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 am particularly honoured to address you at the start of 2014. It is my first New Year day message since you, the people of Tobago, reaffirmed your confidence in this administration and, by extension, in me as your Chief Secretary. Let me again thank you for your continued faith and assure all Tobagonians, regardless of political affiliation, that during 2014, we will work even harder to ensure that we live up to your expectations and deliver the quality of governance that is so deserved by the people of this beautiful island.
Brothers and sisters, there are many objectives to which we must commit in 2014, but none is more important than the achievement of the level of autonomy for which Tobago has been striving since the era of A. P. T. James. This present phase of the process has reached a critical juncture, as the Central government continues to frustrate the will of the majority of Tobagonians. It has been almost a year since they sought, by proxy, to take control of the Assembly and, in seeking your vote, promised to the people of Tobago full internal self-government. It is, therefore, alarming but quite revealing that the Prime Minister could tell Tobagonians, at the end of 2013, that the issue is almost dead.
Brother and sisters, I want to assure you that, as Chief Secretary, I have no intention of allowing this matter to die, nor even to rest. I cannot condone a situation where the will of the people is ignored. In fact, only recently, I announced the establishment of a committee to review “the several actions of the Central Government that have affected the effective implementation of the Tobago House of Assembly Act” and to make recommendations. I am also convinced that, “all Tobagonians, including the decision-makers in the political arena, have a responsibility to collaborate in the achievement of full internal self government for Tobago in 2014”. I have, therefore, invited the leaders and representatives of the People’s National Movement, the Tobago Organisation of the People, and the Tobago Platform of Truth to a meeting scheduled for the Mt Irvine Bay Hotel on Tuesday, January 7, when we will “initiate discussions on a collaborative approach to Tobago’s continuing struggle for the level of autonomy befitting an equal partner in the sovereign democratic state of Trinidad and Tobago”.
Brothers and sisters, I must reiterate that greater autonomy demands a greater sense of responsibility. Each of us must look deeply within ourselves and commit to making certain adjustments if we are to make meaningful contributions to the development of our island. So, as we celebrate the commencement of 2014, let us do so with a commitment to greater productivity. Let us ensure that we give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Gone are the days when we can be late for work without good reason, or not working at optimum level, or putting off until tomorrow what could be accomplished today. Tobago’s productivity level remains a major concern, and the establishment of the Productivity Council is just one of the strategies to be introduced in 2014 to address this problem.
Brothers and sisters, your Executive council has committed to the implementation of strategies in 2014 that can allow us to meet the needs of the people of Tobago, despite the present financial constraints. At the recently held Financial Outlook Conference, some of the best minds in the region came together to discuss the economic future of the island and to make their recommendations. The use of the Public-Private Partnership model was endorsed by the experts and will be embraced by the Assembly as it attempts to fund critical projects without having to exhaust the limited cash resources available to it. This is the model used in the Milshirv project, over which we were embroiled in a legal and public relations battle with the Central Government. There was a totally unnecessary 12-month delay, but I am comforted and relieved that the project has now started and that the effort to besmirch the character of a number of Tobagonians has failed. The Executive Council has also taken firm measures to bring predictability and eventual closure to the Shaw Park Complex project. The former arrangement has been replaced by a new, negotiated process that means we will be able to celebrate New Year 2015 in a spanking new 5000-seat facility and the potential to host all Carnival and other cultural activities, indoor sporting events and even large conventions.
Brothers and sisters, the growth of the Tobago economy is inextricably linked to tourism, and it is heartening that this sector is now recovering. The Kuoni-Apollo charter from Scandinavia has boosted confidence within the sector and the forecast is an overall increase in visitor arrivals in 2014. For this reason, we sincerely hope that the promised upgrade and construction of the new terminal at ANR Robinson airport will happen start in early 2014. The prospects for increased airlift are also encouraging, and the Assembly has already initiated discussions with potential hotel investors in a bid to increase the number of high-end rooms on the island.
However, the future of the industry and, more so, the well-being of the residents is linked to our success in meeting the security challenges. I will continue to stress that Tobago’s security merits a special and separate approach, and I will be raising a number of concerns and making some recommendations when I meet with the Minister of National Security in a couple of days.
Brothers and sisters, 2014 has to be a year of decision and action for all of us. None of us can afford to be bystanders at this time. This administration will continue to provide the opportunities but the people must provide the response. The prospective entrepreneurs must respond to the 20 million dollar investment in the Venture Capital Fund, the benefits to be derived through the Business Development Unit, and the potential for profitable involvement in the Cove Eco Industrial Park. The students must be aware and take advantage of the opportunities available at DATAS, formerly known as the Financial Assistance Unit; the farmers have to be motivated to greater productivity through the incentives and technical expertise coming out of the Division of Agriculture; the island’s sportsmen and sportswomen should be energized by the availability of better recreation grounds and facilities; communities should be motivated to use the newer and better centres to improve their quality of life and the cultural output in the villages; the commissioning of the new Scarborough General Hospital and the proliferation of health centres should encourage Tobagonians to take better control of their physical well-being while parents, students, teachers and the Assembly have to commit to collaborating in improving the level of performance in our schools.
And, as we enter 2014, let us all make a joint commitment. Let us commit to making Tobago the island that we all know it can be. Let us commit to working harder and longer; let us commit to greater collaboration in the common cause; let us commit to giving priority to the issues that affect our quality of life and the future of our children. I am confident that if we make and keep those commitments throughout 2014, we will be able to celebrate New Year 2015 with confidence and in unison, knowing that we worked together to achieve full autonomy for Tobago and that we worked together to make Tobago a better place.
God Bless each and every one of you, and happy new year to all.