NEW YEAR’S ADDRESS
THE HONOURABLE ORVILLE LONDON, CHIEF SECRETARY – TOBAGO HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
On behalf of my family and the Tobago House of Assembly, I extend to all, best wishes for a productive and rewarding 2016. As the vast majority of the population, I am in a reflective mood, especially after the sobering but not surprising address by the Prime Minister on the state of the country’s economy and the tough decisions that have been taken and will have to be taken if Trinidad and Tobago is to surmount the challenges in this present economic crisis.
We, in Tobago, like the rest of the country, have to accept the fact that although the reality might be daunting, even unpleasant, it is unlikely to change. Energy prices will not rebound in the short time. The debt burden inherited from the previous regime has to be handled. Job losses in the energy sector, the commodities sector and even the construction sector could increase and the state’s capacity to absorb the displaced workers would be severely limited. Consequently, the quantum of socially disadvantaged persons would also increase, with even greater pressure on the limited resources of the Central Government and the Assembly. In fact, even those whose job security is assured might have to make significant adjustments as they strive to cope, in an unpredictable environment.
Brothers and sisters, we might not be able to control many of the factors which would determine our quality of life, over the next year. However, what we can control is our response to the challenges that are inevitable, in 2016. Many of us, when faced with new and difficult challenges have the tendency to lash out at our leaders and those whom we identify as decision makers. The responsibility for remedying the situation is firmly rejected, while blame laying and finger pointing take precedence over introspection and self-reliance. These responses, or lack thereof, simply exacerbate the problem and provide fodder for those whose main objective is to make the government look bad, rather than to make the country perform better.
As you must be aware, the House of Assembly has been mindful of the economic reality and, as was reported in a recent plenary session, significant adjustments have been made to our development priorities. The Assembly is committed to a consistent re-examination of those priorities as it responds in the most professional, but sensitive manner, in what is likely to be a highly unpredictable environment. Value for money will be even more critical at this time and I take this opportunity to advise that earlier this month, the Executive Council approved a note that would give the Chief Administrator the authority to issue the Executive Order that would tighten and streamline the procurement processes across the Assembly.
Brothers and sisters, despite the challenges that lie ahead, we should not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by ‘doom and gloom’. We should take pride in our most recent achievements. In 2015, we commissioned the Scarborough Library where learning is meant for all ages and persuasions, including the elderly, the differently abled and visually impaired. We opened the Shaw Park Complex, which is not just a place for hosting cultural events, but opens up a host of event tourism possibilities. Tobago now has an aquatic facility on each end of the island. We have opened up opportunities to enhance agricultural production in areas such as beekeeping, gardening and animal husbandry as we continue to encourage the consumption of home-grown products and increase our food security. We have provided homes and land for a number of Tobagonians who have long dreamed of owning their own homes, and we are looking at alternative sources of funding that will allow us to provide more housing opportunities for the thousands who need it. We have conducted repairs and upgrades in a number of schools, and we have provided a number of community facilities across the island, and improved facilities where our fishermen can operate in safe and sanitary conditions.
Our priorities in 2016 will include the start of construction of the Scarborough RC School, the revamping of operations at the Studley Park quarry, provision of access to a wider range of Central Government and Assembly services to the people of Windward Tobago, the renovation of the Scarborough Market, the allocation of lands at Courland, Belle Garden and Adelphi, the improvement of the public transport system service and the facilitation of more maxi taxi rights to prospective owners in Tobago. The Assembly is aware of the continuing challenges on the air bridge and will shortly be submitting recommendations to the Board of Caribbean Airlines and the line Minister, geared towards alleviating the embarrassment and indignity still endured by commuters. Discussions are also underway with the officials at the Water And Sewerage Authority and there are concrete proposals to improve the level of water security, in time for the next dry season.
I also wish to give the assurance that the issue of self-government for Tobago is not on the back burner. The Forum of Political Parties has resumed its activities and within the next two weeks, a number of documents, including a draft bill, will be submitted to the Prime Minister for the attention of Cabinet. It is our expectation that this will trigger a process which will include public consultation and discussions in Joint Select Committee of Parliament, before the formal debate.
The Assembly applauds and supports the Prime Minister’s commitment to pay special attention to the most vulnerable in our society. They are likely to be even more seriously disadvantaged during this period and I want to give the assurance from this Assembly, that regardless of any financial constraints, their welfare will be given the priority it deserves. The Assembly is also committed to the protection of the livelihoods of its employees and will ensure that the proposed cuts in allocation do not have deleterious effects of the workers.
Brothers and sisters, as we face 2016, we must commit to the realisation that, as during any other period of economic stagnation, our mindset has to be geared towards accomplishing more with less; doing new and different things; doing the same things differently and more effectively; pooling resources and coordinating talents and energies to ensure predictable and timely delivery; identifying priorities and focusing on them while recognising that some things have to be left undone, at least for now. During the New Year, our maturity and our resilience will be severely tested and I am specially urging all Tobagonians to recognise the critical roles which they have to play. None of us should be guilty of giving less than a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay; none of us should be engaged in any activity which does not ensure value for money in the procurement of goods and services; all of us should be prepared to point out and prevent wrongdoing wherever it occurs; all of us must collaborate in nurturing that environment in which productivity and ‘delivery with integrity’ govern our decisions and our actions.
2016 is not going to be easy, but the challenges will not be insurmountable. Even if we have had a decade of relatively good times, we must accept that it is not an entitlement. Every country in the world has faced straitened economic circumstances at some time. Those which coped best were those that formulated a serious plan and were able to encourage or influence all sectors of the population to play their respective roles in the implementation of that plan. This Assembly will shoulder its responsibility to lead and guide the process. I urge all of us to do the necessary introspection and take the necessary action to ensure that we play our respective roles in restoring the fortunes of our island and our country.
I have confidence that, together we can do it, and it is with that confidence that I wish every citizen a highly productive and rewarding New Year.