On behalf of the Tobago House of Assembly and the members of my family, I extend to the residents of Tobago and the rest of the country, best wishes for a productive and rewarding New Year.

Brothers and sisters, I have the honour to address you at the start of a dynamic phase in Tobago’s ongoing development.

We have come to a hallowed point in determining our future. This is no time to engage in the luxury of ole talk when what is required is action. Now is the time to make real, the promises of good governance and democracy and to say No to blandishments, No to mamaguy, No to disrespect and No to bullying. This is a time when Tobagonians must stand together to protect our way of life and our heritage.

And it must be understood that the protection of our heritage is not about racism or insularity. It is about understanding the Tobagonian. What is Tobago? Who is a Tobagonian? How do we define ‘Tobagoness’? And what do we do to ensure that these images and definitions are maintained so that the core values are not lost? We need to maintain that living connection to be able to pass on to the next generation of Tobagonians, our land and our culture; our possessions and our values. It is about pride, history, culture, tradition, caring for the future and community, and ensuring our children will have the right and the privilege to enjoy, participate, and progress in their own space.

As the Tobago House of Assembly enters its 33rd year, it remains a living symbol of our journey toward self-determination, prosperity and political equality; regardless of the rivalries – and the contentious climate of an election.

That is the reason why 2013 must be the year in which Tobago achieves the level of internal self-government for which it has been striving, since the era of A. P. T. James and later with A. N. R. Robinson.

As Tobagonians, we should be proud that, over the past few years, our internal discussions about greater autonomy, even our arguments and disagreements were conducted in a non partisan environment. No political party nor interest group wielded undue influence. The people of Tobago have given their mandate and this present phase is critical. We must not be sidetracked from our fundamental concerns and recommendations. We must not allow ourselves to be bullied or blackmailed into accepting less that we deserve. I wish to give you the assurance that this Tobago House of Assembly administration will not falter as we continue the struggle for the level and type of internal self-government that will not consign Tobago to mendicant status but will elevate us to equal partnership in a meaningful relationship with our brothers and sisters in Trinidad.

In the meantime, we must, appreciate the fact that Tobago’s growth has continued amidst adversity, a testimony to the resolve of the people of this small island and of course, the Tobago House of Assembly’s ability to deliver.

Fellow Tobagonians, that is why, despite the rantings of the naysayers, there is much to celebrate. We have proven our worth in the local, regional and global communities in sports, academics, art and culture, tourism, finance and leadership.

Perhaps our strides in development are best measured by the basic yardsticks of life expectancy and multidimensional poverty.

Tobago now has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world and very low levels of poverty. We average 76 years of life, nine years longer than most developed nations including our sister isle. According to the Human Development Atlas, CSO, Tobago has one of lowest rates of poverty because of good standards of income, education, sanitation and infrastructure, areas under the remit of the Tobago House of Assembly. Tobago’s abundance of well run health facilities also contributes to the high life expectancy. We now have the highest number of health facilities per capita in the region. The recent opening of the Scarborough General Hospital ensures that health care will be enhanced and fewer Tobagonians will have to journey to Trinidad for treatment.

We have added new secondary and primary schools to the landscape over the last decade. More than $100 million has been spent on tertiary education in that time. We have seen unprecedented improvement in performance across the board with more national scholarships, better SEA results and more Tobagonians accessing tertiary level education. Just recently, the Secretary of Education announced that four primary schools recently moved into the top tier nationally and no Tobago school is listed under academic emergency.

Emphasis on non academic activities such as sports, art and culture have also helped to boost the overall performance of our schools.

When we look at the sporting achievements of Tobagonians such as Olympic bronze medallist La Londe Gordon, Kelly Ann Baptiste, Renee Quow, Josanne Lucas, we know Tobago is getting it right. And we know that the THA will continue to get it right as we continue to invest in sports: We have established the Lalonde Gordon Sport Development Foundation; hosted more international sporting events such as the Tour of Tobago, Davis Cup Tennis, International Tennis Federation Juniors; World Cup Under 17 Cricket and Football. Even the youngsters have been part of the Tobago sporting success with Bon Accord Primary School copping the recent national Atlantic Primary Schools Football Big 16 champions title. Tobago Light and Life Primary School made it to the girls’ final. Little lights like Jabari Francis and Shanice Maynard, who were named Most Valuable Players, make me confident that our future in sport is on the right track. And shining their light in another of THA sphere is the Tobago Emergency Management Agency, which has become the model for disaster management in the Caribbean.

We believe the community is the foundation on which the island’s development has to be based and we have invested in community spaces. As a result we have upgraded most of the major recreation grounds and by the end of this month, there will be a total of 16 lighted recreation grounds and 15 pavilions. Two more pavilions to be built in 2013. We have also upgraded and built new community centres, and at present, we have a total of 35 centres located throughout the island.

And as we continue to reflect, we must recall that for the first time in the region, a sub sovereign state has been granted its own international financial rating by the Moody’s agency. This rating of Baa1is testimony to the good old fashioned basics of healthy financial habits handed down by our parents, especially when it comes to saving and investment. Every dollar spent by the THA is an investment in our people.

I also wish to recognize the achievements of the respective Divisions of the Tobago House of Assembly that have taken up their responsibility to nurture an environment in which the quality of life of Tobagonians can be enhanced, and, in which they can prepare and develop.

Brothers and sisters, the 12 electoral districts have benefitted from the extensive road restoration launched last year. The Division of Infrastructure and Public Utilities has invested in enhancing the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) to include Minor Community Enhancement initiatives and assistance to disadvantaged families.

The recent opening of the Connector road into the capital has eased congestion in Scarborough. This is another phase of the Scarborough Enhancement Programme which has already started to transform our capital. The island also got its second roundabout, improving a road network that already compares favourably with any region in the country.

But Tobago’s future is more than infrastructure, it is about developing and preparing people – people of all ages, and all sectors.

The THA has recently launched the Tobago Comprehensive Economic Plan for the period 2013 to 2017. This document highlights our plans to garner the intellectual capacity and the entrepreneurial vibrancy of our people as we encourage, prepare and facilitate Tobagonians in their bid to achieve self-sufficiency and contribute to the economic well-being of the island. We have invested in training, setting up of the Cove Eco-Industrial and Business Park, and the Cassava company; and a number of fish depots, as we encourage our fisherfolk to operate at the level that would enable them to export to foreign markets.

As we continue to nuture and invest in the entrepreneurial spirit on the island, the Business Development Unit and the Enterprise Assistance Grant Programme have assisted almost 700 small and micro businesses through loans, grants and compulsory business readiness training. In keeping with our focus on youth, the Division of Finance and Enterprise through the Young Adults Home Ownership Programme has set 500 young people on the path to home ownership. The impact of the Youth Energised for Success Programme is projected to benefit 400 young professionals.

In 2013, we will continue to provide opportunities in the agricultural sector with the Agricultural Access Road programme, and land distribution and regularization. Housing continues to be a critical issue. Despite the limited funding made available, the Division of Settlements has started the next phase of construction at Adventure and by midyear, housing lots will be ready for distribution at Courland, Belle Garden and Kilgwyn.

This Assembly is also proud that it has embarked on a process to bring relief to the over 200 tenants in the Adelphi Estate and as we speak, close to 100 tenants some of whom had been occupying the land for over 40 years, have received their land titles.

Fellow Tobagonians, 2013 will present its own unique challenges and opportunities. The revitalization of our tourism sector will be a major priority and with the signing of a contract for weekly flights from the Scandinavian countries, the confirmation of twice weekly Virgin Flights in the winter, improved advanced bookings and a more aggressive and focused advertising campaign; the prospects for the sector are growing. We also remain committed, that with the oldest protected rain forest in the western hemisphere and the availability of natural gas, we can make our carbon footprint so attractively small that Tobago becomes a model for the region.

We must also respond to the challenges of democratizing our governance structure so that the people are given and are willing to accept additional responsibility for the management and development of the island.

It is only by working together in an environment of mutual respect that our efforts to use fishing and agriculture to transform the economy; that our thrust to monetize our culture without jeopardizing its authenticity; that our goal to make Tobago more self-sufficient can be achieved.

Together, we can do it; and it is with the confidence that Tobagonians will rise to the challenge, and unite, in devising and operationalizing the strategies that will guarantee the achievement of our objectives, that I reiterate my wish for a more productive and rewarding 2013.

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