Fellow Tobagonians and by extension the residents of Trinidad and Tobago, I thank God that we made it through another year and are here today to embrace the new dawn of 2019. Happy New Year to you and your families. I trust that the year ahead will bring with it good health, positive and healthy relationships, the overcoming and conquering of challenges and a renewed vigour and willingness to excel in every sphere of our lives.
In moving forward, it is important that we take the time to reflect on 2018 individually and also as a community and nation. In your personal lives, 2019 represents a new beginning. It represents an opportunity to analyse your short comings and mistakes, learn from them and in some cases, master your weak areas, whilst you challenge yourself to be more productive than you were in 2018; and embark on new adventures that will help you on your journey of maximising your potential.
My brothers and sisters, as we face a new year ahead of us, it is also necessary for us to reflect as a people and as a society on a whole. As residents of this land, at this time, we have a vested interest in ensuring that Tobago reaches its full potential. This is where we try as hard as possible, to put island and country first, instead of allowing our personal or political interests or aspirations, while being very important, to derail or impede our overall growth and development.
As I reflect briefly on this administration’s successes in 2018, I want to highlight a few areas. In Education, our team successfully ensured the certification of some of our vocational training courses; we managed to negotiate free tertiary education programmes with the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), in areas of engineering, marine sciences and agriculture for our Tobago students right here in Tobago, without going to Trinidad; we opened the long overdue Teachers’ Professional Centre and the Division continues to endorse and support the ‘Train a Child to Read’ community initiative.
In Agriculture, we have completed several access roads for farmers. In the last year, we have also experienced a steady increase in interest shown in agriculture and this was also evidenced in 2018 with the largest Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA) graduation cohort; negotiations between the THA and the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) continue in an effort to make financing more easily accessible to farmers; and we have also commenced the process of land licenses for persons who are seriously interested in Agriculture.
Over the last year the Division of Community Development, Enterprise Development and Labour has successfully expanded its vocational training programme offerings and saw the largest graduation cohort of one thousand and fifty nine participants in 2018, up from five hundred and fifty two in 2016. The Division has also conducted upgrades to community centres and y-zones across the island, in an effort to reduce youth delinquency and school drop outs. Additionally, the Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) was also reviewed and adjusted to become more efficient, in circumstances where participants are also engaged in agriculture.
The Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment has been maximising its resources in areas such as road resurfacing and rehabilitation throughout Tobago. The Division also utilised its resources to implement an integrated road network and traffic light system, which is designed to provide a more efficient road experience at our traffic lights. The Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) was also addressed. This Programme underwent a rationalisation process, where participants were given vocational skills training, thereby allowing them to be utilised in different areas of the Tobago House of Assembly, whilst at the same time, allowing them to become more empowered and self-sufficient.
Fellow Tobagonians, these are only a few of the areas that this administration has been able to either transform or enact change completely, thereby contributing to the overall progress of Tobago. However, whilst our achievements have been many and will continue to be over the next two years, I am also fully aware that we have encountered some serious challenges. I anticipate the day when the woes of the sea-bridge will completely end or be minimised to the point where these are almost insignificant. I am also still of the opinion that one murder in Tobago is one too many for our island that we have branded as safe and serene. And whilst the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd’s branding strategy has come into question recently, I believe that it is important for us not to do ourselves an injustice, by overlooking the important truth, that we live in a destination that is beyond ordinary and worth being discovered by myriads of tourists and we must never question that. Nothing should stop us from ensuring that we are the best island, not only to visit but to reside, as we all work together and hold each other accountable for better customer service and delivery of our tourism product.
I am excited about 2019; certainly not because I have unrealistic expectations that we will encounter no challenges as an island or people but because I believe that with the right mindset, attitude, disposition and collective will, we shall overcome all challenges and chart new courses. Brothers and sisters, let us enter 2019 with jubilation and spirits of joy and expectation that are ready to soar and leave their mark in this world.
Once again, I wish you and your families, a blessed, productive and inspiring 2019.