Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley in the Lower House yesterday.

“Leave no-one behind and retain and create jobs.”

That‘s among the core objectives of phase one of Government’s Recovery Roadmap report for T&T to pursue in its post-COVID-19 movement.

Phase one of the report was laid in Parliament yesterday by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Around the same time he spoke, a heavy police presence in areas bordering the Parliament was dispersing with tear gas, a group of placard-bearing protestors who were heading for the Parliament.

On the inside, Rowley noted the Roadmap team was created in April to identify and implement further solutions for T&T.

“This was done in the clear indisputable understanding that no matter how battered we are left, after the pandemic is over, when it’s all said and done, we would have to take up what’s left of our bed and start walking, even if only with an unsteady gait,” Rowley said.

Rowley named Roadmap team members including former minister Robert Le Hunte—who subsequently resigned from Government over disagreement on policy.

Rowley also thanked members including Le Hunte, “who at the inception worked diligently as co-chair to jointly lead the team towards the production of this report.”

He said the pandemic threatened the foundations of T&T’s economy.

“We recognized that the measures we were forced to put in place to stem the spread of the virus threatened jobs, income, businesses and livelihoods across T&T. It also threatened to reverse strides Government had made over the term to stabilise and turnaround the economy.

After implementing measures to protect the most vulnerable, preserve jobs, revitalize the economy earliest and keep aggregate demand at acceptable level, the Roadmap Recovery team was created.”

The first phase of its work addressed “Surviving the Crisis”, focusing on the population’s health and well-being and proposing initiatives to reignite economic activity and ensure social stability. He said several Phase One initiatives have already been adopted, “in large measure by Government”. The Finance Minister and others have already reported on them.

The second phase, currently in progress, focuses on the medium-term and is aimed at restructuring and transforming the economy, creating a more resilient, equitable, and self-sufficient society. That report will be laid ahead.

Rowley said phase one’s report focuses on addressing and mitigating the hardship inflicted by COVID-19; restarting the economy and laying the foundation for sustained economic recovery.

“The Committee concluded that the prevailing risks in the environment require increased focus by Government during the next six months, as the instigator, influencer and facilitator of aggregate demand and the protector of jobs and business activity. It also recognised the importance of acknowledging that both the private and public sectors will have to play significant roles in the short-term to jumpstart the economy.”

Short-term objectives identified are (a) Social protection – leave no one behind; (b) Retain and create jobs; (c) Boost aggregate demand; (d) Minimise and remediate supply disruptions.

Big focus on Agriculture

The team determined that achievement of these objectives can best be accomplished in the following ways:

· Strengthening the Social Safety Net by improved technology and deepening the involvement of civil society organisations in the delivery of social support programmes, focusing on women, children and the dispossessed;

· Increasing allocation for Social Safety Net programmes as appropriate and where necessary (from $9 billion) in 2020, given that the number of persons accessing the programmes is expected to increase;

· Implementing Safe Back to Work Protocols

· Adopting policy decisions to immediately boost/sustain the Agriculture Sector with emphasis on increasing production to reduce dependence on imported food and inputs; building a more technologically advanced agriculture system to increase the availability of domestic food supply; reintroducing a market system, for farmers, which guarantees minimum price facilities through Namdevco, or similar agency, to encourage increased production and provide protection against occasional gluts in production;

– Expanding and developing agro-processing to create a ready market for farm produce and a greater variety in locally produced fare;

– Strengthening linkages along the food value and distribution chains to make more locally produced food available within the country e.g. in the school feeding programme and as part of the social welfare programme. Rowley said, “As I’ve said from the outset, we’re all in this together and together we can not only survive but thrive.“

Rowley said gas pricing and downstream development are major parts of the report.

Other plans include:

• Stimulating economic activity in Tobago through projects including the new Crown Point Terminal Complex;

• Enhancing channels to supply aggregate and other materials from Studley Park Quarry to Trinidad and other Caribbean locations such as Guyana;

• Providing direct support to Tobago businesses and boosting local tourism;

• Supporting the development of technology-driven agriculture through re-introduction of extension services.

• Increasing Construction Sector spending by Government and Private Sector;

• Liquidating outstanding debts in the Construction Sector and accelerating strategic and priority ‘Shovel Ready Projects’ in the sector;

• Enhancing energy sector economic activity by enabling scheduled maintenance, construction, and drilling projects;

• Restructuring the Oil/Gas industry to improve competitiveness and recalibrating ‘the gas value chain’;

• Continuing initiatives already underway to establish systems of Renewable Energy (RE) and Energy Efficiency (EE);

• and Providing appropriate financial support in the Services, Retail, Distribution and Manufacturing and other Sectors to Micro businesses, SME’s, Entrepreneurs and other institutions at all levels through accelerated payment of VAT Refunds, Liquidity Support, soft loans with extended moratoria through banking and insurance institutions, Credit Unions and other appropriate fora.

The Committee, working in collaboration with the Finance Ministry, also identified various innovative sources for mobilising additional financing for the next nine months with the possibility of further funding over the next fiscal year, if needed. (GA)