The following is Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s New Year’s message:
I greet you, the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago —very confidently today—at the start of the new year—2021.
It is with a firm buoyancy that I extend New Year’s greetings from the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, my family, and myself as Prime Minister.
The first of January 2021 is not just the start of the new year—but it is the day in which we begin to set out what we can see as a new beginning.
There are those among us, the nay-sayers, who will cry out immediately, casting doubts that this year will be just an extension of the awful nightmare of 2020.
My government with its “boundless faith in our destiny” holds, instead, to its faith in the people of Trinidad and Tobago, seeing only hope and opportunities.
I know that we all wish we could leave the challenges of 2020 behind, but its realities are before us.
Globally the dual shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in energy prices have had debilitating impacts. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that the world economy has suffered a -4.4 per cent decline.
In some countries, the economic decline and the lockdown resulted in job losses on an unimaginable scale, with commodity and other markets grinding to a halt. That double blow coupled into the challenges of 2020, hindering projected economic growth, resulting beyond belief in millions of people losing income, others their lives and livelihoods.
The health, economic, and psycho-social impact on people’s lives have been enormous, causing strains on governments, just like ours, to extend its policy reach, so that “No one will be left behind.” The way out, the IMF describes, as “a long and difficult ascent,” fraught with many risks.
However, the COVID-19 vaccines are considered, as the light in the tunnel, but those scars in the global economy will take many years to heal.
Nonetheless, the IMF’s World Economic Outlook projects a 5.1 per cent growth in 2021, which is expected to level off at 3.5 per cent in the medium term.
It projects that Trinidad and Tobago will see a 2.6 per cent economic growth this year, as compared to the -5.6 of 2020.
But the real good news is that we have lived to see another year, and 2021 springs eternal hope for us as a people.
I believe the worst is behind us. With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, global demand and economic activity are expected to return; improvements are expected in world energy prices, commodity markets; employment in the restaurant, entertainment, and distribution sectors are expected back slowly.
Today, I assure you the Government will do its best to continue to steer this country to a place of growth and prosperity with the aid of our Roadmap to Recovery.
The new beginning I speak of will be a re-orientation of the economy, a transition into the digital age, which will create opportunities for small businesses, and increasing employment in this area.
Opportunities are also identified in manufacturing, energy services, green technology and agriculture.
The government, in its role, will be paying attention to emerging innovations, predicting future trends, attracting collaborations, facilitating the re-design of work processes and re-purposing of organisations.
With food security at the top of the list on the way forward. Government has already approved a $500 million agriculture stimulus package for 2021, in addition to regular budgetary allocations. The use of digital technology in agriculture will be increased with a focus on decreasing our food import bill.
The development of downstream agriculture industries and creating a strong agri-business eco-system are also on the agenda.
Income tax earners will also have a bit of an ease on their pockets. Anyone earning $7,000 per month or less will be exempt from income tax, as the personal tax allowance has been raised from $72,000 to $84,000. It will take effect in January 2021.
One of two new fast ferries is set to arrive in January to service the sea-bridge. The journey to Tobago will be less than three hours and become an integral part of a visit to Tobago.
We are also working towards establishing and increasing our renewable energy usage.
Government has already signed an agreement with Lightsource BP and Shell for the construction of a 150-megawatt solar power plant, which would represent 10 per cent of the country’s total power generation capacity.
The development of this area will bring the country within compliance of our commitment to the Paris Agreement.
As our country steadily transforms into a modern State, we will celebrate the diversity of our talent and innovative ideas, seeking to market our creativity to the region and the world.
Let us allow our true spirit of unity to guide us as a people, moving us forward as one, not being dominated and motivated by race, colour or class—but focusing on our similarities, our shared heritage, our promised future, our sense of patriotism, and love of country.
Today, let us invest in our children’s future, creating a society whose singular goal is to meet the needs of all of its peoples, through the creation of opportunities for all. Happy New Year.