Brothers and Sisters, It is with a mixture of pride and cautious optimism that I greet you, on this, the Thirty-First Anniversary of the Tobago House of Assembly.
We have just completed a year-long celebration of the achievements of the Assembly and the people of Tobago over the past three decades and I must take the opportunity to commend all those who participated in the myriad activities as we “celebrated the journey.”
I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the response and the quality of the presentations at the recent Tobago House of Assembly Sports and Family Day. The displays of the various Divisions at the Garden Side Car Park exhibition were equally impressive, as our public officers demonstrated that, contrary to some detractors, the vast majority are committed professionals whose devotion to duty and loyalty to Tobago cannot be disputed.
Tobagonians also witnessed, earlier this week, two symbolic and highly significant events. The Assembly launched its highest award, the Tobago Medal of Honour, and bestowed it on His Excellency, Arthur N. R. Robinson, Mr. Alphonso Theophilus James and Mr. James Biggart, three sons of the soil who would have made exemplary contributions to Tobago’s political and social development in the last century.
This ceremony was conducted in the newly restored Assembly Legislature building which is now an outstanding landmark, linking us with our proud past and, hopefully, inspiring us as we tackle the present problems, in preparation for a brighter future.
Brothers and sisters, Tobagonians savoured many proud and inspiring experiences over the past year. We celebrated Kelly-Anne Baptiste’s bronze medal performance at the World Athletics Championships. We lauded the record seven national scholarships winners from Bishop’s High School and noted the general improvement in the performance of our students at both the primary and secondary levels. We encouraged the latest cadre of Tobago entrepreneurs who would have benefited from the Enterprise Assistance Grant Programme and have already started to make a positive impact on the Tobago economic landscape. We shared the pride of the new homeowners at the Tobago House of Assembly housing settlements at Adventure, Roxborough and Blenheim; and we applauded the commitment of the Division of Settlements and Labour, not only to deliver additional houses at Adventure by the third quarter of next year, but to provide housing lots at Courland, Belle Garden, Adelphi, Kilgwyn and other suitable sites on the island.
Many of us, who participated in the commissioning of the state of the art Scarborough and Charlotteville Health Centres, were even more appreciative of the quality of the health infrastructure in the communities, However, we recognized the need for the highly functional buildings and the highly trained health professionals to be utilized by the residents to maintain wellness, rather than to manage illness.
Brothers and sisters, Tobago’s development and Tobago’s preparation will continue, unabated. The road resurfacing programme is being intensified and, with the start of the dry season, the progress will become even more evident and predictable. Scores of farmers will benefit from the Road Improvement Programme of the Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment; and the Land Management Unit will be responding more urgently to the requests for agricultural land and for the regularization of leases for present occupiers.
The business opportunities for local, regional and international entrepreneurs will increase dramatically by the end of the second quarter of 2012 when the Cove Eco Industrial Park becomes functional and natural gas becomes available at the site.
During the next quarter, eleven recreation grounds will be provided with conventional lighting, and, dependent on the outcome of a pilot project at the Pembroke Recreation ground, solar lighting will be installed on at least six other recreational grounds, during the fiscal year. The recreational opportunities in the communities will be further enhanced with the provision of play parks in nine communities, the first phase of a programme that will involve every community in Tobago.
Brothers and sisters, I am pleased and relieved to announce that arrangements are close to finalization for the covering of the hard courts at Shaw Park, while, earlier this week, officials of three Divisions of the Assembly were engaged in discussions relative to the financing and construction of the Bacolet Indoor Stadium and Aquatic Centre. I also wish to announce that the athletic track at the Dwight Yorke Stadium will be re-laid early next year, hopefully in collaboration with the Ministry of Sport.
It is becoming more evident that the Financial Complex, the Scarborough Library and the Shaw Park Cultural Complex projects will all be delivered to the people of Tobago by the end of the fiscal year and that they will be world-class facilities of which all of Tobago will be proud.
I also believe that it is appropriate at this time for me to confirm that the remuneration packages of contract workers in the Tobago House of Assembly will be adjusted to bring them in line with their public service counterparts. The island’s young people will continue to receive special attention and, in addition to increased allocation for training and post-secondary education, a further allocation of twenty million dollars has been approved for a special Young Professionals Programme.
Fellow Tobagonians, despite our achievements, our successes and our positive projections, there are still challenges to surmount and obstacles, some deliberately created, to overcome. The funding for our CEPEP and URP programmes has still not been forthcoming from the Central Government, but the continuation of these programmes will remain a priority and, regardless of the financial constraints, the job security of these workers is assured. Also assured is the continuation of the Windward Road Rehabilitation programme which has provided employment to scores of workers, especially in the Tobago East constituency, over the past year.
Meanwhile, some levels of unpredictability still exist within the tourism sector which remains the second largest employer on the island, after the Tobago House of Assembly. There is unlikely to be any dramatic economic recovery in our major markets in Europe and the United States. However, the Division of Tourism has embarked on an innovative and aggressive marketing thrust, and with the opening of the newly refurbished Magdalena Grand Hotel, there is hope that there will be some improvements in the foreign visitor arrivals during the present tourism season. Domestic tourism will continue to be the major driver in the sector and I urge all the stakeholders, the hoteliers and guest-house owners, the airline, the Port Authority, the community organizations, the promoters – all stakeholders – to collaborate in providing attractive packages that can be marketed successfully in Trinidad. Meanwhile, we continue to hope that the tourism sector will not experience significant and long-term negative fallout from the imposition of the State of Emergency and the international media focus on the alleged assassination plot against the Prime Minister and Members of her Cabinet.
Brothers and sisters, the next year could be the most critical in the life of this Assembly. We are all aware that, over the past four years, we worked together, and I repeat, worked together, to arrive at a Tobago consensus on the relationship between the two islands of our Sovereign Democratic State. We should be proud that our discussions, even our arguments and disagreements were conducted in a non partisan environment in which no political party nor interest group wielded undue influence. The process is now at the stage where the views of the people of Tobago must be transmitted to the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago for its consideration, before onward transmission to the Parliament, for debate and final resolution. Tobagonians must be mindful that the Bills prepared by Senior Counsel, Russell Martineau, represent their recommendations; that these recommendations are superior to any other proposals in the public domain at this time, and that these recommendations represent greater benefits, greater protection, greater autonomy and a brighter and more predictable quality of life for future generations of Tobagonians. This, then, is no time for political gamesmanship and self seeking theatrics. This is Tobago time – time for Tobago people to make their voices heard, and to send their message, loud and clear, across the waters. I urge you, therefore, to keep abreast of all developments; draw your own conclusions, and take appropriate action in your own interest and the interest of all your brothers and sisters in Tobago.
Fellow Tobagonians, this island will continue to develop. Tobagonians, without in any way attempting to insulate or isolate themselves, must continue to prepare themselves to derive optimum benefits from that development.
This, therefore, is a time for reflection and rededication. How we think; what we believe; how we respond at this time will determine the future of Tobago, of the Tobago House of Assembly, of all Tobagonians. This is no time for vacillation. This is a time for firm, concerted and positive action. Let us be inspired by the courage and the focus and the fortitude of our recently honoured icons, Arthur N. R. Robinson, APT James and James Biggart who never faltered, even when confronted by seemingly insurmountable forces.
Over the last thirty-one years, the efforts of Tobagonians at all levels have ensured that we made steady, even spectacular progress on our journey towards optimum development and full internal self-government. We have come too far. We cannot and will not turn back now.
And it is with the confidence that Tobagonians will not fail Tobago in this critical year ahead, that I wish all of you an enjoyable Assembly Day and a productive and rewarding year.