Works Minister Rohan Sinanan has said that the Ministry of Works is playing its part in developing the blue economy.
He defined the “blue economy” as tying the marine resources to the economy of the country.
“We take the blue economy very seriously as 15 to 20 years down the road if we do not deal with the coastal areas and flooding, we will have a major problem in the country,” he said speaking at the Latin America and Caribbean Developmental Bank (CAF) Conference on Monday at the Hilton Trinidad Hotel, St Ann’s.
He outlined the specific projects that the Ministry of Works is undertaking in this area.
“In the Vision 2030 document, goal three and goal five, the Ministry of Works had significant input. Goal three deals with climate vulnerability and Goal five with, maximising our natural resources. These two areas fall smack into the environment. Coming into the ministry and sitting with the staff, we recognise that the major challenge facing this country in terms of the infrastructure has been climate change, and what is happening with the weather pattern is flooding and coastal erosion. We identified those two areas as the two most critical areas facing the country. This ministry deals with the infrastructure. Yes, we deal with the highways and walkovers and we have several projects. When we saw what was happening with coastal erosion around T&T, we recognise that something had to be done about that.”
Despite the controversy over whether global warming is a real threat or not, Sinanan said that the T&T Government’s position is that it is a real threat.
“In terms of the flooding problems, what we saw in the last couple of years was intensified flooding and it continues. Some people feel it is not global warming. But we feel there is a drastic change in weather patterns. What we have seen in T&T as a small island is that in areas where flooding never occurred, now we have significant flooding happening. That water has to get down to the ocean and it is helping with the destruction of the coastal areas.
“To combat this, we designed a coastal programme, and took into consideration a study of the entire coast. Where we have to tie that in with we can protect the environment and coastlines but at the same time we have to use the benefit of that to assist the Minister of Finance. The Minister of Finance always complains to me that the Ministry of Works utilises all the money in the budget and what we set out to do is look at two areas. How these areas could contribute to the economy and when CAF lends us money, we can utilise it and bring benefits to the economy.”
He added that the Ministry of Works has designed programs that not only protect the coastlines but also would bring in tourists.
“One of these projects is a simple project on the east coast where we started off with a revetment wall. We were able to convert that revetment wall with just a ten percent increase in the cost of the budget to a boardwalk. As we speak that has morphed into a tourist project because on that coast we have a lot of natural resources areas that if the infrastructure was not there, we would not recognse, you could attract tourists in an area like that. So it is more than mere infrastructure projects but weber we could grow the tourism industry. As we speak, we have 11 such projects around the island trying to create a new economy for the coastline communities. You are actually creating a new set of businesspeople in those areas.”
He added that they are also trying to use the marine sector to develop the economy.
“A major natural resource we have is water. Unfortunately, in T&T, we never maximised and took full advantage of our location and the fact that we are perfectly placed away from the hurricane belt. We had a lot of people coming in and packing the drillships out in the ocean and we were not collecting anything for that. What we decided to do as a Government is to re-arrange the entire maritime sector. We have now developed a whole industry out there. It is organised and ensuring that the environment is protected. We have collected a significant amount of revenue in this area.”
He also said that they will soon turn the sod for the construction of a new fishing port in Moruga.
“We will create an atmosphere where the business will flourish. When tourists come into the island, they can go into these remote areas and experience a different culture. We are trying to tie development with tourism.
“The Galeota Port is going into Phase Two. That means that the entire eastern seaboard will be developed using marine resources. We also have another major part in Toco which will enhance 50 per cent of the landmass in this country. If we put in a passenger terminal there, we will cut the time between T&T, by about 30 per cent. Yet, there are so many people, no employment and yet beautiful tourist facilities,” he said.
Kelvin Charles, chief secretary, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) said Tobago has structural problems at this time as six out of every ten employees on the island work for the THA and two out of the other four persons are employed indirectly by entities that are organised to provide services to the THA.
To try to change this, he said the THA sees that they needed to revitalise the tourism sector.
“We are hearing about the blue economy but we have always engaged in activities critical to the blue economy. Given the fact that the blue economy by definition speaks to how we exploit the resources of the ocean.”
He spoke about some of their projects.
“We can speak about the reefs that we have. There is the Buccoo Reef and Nylon Pool and we have always used those as selling points. Now we are going further and we have other reefs in Speyside and Charlotteville. We are emphasising our dive industry as part of utilising all our assets to facilitate an increase in our tourism arrivals.”
He added that the THA is having exploratory talks with potential investors with respect to a dedicated cruise ship port in Tobago as part of at attempt to develop the blue economy.
“The Ministry of Finance is currently working on proposals for the construction of a mariner in southwestern Tobago to improve that avenue of our development.”
They have also taken the decision where they will engage a Caribbean company to do an assessment of their fishing industry.
He also said that being sustainable is an important aspect of the blue economy.
“We have established a coastal zone management unit designed to treat with policy issues to a manage Tobago’s erosion situation. Tobago is very vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels. We have been impacted significantly. Pigeon Point has been severely impacted.”
He said the THA is currently engaging CAF through the Ministry of Finance in their coastal development strategy as initial estimates put rehabilitation of Pigeon Point at approximately $50 million.
“Financing is a challenge and we would be appreciative of additional funding including from the private sector,” he said.