Tourism, hotel VP: Give Tobago 5% of national budget

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James.

TOBAGO Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol-Ann Birchwood-James is hoping to see an increase in Tobago’s allocation in the upcoming national budget.

During the Spotlight on the Economy at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Port of Spain, on Friday, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced September 26 as Budget Day.

Birchwood-James told Newsday, “I would like to see an increase in Tobago’s allocation from the four per cent that they normally give us to at least give us a five per cent, because there are a lot of things that the assembly has to do.”

She said Tobago needs money to market its tourism sector effectively .

“We now have a new hotel (Comfort Inn & Suites) and another one on the way, the Marriott. So we have to ramp up our marketing of our tourism product and therefore we need money for that, perhaps a few million dollars more to go for our tourism marketing.”

Tobago got an allocation of $2.357 billion in the 2021-2022 budget.

In June, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) ssked for an allocation of $3.97 billion from central government to manage the island’s affairs for fiscal 2022-2023.

Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said the request was predicated on an anticipated national budget of $54.7 billion.

He said he hoped the figure would reflect 6.9 per cent of the national budget, in keeping with the upper end of the Dispute Resolution Committee’s recommendation.

On Friday, the Tobago Business Chamber proposed that the government expand the Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhance Programme (CEPEP) and Unemployment Relief Programmes (URP) to create what it called “dedicated agro-industry sections” which can produce “structured government farm workers.”

In a statement on WhatsApp, the chamber’s chairman Martin George said the government should put the CEPEP and URP make-work programmes to greater use.

“We’d like to see this as part of an agrarian awakening for Tobago and for Trinidad also. So let’s create a CEPEP agro division and URP agri sector,” he said.

“Let’s utilise our fertile lands, our rich soil and harness the talents of our people. Let’s use the science and technology to create super-productive farms through Trinidad and Tobago.”

George said the salaries of the workers could also be increased, but in a manner linked to increased productivity and agricultural output.

The chamber, he said, also wants to see Tobago “weaned off the financial umbilical cord (sic) by which they are tied to central government.

“This will require a medium- to long-term plan, but we need to make a start.”

George repeated the chamber’s call for the “immediate and unconditional” repeal of the Foreign Investment Act.

But he said while the chamber encourages foreign investment, it must be done in a structured way.

George said the government should mandate that anyone investing in Tobago must partner – at least up to ten per cent – with a local Tobago-based business.

“That way you earn and get the foreign exchange by the direct foreign investment and you also get that transfer of knowledge where our Tobago-based businesses get the opportunity to learn hands-on from bigger, more experienced business people.”

George also reiterated the chamber’s call to make Tobago a VAT-free zone.

“This will lead to a massive influx of foreign exchange and investment and business in Tobago.”

He predicted the island will also become the investment capital of the Caribbean in much the same way Florida is the retirement state of the US.