According to the Turks and Caicos’ Minister of Infrastructure Housing and Planning, Hon. Goldray Ewing, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government (TCIG) to date has achieved more than 50% of planned new development to the country’s infrastructure. This was achieved by constructing new schools and roads, plus regulating utilities such as water and electricity. However, some of the proposed projects in the not-so-distant future include creating a new deep-sea port in South Caicos, upgrading roads and drainage throughout the islands, and creating new links between the islands, which would provide ground transportation for residents. Such proposed developments will also be beneficial to investors. Hon. Ewing describes his priorities and challenges and the potential ricochet effects of upcoming projects
You were appointed minister in December 2016. What have been your biggest achievements since taking this role and what are your priorities for the rest of your term?
Since being elected to office and appointed the portfolio of Minister of Infrastructure, Housing and Planning, my government came to office with an aggressive plan to increase the country’s infrastructure and maintain the present government infrastructure across the country, due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria passage in September 2017. The recovery and relief efforts delayed our initial plans for development. We accommodated the clean-up efforts, by delaying and pulling back projects that were not committed and reprioritised the finances, to assist in the recovery of the country to get it back up and running. During the recovery period, we partnered with the private sector to get the islands functioning to a normal status.
The 2019/2020 fiscal budget will present new ideas and a new vision for the islands. We are taking a more aggressive approach to our road-building programme this year than the previous years.
We will address the concerns of the airports and ports, which will meet the needs of the visitors to the islands for the upcoming tourism season. We are looking at proposed projects such as the Spine Link road, which would connect all of the islands by ground transportation, constructing a deepwater transshipment port on the island of South Caicos to handle the rapid growth of transhipment expected within the next two years, introduce a renewable energy programme with the current electricity provider here in the islands, explore the market and invite competition into the island to help resolve consumer issues in relation to utility services.
As the Minister of Infrastructure Housing and Planning, it has been our aim to maintain a good working relationship and foster new partnerships with the utility providers to enhance the development and services within TCI. I would like to propose energy sector reform legislation to Cabinet. We intend to pursue that, and also to monitor and review what we have. The economy, as a whole, is doing very well. However, more can be gained through greater management oversight and special attention being paid to the niche areas critical to the overall development of these islands.
What are the key attractions of Turks and Caicos as a destination?
It’s not difficult to court developers or individual buyers. Whatever publication or report comes out, Turks and Caicos always gets a best beach award or has one or two among the top-10 best islands. It’s a lifestyle choice. Then there is a long list of other benefits that people often don’t even realise as they fall in love with the islands so quickly. We are a tax-free offshore destination; we are a British Overseas Territory, locally governed but overseen by the United Kingdom, which creates a strong trust in investment; and we are English-speaking and use the US dollar, being located so close to the United States. We are only 90 minutes from Miami. We also have direct flights from Boston, Charlotte, Texas and New York, which is just three hours away. The major hubs connect people to Turks and Caicos, including direct flights from Heathrow. The when you get here, the population is so friendly and welcoming. Pretty much all of our clients say it’s like returning home when the staff at their resorts welcome them with open arms and they become family. Tourism destinations like the Bahamas and Jamaica have been around a long time. Turks and Caicos is really only starting now to come out as a lifestyle island; it’s only 40 years since the first major development was built. We are still relatively new, so people are only starting to know who we are. That allows for great opportunities for investors. We have eight islands with pristine beaches, many of which have literally have nobody on them. You can find that in North Caicos, Middle Caicos, Water Cay, Parrot Cay, and not so many other places in the Caribbean.
The Ritz-Carlton Residences is the first internationally branded condo residence in Turks and Caicos. What does the Ritz brand bring to the islands?
First of all, the Turks and Caicos Islands is the brand; it’s a fantastic location and will always be the number-one brand. But when it comes to the Ritz, it is famous for service – it is the great innovator in five-star service. In Turks and Caicos we have always had beautiful boutique resorts, single-asset properties within developments each owned by an individual. However, they do not come with the prestige and branding of something like the Ritz. This is the first mixed-use development. There is the 120-suite hotel component with all the services you would expect, and two towers with a total of 60 housing units. As I said, we are a beginning-of-lifecycle island and the boutiques in the complex will be the first example of real high-end shopping on the islands. There will also be a casino, the second in Turks and Caicos. Ritz has its clan that follow the Ritz, and they have plans to maintain that loyalty. If you’re a Ritz person, you’re a Ritz person. You look for a Ritz wherever you go. It brings a whole new set of eyes to look at Turks and Caicos differently.
What progress has been made by the Caribbean Development Bank’s four-year initiative in Turks and Caicos, which comes to an end in 2018?
The Caribbean Development Bank (CBD) are contracted as the consultant for the TCI Government to undertake a study on the transportation sector throughout the islands and will issue guidelines and expert reports on the coastal defence, mainly for the islands of – Grand Turk, Salt Cay and South Caicos. To date, CDB has provided technical training to the civil servants and delivered reports and recommendations to the government. The recommendation within the report would be beneficial to the delayed government’s repairs on the islands of Grand Turk and Salt Cay, in particular. Without the recommendation of CBD experts as it relates to the marine environment, the required sea defence mechanisms which are currently in place will not stop the waves from approaching the shorelines with force, we cannot do any road maintenance works or any maintenance to buildings in certain areas.
How would you describe the current state of infrastructure on the islands?
The current state of infrastructure and private development throughout TCI has progressed immensely over the years to date. Since our administration entered government, each island has exceeded the 50% percent threshold of our mandated capital investment. There are still a few areas that require attention, such as improving our networking of cable to underground paths for telecommunications, power, water, and making our drainage system work more efficiently while being environmentally friendly.
Regarding road infrastructure, the TCIG has contracted a local company for the purpose of resurfacing existing roads within the Palm Grove community of Grand Turk and to upgrade the majority of existing roads in the North and South Back Salina community of Grand Turk. The Island of South Caicos does not require much road work and very little maintenance. However, the drainage system is where we will be concentrating most of our efforts. Middle Caicos does not have a drainage problem but they do not have much activity there presently. I hasten to add, that whilst their road system is perfect, they are lacking proper telecommunications, city water and better sewage, which will be addressed. We will be placing emphasis on North Caicos, which is getting the water situation right, as well as getting the rest of the road system up to par. The two islands that require attention, are Grand Turk and Providenciales, where the greater resident population and economic activity is located.
How do you suppose these updates will impact the economic situation of the country?
There will be many impacts. For example, tourists want to know that they can access proper infrastructure and that they can get from point A to B without problems. They want to spend their time on the beach rather than on the road. The projects also provide job opportunities and since most of the contractors actually live on the islands, the money directly impacts the local economy. I’m looking forward to the Providenciales roads that are currently out for tender to make a big difference on the economy. A lot of the communities right now are reorganizing themselves in terms of how they can accommodate the future. For Blue Hills, my constituency, we are in the process of putting together a masterplan for that change. Beforehand, persons built where and when they wanted but now we are putting together a plan to structure the proper zoning, as well as sewage, roads and electricity. While it will take a lot of money and time, the benefits will be great – instead of just being a residential area, it will become a new tourist destination.
How will the country finance these projects? And what incentives or concessions does the government offer to investors?
Projects are financed by TCIG through various avenues either by the budget or Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Each development that comes to the Turks and Caicos is unique to each island because every Island throughout the Turks and Caicos offer something different to the resident or visitor. If you want to make an investment in Providenciales, you may get less of a subsidy than if you were to make in North Caicos or South Caicos. The less developed islands carry more incentives. But generally, most investors get duty-free concessions on the raw materials they import, which is also the case for the construction of resorts and business.
Depending on what type of investment is being proposed, the developer can apply for a development agreement where different incentives and concessions may apply through Invest TC.
What opportunities are available for PPPs?
We need to reduce the operating costs of the government across the islands, and by joining the islands by roads and bridges, we would bring down the costs of operating, reduce duplicated facilities and open up new areas for potential opportunities on these islands. South Caicos is the best place for a deepwater port; it’s more protected and will be linked up with the superhighway that we intend to put in because the demand for goods is in Providenciales, at the other end of the country. So that corridor will be very active in terms of commercial linkage and will bring many opportunities for the Turks and Caicos, as well as for the investor. One way we are looking at helping the investor to gain liquidity for their investment is by being very creative and innovative. I’m looking forward to hearing innovative ideas about manmade islands for highways and real estate. We need to start talks on PPPs and this is one of the biggest PPPs we have on the table. We have about 11 really interested parties so far for that one specific project to connect the islands. We have firms out of Britain, Portugal, China, Dubai, Canada and a Dominican-Chinese connection company involved in talks. They all want to be part of this project, which they see as very lucrative for them. All we want to do in these PPPs is to strike a fair deal for the country, the people and the investors. This government isn’t just thinking of the Caicos islands – we are also looking at a connection between Grand Turk and Salt Cay. That is not economically feasible right now because of the low level of activity on Salt Cay. But as soon as we have a resort or cruise port or something of that nature, it will be fundamental to provide safe and reliable travel between Salt Cay and Grand Turk. And we would like to do that by rail rather than road because Salt Cay is the green island of the Turks and Caicos, and providing the connectivity without allowing cars would be an excellent solution.
There is fierce competition within the Caribbean to attract investment from overseas. What makes Turks and Caicos stand out as an investment destination?
Turks and Caicos as a destination is in close proximity to the United States of America, in fact less than an hour and forty-five minutes by flight, and close to several transatlantic ports. Therefore, it does not require a lot to get investment or major development going, but stands to benefit enormously from investment. Our small population and the low overheads of government allow us to be extremely accommodating. We are opened to new investments that would be beneficial to the island and the people from the outside to come in – the Turks and Caicos is open for business and we’re looking forward to seeing more investment coming to our shores. Politically and economically, we are stable and there is an excellent atmosphere for investment. We have a lot of opportunities waiting for investors to tap into. Aside from tourism, we are also looking at the petroleum market and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for oil production. I am currently in ongoing talks with Carib X, a company out of London, which is coming here soon for oil exploration. We have a good chance of finding oil in Turks and Caicos, but I know that because of our tourism market, our government will not want too much refining of oil here. If we get into the business, we will just be looking at extracting and selling.
Do you think Brexit offers an opportunity?
It does, in a way. Because British politics changes so often, if we can have an MOU that says there are standards that each government that comes into power must abide by in terms of overseas territories, I would say that would help.