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The Minister of Housing and Urban Development, the Honourable Pennelope Beckles met with a delegation led by Roi Chiti, UN-Habitat Hub Coordinator for the Andean Region, at the Ministry’s office in Port of Spain on Friday 03 November, 2021.

The Meeting followed a webinar which took place earlier on November 01, entitled Public Spaces in Trinidad and Tobago: accessibility, safety and opportunities for social integration. The Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Claire Davidson-Williams made a presentation at that forum on behalf of the Honourable Minister.

The discussions centred around an initiative of the United Nations Programme for Human Settlement (UN-Habitat), the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) entitled, “Inclusive Cities, Communities of Solidarity” which is being financially supported by the European Union. This interagency project aims to strengthen the response of host countries to the mixed migratory flows from Venezuela, in order to mitigate any negative fallout and take advantage of the potential that it can offer to host countries.

UN-Habitat Hub Coordinator, Roi Chiti explained that the initiative also seeks to promote social integration within cities and communities and will support Local Government efforts through capacity building, in order to include all sectors of the community. The Programme will also look at identifying issues related to access of public spaces and basic services, as well as sustainable urban planning, as this not only affects the migrant/refugee population but also local/host communities. As such, UN-Habitat is committed to working with Ministers who are responsible for their countries’ Housing and Urban Development portfolios.

Head of Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Trinidad and Tobago, Miriam Aertker, spoke of the need for social integration and cohesion and the opportunities to be realised should the initiative succeed. Both Miriam Aertker and Jewel Ali, Head of the Office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) agreed that timely, relevant data is required for that to happen. In so doing, critical needs assessments and consultations with all key stakeholders within the host countries will be conducted. They also agreed to make their findings available to the relevant authorities of the host countries to inform decision-making and policy formulation.

Minister Beckles explained that there are plans to develop and revitalize areas of our major urban cities, namely our capital city of Port Of Spain, San Fernando and Scarborough, Tobago. The Ministry has undertaken several projects with respect to the revitalisation effort in east Port of Spain and Scarborough through the IDB funded Urban Upgrading and Revitalisation Programme. These projects are meant to address such urban issues as economic decline, environmental decay, community dereliction, growing unemployment and other social problems.

The Ministry, in the roll out of these projects has given a lot of consideration to some of the issues raised such as security of our urban spaces, and reducing the environmental impact by utilising sustainable urban practices and policies, to provide appropriate infrastructure and attractive, modern facilities and amenities, as well as opportunities for entrepreneurial economic activity and employment, through the provision of commercial spaces within our cities and communities.

Minister Beckles also outlined the government’s plan to construct 25,000 new housing units over the next ten years. However, with funding constraints exacerbated by Covid19 social expenditure, the Ministry and its agencies will have to engage private sector investors to meet that target, as has been stated by the Honourable Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

As iterated in the Permanent Secretary’s remarks delivered at the webinar, Minister Beckles reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to creating sustainable communities throughout the length and breadth of Trinidad in keeping with the country’s National Development Strategy (Vision 2030) and the UN’s New Urban Agenda, while being mindful of one (1), eleven (11) and fifteen (15) of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As such, the Government will continue to build capacity and improve the economic viability of this and other areas, to foster more inclusive, safer, more sustainable and resilient urban communities, which will not only improve the quality of life for those who live there but also ensure a positive experience for the migrants and refugees. Minister Beckles and the executive team at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, are confident that the Ministry’s Urban Regeneration plans will add value, reduce inequities and enhance the quality and standard of living for all.

On the question of inclusivity of the migrant population, Minister noted Government’s initial registration and granting of temporary work permits to over 16,000 migrants, of which approximately 13,000 have renewed, which in itself attests to Trinidad and Tobago’s leadership in this regard. While the situation is far from perfect, the registration gave them the opportunity to seek gainful employment in the construction, retail and services sectors as well as find suitable accommodations for themselves and their families. They also have access to free public health care and Covid19 vaccinations.

Minister Beckles noted that as a small island developing state, (SIDS) T’dad and T’bgo is also grappling with the global economic impact of the Covid19 pandemic. The Government, however, has taken steps to ensure that everyone within our borders, citizens and migrants alike, have access to life saving vaccines, health care and food hampers during the pandemic. As far as is humanly and economically possible the Government will continue to provide a safe, inclusive, socially harmonious environment for all to enjoy.

In closing, Roi Chiti, extended an invitation to the Honourable Minister,

Pennelope Beckles to attend an upcoming conference of Housing Ministers in Cartegena, Colombia on November 22-23, 2021 hosted by UN-Habitat. It will be an excellent forum to share ideas, learnings and best practices. It also serves as a preparatory discussion to a higher-level conference to be held in April, 2022 which will focus mainly on progress reports by member states on their status as it relates to achieving the objectives of the 2030 Urban Agenda.

Also present at the meeting were the Honourable Adrian Leonce, Minister in the Ministry, Ms. Nirmala Ramlogan, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and Ms. Jayselle MacFarlane, Managing Director of the Housing Development Corporation.