“Let’s dream this, let’s see this.”
These were the words of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, as he outlined plans to develop Tobago with a Sandals resort to become a major revenue earner in the wake of the decline in the petroleum industry.
Rowley was speaking on Tuesday night at a People’s National Movement meeting in St Joseph, where he lambasted the wastage of the country’s resources by the former government, and promised his Government had a plan to diversity the economy with focus on developing the tourism industry.
“Given the fact that our production in oil has fallen so dramatically and gas prices don’t appear to be going up in the medium term or the long term, we as a people, if we want to maintain the standards of life we are accustomed to and to grow our economy and give our children a future, we have to find additional sources of foreign exchange,” he said.
He said some of the best foreign-exchange earning in the Caribbean can be found at Sandals Resort located in the Bahamas, Antigua, Jamaica, St Lucia, Grenada and Barbados.
The Prime Minister revealed it was the Government’s aim to partner with Sandals to have a resort constructed in Tobago, and the process of negotiations has started.
“We took steps to present Tobago as a potential site... we already had a presentation by Sandals to the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago and a presentation only Wednesday gone to the THA in Tobago, and we move forward now to negotiations for 750 rooms in Tobago to make Tobago a real destination,” he said.
He said as soon as these negotiations were concluded, for the first time Tobago would become a real Caribbean destination.
This development, he said, would impact on Trinidad, as it would create thousands of jobs in the construction of the resort and also for the operation of the facility.
“The training and the quality of that product will lift the entire tourism plant of Tobago,” he said.
He said further the Government was moving to conclude negotiations for building one or two marinas in the sister island.
“While we will spend some substantial amount of Trinidad and Tobago dollars establishing that economic entity, for its life, it will be earning foreign exchange,” he said.
“How much tomato we go plant? How much bhaigan we go plant? How much pumpkin we go plant? That is not to say, you know, I like my cassava and my dasheen and my potato and my bhaigan, but in terms of talking about earning the foreign exchange to maintain the standard of living we have become accustomed to, we gotta think big and move fast—and that is what Trinidad and Tobago is doing now under this Government,” said Rowley.
The Prime Minister said eastern Trinidad will also be developed with the construction of a quality road from Valencia to Toco and the establishment of a ferry at Toco to Tobago so that getting to Tobago would be a “20-minute breeze”.
“Let’s dream this, let’s see this. Seven hundred and fifty additional rooms in Tobago Sandals and a Beaches hotel and you can drive from Penal, you can drive from Point Fortin,” he said.
He said the unavailability of tickets to get to Tobago at present was nonsense.
Rowley said further the construction of this quality road would increase the real estate from Arima to Buccoo.
The Inter-American Development Bank, he said, is eager to fund the project. He said it would not be another “Point Fortin fiasco”, and work was already in train.
“As I speak to you now, the evaluation of the proposals from the consultants are in and the Works Minister advised him that by the July 1 the consultants who will be hired to plan the route and do the conceptual designs would be on the job,” he said.
He said at present consultants are reviewing plans for the designs of the roads around Sangre Grande toward Manzanilla, and as well as Cumuto to Manzanilla, and these are two major highway projects in the east the country can look forward to.
“This is what this Government has been doing and that is the plan,” said Rowley, adding the IDB procurement process would be followed, and corruption would recede and be a thing of the past.
Rowley also criticised the former government and its wastage of State resources. He referred to the Tourism Development Company spending money toward a radio programme called The Ground Report.
Describing the programme as the “most vulgar and outrageous”, Rowley said while he was in Opposition, he was caught by surprise by the filth that was allowed on the nation’s airwaves.
He noted the programme targeted him and his personal life and it was being conducted “by known felons on government payroll”.
Rowley cited some of the payments which amounted to some $734,000 between May 2013 and April 2014 and the payments, made by the TDC and National Lotteries Control Board continued onward in 2014, with some $45,000 in September; $40,000 in October; and $30,000 in December 2014.
The Prime Minister instructed Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi to look into any reports in the newspapers with respect to the questionable expenditure of taxpayers’ money.