Tourists take in the sea life during a glass-bottom boat tour of Buccoo Reef.

Tobago has been allocated $2.134 billion of the $4.71 billion it requested for fiscal 2021. The allocation is within the statutorily required 4.3 per cent of the national budget.

This was revealed by Finance Minister Colm Imbert as he presented the 2021 budget in the Parliament yesterday.

Also, the island will receive $754.5 million from indirect funding from other ministries, the minister said.

Based on the Dispute Resolution Commission the island must receive no less than 4.03 per cent and no greater than 6.9 per cent of the national budget.

“For fiscal 2021, the total allocation to the Tobago House of Assembly is 2.134 billion. Disaggregated $1.916 billion is allocated for recurrent expenditure, $200 million for capital expenditure, and $18 million for the Unemployment Relief Program,” the minister said.

He said the allocations to the island “placed increased focus on enhancing their tourism product, a greater use of digital technologies and social media in marketing, attracting new investment in the tourism sector, enhancing service delivery and financial support to upgrades in the tourism sector, and to boost their online presence.”

He said the government had already taken steps to help the sector.

“This administration has been working in concert with the Tobago House of Assembly on a series of broad-based measures to bring relief to the people and the business community of Tobago, including The Tourism Accommodation Relief Grant, Business Relief Grant, Business Relief Loan, Relief Grant to ancillary industry and services, a four-year soft loan facility with a two-year moratorium.”

Explaining the rationale behind the allocated sum, Minister Imbert said the island’s tourism sector has been “particularly hard hit” and is “struggling” because of COVID -19.

He said the Government is already assisting the sector.

Imbert said the island would receive one of its two new fast ferries- A.P.T James- by the end of this year and the Buccoo Reff in 2021.

Among the other benefits for the island are special provisions to stimulate the island’s agriculture sector, accelerated housing development, completion of the Moriah health centre, and Roxborough Hospital in 2021, and access to bond financing, concessions, and grants.

State of the island’s tourism sector

Hotels and guest houses were closed at the end of March as the international border was closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Domestic travel remained open for a while, but it was too closed, and only essential travel was encouraged between Trinidad and Tobago.

According to the Tobago Tourism Agency’s Chief Executive Officer Louis Lewis, approximately 6,000 persons in the tourism sector lost their jobs because of the virus.

The unemployed workers qualified for the Government’s $1,500 monthly Salary Relief Grant for three months- April, May, and June, if they had lost jobs between March 19 to June 30. The sector said many employees did not receive the salary grant.

They also qualified for a $2,500 monthly Rental Relief Grant for the same number of months.

In June, at a post-Executive Council media briefing, Finance and the Economy Secretary Joel Jack said the island’s 2019-2020 projected growth of 1.9 per cent did not materialize because of the pandemic.