CRIME AND SECURITY
Mr Speaker, we have had important successes in addressing the recent increase in crime and violence that has plagued our society in the last several years. Nevertheless, Mr Speaker we fully recognise that the current level of crime, and particularly murders is still unacceptably high.
We are committed to reducing crime and lawlessness so that citizens could go about their daily lives in peace and security.
Mr Speaker, the evidence is clear that the high level of murders in the society is related, in large measure to the proliferation of gang activity and the drug trade.
Too many of our young people are not participating in the numerous opportunities for education and training, sport and culture, provided by this Administration and are choosing instead to be involved in self-destructive criminal activity, which holds their community and the entire society to ransom.
The drug trade, Mr Speaker, is another menace, which is ripping away at our social fabric.
Available statistics suggest that a substantial share of illegal drugs destined to the US and Europe is transhipped through Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean.
Mr Speaker, some commentators are preoccupied with the question: who is to blame for the current crime menace. Well, we all must shoulder some of the blame. What is more important, however, is that if we are to effectively address the current challenge and bring crime under control, we all need to play our part. Fighting crime cannot be the responsibility only of the police, even though they certainly have a critical role to play; fighting crime is for all of us.
The Government's role is to set the strategy, provide the resources and the appropriate legal framework and lead by example. We need to re-establish our traditional family values, and the churches, community groups, NGOs and the business community, all need to play a role, if we are to eradicate this menace from our society.
Mr Speaker, over the past 18 months or so, a central part of the Government's strategy to deal with crime has been the efforts to transform the Police Service.
This multi-pronged initiative has included, for instance, the re-establishment and expansion of the Homicide Bureau; increased training for police officers in modern policing techniques; the establishment of an Incident Coordinating Centre, comprised of units from the Police Service, Defence Force and the Intelligence Units of the Ministry of National Security, to deal with kidnappings; and the restructuring of the Police Complaint Unit to ensure accountability and to root out corruption in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. The implementation of the transformation programme is being facilitated by hands-on technical assistance from seasoned officers from the United Kingdom.
On the legislative front, Mr Speaker, with the collaboration of the Opposition, we have been able to secure the passage of some vital pieces of legislation such as the No-bail for Kidnapping Act.
Mr Speaker, legislation to provide for the establishment of the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago has been drafted and is currently under review. The Government is also reviewing the Proceeds of Crime Act to determine its effectiveness. A Financial Intelligence Unit Bill and Financial Obligations Regulations are being finalised to ensure that banks and other financial institutions are guided on compliance, disclosure and monitoring.
Mr Speaker, the active involvement of communities all over Trinidad and Tobago is critical to the fight against crime.
Dial 555 Initiative
The 555 Anti-Crime Initiative, launched in May this year, is one component of a comprehensive, multifaceted, anti-crime Public Education Programme, aimed at mobilising the entire nation in the fight against crime through collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
This initiative offers the facility of a toll free number, accessible from any telephone within Trinidad and Tobago, whereby individuals may anonymously furnish information related to crimes of any nature.
The public interaction in this programme is very important in that it seeks to mobilise the entire national community to see crime prevention and the solving of crimes as their civic responsibility.
Mr Speaker, we are seeking to get the entire nation to be involved in this Dial 555 Initiative. We would like to see the business sector, the schools, the communities, all social groups involved in mutual understanding and support for law enforcement.
There are several other programmes which are all geared to helping youth at-risk in order to promote stable and crime-free communities. The Government and the Police have supported communities in East Port of Spain and surrounding areas that are working to eradicate gang violence and encourage youth to live in harmony.
The Government is lending support to a very interesting project—the Pride in Gonzales project—which involves the collaboration of a number of government agencies, some NGOs and the private sector, all working to improve the social and physical conditions of the community of Gonzalez and thereby producing a safer environment.
Mr Speaker, we urge other communities to adopt this or a similar model of community development and crime prevention. The Government will support all such programmes geared towards the restoration of peace and stability in our society.
Off-Shore Patrol Vessels (OPVS) Mr Speaker, our intelligence tells us that large quantities of illegal drugs are being imported into Trinidad and Tobago for trans-shipment as well as for the domestic market.
It is also clear that the vast sums of money involved in the illegal drug trade are helping to finance the importation of guns which is contributing to the current crime wave.
In these circumstances the Government's crime fighting strategy includes the acquisition of a sophisticated radar system and three off-shore patrol vessels to conduct drug interdiction and anti-smuggling operations. Shipbuilding works on the OPVs will commence following the award of the contract which is due to be finalised before the end of this year.
A preferred bidder has already been identified and discussions are proceeding with a view to meeting this December 2006 deadline.
The delivery of the first OPV will be within twenty-two months thereafter. The other OPVs will be delivered within twelve months of the delivery of the first OPV. In the interim, the SS Cascadura has been refurbished at a cost of $29 million as opposed to $120 million to purchase a similar new vessel.
Mr Speaker, the Offshore Patrol Vessels would be supported by six fast patrol boats, and fourinterceptors for both inshore and offshore operations as well as by four armed helicopters. The Offshore Patrol Vessels would accommodate both interceptors and helicopters.
Mr Speaker, the purchase of these vessels will be supported by a fully functional and operational training programme for every crew member as well as a maritime and support and maintenance programme that guarantee the availability of each boat operating a minimum of 300 days every year.
ADEQUATE AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Mr Speaker, since 2002, Government has embarked on a major Action Plan for the Housing Sector in an attempt to increase the supply of quality housing as well as improve housing conditions for all citizens.
While the primary objective is to construct 10,000 housing units annually, that is, 8,000 in the public sector and 2,000 in the private sector, until housing demand is met, the principal challenge continues to be ensuring that housing is affordable by attempting to keep prices low and expanding the accessibility of housing finance.
A mix of single and multi family units is being constructed on greenfield sites and on vacant sites in existing housing developments. It is anticipated that:
8,200 new housing units would have been constructed in the Public Sector during fiscal 2006; and
8,000 new public sector housing units will be constructed during fiscal 2007.
Mr Speaker, the Government's announced intention has always been to provide affordable housing and that is exactly what we are committed to doing. Accordingly, the Cabinet has taken a decision to increase the mortgage subsidy to ensure that the units constructed as from September 2002 remain within the reach of low and middle income wage-earners.
The details of the new subsidy scheme will be explained by the Minister of Housing in his contribution to the budget debate. What I would say at this stage is that persons earning between $1,440 per month and $8,000 per month will continue to be eligible for the houses for which they originally qualified without an increase in monthly payments. These persons will continue to receive a 100 per cent mortgage for 25 years at two per cent with a cap at $450,000.
Mr Speaker, an individual or individuals with an income or joint income of $4,000 would be eligible, under prevailing mortgage interest rates, for a loan of $200,000. However, under the new regime, that individual or individuals would now be eligible for a loan as high as $315,000.
Mr Speaker, the increase in the cost will be met by a higher government subsidy. It is estimated that the increase in the subsidy will amount to $450 million. The Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Limited (TTMF) will administer this portfolio and would be provided with capital to do so.
Mr Speaker, the proposed commencement date for use of the facility is retroactively set to September 2002.
Another policy initiative to make home ownership more affordable is the increase in the ceiling for the exemption of stamp duty for residential properties from $350,000 to $450,000. The rate of stamp duty of five (5) percent will be applicable for the first $100,000 in excess of $450,000, 7.5 per cent for the next $100,000 and 10 per cent for every dollar thereafter.
Mr Speaker, this measure will even benefit homeowners who purchase properties in excess of $450,000.
There are two other innovations of our housing programme that I would like to note.
Firstly, persons in the $1,440-$8,000 income bracket will be given the option to increase the amount of their mortgage to assist in the purchase of household appliances up to a maximum of $15,000.
This amount will be added to the overall principal and incorporated in the monthly mortgage payment. A second feature is that in the event of the death of the mortgagor, the mortgage liability would transfer to his or her estate. This means that at any time during one's working life, unlike in standard mortgage facilities, one is eligible for a 25 year mortgage.
Mr Speaker, in addition to the programme involving single family homes, the Government is also implementing a rent to own programme targeted at individuals who are financially unable to service a mortgage.
Under this programme individuals will be allowed to enter an agreement to rent for a period of five years with the option to purchase.
At the end of the five years, two thirds of the rental payment will be applied as a deposit towards the purchase of the property and the rental tenancy will be converted into a mortgage. If the tenant is still unable to qualify for a mortgage after five years the option will be extended for a further three years.
Mr Speaker, the Government's Home Improvement Programme, which is partly financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, provides a matching grant up to a maximum of $20,000 for the repair of an existing home. Last year more than 1,000 low-income homeowners benefited from this programme and it is projected that 720 home improvement subsidies will be made in fiscal 2007.
Mr Speaker, the Government will intensify its Urban Renewal Programme in 2007. The Programme has already been implemented on a limited scale through the reconstruction of Government-owned apartment complexes in East Port of Spain and San Fernando.
This programme is intended to address the housing, social, recreational and community needs of the residents of these inner city areas. Preliminary work on the East Port of Spain Development Plan will commence shortly.
Caroni (1975) Ltd
Mr Speaker, Government will also make available a total of 20,254 serviced plots of former Caroni (1975) Ltd for residential development. Of this amount former Caroni workers will be given priority access to 6,755 plots as part of their VSEP package, while the rest will be made available for purchase by the national community. The first 1,900 plots will be delivered at the end of this year while 4,000 plots are expected to be delivered in 2007.
Mr Speaker, the Government is very concerned with the sharp rise in construction costs which have been estimated to have increased by up to 40 per cent over the last two years. Much of this increase has been ascribed to the increase in labour cost and the price of building components. In terms of the increased building component prices, this has been blamed on high international and local demand and the escalation in energy cost related to production and transport.
Even in the wake of these price increases, supplies of essential raw materials such as aggregate and cement have become uncertain in recent times.
This means that while the Government may ease the burden in respect of affordability and accessibility, these sporadic shortages continue to slow the pace of construction.
In respect of aggregate, the Government has now expanded the quarrying capacity of the industry by the issuance of new licenses to quarry operators. In addition, the government is also looking at the possibility of sourcing cheaper and more reliable supplies from within the region.
National Quarries Ltd, a wholly-owned state enterprise would be utilised more effectively to impact on the domestic demand ad supply situation in the construction sector.
Mr Speaker, without high quality infrastructure and a well preserved environment, our economic and social progress will be limited and our goal of improving the quality of life of all our citizens will not be achievable.
As a result, the Government is committed to providing an efficient and modern infrastructure and public transport network. It is the Government's responsibility to provide the modern, high quality infrastructure that is demanded by our rapidly industrialising and increasingly sophisticated economy.
The Government's objective is simple—the development of "Infrastructure that Works".
Mr Speaker, the Government recognises that transportation bottlenecks are causing enormous frustration on the part of the travelling public, leading to a significant loss in production and productivity. The plan therefore is to adopt some immediate measures to reduce vehicular congestion in the short term while we formulate a long term strategy to modernise our transportation infrastructure.
The priority agenda for upgrading the country's road infrastructure include:
Improvements to the East-West and North-South Corridors to improve capacity and safety;
Expansion of the highway network with the construction of new highways from San Fernando to Point Fortin; San Fernando to Princes Town; Princes Town to Mayaro, and the extension of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway to Manzanilla;
The Port of Spain East/West Corridor Transportation Project which involves the construction of an Interchange at the intersection of Churchill Roosevelt and Uriah Butler Highway;
Construction of interchanges or overpasses at key intersections along the East-West Corridor, such as Aranguez, El Soccoro, Curepe, Macoya and Trincity;
n A Road Construction and Rehabilitation Programme that addresses road improvements, road resurfacing, rehabilitation and development of main roads at a national level as well as local roads in residential areas, landslip repairs, bridge reconstruction and traffic management measures;
Dualling of the Diego Martin Highway from Victoria Gardens to Acton Court;
Improvement to Maraval Access—Saddle Road from Rapsey Street to Valleton Avenue;
Road Rehabilitation and Bridge Reconstruction being undertaken through the National Highways Programme; and
n To improve the coordination and effectiveness of the various proposals we will establish a Roads Authority to manage and maintain all roads.
In addition Mr Speaker, to provide further ease to the travelling public, the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) will be provided with the resources to facilitate safe, reliable and effective transportation services to the various communities across Trinidad and Tobago.
In fiscal 2007, PTSC will acquire 100 new buses for the provision of improved services along the east/west and north/south corridors, in Port of Spain and San Fernando, and in several rural areas. These buses will include the longer articulated type, the standard 49-seater units, and a number of specially built units for use in the provision of Tours and Charters services. Additionally, special consideration will be given to transportation for specially-abled persons.
These new buses will substantially reduce the time spent by commuters in waiting for service at the various destinations.
Twenty five of the buses are expected to be in full operation before the end of this year with the remaining seventy five to be placed into operation during the first quarter of 2007.
Mr Speaker, in this overall context of curbing the wastage of valuable productive time in traffic gridlock, the Government is currently examining the feasibility of introducing water taxis; having heavy duty vehicles operate outside peak traffic hours; and introducing flexitime working hours within certain areas of the public service. In addition, Mr Speaker, the Government will be instituting measures to curtail the importation of foreign used vehicles.
The water taxi service is expected to commence operations in early 2007, plying a North-South route along the West Coast of Trinidad. When it is fully operational, we envisage a service that will allow commuters to travel by sea from Point Fortin to Carenage, with stops at La Brea, San Fernando, Couva, Chaguanas and Port of Spain, as well as an express service from San Fernando to Port of Spain.
Mr Speaker, even while we take these measures, we are undertaking a Comprehensive National Transportation Study to inform our transportation strategy over the medium to long term. The Study is expected to be completed by the end of this month.
The main objective of the study is to provide a national transportation sectoral policy that is consistent with other public policies of the Government. The Study is also expected to present coordinated national transportation plans for the land, sea and air sectors that will provide the Government with a national, systematic decision-making tool for investment in transportation infrastructure over the next twenty years.
Rapid Rail Project
Mr Speaker, one element of the Government's plan is the Rapid Rail project which is expected to provide fast and frequent service along the East-West and the North-South corridors.
Together the two corridors will traverse over 120 kilometres. The rapid rail system will serve over two-thirds of Trinidad's population and will link our two major cities: Port of Spain and San Fernando, as well as several towns including: Arima, Diego Martin, and Sangre Grande. The rapid rail system will give our citizens and visitors unparalleled mobility and access to work, school, shopping and more, and will truly be the backbone of Trinidad's transportation system.
It is anticipated that a Design, Build, Operate and Maintain (DBOM) contract for the Trinidad Rapid Rail Project will be awarded by December 2006 and the system which will be operationalised in phases, will be in full service by the year 2011.
Mr Speaker, the Agencies responsible for the air sector have embarked on a comprehensive programme of works aimed at improving the long term physical infrastructure at the Piarco and Crown Point International Airports. The focus continues to be on establishing modern systems and practices for safety and security of passengers and cargo. This will redound to the users of the services and facilities provided at the airports, and will have a positive impact on the social and economic development of Trinidad and Tobago.
Mr Speaker, the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago will continue its restructuring during fiscal 2007 to improve overall productivity and efficiency.
The Port Authority will acquire two modern fast ferries; complete the construction of the Government Shipping Services (GSS) facility; acquire heavy equipment to facilitate more efficient handling of cargo; and implement the International Ship and Port Security Code to improve safety and security at the Ports.
Mr Speaker, Government will continue its programmes aimed at regenerating and developing systems to meet ecological requirements, settlement patterns, promote the productive use of storm water and mitigate flooding hazards.
The National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) has been given responsibility for the implementation of the following projects:-
A Comprehensive Drainage Development Programme;
A Major River Clearing Programme;
An Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Flood Mitigation Programme;
A Flood Mitigation and Erosion Control Programme;
A National Programme for the upgrade of drainage channels; and
A comprehensive national drainage study and action plan, similar in scope to the comprehensive national transportation plan.
Trinidad & Tobago Electricity Commission Mr Speaker, Government has recently embarked on a drive to conserve our valuable natural gas resources.
A strategy has been developed for the phased change of all power generation facilities to combine cycle plants effectively utilising waste heat from primary generating gas turbines.
A review of the existing power stations at Port of Spain, Point Lisas and Penal revealed that many of the plants are old and need replacement. This provides an opportunity to rationalise the generating capacity especially as the Port of Spain power station and a large part of the Point Lisas station are in need of replacement.
An opportunity therefore presents itself to construct new power generation facilities taking advantage of economies of scale and also by utilising modern technology to arrive at a low cost per unit of electricity generated. We envisage that this will be done at Point Lisas. Meanwhile, a Task Force has been established under the Standing Committee on Energy to develop a strategy in this regard.
The Task Force will report to the Standing Committee on Energy in one month.
Mr Speaker, the Street Lighting Programme initially proposed eighty two thousand (82,000) new street lights and thirty-six thousand (36,000) upgrades over on a three (3) year period at a cost of $626 million.
We are proud to report that this Programme has moved much faster than anticipated and during this month, we would commission the seventy fifth thousandth (75,000th) street light. We must applaud the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission for this mammoth achievement.
Water and Sewerage Authority
Mr Speaker, two years ago, an initial assessment for the complete replacement of the water pipelines network in the country was estimated at $27 billion.
However, a project of this magnitude will require a major development programme and a review of the existing management structure at the Water and Sewerage Authority. The restructuring of the Authority is now under review by the Standing Committee on Energy and decisions in their regard will be made shortly.
Mr Speaker, the Bi-Water treatment plant at Laventille was commissioned in August 2004 and presently processes 20 million gallons of treated waste water effluent which is part of the planned water reuse project producing industrial water. It is projected that over the next few years this plant will produce over 20 million gallons per day of water to industrial users, thereby making an equivalent amount available for domestic users.
Telecommunications Liberalisation Initiatives Mr Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago has made significant progress in the liberalisation of the Telecommunications sector. This is critical to our industrial development since telecommunications infrastructure is key to increasing profitability and competitiveness in the global environment.
The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) has made significant advancement in its operations. The Authority has issued two concessions for Mobile Services; and seven concessions for International
Telecommunication Services, Fixed Wireless Access Networks and Cable Television.
Mr Speaker, accessibility to the technology for all citizens is a principal objective of our National Telecommunications Plan. This is being achieved in a very significant way through our now liberalised telecommunications sector. Improved service and lower rates in high speed, business and residential Internet service are already producing increased usage. Homes with Internet access have risen from 8 percent to 17 per cent in the past two years and we expect this figure to increase significantly in the near future.
Mr Speaker, broadband is a crucial infrastructure for achieving economic, social and scientific goals for the development of a knowledge-based society.
The Government has an ambitious action plan to provide broadband coverage throughout the country and our aim is to achieve ‘on demand' availability to at least 80 per cent of our population at the lowest unit cost in the Caribbean region by March 2008.
Mr Speaker, the Broadband Services being provided at present in Trinidad and Tobago are very expensive and out of the financial reach of most of our citizens.
Further, the broadband services are not available in all areas across the country.
The plan is to provide cheap and easy access to wireless internet nationwide.
Mr Speaker, the National Environmental Policy was revised in 2006 to take into consideration the rapid industrialisation of Trinidad and Tobago with the introduction of new types of industries in our economy; major developments in the housing sector; and the significant expansion and upgrading of our infrastructure.
The Policy recognises that the environment is an essential mainstay of our economic and social development. It focuses on sustainable management of the country's environmental assets and seeks to find a balance between economic development and the environment.
The Policy is further guided by respect for the community of life; keeping within the country's carrying capacity; empowering communities to care for their own environment; the polluter pays principle; and the precautionary principle.
Mr Speaker, a permitting system will be applied to require industries to upgrade pollution control, in the first instance, to the Best Practicable Technology (BPT), significantly upgrade plants to the Best Available Techniques Not Entailing
Excessive Costs (BATNEEC); and new plants to Best Available Techniques (BAT). Pollution control will be enforced through a system of permits or licences, which will set pollution limits or performance standards for air, noise, water, waste and hazardous substances.
The system of permits will also include environmental monitoring and reporting requirements.
Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that Agriculture is a very small but an economically and socially important sector. In 2004 primary agriculture provided a little over 1 per cent of the country's GDP and employed five per cent of the labour 35 force. However, agro-industries accounted for 3.1 per cent of the GDP and 45 per cent of the manufacturing GDP.
The agricultural sector, if it is to remain competitive, must respond to the external challenges and address structural rigidities limiting performance, increased productivity, profitability and competitiveness.
Creation of Large Agricultural Estates
Mr Speaker, the Agriculture Sector requires special attention at this time. With the restructuring of Caroni (1975) Ltd additional lands became available for agriculture. We have decided to do a complete review of traditional arrangements and in this regard will utilise expertise drawn from the energy sector.
Mr Speaker, to date field identification exercises has been completed in respect of 6,516 plots of the 7,247 plots allocated to the former employees of Caroni. Of this amount an estimated 3,824 or 58.6 per cent has assumed responsibility for their respective plots of which an estimated 382 have begun cultivation. To date approximately 2,500 former employees have registered as farmers with the Government and the process is ongoing. The total infrastructure development cost for these agricultural estates is $590 million.
Mr Speaker, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has recommended the creation of eight large scale farms and Government would be issuing requests for proposals from the private sector for the operationalisation of these farms.
Government also proposes to operate two additional farms in collaboration with the Government of Cuba. Mr Speaker, Cuba has been successful in the area of agriculture and Trinidad and Tobago stands to benefit from this arrangement.
In addition Mr Speaker, the Government recognises that there is need to identify agricultural land and to ensure such lands are maintained in agriculture over the long term. Any resolution to the issue of agricultural land also must address the issue of farm sizes.
Within this context it is evident that the thrust now should be on the creation of medium and large sized farms, and on providing the conditions to encourage amalgamation of small plots into larger economic farm units.
Mr Speaker, as part of the National Agribusiness Development Programme, the Government will be establishing in the first instance eight large agricultural estates each comprising at least one hundred acres. These estates will facilitate mass agricultural production in Trinidad and Tobago and will be either Government owned or joint public-private sector ventures.
The locations for the farms have already been identified. A mission from the Food and Agriculture Organisation has provided recommendations on the basic features as well as the infrastructural needs of the farms.
Mr Speaker, these farms will be the catalyst in the Government's drive to increase the production of food in Trinidad and Tobago. They will become the new food baskets of the country.
Mr Speaker, we have prioritised several strategic commodities in which this country has, or can develop, international competitiveness. These commodities include, but are not limited to sweet potato, cassava, yam, dasheen, tomato, ochro, cucumber, melongene, pumpkin, eddoes, cabbage, lettuce, green pigeon peas, carrots and string beans.
Mr Speaker, in addition, and I daresay more importantly, the majority of these food crops have been identified as the "main suspects" in accelerating the food prices in the markets and supermarkets. We expect this trend to be reduced significantly in the shortest possible time since all the farms are ear-marked to begin active cultivation of these "short term" crops within the next three months.
The production of several of these commodities will also facilitate a significant processing component.
The Government will provide the funding necessary to implement projects associated with each commodity. This will include the cost of the restoration of soil fertility where necessary, as well as ensuring water availability and access to the land.
This commodity approach is a significant development as it will address in a holistic way the challenges faced with providing adequate food production as well as augment normal production levels in price sensitive commodities.
Production contracts will be awarded to farmers, and given the possibility that the prices of some of the selected commodities can fall to levels that cause harm to non-contracted farmers, the system of contracts will be complimented with guaranteed minimum prices that cover the same selected commodities.
Mr Speaker, this programme will be structured and operated in a manner that will provide the platform for stimulating the longer term improved productivity of the agriculture sector.
The Government will also put measures in place to increase the rate of participation in agriculture by expanding the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA) and the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Agriculture and Forestry (ECIAF). The Government is also introducing the policy of allocating agricultural lands to the graduates of these programmes.
Mr Speaker, praedial larceny is the number one complaint of farmers and must be aggressively addressed by all parties. Praedial larceny has a disincentive effect on production causing farmers to either cease production or produce commodities less likely to be affected. As a result, the Government will provide funding, manpower, equipment and adequate logistical support for the establishment of a Praedial Larceny Police Unit.
The need to provide good infrastructure to support agricultural production is well recognised. A comprehensive programme will be put in place to improve agricultural access roads, irrigation facilities and systems, and flood control infrastructure and marketing facilities. Mr. Speaker we intend to support our farmers by focusing on this particular challenge.
In addition Mr Speaker, the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources has embarked on an aggressive support programme aimed at increasing the number of extension officers. This will improve the support offered to farmers at present and will ensure all agricultural land is put to productive use.
Mr Speaker, to further enhance the resurgence of the agriculture sector the Government proposes to inject $30 million into the Agricultural Development Bank to facilitate additional credit lines to firms and individuals involved in the sector.
Mr Speaker, while our efforts to promote the resurgence of domestic agriculture will be the centrepiece of our strategy to reduce food prices, it is by no means the only action that we plan to take. The Government recognizes the pervasive impact of the increases in food prices on the cost of living and on the welfare of families who need to struggle to make ends meet.
Accordingly, Government plans to reduce import duties on selected basic food items where they still exist. We also plan to work with the National Flour Mills to moderate the prices of certain basic foods. We will also engage in discussions with several stakeholders including the Supermarkets' Association in an attempt to reduce margins on certain food items.
Mr Speaker, as tempting as it may seem, the imposition of price controls is not a painless solution and in fact it could present problems such as shortages and the creation of blackmarkets. The Government will therefore only consider price controls if all else fail.
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