Address by Chief Secretary The Honourable Ancil K. Dennis on the occasion of the 59th Independence Anniversary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

Whatever the challenge that faces you, from whatever quarter, place always first the national interest and the national cause,” these words were shared by Dr. Eric Williams on our first day as an independent nation. Fifty-nine years later, they continue to be relevant and still stand strong.

As we celebrate yet another Independence Anniversary amidst a pandemic, this statement attains an even deeper resonance. Not just for its sober counsel, but also as a clarion call to fiercely protect the common good of all Trinbagonians.

It seems that from the very beginning, we were armed with the strength and wisdom necessary to battle the obstacles along the way. With the adequate resources now available for vaccination, we can emerge sooner from the throes of this devastating crisis, which continues to take the lives and livelihoods of too many of our nationals.

The national response to this unprecedented crisis will determine whether we conquer the challenge which presently confronts us. Our compliance with the recommended health protocols directly influences the duration and severity of this pandemic, which has stymied this country’s development unlike any other force ever encountered before. Therefore, the importance of us quickly attaining herd immunity as a people cannot be overstated, as an island, and a nation, with so much more potential to be realised.

It is an earnest plea, which must be amplified given the recent confirmation of the Delta variant within our national borders. While vaccination is indeed a personal choice, it is powerful enough to impact the public health status of this entire country. So, I urge all of you as citizens, once you are able to, make the necessary arrangements and do your part. See it as another civic duty that can safeguard your own health and the well-being of our beloved nation.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has done a commendable job in procuring a variety of W-H-O approved COVID-19 vaccines for the national population. These vaccines have all undergone stringent assessment to ensure their safety and efficacy for users. We are truly blessed to be alive at a time when the greatest scientific minds, aided by technological innovation, could promptly develop a vaccine in response to this deadly crisis.

There is no denying that science has long been humanity’s saving grace and continues to assist us in building a better world. In Trinidad and Tobago, the value of scientific thought remains highly regarded as a crucial component, towards shaping a more resilient future for our twin-island state.

Over the years, this country has produced a number of sterling scientists who have contributed significantly to the advancement of the scientific field.  It was a son of the soil, Dr. Andre Cipriani, who co-discovered the use of the Cobalt-60 as a viable cancer treatment many years ago. His extensive research on motion sickness, also led to the discovery of a chemical compound which is utilised in gravol medication.

Another scientific powerhouse was Professor Emmanuel Amoroso, whose pivotal research on the placenta made an invaluable contribution to the field of reproductive biology and endocrinology. He too was a product of Trinidad and Tobago.

Most recently, Shakuntala Haraksingh Thilsted won the distinguished 2021 World Food Prize for her seminal work in aquaculture. By copping this international honour, she became the first woman of Asian heritage to be awarded this prestigious Prize. But before she started making history on the world stage, she began locally as the first and only woman at the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries in Tobago.

Organizations such as NIHEREST that have formed part of our local landscape for decades were developed with the crucial aim to foster a greater appreciation and understanding for science amongst the general population. Each year, this country also offers several STEM scholarships to ensure that this priority area is well furnished.

I reflect on the calibre of scientists Trinidad and Tobago has produced, as well as some of the initiatives presently available to us, as a timely reminder that we have always been a people who contributed as well as relied on science for our progress and development. It has been part of our bloodline for a long time and we will continue to be guided by the tenets of reason, accuracy and evidence going forward.

Undeniably, widespread misinformation is eroding the trust of many of our locals in this critical vaccination process, with little room for failure. Therefore, I must encourage us to consider the rigour of the scientific method, and its unrelenting and unbiased commitment to the search for proof.

The Father of the Nation, Dr. Eric Williams, once said, “Democracy (…) rests on a higher power than that of Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion.”

While it is understandable to have some concerns and reservations, it is imperative that clarity is sought from informed and reliable sources. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to your personal healthcare provider; the Division of Health, Wellness, and Family Development; or the Ministry of Health for additional information.

For those who believe strongly in your personal immunity to fight this virus, please take into account your fellow compatriots, some of whom may not be able to get vaccinated due to medical reasons. Now is the time for us to really exercise collective responsibility and espouse the notion of service above self.

We cannot afford to wait much longer, as the health and sustainability of our democracy ride on this decision. It is, therefore, the most urgent of issues for us to address as an island, and by extension as a nation. Let us not lose sight of the common enemy, COVID-19, and do our part to strategically defeat it.

Despite our present limitations, we are still the architects of our collective future and wield considerable power over it. This crisis has also revealed the limitless bounds of the human spirit and our ability to triumph against all odds.

We witnessed this human determination recently in the Olympians, who were able to smash world-records in spite of significant training disruptions in the lead-up. The human spirit on fire is not only about gold and glory, but also the defiant refusal to give up— an important lesson that Tobagonian Olympian, Dwight St. Hillaire, has shown to all of us.

While sport fuels our patriotism, it also reveals the genuine condition of it. As Trinbagonians, it is our sacred duty to strengthen each patriot flying the Red, White, and Black.

At the Tobago House of Assembly, we remain committed to doing our part to support our local athletes in their sporting endeavours. We continue to expand the island’s sporting infrastructure with projects such as the Bacolet Indoor Sporting Facility, which is currently in progress. The Department of Sport has also commenced a data collection initiative which would assist in reforming the island’s sporting policy. So, we are listening intently to our stakeholders, in an effort to build a better sporting apparatus for Tobago.

Even with the road bumps ahead, I am confident that we will arrive at our destination as an island and as a people. It would require an even greater togetherness, during a chapter which makes it so easy for division to thrive. But, here is where we must dig deeper as a people, and ensure that our differences do not cause a far- reaching divide. Here is where, we must also demonstrate the tolerance that we have repeated time after time. The time is now for us to truly step up for Trinidad and Tobago.

We have reached this far as a democracy relying on scientific reason and the strength of one another. We will go even further, if we continue to lean on the ever-evolving world of science, while showing up with more kindness and patience for each other.

Happy Independence Trinidad and Tobago! May God continue to guide and bless this great nation.

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