Chief Secretary’s Independence Message

Message by the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, the Honourable Orville London on the occasion of the

51st Anniversary of the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago.

Today our country celebrates another milestone in its development, as we mark 51 years since we attained our independence and took responsibility for our destiny.

As we celebrate we must necessarily reflect on the last 51 years, and take pride in the development experienced and the challenges surmounted, we must also recognise and be motivated by the achievements of our national stalwarts who have, in so many spheres of endeavour, made us proud, as Tobagonians and as nationals of Trinidad and Tobago.

Fifty-one years ago our founding fathers took the brave step to remove our country from the protection and control of the British Government. It was a time of national fervour but it was also a time when some had doubts about the ability of a small, twin-island country to survive and develop in a highly competitive and unpredictable international environment.

Fifty-one years on, we have to a large extent shown that we were ready for the challenge of nationhood, and today our citizens enjoy a superior quality of life to that of many other developing countries of the region and the world.

For the people of Tobago, this has translated into higher life expectancy and lower poverty, more health facilities, more recreational facilities, more community facilities and better educational facilities … than any of its regional neighbours. In short, we are living longer and better than ever before.

Today’s celebrations come at a crucial time in the life and history of our twin-island Republic. For it marks what we here in Tobago reasonably expect will be the last Independence Day before the island is granted Internal Self-Government within the ambit of a sovereign democratic state.

And brothers and sisters, despite a disturbing silence from the relevant decision makers, we remain optimistic that Central Government will collaborate with the Tobago House of Assembly in ensuring that the will of the people of Tobago is respected.

In that context, I am reiterating the recommendation for the establishment of a Reconciliation Commission which would facilitate meaningful discussion and eventual resolution of this critical, but always contentious issue.

This desire of the people of Tobago for Internal Self-Government is nothing new. Tobago enjoyed significant autonomy in its relationship with Great Britain almost 250 years ago. By 1768, the island had created its first bicameral legislature, which could be considered the first Tobago House of Assembly. It is therefore extremely significant that one of the dominant themes on the island over the last 51 years has been the quest for increased autonomy as Tobagonians assert their right to determine their own destiny. We, as Tobagonians, owe it to our history, and to all those who would have been involved in the struggle to remain steadfast in our quest for Internal Self-Government. We must ensure that we do not accept anything less than we deserve and what our predecessors envisaged for the island and its people.

Today’s independence celebrations also come mere days before the Finance Minister is expected to deliver the national budget. In recent weeks we have held extensive discussion with the Minister of Finance and have sensitised him and the Ministry officials about our vision for Tobago, the major objectives of our Comprehensive Developmental Plan 2013 to 2017 and the need for the requisite funding to fuel our developmental thrust. This is not a request for a hand out.

Tobago’s request for additional funding must be seen in the context of the island’s contribution to the national economy and its potential for even greater contribution in the ensuing years.

The diversification and development of Tobago’s tourism remains a priority of the Tobago House of Assembly. We also remain committed to the diversification of the Tobago economy, and in that context agriculture and agro processing; the development of the fishing sector and the heritage industry; further acceleration of our housing programme; health and wellness sector development; energy sector development; youth enhancement programmes; further road network development; information and communication technology development; and a well thought out tertiary education initiative are just some of the areas for which we expect adequate funding in the upcoming budget.

Brothers and sisters, the celebration of our fifty-first anniversary of independence comes a few months after the people of Tobago gave the PNM a clear mandate to move forward with the development of the island and its people. While the overwhelming support decisively indicates the will of the people, it has also placed a clear responsibility on the shoulders of those elected to deepen the democratic process. We are working hard to ensure that the voice of the people is heard and that we act upon the concerns that are raised. We take the mandate given to us by the people seriously and will govern in accordance with the will of the people. We are aware that, in the final analysis, you will be our judges.

So as we mark this anniversary with celebrations, we must also be aware that independence has always meant more than just freedom from colonial control. Independence is about how we, the citizens of this country, make the most of that freedom. Today, we have to show that we are prepared to accept the additional responsibilities of Internal Self-Government. We must show that we are prepared to be more productive than ever before to improve our educational system to take advantage of the many opportunities that are available to our young people to make our businesses less risk-averse and to invest in Tobago. We must show that the community spirit and mutual respect that are hallmarks of the Tobagonian remain, and that one year from now we will not only celebrate our independence as a twin-island state but also our well-deserved Internal Self-Government.

We have come a very long way since 1962, when Dr Eric Williams returned from London with a fulfilled dream, but we still have a long and challenging journey ahead. Yes it is long and challenging but it is also exciting and full of opportunity. Let us, therefore, be strengthened, encouraged and informed by the lessons of the past 51 years, so that, as an island, as a county, and as a people, we will be even better prepared to contribute to the development of the sovereign democratic state of Trinidad and Tobago.

Happy Independence Day and May God Bless Our Nation.

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