STATEMENT

BY

Honourable Sadiq Baksh
Minister of Housing and Settlements of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

AT THE SPECIAL SESSION ON HABITAT II

New York
June 6, 2001


President of the General Assembly Ministerial Colleagues Secretary-General Distinguished Delegates Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am honoured to participate in the Twenty-Fifth Special Session of the General Assembly devoted to the overall review and appraisal of the implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II).

Today, in the first year of the new millennium, the year 2001, we have come together to support a global effort that will change the development standards for human settlements during the rest of this, the Twenty-First Century.

We, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, would like to commend the United Nations for its renewed vigour in dealing with the issues of globalisation and under-development, notably the issue of Poverty Eradication. Additionally, we applaud your work in so many other areas including refugees, development assistance, disaster relief and cultural cooperation. Many people forget that the United Nations is only 56 years old. Few other institutions have achieved so much in so little time or have helped so many of the world's poor and neglected. In this regard, we must congratulate the Secretary General, for his remarkable impact on the organisation. He has brought a renewed sense of purpose to the United Nations. His ability to mobilise support from national governments and the international private sector is commendable. This resurgence leads us to be optimistic about the future of the United Nations and all its agencies, Habitat in particular.

We, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, totally support the mission of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (Habitat). We congratulate Habitat on its success over the years in trying to promote socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development, and the achievement of adequate shelter for all. Habitat's Executive Director, Dr. Anna Kajumolo Tibaijuka, has emphasized that partnership is the fundamental premise upon which the Habitat Agenda is built. We subscribe to her view and strongly support her vision.

We strongly commend Habitat for its efforts to be consistent with the overall goal of the United Nations to reduce poverty, and to promote sustainable development, within the context and the challenges of a rapidly urbanising world. We, in Trinidad and Tobago, have in our own way become part of the global campaigns for security of tenure and urban governance. With Habitat and our local voluntary sector and local government institutions as our partners, we have sought to raise awareness, and to improve national policies and local strategies to reduce urban poverty. In this, as in other major i3sues, we have been thinking globally and acting locally.

Our Government is firmly committed to democracy. We consider social inclusion and justice, as well as the promotion of more transparent and accountable institutions, to be as indispensable to democracy as free and Lair elections. By these standards, democracy is alive and well in Trinidad and Tobago. We are, also aware of the need to promote the role of women. We share the view that for a healthy and productive future, and for the success and sustainability of development, we must pay more attention to the needs of women. In our society, as in many other developing countries, women are still the glue that binds the country together. They are the unifying element in the basic unit of society, the family. They are the ones who worry about the future.

Five years ago, Heads of Governments from around the world approved the Habitat Agenda. This was intended to change the development standards for human settlements during this century and to ensure a fairer distribution of the fruits of progress and economic development. The Agenda held governments responsible for implementing their respective action plans with the active participation of civil society.

Participation and partnership to the extent, and in the spirit, envisaged by the Agenda is nothing new to Trinidad and Tobago. We have many very active Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), some of which are allied to international NGOs.
 

We also have several mechanisms including a National Self-Help Commission, and many government agencies, including my own Ministry, the Ministry of Housing and Settlements, as well as Community Development, that facilitate and support voluntary activities in such areas as housing, health and the development of women.

Because of this participatory approach to urban and rural development, the need for shelter, the empowerment of women, and the need to provide comfort to the landless and dispossessed, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago has made substantial progress since the Habitat Conference.

We have adopted a number of strategies including legislation, more appropriate institutional support structures and a supportive environment for increasing the land and housing stock through multiple or smart partnerships.

Now in the second term in office, our Government has benefited from the experiences gained during the first term, and ha" re-shaped our approach to development in the context of nine national objectives.

These are Sustainable Growth, An Intelligent Nation, More and Better Jobs, A faster pace of development, A better quality of life for all of our citizens, High quality health care for our citizens, Greater equity in our Society, Peace, security and harmony, and A competitive economy which impact on the goal of providing sustainable human settlements for all.

Trinidad and Tobago is faced with the challenge of providing 40,000 shelter solutions over the next five years. Forty percent (40%) will target squatting and low-income households. Our national nine-point plan will succeed only if the potential of this large, dynamic, entrepreneurial and innovative informal arid low-income sector is harnessed and used creatively.

In the area of legislation, our Government has introduced four major Acts of Parliament to rationalize the land registration, planning, and land use policies and systems of the country, and to make delivery of land and housing products more efficient, available and affordable to citizens.

My government has also re-shaped its Ministerial portfolios to focus on delivery. Local government authorities in particular will now have an increased role to play in strengthening the links between the enlightened. economic policies of our Government, and the management of land and housing.

Perhaps the greatest success of my government in addressing the housing needs of our citizens is in partnering with groups in the civil society. Government's focus has shifted to developing partnerships with NGOs, the private sector, the trade unions and community based groups in expediting the delivery process. We are emphasising the use of indigenous materials and technologies to lower the cost of building components and increase the housing stock. More use is being made of the skills and expertise of small building contractors, in a competitive bidding environment, to reduce the cost of constructing homes for low-income people in particular.  Manufacturers of building components, suppliers of home furnishings and other ancillary products, are all involved in the effort.

My Ministry, the Ministry of Housing and Settlements, has developed a Five-year plan for the period 2001-2006 to facilitate housing construction, land development, regularization of tenure of squatters and the upgrade of squatter sites. Our goal is to complete construction of 30,000 new housing units within wholesome, healthy and integrated rural and urban communities in the five-year period. This means 6,000 housing units annually. Part of our task would be to regularize the tenure of 2,000 squatters annually and upgrade the sites on which they are located. The achievement of this goal is expected to cost an estimated one hundred million (TT$100 Mn) dollars annually. We would need to have international support to mobilise these resources of manpower, mind-power, materials and money.

We therefore need support from Habitat and the developed countries by way of technical support and additional financial resources. We believe that Official Development Assistance should be restored to the previously agreed amounts.

The goal of cities without slums by the year 2015, whether in Port-of-Spain, our Capital City, or in any city in the developing world, cannot be achieved if we do not commit to assist the least developed countries among us to achieve this noble yet difficult objective.

We also need to revisit the international and national frameworks and institutions that hinder humans the world over from enjoying the basic right of housing. I, therefore, take this opportunity to exhort all partners to reaffirm our commitment to the principles of the Agenda. I reaffirm the political will of the government of Trinidad and Tobago to this goal.

Mr. President, Trinidad arid Tobago, a unitary state, two small islands in the Caribbean Sea, has demonstrated our capacity for creativity and cooperation. From discarded oil drums we created a new musical instrument, the steel pan. From a past of colonialism and indentureship, we have forged a democratic country in which every creed and race finds an equal place. We are part of this struggle for better lives for all. We are willing to contribute whatever is required of us to achieve the goals of Habitat and the United Nations. We, too, would like to see poverty eradicated. We, too, would like to see a world without slums, one in which every man, woman and child, every creed, race, colour and class, finds an equal place.

In return, we ask for the support of the international community and international financial institutions only for those resources which we do not have and cannot mobilise.

Mr. President, We look forward to participating in the deliberations during the next few days as we seek creative and sustainable solutions to the global problems of adequate housing, landlessness , poverty and full and equal participation of women.

I thank you.