Use Cepep, URP to help Tobago’s private sector

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Cepep workers cut grass near Back Bay, Black Rock. FILE PHOTO –

Economist Dr Vanus James believes there should be a component in the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (Cepep) and Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) in Tobago to enable workers to support the island’s private sector.

He made the suggestion on Friday at a post-Tobago budget panel discussion hosted by the TT Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors at Rovanel’s Resort, Bon Accord.

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine presented the $3.97 billion budget on June 23 in the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough.

James was responding to a question from Crown Point entrepreneur Shirley Cooke, who wanted to know if Cepep and URP workers could assist in developing the private sector, particularly in light of the fact that they are expected to get increased wages from this month.

Division of Finance, Trade and Economy technical advisor Anselm Richards said an arrangement is being built out to ensure there is a “serious retooling and re-education component” in terms of the new format for Cepep and URP.

He said, “So is not just the salary increase. That is just really the headline news but behind the scene there is a whole build out of a new approach to Cepep and a new approach to URP that is going to be skill-intensive, informed by training.”

Noting that reformation of the Cepep and URP are currently under way, James said the workers can be redeployed wisely within the public sector.

“Train them to make sure they could do things and do things efficiently and then redeploy them, even if it is subsidised and sponsored by the government, towards supporting the development of private sector activity.”

But he said the details of such an arrangement must be worked out.

“That is a long story that has to be worked out properly in consultation with all of the relevant stakeholders, including Cepep and URP workers, because it is not going to be easy to do any of these reforms Anselm (Richards) is talking about in this budget if you are not getting the people of Tobago to buy in,” James said.

“You have to put that system in place to engage the public properly and not to engage the public in the old-fashioned way we do it with the (THA) Executive (Council) going out there and telling people: ‘This is what we want to do – do you agree?’

“That is not the way it is going to work. We are going to have to change that and come up with better ways to get the public to take responsibility for the reforms that will get Tobago on the right road.”

James said it will involve letting the workers know that they have a stake in the island’s development.

“All of you can’t just be eating money and Tobago ain’t going nowhere. You, the Cepep worker has to take responsibility for Tobago too. So you have to set up the system to allow for that.”

Richards said one of the objectives of the new Progressive Democratic Patriots administration is to reduce the over-reliance on THA employment.

The THA currently employs about 54 per cent of Tobago’s labour force.

Earlier, James also said the education needs to be revolutionised to teach people how to “do things” as opposed to “teaching people about things.”

He said, “We have a school system that teaches people about things. Business people like Chris (James) know and Diane (Hadad) know when you hire workers, you hire them to be able to do things.”

James said there must be a track in the education system to teach people how to do things and build capacity.

Saying the process is expensive, he said such initiatives have been successful in Germany and Finland.

In Finland, James said, there is are academic and skill-intensive tracks “And the two meet at the tertiary level.

“That skill-intensive track is the learning-by-doing track. That is where sports people learnt to do sports, cricketers learn to play cricket. That is where people who study English learn communication and information skills.

“So it covers the whole spectrum of the education system and we really have to build it in deliberately with high-quality teachers and high-quality curricula and self-confidence building processes that produce students who know how to do.”

James said he learnt about Mathematics when he went to school in Trinidad, including at UWI. “But I learnt to do Mathematics when I went to university in the US.

“That is what we are going to have to tackle to deal with education properly.”

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association president Chris James said not enough kudos is given to skills-oriented institutions. “There is all of this pressure to be academically-inclined and very little kudos is given to those who have skills. We need electricians, we need plumbers and we need to start giving kudos to those people,” he said.

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