Business Chamber’s budget wish: Bring on Tobago regional police service

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Villagers look on as crime-scene investigators examine the scene of a murder in Plymouth, Tobago on May 15. FILE PHOTO/VISUAL STYLES – Visuals Style

THE Tobago Business Chamber is hoping to hear an announcement of a localised police force for Tobago in the THA’s budget presentation on June 24.

Chief Secretary and Secretary of Finance, Trade and the Economy Farley Augustine is expected to present the 2024/2025 fiscal package in the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, from 10am.

At a function on June 18, Augustine said the presentation – the third of his administration – will focus heavily on human capital development.

He added this year’s budget request would be kept within the limits of the Dispute Resolution Commission’s recommendations (between 4.03 and 6.9 per cent) which were accepted by the Parliament.

“So you can expect to remain within that per centage framework,” he had said.

In its 2023/2024 budget, the THA requested $4.54 billion from central government but got $2.585 billion to manage its affairs.

Earlier this month, the THA got a further $50 million from the mid-year review to deal with the costs associated with the February 7 oil spill, which affected some 15 kilometres along the island’s south-western coast.

Augustine is also expected to make a statement with respect to the setting up of a police force in Tobago to deal with the island’s worsening crime situation.

At an instalment of the Conversations with the Prime Minister on May 23 at the Scarborough Library, Dr Rowley said the government was giving consideration to a request from the THA to create a municipal-type police force under the assembly to deal with crime in Tobago.

He added Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, has been asked to look into Tobago’s ability to have its own localised police unit.

Tobago Business Chamber chairman Martin George believes the setting up of a Tobago regional police service will help to reduce crime on the island.

George said while crime has not yet sullied the image of Tobago as badly as he believes it has in Trinidad, there are still concerns about the proliferation of illegal drugs and guns in Tobago.

He added the chamber has also called repeatedly for scanners to be implemented at the Port of Spain and Scarborough ports along with sniffer dogs and undercover police officers on the ferries.

George said the police officers must be equipped with a list of the names and photographs of wanted criminals who may come to try to hide out in Tobago or seek to try to play their evil trade.

“In this regard, we propose that the minister and the government introduce legislation to be able to create a Tobago regional police service (TRPS) in much the same way as there are the municipal police outfits in the various borough corporations in Trinidad,” he told Newsday via WhatsApp.

“This TRPS can then work in collaboration with and alongside the TTPS to ensure that we stamp out the scourge of crime and criminality in Tobago so that Tobago can once again become a safe place and safe space.”

George said the chamber is also hoping to hear about measures to improve inter-island transport.

“The Business Chamber has repeatedly indicated that the airbridge by Caribbean Airlines (CAL) is an essential service and ought to be given the necessary funding and resources to make it more effective and efficient in serving the needs of the travelling public.

“CAL needs to understand that it has to prioritise the Trinidad-Tobago run before it goes off servicing all other newly created routes like St Kitts, Dominica and Cuba.”

He said “reliable, efficient and effective air transport between T&T is a right, not a privilege.”

George said the chamber has taken note of posts by CAL, which suggest that they have had “excess capacity on their flights for many of the peak seasons with many unoccupied seats.

“This again represents a failure of CAL as opposed to a failure of the public.”

Describing CAL’s booking system as archaic and inflexible, George said, “It never represents a real time scenario so they show seats as booked up yet when you go to the airport you hardly see persons on the flight. They need to improve their systems in this regard.”

In terms of the sea bridge, George said the chamber is still awaiting the promises made by Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan to introduce another cargo vessel to service the route.

The Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce also outlined its wish list for the Tobago budget.

The organisation’s president Curtis Williams said the THA must invest in tourism and agriculture as these sectors are crucial for Tobago’s economic diversification thrust.

“We advocate for policies that enhance tourism infrastructure and promote sustainable agricultural practices, ensuring these sectors can thrive and contribute significantly to the economy,” he said via WhatsApp.

Williams said support for small and medium enterprises is also vital.

“The chamber suggests that the budget should include initiatives to provide easier access to financing, reduce operational costs, and offer training programmes to help local businesses expand and innovate.”

In the area of governance and fiscal management, Williams said the THA must, as a priority, ensure that budget allocations are used effectively and transparently.

“The chamber advocates for stronger governance frameworks and accountability measures to prevent wastage and corruption, ensuring that funds are directed towards impactful and beneficial projects for the community.”

He said the chamber is looking forward to a budget that supports economic growth through diversified investments and upholds good governance practices.

“These measures are seen as critical for the island’s long-term prosperity and resilience.”