The government of Trinidad and Tobago plans to prioritize infrastructure investment in 2017. In addition to shoring up the national budget, Finance Minister Colm Imbert has highlighted the building push as something critical to moving the country forward as it tries to diversify its economy.
The government must reduce its dependency on oil income, Imbert in his 2017 budget assessment last fall, and it is pledging to redirect resources “towards spending on essential economic infrastructure.” He added that, “Macroeconomic and financial stability as well as investment in infrastructure and support for private sector development remain our core objectives.”
An overhaul and expansion of Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson International Airport in Tobago is a keystone of the agenda. While refurbishing the smaller of the nation’s two airports has been on the nation’s to-do list for awhile, the impending investment by Sandals Resorts International into Tobago was the final nudge to make it a reality. The contract for the resort company to start constructing a 750-room luxury property hasn’t been made official yet, but an informed source tells Finance TnT that it is on course to be finalized in the early part of this year.
Sandals CEO Adam Stewart has been bullish on the islands’ potential. “Trinidad and Tobago is a gold mine just waiting to be discovered,” he said in November at an award ceremony hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago chamber of commerce, according to Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.
Stewart suggested that his company’s reputation and the shear size of the new resort will add more flights and aviation industry interest to ANR Robinson. When Sandals “plants it flag,” he said in a speech, “the airlines follow.”
To handle the extra passenger volume, Crown Point’s ANR Robinson will begin work on adding an international terminal this year, according to Imbert. An expected $6.5 million USD modernization to the current facilities is also in the works for 2017, according to the Oxford Business Group.
Before exiting his post, Orville London, now the former chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, also confirmed that the upgrade is on track. “The long-awaited and much-needed construction of the ANR Robinson International Airport is due to start later this year,” said Orville in a January address.
Road and Highway Renovations
The airport is far from the only thing in store. The government is already planning new road upgrades throughout Trinidad and hopes to make its ports better, too.
Shyamal Chandradathsingh, vice president of investor sourcing at governmental business promotion agency InvesTT Trinidad and Tobago, says that he has seen an uptick in design planning and expressions of interest (EOI) to begin work.
“Where there had been somewhat of slowdown in 2015, we do see a substantial increase in the amount of infrastructure projects that the government is going out to tender for,” Chandradathsingh told Finance TnT.
The controversial and headline-making Point Fortin highway project is the marquee initiative on the docket. Efforts to complete it have been stalled, and the dismissal of the Brazilian company that was spearheading the work last June threw its future into doubt. But Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley revealed this month that new local bids are coming in and that he expects real progress to recommence this spring.
“Construction should begin by the end of March, early April — by the time contractors put their bids in, evaluation takes place, and with awards to be made,” said the prime minister in an address. “So, midway during the dry season we expect to restart this effort to build a highway to Point Fortin.”
Imbert’s budget presentation highlighted the importance of getting back underway. “We have made significant progress on untangling the mess left for us on the Point Fortin highway project,” wrote the finance minister. He stressed that the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) is under new management and has recouped at least $100 million USD in lost funds. This eased burden on the national treasury and helped speed up the plan to resume the initiative.
Another big-ticket item is an expansion that will turn the Toco road into a proper highway. Rowley, in an address to the nation in January, confirmed that the Valencia/Toco highway project has already been approved.
Two final undertakings of note include a renovation project for the road heading to Chaguaramas in the northwest peninsula of Trinidad and the first phase of the Cumuto to Manzanilla Highway, which could break ground before May. “A number of infrastructure projects will probably be announced in the near future,” said Chandradathsingh.
Oil prices have picked up in recent months. So it is likely that the federal coffers will see a bit of a boost this year, especially if the current rally in crude continues. That would be excellent news for the administration.
But even though the budget remains somewhat strained, the government doesn’t want to lose momentum to get some of its planned public works off the ground. For this reason, Trinidad and Tobago is looking to encourage more public/private partnerships in which companies can help complete some needed improvements.
According to the country’s budget statement, the benefits for companies come in a plan to “provide 50% tax relief and other appropriate fiscal incentives to businesses which can mobilize private sector funding to provide public infrastructure and/or public facilities, amenities, and services now provided solely by the government.”
In addition to infrastructure and development, more areas may be included. The details are expected to be fully flushed out next year. “The government will also consider extending these benefits to projects that increase productivity and create employment, with full details of the scheme to be released shortly, allowing for it to come into force in the first half of next year,” according to a report in late 2016 by the Oxford Business Group.
Another source of financial assistance is also coming from Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) which approved a $437 million USD loan for Trinidad and Tobago in December. While its aims are wide, focused on making education and social progress in addition to speeding along economic diversification, its stated development agenda does call for strengthening environmental management supported by safe and resilient infrastructure.
“This strategy underscores CDB’s longstanding commitment to helping Trinidad and Tobago achieve its development priorities,” said Justin Ram, director of economics, CDB. “It will provide focused support that aims to unlock the country’s potential for economic and social development, improve competitiveness, promote good governance, and drive environmental sustainability.”
Planned Port Upgrades — But Timeline Uncertain
Several of the banner foreign investments made into Trinidad and Tobago in recent years were water related. In 2016, offshore drilling company Transocean signed a multimillion dollar deal for docking one of its vessels, and Oceans-EWS, a U.K. waste treatment company, set up a joint venture to begin a pilot wetlands treatment system in the country.
“Investment into the country hasn’t really stopped,” said Chandradathsingh. “There have been continuous projects.”
In terms of public works, last year Imbert identified improvements slated for 2017 at both Toco Port and Moruga Port. Tenders have already invited for a new proposed port Moruga, according to the finance minister.
There has also been talk surrounding a shipyard and dry dock development at La Brea or another location. Unfortunately, the timeline for any port work remains uncertain, with one source noting a lack of activity.
The same goes for hopes of expanding the nation’s innovative water taxi. For more than six years, the service has been transporting passengers from Port of Spain to San Fernando on NIDCO-run vessels. The long-term objective, in addition to boosting capacity and reliability, is to add new departure and destination points. But for now, no advances appear on the radar.
There could be some news on ports forthcoming in the coming months. Now that Rowley has had a full year and new budget process under his belt, some analysts say it would be more likely to hear about any maritime action in May or later this year.
Power, Water Services, and More Ahead
The Port of Spain-based Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) has put out a few RFPs around wire providers and infrastructure support. One significant initiative is to expand the power distribution from the TTU plant in southern Trinidad into the north of the island, says InvesTT.
The Trinidad Express has also reported on plans for more electricity production in Tobago. T&TEC has pledged to add some 16 megawatts of capacity in the Cove Ecoindustrial and Business Park (CEIBP), a 57-hectare development in southwestern Tobago. Though the park already offers tenants reliable power through a 12-kilovolt underground cable, this enhancement is aimed to ensure the power supply remains predictable even during the highest-usage times.
“There are a number of projects going on in electricity,” said Chandradathsingh. “Our water company, WASA, also continues to put out tenders. There is activity. There is absolutely activity.”