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Sod-turning Ceremony Oropune Gardens Commercial Hub

The Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis, MP Minister of Housing and Urban Development

November 1, 2022



 The Honourable Shamfa Cudjoe, Minister of Sport and Community Development;

 The Honourable Adrian Leonce, Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development;

 The Honourable Khadijah Ameen, Member of Parliament for St. Augustine;

 Alderman Kwasi Robnson, Chairman Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation;

 Mr. Richard Rampersad, Councillor St. Augustine South/Piarco/St. Helena;

 Mrs. Nirmala Ramlogan, Permanent Secretary (Ag), Ministry of Housing & Urban Development;

 Mrs. Angela Edwards, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Sport & Community Development;

 Mr. Noel Garcia, Chairman of The Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT) and Chairman Trinidad and Tobago Housing Development Corporation (HDC);

 Members of the Board of UDeCOTT;

 Ms. Tamica Charles-Phillips, CEO UDeCOTT;

 UDeCOTT Management and Staff;

 Members of the Board, Trinidad and Tobago Housing Development Corporation (HDC);

 Ms. Jayselle McFarlane; Managing Director HDC;

 Management and Staff of the HDC;

 Management and Staff of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and its Agencies the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Limited, East Port of Spain Development Company and the Land Settlement Agency;

 Members of the Oropune Residents Association and Oropune Police Youth Club;

 Members of the Media;

 Members of the National Public viewing live on TTT, UDeCOTT’s Facebook Page and listening on I95.5FM ;

 Ladies and Gentlemen.


I am particularly grateful to be part here today for this sod turning ceremony for this commercial hub and community centre. This gratitude is really tenfold for me because this signal event marks another turning point as we develop our communities, moving away from the situation where we are constructing houses but also a situation where we are constructing and developing sustainable communities.

It is no state secret that the HDC has never been, will never be able to construct houses fast enough to satisfy the demand of its applicants. Today, the application pool contains more than 190,000 persons, some waiting for inordinately long periods, but each one expecting that their particular need will be satisfied in the shortest possible time frame. For its part, the HDC has tried valiantly to satisfy this demand, utilizing a multiplicity of methods, and to the degree that it was possible, we were successful. The unfortunate side effect of that is insufficient attention has been paid to the other areas of community living that would contribute to the development of a sustainable community.

A sustainable community integrates human activities harmlessly and seamlessly into the natural environment, supports healthy human development, and can be continued into the indefinite future. It is the aim of this Government, to create sustainable communities. Indeed, this is enshrined in our Vision 2030 policy prescription, where putting people first is one of the foundation pillars. This thrust to build sustainable communities is also consistent with both the Roadmap for Recovery report as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda.

Before a sustainable community can be built though, there is need for us to recognize that a necessary pre-requisite is individual sustainability. And it is cognizant of that reality, that this Keith Rowley led Government has intentionally set about creating economic opportunities for citizens wherever the opportunity has presented itself, and thus we have also intentionally been moving away from the dependence upon Government grants and other forms of state sponsored assistance. Ladies and Gentlemen we do recognise however that there are people in all countries that will be dependent on grants and so that is why in the last budget we have allocated the sum of over $5B for the vulnerable which will be delivered in various grants through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services. We continue to have grant in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, in the Ministry of Education, in several other ministries.

But whilst we do this because they are vulnerable citizens we also recognise that people are wean from grants and that people who have the ability to sustain themselves are encouraged and have the opportunity to sustain themselves.

Certainly, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when thousands of citizens began monetizing gifts and talents which had long lain dormant within them. Suddenly citizens were baking bread and pastries for sale to their neighbours and online customers. Suddenly citizens were earning income from avenues they never thought possible. Without the security of their monthly or fortnightly paycheque, thousands still survived on the grants from the government and thousands more survived because they understood the importance of bringing their talent to the forefront. So there were thousands of people who started baking bread, making different kinds of food items. Thousands used their talent online to start an entirely new business. And I congratulate those citizens who did that. And they found a niche for themselves.

Over my many years in government and even more as a citizen of this beloved Republic, I have come to understand Trinidad and Tobago as the land of paradoxes. On the one hand we clamour for an end to government’s transfer and subsidies so that the budget can be balanced or put to what is determined as more productive use, but then we complain when the subsidy on fuel is reduced. We clamour for Government to become smaller and less involved in the everyday lives of citizens, and yet we are wringing our hands in despair because there are no more government jobs for the thousands graduating from University annually.

Like so many of you, some of us were told that when we left school that We had to get a Government job and it was the only proper job to get. But the reality is that even though there are many Government jobs available, the Government is not the only source of employment. There are other avenues, many people are now moving into having their own income security by taping on their own talents, using their university education and other forms of education to develop their own income and not necessarily through the Government.

A 2019 partnership report published by Dell technologies and the Institute for the Future, estimated that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a mere eight (8) years from now, and that reality is upon us It propels me and the government in which I have the pleasure to serve, in the direction of creating the environment in which all citizens, seized with their own dreams, can pursue their ambitions to create wealth for themselves. And that is why we are here today.

A casual look around Oropune Gardens will reveal the existence of scores of entrepreneurs, already engaged in some sort of commercial activity. Apart from the fact that the HDC tenancy agreements and other agreements are not encouraging of this type of activity, the very unplanned and ad hoc nature of it, creates the opportunity for this commercial centre that we are bringing here today.

The Commercial Hub is therefore designed to alleviate that and to bring these citizens to an area where they can exploit their entrepreneurial spirit.

In fact this commercial hub has been on the cards since 2019 and they have been several meetings between the HDC and the residents. I am happy that today we are in a position, partnering with UDECOTT, to breathe life into what many might have considered the dead bones of that discussion. This Commercial Hub, ideally located at the intersection of Oropune Boulevard and Oropune Circular Road, has a total site area of approximately 85,000 square feet of which one quarter is being developed in this the first phase.

With a centrally located zone already designated for commercial and community use, the HDC is of the firm view that the development of this commercial hub could more than adequately address the residents’ need for a safe space to conduct their various entrepreneurial pursuits. This is consistent with Government’s role as a facilitator in the development of the small and microenterprise sector. This first phase is being developed on a scale that is manageable for both the community and the HDC. We are confident of the potential success of this venture, if only because we have the commitment of small business owners who are actual residents of this area, mindful of the community dynamics, and therefore invested in its success.

UDECOTT has advised that this first phase will see construction of one (1) commercial block comprising 4,000 square feet of enclosed, secure, serviced rentable space. This is being designed to host, initially a minimart, a pharmacy and shops and this is consistent with the need to develop a sustainable community that is aligned to the environment, approximately 2,600 square feet of space has also been allocated as open/green space that could easily facilitate a multi-purpose or temporary market as well as pop-up shops. There will also be secured parking, space for a loading bay, and ultimately space for a Police Post.

The remainder of the site is carded for future commercial development, the specifics of which will be determined based on the needs of the Oropune Community.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have no doubt that we are on the right track with the creation of this commercial hub for the residents of Oropune Gardens. We have seen the success of similar ventures in long established HDC communities like Maloney Gardens, Bon Air Gardens and La Horquetta. Indeed there is evidence of entrepreneurs utilizing these commercial hubs as incubators for their ideas before they launch out into the wider more competitive arenas, many of whom already impacting positively on the entrepreneurial landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.

With assistance from other Government entities like NEDCO which provide funding assistance, I see no compelling reason why those who take this plunge in Oropune should not be successful in their endeavours. I look forward to the day therefore when I could return to officially open the first commercial venture on this site. And Minister Leonce will be here with me and of course the MP who will be here for that. And all of you who are here would also be invited.

Allow me to express my sincerest thanks to the team at UDECOTT: its Chief Executive Officer Ms. Tamica Phillips and its Chairman, Mr. Noel Garcia, and to the HDC team. Our several collaborations over the years have consistently resulted in the enhancement of the quality of life of our citizens, and I have no doubt that this will be any different.

I thank you for the courtesy of your attention, and I continue to pray for you and Trinidad and Tobago.