Wednesday 28th September, 2005

 
PRIORITIES FOR 2005-2006
 
 
 
 
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Mr. Speaker, in support of our objectives to promote sustainable growth and employment and improved welfare for all our population, the Budget for 2005/2006 underscores a number of interconnected priorities, including:-

(i) Increased emphasis on personal security, about which I have already spoken;

(ii) Building strong families;

(iii) Strengthening the education, training and innovation systems;

(iv) investing in quality healthcare by expanding the availability and strengthening the delivery of health and wellness services;

(v) providing affordable housing; and

(vi) offering effective social support to the poor and vulnerable.

We will also undertake strategic investments to ensure that:

* the economy continues to grow through higher productivity levels and greater local participation in the global value chain;

* our infrastructure base and public services function effectively;

* our environment is clean and healthy; and

* Government is made increasingly more efficient and effective.

PRIORITIES FOR FISCAL 2005-2006

Focus on the Family

Mr. Speaker, the family is the basic unit of society: the main building block. If you can fix the family, you can fix society.

Mr. Speaker, the ordinary family in Trinidad and Tobago faces several daily challenges having to do with:

securing sustainable well-paying jobs;

access to quality education at all levels, to efficient transportation, decent affordable housing as well as to proper health care and wellness services;

assurance of adequate water and electricity services;

guaranteed safety and security;

access to social services to deal with the impact of drugs, domestic violence, parenting; and

breakdown in family life.

This Budget, Mr. Speaker, is a reaffirmation of the Government's commitment to implement a policy framework that:

(i) guarantees access to an adequate level of housing including related basic facilities and services for all families;

(ii) creates an integrated security infrastructure which ensures that issues of crime, public safety and security are addressed on a sustained basis;

(iii) ensures a modern and relevant education system whilst promoting a culture conducive to lifelong learning and training;

(iv) establishes a regime conducive to delivery of high quality health and wellness services along with mechanisms for the prevention and control of communicable and lifestyle diseases; and

(v) assures sustainable high quality jobs and equal opportunities for all groups in society.

In addition the Budget seeks to make available support mechanisms for the unemployed and other vulnerable groups to enable them to meet their basic needs. We also have a responsibility to instill, in all citizens, national pride, individual and community responsibility and environmental sensitivity.

The Government is of the strong view that many of our social ills stem from a loss of traditional values and from the widespread breakdown of traditional families. Accordingly, we intend to ensure that a more targeted, comprehensive and co-ordinated approach is utilized to treat with issues confronting the family as a unit.

Mr. Speaker, there are some who, in good conscience, think that all our resources should be directed to policing, and building more jails and increasing punishment. We think that we should also direct resources and attention to the root cause - the breakdown in the family and to what we can do to rebuild the family and by extension, the community.

We recognize, Mr. Speaker, that the Government alone cannot provide all the remedies for the problems of dysfunctional families. We absolutely need the concerted collaboration of other social partners, especially the NGO's, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and the private sector.

In addition to the Ministries concerned with security, public utilities, education, health and housing, the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs will be mandated to give particular focus to family based programmes.

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Social Development is a key player in the process of strengthening the institution of the family, having as its mandate social sector planning, development and monitoring, social research, social impact and review and social services delivery. In the upcoming fiscal year, the priority initiatives of the Ministry will include:

(i) the formulation of a national family policy through a collaborative process;

(ii) the design of infrastructure to identify and case manage individual families, including counseling and the decentralization of services;

(iii) the development of community outreach programmes that would sensitize citizens about services available to families; and

(iv) a media outreach on rebuilding positive societal values with particular attention to healthy family life.

The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs also has a critical role to play in the overall strategy geared to restoring the family. Based on the tried and tested philosophy that it takes a community to raise a child, the Ministry focuses on building and sustaining a stable and secure community context for family life.

EFFECTIVE EDUCATION, TRAINING AND INNOVATION SYSTEMS

Mr. Speaker, priority number two is education. The success of our economic and human development strategy will hinge on the quality of our human resources and our ability to build an integrated knowledge network that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our strategy for human resource development is being guided by three essential principles:

* Increased Access;

* Improved Equity and Equality of Opportunity; and

* Enhanced Quality.

Pre-Primary to Secondary Education

Mr. Speaker, our education programme is being built on a platform of:

* a modern and comprehensive curriculum at all levels that is supported by relevant school plant and state of the art furniture and equipment;

* enhanced and innovative teaching and learning strategies; and

* improved teacher education and training to assist teachers in curriculum delivery.

Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

Our goal is to achieve universal Early Childhood Care Education (ECCE) by 2010. This calls for the construction of 600 Early Childhood Care Education Centres to cater for some 30,000 three (3) to four (4) year olds. Fifty (50) of these centres will be completed and established during this fiscal year.

In support of this thrust, a high-intensity training programme is currently being implemented to train some 1,500 Early Childhood Care Education teachers. At least 100 teachers will be trained during this fiscal year.

Primary Education

At the primary level, the Government will rebuild some 150 primary schools to replace schools which are up to 50 years old. In fiscal 2006, twenty of these schools, which cater for approximately 10,000 pupils, will be reconstructed.

Secondary Education

At the secondary level, the major initiative is the de-shifting and conversion of junior secondary schools to 5 and 7 year schools as well as the conversion of Senior Secondary Comprehensive Schools to 7 year schools. At present, two-thirds of our secondary school population attend 5 and 7 year schools.

We have already started with the de-shifting and conversion of 10 junior secondary schools to 5-year schools. This has benefited approximately 8,000 students. In fiscal 2006, an additional 10 schools - five junior secondary and five senior secondary - will be de-shifted allowing an additional 3,200 students to benefit from full day schooling during this academic year.

When the de-shifting exercise is completed approximately 15,000 students will benefit from full-day schooling.

In terms of our infrastructure development programme, four new secondary schools will be constructed in Malabar, Mt. Hope, Barataria and Curepe.

To support the demand for A' Level places, the Government intends to upgrade and expand facilities at a number of existing government and assisted secondary schools including Polytechnic Sixth Form and Corinth Sixth Form Schools; construct four new 'A' level Colleges and where necessary purchase 'A' level places at private institutions. Approximately 21,130 students are expected to benefit from sixth form education through the implementation of these initiatives.

In fiscal 2006, we will also:

* introduce foundation technologies in the curriculum to cater for secondary school graduates who may wish to enter the labour market immediately upon leaving school; and

* commence Technology Programmes at the sixth form (post-fifth form level) to cater for students with an aptitude and interest in this area.

Mr. Speaker, to support our Education Construction Programme, we have established the Educational Facilities Company Limited which has already been given 103 projects to be addressed in the short-term.

Tertiary Education

Mr. Speaker, at this period in our economic development, there is great demand for well trained tertiary level graduates. Hence, the establishment and expedition of a National Accreditation System is critical for ensuring that all tertiary level institutions and programmes meet internationally accepted standards.

Mr. Speaker, we are well on the way to achieving our goal of a 60 percent participation rate at the tertiary level by 2015.

UTT

The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) has been accelerating its development thrust and has made significant progress this fiscal year.

Over the past year, UTT has:

* established strategic alliances with several international universities;

* developed a broad range of engineering and IT diploma and degree programmes;

* commenced a transitional studies programme with COSTAATT;

* built strong linkages with industry, especially with the major corporations within the petroleum and petro-chemical sectors; and

* integrated and enhanced the programmes of the John Donaldson and San Fernando Technical Institutes, to offer a range of National Engineering Technician Diploma under the umbrella of UTT.

UTT's initial enrolment of 1,600 in diploma and degree programmes is expected to increase to 3,100 in the 2005/2006 academic year. Significant increases are also expected in the short courses and transition programmes.

Work has begun on the construction of new UTT Campuses at:

O'Meara, which will be completed by January 2006;

Chaguaramas;

the Main Campus at Wallerfield (to be completed by September 2008);

and in Tobago at Battery Point, which is scheduled for completion by September 2007.

COSTAATT and TTHTI

Increasing access to tertiary education is also being achieved through COSTAATT and the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI). COSTAATT has been active in the development of new programmes such as Court Transcription and Medical Records Science, to address the needs of the workplace and the job market. The enrolment of COSTAATT for 2004/05 was 4,763 students.

TTHTI has been commissioned as the training institution for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in the Southern Region. The Institute has developed articulation agreements with a number of international tertiary institutions and now has an enrolment of just over 500.

Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE)

Mr. Speaker, the GATE Programme replaced the Dollar for Dollar Education Plan in September 2004. In my 2005 Budget Statement I indicated that we intended to provide free tertiary education in public institutions by the first of January, 2008. Since then, our revenue situation has improved considerably. I am therefore pleased to announce, Mr. Speaker, that with effect from January 1, 2006, all nationals of Trinidad and Tobago enrolled at public tertiary institutions, namely UWI, UTT, COSTAATT and other institutions where the Government sponsors students, will be eligible for free tuition, that is free public tertiary education.

Training

Mr. Speaker, this Government's is committed to expanding training opportunities to meet the demands of our burgeoning economy and to prepare our citizens for meaningful participation in our society. We are currently administering no fewer than 17 training programmes directed to meeting our diverse and rapidly-changing needs. Most of these programmes include a component of life-skills training which exposes participants to attitudinal and personal development aimed at transforming behaviour, engendering a positive work ethic and equipping participants with the tools to become productive and responsible members of society.

Technology and Continuing Education Centres

Mr. Speaker, in November 2004, the Government opened the Laventille Technology and Continuing Education Centre. The Centre is occupied by two (2) major training providers, the National Energy Skills Centre and Metal Industries Company Limited. Similar technology centres are being constructed in Chaguanas and Point Fortin and the upgrade of the St. Bede's Technology Centre, St. Augustine is underway. We plan to open new MIC Centres in Mayaro, Pleasantville and Diego Martin and to expand existing facilities at Ste. Madeline and Macoya.

QUALITY HEALTHCARE AND WELLNESS

Mr. Speaker, the promotion of healthy lifestyles and easy access to quality health care are critical components of the thrust towards developed nation status. Almost half of our population depends on the public health sector for affordable, equitable and accessible health care.

An integral part of our health sector policy is the construction and refurbishment of our health care facilities. Outreach Centres are currently being built in Las Lomas, Williamsville, Gran Couva, Talparo and Guayaguayare. Work is ongoing at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and the General Hospitals in Port of Spain and San Fernando.

By 2007, we expect that construction of the Point Fortin and Scarborough Hospitals, the National Oncology Centre and a new wing of the San Fernando General Hospital will all be completed. This will be followed by new fully equipped primary health care facilities for the residents of San Juan, Barataria, Diego Martin, Carenage, Petit Valley, Debe, La Romain and Ste. Madeline.

Mr. Speaker, the development work at our health care facilities has been complemented by a drive to enhance the quality of service delivery through the purchase of modern, state of the art diagnostic and treatment equipment and measures to expand the availability of qualified health care personnel.

This year the University of the West Indies started a Bachelor of Science Nursing Degree in Advance Nursing Practice with an initial intake of thirty students. Ongoing post-basic specialist training of registered nurses in areas such as Oncology, Intensive Care and Neonatal Nursing will provide support for the expansion of services provision in these areas.

The annual scholarship programme for doctors at the St. George's University will also continue to provide additional trained medical doctors.

In support of the efforts to modernize and upgrade the medical records system, a certificate and diploma in medical records is to be offered through COSTAATT.

HIV/AIDS

Mr. Speaker, implementation of the five-year national strategic plan for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, which was launched in September 2004, continues to be a priority for this Government. Laboratory testing, as well as a programme for voluntary counselling and testing for HIV are being expanded. The latest data from the National Surveillance Unit and PAHO indicate a progressive decline in reports of new infections over the period 2002 to present time.

Cardiovascular Services - EWMSC

Mr. Speaker, the recent acquisition of two new Angiographic Catheterization Laboratories will revolutionize cardiac health care in this country and make EWMSC the premier tertiary cardiac care centre - not only in the CARICOM Region but across the wider Caribbean. These two Catheterization labs will allow for the resumption of enhanced heart testing, as well as angiogram, angioplasty, stenting of the heart, interventional radiology, pacemaker implantation, and, in time, become the centre for electro-physiologic studies and procedures.Community Outreach

Mr. Speaker, recognising that ill-health is both a consequence and a cause of a family's inability to function productively, Government proposes to launch early in the new year, a community outreach family medicine programme that will bring primary health care to the doorsteps of families living in remote areas.

This service will be conducted through the use of mobile clinics that will provide a broad range of health services inclusive of:-

* Glucose sugar testing;

* Screening for hypertension, obesity, cholesterol and other dietary disorders;

* Screening for vision;

* Promotion of wellness and healthy living;

* General Health Advisory service;

* Screening for mental health;

* Pap smears;

* Immunization; and

* Family education and counselling.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Mr. Speaker, a prime function of any responsible Government is to ensure that affordable, quality housing units are available to those who otherwise would not be able to acquire this basic necessity.

My Government fully understands, Mr. Speaker, that a proper home means a more settled family, whereby members can devote themselves to other worthwhile pursuits, including education, the pursuit of suitable careers, the maintenance of a stable and cohesive family unit and the making of a greater contribution to community and national life.

But, there are many in this country who face real challenges to home ownership. The inability to access mortgages because of income constraints; the high cost of land combined with the high cost of construction just takes this dream beyond the reach of many, particularly females earning less than $3,000 per month.

This Government's strategy is to make acceptable housing available through major construction and upgrading programmes while simultaneously addressing the issue of affordability.

Government has agreed on a strategy designed to give effect to the affordability of housing. The strategy essentially involves:

* A subsidised interest rate of two percent for mortgages for Government low income housing;

* Longer repayment terms;

* Standardisation of the mortgage instrument;

* Rent to own policy.

This will result in reduced costs associated with the purchase of property, further impacting on reduced interest cost.

Mr. Speaker, our housing policy is designed to increase the availability of affordable, quality homes mainly to citizens in the low to middle income brackets. This year, we propose to construct 8,000 units under the Accelerated Housing Programme. It is instructive to note that over the period 1996 to 2001 the previous Administration constructed 4,201 houses. In two years this Administration constructed 9,670 houses - more than double what it took them five years to do.

Mr. Speaker, our housing policy also provides subsidy programmes aimed at reducing the cost of acquiring a home; and home improvement grants designed to assist existing homeowners who face difficulty in terms of improving their living conditions.

Subsidies of up to $36,000 are available for beneficiaries earning between $12,700 - $27,000 annually, while a subsidy of $24,000 is applicable for eligible beneficiaries earning between $27,000 and $44,000 annually. Home improvement grants are available to assist persons who earn less than $30,000 annually, to effect repairs to their homes.

This year, Mr. Speaker, our housing programme will give special emphasis to two specific modalities: squatting communities and the redevelopment of our inner cities. Central to addressing the squatting issue is the Land Settlement Agency, which has been given the mandate to deal with the regularisation of squatting communities. The Agency has been directed to put in place the necessary arrangements to begin operations by November 2005. Mr. Speaker, the Government is convinced that squatting has gone beyond necessity. This trend has to be stopped.

East Port of Spain Development Company Ltd

Mr. Speaker, Laventille and surrounding environs are considered one of the most depressed areas in the country with high crime and unemployment rates and with many of the residents living in sub-standard conditions.

East Port-of-Spain, the area bounded broadly by Charlotte Street, the Lady Young Road, and the Eastern Main Road, and includes Never Dirty Morvant and Caledonia, .has been declared a special development zone. This means that special attention will be paid to both the economic and social challenges faced by residents of the area. The Government is committed to making a much greater intervention effort and in order to give effect to this the Cabinet has agreed to the establishment of the East Port-of-Spain Development Company which will access funding under the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF) to carry out its mandate.

Construction of Commercial Complexes

Mr. Speaker, strengthening the family unit also involves building facilities to ensure integration and sustainability of communities. In order to facilitate the development of small businesses in existing and new housing schemes, as well as encourage the development of entrepreneurial skills, three commercial complexes are under construction. The Maloney Multi Purpose Complex Project is now 100 percent complete and work is ongoing on facilities at La Horquetta and Pleasantville. Three additional complexes will be constructed at Bon Air, Couva and Edinburgh 500 during the new fiscal year.

EFFECTIVE SOCIAL SUPPORT

Mr. Speaker, poverty is much more than about low income or the inability to meet one's needs. It is rooted in poor education and knowledge, a lack of choices and opportunities, environmental impoverishment and often an absence of hope and self esteem.

The Government's social support mechanism brings all these dimensions together in a mix of developmental and preventative programmes to empower the poor and the vulnerable to escape poverty along with remedial programmes to provide the much needed support for indigent persons and those who fall into crisis situations.

Unemployment Relief Programme

A key support mechanism for the unemployed is the Unemployment Relief Programme. Between September 2004 and June 2005, 50,000 job opportunities were provided in the various components of the Programme.

As the level of unemployment falls, we will reduce the number of special projects undertaken and reduce the size of the Programme

In addition, we will restructure the Programme and reintroduce a comprehensive training element targeted at the development of construction skills and basic education.

Marginalised Groups

Mr. Speaker, we must ensure that we uplift the status of those who are most vulnerable and marginalised among us; including substance abusers, elderly persons, mentally ill individuals and those who are homeless.

Our programme in the new fiscal year will include:

* Provision of short term accommodation at the St. Anns and Tumpuna Road facilities for the mentally ill;

* Substance abusers who require special attention relocating to rehabilitation centres;

* Establishment of three new facilities - a Social Displacement Centre and a Halfway House in Port of Spain and a Centre for the Aged, in Arima. In addition, a long-term care facility will be established in Aripo.

* Development of the capacity of NGOs to provide appropriate care and rehabilitation through training programmes and the provision of technical advice and financial resources.

* Establishment of Senior Centres for Older Persons. These Centres will be multi-service facilities, and will be the focal points for older persons to access services, and participate in educational and recreational activities;

* Implementation of a Meals on Wheels Programme for senior citizens affected by a disability and/or chronic illness;

* Provision of a Continuum of Health and Support Services for Older Persons;

* Provision of Business and Entrepreneurial Training for Persons with disabilities;

* Training of Personal Assistants for Persons with Disabilities; and

* Establishment of five new centres for the Adolescent Mothers Programme. Youth Support

Mr. Speaker, the Government will strengthen its efforts at addressing the current problems affecting young people, including unemployment, crime and HIV/AIDS through the establishment of a restructured delivery system for youth via community-based and non-governmental organizations.

Several new and existing community-based youth programmes will be offered in fiscal 2006, including Youth Health, Save the Youth in Marginalised Communities and the Youth-Based Support Fund for Community Projects, which will provide funding to youths who propose and execute creative solutions to community needs. Approximately 200-300 community projects are expected to be undertaken in fiscal 2006.

Two important milestones for youth development will be the establishment of the National Youth Council which will promote youth participation in governance and decision-making; and the implementation of the National Youth Policy which will facilitate the establishment of a Youth Leadership Development Institute, a Youth Development Fund and a Youth Employment and Employability Policy.

Community Development

Mr. Speaker, at the heart of the Community Development thrust is the Community Centres programme that focuses on the provision of appropriate accommodations for the conduct of community affairs. We intend to initiate construction of 100 community centres throughout the country commencing in the 2006 fiscal year.

In addition, we propose to spend over $142 million on the upgrading and establishment of community sporting facilities, including swimming pools, playfields and jogging tracks to facilitate the participation of families in recreational activities.

Culture

Mr. Speaker, we must anchor our ambitions of achieving developed nation status in our diverse heritage and the cultural achievements that have shaped our society.

The steel pan, the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago is an intrinsic element of our national identity and a symbol of pride in our country.

Government has decided to transform the National Steel Orchestra into a full symphony of 60 to 70 persons which must be ready for presentation to the national and international community, complete with a full repertoire of music by January 1, 2007.

We will also purposefully use the steel pan to grace our international image and enhance our marketing strategy. It will be a flagship product of Brand T&T.

In order for the national instrument to serve as the symbol of pride for all of us, we will begin to showcase its image in our physical landscape, especially in the design of our public buildings and infrastructure.

Mr. Speaker, we will also establish two Academies for the Performing Arts, one at the Princess Building Grounds in Port of Spain and the other at Todd Street in San Fernando. Work will commence in early 2006. These facilities will allow our national instrument to play side by side with and match the virtuoso of international orchestras.

The centrepiece of cultural infrastructure will be a new state of the art National Carnival Centre at the Queen's Park Savannah. Phase I of the project will commence in March 2006, immediately after carnival and will be completed in time for our celebration in 2007.

Sport and Recreation

With the formation of the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited, the implementation of the sport policy has been diversified and strengthened. The Company will have a key role in the management and maintenance of sporting facilities and the execution of programmes for total participation in sport including high performance sport. In addition, the Company will work with relevant stakeholders to establish an Institute of Sports at the University of the West Indies.

Community sporting facilities including swimming pools, cricket and football fields and multi-purpose courts will be developed in Diego Martin, Pleasantville, Toco, Point Fortin and Santa Cruz. In addition, we will develop several regional recreational grounds: Yolande Pompey, Irwin Park, Eddie Hart and the grounds in Morvant, Sogren Trace in Laventille, Charlieville, Lange Park and Patna Village. Additionally, in fiscal 2006, we intend to spend over $100 million upgrading and improving community recreation grounds all over Trinidad and Tobago.

Gender Affairs

The Government recognises the need to develop a Gender Policy. The draft Gender Policy Document currently being circulated was not issued by the Government and does not reflect Government policy. In fact, there are certain recommendations in the document to which the Government does not and will not subscribe. The Government is therefore requesting that the document which purports to be official Government policy be withdrawn from circulation.

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