Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation
Valuing local communities
Business View Caribbean interviews Kwasi Robinson, Chairman & Alderman of the Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation, for our focus on Economic Development
Founded in 1990, Tunapuna-Piarco is one of the nine regions of Trinidad and Tobago and the most populous region in the country by total population and the fifth-largest by total land area. It is also home to the country’s two highest mountain peaks, El Cerro del Aripo and El Tucuche. Geographically located in Northern Trinidad, Tunapuna–Piarco shares its borders with the regions of San Juan–Laventille to the west, Couva–Tabaquite–Talparo to the south, the Borough of Chaguanas to the south-west, Sangre Grande to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the north. The region also completely surrounds the Royal Chartered Borough of Arima in the south-eastern corner of the region.
Dedicated to providing necessary infrastructure and services, the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation works in partnership with its communities (Arouca, Blanchisseuse, Curepe, St. Augustine, Trincity, Piarco, Maracas, St. Joseph, Lopinot, Five Rivers, Caura, Tacarigua, Bon Air, Macoya, Valsayn, St. Helena, Mausica, and Wallerfield) and stakeholders to institute programmes that will educate, empower, and uplift every burgess, leaving no one behind. The Corporation is committed to the eradication of poverty in the region and the growth of a healthy environment that is conducive to the development of all its burgesses.
Among its services, the Regional Corporation is responsible for providing garbage pickup, which costs $65 million annually. They also maintain nine cemeteries – about 50 acres, the most in any region – plus 110 recreation grounds and all the minor routes that are directly under the purview of the Corporation.
Business View Caribbean recently discussed the mission, current projects, and future goals of the Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation with Chairman & Alderman, Kwasi Robinson. At 33 years of age, Robinson brings youthful exuberance and ideas to improve quality of life for citizens and businesses in his region. The following are highlights of the enlightening conversation.
BVC: Can you start with an overview of the Tunapuna-Piarco Region?
Robinson: “Our region is one of the largest in the country in terms of land mass. Outside of Port of Spain, it has one of the larger transient populations because we are home to the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. In addition to the hospital, the Complex houses the Dental School, the Veterinary School, and the School of Pharmacy, which all operate in collaboration with the University of the West Indies. Most of the secondary and tertiary education systems are here, as are the Piarco International Airport and Trincity Mall, which is one of the larger shopping centers in the country.
“We have three industrial estates, along with one of the largest housing developments in the Caribbean – La Horquetta – and developments in Maloney Gardens and Santa Rosa Springs. At last count, the region’s population was about 250,000, but we do have that large transient population. Now, because of COVID-19, the University isn’t operating as it once used to, but people coming to Trinidad to study medicine and law come to our region. Anybody in the country who wants to travel internationally has to come through Piarco. Basically, it’s possible to live here and never visit other municipalities. But it’s almost impossible to be in Trinidad and not visit the Tunapuna Corporation.”
BVC: How do you attract investment and development?
Robinson: There are various other agencies, such as InvestTT, that lead that charge as their core competence, so we help with coordination of that activity. We facilitate that through our annual quarterly meeting and meeting through my Minister. I do have a good relationship with the Tunapuna Business Chamber and, speaking from a business standpoint, if you’re doing business in my region, I try to solve some of the hygiene factors – the aesthetics of the community, the cleanliness of the streets. We have to do it with a reduced budget but I think that those things are important for us to focus on to drive the business activity in our region.
“The main industries are manufacturing, distribution, agriculture, as well as construction. This region is one of the most sought-after for living, both for low-income housing that the government is building and the premium housing market and middle-income housing done by private contractors. So we have quite a mix of residential options. And then there is the service sector. Hospitality, restaurants, retail, but of course all those dynamics have changed because of COVID. We have large communities that were supported by the operation of the airport but that has been affected globally this year, so a lot of the people who provide support to the airport and the airport industry are on mandatory vacation or mandatory furlough. So we have diverse industry sectors, including Blanchisseuse, which has fishing and ecotourism, and we also have Trincity Mall and Macoya Industrial Estate.”
BVC: Do you encourage small businesses?
Robinson: “The industrial parks incentivize manufacturing and distribution but as the Corporation we’ve chosen to focus on local economic development. Because of COVID, many people with the skillsets to operate in various industries have fallen on difficult times because companies have gotten leaner, which is a good thing in business but bad for employment. So we have a large number who want to do street food, street vending, and so we’ve tried to structure that.
“We have one operation now in Eddie Hart Orange Grove Savannah (a popular sports park) and we are looking to launch about five more throughout the region. But these have morphed into more than just people vending. They have now become tourist attractions – people come to the region to these places to eat totally different types of food. Where we see ourselves adding the most value to our businesses is on that local level now. How do we impact those people?
“So all our rents are subsidized at these vending parks and we still turn our profits as a sustainable project. We’re looking at the eco-tourism market as well, because those things will impact our communities, along with all the big multi-nationals coming in. We do have big e-tech parks on the estate, and aluminum production is being incentivized in my region through the Central Government. While we are trying to help the local people who are directly impacted by things like COVID.”
BVC: Have you introduced any ‘green’ initiatives and upgrades to technology?
Robinson: “Environmentally, we have moved all our bulbs in the parks to LED and shortened the hours of operation so there is less power consumption. There are also plans developed two years ago for a program to sort solid waste, in the first instance, and then move to recycling. That project was stalled last year because of COVID.
“As for technological advances, because of the pandemic impact on the way we run our organization we have started to introduce tools that were already available but not used by the regional corporation. For example, most of our local administrative meetings have been done via Zoom, which was new for us. We’ve also moved most of our forms online to give people easier access. A lot of our meetings with the Ministry happen online as well. I’m friendly with a lot of the decision makers, so I use ‘water cooler’ conversation skills to get more for my region, but it’s not as easy online.”
BVC: Looking to the future, what are the main objectives for the Corporation?
Robinson: “To make the Corporation more sustainable. To be able to deliver the low hanging fruits to the burgesses. And to ensure that the organization itself is geared towards making the burgess’s lives easier. Because I think, a lot of the time, the organization forgets that it’s really the people that are important. We have to make those people as comfortable and safe as possible, and focus on whatever we need to do to facilitate that.
“As a young Chairman, I have to face the decisions I make for the next 30 years. And my son will have to live knowing my successes and my mistakes. So I want to make things as comfortable as possible as I go into the second part of my life. The way I try to manage and lead the Corporation is to find the people who are best equipped to handle any situation. I do a significant amount of reading and research but my strong point is networking. Political leaders, community leaders, social entrepreneurs, social activists that try to influence change. It’s easier for people to do the heavy lifting if I have that support.
“It is my goal by the time I leave office to have a clear plan for how to make our economy more sustainable and/or create enough business activity where we have less burgesses at the lower end of the spectrum who need our social safety net.”
AT A GLANCE
Tunapuna-Piarco Regional Corporation
What: Most populous of nine regions in the country; population approx. 250,000
Where: Northern Trinidad
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