Interview: Orville London
In which areas do you foresee public-private partnerships (PPPs) playing a greater role?
ORVILLE LONDON: The THA has undertaken several trade and investment missions to the US, Europe and Asia in an attempt to attract private sector investment, especially in tourism. We aim to use PPPs to solve our development budget’s financial constraints – typically an 80% shortfall on funding requests. Through the recently established PPP unit, we are developing a pipeline of suitable projects. These include a desalination plant, a wastewater treatment plant, expansion of our affordable housing programme and a new cargo port and marina. In tourism, PPP projects include expanding facilities and room stock, as well as boosting speciality niche segments such as sports tourism and medical tourism. PPPs will have a major role in furthering the island’s diversification drive.
How would you assess the main challenges associated with the ease of doing business in Tobago?
LONDON: First, prospective investors and entrepreneurs have insufficient access to seed capital from traditional financial institutions. Investors are generally risk averse, and have shown great reluctance to lend money for entrepreneurial activities such as agriculture and fishing. Second, businesses have faced challenges building a productive workforce, at times resorting to importing labour. Many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also lack relevant training in accounting, cash flow management and general financial management. Third, there is a need for a containerised port to allow local companies to import raw materials and export finished products. This has been identified as one of the primary hurdles by many prospective investors to the Cove Eco-Industrial Business Park (CEIBP). Finally, as a direct result of our market size, many Tobagonian manufacturers produce in relatively small volumes and do not fully benefit from economies of scale.
The THA has devised a number of programmes to provide SMEs with financial assistance and business advice. With respect to human resources, we launched a financial literacy programme and initiated work to establish a Tobago Productivity Council to monitor and suggest productivity improvements. Moreover, at the CEIBP we continue to develop infrastructure to allow new and existing businesses to be established and expand. We only recently completed two multi-purpose units to provide space for small agro-processing enterprises. Lastly, we are taking the necessary steps to conduct a feasibility study for the construction of a cargo port assisting trade at Cove and elsewhere in Tobago.
What are the main priorities with respect to expanding Tobago’s transport infrastructure?
LONDON: In terms of airport infrastructure, the main priority is the construction of a new terminal at the ANR Robinson International Airport. While the existing runway accommodates international flights, the terminal facilities are inadequate. It is noteworthy that the new airport has been made a top priority by the present administration, and we are confident that construction will begin in the next fiscal year. With respect to seaport infrastructure, the Scarborough Port presently services the inter-island sea bridge, the cruise industry and cargo, yet the current facilities cannot adequately accommodate these competing uses. To alleviate the inconveniences suffered by international passengers and locals alike when larger cruise ships berth, we need a dedicated cruise port in a more appropriate location. The THA is undertaking feasibility studies to ascertain the most suitable locations for the various types of ports, in discussion with the Caribbean Development Bank. We are also constructing a jetty at Studley Park to facilitate the transport of materials from the local quarry to Trinidad and other regional markets.
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