Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. – File photo by Roger Jacob
THE Prime Minister has put the nation on alert that this year will be one full of risks – even as it also holds the prospects of considerable promise.
He based this on global forecasters predicting that 2024 will be a year of “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” given the continuing wars between Russia and Ukraine, and Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, Dr Rowley also said his government greets the New Year with renewed optimism.
This optimism, he said, is predicated on TT strengthening its energy base, and efforts to enhance the nation’s infrastructure, improve conditions for investment, and continue attempts to improve and make the daily lives of citizens safer.
In his New Year’s Day message, he said 2023, which was the first full year of normalcy after the pandemic, was one of challenges on several fronts, “but we can say to ourselves that collectively, we have been able to get back on our feet.”
Of global forecasts that the new year will be full of risks, Rowley said, “In short, they say that wherever one is placed in the world, one may not be untouched by world events. The immediate dangers for us are the ongoing wars between Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas, both with no endgame in sight, and hold the potential for wider regional conflicts.”
He said citizens must understand that these arenas, whilst geographically distant from TT, they do hold serious implications for our daily lives.
He also claimed the world is shifting from a once unipolar power structure to multi-polar, with hardening rhetoric among the superpowers, predictions of a new world order, and the possibility of a return to a period of cold war. “Nonetheless, we here in the Caribbean must still hold fast to keeping our region as a Zone of Peace.”
He pointed to some positives in TT.
He claimed the CSO (Central Statistical Office) had noted a return to growth of three percent in the first quarter of 2023, followed by signs of further growth in the second quarter. This was led by “good performance” in the non-energy sector, which also showed an uptick in employment, as businesses resumed full operations after the pandemic.
After a period of heightened inflation, he said, the CSO indicated that in October the rate stood at 1.3 per cent. “To our credit, food price inflation fell from roughly 10 per cent in May to 1.9 per cent in October.” He said TT can anticipate that increases in the minimum wage and other government policies will further ease the cost-of-living burden on the most vulnerable.
Rowley’s release said the unemployment rate recorded a decline of 3.7 per cent, in the second quarter, indicating that thousands of persons gained employment, compared to previous years.
In the energy sector, despite years of production challenges, “we have seen the fruits of years of careful negotiations realised.” This success will significantly impact the lives and fortunes of every citizen of this country, he predicted.
PLANS FOR 2024
The PM said security of citizens continues to be of very serious concern to his government. He claimed that amid the crime challenge – which has seen over 570 murders in 2023 as well as countless robberies, home-invasions and assaults – the Ministry of National Security confronts them “with a broad strategy which relies on the presence, quick response, dedication, agility, and resilience of our protective forces.”
He said government continues to provide training and professional development to the security services and has increased the recruitment intake as well as continue to draw on the services of retired senior personnel.
He appealed to citizens to take personal responsibility and ensure there is no nursery or safe harbours for criminals. He called on parents and guardians to guide their children’s development and behaviour.
The PM also touched on the living standards of citizens saying this too is a priority. In 2024, the Ministry of Social Development will roll out a national register to track the lives of the most vulnerable.
He highlighted initiatives from the Ministry of Health, such as the opening of the 106-bed Sangre Grande General and Secondary Care hospital; the conversion of the Augustus Long hospital at Pointe-a-Pierre into an Oncology Centre, with a palliative care ward; the completion of the 540-bed Central Block in Port of Spain, and new programmes for diabetes and hypertension and a programme to maintain this country’s gains in meeting the UN 2030 standards for pre-natal and maternal rates.
Turning to public servants, Rowley said the Ministry of Public Administration plans to roll out modules for a country-based e-Human Resource Management system to improve the staffing and performance of public servants.
The ministry will also partner with UWI to introduce a further range of training programmes; refurbish and commission the Point Fortin Administrative Complex, and turn the sod for a new Arima Administration Complex.
In the Ministry of Public Utilities, Government will be utilising the facilities of an IDB loan for improved water delivery with targets that deliver a reliable water supply to 90 percent of the population in the new year.
He said the ministry’s Community Water Improvement Programme has already improved supplies to Tobago, Point Fortin, Manzanilla, Toco, Valencia, Five Rivers and Freeport. This year it will expand the water supply to Moruga, Cedros, Penal and San Fernando.
The PM promised to communicate other initiatives saying, “Government will continue to stand in the gap for you in order to ensure you get the best that is available to you in opportunity and equity.”
MAJOR DEAL: In a major development in 2023 for Trinidad and Tobago’s energy sector, Venezuelan Oil Minister Pedro Tellechea (left), with Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, and TT’s Energy Minister Stuart Young after signing the Dragon Gas Field licence in Caracas, Venezuela. – File photo