My fellow Tobagonians, it is with a sense of pride and a touch of nostalgia that I address you on Tobago Day, for the final time in the capacity of Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly. My impending departure from office should highlight the fact that, while office holders must either move on or be pushed out, it is the institution that endures. It is the institution that has to survive. It is the institution on whose development, we must focus. We, in Tobago, must be ever mindful that the development of this institution called the Tobago House of Assembly is inextricably linked to the development of the island and its people. The pride that we take in our Assembly is indicative of the pride that we have in ourselves and the confidence that we have in our future. We should, therefore, be proud to associate ourselves with Tobago Day, an occasion that provides us with the opportunity to reflect on who we are as a people, on where we are as an island, and on the path we must follow to ensure sustainable development.
And, brothers and sisters, we must pause to reflect on the significance of this Tobago Day. You would recall that, for twelve years, we celebrated Assembly Day, as we highlighted the developments in Tobago, since the reestablishment of the Tobago House of Assembly. We believe that we have reached a new phase in our development. We have steadied the ship, adjusted our course, and are issuing the call for “all hands on deck”, as we continue the development voyage. We can justify a name change to Tobago Day; a day, a period during which we can celebrate our Tobagoness, engage in sober discourse, energise ourselves and emerge from the period with a renewed focus.
This is the time for us to celebrate our achievements as an island, the contributions of our most outstanding citizens and our natural and cultural heritage. The various activities we have participated in over the last week: Customer Appreciation Week, the Tobago Art Collection exhibition, the Tobago Wonders Challenge, youth plenary and the youth cultural explosion, our business expo, and many others, were all geared towards reminding us of what we have accomplished, and what we can—and have to—accomplish. Hopefully, the activities to date, have enabled us, not only to connect with each other but to renew our spirit of community and our sense of Tobagoness.
Tobago Day is also about the island’s status in the sovereign democratic state of Trinidad and Tobago. We must remain mindful that over the past four years, we would have engaged in extensive consultations on the critical and longstanding issue of self-government for Tobago. The draft bill has been approved and submitted to the Cabinet in accordance with the Tobago House of Assembly Act, and we would expect the matter to be handled with urgency and sensitivity. A.P.T. James started it seven decades ago, Arthur N.R. Robinson took it to a new level in 1977. Significant milestones were reached in 1980 and 1996. It is time for that final step in that long journey.
Brothers and Sisters, it is not unusual, and it is our right, in fact our responsibility, to highlight the objectives that have not been met, the goals that have not been achieved, the projects and programmes that have not yet been delivered and the policies that are still to be introduced. However, we should not undervalue the strides that we would have made as a people and an island. Tobago’s stock of health, recreational and community facilities and quality primary and secondary schools places it among the most favoured islands in the region. Despite the dearth of funds, we continue to provide homes for Tobagonians, having introduced a new cost-effective model for public housing, while pursuing options utilising public-private partnerships. We have made some advances in healthcare, and among the new services was the emergency cardiac treatment facilities now available at the Scarborough General Hospital. Education, youth and overall human capital development continue to be at the forefront of our endeavours, with increased opportunities for training in vocational skills, the creative sector and entrepreneurship. We continue to equip Tobagonians with the tools that will prepare them to survive, develop and take the leading role in a self-governing Tobago.
The country’s economic challenges are real and likely to be long lasting. In the coming years, we do not only have to cope, we have to develop in challenging times. I wish to reiterate, on this Tobago Day, that it is our Tobagoness, our return to the traditional Tobago values of industriousness, thrift, resilience, resourcefulness, self-reliance and self-pride that would ensure survival and success. I am convinced that the immediate future will bring out the best in us; that it would rekindle the passion to involve ourselves in the development of the various sectors in the economy. Agriculture and agro-processing, information technology and culture and the creative arts, are just some of the avenues for individuals and organisations to grow and contribute to the national economy. We can once again become the country’s bread-basket; we can take our rightful place in the global community in trade and development. And we can do this, in an environment of collaboration and love for our island and our fellow Tobagonians.
Brothers and Sisters, Tobago Day is not primarily about the Tobago House of Assembly. The Assembly exists to provide guidance, to provide support and to nurture an environment that would enable Tobagonians to enjoy the best possible quality of life. It is the Tobagonian who must take the responsibility to maximise the available opportunities, so as to be better prepared to survive and develop in the Tobago space. I remain convinced that there are no limits to what we can achieve as a people, and I continue to have faith that with unity of purpose, we will continue on a path to sustainable prosperity.
Enjoy, reflect and be inspired and motivated on this, your Tobago Day.