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VMCOTT workers carry out an inspection of a vehicle in August 2019.

The sale of National Flour Mills’ (NFM’s) rice mill operation at Carlsen Field is on hold as well as the initially planned divestment of the Vehicle Management Corporation of T&T (VMCOTT).

This is among plans for 2021 stated in Government’s State Enterprises Sector report for the 2020/21 fiscal year. The report is one of 11 which accompanied the 2021 Budget speech presented on Monday.

The State Enterprises Sector comprises 57 companies of which 44 are wholly-owned, eight are majority-owned and five in which Government has a minority shareholding.

These entities operate in the gas and oil industry, banking and financial services, manufacturing, transport and communication, tourism, agriculture, information technology and the provision of social services.

Through their investment programmes, state-owned enterprises are projected to ramp up overall expenditure in this fiscal year by $2.7 billion to $6.5 billion. Of that sum, approximately $1.1 billion will be invested for projects in the health sector and another $1.1 billion for expenditure on schools.

Investment in the energy sector is projected to command $1.3 billion.

The document gave a status report on the sale of assets programme, which commenced in fiscal 2021 and continued in fiscal 2019.

The sale of the NFM’s rice mill at Carlsen Field was being pursued in 2019/2020 but that is now on hold as is the VMCOTT divestment which had also been a 2019 conversation.

In 2019 the National Rice Farmers Association told a Parliamentary team that T&T’s rice industry is “on the brink of total collapse” and no one wanted to buy the Carlsen Field rice mill because of a drastic drop in the growing of local rice to be milled there.

Farmers said the state failed to provide farmers with a guaranteed market and price for their goods.

Yesterday, United National Congress (UNC) MP Rudy Indarsingh questioned what will be done with the rice mill.

“Government needs to come clean on the situation. In the shortage of food which could be looming ahead due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on global supply markets, T&T needs to understand its position and anything that can help the rice production sector should be important and be efficiently run.”

“But Government has sent contradicting messages on the agriculture sector all of last term and now this term – first it was that agriculture wasn’t important and now they’re saying it is.”

Also on hold are expansion of existing facilities and related infrastructure, of the National Helicopter Services Limited and acquisition and refurbishment of the adjacent NGC hangar and facilities at Camden Couva.

However, the partial divestment of 49 per cent of the shareholding of Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Limited (LATT ) to an international strategic partner is ongoing.

The sale has continued – through competitive processes—of 50 per cent of the industrial estates now under Evolving Technologies and Enterprise Development Company Limited (eTecK).

Budget documents also included the Public Sector Investment Plan for Tobago which has Tobago House of Assembly elections in January.

The Tobago PSIP focusses on reviving, boosting and securing sectors from to infrastructure to tourism in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic which drastically affected the island’s tourism earnings in particular. Some $14 million is reserved for Tobago’s tourism with $1.6 million to refurbish certain projects.

One of Tobago’s projects for 2021 is a plan to remove the sargassum weed whose resurgence is clogging some beaches.

The report also noted the acquisition of the much-touted two fast ferries for Tobago.

This project involves the design, construction and delivery of a 94-metre high-speed passenger/cargo roll-on/roll-off catamaran by the shipbuilders AUSTAL and the design construction and delivery of a 100-metre high-speed passenger/cargo roll-on/roll-off catamaran ferry by INCAT. The estimated cost of the project is $1 billion.

The estimated expenditure for the period April to September 2020 is $48 million and for fiscal 2021 is $99 million. Finance Minister Colm Imbert said one ferry, which can carry 900 passengers, arrives by year-end and starts to work next year, and the other arrives in 2021 also.