Interview: Meng Yan
What major developments can we expect to see from the sector in the short to medium term?
MENG YAN: The recent economic recession has affected the pace and rhythm of the construction sector in general, and large infrastructural projects in particular. The government of Trinidad and Tobago has attempted to get the best value for each dollar invested in infrastructure during years of limited revenue and budgets. The entire tendering and project-awarding processes is transparent and competitive – this has been motivated by the government’s efforts to give the limited resources it had the best possible value in the market. Still, the tightening of budgets has inevitably been reflected in the progression of projects. Despite the extensive collaboration between the government and contractors to keep disruptions to a minimum, some of the most significant infrastructural projects in the country – such as the new Arima Hospital – are facing up to one year in delays. After three years of recession, the future looks brighter. The latest government budget included a fiscal injection for housing development, while Vision 2030 stresses the importance of stimulating housing construction for low- and middle-income sectors. The construction of the Valencia to Toco highway, as well as the completion of the ferry port in Toco signal an inflection point in infrastructural spending patterns and the opening of the economic and commercial development of the north-eastern region of Trinidad.
What are T&T’s current infrastructure needs?
YAN: An upgrade of the road network seems to be necessary for the reduction of traffic congestion. This includes the completion of the Valencia to Toco highway, the removal of disruptions to the fluidity of traffic along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway from Port of Spain to Sangre Grande, and the upgrade of the Port of Spain to Chaguaramas road into a highway. Maritime infrastructure could also profit from resource allocation, including the expansion of the harbour terminal in Port of Spain and the completion of the ferry port in Toco. General infrastructure enhancement is needed throughout the rural areas of eastern Trinidad, while disaster prevention infrastructure must be reviewed in order to avoid future flooding and landslide events.
How could foreign companies benefit from the implementation of public-private partnerships (PPP)?
YAN: PPPs, and by extension, investment opportunities for participating foreign construction companies, are most applicable to projects that can generate revenue or income by themselves, namely airports, ports or industrial parks. The road network in T&T is unsuitable for such a scheme, since any PPP initiative would imply the establishment of a toll system. Currently, the road network in Trinidad is toll-free, and the public, unused to any form of road pricing, would oppose the introduction of fees. Likewise, the persistent shortages in foreign exchange may pose another risk to the development of PPPs, especially for foreign companies which may be obliged to operate in local currency as a consequence of the forex scarcity. That said, the expansion of air and maritime infrastructure could be more easily developed via PPPs, whether it is the expansion of the port terminals or upgrading the Piarco and ANR Robinson International Airports. In addition, the development of housing and industrial areas could benefit enormously from the establishment of an adequate PPP programme. Although T&T has seen PPP projects executed in the past, they have not been popular in recent years. Despite this, T&T is leading the way with several infrastructure projects, such as the expansion of the marina and the airport, both eligible for PPP funding arrangements. The adaptation of existing legislation, especially as it concerns forex shortages, is imperative for PPPs to succeed in attracting international investors. That said, the establishment of the correct legal procedures may be lengthy and time-consuming, especially since parliamentary approval would be needed.
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