It is with a feeling of intense pride that I greet you, and, by extension, all of Tobago, on the Thirtieth Anniversary of this Tobago House of Assembly. This year, we have deliberately chosen as our theme “Celebrating Three Decades of Development”, mainly because we are convinced that, despite all that has transpired and the shortcoming of individuals and institutions, there has been significant development in Tobago since 1980, and there is much for us as Tobagonians, to celebrate.
Too often, ladies and gentlemen, when we celebrate anniversaries, we tend to focus primarily on the mistakes made, the opportunities lost and the goals still to be achieved, even the projects still to be completed; and, with that mindset, we often do not place equal emphasis on the challenges surmounted, the energy expended, the sacrifices made, and the gains achieved as we travelled, sometimes even stumbled, along the path of development. Let us not make that mistake today. Therefore, let us first start by recognizing some of the many stalwarts who guided us along that path of development over the last thirty (30) years. Brothers and sisters, we need to pay tribute to the pioneers, the leaders, the icons, all those whose efforts paved the way for Tobago’s progress, even in the most trying circumstances. We must pause to remember the contributions of Arthur N.R. Robinson, Dr. Winston Murray, Dr. J.D. Elder, Chairmen Lennox Denoon and Dr. Jefferson Davidson, and former Chief Secretary, Hochoy Charles, who, each in his own inimitable style, determined the critical issues of the day and advanced the process. We must also not forget the impact of Prime Ministers Eric Williams, George Chambers, Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, and all the other decision makers at the Tobago and national levels without whose cooperation during the critical phases, progress could have been further frustrated.
But development over the decades could not have been just about the efforts and feats of the leaders, the icons and the major decision makers; it was also about the contributions of all sectors of the Tobago population. And so, the tribute must extend to the school teachers and the Sunday School teachers who nurtured and inspired our youths; the artistes and the sportsmen and women who entertained us, excited us and brought us pleasure and pride over the years; those dedicated public officials who endured scathing and often underserved criticism, but were not deterred in their commitment to professionalism and delivery. We must also remember the activists of all ages who continue to utilize their time, talent and resources in mobilizing and energizing their respective communities. We must appreciate the role the members of the business community, the entrepreneurs, the artisans who helped to build our economy and infrastructure, and the farmers and the fishermen who have ensured that we continue to derive economic benefit from our rich heritage. We must not forget the contribution of the religious leaders of all persuasions who have been instilling and reinforcing the spiritual values, especially among our young people. Nor should we forget the young people, the majority of whom, over the years, were able to evade the negative influences of the day and mature into upright, responsible citizens prepared to play their role in developing themselves and their island. It was all of us who made it happen, and all of us must take pride in what has been achieved.
Brothers and sisters, sometimes, because development occurs gradually, even spasmodically, we tend to underestimate the true extent of even our own progress. And, therefore, it would not be inappropriate for us to evaluate the quality of the place at which we have arrived after thirty years. The statistics are quite revealing, and I am not sure how many of you are aware of them. Are you aware, for instance, that, when we opened the Buccoo Community Centre last Tuesday, November 29th, it was the thirty-first (31st) such facility made available on the island? Are you aware that with a population of less than sixty thousand, Tobago has seventeen (17) health centres, with three (3) more health centres under construction and two (2) other outreach centres to be completed before the end of 2010? Is it public knowledge that there are twenty-two (22) lighted hard courts in Tobago, with three (3) more to be lighted in this fiscal year; or that, in addition to the Dwight Yorke Stadium, Tobago has five (5) lighted recreation grounds and twenty-seven (27) other community recreation grounds, eight (8) of which are to be lighted before the end of this fiscal year? How many of us know that whereas many larger islands in the region do not have a single public tennis court, Tobago has sixteen (16) lighted and two (2) unlighted public tennis courts?
Are we also taking note of the improvement in the quality of life among many of our citizens, at all levels? Up to earlier this year, we enjoyed an unemployment rate of less than six percent for a period of more than four (4) years. Tobago’s children are still developing in an environment where they can attain the highest educational level without any significant investment, and Tobago’s senior citizens, despite their recent disappointments, can still enjoy free bus and ferry transportation, the benefits of CDAP, home improvement grants and other benefits not available to their counterparts in most countries of the world?
Do we remember, and this was less than six years ago, when a journey to Trinidad by sea was a harrowing, undignified six hour experience when compared to today’s pleasurable two and a half hour ride? Do we remember when power outages, non-functioning telephones, unlit streets, dilapidated main roads, a highly unreliable water supply, insufficient secondary school places, and ill-equipped school buildings were the norm, rather than the exception? We must reflect, accept that significant progress has been made, and give thanks.
But, brothers and sisters, despite these gains, there are serious challenges ahead as we move into the fourth (4th) decade of this Assembly. The signs are that the global economy will remain relatively stagnant in the foreseeable future and, therefore, the national economy and the Tobago economy will continue to be under pressure. We have moved into a very unforgiving phase in world history, and, like the rest of the world, Tobago is on test. Like the rest of the world, Tobago will be tested on its capacity to surmount the economic hurdles and avoid the social crises that are becoming more evident every day. And remember, this comes at a time when we are arguing passionately and, I believe, persuasively, for greater political autonomy. Therefore, in the present scenario, it is the Tobago House of Assembly and the people of Tobago who have to assume even greater responsibility for charting the course as we move into what can be considered the second generation of this Assembly.
That is why we support the Division of Tourism’s initiatives in negotiating a weekly direct flight from New York to Tobago; its stimulus package for guest house owners; travel incentives to United Kingdom visitors; and other efforts to revitalize the ailing tourism industry. However, as I stand in this Ballroom, I must reiterate that the Division’s efforts could be frustrated if there continues to be a delay in refurbishing this Vanguard Hotel.
Brothers and sisters, as we look back over the years, we must accept that in the area of personal safety and security, the Tobago landscape has changed. The upsurge in criminal activity in recent years has not only damaged the island’s international image, but has also affected the psyche of all of us who are forced to live in an environment where spontaneity and freedom have been replaced by caution and even fear. I was heartened yesterday evening when Assistant Commissioner of Police Allan Crooks, the Officer in charge of the Tobago Division, reported that there had been a decline in serious crime on the island. I would like to commend ACP Crooks and his officers, the members of the Defence Force, and other agencies that have been involved in the security exercises. I am also aware that the information from and the cooperation of the public were major factors in, not only decreasing the incidence of crime, but improving the detection rate. However, no one can be comfortable, even with these improved statistics, and I will expect that the issues of increased manpower and equipment; installation of CCTV cameras at hot spots; improved port security; and more regular and effective surveillance of our coastlines and territorial waters are addressed expeditiously as we attempt to control crime, not only on Tobago’s land mass, but in the surrounding waters.
Brothers and sisters, there cannot be meaningful development without adequate preparation, and over the years, this Assembly has implemented programmes and provided assistance and incentives to Tobagonians working to prepare themselves for a future which will remain unpredictable and challenging, but brimful with opportunity. These programmes, including the Financial Assistance initiative, will continue, and with the opening of the new campus of the University of the Southern Caribbean at Rockly Vale, to which the Assembly has pledged to contribute, the expanded COSTAATT campus in Tobago, and, I hope, the completion of the Skills Centre at Bon Accord, even more training opportunities will be provided in Tobago next year.
And, brothers and sisters, the next year of this Assembly could be productive, exciting, maybe even intriguing. The process towards the Revision of the Tobago House of Assembly Act and relevant sections of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago is well underway, and I am pleased to indicate that a verbal report from Dr. John Prince, Chairman of the Working Committee established by the Tobago House of Assembly, has confirmed that Senior Counsel Russell Martineau has completed and presented the draft amendments to the relevant sections of the Constitution, and will soon complete the draft amendments to the Tobago House of Assembly Act.
We expect that Tobagonians will continue to support this process in which they have been intimately involved over the past two years. This is another phase in the process started by Tobago icons like APT James, and continued by Arthur NR Robinson. This is our time to take the process forward, but we will not do justice to Tobago and its future if we do not have a similar mindset to the stalwarts whose vision and commitment have brought us to this stage. All of our icons over the years had one quality in common – they demanded, and eventually received, respect. They did not compromise their dignity and Tobago’s pride for favours or personal aggrandisement. While they fought for legislative change, they recognized that one cannot legislate respect, and, therefore, they insisted, sometimes at the expense of short term benefits, that in any relationship there must be certain guidelines and ground rules that must be considered sacrosanct.
Tobago’s thirty years as an Assembly must be placed in the context of over two hundred years in a sometimes challenging, sometimes fractious, but productive, familial, mutually beneficial relationship with Trinidad. I am convinced, like the overwhelming majority of Tobagonians, that the relationship must continue; it must, in fact, be enhanced. However, as second generation Tobago House of Assembly people, we have agreed that the terms should be adjusted. I am urging that, as we prepare for that adjustment, both the Central Government and the Tobago House of Assembly must signal that they are committed to the provisions of more autonomy for Tobago by at least respecting the limited autonomy that now exists.
Brothers and sisters, as I conclude, let me take the opportunity to compliment all those who will receive Chief Secretary’s Awards this evening for outstanding achievements and contributions over the last year. These recipients can be considered as the representatives of the thousands who have been laboring in their respective spaces as we strive to take this island forward.
Let us be inspired by their example and the examples of all Tobagonians at all levels and from all sectors who would have contributed to our three decades of development. Let us also recognize our mistakes and shortcomings and let them instruct us in our quest for improved performance. Let us continue to celebrate three decades of development, but let us rededicate ourselves to embracing the new responsibilities that must be borne by Tobagonians in the challenging new decade ahead.
Let us rededicate ourselves to greater involvement in the protection of our communities, to the fostering and development of our young people, to the preservation of our environment, and to the nurturing of our culture. As we celebrate, let us remember that, in the end, it is the mindset of we, the people, that will determine the future of our island. Therefore, let us recommit to the protection, the preservation, and the eventual enhancement of our Tobago House of Assembly, and let us pledge that, neither by commission nor omission, will we do anything to undermine its autonomy and integrity.
Brothers and sisters, as the saying goes, “we have come too far to turn back now”. Let us, therefore, go forward with faith in God, inspiration from our ancestors and icons, and confidence in our ability to take this priceless heritage that we have been bequeathed into a glorious and productive fourth decade.
I thank you, and May God Bless Tobago.
December 4, 2010