Leveling up public utilities to boost economic growth

Leveling up public utilities to boost economic growth

As seen in the report “Trinidad and Tobago: Powering to the next level distributed with USA TODAY

The continued transformation of public utilities was signified by a first-of-its-kind regional water conference


As Trinidad and Tobago begins to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for utility reform has become a pressing matter and there has been a concerted effort to upgrade public utilities in order to improve quality of life and spur social and economic growth. 

Looking toward the future, the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) is undergoing a significant technology evolution and is partnering with some of the leading brands in the world — including Huawei, Optiva, Cisco, Ericsson, Microsoft and Oracle — to ensure its network deployment and solutions are on par with the best in class. 

Originally designed to provide analog voice services, TSTT has transformed into a true digital company offering voice, mobile, broadband and entertainment services that are all supported by a robust digital infrastructure. It also has the only data center in the Latin American and Caribbean region accredited with both TIA 942-B Rating 3 and Data Center Operating Standards Maturity Level 3. In addition, the company provides cloud services to businesses through its data center and is set to play a key role in the digitalization of the economy. “Fintech is a big focus of ours going forward and in August last year we launched our e-commerce platform, Parlour,” reveals Lisa Agard, CEO, TSTT. “It was designed and developed by people within the country and presents products created and produced by people in Trinidad and Tobago to the rest of the world. 

“Similarly, in February of this year the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago awarded a provisional registration for TSTT to issue e-money. This milestone marks a significant step toward providing the country with a robust and secure e-money platform via a mobile wallet that will support financial inclusion and drive economic growth. Having seen a recent change in the way people use and consume technology and how the pandemic impacted the telecommunications industry, TSTT is determined to further develop the ecosystem of digitally connected platforms and roll out a new suite of digital services. 

A new strategic plan for the company was approved by its board of directors  and is reflective of the reality of a fundamentally changed telecoms industry. No longer can it solely focus on telecommunications, it must now become a forward-thinking technology company. 


A significant upgrade

Another significant moment came recently when the Inter-American Development Bank approved an $80 million loan to boost the efficiency, quality, sustainability and resilience of Trinidad and Tobago’s drinking water supply and security. This came as part of a $315 million conditional credit line for the Trinidad and Tobago National Water Sector Transformation Program, with the initial operation including  institutional strengthening and capacity building to help the government improve the sustainable management of water resources. 

This is just one of the ways that a positive change in public utilities can make a huge impact on the day-to-day life of people. And one company that is also looking to bring about considerable change is the Trinidad & Tobago Solid Waste Management Company Limited (SWMCOL), which is currently prioritizing sustainability. 

Established by the government in 1980, SWMCOL has also outlined a strategic plan that in the next two years focuses on sustainability and creating a culture of care for the environment. 

“We give priority to waste minimization and diversion, because that is the key strategic pillar that is impacting the future of SWMCOL and the future of Trinidad and Tobago in terms of our landfills,” explains Ria Ramdeen, CEO,
SWMCOL.  Our landfills have surpassed their capacity and, as a result of that, we have been looking at two or three key initiatives to minimize waste entering the landfills and to divert recyclable waste away from them, so that we can enable the landfills to accept waste that is non-recyclable and cannot be utilized in any other form. We are looking to create a new landfill system that can manage the waste in the country in an integrated and sustainable way. We want to be able to capture and divert waste from our streams and landfills and redirect them into value-added processes. Capturing gases from the landfills will not only contribute to reducing our carbon emissions but we can look at commercializing the gases as well.”


SWMCOL is also working closely with the Ministry of Education in Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that there is a focus on sustainability and that people within the country are aware of the importance of recycling. “We recognize that to move the country forward, in terms of the management of our waste and even our attitude and our practices, we need to educate,” says Abigail Whitehall, head of programs and technical services, SWMCOL. “Therefore, we continually engage in public awareness and public education, especially when it comes to the impact your behavior as a citizen has on our environment and economy. That is why we put so much effort into our public outreach.

Ramdeen adds: “Recycling has been built into the curriculum at primary and secondary school level to create a better understanding of what happens to garbage and to create a culture of care for the environment.”


Embracing the digital age 


While some Caribbean countries have been slow to implement technical solutions in the financial sector, Trinidad and Tobago is leading the charge when it comes to digitalization and a willingness to adopt technological change. 

Both the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (T&T Chamber) and the Trinidad and Tobago Financial Centre (TTIFC) are pushing for digital transformation and believe a well-developed fintech ecosystem will significantly strengthen the country’s economy. 

“We want to see the ease of doing business in the country substantially improved,” says Stephen de Gannes, CEO, T&T Chamber. “Digital transformation is key and is being looked at by the government in everything from paying a bill and registering a birth to buying a car — any kind of transaction really. We also want to ensure that we don’t lose our best and brightest to other countries. We have people coming out of university who have been exposed to foreign technology and I believe they could provide some excellent technology solutions in the future. We want to encourage this through small and medium-sized enterprises and develop that entrepreneurial spirit in them. That way they can become a think tank that could even develop solutions for the rest of the world.”

Richard Young, chairman, TTIFC, is also a firm believer that Trinidad and Tobago must utilize the talent within the country, from the 300 students a year graduating with a degree in technology to the young entrepreneurs and startups that are utilizing fintech.  

“We’re going to create a virtual hub to build the ecosystem for fintechs,” says Young. “We’ve already received a fantastic response from some of the big technology players who are prepared to fund the hub.  Visa, Huawei and the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago want to be part of it and this will help to bring about significant change, helping to move the country forward. We’re already fairly advanced when it comes to digital government payments and we’re trying to introduce online payments for licensing, transport and immigration. We are also introducing e-money issuers and e-wallets. However, there are some people who want to continue paying with cash. Therefore, we realize that some education will need to take place.”