United World talks to Senator the Honorable Emmanuel George, Ministry of Public Utilities, Trinidad & Tobago, about ongoing efforts to provide better facilities to the islands’ citizens
WOULD YOU SAY THAT THIS 50th YEAR OF INDEPENDENCE IS A TIME TO CELEBRATE FOR T&T?
In 50 years of independence we have achieved a lot, particularly in the fields of education, industrial development and legal and institutional framework. Furthermore, we are a thriving democracy – our main reason to be proud of being citizens of Trinidad & Tobago.
Needless to say, we cannot stop working... We are on the right track but there are still areas which we need to work on to bring Trinidad & Tobago to the level that our citizens deserve.
The world is more interconnected than ever before, to the point that we can consider it as a ‘network society.’ There is an excess of information and countries need to send a clear message of who they are and where they want to be if they want to succeed. In your opinion, what does T&T need to communicate to the international community?
In order to attract foreign investment, thrive and achieve our development goals, we need to communicate. Trinidad & Tobago has the necessary infrastructure to do business. We have a well-educated population, a functional democracy, and a free tertiary education system that provides free education up to tertiary level. There is also a good infrastructure in terms of transport facilities for instance whether by sea or air. Any investor could take advantage of all of these factors and locate resources to our country instead of other neighbouring markets.
How is your Ministry working to achieve the mission of affordable and quality public utilities for the citizens – and investors?
If you talk about affordable utilities, we must address the fact that T&T has the cheapest water and electricity tariffs in the Western Hemisphere. In terms of telecommunication we also have the cheapest mobile rates in the Caribbean. The reason is that the Regulatory Authorities have been doing a good job in determining rates that are fair, and also the Government has been able to attract foreign investment and to assist the population and keep the rates for water and electricity at rates that are at a reasonable level. In the case of the telecommunications rates, it was the result of the competition that was introduced to the market in 2006.
The new administration of T &T has introduced its Medium Term Framework 2011-2014, with year-to-year goals. What are your priorities for 2012?
We would like to improve the water supply for the population. Only the 20% of the population receives 24 hrs of water supply. We would like to increase the supply for at least 5 times a week for those who are receiving water only 4, 3 or 2, times a week. Our aim is also to bring everybody up to a minimum of two days a week. It is ambitious, but we can achieve it.
There are a lot of things that we have to do to achieve that goal: we need water production, transmission and distribution and treatment facilities. There is a lot of background work to get the water infrastructure working well in order to get water into the homes. If there is any leakage, it has to be stopped.
The economic growth of the nation comes with an increasing demand for electricity. The current offer will soon not be enough to satisfy it. What is the Ministry doing to expand the electricity capacity of the nation?
At this time we have 1600 Mega Watts of power being supplied from T&TEC and generated by three power generation companies: Powergen, Trinity Power and Trinidad Generation Unlimited. We expect to get another 495 MW from a new generation plant, which will give us over 2000 mega watts of power by 2016. However, by 2017 we will need to find new sources of generating power to satisfy our demand, like the use of renewable energies.
Is the Government of Trinidad & Tobago looking for an investor to run that new generation plant?
The Government is interested in private investment in that area. We have to design the plant and decide what will be the power of the plant and then, we will have a tender process.
The Ministry is also trying to attract investment for the development of renewable energies. For example, T&TEC has implemented two solar energy programs and we are looking forward to establishing windmills in the nation.
Another of the companies that fall under your responsibility is TSTT (Telecommunications Services of Trinidad & Tobago). One of its main achievements is the development of a high speed Internet network. Could you comment on the current projects that TSTT is undertaking to increase the interconnectivity of the islands?
TSTT has put down the kind of infrastructure required for the development of high speed Internet. They assumed that responsibility as a state owned company. TSTT does offer broadband but not island wide and that is the area in which they are focusing their efforts on nowadays.
The National Social Development Program is one of the main projects of the new Government. Could you elaborate on its goals and the impact that it would have for the wellbeing of the citizens of T&T?
As Ministry of Public Utilities, we are assisting in two areas: utilities assistance (the government will pay a portion of the water rate and electricity tariff for low-income citizens) and the financing of the electricity wiring. The Ministry of Public Development implements the Program and we assist those that fulfill their requirements.
The agencies under your responsibility are undertaking necessary, and also expensive, projects that will help the country to move boldly forward. With the recent talks about IPOs in the public sector, could we expect any privatization process in the upcoming years?
Privatization is always possible, in fact we have done some privatization processes in the public utility sector. However as we speak the government hasn’t decided on that. TSTT already has a private owner (Cable Wireless Communication owns 49% of the shares) and there are some sectors, like water meters, that could be privatized.
The world is listening. How can it help to collaborate in the development of Trinidad and Tobago and the achievements of your goals?
We require significant investments in the telecommunications sector. We expect that by 2017-2018 we will need a new power generation plant in Trinidad and Tobago and we also need investment regarding water and sewerage. Otherwise we would face a serious environmental program. The IDB has agreed to give us a $50 million loan to address part of the sewerage problem but there are wonderful opportunities for investment in the sewerage plant.
What is your motivation to be a politician and serve the people of T&T?
I still feel very young, they haven’t taken my youth away from me yet.
What would you like to achieve before your retirement?
My goal is that every citizen should be able to open their taps in their homes and have water. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. If I can achieve that, I will go in peace.
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