My fellow Tobagonians, in preparing to address you, I tried to think about the words to describe the emotions of the late Dr. the Honourable Eric Williams and his team, on midnight of August 30th 1962, after a long and tedious battle to obtain independence, three words came to mind. I imagined that as they witnessed the lowering of the Union Jack, followed by the hoisting of the red, white and black flag to the playing of the National Anthem of a new Trinidad and Tobago……their expressions and emotions could have been captured by the words……Beautiful, Exciting, Progress!
Brothers and sisters, as we mark yet another Independence celebration and as I reflect on our achievements over the last year as an administration, even in the context of reduced fiscal resources, I too am thinking, “It has been a beautiful year, an exciting year, a progressive year”.
Fellow Tobagonians, there is always more to be done, for complacent we must never become. A lot has happened in 56 years. Trinidad and Tobago has undergone numerous changes over the period. Tobago continues to evolve into an island that celebrates the strides made in the past, while forging ahead to elevate and position itself for continued growth, success and greatness.
Our National Watchwords, “Discipline, Production and Tolerance”, ought to provide the context and motivation for our efforts and operations as a people. In his address on that glorious first Independence Day, the late Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Eric Williams stated,
“This is what I meant when I gave the Nation its slogan for all time: Discipline, Production and Tolerance. Indiscipline, whether individual or sectional, is a threat to democracy. Slacking on the job jeopardizes the national income, inflates costs, and merely sets a bad example. The medieval churchmen had a saying that to work is to pray. It is also to strengthen our democracy by improving economic foundations.”
Brothers and sisters, the spirit of the Tobagonian over the years, has been known for strength, discipline, hard work, industry, sacrifice and a promoter of righteousness and justice. This is exactly the kind of spirit that we need to catapult Tobago to its full potential.
As we reflect on our recent past, I assure you that this administration is determined to develop Tobago further. I can proudly recall the transformation of the Studley Park Quarry, from an operation that was deemed inefficient, ineffective and underperforming, to an entity that is cost effective, better managed and now operated by a special purpose company owned by the THA. Since the change of management structure, the Studley Park Enterprise Limited has delivered a consistently higher yield of production and distribution of aggregate as opposed to previous years despite the aging infrastructure. Since November to date, aggregate distribution is recorded at 135, 750 metric tonnes (approximately 400% higher than the similar period previously). Most importantly, the company is a profitable one and this I would say is performance and progress.
May I remind you that the long awaited South West Waste Water Treatment Plant is currently under construction. Given the increasing population of the south west and taking into consideration the area’s visitor population, such a plant was becoming increasingly necessary. As a result, an agreement made among the Mt. Pleasant Credit Union, the Water and Sewerage Authority and the Tobago House of Assembly, has facilitated access to IADB funds earmarked for the project. My brothers and sisters, this is a clear example of our commitment to, ‘Enhancing Delivery: Strengthening Partnerships’.
Since coming into office, this administration, despite being challenged to do more with less, has been desperately trying to preserve employment on the island. In some instances, we have successfully deployed workers to other tasks, in an effort to avoid loss of jobs. In this regard, we have taken steps to improve the efficiency of programmes such as the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and the Community-Based Environment Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP). We have listened to the cries of many Tobagonians, asking for better management of these programmes. During the last quarter of last year, this administration embarked on the restructuring of the URP programme. Today we can proudly boast that a verification or certifying process was implemented, whereby through partnership with the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy, URP participants are able to enter into vocational skills training and be certified at the end of the course. In addition to this, we have sought to make the operations at URP more profitable by providing an opportunity for the public to purchase products made by URP workers. URP workers will also be engaged in areas such as the Self-Help programme, assisting with the provision of labour in treating with community concerns. Brothers and sisters, with achievements such as these, I can say, it has been a beautiful year, an exciting year, a progressive year.
As I continue to highlight areas of entrepreneurship with respect to vocational training, it is noteworthy that our last Technical Vocational Training Programme cycle saw approximately 772 graduates and for this upcoming cycle, we already have over 900 persons registered. We continue to make available numerous vocational classes in various skilled areas in our communities, so that persons can become more self-sufficient, self- reliant and entrepreneurial. Permit me to highlight that it was also under this administration that the Argyle Micro Enterprise Facility was commissioned for small businesses and in the last quarter of this year, we expect to commission the Plymouth/Adventure Micro Enterprise Facility. Evidence once again that this administration is working for you.
As we continue to prioritize agriculture as one of the drivers of diversification of the Tobago economy, this administration is committed to providing incentives for the island’s farmers. Tobago’s only Agricultural institution, the Kendall Farm School, has to date facilitated 25 training programmes and at its 2018 graduation, 45 persons completed the Youth Apprenticeship Programme in Agriculture (YAPA), the largest cohort ever. It is important to note that through the Division of Education, Innovation and Energy, steps are currently being pursued to facilitate accreditation status for the Kendall Farm School. We also continue to press forward speedily with the development of access roads for our farming communities, through the $20m allocation from Central Government for this purpose. This year has also seen the relocation of the Scarborough Market to Orange Hill Road and refurbishment works on the old market in Scarborough have already commenced. In addition to this, it is also worth mentioning that the first phase of the Scarborough Abattoir refurbishment is completed. Brothers and sisters, it has been a beautiful year, an exciting year, a progressive year.
Over the years, Tobago has experienced challenges in maintaining and sustaining a viable Tourism product. We have since set up the Tobago Tourism Agency, charged with the mandate to revive and restore this sector. Fortunately, thus far we have maintained airlift over the last year and look forward to continued business with Virgin Atlantic, British Airways Thomas Cook, Condor and Caribbean Airlines. However, we are mindful that our efforts must be ramped up in this sector. We applaud the efforts of our external partners and we anticipate new business opportunities from networking forums such as ‘Last Call’ to the UK market, ‘Back to Tobago’ to the Trinidad market; and the Caribbean Tourism Organization week and the Cruise Road Show in the USA.
One of the things we must all be mindful of, is that the progress and development of this beautiful island, is almost solely hinged on the strength of its human resource. As an administration we aim to engage heavily in preventative care. One area of break-through has been the setting up of the Policy Research and Planning Unit at the Tobago Regional Health Authority, which has begun research in areas relating to cancer. To facilitate the diversity of our population, we have also extended opening hours of two of our health centres at Canaan and Scarborough. Additionally, it was only on Monday 27th of this week that we turned the sod for the construction of a new Moriah Health Centre and on Tuesday 28th, we opened the Stroke, Diabetes and Footcare Centre in Scarborough. On Thursday 23rd August 2018, I also had the pleasure of launching the establishment of the first licensed community residence for children at risk, at Lambeau. Brothers and sisters, by now you should agree with me, that it has been a beautiful year, an exciting year, a progressive year.
This administration is mindful that economies are evolving and so too the way governments are doing business. To this end, we are now in the process of populating an Investment and Public Private Partnership (IP3) Unit. This unit will facilitate the development and implementation of an accelerated Public Investment Programme. Its mandate includes developing and managing the Assembly’s Public Private Partnership policy framework, providing technical assistance to Divisions, Departments and Agencies and coordinating the development of the Tobago Infrastructure Investment Strategy. We are also making strides in our social infrastructure. To date, sixteen (16) families have received keys for homes at Adventure Phase II, Housing Development Project and all things being equal, a total of 94 families will call this Development home upon completion of the project.
Brothers and sisters, on Wednesday 29th August, we officially opened the Scarborough Roman Catholic Primary School at a cost of $85m and the Smithfield Connector Road to Mt. Marie. Education of our children continues to be of utmost importance to this administration. I must commend our Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) students and teachers. This year we saw improvement in the pass rate of 7 out of our 9 secondary schools. Overall, our students have gone from a pass rate of 30.5% in 2012 to a pass rate of 42.3% in 2018. We intend to continue to strengthen and empower our human resource in our schools. To this end, the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) has honoured its commitment to offer courses free of charge to Tobagonians, in areas deemed necessary for the island’s advancement for example in Agriculture and Marine Sciences. We have also embarked on a Construction Certification Training Programme, to provide relevant and contemporary certification to those persons who are vocationally inclined and this is open to the general public. In keeping with the demands of the modern world, through partnership with educator Joseph Frederick, we were able to offer a ‘Nerds International, Young Innovators camp during the July/August vacation, where students were introduced to areas such as circuit building and design; game and app design; and animation. Another example of Enhancing Delivery: Strengthening Partnerships.
I am reminded that we would have held the launch of the National Crime Prevention Programme in Tobago last week Friday August 24th. This initiative being spearheaded by the Ministry of National Security, seeks to tackle the scourge of crime from a community level. It requires each of us to get involved in preventative measures that can stymie the growth of crime in our communities. The Tobago House of Assembly is committed to this initiative and in the weeks to come, you will hear more about how you can become involved.
As we get ready to enter a new financial year, I urge all Tobagonians to reflect on their individual responsibility as citizens of this great nation and purpose in their hearts to contribute to the growth, development and progress of Tobago. This is not the time for us to become withdrawn and oblivious to matters of governance. A fundamental characteristic of democracy as a structure of government is the involvement and the power of every citizen. Each of us ought to make a personal commitment to contribute to the progress of Tobago as we seek to build this island community by community.
My fellow Tobagonians, the table has already been set. We are the ones who will determine if we partake and how much we partake of. Our environment is ripe with opportunities that did not exist ten years ago, let alone 56 years ago and therefore, I urge all of us to find our niche and maximize the potential it presents. While the tenets and meaning of Independence might remain the same as 56 years ago, the expectations, opportunities and environment are vastly different. As we celebrate another year of this Nation’s Independence, let us not be stuck on the emergence of our Independent Nation in 1962 but instead in 2018 and beyond, let us commit to being a part of the process that determines how this Nation will evolve and transform, for our benefit and the generations after us. It has been a tough but beautiful, exciting and progressive year. I thank you.