 15,000 students will benefit from full-day schooling.
In terms of our infrastructure development programme, four new secondary schools will be constructed in Malabar, Mt. Hope, Barataria and Curepe.
To support the demand for A' Level places, the Government intends to upgrade and expand facilities at a number of existing government and assisted secondary schools including Polytechnic Sixth Form and Corinth Sixth Form Schools; construct four new 'A' level Colleges and where necessary purchase 'A' level places at private institutions.
Approximately 21,130 students are expected to benefit from sixth form education through the implementation of these initiatives.
In fiscal 2006, we will also:
• introduce foundation technologies in the curriculum to cater for secondary school graduates who may wish to enter the labour market immediately upon leaving school; and
• commence Technology Programmes at the sixth form (post-fifth form level) to cater for students with an aptitude and interest in this area.
Mr. Speaker, to support our Education Construction Programme, we have established the Educational Facilities Company Limited which has already been given 103 projects to be addressed in the short-term.
Mr. Speaker, at this period in our economic development, there is great demand for well trained tertiary level graduates. Hence, the establishment and expedition of a National Accreditation System is critical for ensuring that all tertiary level institutions and programmes meet internationally accepted standards.
Mr. Speaker, we are well on the way to achieving our goal of a 60 percent participation rate at the tertiary level by 2015.
The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) has been accelerating its development thrust and has made significant progress this fiscal year.
Over the past year, UTT has:
• established strategic alliances with several international universities;
• developed a broad range of engineering and IT diploma and degree programmes;
• commenced a transitional studies programme with COSTAATT;
• built strong linkages with industry, especially with the major corporations within the petroleum and petro-chemical sectors; and
• integrated and enhanced the programmes of the John Donaldson and San Fernando Technical Institutes, to offer a range of National Engineering Technician Diploma under the umbrella of UTT.
UTT's initial enrolment of 1,600 in diploma and degree programmes is expected to increase to 3,100 in the 2005/2006 academic year. Significant increases are also expected in the short courses and transition programmes.
Work has begun on the construction of new UTT Campuses at:
• O'Meara, which will be completed by January 2006;
• the Main Campus at Wallerfield (to be completed by September 2008);
• and in Tobago at Battery Point, which is scheduled for completion by September 2007.
COSTAATT and TTHTI
Increasing access to tertiary education is also being achieved through COSTAATT and the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI). COSTAATT has been active in the development of new programmes such as Court Transcription and Medical Records Science, to address the needs of the workplace and the job market. The enrolment of COSTAATT for 2004/05 was 4,763 students.
TTHTI has been commissioned as the training institution for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in the Southern Region. The Institute has developed articulation agreements with a number of international tertiary institutions and now has an enrolment of just over 500.
Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE)
Mr. Speaker, the GATE Programme replaced the Dollar for Dollar Education Plan in September 2004. In my 2005 Budget Statement I indicated that we intended to provide free tertiary education in public institutions by the first of January, 2008. Since then, our revenue situation has improved considerably. I am therefore pleased to announce, Mr. Speaker, that with effect from January 1, 2006, all nationals of Trinidad and Tobago enrolled at public tertiary institutions, namely UWI, UTT, COSTAATT and other institutions where the Government sponsors students, will be eligible for free tuition, that is free public tertiary education.
Mr. Speaker, this Government's is committed to expanding training opportunities to meet the demands of our burgeoning economy and to prepare our citizens for meaningful participation in our society. We are currently administering no fewer than 17 training programmes directed to meeting our diverse and rapidly-changing needs. Most of these programmes include a component of life-skills training which exposes participants to attitudinal and personal development aimed at transforming behaviour, engendering a positive work ethic and equipping participants with the tools to become productive and responsible members of society.
Technology and Continuing Education Centres
Mr. Speaker, in November 2004, the Government opened the Laventille Technology and Continuing Education Centre. The Centre is occupied by two (2) major training providers, the National Energy Skills Centre and Metal Industries Company Limited. Similar technology centres are being constructed in Chaguanas and Point Fortin and the upgrade of the St. Bede's Technology Centre, St. Augustine is underway. We plan to open new MIC Centres in Mayaro, Pleasantville and Diego Martin and to expand existing facilities at Ste. Madeline and Macoya.
QUALITY HEALTHCARE AND WELLNESS
Mr. Speaker, the promotion of healthy lifestyles and easy access to quality health care are critical components of the thrust towards developed nation status. Almost half of our population depends on the public health sector for affordable, equitable and accessible health care.
An integral part of our health sector policy is the construction and refurbishment of our health care facilities. Outreach Centres are currently being built in Las Lomas, Williamsville, Gran Couva, Talparo and Guayaguayare. Work is ongoing at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and the General Hospitals in Port of Spain and San Fernando.
By 2007, we expect that construction of the Point Fortin and Scarborough Hospitals, the National Oncology Centre and a new wing of the San Fernando General Hospital will all be completed. This will be followed by new fully equipped primary health care facilities for the residents of San Juan, Barataria, Diego Martin, Carenage, Petit Valley, Debe, La Romain and Ste. Madeline.
Mr. Speaker, the development work at our health care facilities has been complemented by a drive to enhance the quality of service delivery through the purchase of modern, state of the art diagnostic and treatment equipment and measures to expand the availability of qualified health care personnel.
This year the University of the West Indies started a Bachelor of Science Nursing Degree in Advance Nursing Practice with an initial intake of thirty students. Ongoing post-basic specialist training of registered nurses in areas such as Oncology, Intensive Care and Neonatal Nursing will provide support for the expansion of services provision in these areas.
The annual scholarship programme for doctors at the St. George's University will also continue to provide additional trained medical doctors.
In support of the efforts to modernize and upgrade the medical records system, a certificate and diploma in medical records is to be offered through COSTAATT.
Mr. Speaker, implementation of the five-year national strategic plan for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, which was launched in September 2004, continues to be a priority for this Government. Laboratory testing, as well as a programme for voluntary counselling and testing for HIV are being expanded. The latest data from the National Surveillance Unit and PAHO indicate a progressive decline in reports of new infections over the period 2002 to present time.
Cardiovascular Services — EWMSC
Mr. Speaker, the recent acquisition of two new Angiographic Catheterization Laboratories will revolutionize cardiac health care in this country and make EWMSC the premier tertiary cardiac care centre – not only in the CARICOM Region but across the wider Caribbean. These two Catheterization labs will allow for the resumption of enhanced heart testing, as well as angiogram, angioplasty, stenting of the heart, interventional radiology, pacemaker implantation, and, in time, become the centre for electro-physiologic studies and procedures.
Mr. Speaker, recognising that ill-health is both a consequence and a cause of a family's inability to function productively, Government proposes to launch early in the new year, a community outreach family medicine programme that will bring primary health care to the doorsteps of families living in remote areas.
This service will be conducted through the use of mobile clinics that will provide a broad range of health services inclusive of:-
• Glucose sugar testing;
• Screening for hypertension, obesity, cholesterol and other dietary disorders;
• Screening for vision;
• Promotion of wellness and healthy living;
• General Health Advisory service;
• Screening for mental health;
• Pap smears;
• Immunization; and
• Family education and counselling.
Mr. Speaker, a prime function of any responsible Government is to ensure that affordable, quality housing units are available to those who otherwise would not be able to acquire this basic necessity.
My Government fully understands, Mr. Speaker, that a proper home means a more settled family, whereby members can devote themselves to other worthwhile pursuits, including education, the pursuit of suitable careers, the maintenance of a stable and cohesive family unit and the making of a greater contribution to community and national life.
But, there are many in this country who face real challenges to home ownership. The inability to access mortgages because of income constraints; the high cost of land combined with the high cost of construction just takes this dream beyond the reach of many, particularly females earning less than $3,000 per month.
This Government's strategy is to make acceptable housing available through major construction and upgrading programmes while simultaneously addressing the issue of affordability.
Government has agreed on a strategy designed to give effect to the affordability of housing. The strategy essentially involves:
• A subsidised interest rate of two percent for mortgages for Government low income housing;
• Longer repayment terms;
• Standardisation of the mortgage instrument;
• Rent to own policy.
This will result in reduced costs associated with the purchase of property, further impacting on reduced interest cost.
Mr. Speaker, our housing policy is designed to increase the availability of affordable, quality homes mainly to citizens in the low to middle income brackets. This year, we propose to construct 8,000 units under the Accelerated Housing Programme. It is instructive to note that over the period 1996 to 2001 the previous Administration constructed 4,201 houses. In two years this Administration constructed 9,670 houses - more than double what it took them five years to do.
Mr. Speaker, our housing policy also provides subsidy programmes aimed at reducing the cost of acquiring a home; and home improvement grants designed to assist existing homeowners who face difficulty in terms of improving their living conditions.
Subsidies of up to $36,000 are available for beneficiaries earning between $12,700 - $27,000 annually, while a subsidy of $24,000 is applicable for eligible beneficiaries earning between $27,000 and $44,000 annually. Home improvement grants are available to assist persons who earn less than $30,000 annually, to effect repairs to their homes.
This year, Mr. Speaker, our housing programme will give special emphasis to two specific modalities: squatting communities and the redevelopment of our inner cities. Central to addressing the squatting issue is the Land Settlement Agency, which has been given the mandate to deal with the regularisation of squatting communities. The Agency has been directed to put in place the necessary arrangements to begin operations by November 2005. Mr. Speaker, the Government is convinced that squatting has gone beyond necessity. This trend has to be stopped.
East Port of Spain Development Company Ltd
Mr. Speaker, Laventille and surrounding environs are considered one of the most depressed areas in the country with high crime and unemployment rates and with many of the residents living in sub-standard conditions.
East Port-of-Spain, the area bounded broadly by Charlotte Street, the Lady Young Road, and the Eastern Main Road, and includes Never Dirty Morvant and Caledonia, .has been declared a special development zone. This means that special attention will be paid to both the economic and social challenges faced by residents of the area. The Government is committed to making a much greater intervention effort and in order to give effect to this the Cabinet has agreed to the establishment of the East Port-of-Spain Development Company which will access funding under the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) to carry out its mandate.
Construction of Commercial Complexes
Mr. Speaker, strengthening the family unit also involves building facilities to ensure integration and sustainability of communities. In order to facilitate the development of small businesses in existing and new housing schemes, as well as encourage the development of entrepreneurial skills, three commercial complexes are under construction. The Maloney Multi Purpose Complex Project is now 100 percent complete and work is ongoing on facilities at La Horquetta and Pleasantville. Three additional complexes will be constructed at Bon Air, Couva and Edinburgh 500 during the new fiscal year.
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