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The Leader of Government Business (Ag.) and Minister of Agriculture, Land & Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat during the debate on the Appropriation (Financial Year 2021) Bill, 2020 in Senate yesterday.

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Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat says T&T has the capacity to feed itself and enough land to boost food production for export.

Delivering his presentation on the Budget in the Senate yesterday, Rambharat said COVID-19 has been a catalyst which resulted in increased local food production.

Calling on the entire country to support local farmers, Rambharat said COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated that T&T had enough food to feed the entire country.

“We have the farming capacity and land availability to increase our production so T&T could take its place to once again be exporting to our diaspora,” Rambharat said.

He added, “Those persons who got keen on farming, the seeds distributed, people engaging in their the home garden. That is what this country needs.”

“It’s not about the $4 billion or $5 billion food import bill, it’s about supporting our local farmers. Watch your cupboard and fridge and think about the young producers. Go to the market and look at h ow many are drawn into local food production. If you make the decision to buy local, we will get the food import bill down,” Rambharat said.

But Senator Paul Richards in his presentation responded to Rambharat saying agricultural policies should have been implemented a long time ago.

“Why did we have to wait for COVID to do these things. We knew the country is facing a difficult time. Why we have to wait for the catalyst of COVID confuses me,” Richards said.

He explained that the announcement to establish internet cafes was reactionary noting that forward-thinking countries have provided nationwide WiFi. However, he said implementation has always been a problem with successive governments.

“We should expect more pandemics. The announcement of nationwide WiFi was pronounced in 2015 and 2016 Budgets but it never materialized. If we actually accomplished that in the 2015 and 2016 we would have been better able to deal with the pandemic,” Richards said.

Noting that WiFi is as basic as electricity, Richards said nationwide connectivity is the only way T&T can compete on a global level.

With regard to foreign used and new vehicles, Richards said demand was high because public transportation was abysmal.

“Why is there such a big demand for new and used vehicles. If we had a dependable reliable public transportation, there will be no need for people to buy vehicles,” Richards said.

He said the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) should be expanded to offer more services including higher luxury transportation, vehicle rental, taxis, bus drives, restaurant dining and other services.

“Imagine for a second that PTSC has an app that tells people where the buses are. The terminal business in most metropolitan cities is big. City Gate in its entirety is substandard. We don’t need a rapid rail. We need a proper transportation system, public service, established hubs,” Richards said.

Saying he was not beating up on PTSC, Richards said some State enterprises have become a burden to the State.

He also questioned whether any analysis had been done on the success and failures of NEDCO. He noted that checks should be put in place to see whether NEDCO is actually assisting in business development.

He also said TTPost was a good example of how a State enterprise could be run efficiently.

Richards also said that special needs children were not being treated equally in T&T.

Quoting a study done by Support Autism TT and its founder Dr Radica Mahase, Richards said 31.6 per cent of special needs children have no access to education, while only 16.6 per cent is enrolled in public schools.

“Does every creed and race have an equal place? They are no less entitled. We have been failing them abysmally,” he said.

Richards said while Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly was a breath of fresh air to the Education Ministry he was hoping that better opportunities would be created for special-needs children.