There’s only so much that can be done in one year. So many of the factors at work in Tobago’s economy have been longstanding. For example, improving standards of customer service can only be addressed through sustained action.
And with so many uncertainties ahead, not everything can be overhauled immediately.
But even taking all this into account, does the recent Tobago budget do enough to suggest a radical overhaul of the island’s economy? To our mind, there needs to be stronger emphasis on making Tobago self-sufficient. In particular, two crucial sectors need to be more strongly bolstered: agriculture and manufacturing.
Otherwise, it’s a case of the same ole same ole.
After all that has been said about the need to usher in a new normal, the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) 2021 budget was very much geared toward the same conditions that prevailed pre-covid19.
A good example is the assumption that tourist arrivals will remain important and that the ANR Robinson International Airport project should proceed.
So confident was assemblyman Joel Jack that the $500 million project should go ahead he stated land preparation was ongoing and $41 million in compensation allocated.
There was mention of the valuable role that could be played by foreign direct investment, but no real position was taken on a call, by the Tobago Business Chamber, for overhaul of the legislative environment, including the Foreign Investment Act.
Mr Jack acknowledged covid19 has brought to the fore the critical importance of agriculture and food security yet sprinkled a few seeds here and there. He outlined initiatives like land preparation, livestock and seed distribution, and further incentives. He also announced the creation of the Tobago Agribusiness Development Company, expansion of a road access programme to $50 million, and retraining.
Missing was a sense of a strategy with a compelling focus. This is evident in the gesture to develop a wholesale market at Shaw Park even though the whole issue is whether there will be enough to sell in such a market in the first place.
Perhaps because it is hard to see into the future the budget focuses on recurrent expenditure and past efforts.
But even so, allocations to the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme and Unemployment Relief Programme surely require scrutiny. The long-established practice of giving the THA it’s own funding under these programmes now raises questions: Is there a risk of duplication? Can we afford this?
In a post-covid19 economy, a plan for how the island will develop should have been more strongly at the forefront. It goes beyond a “staycation” policy. We need deeper insight into whether such a tourism policy can make a meaningful impact in our national revenue context.
And we needed to hear how new areas of industry can be opened.
The THA’s plan to augment the social safety net and its desire to preserve employment must be praised. But such initiatives are threatened if it does not act fast enough to usher in change. Perhaps, the THA’s 17-man economic recovery committee, which is due to present its first report in four weeks, will shed more light on the way forward.