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 what could either be one of the most productive and rewarding, or conversely, one of the most contentious and frustrating years in the history of this island. Over the past twelve (12) months, Tobagonians have endured, survived, and even made some progress during a challenging and, often turbulent period. The stringent economic environment and the devastating downturn in the tourism sector; the State of Emergency which curtailed the freedom of the law-abiding in an attempt to constrain the activities of the lawless; and the unjustified and unwarranted attempts to undermine the authority of the Tobago House of Assembly have all tested the people of Tobago, their leaders and their institutions.
We must be conscious that during the next twelve (12) months, the stakes will be much higher and we could be involved in battles, with results that will determine the future of this island and the quality of life of its people for many decades.
Brothers and sisters, 2012 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. This present phase of the process has reached a critical juncture. The Bills which represent the recommendations and aspirations of Tobagonians have been transmitted to the Cabinet and to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. The people of Tobago have given their mandate and despite the protestations and antics of those who are prepared to frustrate the will of the people, for their own political survival. This administration commits to a meaningful and respectful collaboration with the Central Government in the fulfilment of that mandate.
I am hopeful that the Cabinet and the Government would not renege its campaign promises to facilitate constitutional reform that would lead to full internal self-government for Tobago. However, I must admit that the statements which some Ministers of Government continue to make and the postures which they have adopted, only serve to fuel skepticism about their commitment to the principle of autonomy for Tobago and additional powers to the Tobago House of Assembly.
The insistence by the Minister of Arts and Multiculturalism that he must instruct the Tobago House of Assembly on matters,which the Assembly has jurisdiction; the “bullying” of the management of the Magdalena Grand to cancel a legitimate booking made by the Division of Finance at the hotel, in order to facilitate a Ministry of Tobago Development function that never took place; the decision of the Ministry of the People and Social Development, and the Cabinet to disregard a practice which has been in existence for over thirty (30) years and to appoint their own Tobago Local Public Assistance Board while the Tobago House of Assembly recommendations to the Board are before the Ministry; the statement by the Minister of Housing that he will be holding discussions with the Minority Leader on a suitable site for a Fire Station in Tobago when he is fully aware that the responsibility for the allocation of State Lands in Tobago rests with the Assembly. Those recent statements and actions are consistent with the treatment meted out to the Tobago House of Assembly by some of the Central Government Ministries and decision makers over the past eighteen (18) months, and I wish to reiterate that it is difficult to convince the people of Tobago that the Government is truly committed to the concept of increased autonomy for the island while its agents persist in undermining the limited autonomy to which the Assembly is now entitled, by law.
Brothers and sisters, this administration continues to stress that the quest for increased autonomy, must be supported by the commitment of every Tobagonian to the principles of greater self-reliance, an improved work ethic and a higher sense of responsibility.
The respective Divisions of the Tobago House of Assembly have taken up their responsibility to nurture an environment in which Tobagonians can prepare and develop. Despite the challenges of 2011, much has been achieved.
In the much maligned but highly resilient health sector, we witnessed the commissioning of the Scarborough Health Centre and the Charlotteville Integrated Health Complex. At these two new state of the art facilities and the other enhanced Health Centre at Canaan, the sector is now able to offer specialist pediatric clinics, anticoagulation clinics, voluntary testing and counselling for HIV, among other services. The Roxborough Urgent Care Service and the Golden Lane Integrated Health Service were also commissioned; and with the purchase of five (5) new ambulances; the provision of free labs; and x-rays to persons over 60 and under 18 years of age; the sector is poised to offer more effective primary care services to the people of Tobago in 2012.
I am heartened by the confirmation that the Scarborough Laundry will be ready for commissioning within the month; and I am relieved at the stated commitment of the Minister of Health to continued collaboration with the Division of Health and Social Services in the delivery of the Scarborough Regional Hospital. There is growing optimism that the facility could be functional by the end of the second quarter of 2012.
Brothers and sisters, commuters have already begun to benefit from the extensive road restoration and road resurfacing programme which was launched in the fourth quarter of 2011. Four (4) electoraldistricts have already benefited from the programme and by the end of the second quarter of this year, there will be significant improvement in the road infrastructure, in every electoral district on the island. The Division of Infrastructure and Public Utilities will also be enhancing the scope of the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) to include Minor Community Enhancement initiatives and assistance to disadvantaged families in the villages.
2012 must also be about developing and preparing people – people of all ages, and all sectors. In that context, I must commend the Enterprise Assistance Grant Programme which has already given hope and provided opportunity for scores of micro entrepreneurs in Tobago. The first phase of the programme has been very successful and, just over a week ago, a further ninety-one (91) successful applicants received funding to assist in launching or improving a vast range of business initiatives. The Business Development Unit of the Division of Finance and Enterprise Development has renewed its pledge to advise, assist and mentor all interested persons as we strive to nurture a stronger, more viable, more all encompassing business sector in Tobago.
It is encouraging that a number of young people have embraced the opportunity to venture into the world of business and the Assembly will continue to focus on their development. The Executive Council has taken the decision to introduce a Young Professionals Programme to assist returning graduates and holders of post secondary certification to find jobs and contribute to their communities. Funding is already provided and the initiative will continue to be informed by the views and recommendations of the young people.
The Executive Council has also increased the funding for Human Resource Development to ten million dollars ($10m.) and this will allow for greater emphasis on the non-traditional areas. I, therefore, wish to congratulate the nine (9) Tobagonians who veered from the traditional path and have now successfully completed the programme for Plant Processing Technicians and will soon be fully employed at the new, three hundred million dollars ($300m.) processing plant at the Cove Eco Industrial Park. Tobagonians need to accept, that in a changing, dynamic world, an uninformed focus on the traditional areas of study, may lead to frustration when they have to compete for dwindling job opportunities. I urge young Tobagonians to access all relevant information; seek out all available advice and consider carefully before embarking on a career path.
Brothers and sisters the career paths of many of our young people have brought us comfort and pride over the past year. The record number of National Scholarship winners from Bishop’s High School in Tobago; the improved performances of many of our schools at the primary and secondary level; the magnificent performance of Kelly-Ann Baptiste at the World Athletics Championships; the domination of our young lawn tennis and table tennis players in many of the age groups at the national level; and most of all, the commitment of the vast majority of our youths to the more positive aspects of their development must continue to motivate us, to provide all the necessary ingredients for their continued growth and development. We cannot afford to fail them now. We cannot and will not fail Tobago in 2012.
In 2012, we will have to ensure that we enlist the collaboration of Caribbean Airlines, the Central Government and all the major stakeholders in mounting an aggressive, sustained and well financed strategy to resuscitate the tourism sector. In 2012, we have been assured that the construction of the first factory shells at the Cove Eco Industrial Park will be completed within the next six (6) months and with the availability of natural gas during that period, the potential of the Park will soon be realized.
In 2012, we will continue to enhance opportunities in the agricultural sector where the Agricultural Access Road programme has been intensified and the process for land distribution and regularization has been improved.
Housing will remain a critical issue in 2012 and the Division of Settlements has confirmed that arrangements are being finalized for the continuation of housing lots at Adventure,at Courland, Belle Garden, Kilgwyn and other sites throughout the island.
There are numerous other areas in which significant advances were made in 2011 and on which Tobagonians will have to focus in 2012. The discourse has just started and this Administration intends to continue its conversation with the people of Tobago when we resume our “Meet the Communities Programme” later this month.
The issues facing Tobago in 2012 demand the combined attention, efforts and resources of all Tobagonians.
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 most productive and rewarding 2012.