Chief Secretary Farley Augustine at the Hyatt Regency last month.. – JEFF K MAYERS
Chief Secretary Farley Augustine is calling for a percentage of royalties to be given to the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) when revenue is earned from oil and gas resources in Tobago waters.
He was speaking to Newsday on Monday after Deputy Chief Secretary Watson Duke represented the THA at the TT Energy Conference 2022, held last Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain.
Approximately 60 companies connected to the energy sector: mechanical and technical support companies to housing and transport solutions, to innovations in renewables, occupied booths at the trade show of the conference.
Contributors at the conference called for the Government to streamline approval processes, to shorten the time between bid rounds and achieving first gas.
During the December 6, 2021, THA election campaign, Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) candidate Trevor James, now Secretary of Infrastructure, Quarries and Urban Development, said 99 per cent of the revenue from oil and gas fields north, east and west of Tobago should be spent on the island.
Augustine told Newsday, “The THA expects that the energy companies doing business in Tobago’s waters will directly contribute even more to the development of the island and its social institutions. We expect they will respect the people of Tobago and will engage with the people of Tobago and not just a central government that doesn’t care whether we exist or not.”
He said Tobago should benefit directly from energy resources near the island.
“We have always argued that a percentage of the royalties from oil and gas exploration, and any other resource exploration in and around the island, should be given to Tobago for its development. This should be an inherent right. We never mooted a percentage, but we have asked publicly for a formula to be developed.”
He said that in the current arrangement, all royalties and taxes go to the central government, “and the central government in turn decides to under fund Tobago’s capital development.”
He said the autonomy bill is crucial to dealing with this.
“It would be a prominent part of the conversation on autonomy for Tobago. I had many, many heated conversations with the parliamentary committee for the autonomy bill about the matter and will be resuming those conversations soon.”
Speaking with the media at the conference, Duke, whose portfolio holds responsibility for energy, said that the island is now getting into energy in a serious way.
“We are minding our own business.”
He said the THA understands the responsibilities that come with renewable energy.
“One cannot sprint their way from where we are now into that renewable energy. It’s not a sprint but certainly something that would have to take time to transition, and we can use the gas that is available and refine it to the point where the carbon emissions are reduced so it doesn’t trouble the economy.”
He said the focus is on tapping into what is available.
“We have a lot of gas here; I want to ensure that the gas we have is properly utilised in a way it doesn’t affect the global climate.”
He added: “What I heard the (energy) minister said also, is that the revenue from the gas and the oil must be utilised for the benefit of the people. I’m asking myself: where the benefits are?”
Duke said revenue from energy resources and the population must trickle down to the common man.
“And that’s a balance I want to ensure takes place. The balance between the revenue and the lives of the people. A rise in tide, the full works, and if the tide is rising then we need to see the man in the gutter being lifted to a higher level, that’s one of my concerns.”
Economist Dr Vanus James agreed that the autonomy bill is important in addressing this. He said Tobago as defined in the THA Act doesn’t have any claim on the wealth north and east of Tobago.
“All the fields, they are all really outside of what is defined in the law as Tobago, so we have to change that as a matter of priority. If you talk about treating fairly, you have to get the boundaries changed and you have to pursue autonomy in order to do that.”
He said Tobago should not bet its future on hydrocarbons when you look at the direction the world is going.
“You’ll have to bet Tobago’s future on the development of the national economy, and you fight for fairness in relation to what is happening in the national economy, inclusive of what is happening with hydrocarbon.”
He said he had previously suggested that fairness be based on the boundaries that Tobago ought to be assigned if it was an independent island.
“We need national collaboration to invest in the development of a viable economy on the basis of a sound understanding of what development must be for Tobago. Tobago’s future is not in any discussion with the central government, there should be discussion with the central government over what a proper diversification model for the country must be and how Tobago fits into that. That’s the way Tobagonians ought to think with Tobago’s future.”