Remarks by the Honourable Prime Minister, Mrs. Kamla Persad Bissessar at AMCHAM T&T’s Beyond The Ballot

Speaking notes by the Honourable Prime Minister, delivered at AMCHAM T&T’s 2nd installment of its Beyond The Ballot Series.

(Speaking notes courtesy Officer of the Prime Minister’s website,  click here )

Date: 15 July, 2015

Venue: Hyatt Regency, Trinidad

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of AmCham, business leaders, it is a pleasure to be here!
I thank the CEO of AMCHAM, the President, and the Board of Directors for inviting me, and for identifying some of the matters that are most on your mind, and so affording me this opportunity to have a conversation with you about some of our plans and policies for “Beyond the Ballot”.
Before I attempt to address the concerns you identified, allow me to take this occasion to congratulate you on some of your initiatives.
 First, you took a bold move with your SOCA initiative to press US authorities to open up to services exports from the region.
I know that in this you were supported by the Minister of Trade, Investment and Communications in Washington and, by the Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development when US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Charles Rifkin was here for the successful VIII Americas Competitiveness Forum (ACF) in October last year.
Let me also thank you for making the Americas Business Forum at the ACF an outstanding success, and for using it as a platform to prepare the ground for the Summit of the Americas held in April in Panama. You may recall that President Moreno of the IDB invited me to speak at a Forum of business leaders there.I know that some of you were present.
I want to let you know too that we have opened up the doors for Haitian businessmen to do business in Trinidad. A recent Cabinet decision now makes that possible.
I know that you had your last Hemisphere-wide AmCham meeting in Haiti and that the restriction on Haitian business travel to CARICOM was of concern to you.
 I am happy to inform you that it is now resolved as far as Trinidad and Tobago is concerned, notwithstanding pending CARICOM decisions on other matters.
I know that one of the issues you are concerned about is the supply of foreign exchange.
I won’t say very much on that at this time.
It is a matter for the Central Bank and the Minister of Finance whom I know will work together to manage the situation at this time.
But, I share with you that in my Party’s Manifesto for the forthcoming Election, we make a commitment to establish a credit line in US dollars at EXIM Bank for manufacturers.
This will separate the importers of consumer goods from those who import to create manufactured products, and we will work with the manufacturing sector to double exports by 2020 and that will bring a whole new range of positive benefits including sustained foreign exchange earnings.
We will also develop a similar partnership with the I.T-driven Services sector.
 Growth and expansion of this sector is important for the knowledge economy which we have been working to achieve.
 Some of you may know that we have secured funding from the IDB to develop a Global Services Export hub.
This will lead to development of a market here in Trinidad and Tobago for the supply of outsourced IT enabled services, and ensure that Trinidad and Tobago becomes a viable and preferred destination for this kind of business.
 Our thrust to double exports in this sector is elaborated in our Manifesto 2015.
The global market for IT enabled services is estimated at 400 billion US dollars.
Just a small portion of that would be valuable to us. So this kind of foreign exchange earnings through exports both in services and in manufacturing is part of the longer term solution. Because, as you know, the energy sector earns foreign exchange and every other sector is foreign exchange-dependent. So it is not just that we have to diversify, but that we have to diversify the range of sectors which export and earn foreign exchange and therefore expand the range of sectors and companies contributing to our own hard currency pool nationally.
The other issue that seems to concern you is the availability of labour.
It is true that we have been doing well in creating jobs and in keeping people employed.
Our unemployment is currently 3.1 percent.
My Government has been working with you, AmCham as well as TTMA, to transition state workers into the private sector. Part of the problem is skills, part of the problem is trainability, and part of the problem is attitude and disposition of both the workers and the companies. But, these things have implications for company productivity and competitiveness as well as inclusion of our citizens in productive endeavours.
The CEPEP/URP challenge has been with us for decades. It is something that Government and Private Sector must work together  for the public good and to support a thriving economy. Our education and training institutions have already been enlisted to support this worthwhile effort. Let me also indicate to you that we are also interested in seeing our companies upgrade their plants and equipment to improve productivity, and that our Government is prepared to look at the incentive framework to strengthen the TT industry to be competitive
As your Government steps up the pace of diversification, strengthens the promotion of entrepreneurship, and as our economy becomes more knowledge-driven, we are aware of two challenges :
(1) the first is that we need to keep our talented scholarship winners and university graduates and highly skilled young citizens meaningfully employed at home and
(2) that we may need to import labour and talent from outside.
As we go forward therefore, your Government will institute an active Managed Migration Policy with clear objectives and results to be achieved.
This is an area to which we will give focused and dedicated attention.
The management of both inward and outward migration will be linked to issues such as skills and need, diversification demands, growth considerations and related issues.
At the same time we need to provide the knowledge, jobs, and international collaborative opportunities for our graduates, while attracting talent and skills from abroad.
Your Peoples Partnership Government will work towards developing a national labour migration policy and increasing coordination among the relevant Ministries and agencies to treat with migration as a whole, specifically:
  •  Ministry of National Security’s immigration policy
  •  Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development Population policy
  •  Ministry of Foreign Affairs -Diaspora policy
  • Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development -Labour Market      Migration Policy
  •  Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training -Curriculum Transformation and Output of Graduates.
One of the objectives of this Labour Migration Policy Framework is Fostering the Link between Migration and Development.
This will entail:
  •  Development of a selectively managed immigration strategy linked to economic and societal needs and development objectives
  •  Mainstream migration into national employment policies and decent work policies
  •  Planning a strategy for skills training and experience of appropriate persons in the national population, prioritizing and targeting required skills
  • Establishing a dynamic database of job vacancies and selective immigration incentives/information for networking
  •  Linkage of tertiary through skills-development strategy to absorption strategies in market, national diversification strategy and national manpower projections.
I am told that the issue of procurement is still a worry for you. You have no worries on this matter as long as I am your Prime Minister. We promised it ; we delivered it with help from Independent Senators and Private Sector/Civil Society interests, but with no help from the Opposition.
Indeed the Leader of the Opposition undermined our efforts at  the Joint Select Committee Stage and refused to support the Bill at the debate stage.
I know that the leader of the Opposition sought to rationalize his failure to vote for the Bill, by indicating that he wished to make amendments.
Let me say that not only have we passed the Bill, but that we have also set things in motion to proclaim the Bill as expeditiously as possible.
 To achieve this, we are working with UNDP as well as Civil Society/Private Sector interests.
Your own President, Mr. Suryadevara is a member of the Oversight Committee whose mandate is to ensure readiness for Proclamation of the Procurement Bill.
My Government has been ever mindful of the Governance issues.
Let me share with you some of the things that have been done by my administration.
A Proud Record
 My Government is constructively addressing the issue of corruption through Procurement Legislation, as well as the establishment of an Oversight Committee which includes Civil Society Private Sector members to ensure its implementation.
  •  The Peoples’ Partnership has completely overhauled the planning regime, to facilitate development through effective land-use and a transparent regime.
  • As a Government we have strengthened the law related to the Financial Intelligence Unit, and to Securities and related matters to address white collar crime.
  • Your Government has also facilitated the revamping of Parliament, strengthened committees, and created reforms for better accountability, for instance, in public scrutiny of the budget and questions to the Prime Minister and Minister.
I have a clear vision for what I want our country to achieve economically. This is the basis for my campaign for re-election.
  •  Our country has benefited from our State Enterprises, but at this stage as a Government, we will demand a more productive, performance driven, profitable State enterprise sector.
  •  As a country we will focus now on creating an innovation-driven Public Sector committed to citizen service and committed as well to support of the productive sectors.
  •  As a country we need to strengthen the independent institutions of the State and we will do just that.
  • As a country we need to address issues of quality improvement in the Health and Education Sectors so that citizen satisfaction can be higher now that we have put good physical and technological infrastructure in place. This we will address.
  • As a country we need to strengthen transparency and accountability in the Government and State system everywhere. We will initiate mandatory adoption of the Code of Corporate Governance by all State Enterprises and yearly mandatory audits for compliance with the Code.
  •  As your Prime Minister I have already set in motion the process of Campaign Finance reform following the report of the Joint Select Committee established for the purpose of examining the issue. When Parliament returns and the Law Reform Commission reports, I give a solemn promise that their recommendations will be implemented within one hundred days.
These are some of the Governance and institutional strengthening issues that my Government will pursue with dedicated effort and vigour in the next term.
I want you to know that while we have spent the last five years securing the economy and society and ensuring stability, we have also looked after the poor and the vulnerable and have focused our attention on security, social infrastructure- especially education, higher education, and health.
As we go forward, our Government will focus on seven (7) areas.
i. Intensifying Diversification
ii. Infrastructure Development to Connect People and Communities
iii. Enhanced Productivity
iv. International Partnerships for Energy Growth
v. Strengthening Governance and Reforming Institutions
vi. Asset management and Maintenance
vii. Human Development and Talent Management
Flagship projects
We have also identified ten (10) flagship projects which will create jobs, stimulate growth and diversification, and promote development.
These include:
1. The Highway from San Fernando to Mayaro
2. The access road on the ocean front to Chaguaramas
3. Establishment of Dry Docking Facilities in La Brea
4. A National Transport and Traffic Management Strategy
5. A Medical Tourism Hospital to trigger a Medical Tourism Industry
6. Development of Economic Zones phased over the next ten years
7. Designation of Tobago as a Duty Free Port and Development of a Marina
8. A Collaborative Initiative to Double Non Energy Exports
9. The San Fernando Waterfront Project
10. The Transformation of Port of Spain into a Sustainable, Green and Smart City
And I want to spend just a few minutes talking about this as I close.
The Urban Development Corporation (UDeCOTT) and the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) have conducted a joint examination of the current state of development in Port of Spain and have examined all development and development plans prepared for the Capital City from 1968 onward.
Following a thorough examination of these proposals, they have proposed a comprehensive plan for the re-development and regeneration of the City of Port-of-Spain.
It is important to note that in developing this plan, ten (10) stakeholder consultations were held between February 27, 2015 and May 22, 2015.
These consultations were held with the Mayor of Port-of-Spain and representatives of the City Corporation, Private Sector (ANSA MCAL, MASSY Group of Companies and Republic Bank Limited), Trinidad and Tobago Contractors’ Association, the East Port-of-Spain Development Company, Trinidad and Tobago International Finance Centre, INVESTT, Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union (SWWTU), and Town and Country Planning.
While the plan is a comprehensive plan which merits further discussion, I share some of the highlights with you now which will help to transform the city of Port of Spain.
Spirit of Port of Spain
This will be a cultural space which includes a floating museum where local paintings, and music are featured: the Tan Tan and Saga Boy Gallery will be located above the prison presently on Frederick Street.
Other cultural spaces in the City will include the Queen’s Park Savannah, the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), and Queen’s Hall.
So that there will be a cultural thrust to Port of Spain City Development.
Invaders Bay and Mucurapo Foreshore
o At Invaders Bay: Global Financial Centre, a 5-to-7 star hotel,  Conference and Convention Centre, Commercial and residential development, Recreational facilities, Ferry Terminal and Marina. Specific areas have been identified for a Natural Reserve, Mangrove and Public Park.
o At Mucurapo Foreshore: Beach front and related development, beachfront theme parks, shopping and retail mall development, a man-made island with an off-shore golf course.
So here we have business and commercial development on the Waterfront with people in mind as well as the environment.
Central Business District
Some of the ideas under consideration for this area include:
o Construction of a 30-35 storey energy tower on the site that formerly housed Salvatori Building, and additional buildings along Independence Square;
o a multi-modal transportation hub (located at Queens Wharf) which connects commuters with transportation into and out of Port-of-Spain as well as connecting those persons seeking to move easily within the City;
o On the foreshore we envisage development which includes Inter-island Ferry terminal, Cruise Ship terminal, commercial and light industrial, recreation, entertainment, residential and retail spaces.
East Port of Spain
Ideas under consideration for this area include: residential and commercial development, making certain segments predominantly pedestrian areas, transportation (tram, light rail system) and business development hub and Converting Riverside Place to a National Security Complex
Recreational Spaces
It is important to note that specific areas have been identified as recreational spaces throughout the city; the plans for these areas takes into account the historical significance of each area:
o Woodford Square: the installation of high quality urban furniture extending pedestrian zone possibly to Hart and Knox Streets.
o Victoria Square: conservation and restorative measures
o Siegert Square: additional trees, new urban and contemporary furniture (seats and waste containers)
o Augustus Williams Square:  new recreational equipment with appropriate seating for parents and guardians
o Adam Smith Square: refurbished pathway system, urban furniture and lighting improvements
These are some of the things we envisage for transformation of our Capital City.
There is more but I shared only a few highlights with you.
We will work towards transforming the city of Port of Spain in the next five years as we have been transforming the country over the last five years.
As you can see, there are many, many opportunities for public/private partnerships.
We shall be very collaborative with business, labour, academia and civil society going forward.We have a clear vision and plan for our nation.We have achieved much, but there is more to do.We have a clear plan to deliver security, prosperity, and a better future for everyone.
In a second term my Government’s policies will deliver more jobs; zero tolerance on crime; safer streets; improved childcare; new schools for your children; new roads creating jobs and linking communities;and new hospitals to care for your family.
And you know that we can do it.
 So I stand energized in the forthcoming election continuing to promote the building  of the new Trinidad and Tobago I believe in.
And as I now campaign for a second term for my Government, my pledge is that we shall do it in partnership with you beyond the ballot, after September 07, 2015.
Thank you.