BUDGET STATEMENT 2008

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Speaker, this sixth Budget of this People’s National Movement administration is

being delivered against the backdrop of a vibrant and growing economy.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to present to this Honourable House and

indeed to the national community, a comprehensive account of our stewardship over

the past five years, outlining our many successes and the challenges that we have

faced.

Mr. Speaker, as we intend to be in Government for the next five years, I also

propose to couch the Budget for fiscal year 2008 in the context of a longer term plan,

which in essence represents yet another phase in our journey towards Vision 2020.

It is against this background that the theme of this year’s Budget Presentation is

“Vision 2020: Determined to Reach our Goal”.

Honourable Members, the completion of the documents laid in this Honourable

House today could not have been possible without the commitment, enthusiasm and

the hard work and sacrifice of the many public officers, especially those in the

Ministry of Finance, who have worked long and tirelessly on preparing these

documents.

I want to let them know that their efforts are greatly appreciated. I would also like to

thank my Cabinet colleagues, and all the individuals and organizations who have

contributed to the process which resulted in the preparation of these documents.

Mr. Speaker, in order to put our record of performance into its proper perspective we

must remind our citizens of the Government’s vision for Trinidad and Tobago and

the strategy that will get us there.

OUR VISION

Mr. Speaker, when this PNM administration assumed office in 2001, we began work

on the transformation of this country into a developed nation in the shortest possible

time but certainly by the year 2020.

The driving force behind this transformation is our enduring passion and desire to

bring sustained prosperity and the requisite higher quality of life to every individual,

family and community across the country.

The vision that emerged – VISION 2020 -- was founded on five developmental

pillars: Developing Innovative People; Nurturing a Caring Society; Enabling

Competitive Business; Investing in Sound Infrastructure and the Environment; and

Promoting Effective Government.

Vision 2020 acknowledges that Trinidad and Tobago is in a situation of

unprecedented opportunity and challenge. It recognizes, however, that economic

prosperity does not depend solely on physical endowments or proximity to markets.

Rather, it is based on the full awareness that in today’s global environment, the most

successful countries are those that have succeeded in harnessing and nurturing the

creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness of their people, something to which we aspire.

In that sense Mr. Speaker, ours is more than an economic vision. In particular, it

incorporates the nurturing of a caring society; it envisages that the foundation of our

society is based on the creation of strong families with high moral and ethical values;

that all our citizens have access to adequate and affordable housing and first class

health care that enable them to live healthy lifestyles; and that we put in place new

systems to support the most vulnerable in our society.

Over the last six years we have worked hard in pursuit of this vision and we have

had many notable successes. I would now like to share with you some of our major

accomplishments.

PERFORMANCE OVER THE PERIOD 2002-2007

Mr. Speaker, over the period 2002-2006, our economy grew at a high rate and real

GDP of 9.7 percent per year, a growth performance which ranks among the highest

in the world. This rapid rate of growth led to a doubling of the economy over the past

six years from $55 billion in 2001 to $114.5 billion in 2006 and an increase in per

capita income from US$7,100 in 2002 to US$14,790 in 2006.

And while the energy sector was the main driver of the economic expansion, the

non-energy sector surpassed expectations, increasing at an average annual rate of

6 percent over the period.

As a result of the boom in economic activity, an average of approximately 14,400

new jobs were created annually, resulting in a reduction in the unemployment rate

from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 5 percent at the end of 2006, the lowest in our nation’s

history. Mr. Speaker, this has resulted in labor shortages in several sectors and

private sector industries now satisfy some of their requirements by importing labor

supported by Government’s new immigration policy.

Mr. Speaker, anyone who needs a job today can find one, a situation totally different

to six short years ago. It is therefore no wonder then that the official data shows a

halving of the poverty rate from 35 percent in 1990 to 16.7 percent by 2006.

Several other macro-economic indicators, point to solid macro-economic

management.

Mr. Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago has been the recipient of significant amounts of

Foreign Direct Investment, amounting to close to US$6 billion over the past five

years. We have maintained overall fiscal surpluses and in so doing we have

reduced both our public and external debt.

Public debt has been lowered from over 60 percent of GDP to 28 percent of GDP

currently, while external debt which was 17 percent of GDP in 2001 is now at 5

percent of GDP.

Our financial system remains robust and resilient and has emerged as the leader in

the region; with oil and gas prices remaining buoyant for most of the period we have

been able to maintain stability in the exchange rate and increase our foreign

exchange reserves to approximately US$6.5 billion, excluding the Heritage and

Stabilisation Fund.

Mr. Speaker, we recognise that we must plan for future uncertainties and therefore

we have formalized the Heritage and Stabilization Fund in law.

We have, and in the five year period have put aside substantial savings for our

children’s future such that at end of August this year the Fund will be $10.9 billion,

compared with $1.015 billion when we took office in 2001.

However, Honourable Members our achievements are demonstrated not only in the

macro-economic indicators but in the improvement in the quality of our citizens’

lives. Let me provide some examples:

Tax Relief

When we assumed office, Corporation Tax was 35 percent while Individual Tax

ranged from 28 percent to 35 percent.

Today we have unified Corporation and Individual Taxes at a flat rate of 25 percent

and raised the level of personal allowances from $25,000 to $60,000. Mr. Speaker,

this latter measure removed an additional 300,000 individuals from the tax net.

Education

Mr. Speaker over the past five years, one of our most successful interventions has

been in the area of education.

We are in an advanced stage of developing and implementing a world class system

of seamless education, stretching from Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)

through to tertiary level; and it is all free of charge.

Our early childhood education programme is now on full steam; so far seven early

childhood centres have been completed and it is expected that by the end of

December 2007 twenty three of these high quality centres will be operational.

At the tertiary level, the crowning achievement of this Government, Mr. Speaker,

was the establishment of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in 2004.

Since then, UTT has been expanded to incorporate several affiliated tertiary and

post-secondary institutions.

Currently UTT’s mandate is inter alia to help address the country’s need for

scientists, technicians and researchers while the affiliated institutions are to provide

tertiary training in areas such as nursing, health sciences, foreign languages and the

performing and creative arts.

Mr. Speaker, we introduced free tertiary education at the undergraduate level in

2005. This is applicable not only to UWI and UTT and its affiliates, but to all

accredited private institutions in Trinidad and Tobago. Post graduate students are

eligible for up to 50 percent of tuition costs as well as for concessionary loans under

the Higher Education Loan Programme (HELP).

As a result of the increased availability and greater government financial support,

enrollment in post-secondary and tertiary institutions increased from 15,000 in 2001

to over 45,000 at present.

Mr. Speaker, our program for the computerization of all primary schools is in full

train. So far, 340 schools are at different stages of completion.

We have de-shifted 13 junior secondary schools and converted them to full day

secondary schools. Concomitantly we have converted all senior secondary schools

to 7-year secondary schools. The up-shot of this Mr. Speaker, is that an additional

11,050 secondary schools students now enjoy full-day schooling.

We have paid careful attention to the provision of special education. In this fiscal

year `alone, the Government upgraded the physical facilities of 9 public special

schools. We have also agreed to the payment of school fees for students of 6

registered private special schools.

Over the six-year period, the Government has spent approximately $615 million on

the construction of schools, 42 have been completed, including 7 Early Childhood

Care and Education (ECCE) centres and about 30, including 16 ECCE centres, are

in progress.

In the six-year period, the Government also undertook some 1,000 school repair

projects at a cost of $380 million.

Housing

Mr. Speaker, this Honourable House would recall that, for many years, access to

quality affordable housing was identified as a priority issue for national development.

The Government has responded with great urgency and with innovative approaches

to meet this critical need.

In the past six years, the Government has constructed 26,000 single and multi-family

housing units on greenfield sites and on vacant sites in existing housing units.

Today an individual earning $1,440 per month can access a mortgage loan with 100

percent financing for 25 years at a 2 percent interest rate. This was not available

just six short years ago.

In government-housing programmes persons 50 years and over can now get a

long term mortgage since the liability could be transferred to their estate in the

event of their death.

For individuals who are financially unable to service a mortgage, there is a rent-toown

programme, in which, over time, part of the rental payments could be applied

as a deposit towards the purchase of the property.

Grant/subsidy programmes are also available to qualified homeowners to help

meet the cost of repairs.

Mr. Speaker, we also regularized several squatting settlements and our squatter

relocation programme is well underway in Sangre Grande and San Fernando. A

major goal of the Government is to eliminate the incidence of squatting completely.

Health

Mr. Speaker, in Health we have made significant strides towards the building of a

client-centered system, with a focus on primary health care.

The center-piece of our strategy is the Chronic Disease Assistance Program (CDAP)

through which citizens are provided medical drugs free of charge to treat several

common ailments, including diabetes, hypertension, cardiac disease, depression,

arthritis, glaucoma, asthma and enlarged prostate.

Mr. Speaker, on a regular basis 300,000 of our citizens are benefiting from the

programme, which is being administered through 250 pharmacies located

throughout the country.

We have significantly reduced the waiting lists for most surgeries and have

succeeded in reducing deaths caused by HIV/AIDS by about one-half.

We have built and refurbished several primary health care facilities and have

installed new technology and equipment throughout the health system.

Mr. Speaker, when this administration entered office there was a significant backlog

and long waiting times for elective surgeries in the public sector. There were some

15,000 persons waiting for surgeries, in some instances for as much as 10 years.

To date, we have completed over 12,000 surgical procedures achieving a significant

reduction in the various waiting lists. This represents 12,000 persons whose lives

have been dramatically improved.

We have increased the number of cardiac by-pass surgeries, from 10 procedures

every month to 20 procedures per month.

The entire public health sector is now doing 30,000 surgical procedures annually.

That is more than 15, 000 more than when we came into office.

Training

Mr. Speaker, reflecting our strong conviction that a highly-skilled labor force is the

key to our economic transformation and to the provision of high-quality sustainable

jobs, my Government has allocated significant resources to training. Consequently,

there is now greater access to technical and vocational education than ever before.

Over 6,000 persons have benefited from the Help Youth Prepare for Employment

Programme (HYPE); close to 31,000 in the Youth Training and Employment

Partnership Programme (YTEPP); over 37,000 in on-the-job training; over 7,000 in

the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA) and almost 12,000 in

the Multi-skills Sector training programme (MUST). Some 6,000 individuals,

including 80 prison inmates, have benefited from retraining programmes.

The Laventille Technology and Continuing Education Centre, established in

November 2004, has graduated over 3,000 persons with marketable skills. A similar

center in Pleasantville which will service San Fernando and surrounding areas is to

be opened shortly.

Centers are also earmarked for Chaguanas, Point Fortin, Mayaro and Diego Martin.

Income Support and Social Protection

In 2002, Mr. Speaker, the minimum old age pension, now called the Senior Citizens

Grant was $800 per month.

Today, the minimum Senior Citizens’ grant is $1,350. In addition, senior citizens

have access to free medical care and drugs, free bus passes and housing

assistance.

A Food Debit Card has been introduced to help our needy citizens cope with the

world-wide phenomenon of high food prices.

This arrangement provides a grant of $300, $400 or $500 for relevant vulnerable

families of 3, 4 or 5 and over persons.

Mr. Speaker, in 2001, the National Minimum Wage was $7.00 per hour. This was

increased to $8.00 per hour as at January 16th, 2003. On March 31st, 2005 this rate

was again increased to $9.00 per hour. I will say more about the minimum wage

later.

National Security

Mr. Speaker, we have taken significant steps to strengthen our capacity to address

our worrisome crime and security situation on a sustainable basis.

There have been early successes but the full impact of our comprehensive

methodical approach will be seen over time.

In this context the Government has:

• Introduced legislation to improve the management of the Police Service and

law enforcement generally;

• enhanced detection and forensic capabilities;

• provided greater mobility and modern communication facilities;

• established constant radar surveillance of our entire coast line. This will

considerably strengthen our hand in dealing with the illegal drug trade which

produces the majority of violent crime in this country;

• upgraded and constructed 65 police stations;

• provided the opportunity for involvement of the citizenry in the battle against

crime through the 555 Anticrime Initiative;

• reorganized the Anti-Kidnapping Unit;

 

• established the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad and Tobago (SAUTT),

which involved the recruitment of officers from the United Kingdom; and

• established an Aerial Surveillance System.

Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, in infrastructure we doubled the fleet of the Public Transport Service

Corporation, wound up the loss making BWIA West Indies Airways and introduced a

streamlined Caribbean Airlines on more viable routes.

We also implemented a most reliable service on the Seabridge to Tobago which has

greatly facilitated and expanded travel between the islands. Final consideration of

the Airbridge is not yet complete.

Mr. Speaker, we implemented the National Highways Programme which in the last

six years rehabilitated approximately 110 kilometres of our road network and

commenced the upgrade and extension of several of our major highways and main

roads.

Mr. Speaker, the Street Lighting Programme, which started in September 2005, has

resulted in the illumination of 80 kilometres of main roads and highways. At the end

of July this year 111,320 Street Lamps have been installed either as new

installations or as an upgrade of existing facilities.

Mr. Speaker, a more comprehensive breakdown of the performance of the

Government since assuming office is presented in a document laid in this

Honourable House as part of the Budget package entitled “Government at your

Service: Highlights of Achievements 2002-2007”.

Mr. Speaker did I hear someone say that “performance beats old talk every time”?

ACCOUNTING FOR THE PETRO-DOLLAR

Mr. Speaker, as part of the accounting for our stewardship, permit me to give a brief

summary of the Government’s revenue and expenditure developments over the last

six years.

I will like, Mr. Speaker, to focus on how we spent the resources entrusted to us. In

the process, I will also like to respond to the many voices that accuse the

government of over-spending and of the injudicious use of the taxpayers’ money.

In the six year period ending this fiscal year 2007, the Government collected

revenues amounting to $162.7 billion, of which $69.7 billion was derived from the

energy sector and $93 billion came from the rest of the economy.

The high level of energy tax collections reflected buoyant oil and gas prices and the

Government’s successful efforts at oil and gas tax reform, which increased the

country’s tax take from any windfall revenues received by the companies.

Mr. Speaker, the revenue loss from the non-energy tax reform measures was more

than offset by the revenue impact from rapid economic growth and by major

improvements in tax administration. This demonstrated Mr. Speaker, the

correctness of this bold policy initiative.

Over the six year period recurrent expenditure amounted to $125 billion of which the

main items were:

Wages and salaries, including two rounds of salary adjustments to bring the

salaries of civil servants more in line with the private sector and to encourage

higher productivity, amounted to $29.2 billion;

Goods and services like medicines, school books, computers, materials and

supplies, amounted to $17.1 billion;

Interest payments on local and foreign debt were $14.9 billion;

Subsidies amounted to $6.1 billion. These covered subsidies on petroleum

products to keep down the cost of gasoline ($3.9 billion and the subsidization

of the sea and air bridge to Tobago ($1 billion);

Transfers to educational institutions, including UWI, UTT, government

secondary schools, GATE, amounted to $5.3 billion;

Transfers to households, including public officers pensions, social security

grants, social assistance, disability grants amounted to $15.5 billion;

• Current Transfers to State Enterprises and Statutory Bodies, amounted $18.8

billion. The largest recipients were BWIA and CARONI in respect of State

Enterprises, and WASA, Local Government Bodies and Airport Authority in

respect of the Statutory Bodies;

• Current Transfers to the Tobago House of Assembly amounted to $5 billion;

• The Unemployment Relief Program utilised a total of $1.5 billion; and

• The Community-based Environmental Protection and Enhancement

Programme (CEPEP) - $1 billion.

On the Capital Account, the three major expenditure items were transfers to the

Heritage and Stabilization Fund $9.5 billion, which in effect is an increase in savings,

the Public Sector Investment Programme $12.9 billion and the Infrastructure

Development Fund $6.9 billion. There was also an increase in Government’s

deposits at the Central Bank of $7 billion.

Honourable Members would recall that in 2005, in the face of bureaucratic

bottlenecks that hampered the implementation of the public sector investment

programme, the Government established a number of special purpose companies to

manage a number of public sector projects to be executed by private contractors.

While there were initial delays in operationalizing some of these companies, the new

modality has resulted in a significant increase in the implementation rate of the

PSIP. The funding for the projects implemented by the special purpose companies is

channeled through the Infrastructure Development Fund (IDF).

Mr. Speaker, if you disaggregate our spending you would see that out of total current

expenditure of approximately $125 billion, $17.5 billion, about 14.0 percent of our

revenues was spent on poverty alleviation programmes, including URP.

Mr. Speaker, some of our friends on the opposite side would want us to abandon

these programmes because they allege that helping the downtrodden and disadvantaged

contributes to the creation of a dependency syndrome. Mr. Speaker, we

approach this problem differently and that is why nurturing a caring society is one of

our major developmental priorities. It’s a love thing.

Our philosophy is that the able-bodied will be required to work or prepare for work in

exchange for temporary income support. However, outright support will be provided

to those among the poor that are incapacitated, sick or to those unable to work such

as the elderly, the differently-abled and the destitute.

Mr. Speaker, this is, in summary how the revenues were spent – to meet our

statutory commitments; to provide subsidies to keep costs of certain basic goods

and services down; to meet operating deficits of some loss making public

enterprises and to finance infrastructural investments, and a significant part was

saved in the Heritage and Stabilization Fund (HSF).

Mr. Speaker, several commentators – some well-meaning – have sought to chastise

the Government for its spending. Part of the problem is that while they measure

government spending against theoretical benchmarks and spurious indicators of

absorptive capacity, we tend to give equal or greater weight to the impact of the

spending on people’s lives.

Mr. Speaker, for this Government, the object of our expenditure programme is to

improve the quality of life of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

Thus, for example, when we spend $650 million to electrify all areas of the country

through our street lighting programme it is not that we like to engage in large areas

of expenditure, as some will say; nor is it solely a question of electricity; it is that we

wish to provide a higher level of security for our citizens so that they enjoy a better

quality of life.

When the Government embarks on the construction of high rise buildings on the Port

of Spain Port, it is not that we see development only in terms of large buildings, as

our detractors are wont to say, it is that we are providing better office

accommodation for the public sector so that public sector employees will work in

some of the best conditions that the country can offer so as to encourage higher

levels of productivity.

This will, of course result in better service to the public and a better quality of life for

those persons who receive the services.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot over-emphasize that it is about people and about improving

their standard of living.

CHALLENGES

Honourable Members, I would like to concede that we have faced some challenges

in the implementation of our programme.

Some of these challenges are the inevitable result of our rapid rate of growth; we

have also had problems resulting from the infrastructural bottlenecks from shortages

of skilled manpower, and include managerial deficiencies.

But Mr. Speaker, we have been addressing these problems with increasing degrees

of success.

For example, in the face of rapid growth and declining spare capacity inflation rose

to 10 percent in October 2006. As a result of tighter demand policies and supply-side

interventions the rate has been reduced to 7.3 percent as at June 2007.

The target announced in the 2007 budget was to reduce inflation to 7 percent by end

2007 and to 5 percent thereafter.

Mr. Speaker, crime has also posed a major challenge, affecting the security of

families and the quality of life.

The Government has introduced a whole range of measures to deal with the crime

upsurge and they are beginning to have effect as indicated in the significant decline

in the number of kidnappings for ransom and a 22.2 percent fall in the number of

murders over last year’s figure.

However, Mr. Speaker, the level of crime is still unacceptably high and the

Government is committed to intensify efforts to eliminate this scourge from our

society.

Some of the other challenges that we are currently addressing include the

transportation bottlenecks; expanding the road network, port congestion; the

resuscitation of the domestic agricultural sector; and the provision of water for all our

citizens.

Each of these areas will be addressed when the plans for fiscal year 2008 and

beyond are outlined.

PURSUING OUR VISION WITH DETERMINATION

Mr. Speaker, our considerable achievements over the past five years provide a solid

forum, from which we could accelerate our march towards Vision 2020.

We are determined to learn from experience; to persevere with the approaches that

have served us well and to find innovative solutions to the bottlenecks and obstacles

that we have faced.

Mr. Speaker, as we intend to be in government for many years to come our budget

for fiscal year 2008 is couched within a medium term framework that represents the

second five year span on our longer term journey. It is certainly not an election

budget as some of our critics anticipate.

No, Mr. Speaker, the welfare of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago is too important

to be left to the vagaries of electoral politics.

Rather, the measures and policies that are being proposed in the Budget are

consistent with and are all designed to bring us closer to our Vision 2020 goal.

PRIORITIES FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008 AND BEYOND

Mr. Speaker, the main priorities that we have set ourselves for fiscal year 2008 are

to:

• Continue our efforts to combat crime and to provide a higher level of security

for all our citizens;

• Deepen and accelerate the ongoing education reform by upgrading and

modernizing and expanding the system of primary and secondary schools;

and expand our web of training opportunities;

• Enhance capacity and improve service delivery in the health sector;

• Continue to increase the availability and improve the affordability of housing

for our citizens;

• Accelerate efforts to diversify the economy by stimulating investment in the

non-energy sectors;

• Initiating a virtual revolution in commercial agriculture and small scale

farming;

• Initiate urgent measures to improve the delivery of water to the entire

population and to ease transportation and other infrastructural bottlenecks;

• Continue to uplift the living standards of our senior citizens, public service

pensioners, the physically challenged and all those who face social exclusion.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, the Government will take specific steps to:

• Encourage greater citizen participation in local government, thereby allowing

more people a say in controlling their lives and in the day to day running of

their communities;

• Emphasize racial harmony and racial understanding; greater sensitivity to

ethnic, religious and other diversity and the formation of a more coherent

society; and

• Better management of the environment.

ENSURING ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION

ENERGY

Mr. Speaker, as is customary in our Budget presentation I would like to review the

Government’s plans and policies for our main productive sectors. I wish to begin with

Energy.

Mr. Speaker, it is no secret that the energy sector has been the main engine of

growth in the Trinidad and Tobago economy. Since the early 1990s the expansion

and diversification of the energy sector have propelled the overall growth and

increased the resilience of our economy.

The current state and international recognition accorded our energy sector is the

result of the foresight of successive PNM administrations, and the initiatives we have

pursued to achieve the development of our oil and gas resources.

The energy sector has experienced a fundamental shift towards a predominance of

natural gas instead of oil. Natural gas is the major raw material, spawning a number

of down stream industries and making Trinidad and Tobago a major world exporter

of gas-based chemicals.

The Government’s energy policy includes the diversification of the sector by

promoting the downstream industries that maximize the multiplier effect and value

added, through the creation of linkages between the energy sector and the rest of

the economy.

I would like to remind this Honourable House that Trinidad and Tobago is the

number one exporter of ammonia and of methanol in the world; we are the number

one exporter on LNG in the Western Hemisphere and a major exporter of Direct

Reduced Iron (DRI).

I would like to reassure this Honourable House and the national community that

Trinidad and Tobago’s energy fortunes and prospects continue to be very bright and

that we could expect the energy sector to continue to be the driver of our economy

and our transformation efforts for many years to come.

Mr. Speaker there has been tremendous confusion and deliberate mis-information

arising out the Ryder Scott natural gas audit which this Government commissioned,

with the expressed purpose of informing our energy sector policy.

Let me remind this Honourable House that the first Ryder Scott Report in 1974 gave

a reserves to production ratio of 8 years.

Mr. Speaker, 33 years later we are now having a reserves to production ratio of 12

years.

The reserves to production ratio is an industry indicator that was never designed to

determine how long oil and gas resources will last. It cannot do that, was never

intended to do that, and does not now do that. This position was underscored by the

many experts who spoke at the recent Energy Conference.

The reserves to production ratio indicator was designed as a signal to the relevant

authorities of the need to increase exploration activity and the timing of

Governmental measures to achieve this.

Mr. Speaker, the situation revealed by the latest Ryder Scott Report was known to

the Government for some time now as a result of which in the year 2005 appropriate

adjustments were made to the income tax regime to stimulate exploration activity in

the various provinces existing in Trinidad and Tobago. As a result a lot of

exploration is now taking place both on land and in marine areas.

Four Rigs are now engaged in exploratory drilling and 16 wells are carded to be

drilled in the last quarter of 2007 and in 2008. Earlier this year B.P an EOG drilled a

deep exploration well - Ibis Deep to 19,000 feet at a cost of US$80 million or some

TT$500 million which did not discover any new reserves.

This is the nature of exploration activity and we have no doubt that as the

programme progresses new discoveries would be made. The exploration effort over

the next three years anticipate an expenditure of some TT$3,530 million.

What is needed now is a new fiscal regime of incentives to stimulate further drilling

in the Deep Marine areas of East Coast, marginal fields, heavy oil and farm in and

farm out arrangements. We propose to introduce this new regime in Fiscal 2008.

By these new arrangements we confidently expect as has happened in the past,

new discoveries of oil and gas, and the preservation of Trinidad and Tobago’s

position as an industrial centre in the region.

Mr. Speaker, the Ryder Scott audit information does not affect in any way the priority

projects, which are set to come on stream in the short term.

These include the five large gas-based projects: the Alutrint Smelter at Union Estate

in La Brea, the Essar Steel Complex, the Methanol Holdings AUM Complex at Pt.

Lisas, the Gas-to-Liquids plant at the Pointe-a-Pierre Refinery; the Petrotrin’s

Gasoline Optimization Programme which is the first phase of the refinery upgrade,

and the Methanol/Propylene/Polypropylene Project manufacture of a basic building

block of a plastic industry.

In respect of the latter project, the Cabinet has now taken a decision to proceed to

development of this new industry, and this complex, which will be built at a cost of

some US$1.5 billion is expected to come on stream in 2011. Construction is

expected to begin in the fourth quarter of 2008.

The upgrade of the Pointe-a-Pierre Refinery in Petrotrin’s Gasolene optimization

programme is proceeding at a cost of US$850 million and the industrial estate at

Pointe-a-Pierre is now being cleared of old plants to make way for a brand new

state-of-the-art refinery which we are seeking to attract.

New Industrial Estates

Mr Speaker, given the ongoing expansion of the downstream petrochemical sector

and numerous proposals for new energy based projects the Government is taking

steps to establish new industrial estates to accommodate energy-based industries.

We are developing new industrial estates at La Brea, Point Lisas South and East,

and we have now identified Cap De-Ville and the Oropouche Bank for further studies

to determine their suitability as industrial sites.

In addition, the government also proposes to develop industrial port facilities at

Brighton and Galeota.

The Petrochemical Sub-sector

Mr. Speaker, the gas based heavy industries include among others, 10 large scale

Ammonia Plants, 7 large scale Methanol plants, 3 Direct Reduced Iron (DRI)

modules, one Hot Briquetted Iron Plant and a gas processing plant.

A new 5000 tonne per day methanol plant, Atlas Methanol, and a 2000 tonne per day

ammonia plant, N2000, were commissioned in 2004.

There are also five gas-based projects which are due to come on stream in the short

term. They are:

• the Essar Steel Complex which involves the establishment of an integrated

steel complex producing flat hot rolled coil as well as hot briquette iron and

slabs;

• Methanol/Propylene/Polypropylene (MTP) - Discussions on Project details

between Lurgi and the Government are ongoing. Basell, a joint venture

between BASF and Shell is proposing a 160,000 tonne per annum plant at a

capital cost of TT$9.5 billion;

• the Methanol Holdings’ AUM Complex with a proposed capacity of the plant is

1.5 million tonnes per annum of Urea Ammonium Nitrate and 60,000 tonnes

per annum of Melamine: the capital cost is TT$10.1 billion;

• World GTL Trinidad Limited (WGTL-TL) Gas-to-Liquid plant which is a joint

venture between World GTL Inc. (New York) and the Petroleum Company of

Trinidad and Tobago Ltd. (Petrotrin). World GTL-Trinidad Limited will own and

operate the 2,250 bpd Gas to Liquids (GTL) plant; and

• the Alutrint Smelter Complex: the capital cost is TT$1.65 billion and will

produce 125,000 metric tonne per annum, all of which will be used for

downstream industries.

Aluminium Smelter Projects

Mr. Speaker, in 2005/2006 the Government received proposals to construct two

Aluminium smelters, one by Alcoa and the other by Alutrint.

An Agreement in Principle was prepared by Alcoa in November 2005, to conduct

feasibility studies to explore the establishment of an Aluminium facility at

Chatham/Cap De Ville. A decision in principle to relocate the proposed site of the

Plant has delayed this project.

Mr. Speaker, in April 2005, the Government agreed in principle to the development of

a 125,000 metric tonne per annum Aluminium Transformation Facility.

Part of this Facility will reside in Union Estate, La Brea, as an Integrated Aluminium

Complex. The remainder of the Facility will comprise additional downstream

industries which will be located in the Tamana InTech Park.

We plan to establish an Energy Park of 250 acres in San Fernando. Office

complexes for NGC, Ministry of Energy and Energy Industries and other energy

services companies will be established in this “San Fernando Ener-Tech Park”.

AGRICULTURE

Mr. Speaker, the Agricultural Sector has been earmarked for intensive focus in 2008

and in the coming years.

Mr. Speaker, the entire world is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented

increases in food prices.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global food prices have risen by

23 percent in the past eighteen months.

In the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries

the food component of the consumer price index has accelerated to 12-year highs.

In the United Kingdom food inflation is more than double the rate of the consumer

price index, the highest rate of increase in six years.

According to the experts, Mr. Speaker, the rise in global food prices reflects the

growing demand for food in emerging markets, most notably in China and India.

In addition, rising purchasing power; climatic changes; and the increased global

demand for ethanol and biofuels in response to higher oil prices are reducing the

amount of arable land for food cultivation.

The current world situation has given new urgency to the Government’s push to

expand agricultural production to help reduce food prices and begin the move to

agricultural self-sufficiency.

Consultation on Food Prices

Mr. Speaker, on the 15th and 16th of this month the Government hosted a Public

Consultation on Food Prices.

The objective of the forum was to share with the public the initiatives undertaken by

the Government, and to solicit ideas and suggestions from industry experts and the

public in general, on the best ways in which the country can use its available

resources to increase the supply of food and control the level of food prices.

The Government acknowledges the concerns that emanated from the Consultation

but I wish to reiterate that food prices in Trinidad and Tobago remain among the

lowest anywhere in the English speaking Caribbean.

Mr. Speaker, while the Central Bank is applying various monetary policy instruments

to control liquidity and influence the overall price level, the Government is

implementing measures aimed at impacting the availability and marketing of food

supplies which are critical factors behind the rise in food prices.

One such measure is the establishment of Farmers’ Markets at Macoya, Debe, and

Diego Martin. Additional Farmers’ Markets are planned for Arima, Chaguanas,

Marabella, Rio Claro, San Fernando and Sangre Grande. Mr. Speaker, these

Farmers’ Markets have had an immediate impact on the level of food crop prices.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, we have imported basic food items from non-traditional

sources, including Latin America and removed VAT and the Common External

Tariff on a number of food items.

Mr. Speaker, emanating from the Public Consultation on Food Prices, the

Government will be implementing a number of actionable interim measures, designed

to expand the supply of food and ensure that the momentum with respect to the

reduction in food prices and inflation is maintained. These actionable items include:

• The establishment of a Prices Advisory Council chaired by Dr. Sharon

Hutchinson with a mandate to address comprehensively, from a supply side

perspective, the level of prices in the economy;

• The establishment of a Consumer Advisory Board chaired by Mr. Brian Moore

to advise the Minister of Consumer Affairs on all matters relating to prices and

consumerism and to monitor prices;

• Accelerating the setting up of a Competition Commission;

• The establishment of an Agricultural Development Commission comprised of

representatives of a wide cross section of stakeholders in the sector, to

advise the Minister of Agriculture on the development of Agriculture in the

country;

• A review of the entire package of incentives related to small and large farms,

organic farming, and agro processing;

• As part of a CARICOM effort, continue discussions with the Government of

Guyana to make lands available for agriculture since Guyana has the

resources, especially land space, for large scale agricultural production. This

combined with the possibility of expanding the domestic sea-bridge, involving

initially, the countries of the southern Caribbean, will assist in reducing

potential food shortages in this country;

• The establishment of a Special Regime of incentives for new farms;

• Putting in place new arrangements outside the Police Service to address

praedial larceny in hot spots by the end of the first quarter of 2008;

• The use of Cuban farming expertise to provide technical assistance to small

farmers including former Caroni workers;

• The reallocation of 417 acres of land at Mon Jaloux to be allocated to the

Small Ruminants Society for their use subject to the submission of a viable

business plan;

• The injection of $75 million into the Agricultural Development Bank in the new

fiscal year and we propose an additional $25 million should it become

necessary;

• The design and implementation of a three year plan to review the

development of agricultural access roads, irrigation and other infrastructure

by the end of the first quarter of 2008;

• The expansion of the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA)

as a programme for the development of new farmers;

• Providing up to 100 acres each to the three ammonia manufacturers in the

country to create demonstration farms.

Plans are already underway for the establishment of one such farm which I will

address later in the presentation;

• Introduce in the short term a system for making agricultural lands readily

available to farmers;

• Proposals from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) on how agriculture

production can be expanded on the sister isle. In the meantime the

Government will expand the cold storage and warehousing capacity in

Tobago;

• The implementation of a new arrangement of contract farming with

appropriate marketing arrangement for select commodities developed in

collaboration with the National Agricultural Marketing and Development

Corporation (NAMDEVCO) and the Trinidad and Tobago Agricultural

Business Association (TABA);

• The restructuring of the National Agricultural Marketing and Development

Corporation (NAMDEVCO) to allow the Corporation to play a more pro-active

role in the development and expansion of the agricultural sector, including

using a venture capitalist approach in the development of innovative projects;

and

• A review of the restrictions on the importation of food items from low price

Latin American countries subject to the observation of all health requirements.

Mr. Speaker, let me reiterate that these are interim measures and more long term

measures will be announced as the new fiscal year progresses.

The Use of Former Caroni (1975) Limited Lands

Mr. Speaker, in 2003 the Government took the bold and courageous decision to

restructure an unviable Caroni (1975) Ltd.

In the process of restructuring Caroni (1975) Limited, we freed up prime agricultural

land to be used for diversified crop production in both the primary market and the

agro-processing industry.

Mr. Speaker, we have created over seven thousand potential new farmers, from the

former workers of Caroni Ltd, each with two-acre plots to produce food for this

country.

A significant portion of the former Caroni lands will also be utilized to establish large

commercial farms through joint venture arrangements with the private sector.

We are also improving the infrastructure of these lands through an enhanced system

of access roads and bridges and are moving towards better water management and

supply, including retention dams.

All the support systems will be provided for the thousands of our smaller farmers

who will continue to play their very important role in providing food for the nation.

Large Commercial Farms

Mr. Speaker, as announced in the last Budget Statement, under our National

Agribusiness Development Programme the Government will be creating 16 large

scale farms of a minimum of 100 acres each, all utilizing modern techniques and

management for the large scale production of food.

These estates will be operated along commercial lines and will involve participation

by the private sector, including established international companies in the field. The

Rural Development Company is presently seeking proposals from domestic and

international investors.

Mr. Speaker, work is now proceeding apace for the establishment of a large farm to

be located in Tucker Valley, Chaguaramas. What is special about this farm, is that it

is to be operated jointly by the Governments of Trinidad and Tobago and Cuba.

The farms would be utilized for root crops, vegetable crops, mixed farming livestock

and integrated farming, using the most modern farming methods.

The large farms will be focused mainly on those commodities that have export value

and the potential to develop into major food industries.

Their major output will be largely directed into processing, thereby fuelling the

growth of the agro-industry. As much of the output will be earmarked to be exported

the large farms will not be in competition with the smaller farmers for the domestic

primary market.

Mr. Speaker, by putting all of these structures in place, the Government is laying the

foundations for high volume, quality food production at a reasonable cost to

consumers.

Mr. Speaker, it is not the intention of the government to promote large farms at the

expense of small farms. What we envisage is a new mix in the farming community of

large and small farms.

Joint Venture

Mr. Speaker, the Government is also proposing to partner with PCS Nitrogen Limited

in establishing a Model Farm, Resource Centre and Greenhouse in Central Trinidad

to provide the local farming community with free access to state of the art training

facilities, technical assistance and technology which are currently unavailable in

Trinidad and Tobago.

The project will introduce the farming community of Trinidad and Tobago to

revolutionary crop production and management techniques. It will provide scientific

expertise by making use of available PCS Nitrogen resources including agronomists,

the International Plant Nutrition Institute and fertilizer.

INDUSTRY

Mr. Speaker, the Government is pursuing a multi-pronged industrial strategy in order

to accelerate the economic diversification of the country.

One important aspect of this strategy is the provision of assistance and incentives to

the manufacturing sector to allow the sector to expand and to introduce new

innovative technologies to be able to compete in the global market place.

Through a Business Expansion and Industrial Reengineering Programme (BEIRP),

the Government will assist domestic firms to be reengineered with greater state of the

art technologies and processes and to expand their capacity to innovate and produce

more sophisticated, value-added products for the international market place.

This is critical as we engage new markets in Central America in the expanded

CARICOM/Costa Rica trade agreement and in Europe under the Economic

Partnership Agreement.

Another major element of the strategy is the implementation of the strategic plans of

the seven industries, which have been targeted for special focus by the Government

because of their tremendous developmental potential.

These industries - Music and Entertainment, Printing and Packaging, Merchant

Marine, Film, Fish and Fish Processing, Yachting, Food and Beverage - are being

proposed as areas of investment for the private sector, with special government

support.

These are in addition to our ongoing focus on Tourism, energy services and a

renewed emphasis on Agriculture and agro-processing.

Moreover, when the new initiatives in financial services, especially the

implementation of our plans for an International Financial Centre and our efforts in IT

at Eteck are taken into account one sees clearly that the diversification agenda is

well in train.

The intention Mr. Speaker is that industrial development would leverage a cluster of

technology industries, which are being established in Tamana InTech Park, a nexus

for knowledge-based manufacturing, research and development and training,

strategically linked to the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Business Expansion and Industrial Reengineering Programme (BEIRP) is

designed to assist the manufacturing sector to address four major issues: the

expansion of existing plant capacity through an increase in the accelerated

depreciation facility; and the introduction of new technology; marketing; quality and

production management; and human resource development and training.

Accordingly, the Government will consider the following initiatives to complete the

package of incentives of the Business Expansion and Industrial Re-engineering

Programme:

• An Innovation Facility;

• A Marketing Facility;

• A Quality Management/Production Management Facility ; and

• A Human Resource Management Programme.

These measures will be supported by an education system, which produces the

skills required, the provision of a facilitating business environment and the legal

system that supports Intellectual Property.

Small Business Development

Mr. Speaker, we are beginning to see a burgeoning of the small and microenterprise

sector, thanks to NEDCO and the Business Development Corporation

(BDC).

More than the establishment of small and medium-sized businesses, NEDCO has

been having considerable success in promoting an entrepreneurial culture among

the small-man; NEDCO has been uncovering the small man’s potential for

entrepreneurship.

The hard fact is, Mr. Speaker, that the small man, whatever his potential for

entrepreneurship, has traditionally been denied access to funding because of his

lack of collateral; and this is so not only in Trinidad and Tobago, it is so all over the

world, in both developed and developing countries.

Against this background the philosophy behind NEDCO is to provide funding, but in

conjunction with education and training.

We are convinced, Mr. Speaker that this is an excellent way of empowering people;

of providing wealth-producing options for the common man; of getting some people

out of poverty and on to the road of financial independence. Mr. Speaker, this

approach is displaying remarkable success.

Mr. Speaker, the ownership and management of a small or micro-enterprise, are

more and more being pursued as a preferred career path by many who previously

would have thought it unthinkable or impossible.

In the past five years, NEDCO has helped to establish over 7,600 small and microenterprises.

Going forward, Mr. Speaker, the target is to establish 5,000 additional

new small or micro-enterprises per year. NEDCO’s lending portfolio is

complemented by the Entrepreneurial Training and Incubation Centre (ETIC) which

conducts business and management training programmes, provides advisory

services, and business incubation facilities for Small and Micro Enterprises.

Mr. Speaker, in November last year the Government implemented the Fair Share

Programme (FSP), which reserves ten percent of all contracts awarded by

Government up to one million dollars for qualifying small businesses.

To access the Fair Share Programme, businesses must be independently owned

and owner-managed, with up to 25 employees and assets up to 1.5 million dollars,

excluding land and building.

TOURISM

Permit me now to turn to the tourism sector.

Tourism is now well recognized as an important earner of foreign exchange, as a

strong generator of sustainable jobs, as a meaningful contributor to economic growth

and diversification, and as a platform for social and economic progress. We in

Trinidad and Tobago have only now begun to exploit fully our considerable tourism

potential which exists on both islands.

Mr. Speaker, there are significant developments taking place in the tourism sector

starting with the expansion of our upscale hotel room stock.

With the construction of the Waterfront Project almost completed, the Hyatt Regency

Hotel is carded to open its doors for business in the first quarter of 2008, affording the

industry 428 new first-class rooms and an addition of 50,000 square feet of Meeting

and Conference space.

Mr. Speaker, the Government has already won the bids to host two major tourism

conferences at the Hyatt in 2008: the Caribbean Hotels Investment Conference in

May and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Conference in October. Trinidad and Tobago

is also scheduled to host the 34 Country Summit of the Americas and the 54 Country

Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2009.

Additionally, following the recent opening of the 80-room Holiday Inn Express in

Trincity, 530 more rooms will come on stream in 2008 with the opening of the Cara

Suites Piarco Hotel, the Piarco International Hotel, the Carlton Savannah Hotel in St.

Ann’s and the refurbishment of the Trinidad Hilton and Conference Centre.

Mr. Speaker, other hotel investments are under active consideration in Port of Spain,

Chaguanas, South Trinidad, and Tobago. We are currently reviewing our Tourism

legislation with a view to facilitating even further investment in the accommodation

and ancillary services sub-sectors.

Mr. Speaker, along with the expansion of hotel capacity we are also securing an

expansion of airlift arrangements into the country.

We are positioning Trinidad and Tobago as the Meeting and Conference Centre as

well as the Events Capital of the Caribbean, and to achieve this goal, adequate

accommodation and airlift are critical.

British Airways has served Tobago from Gatwick admirably, and just recently, the

airline reintroduced its service from Port of Spain. In addition, there are now new air

links with Atlanta, Huston, Panama City and Curacao and links will be established

with Fort Lauderdale and Holland shortly.

Mr. Speaker, having brought the visitors to our shores, we need to provide them with

a unique experience.

Accordingly, we are taking steps to enhance our customer service standards on all

fronts; to build awareness among our population about the importance and benefits

of tourism; to market effectively our islands internationally as well as locally; and to

build our tourism product.

Mr. Speaker, plans for the re-design of the Maracas Beach Facility are well underway

with the Master Plan, Conceptual Designs and stakeholder consultations completed.

The objective of this Project is to transform Maracas Beach and its facilities into a

modern, safe, clean, well-managed and environmentally-sustainable attraction of the

highest international standard. Work is expected to begin on this project upon the

completion of the Environmental Impact Assessment.

MAIN AREAS OF FOCUS

EDUCATION

With the leave of the Honourable Members, I now wish to outline our strategies for

the major areas of policy intervention – first Education.

Mr. Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago is well on the way to truly revolutionizing its

education system -- a seamless education system that would underpin the country’s

thrust to sustainable economic development; an education system designed to

strengthen the social fabric, deepen our democracy and give our citizens the tools

for success in today’s world.

Now that the foundation has been laid, we need to focus on broadening accessibility,

ensuring curriculum relevance even as we recognize the diversity of talent; infusion

of technology for improved teaching and learning, mandatory teacher training for

more effective delivery of the syllabus and de-centralized management for more

efficient decision-making and greater community involvement.

The Government has developed a policy on Early Childhood Care and Education,

has established standards for the establishment of the centres, curriculum guidelines

and has embarked on a massive training programme for centre administrators and

teachers.

During fiscal year 2008 we plan to construct 33 ECCE Centres and to train about 300

ECCE Teachers and Administrators. By the end of 2008 we expect to have a

population of 2,550 three and four year olds in these ECCE Centres.

Mr. Speaker, our emphasis at the primary and secondary levels is complete

modernization– modernization in terms of infrastructure, curriculum, administration,

teacher education planning and having the schools as learning organizations.

As regards primary education the aim should be zero per cent of students scoring

less than 30 per cent. At the secondary school level, our goal is to ensure that 80

per cent of secondary school leavers exit the fifth form level with appropriate

certification.

Mr. Speaker our construction programme in respect of primary schools will continue

in 2008. We are well aware that in some schools the situation is dire, demanding

immediate redress. As an interim measure, therefore, temporary pre-engineered

classrooms will be provided as a means of alleviating acute accommodation

problems at some Primary and Secondary Schools.

In the new fiscal year the remaining six junior secondary schools will be deshifted

and converted to secondary schools.

Mr. Speaker, in 2008 the junior secondary schools system will be a thing of the past.

The National Open School of Trinidad and Tobago (NOSTT) was established in

2006 in response to the challenges of delivering primary and secondary education to

the out-of-school population. To date, the initial five National Open School Centres

have been identified and once established will cater for two hundred and fifty

students and will offer tuition in five key subject areas – Mathematics, English,

Science, Social Studies and Spanish.

By June next year the National Open School System will become fully operational

with a total of twenty schools with trained tutors and a target population of 4,500

students.

Mr. Speaker, one of the Government’s major focus is the infusion of Information and

Communications Technology (ICT) in the curriculum of our schools. The main

objective of this programme is to prepare students to live in a knowledge-based

society.

Under the Primary Schools Computerization Programme infrastructural work on

computer laboratories has been completed at 340 primary schools and eleven

special schools and before the end of this fiscal year the majority of these schools will

boast modern, fully equipped computer labs.

Mr. Speaker, Phase I of the ICT in Secondary Schools Programme commenced

with the provision of computers and network and security systems. Free internet

access is now available at one hundred and eighty primary and secondary schools.

In the new fiscal year, we intend to complete the computerization of 193 primary

schools, and 11 special schools. In addition computers and networking will be

provided for 133 Secondary Schools throughout the country.

Phase II of the Secondary Schools ICT Project, which includes purchase of teaching

software and provision of classroom collaborative solutions, will also be completed

during the coming fiscal period.

Tertiary Education

Mr. Speaker a part of the proud legacy of this Government will be that a high quality

tertiary education is no longer a privilege of the rich and influential.

In 2001 enrollment in tertiary education was around 15,300 or about 11 percent of

the age category 17-25 years. Over the last six years enrollment has increased to

about 45000 or about 33 percent of this age cohort.

Mr. Speaker this is no easy accomplishment for any government in a developing

country. We plan to increase the enrollment to 60 percent of this age cohort by the

year 2015.

We have made tertiary education affordable through the Government Assistance for

Tuition Expenses Programme (GATE) and the Higher Education Loan Plan (HELP).

We have supported more than 66,000 students through the GATE Programme

alone.

Mr. Speaker, we are establishing UTT Campuses all over the country for students to

access tertiary education opportunities, including through distance learning.

Additionally, our policy is one which caters to flexible admissions for students at all

levels in the system as we embrace lifelong learning.

Mr. Speaker, we are ensuring that our tertiary education is industry-relevant.

Accordingly, both students and graduates will have to access workplace

engagements.

This is seen in the range of learning centres that we are establishing, from the

National Academy of the Performing Arts to the Natural Gas Institute of the

Americas.

Mr. Speaker, having a competitive workforce and improved quality of life can only be

achieved through quality tertiary education. We are therefore committed to the

highest standards of excellence at the tertiary level and have established a national

system for quality assurance and accreditation being driven by the Accreditation

Council of Trinidad and Tobago.

The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT)

Mr. Speaker, the construction of the main campus of the University of Trinidad and

Tobago at the Tamana Intech Park in Wallerfield will continue in the new fiscal year.

The establishment of the main campus will allow the University to:

• Increase the number of students who can afford university-level training in

science, engineering and technology;

• Widen further the scope of teaching and research programmes beyond the

traditional areas now offered by the University of the West Indies;

• Facilitate rationalization of the university’s support services;

• Establish more lecture rooms and laboratories; and

• Create a positive economic effect on the community areas near the

university.

The UTT will also upgrade its infrastructure in the following:

• Construction of the UTT Centre for Sports;

• Establishment of the Academies for the Performing Arts;

• Expansion and upgrade of the facilities at Valsayn and Corinth Teachers’

Colleges and

• Upgrade of the library facilities at UTT campuses.

College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of T&T (COSTAATT)

The mandate of COSTAATT has been changed from its original broad orientation to

one focusing on certificate, diploma and associate degree programmes in critical

areas of nursing and health sciences, humanities, foreign languages and the

performing and creative arts.

In line with this mandate legislation is being prepared to convert COSTAAT into a

Community College preparing students for professions in the specified fields and

also serving as a transition to University Education. The College will construct three

campuses located in North and South Trinidad and in Tobago.

University of the Southern Caribbean

Mr. Speaker, the University of the Southern Caribbean is currently seeking to

expand its facilities to accommodate greater enrolment and the upgrading of the

University residence halls and faculty buildings. The University has requested

assistance from the Government.

Given Government’s interest in expanding access to tertiary education among the

wider population the Government has agreed to provide some financing towards this

project under a specific protocol with the University.

The Government is considering providing financing of approximately $97 million over

the next four years. The benefits that would accrue to the Government from this

agreement are currently being worked out.

HEALTH

Mr. Speaker let me focus now on the Health Sector.

Mr. Speaker, during the coming year we intend to quicken the pace of upgrading all

health facilities, infrastructure and human and other resources as we seek to provide

our citizens with the ability live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

Mr. Speaker, the incidence of so called lifestyle diseases is giving the Government

much cause for concern. An area of critical concern to this Government is the

number of persons suffering from diabetes mellitus. On the CDAP alone, the

statistics show that there are 145,000 persons accessing medication with

approximately 5,000 of that number being insulin dependent.

We view the promotion of healthy lifestyles as a key strategy for affecting behavioral

changes that will ensure not only a healthy, but a health conscious nation as well.

We will continue to emphasize good nutritional habits and exercise.

Mr. Speaker, the computerization of CDAP is now 90 percent complete. To date, two

hundred and ten pharmacies have been supplied with terminals in readiness for the

C-DAP Smart Card which was launched last month. The remaining 30 pharmacies

will be computerized during 2008.

The Chronic Disease Assistance Programme will be expanded further with effect

from January 1st 2008 to include diabetic testing strips which will be available at no

cost to these insulin dependent patients through the Chronic Disease Assistance

Programme.

Oncology Developmental Programme

Mr. Speaker, as part of the Government’s commitment to providing quality health

services to the population, work has begun on the establishment of the National

Oncology Centre. The Centre, which is expected to be in operation in two years will

offer cutting-edge cancer treatment for our citizens. It is also expected that the

Centre would provide an agreed level of service to CARICOM nationals under

Government-to-Government arrangements.

Organ Tissue Transplant Programme

Mr. Speaker, Trinidad and Tobago is also providing First World medical care in other

areas.

Since the inception of the Programme in January 2006, the National Organ

Transplant Unit has completed eighteen transplants compared with thirty-six similar

procedures performed in this country over a seventeen year period. In addition, fortytwo

donors have been screened and a campaign for the sensitization of public and

medical personnel was launched.

Mr. Speaker, the framework for an Eye Bank has been developed and in the new

fiscal year we expect to have a functional Eye Bank for the supply of corneas for

transplants.

Neo-natal Facilities at Mt. Hope Women's Hospital

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to report that the refurbishment of the Intensive Care Unit at

the Mt. Hope Women's Hospital has been completed.

The Unit contains a wide range of specialized equipment including incubators,

ventilators, warmers, intravenous pumps, monitoring equipment, and photo therapy

equipment.

With the acquisition of these state-of-the-art pieces of equipment, the survival rate for

newborn and premature babies is expected to increase markedly.

National Health System (NHS)

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with the Government’s overall objective to reform the Health

Sector and improve the delivery of heathcare to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,

we have taken the initial steps towards the establishment of a National Health

System (NHS).

Under the National Health System the State will maintain financial responsibility for

the provision of an essential basket of services to all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago,

and every citizen will be able to exercise choice of provider.

A Steering Committee has been appointed to prepare a design proposal for the

National Health System.

Over the next fiscal year, the Committee will engage the National Community in

dialogue on the proposed National Health System.

HIV/AIDS

Mr. Speaker, significant progress has been made in addressing the incidence of

HIV/AIDS over the last five years, particularly as the anti retroviral (ARV) treatment

has been made more accessible to the population as a whole. At the same time,

there has been a 69 percent decline in the number of HIV/AIDS cases reported.

Between 2001 and 2006 the Government has spent more than $30 million on

providing comprehensive treatment to more than 4,000 people living with HIV.

Despite this encouraging development Mr. Speaker, AIDS remains the leading cause

of death in the 15-44 age group. The Government therefore will continue to remain

vigilant as it seeks to further develop and consolidate a comprehensive and

collaborative approach for treating with HIV/AIDS.

The priority areas, Mr. Speaker, include: prevention; treatment, care and support;

advocacy and human rights; surveillance and research; programme management,

coordination and evaluation. The Government is also reviewing a Draft National

Workplace Policy on HIV/AIDS in an attempt to curb discrimination on the job.

Over the next fiscal year, we will extend free HIV/AIDS treatment to six major

centres. In addition, there will be improvements in both the procurement and

distribution of drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, as well as the institutional strengthening of

laboratories.

HOUSING

Mr. Speaker I will turn now to the Housing Sector.

Honourable Members will no doubt agree that secure home is fundamental to family

and personal well-being. Many of the households with affordability challenges

include low-wage workers, the elderly and differently-abled citizens and these are the

people for which our National Housing Policy was targeted.

Mr. Speaker since 2002 we have constructed approximately 26,000 housing units

while more than 8,225 units are currently under construction.

The Government recognizes that there is still more to be done in ensuring that every

citizen has access to a basic human need, the need for shelter and we intend to keep

affordable and quality housing at the top of our list of priorities.

To this end, Mr. Speaker, in terms of housing finance, one of the major changes in

the housing sector implemented by the Government has been the reduction of

mortgage interest rates.

Prior to 2002 interest rates varied from eight percent to twelve percent for the

Approved Mortgage Companies (AMC) Programme and since then has hovered

between 6 to 8 percent.

Mr. Speaker, in 2007 the Government introduced a subsidized interest rate of 2

percent for beneficiaries with income of up to $8,000 per month for a house costing a

maximum of $450,000.

Additionally, Mr. Speaker, prior to 2002 the required down payment for mortgages

was 10 percent. It was subsequently reduced to 5 percent and in the last fiscal year

the Government eliminated the down payment altogether.

Further, Mr. Speaker, persons who qualified for a mortgage are also eligible for a

further loan of $15,000 towards the purchase of household appliances, and this

further loan is to be incorporated into the mortgage arrangements.

Other measures implemented by the Government aimed at making housing more

affordable include: the increase in the ceiling for the Exemption of Stamp Duty for

residential properties from $350,000 to $450,000; transferable mortgages; and a

Rent to Own Programme.

Mr. Speaker, the Government’s Housing Policy also focuses on making houses more

affordable by indirectly subsidizing the cost of houses.

Beneficiaries of government housing will only be required to pay for the cost of the

raw land, while the Government will meet the infrastructural costs for the

development.

In addition Mr. Speaker, the Government also provides through the Beneficiary

Owned Land Subsidy an upfront subsidy to be given to beneficiaries in possession of

land who wish to construct a home and who satisfy the relevant criteria.

Mr. Speaker, we are now developing 22,023 residential plots including the service

plots provided to the former employees of Caroni (1975) Limited. The infrastructure

work is almost completed on most of the 27 sites.

These will result in modern communities with all utilities underground. The price of

these lots include substantial subsidy on both the infrastructure cost and cost of the

land. These lots are priced at $4 $5 and $6 per square foot, that is $20,000, $25,000

and $30,000 per lot.

The designs of 5 model houses would also be made available to these home owners.

Mr. Speaker, in an effort to maintain the existing housing stock the Housing Policy

also provides Home Improvement Grants and Home Improvement Subsidies to assist

persons in undertaking repairs and making improvements to their homes.

The Land Settlement Agency, through its mandate, is undertaking the Squatter

Regularization and Containment Programme.

This programme is intended to regularize the security of tenure for families living in

squatter settlements and to improve the overall living conditions of squatters by

providing basic services, communal facilities, and formal land tenure to families. A

major goal of the Government is to eliminate the incidence of squatting completely.

Mr. Speaker, I should note that our housing model implies more than building

houses; it envisages the development of sustainable communities, which include the

provision of public amenities such as playgrounds, community centers, schools,

open spaces, clinics and other facilities.

Mr. Speaker, a major component of providing accessible housing in sustainable

communities involves developing sustainable housing on green field sites through the

creation of New Towns. In this respect, the Government has commenced the

development of a New Town at Wallerfield. Four more New Town developments

have been earmarked for Sangre Grande, La Brea, Princes Town and Chaguanas.

SOCIAL PROTECTION

Mr. Speaker I turn now to the Social Sector.

While the Government has no immediate plans to introduce new social programmes

we will continue to foster social development and integration on multiple fronts,

including the provision of a network of integrated, effective and accessible social

programmes and services.

The Government recognizes and commends the selfless and dedicated service of

civil society organizations in the many aspects of social service delivery. Indeed we

view these organizations as full partners in this work.

In the next fiscal year we will establish, through policy and programme initiatives, a

structured approach to the provision of social services by civil society organizations

and the private sector.

The Government will also partner with international agencies, where appropriate, with

a view to crafting a more effective and efficient delivery of services, to inform decision

making and to enable and empower research-based policy and programming.

Mr. Speaker, the poor and marginalized are not a homogenous entity. A sustained

effort must be made to gather information pertaining to each group on a continuous

basis.

As we craft a more relevant and targeted response to the needs of the poor and

vulnerable among us, the Government will conduct research and needs assessment

pertaining to vulnerable and at-risk groups including: persons addicted to drugs and

other substances; persons with disabilities; older persons; socially displaced persons;

and “at risk” children.

Mr. Speaker, the family, as the principal teacher and transmitter of ethical, social,

spiritual and religious values is indisputably the core of our social fabric.

It is no surprise therefore that many of the social ills that now imperil our society can

be directly traced to the disintegration of the family unit.

It is possible that the major contributory factor to this denigration of the family is the

disadvantaged economic situation of low-income and single-parent families

especially households headed by a single female.

As a response, Mr. Speaker, the Government will continue the implementation of the

National Family Policy which we have adopted as our blueprint for creating and

promoting a family-friendly society and for mainstreaming family issues into every

aspect of policymaking.

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