Brothers and sisters, as we join together in celebrating the 52nd anniversary of our independence, I must reflect on the founding principles of our Independent status as expounded by Dr Eric Williams, in that stirring address, on the occasion of the first Independence Day celebrations in 1962. Dr Williams explained that “Democracy means responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power and the violation of basic rights and individual freedoms”. However, he stressed to the citizens of the country that “the first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy”. That admonition, brothers and sisters, is at least as relevant today as it was five decades ago, and maybe even more so for us in Tobago.
My fellow citizens, the protection and promotion of our democracy and our dignity will depend on the positions we take and the resilience we display during this critical period in our nation’s history. The present issues facing the island and the country are not just the concern and the responsibility of the politicians, the interest groups and the more vocal members of the public. This is the time, in the midst of the crises that now beset our island and our country, for all of us to reflect on the words of the Father of the Nation and to step up to the Independence plate. We, the politicians, are often prepared to ignore each other but we cannot afford to ignore the citizens, if they speak loudly enough and act decisively enough. The citizens of the country must, therefore, recognise that their resilience and fortitude are being tested at the national level, and the residents of Tobago must also accept that they need to respond appropriately, in the special Tobago circumstances.
I do not need to remind my fellow Tobagonians of the decades-old struggle for self government, nor of the efforts, over the past six months, to unite the political parties and the various sectors, communities and individuals on the island in making a persuasive and powerful case. The numerous meetings and consultations, over the years, have confirmed the consensus among Tobagonians that the “sovereign democratic state of Trinidad and Tobago must remain inviolate and united but that Tobago’s right to self determination must be facilitated”. I am heartened by the responses of the participants at the consultations, in Tobago and in Trinidad. The present process concludes with a convention at the Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive School auditorium on Sunday 14 September, and it is imperative that Tobago comes out to discuss and make final decisions on “Tobago people’s business”. We have to do it right, we have to do it together and we have to do it successfully, this time.
Brothers and sisters, just like independence for the country, self government for the island places greater responsibility on the leaders and the residents; and the preparation process must continue. Over the past decade, this administration has embarked on a number of projects, programmes and initiatives geared towards improving the physical infrastructure, developing the human capital and strengthening the economic base on the island. Our road network has improved significantly and the Division of Infrastructure will be intensifying its efforts over the next year; the upgrade and maintenance of school plants remain a major priority; the availability and quality of our community, recreational and healthcare facilities compare favourably to any area in the country; and the investment in major built infrastructure will continue. The various divisions are providing opportunities for Tobagonians to engage in profitable business enterprises and, with the projected improvement in the tourism sector, the opening up of the Cove Eco Industrial Park and a more vibrant economic climate, there will be scope for more employment and more business opportunities.
However, we must be reminded that independence and self government are more about the mindset of the people than about the condition of the place. This administration has provided and will continue to provide avenues for the personal development of residents in varied spheres of endeavour… but all Tobagonians must seize these opportunities and prepare themselves to contribute more to their own development and the development of our island. Our work ethic, our general attitude to life, has to improve and, to quote Dr Williams in that first Independence address, “indiscipline, whether individual or sectional, is a threat to democracy. Slacking on the job jeopardises the national income, inflates costs and merely sets a bad example”. That was the case in 1962 and that is still the case in 2014.
Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate and reflect, we become aware that there are numerous challenges still to be surmounted and numerous opportunities still to be explored. In that context, discussions have been initiated with Caribbean Airlines in a bid to alleviate the vexing problems experienced by passengers on the air bridge. The frustrations of passengers on the sea bridge will also be addressed and the Assembly will continue to insist that it must be represented on the boards of the Port Authority and Caribbean Airlines.
In addition, the Division of Settlements is finalising arrangements for construction of over 300 houses at Shirvan, using the Public-Private Partnership model. Among the projects for completion by the end of the year are the Kendal Aquatic Centre, the Scarborough Library, the Shaw Park Cultural Complex, the Plymouth Micro Enterprise Centre, the Lambeau, Bethesda and Lowlands Community Centres, the Mason Hall Y zone, the Lambeau Fishing facility, a further batch of housing apartments at Adventure, and housing lots at Courland. And we’re not just looking after our own people; we must also protect and nurture our tourism industry. With that in mind, I will be discussing the special security plan for Tobago and Tourism-Oriented Policing when I meet with the Minister of National Security on Wednesday.
Brothers and sisters, this is a challenging time but it is an exciting time; a time of opportunities. This is the people’s time. Your time. Seize it, and the country will continue to take pride in its independent status. Tobago will finally achieve the self-government status that it deserves. But shirk that responsibility, and we will consign ourselves to existence in what Dr Williams described as “a democracy that is but a hollow mockery and a gigantic fraud which is based on a ruling group’s domination of second class citizens”.
I am confident that we will make the right choice and it is with that confidence that I extend Independence Day greetings to you. May God bless our nation.