Exactly 54 years ago, the Father of the Nation, Dr Eric Williams, expressed some sentiments when he made his first independence address to the new nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Those sentiments are just as relevant today, as I make my final independence day address, in the capacity of chief secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly. Dr Williams told the nation in 1962, that “whatever the challenge that faces you, from whatever quarter, place always first, the national interest and the national cause. The strength of the nation depends on the strength of its citizens”.
Dr Williams’ admonition underlined the fact that independence cannot be just about the nation; it has to be about its people. It cannot just be about the state of affairs in the country, it has to be, primarily, about the state of mind, the mindset of its citizens. This is the reason why independence provides each of us the opportunity for introspection and appropriate action. What is your state of mind on this, the 54th anniversary of our independence? In the present volatile and uncertain environment, one certain prediction is that the next year and, maybe, even some years after, will continue to be challenging. In those circumstances, what will be our posture? Will we be merely complainers, finger pointers and blame layers? Or will we assume the roles of problem solvers, motivators, doers and contributors? Brothers and Sisters, we cannot do more with less except each of us is prepared to contribute more; more effort, more passion, more loyalty and, most critically, more work.
Our mindset must influence our work ethic, and by extension, our contribution, not only to the national cause, but specifically, to the Tobago cause. Allow me to quote Dr Williams again when he said, “indiscipline, whether individual or sectional, is a threat to democracy. Slacking on the job jeopardises the national income, inflates cost, and merely sets a bad example”. I ask my fellow Tobagonians to reflect on this and take appropriate action, especially at this time as we continue the struggle for autonomy in a period of serious economic constraints.
Brothers and Sisters, despite the present circumstances facing the island and the country, I remain optimistic. Just last Thursday, the Tobago House of Assembly completed its round of “Face to Face” meetings, where we would have interacted with community members in every one of the twelve electoral districts on the island. During those conversations, I was impressed by the passion and insightfulness of the presentations and the quality of the recommendations proffered. The Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries also took the opportunity to highlight some of the achievements of the Assembly and the projects and programmes which have transformed the Tobago landscape and significantly enhanced the opportunities for Tobagonians to develop themselves.
Brothers and Sisters, as became more and more evident throughout those meetings, we have come a long way, especially over the past two decades. Our road infrastructure has been significantly improved and, by the end of this fiscal year, the paving of all sections of the Windward Road should be completed. The communities are well served with playing fields, community centres, hard courts and health facilities. Work on the Moriah health centre will start within the next three months, and on the Roxborough health facility soon after. Tenders will soon be awarded for the construction of the long-awaited police stations at Roxborough and Old Grange, the reconstruction of the Roxborough Fire Station and the construction of the Roxborough Administrative Complex. The contract for the construction of the Scarborough Roman Catholic Primary School has already been awarded and work should start in October, with an eighteen-month construction schedule.
The Assembly has initiated a number of strategies, including partnering with the private sector to enhance the delivery of affordable housing to varied economic groups, in the shortest possible time. These strategies will include assistance to individuals who have access to land, and I have received the assurance that legislation to treat with the regularisation of land titles will be debated during the next session of parliament. Brothers and Sisters, the Assembly is painfully aware of the chronic water crisis in south west Tobago and the impact on the quality of life of the residents and the quality of service in the accommodations sector. Although a number of wells have been commissioned, they will not provide a predictable and sustainable solution. However, we can be encouraged by the report that the tendering process for a desalination plant is well underway, with construction due to start in the next fiscal year.
The Assembly has also continued to provide opportunities for human development. The state-of-the-art Scarborough Library offers services to the visually impaired, access to the differently abled, digital resources that go beyond books, the Tobago Heritage Library, and education courses and activities for learners of every age. There have already been returns on the investment in the aquatic facilities at Courland and Argyle, with our swimmers becoming fixtures on national age group teams and winning medals at regional meets. The Divisions of Education, Youth Affairs and Sport, Health and Social Services, Community Development and Culture and Finance and Enterprise Development have all mounted programmes to provide young people with valuable work experience, training courses in the arts, computer literacy and trade and vocational skills. Entrepreneurs and artisans have also benefited from grants, loans, training, technical support and exposure to markets in the region and even as far as Japan.
We are also honouring our commitment to the major revenue earning sectors of the economy. The construction of modern fishing facilities, the provision of incentives to the farmers, the revamping of operations at the Studley Park Quarry, the revitalisation of the reforestation programme, the encouragement of direct foreign investment in our tourism sector and at the Cove Eco-Industrial Park, the marketing of the Shaw Park Complex as a convention venue, are among the strategies designed to strengthen our economy and to make the island more self-sufficient. I must also comment on the curtailment of some categories of crime on the island, to the level where the murder rate for Tobago in 2016, is among the lowest in the western hemisphere. I repeat my call for the Tobago crime statistics to be disaggregated so that the decision makers in our tourism markets could have a more accurate picture of the security situation on the island.
Support for the socially disadvantaged continues to be a priority and the suite of programmes include mobile alert services for the elderly, assistance to teenaged mothers, home repair assistance loans and grants, assistance to homeowners after natural disasters, unprecedented access to cataract surgery through the Comprehensive Eye Care Programme, establishment of the Community Palliative Care Programme and the Integrated Primary Care Programme. Ten new ambulances have also been commissioned; a new ambulance base has been set up at Plymouth and there have been upgrades to the other bases to ensure that the services are available to the outlying districts.
Brothers and Sisters, the efforts of this Assembly have always been geared towards meeting the needs of the people in the communities, while creating an environment that fosters self-sufficiency. We cannot achieve sustainable growth on the island, except we seize the opportunities available for education, training and development. Our mantra, as we commemorate the 54th anniversary of our independence, has to be responsibility and productivity. We must live that mantra in our homes through our commitment to our families; we must live it in our communities through volunteerism and youth development; and we must live it in the workplace through our productivity. We must be committed to the ideal that, while we strive to enhance the Tobago space, Tobagonians have to take personal responsibility to improve themselves and their opportunities for advancement in that enhanced space.
Brothers and Sisters, in our 55th year of independence, we will continue our journey along a challenging and unpredictable path; but we will continue on that journey with the confidence that this island, this country, our people, have faced and surmounted numerous challenges over the past decade. I am convinced that if we display the requisite discipline, resilience, fortitude and, faith in our own ability, we cannot fail. And it is with the confidence that we will succeed, that we will continue to develop, that we will be even stronger and better, that I extend Independence Day greetings to all; and may God bless our island and our country.