Letter: 2017/18 budget review

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Dear Sir:

It is impossible to appropriately and effectively respond to the government of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2017/18 budget in this short response. In summary, one can conclude that the 2017/18 budget seems to curtail government spending and supplement declining sources of revenue by increased taxes along traditional lines. The budget seems short of new and innovative approaches to earning hard currency. The reduction of revenue was primarily due to reduced income from the energy sector.

Despite this, the government seemed to pin most of their hope for sustainability and development on anticipated income from energy and energy related investments. Taxing the people of Trinidad and Tobago does very little if anything in raising much needed foreign exchange. After the budget presentation many seem unclear about the government’s plan for earning hard currency outside of the traditional ways of taxing a declining energy sector and hoping for new discoveries of oil and gas.

Economists and commentators agree that tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and business services must be the new areas for earning revenue. The challenge however is to define in tangible terms exactly what that entails. What is road map? The minister in his presentation spoke about a new tourism thrust. Unfortunately, that thrust seems to be centered on traditional plans like beach upgrade and additional hotel rooms.

Trinidad and Tobago has the potential to transform tourism into a major source of foreign exchange earnings. Such a potential require major investment in the sector. The funds required for such investment can be derived from investment capital raised through credit facilities locally and internationally. The tourism plan must go way beyond those set out in the budget. The areas that can attract the greatest number of tourist arrival and potentially increase business must first be identified.

The Tobago package is already well defined. The areas in Trinidad that cry out for immediate attention are:

  • Upgrade the bird sanctuary – replace the run-down boats with comfortable ecofriendly boats, well dressed tour guides, secure car park, a niche gift shop, restaurant and bar and modern toilet facilities.
  • Carnival is Trinidad’s major tourist attraction – repackage carnival to allow for safe parade of the bands, portable toilet facilities along the parade route, adequate viewing stands and upgraded carnival shows with modern lighting and acoustics.
  • The steel pan – invest in a modern pan factory and transform pan yards into safe centers where visitors can not only hear pan and purchase the instrument but share in the unique experience of playing the national instrument.
  • Provide safe and clear pathways to our mountain tops, rivers, waterfalls, caves and swamps supervised by uniformed park rangers. Additionally, provide camp sites with toilet facilities, security, water and support services so that residents and tourists can enjoy our great outdoors.
  • The pitch lake – provide transportation along and through the pitch lake with tour guides so that tourists can experience this natural wonder without having to dangerously walk through the paths along the lake.

These suggestions require investment in buildings, roadways, parking facilities, water distribution, toilet facilities, hotels, tour guides and security personnel. In addition, this new thrust will require major investment in marketing. Tourism’s greatest challenge is effectively selling this destination as a safe environment. Crime reduction is a necessary objective for attracting business investment and must be a looked in conjunction with a new vision for Trinidad and Tobago.

In my next posting, I will look at agriculture as another source of earning foreign exchange.

God bless our nation.

Steve Alvarez

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