Month: May 2018

OJT Nafisah Nakhid reassigned to the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government

OJT Nafisah Nakhid has been transferred and started her first day of training at the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government yesterday.

Nakhid, 23, a mechanical engineer graduate from the UWI, St Augustine, reported for duty at the ministry’s Mechanical Engineering Unit at 8 am on Monday, where part of her duties are to assist in the procurement and co-ordination of vehicles for all 14 regional corporations.

Monday afternoon, Nakhid was formally introduced to line Minister Kazim Hosein who expressed happiness over the resolution to Nakhid’s OJT placement.

Nakhid’s reassignment came one week after she reported for duty at the SDMS’ Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College but was denied the opportunity to train at the school unless she agreed to remove her hijab while on the compound. She was told this was a decision by the school’s Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) board of management. However, Nakhid, who has been wearing the hijab for the past 15 years, refused to agree to this, believing it to be discrimination and left the compound.

In an immediate response, the Ministry of Education said the school was government-assisted and the act was deemed “a flagrant disregard of the laws enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago.” But SDMS secretary general, Sat Maharaj is standing by the decision, saying anyone who is accepted to teach at the college has to conform with the school’s code of conduct and dress code.

Education Minister Anthony Garcia admitted he had no knowledge that Nakhid was reassigned but expressed happiness for her and assured that the ministry will continue its action against the SDMS.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), in a release highlighting Nakhid’s issue said the body is empowered to investigate these complaints and, where possible, to bring the parties together for conciliation. The service would be free of charge and if the complaint cannot be resolved at the level of the EOC, the matter may be referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal which is a superior court of record and is presided over by a judge. The release added that the EOT is empowered to make orders, declarations and awards of compensation as it deems fit and also reminded members of the public that “denying employment to someone on the basis of their religion may constitute discrimination, and is prohibited by the Equal Opportunity Act Chapter 22:03 [Act No 69 of 2000 as amended] (‘the Act’ and/or ‘the EOA’).

 

Cabinet seeks interpretation from Court on OJT’s denied access to Lakshmi Girls’

Education Minister Anthony Garcia has assured that “The On-The-Job Training (OJT) Programme does not discriminate according to race, class, or religion” and there was no need to develop parameters via which OJT trainees would now be selected for schools across the country.

Garcia makes mention of persons who are qualified but cannot get a job at the moment and the OJT Programme grants persons the opportunity to get experience in the workplace.

Administered by the Ministry of Labour, Garcia said successful OJT applicants are presented with either a one-year or two-year contract, depending on the placement.

The Minister denied the placement of Nafisah Nakhid at Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College last Monday as a deliberate move designed to provoke or spite the head of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and said that his ministry was not involved in the decision as to who would have been selected for placement.

Garcia informed that he has received a report from the principal of the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College which gives details of the incident where OJT Nafisah Nakhid was turned away from the school because she was wearing a hijab.

According to Garcia, the report states the principal as saying that the conversation with Nakhid ended “very amicably” and the person left. Nakhid came to the school and the principal said she sat with her in the presence of the vice principal, where they explained the position of the Board to her, which is “it does not allow persons on the compound wearing the hijab.”

The principal in her report stated that the school is on the Maha Sabha compound.

The report is similar to what Nakhid has been saying after she went public with the issue. The graduate in mechanical engineering from UWI said last week that she was “traumatised” by the incident.

Garcia said the Ministry has asked Maha Sabha Secretary General Sat Maharaj for a report, after which he will refer both reports to the Attorney General.

Garcia also stated that Cabinet has decided to seek an interpretation from the Court with or without a report and that it is a very sensitive issue. He further stated that it is generally felt that the action of the Maha Sabha is contrary to the Constitution of this country, therefore it is important to get an interpretation from the court.

UNC MP for Tabaquite, Dr Suruj Rambachan, himself a pundit, said he did not believe that Sat Maharaj’s statement urging Hindus to “free the Hindu vote,” and to vote for anyone other than Persad-Bissessar would hurt the UNC.

Rambachan said voting patterns since 1981 have shown that the electorate is not “controlled by anybody. The electorate is perhaps much more mature than we make them out to be and should not be underestimated.”

Dillon holds Crime Talks

Yesterday, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon called a meeting with acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams, Deputy Commissioners of Police Harold Phillip, Deodat Dulalchan, Erla Christopher, Assistant Commissioner of Police Irwin Hackshaw and Divisional Commanders of the TTPS, in an effort to receive an update on the strategies currently being pursued at the various divisions in the fight against crime.

The Divisions with the highest murder rate were represented: Port of Spain Division; Northern Division; Southern Division; Western Division and Central Division.

The meeting served to clarify the support and resources needed by the TTPS from the Ministry of National Security and also focused on proposed strategies for the upgrade of existing technological systems to assist in intelligence-gathering and crime detection. Discussions also took place with respect to methods to increase synergies and information-sharing among networks consistent with the Government’s inter-agency approach to crime prevention.

Divisional Heads reported on the recent strides made in their respective Divisions which included:

  • Improvement in the detection rate;
  • Firearm seizures;
  • Surveillance and monitoring mechanisms as well as evidence–gathering;
  • Police Mobile and foot patrols as well as Joint Police/Army patrols in areas across Trinidad and Tobago;
  • Community engagement initiatives aimed at reducing violent crimes, gang activity and youth offending; and
  • Ongoing crime prevention projects in partnership with Non-Governmental Organizations, International Agencies and the general public.

Dillon shared his strategic thrust in treating with crime and criminality, utilizing the five pillars of Prediction, Deterrence, Detection, Prosecution and Rehabilitation. He urged the Police Executive to also anchor their strategies along this strategic thrust noting the importance of the Prediction, Deterrence and Detection pillars, as well as emphasized the need to measure the effectiveness of current initiatives.

The Minister commended the Police Executive on the advances they have been making in deterring nefarious activities and apprehending perpetrators of crime and encouraged them to continue to pursue an integrated, intelligence-led crime fighting strategy.

He noted the Ministry of National Security’s efforts in treating with financial considerations for priority areas including the acquisition of new police vehicles and the maintenance of existing ones. Further, he reiterated that the Ministry continues to focus considerable attention on ensuring that the Police Service has the required manpower, access to modern security methodologies, equipment and physical infrastructure to carry out its mandate to make Trinidad and Tobago a more secure place for all.

PM searches for Fast Ferry in Australia

PM Rowley and his delegation arrived in Perth Australia on Sunday 20th May, 2018 to commence his working visit to that country.

Yesterday, the PM and his team met with executives of Austal Shipyards. Austal is Australia’s major shipbuilder of aluminum vessels for civilian and military use and has supplied Coast Guard vessels to Trinidad and Tobago in the past.

The delegation received a tour of the facility as well as some of the vessels made by Austal. They also viewed a presentation by the company detailing its ability to custom build vessels to the specifications of the client and suitable for the conditions under which the vessel would be expected to perform.

The delegation has now departed for Sydney where PM Rowley is scheduled to visit another Australian shipbuilder in Tasmania, INCAT, as well as meet with the Export Financing Corporation (EFIC) there.

The PM is exploring the possibility of a Government to Government relationship with the authorities in Australia with the aim of establishing effective border protection in Trinidad and Tobago.

MEDIA RELEASE – HDC continues eviction of illegal occupants in Maloney

In the past week, the Trinidad and Tobago Housing Development Corporation (HDC) partnered with the protective service and defence force to evict a number of illegal occupants from its housing in Maloney Gardens.

The evictions are part of an ongoing targeted programme by the corporation to address the challenge of illegal occupants in its communities. The HDC is resolute in its attempts to complete this process to ensure that families who qualify for and are genuinely in need of public housing, are able to have access to units.

In commenting on the issue, HDC Managing Director said: “The HDC always tries to exercise compassion and understanding for genuine cases. However, the number of illegal occupants has increased over the years and the situation therefore can no longer be tolerated. We will continue with this eviction exercise and subsequently repair those previously occupied units so that they can now be offered to deserving home owners.”

The HDC also intends to continue its efforts to convert holders of Licence to Occupy (LTO) and Rent To Own (RTO) agreements to mortgages which can provide the corporation with an estimated $3bn to complete other housing developments and provide affordable shelter opportunities for qualified applicants.

Galleons Passage, Last Known Position: Panama Bay

Today- Galleons Passage is still anchored at Panama Bay awaiting clearance of marine traffic to make its way through the canal and then embark on their journey to Santiago de Cuba. 

Cabinet has approved the spending of close to $8 million by the Port Authority of T&T to get the Ports of Port-of-Spain and Scarborough ready for the Galleons Passage.

Lyle Alexander, Port Chairman, informed earlier in the week that the Port is undergoing ancillary works right now to accommodate the vessel when it arrives, both at Scarborough and Port of Spain. The Port has contracted the services of Polaris Marine to lay down steel plates on the jetty to accommodate the ramp when it comes from the vessel and to install piles to tie the boat when it is alongside the pier.

He is optimistic that the work will be completed before the Galleons Passage arrives.

Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said that there was no change in the ten-day schedule in Cuba. He indicated that the vessel will be re-flagged to carry the flag of T&T in either Panama or Cuba.

During Tuesday night’s debate on the mid-year budget review he also said that the T&T Spirit is back on the service and the Cabo Star’s (cargo) contracts has been extended. But he said Nidco will be going out to tender shortly for a more suitable vessel. And for the longer term, the Government has decided to buy its own cargo vessel.

The Galleons Passage, up till late last Wednesday, had not gotten a berth and remained seven kilometers in Panama Bay awaiting its turn to approach the canal. Marine traffic on the Panama Canal was hectic with scores of pleasure craft waiting their turn to pass through.

Satellite tracking showed a pilot boat parked close up to the Galleons Passage which, more than likely, was there to take the crew on land. Documentation has to be lodged with the boat’s shipping agent and fees paid, to allow it to pass through the canal.

Given the volume of traffic in the Panama Canal on Wednesday, it is still uncertain when the boat will not make it to Santiago de Cuba, a five day sailing, where it will spend ten days at the Damen Shipyard for installation of toilets, a full canopy over the sundeck and the remodeling of the rails on the passenger deck.

Those works are expected to cost an additional $2.3 million.

It will take between 10 and 12 days to be outfitted and then sail to Port of Spain which is a five-day journey.

The expected arrival date is now mid-June.

Air Linkages, T&T Asphalt offered for World’s largest airport and Chinese businessmen seeking to invest

PM Rowley announced that once Chinese citizens hold either a United States or Canadian visa then they could also be eligible to travel to Trinidad and Tobago, with an estimation that some 120 million tourists travel annually from China.

PM Rowley and his delegation met with HNA Group Co. Ltd, a company that owns over 1,200 aircrafts, is a substantial shareholder in international hotel chains and boasts of being the largest tour operating company in China. HNA Group has been invited to establish code sharing and interline arrangements with Caribbean Airlines, as well as to submit a competitive bid to partner with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago on the Tobago Sandals project once the tender process is initiated. It is anticipated that this strategic partnership will allow Trinidad and Tobago to tap into the tourism market in China.

Chairman of Caribbean Airlines, Mr. Mohammed met with top executives of Air China, who also expressed interest in code sharing and interline arrangements with Caribbean Airlines. They are presently operating flights into Havana, Cuba and JFK New York.

The PM and his delegation also visited Beijing Construction Engineering Group (BCEG) headquarters in Beijing where they are currently engaged in building the world’s largest airport, the new Beijing International Airport, in China. PM Rowley congratulated the company on this incredible project and indicated that the properties of Trinidad and Tobago’s asphalt render it the best quality asphalt for paving an airport tarmac. The Chairman of Lake Asphalt, Mr Christopher John Williams, delivered a presentation on the quality of T&T’s asphalt and also invited the company to partner with Lake Asphalt in developing and monetizing asphalt bi-products. The Chairman of BCEG has expressed interest in obtaining asphalt from T&T for the world’s largest airport in Beijing China.

Today- The PM has met with a group of young Chinese businessmen who represented a wide array of business ventures including investment financing, real estate development, artificial intelligence and manufacturing robotics, ICT and tours and travel. The PM thanked them for their interest in investing directly in Trinidad and Tobago and encouraged them to explore the opportunities available.

The PM and his delegation then visited the Yangshan Deepwater Port, the largest port in the world, that is operated by the Shanghai International Port Group Co. Ltd. and is located in Hangzhou Bay south of Shanghai, where he was given a guided tour of the facility.

PM Rowley signs Four Memoranda of Understanding with China and discusses possibilities for Foreign Direct Investment

The Trinidad and Tobago delegation led by Prime Minister Keith Rowley arrived in Beijing China yesterday, Monday 14 May 2018, at around 4:30 am.

Rowley then participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the establishment of the Communist State.

See snippet of ceremony here: https://www.facebook.com/OPMTT/videos/619756235043562/

Following an official welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, the first official meeting took place between Prime Minister Rowley and H.E. Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

In keeping with their commitment to deepen ties, the two nations engaged in a signing ceremony at which the following four memoranda of understanding were signed:

  1. Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation within the Framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative
  2. Memorandum of Understanding between the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on Strengthening Cooperation in the Field of Medicine and Health
  3. Memorandum of Understanding on Human Resource Development Cooperation between the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Public Administration and Commemoration of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  4. Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

This was followed by a State banquet held in honour of Prime Minister Rowley also at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Today-  Rowley visited China Communications Construction Co. Ltd in Beijing where the possible partnership in the construction of the La Brea Drydock and possibilities for foreign direct investment in T&T were discussed.

He then met with His Excellency Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China where he invited His Excellency to take advantage of T&T’s strategic geographical location as it relates to expanding trade and other services.

His Excellency expressed his willingness to encourage investment in T&T, whilst deepening longstanding ties and invited Trinidad and Tobago to participate in an international expo on importation taking place in China this November. An agreement was also struck between them to collaborate in celebrating the 45th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Trinidad and Tobago and China next year.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM IMBERT- “We are finally experiencing growth and recovery in 2018”

The 2018 Mid-year Budget Review was presented by the Honourable Colm Imbert, Minister of Finance in the House of Representatives yesterday – May 10th, 2018.

See the Minister’s full mid-year review here: Mid-Year-Review-2018

Here are the highlights:

The Economy

  • The turnaround of the economy is due to economic expansion in both the energy and non-energy sectors with a growth forecast of 2.0% in 2018 and 2.2% in 2019.
  • The beginning of the last quarter of 2018 will see a number of new gas fields beginning production, boosting gas levels from 3.37 billion cubic feet per day in 2017 to an estimated 3.80 billion cubic feet in 2018 and 3.94 billion cubic feet in 2019.
  • Gas production is up 20% from 2016 levels, to which Imbert claimed the energy sector has been revitalized.
  • Additional gas from Venezuela will also generate substantial opportunities for strengthening and supporting the economy.
  • The non-energy sector is expected to break even in 2018 after years of decline, with growth estimates in 2019 of 1.2% rising to 2.9% in 2020.
  • The collection of taxes on income and profits in this fiscal year for “Other Companies” excluding oil and gas was $4.9 billion.
  • Collection of corporation tax in the petrochemical sector moved from $371 million between October 2016 and April 2017 to $1.2 billion between October 2017 to April 2018.
  • Similarly, within the same periods, collection of corporation tax in the non-energy sector moved from $1.8 billion to $2.3 billion.

“This improved outturn for 2017 and the expected growth in 2018 will have a substantial effect on our nominal GDP, which is expected to increase by 9% to TT$168 billion in 2018. This will also have a direct positive effect on our debt to GDP ratio, which is now estimated to drop to well below 60%, even with the planned borrowing programme in 2018.”

 

Revenue and Expenditure: October 2017-March/April 2018

  • Headline inflation dropped to 1.3% by the end of 2017, with economic recovery taking place in an environment of price stability.

Although Government expenditure for the year has been revised to $48.88 billion from $50.50 billion, an additional $213.0 million is needed expenditure in key areas, such as:

  • The Tobago House of Assembly is receiving $20.0 million to fund the expansion of the agricultural access roads programme and $100.0 million in reimbursement for backpay for TRHA workers.
  • The Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs is receiving $30.0 million to meet the cost of legal and other fees arising from matters raised in the Commission of Enquiry into CL Financial Limited and Colonial Life Insurance (Trinidad) Company Limited.
  • The Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Arts is receiving $2.0 million to enable the National Commission for Self Help to assist individuals in Tobago whose homes have been affected by flooding and other damages.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries is receiving $38.0 million of which $31.0 million would fund the cost of the subsidy due to farmers under the Agriculture Incentive Programme and $7.0 million to meet the cost of claims submitted by farmers for the loss of crops as a result of excessive rainfall and consequential flooding during the month of October 2017.
  • The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services is being provided with the sum of $23.0 million to meet expenditure for the Senior Citizens Grant to September 30th, 2018.
  • The Ministry of Works and Transport is receiving the sum of $62.5 million to continue and expand its infrastructure works programme.
  • The Ministry of Health is receiving the sum of $121.0 million to assist with payments to trade creditors, inter alia.
  • The Ministry of Education is receiving the sum of $159.0 million to pay for security and janitorial services at schools, inter alia.

 

  • As at March 2018, net public sector debt to GDP ratio was 55%, down from 62% in 2017.
  • The Net Asset Value of the Heritage and Stabilization Fund was US$5.87 billion at the end of April 2018. This was over US$200 million higher than the US$5.65 billion in the HSF at the end of September 2015, despite withdrawals totaling US$637 million between 2016 and 2017.

This is the first time in three (3) years that the credit rating of Trinidad and Tobago has not been downgraded.

 

Infrastructure

  • The Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin are in execution with completion dates in 2019/2020. The Curepe Flyover which would improve significantly traffic in the East-West Corridor is scheduled for completion by the end of 2019.
  • The ANR Robinson International Airport is being modernized at a cost of $500.0 million, excluding land acquisition.
  • Visitors to Maracas beach would soon have an engaging and exciting experience with the modernization of facilities. Other major beaches are being upgraded: Manzanilla and Las Cuevas Beach Facilities would be completed in 2018 and rehabilitation works are far advanced at the Vessigny Beach Facility.
  • In collaboration with the Government of Canada, rebranding the Couva Medical and Multi-Training Facility is taking place as a first world hospital and medical training facility, with Interhealth Canada as the international operator. The facility would be jointly-owned by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the UWI. The Government of India is offering opportunities to healthcare professionals to contribute to training at the facility by teaching traditional Indian medicine.
  • The Point Fortin Hospital is expected to be completed in 2019, the Arima Hospital is expected to be completed in 2019 and the Port of Spain Central Block should begin construction as in 2018.

 

The National Investment Fund

  • Approximately $4.0 billion of that debt owed by CLICO to the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is being monetized with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of 49.9 percent of the shareholding of a newly-incorporated company: the National Investment Fund Holding Company into which will be transferred the selected assets of Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited (CLICO) and CLICO Investment Bank (CIB) in liquidation as well as an appropriate shareholding of Trinidad Generation Unlimited (TGU) owned by GORTT, inter alia.
  • To date, as part of the first distribution of assets from Clico Investment Bank, a total of 42,475,362 shares of Republic Bank, valued at $4.3 billion have been transferred directly to the Corporation Sole and/or to State Enterprises and Clico, for onward transfer to the Government. This represents 26% of Republic Bank. It is to be noted that a further 25% of Republic Bank was already held by the Clico Investment Fund.
  • In addition, 23% of One Caribbean Media valued at $200 million has been transferred to the Corporation Sole and/or State Enterprises and Clico for onward transfer to the Government, as well as 29.9% of Angostura, valued at $1.07 billion, 5.4% of WITCO valued at $402 million and 19.5 million shares of Home Construction, valued at $476 million.
  • This Government has also recovered TT$3.8 billion in cash so far from Clico since September 2015 and lands in Tobago valued at $186 million for the site of the proposed Sandals Resort.
  • The Government is also actively pursuing the sale or acquisition of shares held in Methanol Holdings International Limited, valued at over $2 billion, as well as the recovery of $500 million in bonds.
  • Since assuming office in September 2015, the Government has so far recovered from Clico and CIB, 26% of Republic Bank valued at over $4 billion for the benefit of ALL citizens and $6 billion in cash and other assets.

 

Property Tax

  • There is no plan yet for retroactive application of this tax.

 

Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority

  • The Revenue Authority Bill is to be sent to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament for comments, contributions and recommendations of the Independents and the Opposition in this Committee. This major institutional reform would underpin efforts to stem the revenue collection leakages now inherent at the levels of the Board of Inland Revenue and the Customs and Excise Division as well as strengthen compliance risk management methodologies.

 

Procurement

  • Foreign Exchange Facility: The US$100.0 million Eximbank Foreign Exchange Facility is now operational with the grant to the Eximbank of a license by the Central Bank to trade in foreign exchange.
  • Business Development Fund: A $50.0 million business development incentive programme is at an advanced stage of implementation. The facility would finance through grants the working and seed capital for small and medium-sized businesses which are envisaged to become key drivers of economic progress in this country.
  • Border Control: The recently-installed mobile scanning technology at Point Lisas is strengthening border security with modernized customs functions and would add another dimension to the security of the environment. Port of Spain will follow shortly.