My fellow Tobagonians, just over three months ago, this administration was sworn in with the responsibility of prudently managing the affairs of the people of Tobago.
As part of our social contract with you, we indicated that in the short to medium term, our emphasis would be on building an economy led by tourism, agriculture, light manufacturing and specialised services. And that this initiative would be supported by a robust education system, a dynamic health sector, a reformed and energetic public service and a hospitable and productive people. Key to this transformation is the empowerment of our communities.
I shall now outline some of the key activities undertaken during the period being reviewed and update you on our stewardship.
Ladies and gentlemen, community development is the cornerstone upon which Tobago’s future development will be built. With this in mind, we have begun the process to decentralise services to our communities, and we have engaged stakeholders through seventeen meetings throughout Tobago’s electoral districts.
The roll out of this initiative began at community centres in Speyside, Black Rock, Calder Hall, Canaan, Parlatuvier, Lambeau, Bethesda, Glamorgan, Mason Hall, Betsy’s Hope, John Dial, Bethel and Buccoo, where we have introduced business development, social services, labour and occupational safety and health programmes.
We are boosting our community development thrust by expanding vocational and handicraft training, registration of new community groups and partnering with the Tobago Literacy Unit to provide literacy programmes, as well as vocational/technical skills training alongside the national training agency. There have also been changes to CEPEP, with mandatory training for employees, and first responders to environmental issues within the community. District coordinators now work out of community centres.
The groundwork continues to be laid in respect of our development thrust. We have incorporated the Tobago Tourism Agency, which shall have general responsibility for product development and destination marketing. This is the first step in ensuring that we exploit current tourism opportunities and identify new ones. We have already conducted preliminary discussions with key industry stakeholders to ascertain their perspectives on the current state of play. The new board of directors will soon be appointed to the Tobago Tourism Agency, which will facilitate the development of a tourism master plan.
The Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation has collaborated with the ministry of tourism to launch the Tourism Baseline Survey. This will provide the relevant statistical information required for informed decision-making. That division also provided strategic oversight of the Tobago Carnival Experience, which was a success, and appointed a new committee to oversee the Tobago Heritage Festival 2017. A task force, headed by Dr. Keith Nurse, has been appointed to review the just-concluded Tobago Jazz Experience.
Agriculture is also undergoing transformation. We have established a broad-based Agricultural Revitalisation Team to engage in consultations to develop a practical food production plan. The Food Production and Fisheries Division is also conducting research into the agronomic practices of using herbs like rosemary and chadon beni at the recently completed greenhouse at Goldsborough. Two hundred dwarf banana suckers and seven hundred and fifty seedlings were distributed to participants at a health fair hosted by the Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment and Thawe Credit Union. Forty-three persons registered as home gardeners. Further training in home gardening is carded for this month. All these initiatives are geared towards ensuring Tobago enjoys food sustainability and security in the not-too-distant future.
The food sector is also seeing potential for growth. Fifty new students have been enrolled in the 2017 Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture. Thirteen access roads have been assessed and a schedule developed for the commencement of rehabilitated works. These include but are not limited to Goodwood, Mason Hall, Glamorgan and Argyle.
Ladies and gentlemen, health care is one of our pillars and hence great emphasis is being placed on this sector. In this regard, a number of initiatives have been undertaken, including collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey for cancer research; others include the establishment of the facility review committee to treat with the inspection, assessment and reporting in homes for older persons; the creation of a sustainable public private partnership for cancer care and the development of a palliative care centre ; the establishment of an assessment centre for the children’s authority and the establishment of a health and wellness centre, which will include a stroke and diabetes centre.
The following key initiatives in the education sector have been pursued: beginning with the establishment of an intervention programme for both primary and secondary schools, where instructional coaches will provide support in mathematics and language. The aim is to assist underperforming students. The recently created post S.E.A. programme is designed to combat low literacy and numeracy levels in primary schools. The idea is to utilise the period between exams and results to provide curriculum reinforcement. In train is the creation of a short term vacation programme for both teachers and students, the former to improve teacher methodologies and the latter to correct learning deficiencies.
On May 2nd, the Auditor General penned a report on the Tobago House of Assembly’s financial statement for the year ended September 30, 2015. While we are in receipt of the 2015 report, the response to the reports for 2009 to 2014 is still being awaited from the Auditor General’s office.
The Auditor General has formed the opinion, in this instance, to issue an ‘adverse report’, owing to systemic shortcomings. Details of these were highlighted in the management letter on the audit of the said financial statement.
The Chief Administrator has since reviewed and prepared a response to the management letter, and has the responsibility to implement the recommendations of the Auditor General.
I am advised that the necessary documents highlighted by the Auditor General are now available for review.
Notwithstanding the concerns raised, the Auditor General found no instances of fraud, malfeasance or misappropriation of funds.
It is to be noted that the Office of the Chief Secretary has responded and has facilitated the Valuations Division of the Ministry of Finance with staff and accommodation to assist with the compliance of the Property Tax regulations. Centres have been established at Betsy’s Hope/Louis D’Or Multipurpose Facility and the Parlatuvier Community Centre, and a press release has been issued to this effect.
You are aware that Tobago has been plagued by an unpredictable sea transport situation, which has unfortunately affected residents on the island. This was marked mainly by the transitioning from the previous ferry arrangement, and the resulting interim arrangement, as we pursue a satisfactory and permanent solution.
This Assembly apologises on behalf of the authorities for the inconvenience and hardships that we have all suffered, and is committed to remain a part of the ongoing efforts to find an early solution.
To this end, Cabinet is due to consider an additional cargo/ passenger vessel to alleviate the current challenges. A wider search is being conducted to procure a replacement for a period of six months to facilitate the dry docking of the T&T Spirit in June, and subsequently the T&T Express in September. A decision has also been made to replace the two fast ferries.
As your Chief Secretary, your concern has always been my concern. My focus is on finding an acceptable solution that is both predictable and reliable.
Work has commenced to fix the Lambeau Bridge on the Old Milford Road to give the travelling public an alternate route in and out of Scarborough in our efforts to ease the peak time traffic congestion on the Claude Noel Highway. Work on this bridge is estimated at $23 million.
My fellow Tobagonians, let me assure you that the Executive Council has been working assiduously to deliver on our commitment to use all resources at our disposal to meet the needs of residents. We have in many instances been working quietly behind the scenes to find solutions to our many challenges. Rome was not built in a day, but we are striving to establish a solid foundation upon which our future development can be secured.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you and good night.