My fellow Tobagonians, it is with a mixture of pride, optimism and some caution that I join you in our first Tobago Day celebration. This special day affords us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made, as a people; to show appreciation for all we have achieved, despite the obstacles we had to overcome, and to prepare ourselves to cope with any eventuality, in the future. This is a day for serious introspection by all of us. This is a day for each of us to commit to playing a more significant role in our own development and the sustainable development of our island and our country.

In recent years, Assembly Day has been a symbol of our struggles and triumphs, in the quest for increased Tobago autonomy. It offered us a chance to remember the contributions of those who navigated the path towards our self-determination; those pioneers who laid down the markers that we now follow, those icons who displayed the qualities of fortitude, self-discipline and self-reliance that define our very Tobagoness. We must, therefore, take a moment to pay tribute to A P T James, Arthur N R Robinson, James Biggart, and all the quintessential Tobagonians who contributed to this island’s advancement, in extremely challenging times.

Fellow Tobagonians, as we celebrate Tobago Day, their lives and their achievements should inspire and motivate us, but should also challenge us to be better, to do better. We must reaffirm our cultural identity; we must find ways to make greater contributions in our respective spaces, whether through business, through volunteerism, through innovation. The mature among us must share the stories and the experiences, must mentor the younger generation on what it means to be a Tobagonian. On that note, I wish to advise that, recognising the dearth of easily available material to inform the various age groups and sectors of our history and our heritage, the Tobago House of Assembly has embarked on the commissioning of relevant literature and other initiatives to address this serious shortcoming.

This has to be a special time for our young people. They have to recognise that what has been done and what will be done, is primarily for them, and about them. It is a challenging world out there but the Tobago environment is replete with opportunities that would prepare any young person, not only to survive but to develop, and to thrive. I invite all young persons to look around and you see the opportunities available to them that were not available to their parents; opportunities in the areas of education and training, business development, agriculture, information technology and communications, recreational activities, culture and the creative arts. These opportunities, my dear young people, must not be taken for granted. The environment is highly competitive, whether in the island, the country, the region or the world. Those who have not been prepared to compete will be overwhelmed but those who are prepared will survive, even thrive in the unpredictable and challenging years ahead.

Fellow Tobagonians, the designation of this day as ‘Tobago Day’, is indicative of our commitment to the attainment of Tobago’s self-government status, and I must state that, after decades of advocating for self-government, as demanded by the people of Tobago, and despite the obstacles we have encountered in recent years, we have reason to be optimistic. The Central Government has, through the Prime Minister, given the commitment that Tobago’s self-government will be given priority, as we work together to provide “the maximum autonomy that Tobago could have in the unitary state of Trinidad and Tobago”. The Assembly is preparing the documentation that would inform the Central Government of the progress made to date and the possible hurdles as we prepare for the conversation between the islands and ultimately, the debate in the Parliament.

Brothers and sisters, that process, those demands, that quest for self-government has placed a tremendous responsibility on all of us, especially at this time. In the present economic crisis, we need to be even more efficient, make better use of our limited resources and get better value for the money we spend. Tobago also has to accept its responsibility to make the maximum contribution to the national economy. Achieving those objectives requires a concerted effort, involving every sector, every community, every group and every individual on the island. The private sector has to display greater creativity and embrace innovation as we strive to diversify the economy. The Assembly has to live up to its mantra to ‘deliver effectively, predictably and with integrity’. The communities have to assume greater responsibility for what is being done, and what is not to be done in their respective spaces. But, most importantly, the people of Tobago have to take responsibility for determining their quality of life and in defining or redefining the Tobago brand. Some of the qualities ascribed to our ancestors were self-discipline, self-reliance, thrift, productivity, honesty, community spirit, confidence in themselves and faith in their God. Those qualities are just as relevant at this juncture, as we celebrate Tobago Day, agitate for greater control of our own affairs and face an uncertain economic future.

Tobago belongs to all of us. Today is a day to celebrate our Tobagoness but it is also a day to reflect, to recommit, even to readjust mindsets and change attitudes so that we can make our contribution to the continued development of a Tobago of which we can be proud.

Best wishes to all on this inaugural Tobago Day celebration.

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