13 Jul Interview with H.E. Rohan Sinanan, Minister of Works and Transport, Trinidad and Tobago
You were appointed Minister of Works and Transport in November 2016. After two years, how do you evaluate you experience in the Ministry and what can you tell us about the objectives you had and the things you could accomplish to this day?
I was honoured to assume the responsibility as the Minister of Works and Transport. Since I have been in office, my focus has been and remains unwavering, to ensure that the Ministry provides relief to the people who suffer tremendous inconveniences because of inadequate transport due to infrastructural, systemic or administrative inefficiencies. The Ministry of Works and Transport is a large Ministry and its output affects the quality of life for every citizen in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as out interactions at both the Regional and International levels. On entering the Ministry, to my advantage, I met a group of highly committed Public Officers who were willing to work to move our country forward. On the other hand, I also met a number of challenges of an administrative, financial and systemic nature.
Strategically, the approach has been to build on the following:
- Increased capacity via the initiation of a number of new infrastructure projects
- Improved maintenance of our existing stock of infrastructure
- Use of superior Information Technology in the delivery of services
- Increased emphasis on Road Safety Measures
- Movement to an enhanced Public Transportation system
- Increased attention to the Environment, in particular as it relates to our Coastal Areas, and
- Improvements in managing our nation’s watercourses
Though we have accomplished a great deal in establishing the further build out of infrastructure, improved systems that govern transportation and made significant progress with driving safety legislation to name a few, there remains far more work to be done to realize the type of success and fortune as a nation that we dream of. It is the intent of the Ministry, under my leadership, to anchor its plans and programmes within the Mandate set out by the Government’s National Development Strategy, Vision 2030
While there is widespread consensus about to the importance to diversify the economy, Trinidad and Tobago remains an oil and gas dependent economy. Infrastructure development is, by all means a way to spur economic diversification. Transports too, especially for island economies, play a crucial role to gain access to international markets and can give access (or move around) to people, services and products. What can you tell us about the transport sector in Trinidad and Tobago? How do you envisage transports integration and development in order to support socio-economic development and diversification?
In many developed countries, transportation accounts for between 6% and 12% of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Further, the value of all transportation assets, such as infrastructure and vehicles, can easily account for half the GDP of an advanced economy.
Most economies see the transport sector as an important component of the economy and a common tool used for development. Economic opportunities have been increasingly related to the mobility of people, goods and information. When transport systems are efficient, they provide economic and social opportunities and benefits that result in positive multipliers effects such as better accessibility to markets, employment and additional investments. When transport systems are deficient in terms of capacity or reliability, they can have an economic cost such as reduced or missed opportunities and lower quality of life.
The Ministry continues to work towards an inter-connected, well-maintained transport infrastructure as part of the mandate of the Government and its Vision 2030 National Development Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago.
As we work towards the realisation of sustainable development goal number nine in our Vision 2030, to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and faster innovation, we anticipate significant increase in opportunities for:
- The provision of efficient and effective national transport, infrastructure and public utility systems
- Foreign Investment
- Memorandums of Understanding
- Improved access for citizens and communities through road connectivity
- Entrepreneurial Investment
- Private sector Investment
- The development of Modern Roads
The Ministry continues to work towards an inter-connected, well-maintained transport infrastructure as part of the mandate of the Government and its Vision 2030 National Development Strategy for Trinidad and Tobago. As the 2nd quarter of 2018:
- Twenty Bases have been added to the current PTSC fleet in Trinidad
- Fifteen bases have been allocated to the current PTSC fleet in Tobago
- With the addition of these bases, it is envisioned that travel times for the traveling public will be greatly reduced
We continue to improve socio-economic development for citizens via:
- Improved access to their homes
- Reduced vehicular-pedestrian conflict
- Improved pedestrian safety
- Improved aesthetics of the area
- Reduced traffic
Key major infrastructural projects which are at various conceptualization and completions stages include:
- Churchill Roosevelt Highway Widening – Piarco to Mausica
- Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension to Point Fortin
- Valencia to Toco Highway
- Fast Ferry Port in Toco
- Construction of Wallerfield to Manzanilla Highway (3 Phases)
- Rehabilitation of Moruga Road
- Port of Spain to Chaguaramas Roadway
- Sea Lots Walkover
- Curepe Interchange
- Replacement of Pashley and Wharton Culverts along the Beetham Highway
- Diego Martin Overpass
- Bridges Reconstruction Programme (BRP)
- These additional buses will reduce travel times for the travelling public
It is with great pride that I can account for my contribution as the Minister having overseen the arduous process of bringing stability to the sea bridge. The success of Trinidad and Tobago lies greatly on the ability and ease with which transport not just by air but sea can take place between two islands. In our attempts to offer a safe and operationally efficient sea transport system
- The Galleons Passage was purchased by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (GRTT) to service the sea bridge between Trinidad and Tobago
- The T&T Spirit finally returned to the sea bridge mid-April
- The T&T Express is currently on dry dock
- The GRTT
- By the end of 2018, the Government expects to increase the local capacity on the sea and air bridge by 60%. This will also boost the economic activity on the island and no doubt will improve the standard of living of the people of Tobago.
- The Cabinet of the GRTT agreed that the NIDCO be given the responsibility to oversee the urgent identification of a suitable roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) passenger and vehicle (RoPax) ferry to service the inter-island sea bridge, and as such the NIDCO be given the responsibility now to initiate the process for the procurement of a suitable cargo vessel for use on the sea bridge when the lease of the M.V. Cabo Star expires in July 2018.
Trinidad and Tobago is the second most developed network in the Caribbean. Port facilities play a key role in the economic growth. Trinidad’s two fully developed industrial ports in Port of Spain and Point Lisas serve as major transhipment hubs between the Americas handling dry and general cargo, industrial bulk and containers. The country’s airport offers direct flights to major cities such as London, Toronto and New York. Which other key infrastructure projects are being prioritised over the next few years?
The Government is committed to continuing its pattern of investment in infrastructural development as a means of stimulating economic productivity. In fiscal 2018, an allocation of TT$1.91 billion was made to the Public Sector Investment Programme, under the Vision 2030 thematic area of “Improving Productivity through Quality Infrastructure and Transportation”.
The continued maintenance and upgrade works to airport infrastructure is a major strategic focus. At present, runway maintenance works are ongoing at TAB and the Authority is working closely with Caribbean Airlines Ltd. and the Tobago House of Assembly to make concessions, and where possible make amendments to work schedules to accommodate domestic flight operations during this period, to ease challenges faced the domestic air and sea bridge.
Current major developments and projects under the Authority include the redevelopment of ANR Robinson International Airport in Tobago; the continued development of the Piarco AeroPark; the use of innovations, automated systems and new technologies to enhance customer experience and the expansion of cargo facilities and services in the South Terminal at the Piarco International Airport.
The construction of new airport facilities in Tobago works in tandem with the government’s goal to improve infrastructural capacity to support the developmental thrust toward the enhancement of the tourism product on the island. These efforts will help increase the attractiveness of Tobago as a destination, increase visitor arrivals and provide economic stimulation and growth in the air transport and tourism sectors, which will redound to the benefit of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
At Piarco International Airport, the Piarco AeroPark – a mixed use business estate will be further developed. The Piarco Aeropark follows the airport city concept – a new trend in airport development that integrates an urban structure in the airport environment and allows for the expansion of opportunities to earn non-aeronautical revenue; that is revenue which is not directly linked to aviation services.
The Piarco Aeropark will considerably bolster the revenue of the Authority and will also emerge as a site that contributes to Trinidad and Tobago’s burgeoning non-energy economic development through attracting investment and the creation of new jobs in retail, manufacturing, and aviation related operations like cargo and aircraft repair. The Piarco Aero Park will be the first of its kind in the Caribbean.
Other development initiatives are based on the aim to add comfort and convenience for passengers in a bid to transform the passenger experience by enabling a more seamless flow from ‘park-in’ to ‘check-in’, to arrival.
Later in the year 2018, there will be the installation of a new parking system at the Piarco International Airport. This will mean the introduction of a fully automated process that will provide benefits to customers including greater efficiencies, in-terminal payment options and increased revenue for the Authority through more accurate charges and collection.
Further to this, check-in kiosks which are already installed and permit travellers to self-check-in with no need to join the often lengthy lines at the counters.
In the very near future, to allow for better utilisation and optimisation of space at the Piarco International Airport, domestic passengers will depart through Gates at the International Departure Halls. This will provide more food and beverage options for Domestic Passengers and give them access to purchase Duty Paid products. Domestic passengers will therefore be better accommodated in a more comfortable space, that has greater capacity, and be better entertained while they wait for flights to Tobago.
Government is committed to continuing its pattern of investment in infrastructural development as a means of stimulating economic productivity
Moreover, arriving International passengers will also be able to reduce their time spent in lines in the Immigration Hall by utilising automated passport processing kiosks which will also be installed later this year. Additionally, new restaurant offerings within the terminal building at Piarco International Airport, will introduce greater variety and increase food options for passengers, airport workers and airport users.
The Authority has also provided a new comfortable airport public lounge, the Atrium – one of the newest installations at the Piarco International Airport. Available to all airport users, the area invites all to relax, connect and recharge with digital screens providing edu-tainment and comfortable seating.
Furthermore, existing facilities and upcoming projects are catapulting the south eastern end of the Authority’s estate into a source of economic sustenance. The Authority has repurposed the South Terminal to provide facilities for expanded opportunities in cargo, helicopter operations, private aircraft handling and general aviation support.
Growth in the cargo movement capability via facility expansion, storage variety and 24/7 operations, will take advantage of the projected growth in this sector of the aviation industry. Broadened opportunities for import/export, increased global market access, air traffic growth, improved air transport connectivity and liberalization of air cargo services are just some of the benefits of an expanded cargo industry.
Continuing to cement Trinidad and Tobago’s position as the cargo hub for the Southern Caribbean invites increased investment, encourages the growth of supporting businesses and industries and puts us on the cutting edge of trade and development in the region. We have been working closely with our national carrier Caribbean Airlines to increase seats on the domestic flights and to step in when needed to ensure that routes to Tobago remain open and viable.
The Airports Authority also has new developments that will provide greater convenience to the travelling public:
New Route Development:
- The Authority is actively involved in Air Service Development (ASD). This is the systematic effort to encourage airlines to increase air lift to the country whether through new routes, new airlines or upgauging.
- Through these efforts Jetblue, Westjet and Air Canada Rouge have commenced flights to this country. The Authority’s work in ASD has a major impact on hotel occupancy levels and trade connectivity of passengers and cargo.
There are vast opportunities available in our burgeoning maritime industry. However, these opportunities cannot bloom in the absence of a proper functioning Port at Port of Spain. Additional works are being undertaken at the port that will help to fortify operations.
- Reconstruction of the Barrel Shop
- The Barrel Shop of the Port of Port of Spain is located on the Port compound and is accessed via Wright Son Road. Members of the public can utilize the Barrel Shop to collect barrels or containers (cardboard boxes) or large appliances which they would have imported into Trinidad via ocean freight.
- The major benefit of this project is the improved delivery of Government services to and enhanced safety for members of the public. Additionally, this project provides for a more efficient collection of revenue by the Customs and Excise Division, through import duties and taxes.
- The PATT is expected to undertake dredging of the shipping basin in the Port of Port of Spain in fiscal year 2018. The major benefit of this includes the utilization of the newly built jetty thereby increasing the number of berthing locations. The PATT is expected to undertake dredging of the shipping basin in the Port of Port of Spain before the end of 2017.
In terms of Infrastructural development of ports:
The planned establishment of Fast Ferry Port in Toco, is directly linked to Government’s economic development agenda to both:
- Develop the north eastern peninsula of the country and
- Improve the marine access between the two (2) islands.
Once established, the Port will provide facilities that support and enhance inter-island movement of passengers and cargo. It is anticipated that the facilities will include, among other features:
- Marine side facility consisting of approximately 600m of berthing face in 7.0 m – 8.0m depth of water to accommodate 5 ships of 100m length with a draft of 4.0m;
- A 2-story ferry terminal building;
- A marina that will include accommodation for approximately thirty (30) pleasure crafts with a maximum size of 18m; and
- Coast Guard facility to provide increased security of the coastline in this part of the country.
The Government is also actively pursuing plans to permanently address the shortcomings of the current inter-island sea-bridge, which operates between the Port of Port of Spain and the Port of Scarborough. In January 2018, we purchased a new passenger ferry from China for a total of US$17.4M. The vessel will be able to accommodate 700 passengers and approximately 100 vehicles. We are also about to invite expressions of interest for a shipping broker to either purchase or lease a new cargo vessel to accommodate the transport of about 200 passengers and a minimum of 120 semis. These new vessels will augment the current inter-island ferry service, which has been struggling to operate with two passenger vessels and 1 cargo vessel.
The island of Tobago is the tourists’ favourite destination. In order to diversity the tourism impact, your Ministry is working on developing Maracas Beach Facilities. Could you tell us about this project? What other projects is your Ministry undertaking to make T&T an unmistakable destination for business investment and tourism?
The responsibility for the Maracas Beach Facility Improvement Project was transferred from the Ministry of Tourism to the Ministry of Works and Transport in February 2017.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago and by extension the Ministry of Works and Transport identifies the Maracas Beach, as a major tourist destination as well as a treasured and coveted attraction for the citizens and families of Trinidad and Tobago. We understand the cultural, symbolic and national heritage of this beach to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and the potential it holds.
When I assumed office in November 2016, I gave the commitment to the Nation that I would commission and complete all upgrades to the Maracas Beach as well as other beach facilities across the country. The key initiative has been on the front burner of the GORTT as evidenced by yet another allocation in the 2018 Mid-Year Budget Review. It is envisioned that visitors to Maracas Beach would soon have an engaging and exciting experience with the modernization of facilities. Maracas Beach would now become an important visitor point in the itinerary of international visitors.
The Maracas Beach Facilities Improvement project was divided into three (3) packages. They were as follows:
- Package I – Design and construction of the re-aligned North Coast Road (NCR), the Service Road (for access to vending booths) and the Car Park.
- Package II – Construction and completion of the Vending Booths and Bathrooms
- Package III – Design and Construction of the Wastewater Treatment Plant
- The PURE Unit has been tasked with designing and managing construction of Package I of the project. Package I was divided into two phases of work. Phase I included Surcharging Works, Phase II involved the construction of the roadways and the car park, inclusive of all drainage infrastructure.
Trinidad has an excellent reputation as a destination for investment capital. Works and Transport is a key sector of interest to international investors. Where do the opportunities lie? What are the incentives for private capital in the transport sector?
Direct foreign investment is very important to the government. The Prime Minister’s recent visits to China and Australia highlights that investment opportunities in T&T lie in a few key areas, such as:
- Technology and the development of technology parks
In terms of my direct portfolio, the government has a policy to remove the traffic lights along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway and improve the flow of traffic. We currently started the construction of the first package of the Curepe Interchange. This interchange will lead to numerous opportunities for international companies with extensive knowledge in areas of design-build, and in the development of BOLT agreements (Build, Own, Lease, Transfer).
The competitive tendering process on all our projects allows opportunities for both local and foreign companies to be awarded contracts on any of the new projects I alluded to earlier. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has also spearheaded several initiatives to improve the country’s investment climate and to create a welcoming environment to all investors.
These included the development and implementation of a National Export Strategy focused on the enhancement of export performance and the penetration of new markets and deepening regional trade relations with Venezuela, Chile and Cuba, among other countries;
- The implementation of an Integrated Investment Promotion Strategy in fiscal 2017 aimed at creating a favourable investment climate underpinned by efficient collaboration between State Agencies and Ministries;
- The introduction of a Special Economic Zones (SEZs) regime in Trinidad and Tobago;
- The strengthening of the Single Electronic Window (SEW) for trade and business facilitation through a loan arrangement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and
- The review and modernization of legislative and institutional frameworks for the areas relating to trade and business.