Category: News

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.

Laptop Programme returns to Secondary Schools

Education Minister, Anthony Garcia announced yesterday during a media conference at the Ministry of Education that the government will provide laptops to 153 secondary schools across the country from September 2018. This includes 13,600 Lenovo laptops at a total cost of $50 million, with each school receiving approximately 50 laptops each.

This time, the students will not be allowed to take home the laptops, but instead will remain the property of the school. This decision being made in an effort to avoid the “colossal wastage” that occurred in the previous programme, to avoid underutilization in the classroom as well as misuse by students. Garcia stated that within the previous programme, students were given laptops without the requisite training and this resulted in the laptops being used for all different types of reasons.

Under the previous administration, between 2010 and 2015 approximately 95,000 laptops amounting to more than $253 million were purchased for students for school and home use.

The laptop contract has been awarded to Memory Bank Computers Limited. Garcia mentioned that the laptops are under a three-year warranty, which is an improvement from the previous programme’s six month warranty which proved insufficient to cover repairs.

Ministry of Education ICT expert, Gerald Phillip indicated that teachers will receive training on how to incorporate the high-quality laptops into their classes and lessons. Some have already received training in this area. He further stated that the teachers will have a timetable where use of the devices will be set out on specific days and times. The laptops will be made available at such time and returned to a storage area once the class has ended.

Chief Education Officer, Harrilal Seecharan concurred that the ministry will put measures in place for proper utilization and storage in schools and the laptops will come with storage cards which contain a locked in mechanism for safety and protection. He added that the laptops can be used “anywhere in the school” under the guidance of the school management and Garcia indicated that rural schools who do not have internet access will be provided with an aptus device that will allow connections to digital learning platforms without internet access.

NEWS UPDATE: PM returned from London late Tuesday night

Dr. Rowley was set to return to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday afternoon and was expected to hold a media conference at the VIP Lounge at the Piarco International Airport at 4pm.

However, updates via the Office of the Prime Minister’s Twitter page indicated that their flight had been cancelled. He was then expected to land very late Tuesday night.

The Prime Minister will now address the media at tomorrow’s post Cabinet conference instead.

Rowley was accompanied by Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young and Energy Minister Franklin Khan to the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in London, where during his time he met with the country’s Ambassador to London, Former Tobago House of Assembly Head, Orville London and hosted a meet and greet with the diaspora.

ICON’s Illegal Act

How could Anthony Deyal, the former Chief Executive of Government Information Services Limited (GISL), offer himself a contract at the same company he worked?

That’s what happened with Project ICON.

A thread of emails between Anthony Deyal and Mr. Doodnath Bhola, then chairman of GISL, in March 2015 suggests that Deyal had been acting illegally regarding Project ICON to the extent that the board at the time was concerned about his integrity.

Under the People’s Partnership, Project ICON (Integrated Communications Outreach Network) was launched as a one minute television serial meant to feature the views of ordinary people and for the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago to receive information on the ongoing work of the Government. The project sold itself as one so that all citizens regardless of region, religion or race would know how to access a vast variety of benefits and opportunities available.

Former Communication Minister, Maxie Cuffie in his contributions to the 2015-2016 budget debate claimed that GISL’s Project ICON, comprising video clips of PP Ministers speaking, cable ads and electronic billboards, was a “con job” done by a man who “had a way with words” and was the beneficiary of payments equalling $15 million. He claimed the project was called a strategic plan but was really a costly means to “enrich a few” and to aid the UNC in re-election via its message —“Your Government Working For You.” The Icon programme was meant to include the use of 500 screens and the service providers were paid in full, although only 50 screens were installed, Cuffie claimed. “The Project Icon was a web of mismanagement, vanity and waste.”

 

Faris Faux Pas

52 Cases Hanging and Legislation rejected- July 2015

  • In July 2015, AG Faris Al Rawi proposed legislation to address the 52 part-heard matters which hung in abeyance since the resignation of Marcia Ayers-Caesar in an effort to prevent similar scenarios from reoccurring, however abandoned this course of action soon after as the opposition rejected it. The opposition leader instead suggested a solution could be found under section 137 of the Constitution which speaks to the setting up of a Tribunal to investigate the conduct of the Chief Justice.
  • Ayers-Caesar then sought to have the interpretation summons filed by the AG struck out against her, with her attorney, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj claiming that the summons was an abuse of process against his client and that Al Rawi and the court had no jurisdiction.
  • The AG said that the interpretation summons was filed in the public’s interest as the rights of the accused under the unfinished cases were being violated.
  • Since then, it is uncertain how many of the 52 part-heard cases have been resolved.

AG’s Children Improperly Handle Guns- October 2015

  • In October 2015, AG Faris Al Rawi’s children were photographed improperly handling high powered military guns at the Cumuto facility. The TTDF remarked that they were in fact the AG’s children but were disallowed from handling the guns belonging to it. Contrary to this, Major Al Alexander commented that the children were not allowed to partake in the exercise but their curiousity allowed them to interact with the weapons.
  • The Prime Minister also clarified that they were in fact his children and that the photos were a serious breach of security on the part of the Defence Force, but the AG never admitted to the photographed children being his own.

The Ganja Statement- May 2016

“As attorney general, I strongly believed that we as a country needed to look towards the decriminalization of marijuana.”- Faris Al Rawi

  • In May 2016, the Prime Minister commented on the decriminalization of marijuana saying that the matter wasn’t discussed with Cabinet and as such the Government was not examining it at that time. The AG took matters into his own hand, without consensus at Cabinet level for the proposal, and without making a pronouncement on it.
  • He consulted with the CJ, DPP, acting CoP, religious heads, psychiatrists, foreign partners and legal colleagues on the issue, acknowledging that he received a substantial amount of data to support the decriminalization. But when asked about his position, he asserted that his ministry was reviewing several laws, including the Dangerous Drugs Act and that any studies, statistic-gathering and consultations would not be an overnight process with snap decision making.

Mark my words carefully- July 2016

  • In July 2016, Faris Al Rawi expressed that his statement about $12 billion in uncollected VAT was portrayed out of context by the media and the context needed to be understood. He clarified that he was highlighting outstanding liabilities on VAT, speaking about the issue over several years and that the figure was a combination of events, “actual amounts due, interest, penalties on those amounts over a span of a number of years, including the estimation of what should have been in the system, but what was not in the system.”
  • The question about the collection of $12 billion that year was posed to Finance Minister, Colm Imbert, who was absent when the discussion took place, but expressed he had no idea how Al Rawi arrived at that figure. He explained that the State planned to regain a targeted $500 million in outstanding taxes via a tax amnesty.

Galicia reports still pending…-April 2017

  • Upon Al Rawi’s perusal of documents received by Works Minister Rohan Sinanan, that alluded to corruption in the Super Fast Galicia’s six month contract resulting in a two year assignment, the AG agreed to produce a comprehensive report and particulars about the corrupt practices of high office holders involved and as instructed by the Prime Minister, “to identify the culprits”.
  • He called for further documents as it related to the vessel’s procurement and transaction to assist in his investigation and make the relevant recommendations according to law. Reports are yet to be received.
  • Claims made against Nyree Alfonso that she was the broker used to acquire the Galicia were denied, saying that she assisted in the procurement of the vessel but has never been a broker in her life. She said that she used her expertise to source the vessels but did not participate in tender or evaluation and the Port Authority deemed the Galicia acceptable.

Opposition Mischief- October 2017

  • In October 2017, Al Rawi was accused by Dr. Roodal Moonilal who produced a series of text messages between Al Rawi and Mark Adams that alluded to the planting of recording devices in the office of opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen. Adams confessed to being contacted by Al Rawi several times in 2016 and agreed to break into the Senator’s office, as well as being bribed with $100,000 for the cellphone that contained the messages.
  • Al Rawi denied all claims. The Prime Minister called it “Opposition Obfuscation”.

ISIS Terror Cell- Yes, No, Uncertain, Hiding?- February 2018

  • In Parliament on February 16th 2018, the Prime Minister was asked of the existence of an ISIS Terror Cell operating in T&T, to which he responded with a simple “yes”.

  • He said, “Many of them have been intercepted in Turkey, in Britain, some have been returned to Trinidad and Tobago, some are in custody in foreign countries; persons who seek to join ISIS and in fact as ISIS has been dispersed in Iraq and Syria that doctrine now is spread to homeland activities and therefore we have to be particularly concerned about such persons and the monitoring of such persons is an integral part of our national security and the answer to the question is yes.”
  • Contrary to this, Al Rawi criticized media reports saying that there was no such acknowledgement by the PM. UNC MPs Suruj Rambachan, Rodney Charles and Barry Padarath all expressed that the PM’s statement of its admission was very clear and could be found live to review at any time on the internet and criticized the AG for his “game-playing”, contradictory statements as well as accused him of ulterior motives.

Sabbatical-Vacation Leave- March 2018

  • Al Rawi commented that “the papers are nearly finished in terms of settling” after he took the relevant steps to clarify whether such a leave existed for members of the Judiciary after CJ Ivor Archie applied for Sabbatical leave, before changing it to vacation leave when controversy ensued.
  • The AG said that they were expected to file in a couple of days at the High Court, asking for an interpretation, and then to proceed with the matter.
  • He makes mention of treating with the matter carefully as the Judiciary is independent in the arrangement of our democracy and if parties consent to treating with the matter on an expedited basis, it will certainly be expedited, making clear that “What is required is clarity in relation to the law and certainty to our constitutional arrangements so that we get this right moving forward.”

Land and Company Registries- March 2018

The AG rejected any claims that the Land and Company Registry is not operational on March 21st, 2018. He confessed to restrictions on the system the following month but assured that a manual system of checking at the registry had been undertaken. The system is operational and the online version will be getting a turbo boost, with over 5.8 million records being scanned and made accessible to the public online.