PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, April 17, 2020 (CMC) – The Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Robert Bermudez, as well as two former finance ministers, have been included in a 22-member committee, named by Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, to chart the way forward for Trinidad and Tobago, in the aftermath of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Rowley said that he will Chair the committee, which also includes former finance ministers, Wendell Mottley and Winston Dookeran. It also includes several of the country’s most prominent and prolific business and industry leaders, as well as academics and trade unionists.
“All these people will come together, to work alongside other aspects of the government effort. Their assignment, as they break themselves into smaller specialist groups, is to report to the Prime Minister, who will receive their recommendations and pick up from them, in the end, a roadmap for Trinidad and Tobago, post-COVID-19,” Rowley said, at the end of the weekly Cabinet meeting, yesterday.
He told reporters, he expects to receive a draft of the plan, by the end of the month, and that work would continue, through May.
“I would give ourselves until the end of May, to draft this roadmap, its shape, engineering, structure and its hope for Trinidad and Tobago. We should have a document by the end of May, having consulted, widely, with other people.
“This group will be free to go out and consult, and when we finish … we are confident (about) moving into the post-COVID-19 (transition),” the Prime Minister said.
Rowley also announced that another report — commissioned by the government, and produced by prominent economist, Professor Karl Theodore — on the socio-economic impact of measures, taken by the government to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as an immediate assessment that will then link back to longer-term policies.
He said that the first draft of that report has been submitted to the Ministry of Finance, and will be reviewed, before being sent back for revisions.
Rowley, who brushed aside remarks, made by “people spreading propaganda”, including members of the opposition United National Congress (UNC), said that the two reports will be made available to the public, in due course.
The Prime Minister described as a “slur and a distrust of the professional people doing a job, as good as anyone anywhere in the world”, remarks by opposition politicians that his government was withholding information, related to COVID-19, here.
“When there are people in this country looking for office, which is their right, and trying to tell you that the government doesn’t care and the government is hiding information, I take it (as) par for the course of those, who are on the wrong course,” he said, citing his own personal experience, as a geologist, in providing information to governments in Montserrat and St. Vincent and the Grenadines at a time of volcanic eruptions in those two Caribbean countries.
“As leader of this fight, I want to say to you, we want to come out of it, as quickly as possible, but not so quickly to be premature and expose ourselves to a resurgence,” Rowley said, adding that any decision, will be made, using expert advice and science.
“I know there is some anxiety… the certainty we are after, is not available in treating with the virus at this time. That certainty to parents and children (wondering) about exams. That certainty to captains of industry to know they can restart plants. That certainty is not there. But there is an expectation that is there… what day, what week, I cannot tell you at this time. I’m just telling you the intention. Hopefully, as we pray and we act, we too can have a good result… and come out of this in a period of thanksgiving,” he said.
Meanwhile, the government has said that it has received over 38,000 applications for salary relief grants and payments that should begin rolling out, during the coming weeks.
Finance Minister, Colm Imbert, said the applications are now being evaluated, and estimated that, within two weeks, the first set of grants can be started.
The government has earmarked TT$400 million for the program, which caters to those people, who lost jobs, due to health and safety measures, taken by the government, in the COVID-19 crisis. The funding caters for the months of April, May and June.
“We catered for three months …what happens in June … I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what will happen in June,” Imbert added.