COVID-19 has proven to be a challenge with which the world continues to grapple.
And while T&T also struggles to adapt economically and socially to the adverse challenges wrought by the virus, the Government has pledged to continue supporting citizens during this difficult period.
During the past nine months stimulus packages, increased social welfare grants, and general measures to improve the quality of life for all citizens have been put in place by the respective ministries.
Reaffirming their commitment to ensuring citizens do not suffer further hardships as a result of COVID-19, and as the world gets ready to welcome 2021, several ministers outlined their strategic plans for the year ahead.
Ministry of Housing
Housing and Urban Development Minister Penelope Beckles-Robinson is responsible for providing adequate housing to the population and development of urban environments.
Indicating her ministry’s policies, programmes and projects are formulated to be consistent with the National Development Strategy 2016 to 2030 which puts people first, she said it was a matter of nurturing our greatest assets and providing affordable housing.
Beckles-Robinson said her target areas in the year ahead would include:
1. Expanding the housing and village improvement programme which utilises self-help approaches to provide housing for the neediest in society. Houses are constructed or improved while being partially funded by individuals through sweat equity.
2. The public/private housing partnership programme which has yielded 450 housing units will be ramped up in the new year. Approximately 800 homes are currently under construction which employs 10,000 workers directly and provides between 7,000 to 10,000 indirect jobs.
3. The regularisation of squatter communities, where certificates of comfort and statutory leases would be issued for 30 years and finally a 199-year lease.
4. Regularisation and regeneration of communities with a particular focus on Port-of-Spain. This project will zero in on microenterprise and community development to address employment and social issues.
5. Providing an affordable government housing programme which allows a wider cross-section of citizens to access funding between two and five per cent mortgages will also be on the agenda in the coming year.
Ministry of Social Development
Social Development and Family Services Minister Donna Cox outlined her top five priority projects which spanned the period 2020 to 2021. They include:
1. Support for vulnerable groups post COVID-19 will focus on pensioners and those receiving public assistance such as the disabled and the elderly; homes for the aged; street dwellers: single mothers and single fathers; and grandparents raising grandchildren.
2. Enhancing services delivered by the ministry to provide greater access and engagement for the public and removing bottlenecks to improve efficiency; and increasing support to MPs in constituencies.
3. Building local and international strategic partnerships between the Government and the private sector, NGOs, and civil society.
4. Digitalisation of the ministry’s services which is on course for completion in June of 2021.
5. Legislative Review which is an ongoing process will get added momentum in 2021. Cox said her ministry had already engaged the Attorney General’s office in relation to the Public Assistance Act, the Old Age Pension Act, the Displaced Persons Act, the Homes for Older Persons Act, and the Victims of Trafficking Act.
Public Utilities Ministry
Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales has major plans in the pipelines to improve the utilities that fall under his purview. These include:
1. Stabilising the water situation in the country.
2. Focus on the restructuring of the Water and Sewerage Authority which is being badly managed. His plan is to turn WASA around and make it an effective and efficient state enterprise. His desire is to make WASA, T&TEC, and TTPost financially sustainable companies.
3. Pursuing further initiatives for energy efficiency and energy conservation is also on the cards.
4. An integrated waste management system for the country including Beverage Container Reform and a recycling system will also be key priorities.
5. Establishing a robust telecommunications sector and ensuring full broadband coverage across the country.
Ministry of Works and Transport
Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan has big plans for 2021 and the projects under his ambit. They include:
1. The extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin which features a four-lane divided roadway. The 29 kilometres long highway which is still under construction is expected to be completed next June. Approximately 400 to 1,400 service providers, suppliers, professionals, and labourers are employed in this project at any given time.
2. Construction of a four-lane overpass over the Diego Martin Highway as well as an intersection at Columbus Boulevard and an eastern connector road to provide access to the Victoria Keys and Powder Magazine developments. Sinanan said this would help the traffic woes residents currently face.
3. Increasing work on the Valencia to Toco Highway, and the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway Extension to Sangre Grande. In 2021, the ministry is expected to further transform the Licensing Division by launching several online services to enhance customer experience and create additional revenue.
4. The introduction of two additional vessels for the sea bridge between T&T will be one of Sinanan’s major objectives. The first ferry—the APT James is expected to arrive in T&T in a few days. Passengers currently use the Jean De La Valette, the Galleons Passage, or the T&T Spirit to get to Tobago. Sinanan also has his eyes on legislative reform for the maritime sector. Cabinet’s decision last year to privatise the port of Port-of-Spain will also be a critical step in improving government’s foreign exchange and operational efficiency, Sinanan pointed out.
5. The ministry also wants to invest in a programme of upgrades to existing drainage pumps and sluice gates. A total of 13 projects will be undertaken in the next 12 months.