I am honoured, once again, to have the privilege of addressing you, as we usher in another New Year. I share with you the opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months and to ponder on the issues which will affect our lives in 2015. Most of us in this island and the rest of the country, are welcoming the New Year with mixed emotions. We are welcoming the New Year, in a period of financial and political uncertainty. We are facing a 2015 in which the decisions we make, the postures we adopt and the attitudes we display are likely to have a significant impact on our quality of life and the quality of our governance, for decades.
In that context, I must emphasise that this has to be a time for sober reflection, clinical evaluation and decisive action, at every level and in every sector. This is a time to strive for balance. The leaders must strive for balance between fuelling unrealistic expectations and fostering unnecessary panic. The business sector has to achieve the balance between maximising profit and stimulating sustainable growth. The spokespersons have to achieve the balance between stinging criticism and constructive recommendations. And all of us have to achieve the balance between making demands and accepting responsibility. I view the challenges that we will face in 2015 as an opportunity for us, as an island and a country, to rekindle that spirit and to display the qualities, which have propelled us to a preeminent position in the region.
This is a special time for us, in Tobago. We leave behind a year in which the island’s developmental thrust has been further intensified but, most importantly, we can enter the New Year with the comfort that the momentum will continue. Fellow Tobagonians, we must not forget that 2014 was the year in which there were 188 beneficiaries, under the financial assistance programme; a year during which over two thousand needy families benefited from home improvement grants and subsidies; a year during which scores of families who were living on lands at Adelphi estate in Mason Hall, some in excess of 40 years, finally received the deeds to their land. During 2014, the Assembly delivered to the people of Tobago, two new multipurpose facilities, four youth zone activity centres, a modern fishing facility at Lambeau and six additional lighted playing fields. All necessary refurbishment on every primary and secondary school on the island was completed during the August vacation period and the Division of Education Youth Affairs and Sport responded with urgency and professionalism, after the incident at one of our primary schools. It was in 2014 that the island’s scholars copped a record number of national scholarships and the Division of Education has reported improved performances by our students at both the primary and secondary school levels. 2014 was a year in which our athletes, lawn tennis players and table tennis players extended their dominance in national competitions and our cultural artistes enthralled audiences in Cuba, Canada, New York and, of course, on home territory.
2014 signalled increased optimism in the tourism sector. The Apollo flight out of Scandinavia was such an outstanding success that Tobago was voted the number one tourist destination by the Swedish travel magazine “Globe Traveller”. Virgin Atlantic has confirmed its return to Tobago, and Tobago is partnering with Barbados for a weekly flight out of Brazil, starting at the end of this month. There has also been encouraging growth in the traditional markets of the United Kingdom and Germany. The cruise ship season has started and the sector anticipates a massive increase from 15,000 visitors in 2014 to 60,000 in 2015. The importance of the tourism sector has become even more critical, in light of the present challenges in the energy sector. And, I must reiterate the critical need for Central Government intervention and collaboration in the urgent upgrade of the Arthur N R Robinson airport, the designation of Crown Point and environs as a Designated Development area and the revamping of Caribbean Airlines to ensure that it provides reliable and predictable service to the citizens of and visitors to this country.
2014 was also the year in which political history was made when the leaders of the three political parties which participated in the 2013 Tobago House of Assembly election, joined with the Chief Secretary of the Assembly to develop a collaborative approach to the longstanding issue of self government for Tobago. The people of Tobago have given the Forum a clear mandate to secure their demands. The achievement of this objective requires the cooperation of the Central Government and I continue to await a response from the Prime Minister to my recommendation for a meeting, between representatives of the Forum and the Central Government, to resolve the present impasse. Everyone is on record, pledging commitment to self -government for Tobago. The time has come to “walk the talk”. In that context I wish to refer to my 2014 Assembly Day address when I appealed “to all the leaders, the decision makers, the community activists, in fact, all Tobagonians, to place their love for Tobago before their loyalty to any political entity”. Let 2015 be the year in which we “do it right” and “get it right”.
Despite the economic climate, we can look forward to some early deliverables in 2015. I can say, with more confidence than at any time in the past, that Tobago will have full use of the Scarborough Library Regional Facility and the Shaw Park Cultural Complex within the first quarter of this year. Also due for delivery this quarter are the Kendall Aquatic Centre, the Bethesda Community Centre, the Pigeon Point Fishing Facility, the refurbished Gibson jetty at Pigeon Point, housing units at Adventure and housing lots at Courland. Later in the year, the fishing facilities at Castara and Charlotteville should be completed and work should resume on the Charlotteville Mall. The Division of Infrastructure will continue its road repair programme with some emphasis on the Windward road infrastructure which has been affected by the laying of pipes, among other factors.
However, brothers and sisters, we have to be realistic. 2015 will not, cannot be “business as usual”. It is evident that there is going to be a shortfall in the country’s revenue for fiscal 2015. Adjustments will have to be made. The Assembly reiterates its commitment to manage its resources so that the vulnerable will continue to be protected and that the fallout among the other sectors will be minimised. However, our development, our quality of life in 2015, will depend on us. We have to become more productive. We have to accept the correlation between our productivity and the island’s growth. We have to work harder, work more efficiently, work with greater pride and commitment than ever before.
Brothers and sisters, 2015 promises to be challenging but exciting. 2015 promises to be a year in which the mettle of Tobagonians will be tested once again, in the political and other arenas. 2015 will also be a year of opportunity for the enterprising and the committed. We, as Tobagonians, have faced and surmounted numerous challenges in the past and I am confident that together, we will not only surmount the challenges of 2015 but will be able to embrace the opportunities that would be available.
And it with that confidence that I extend best wishes for a highly productive and rewarding 2015.