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Building a big
The T&T Prime Minis-
ter has confirmed that
the Cabinet was aware
of the overall strategic
plan of TSTT, one to be
funded by a TT$1.9 bil-
lion loan. However, as other members
of the Cabinet have said, they were un-
aware of the details of the buyout of the
shares of Massy Communications and
have asked TSTT to provide the details
of the proposed acquisition.
The single most important aim of
this government must be the diversi-
fication of the economy given the con-
tinued decline of the foreign exchange
breadwinner---the energy sector---of the
In this context the strategic plan of
TSTT, moreso the strategic plan of the
government for national telecommu-
nications, is a vital part of our plan to
diversify the economy.
The 2011-12 Budget of the PP Gov-
ernment stated that in collaboration
with the World Bank, government was
to prepare a strategic map to rollout a
high speed broad band network for the
country over two years. This would
require a plan to finance the backbone
However, none of this has seen the
light of day. Still, the current UNC in
opposition is questioning the acqui-
sition of Massy Communications by
TSTT and sees it as a bailout of a private
telecommunications company, which
Accordingly, the money to be spent
by TSTT, given the current clientele of
Massy Communications, seems exor-
bitant and impossible to recoup within
an adequate time frame.
Today, TSTT is still 51 per cent owned
by our government and the intent is to
sell the other 49 per cent of shares
owned by C&W, given the latter's in-
volvement with another telecommu-
nications provider locally.
Hence the current TSTT's strategic
plan can be taken, hopefully, as a gov-
ernment approved plan for the devel-
opment of telecommunications in T&T.
The role that telecommunications
should play in the diversification of our
economy far surpasses simply making
a timely return on expenditure, invest-
ment, to provide the population with
ICT and entertainment services. Tel-
ecommunications will impact on our
planned economic diversification in
Today, no company is a player of
note if it is not supported in all of its
activities by the use of computers, the
Internet and the telecommunications
infrastructure and technologies. Hence
the telecommunication infrastructure
of the country does not provide com-
petitive advantage to these firms. It
simply provides the basic wherewithal
for participation in the global market
without which they are non-starters.
A fundamental requirement then in
the diversification of our economy is
the provision of a big broadband na-
tional network interconnected to the
world that will allow communication
among the related economic elements,
interconnections that are critical to
This means providing interconnec-
tion speeds continually at 100Mb/s and
above to each household and business
which today requires a "fibre to the
premises" network---a feature of the
infrastructure of the Massy Commu-
nications network. It is worth noting
that T&T is at best under-served in
The world has found that given the
limited time scale of the private sector's
vision for return on investment these
broadband networks are not effectively
supplied by the private sector; by com-
petition among national providers. In-
stead, Japan's government has built a
national fibre network interconnecting
all homes and businesses and Finland,
Sweden and Canada have broadband
services that are far superior to those
in the USA where the private sector was
expected via competition to build these
In other words it is a fallacy to expect,
as TATT seems to do, that competition
among the local private sector providers
will create the required Big Broadband
Further, ICT and this broadband net-
work also have a role to play in helping
us develop innovative goods and ser-
vices for export.
Within our planned national innova-
tion system the Internet, information
and telecommunications technolo-
gies are fundamental to the optimum
exploitation of our natural advantag-
es- agriculture, say integration of our
tourism and airline industries.
Also the telecommunications infra-
structure will allow our innovators to
focus on the use of the emerging tech-
nologies of the fourth industrial revo-
lution and the broadband network to
provide and deliver globally competi-
tive services that can include delivery
globally of local content, innovative
marketing, distributed medicine, cus-
tomerisation of offerings etc.
If the strategic plan of TSTT as ap-
proved by the government is based on
the construction of a big broadband
network, of which the infrastructure of
Massy Communications is surely a part
(even the fibre of T&TEC can feature),
then we may well be on our way again
to building the absolutely necessary
high speed communication backbone
that can support the diversification of
The downside is that the return on
investment is not short to medium
term. As a result, there has to be a tel-
ecommunication strategic plan that
recognises that competition among the
private sector providers cannot produce
the required network, that a govern-
ment supported entity (TSTT?) has to
be financially nurtured in the building
of such a network as we have seen in
Finland and Japan. Financing such a
network cannot be left to serendipity.
MARY K KING
Tourism solutions in public,
private sector partnerships
In most sectors of the economy there is fre-
quently an uneasy partnership between the
public and private sectors. The interactive
relationship between them, however, plays
a major role in determining the success of
Nowhere is this more obvious than in tourism.
The delivery of a vacation experience, which after
all is really what tourism is all about, is predomi-
nantly a private sector responsibility. It involves
hotels, restaurants, ground operators, tour guides,
bars, nightclubs, water sports operators and much
more. For the most part these are small businesses
operated by creative entrepreneurs.
It does not matter if some of the hotels are owned
by government. In all such instances they are man-
aged by private sector corporations operating under
international contracts, which clearly define the in-
dependence of the operator.
Their collective interests are debated and synthe-
sized by a number of well-respected trade associa-
tions--- THRTA and THTA being principal amongst
them---that in turn share them with government.
The delivery of service is not something govern-
ments are any good at, with their "no you can't"
modus operandi consistently trumping the private
sector's "yes we can" approach to most challenges.
It is government's responsibility to provide the
essential infrastructure, and the matrix of laws and
regulations within which the industry must operate.
It is also government's responsibility to provide
adequate resources with which to promote and market
the destination. How this is done, however, requires
active private sector participation.
So far so good! As always it is at the interface that
things can go wrong, and sadly this is particularly
true in T&T's tourism sector.
With considerable justification the T&T tourism
private sector complains that government is just not
fulfilling its responsibilities.
The infrastructure is woefully substandard.
Tobago's airport and the restoration of Maracas
Beach are two awful examples. Water delivery is spo-
radic, electrical breakdowns are a regular occurrence,
and traffic conditions--- due to an antiquated road sys-
tem---are a nightmare for visitors and residents alike.
There continues to be an absence of a compulsory
licensing regime. As a result sub-standard proper-
ties and operators have become established, thus
undermining the destination's international tour-
Our incentive regime, by which we seek to encour-
age tourism development, is simply uncompetitive
with those of other Caribbean destinations, as a result
investment in the industry is almost non-existent.
Most damaging of all is the total absence of desti-
nation promotion. Individual businesses can and do
market their own products, but are unable to make
much impact against the advertising clutter in such
international source markets as North America and
Europe. This is entirely because of T&T's resounding
silence as a tourism destination.
Consequently, T&T continues to be the best kept
secret in Caribbean tourism, and the national tourism
industry is quietly dying on the vine, with potential
closures and staff layoffs a very real concern.
Tobago's tourism has fallen from 95,000 arrivals
in 2005 to less than 20,000 last year. This is entirely
government's fault, with blame to be shared equally
between the last two administrations. It is therefore
not surprising that relations between the tourism
public and private sectors are now at an all-time low.
The Ministry of Tourism is seeking to divert re-
sponsibility for this tragic state of affairs by blaming
TDC, its own state enterprise, long an overstaffed
and ineffective bureaucracy. It has now declared its
intention of having it shut down.
TDC's ineffectiveness---just think of Maracas
Beach---must, however, be laid squarely at the door
of the Ministry of Tourism. TDC does not exist in
a vacuum. The ministry funds it, and provides its
Government has consistently sanctioned the glar-
ing omission of any tourism private sector expertise
on TDC's successive boards of directors. As a result
important decisions have not been professionally
informed, have been frequently delayed, or shelved
It would be inconceivable to think of such tourism
heavyweights as Jamaica, Barbados, the Dominican
Republic, the Virgin Islands, or St Maarten excluding
their private sectors from the decision-making pro-
cess in their tourism development and promotion.
In the Bahamas, a regional tourism leader, the room
tax is collected by the hotel industry, and placed di-
rectly in the accounts of the three promotion boards,
which are each governed and managed exclusively by
the private sector, thus guaranteeing the continuous
high quality promotion and marketing for which they
are justly famous.
This is a real partnership, and undoubtedly the
principal reason behind the Bahamas continued
tourism success. I believe we all understand that
T&T is suffering through difficult economic times,
but to starve the tourism sector of essential funding
is economically self-defeating.
As arrivals decline so does the 10 per cent room tax
and all manner of related VAT and corporation taxes.
Now is the time to invest in building up the tourism
industry to expand the tax base, and reap the hard
currency rewards it manifestly generates.
Most important, it is time that government sets
aside its seeming prejudice against the private sector
and takes full advantage of the wealth of knowledge
and experience it has to offer.
In particular that expertise should be incorporat-
ed into the day-to-day decision making process of
whatever entities supersede TDC and, in so doing,
recreates a real public/private sector partnership for
Financing such a
network cannot be
left to serendipity
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