Address by the Honourable Orville London
Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly
On the occasion of the 49th Anniversary of the Independence
of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Fellow Tobagonians, I greet you on this, the 49th Anniversary of the Independence of the democratic nation of Trinidad and Tobago, with the conviction that this island, this country, and its people are being tested. The resolve of our leaders, the credibility of our institutions, and the resilience of our people are all under test today and maybe, in the final analysis, the most critical issue will not be the seriousness of the present crisis, but rather, the quality of our response and its impact on our future.
Times like these often tempt leaders and decision makers to make statements and adopt postures which only serve to inflame passions and polarise various sectors of the population. This cannot be a time for grandstanding and political gamesmanship. It has to be a time for sober reflection, balanced statements and responsible actions. It is in that context, brothers and sisters, that I urge all of us to recognise the realities of the situation in which we have been placed, and the need to act and react with maturity, sensitivity and good sense.
I join Tobago and the rest of the national community in hoping that at least some of the crime fighting objectives will be achieved during and after the present State of Emergency. I am aware of the challenges facing the citizens of the island and the country at this time, and some of the fears and doubts that have been felt and are being voiced. However, I remain confident that our institutions have the credibility, and our people have the resilience that will enable this island and country to emerge from this crisis better equipped to cope with the challenges ahead.
And, fellow Tobagonians, as we look ahead, it is not all doom and gloom. Some good things are happening and will continue to happen to Tobago. Over the past three (3) years, many of you would have been involved in the process for the Review of the Tobago House of Assembly Act and relevant amendments to the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. I was heartened by the high level participation and the high quality contributions of those who took part in this very democratic and transparent process. I am, therefore, very pleased to announce that at 1.30 p.m. on Friday, the Tobago House of Assembly appointed Committee will hand over the final draft amendments to the Tobago House of Assembly Act and the relevant amendments to the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. These documents will be laid, unaltered, in the Tobago House of Assembly at its next sitting.
The amendments will be debated in the House at a subsequent sitting, and, after approval, sent on to Cabinet for transmission to the Parliament for debate and final resolution. I wish to advise that when the documents are laid in the House, they become public documents and will be available for public scrutiny and comment. I must, on behalf of all of us in Tobago, commend and thank the members of the Tobago House of Assembly Committee – Dr John Prince, Dr. Eastlyn McKenzie, Dr. Rita Pemberton, and Mr. Carlos Dillon. I must also commend Senior Counsel Russell Martineau who was responsible for the drafting of the amendments and who guided Tobagonians through comprehensive discussions at three (3) separate venues on the island, and all those, including former Presidents Arthur N.R. Robinson and the late Sir Ellis Clarke, who contributed to the process. It should be emphasized that the exercise is not over, and Tobagonians must remain vigilant and involved until that day when we can be assured that our autonomy, our heritage, and our dignity are protected by law.
But brothers and sisters, while we strive for greater autonomy, we must prepare ourselves for the increased responsibility. The Tobago House of Assembly is responding to the need for Tobagonians to become more self reliant and better prepared to meet the challenges of living in a dynamic, 21st century environment. One programme which will help us reach this goal is the Enterprise Assistance Grant Fund. In recent months, the Division of Finance and Enterprise Development launched this programme which has been designed to provide not only financing, but guidance and technical advice to those involved in micro and meso enterprises. This is supported by the longstanding Enterprise Assistance Fund, also under the auspices of the Finance Division, and further incentives available through the Divisions of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment; Community Development and Culture; and Health and Social Services for entrepreneurs, farmers, fishermen, and housewives, among others. The Financial Assistance Programme for person seeking post secondary education has been expanded and a total of 111 new students will be assisted this year at a cost of close to $1.2 million.
There are also ongoing improvements to the island’s infrastructure and the Assembly’s delivery thrust has intensified and will continue to intensify. Within the next month, the state of the art Charlotteville Health Centre will be opened, mere months after the opening of the Scarborough Health Centre, which has been described as the best facility of its kind in the country. Also, in September it will be the turn of the Belle Garden fishermen to occupy their modern fish depot. They join fishermen at Studley Park, Mt. Irvine and Delaford who are already reaping the benefits from the vastly improved facilities in their respective communities. Work has also started on fishing facilities at Lambeau, Roxborough, and Swallows Bay.
The upgrade of the island’s road network is continuing and, just recently, the Executive Council approved over 70 million dollars for the paving of roads in every electoral district in Tobago. The Windward Rehabilitation Programme is continuing and the Unemployment Relief Programme will also be mandated to expand its scope of operations to deal with what I call “infrastructure irritants” within the communities.
I want us to keep these achievements in mind, brothers and sisters, because sometimes in moments of crisis we neglect the opportunities to celebrate. Let us not make that mistake in Tobago. Even in the midst of this State of Emergency, therefore, let us not forget, and let us celebrate that, for the first time ever, Tobago was able to host an International Tennis Federation (ITF) sanctioned tennis tournament on the island with competitors from more than twenty (20) countries. Let us not forget that at that tournament, the Tobago players won their fair share of trophies and were competitors at every age group level. This was only achieved because of the availability of officially sanctioned courts at Shaw Park, and the proven commitment and capacity of the officials and coaches of the local tennis body, and we must commend them.
Let us also not forget that an island of less than sixty thousand people could boast that three (3) of its athletes qualified for the IAAF World Championships now being staged in Daegu, South Korea. Also, let us give special kudos to Tobago’s own Kelly-Ann Baptiste who, despite a less than perfect start, raced to a bronze medal in the highly competitive Women’s 100 Metres – the second (2nd) Games in succession at which Tobago athletes have won medals.
So, as we contemplate and celebrate, we must conclude, fellow Tobagonians, that this is a challenging time, but not a time for panic. This is a time for us, not only to remember our responsibility for the protection and promotion of our democracy, but to renew our commitment to the development of our island and our country. This time will pass, but the quality of the times ahead will depend on how we manage ourselves and our environment at this time.
And, therefore, it is appropriate that, in the centenary of the birth of the Father of the Nation, Dr. Eric Williams that I should quote a verse from Rabindranath Tagore which Dr. Williams referred to in his tribute to the renowned Indian poet:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depths of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the wind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into the heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.
And it is with the hope that at the end of this period, our country will awake into the heaven of true freedom, true democracy, true brotherhood that I extend to all best wishes, on this, our Independence Day.