Tobago joins the rest of the country in the celebration of the golden anniversary of the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. As we celebrate, we must reflect on those last 50 years. We must take pride in the development experienced and the challenges surmounted. We must savour and be motivated by the achievements of our national stalwarts in so many spheres of endeavour, and we must appreciate the relative good fortune and quality of life that we have enjoyed in comparison to many other developing countries of the region and the world.
This has translated into higher life expectancy rates for Tobagonians. Tobagonians average 76 years of life, nine years longer than most developed nations. And our Tobago women have a life expectancy of almost 80 years, just one year below Japan, which enjoys the top life expectancy. Tobago also has lower rates of multi-dimensional poverty than its neighbours; and more health facilities, more recreational facilities, more community facilities and better apportioned educational facilities than any of its regional neighbours.
However, as we celebrate, we must also be mindful of the mistakes made and repeated, of the opportunities created and lost, and of the pettiness and the prejudice nurtured and disseminated.
So we must celebrate but, as we mark this anniversary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, we must simultaneously be aware that it is the mindset, the posture, and the contribution of each individual which would have been the major factors determining our rate of development in our journey over the past 50 years. And these selfsame qualities will continue to be the major factors in shaping our progress in ensuing decades.
This is why the special role of Tobago and Tobagonians in the Independence story cannot be ignored. Tobago enjoyed significant autonomy in its relationship with Great Britain almost 250 years ago. By 1768, the island had created its first bicameral legislature, which could be considered as the first incarnation of the present Tobago House of Assembly. It is therefore extremely significant that one of the dominant themes on the island over the last 50 years has been the quest for increased autonomy as Tobagonians assert their right to determine their own destiny. We, as Tobagonians, owe it to our history, and to all those who would have been involved in the struggle, to remain steadfast in our quest for internal self-government. We must not be bribed or bullied into accepting anything less than what we deserve and what our predecessors envisaged for the island and its people. Tobagonians must review the lessons of the past and recognize that there are some issues which demand that they abandon political, religious, sectoral and other affiliations and play their role as “true Tobagonians.”
Independence has always meant more than just freedom from colonial control. Independence is about how we, the citizens of this country, we Tobagonians utilize that freedom. Today, we have the freedom to be unproductive and allow our patrimony to be squandered or the freedom to be productive and to contribute to the enhancement of that patrimony. Today, we have the freedom to discriminate and create division and distrust among the diverse groups in our society or to nurture a harmonious environment in which all groups can contribute and be rewarded. Today, we have the freedom to be complacent and surrender our heritage or the freedom to be vigilant and defend that heritage. Today, we have the freedom to lie down and allow our rights to be trampled, or to stand up and fight for our survival, our dignity and our continued development.
I suggest to you brothers and sisters that freedom gained can become freedom lost. Whether you gain freedom or not, might depend on others but what you do with that freedom depends on you. Remember, independence means that the choices we make in the coming months and years will determine whether our children, and future generations will stand or sit, or even be forced to lie, in years to come. So I say to you, let us all as Tobagonians make those choices and take those actions that will label us as worthy of 50 years of Independence.