Greetings and Acknowledgements
Thank you so much for joining us on this historic occasion as we continue to grow as a strong national political force that remains true to our founding principles and ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.
I have always believed that whatever we do we must include spirituality because my mantra has always been to put God in front and walk behind.
Today, as we inaugurate our new headquarters, it is most fitting that we offer prayers to guide us, and our nation.
Today we need God’s guidance more than ever!
Our party has always been rooted in a deep concern for the welfare of our fellow citizens.
Our founding leader, Mr. Basdeo Panday had a passion for social justice from his entry into politics as far back as 1966 before many of you were born.
Today the party that was born out of the struggle on behalf of workers remains deeply entrenched in the cause of the people and a strong advocate for the working people of Trinidad and Tobago.
The UNC is just over 27 years but its philosophy and commitment to nation building goes back to 1976 when trade union leaders held hands and formed the United Labour Front (ULF).
The ULF was a coalition destined to change our politics forever… one that challenged the PNM establishment to let those who labour hold the reins of power.
The ULF shook up the established order, which was characterized by the PNM’s arrogance and its divide and rule politics.
And it marked a departure from the ethnic politics dividing our country into voting blocs based on race.
ULF parliamentarians and labour advocates like Paul Harrison and Errol McLeod demonstrated that they could fight the DLP in its own base and win.
And it was the ULF led by Mr. Panday that later worked with ANR Robinson, Lloyd Best and Karl Hudson Phillips to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) that removed the PNM from office in a stunning 33-3 victory in 1986, shattering the PNM’s dominance and its unbroken hold on power since independence.
The NAR model did not work and, from it emerged a Caucus of Love, Unity and Brotherhood – CLUB 88, which was a group of dedicated patriots who focused on the mission of service to the people.
Their perseverance, their commitment, their loyalty to Trinidad and Tobago resonated with the people and led to the birth of our party.
On October 16, 1988 tens of thousands gathered in the rain in Aranguez and gave Mr. Panday and his colleagues a mandate to form our party.
Many of us were not there; tens of thousands who support our cause today were not yet born.
YET each of us supports the ideals of those who were there.
And that is what gives our party the strength to soldier on and fight for social justice and equality.
Many of our pioneers are still with us … and ready to embrace a new generation of patriots who will carry the torch forward as we grow.
While we remember our history, we must not allow ourselves to be prisoners of the past.
In 1989 when our party was formally inaugurated the world was a different place.
And so today I say that whilst we must always continue to remember and honour the past, we must also embrace the future.
Our move to this place is more symbolic than just a business arrangement between a landlord and a tenant.
I thank all those who have made this possible including our general secretary, chairman and members of the NATEX and staff.
Our move to this place is more symbolic than just a business arrangement between a landlord and a tenant.
It marks a political renaissance.
It symbolizes our maturity and our resolve to stand on our own as a national party representing everyone and every region of our twin island state.
Today we begin another mile in our political journey and signal that we have become bigger than we have been.
Today we are more courageous than before; our vision captures the large canvas that includes all the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
We have overcome petty prejudice and our allegiance is to our fellow citizens whom we see not in terms of ethnicity and religious beliefs but as equal members of our national community.
You have put two prime ministers in office who re-defined what governance should be and demonstrated that politics must be a guide for national development, that it must never usurp the role of government.
Government must always be of the people, by the people and for the people.
That philosophy has guided us and will continue to be the beacon that lights our way.
We must at all times ensure that we work to reflect the plural society that is Trinidad and Tobago so that those who choose to enter the home of the rising sun would feel assured by our party’s warmth and know that there will always be room for all.
This is evident from the way we have conducted ourselves in and out of government.
Under my stewardship – and Mr. Panday’s before me – we created a better society based on our vision of freedom, justice and equality.
We remained committed to democracy and our mission was to ensure that we remained true to our nation’s promise to build a society where every creed and race would find an equal place.
We have stood and continue to stand for equality and justice for all.
When our UNC government introduced the Equal Opportunity Commission and Tribunal in 2000 the PNM fiercely opposed it and challenged it in the courts all the way to the Privy Council and lost.
We were safeguarding the rights of everyone … and the Privy Council rebuked the Manning PNM, which was forced to establish the commission that we created.
Today the Commission/Tribunal has finally established itself as a protector of citizens against various kinds of discrimination.
Never forget that it is our party that fought for it and I promise you that our UNC will sustain it.
We continue the fight to protect the disadvantaged in the society, from the former sugar workers to squatters.
We created a program to give land to the landless, which the Rowley government has now scrapped.
We will not forget the PNM’s heartless treatment to the less fortunate in our society.
The PNM neither fought for the former sugar workers nor those who had to face the indignity of squatting.
It was the government that I led which withdrew the appeal against the judgement of Justice Deyalsingh which facilitated the resumption all infrastructural works on lands for distribution to former caroni workers.
In 9 years, the PNM distributed only 115 agriculutral leases and and not one single residential lot.
It was the government that I led which distributed about 5,500 agricultural leases and about 2000 residential lots to former Caroni workers.
It was the government I led which revoked the Manning cabinet’s decision to impose a charge of about $20,000 to $30,000 for residential lots and took the decision that such lots were to be distributed free of charge.
In fact all sugar workers who had paid upfront for residential lots totaling of about $60m were refunded in full.
It was the government that I led which, based on union representation, facilitated the right for former sugar workers to transfer/sell their leases should they wish to do so.
It was the government that I led which, based on union representation, refunded payments of an administrative fee totaling about $6m with respect to the UTC/ADB sweetner arrangement.
All sugar workers who invested in HCU and CLICO benefitted from payment of monies under the Dookeran plan.
Indeed all unions and credit unions in the country who had invested in these entities were paid their full investment monies.
It was the government that I led which gave a lease of 5acres of land to the ATGWU, a lease application that had been outstanding since 1986.
And as soon as we could we began paying former cane farmers monies that were due to them. (Bhoe Tewarie/Indarsingh)
The Rowley government promised to pay the rest to the cane farmers and catered for it in the budget.
But as with so many promises, they have reneged and are refusing to pay in full.
So we now have to rely on the courts to protect the rights of these farmers who sacrificed so much to keep our economy buoyant.
And a team of lawyers are now preparing the documents to take this matter to court.
These are indeed dark days.
But never give up HOPE; the sun will rise again.
All we ask is that you believe.
Join us and put your talents to work to build a stronger party and a better Trinidad and Tobago for our children and for future generations.
We planted the seed for GATE with our dollar for dollar program and under my guidance we expanded and diversified GATE to create greater opportunities for everyone to rise and gain upward mobility. Today I promise that we will continue to make GATE our priority because we are committed to an educated society.
This Rowley government has no such concern.
And it goes beyond the need to educate our children.
In less than one year the Rowley government has created an unprecedented debt burden for us and for our children and their children to carry.
In one year they have borrowed 21 times more than we did in our first year in office.
And they have nothing to show for it.
What have they done with the more than 10-billion they have borrowed?
What have they done with the two and a half billion they raided from our heritage fund?
Where has the six billion dollars from our foreign savings gone?
They blame us, and the downturn in energy revenues but that is only a part of the propaganda they are peddling.
The truth is that low oil and gas prices will affect our economic growth and that is not because of anything we did whilst in government.
We left a sound economy and more that 10-billion US dollars in savings.
Our economy will continue to suffer because according to international financial watchdogs there is a high likelihood that the government’s policy response will not be timely and sufficiently effective.
That’s not a political statement from the UNC… that is an economic assessment from MOODY’s.
And Moody’s is saying it would downgrade Trinidad and Tobago’s credit rating again if it concludes that the government’s planned fiscal efforts for 2016/17 are unlikely to reverse the deteriorating fiscal performance. Like all of us, they are also concerned about the rising government debt.
This government is behaving like an irresponsible consumer with a credit card who has no concern about how to pay back the debt.
We would have handled this economic situation very differently.
Our priority would have been to protect people from hardship instead of taking away social programs.
Just last week the Rowley government boasted that it has cut off more than 13-thousand people from the food card program to save 100-million dollars.
But they cannot tell us where they will put the savings or how they will help the poor and less fortunate among us.
We would have protected jobs with creative measures.
And we would never have imposed oppressive property taxes on the population.
We will continue to oppose this on your behalf.
More jobs have been lost in the past year than in the previous five years when my government created a robust economy with the lowest ever unemployment and unprecedented investments and savings.
We are optimistic about the future … and we are determined to restore growth and productivity. We did it before and when you put us back in government we will do it again.
From this place we will launch our campaign to put this country back to work. We have no MOU with anyone that compromises our ability to fight for the working class unlike others who now have to speak out of both sides of their mouth.
We are not in Government today but that is only temporary.
The PNM and its allies wooed many people with lies, half-truths and innuendoes. And look where that has taken us.
In less than one year UNDER THE Rowley government, crime has become the most menacing of our problems under a government that has no clue how to defeat criminals, gangsters and international terrorists.
And while blood is flowing all across the land with an ever growing terrorist threat instead of developing a plan to fight crime and make our country secure, the PM is taking off on holiday again.
Our country is in crisis and our head of government finds it convenient to run away. We hear he is going to get medical attention abroad.
I ask today, why can’t our doctors and institutions do the medical tests that Dr. Rowley needs? Have any doctors here said that he needs to go abroad for tests??
Is he saying that under his leadership we have a health service that he cannot trust?
My sisters and brothers Dr. Rowley was the worst Opposition Leader our country ever had. And in less than one year he has demonstrated that he will be the worst prime minister to hold that office in Trinidad and Tobago.
For five years he boasted that he had a plan … and when we told you and the rest of the country that Rowley had no plan, some people didn’t believe us.
Well now you have the proof.
There is clear evidence that they were only red but never ready.
And in one year they have brought a booming, productive, happy country to a state of hopelessness and fear.
Once again people are getting depressed and wondering what tomorrow holds.
But I want you to know that every dawn brings new hope and after a dark night the Rising Sun brings a promise of a bright day and better times.
We are fast approaching our darkest night … and as sure as day follows night the sun will rise again.
But I want to caution you that we cannot expect to get back in government just because we have an incompetent and useless Rowley government.
We have to work hard and work smart.
We have to have a clear message that we are an alternative government.
And we have to show in real terms that we can do better.
So let us get to work for the people and for our country.
Let us work together to bring back government of the people by the people and for the people.
Almost a year has gone and the country has seen collapse after collapse as this Rowley government parties, fetes, golfs and tours the world
People are dying from poor health care, the murder rate is skyrocketing, unemployment and poverty are at runaway levels, and the PM goes on vacation.
You know, the PM says his recent visit to Jamaica was the hardest week but whilst there he went to fete at a cricket match, comes back tired and leaves again.
Nobody is running this country. PM Rowley has abandoned the job he was elected to do.
Keep hope alive and join us to fight for justice and equity for all.
Let us make today a new beginning.
The secret about moving ahead is to get started.
Just over 27 years ago we took the first step.
Today it is time to walk another mile in the same shoes… a time to renew and rejuvenate ourselves to face the sun and leave the shadows behind.
Thank you to the ATGWU which over the years has provided accommodation for our great party in the Rienzi Complex, a complex that was the result of the hard work of our founding leader, Mr. Panday.
I will not forget that in 2010, then President General Indarsingh welcomed us with open arms following upon the election in January 2010 of a new NATEX and I thank him and the Union.
And let me assure you that while we always enjoyed a cordial and friendly relationship with our landlord at the Rienzi Complex we had to make a choice between holding on to a sentimental connection or, moving to a new home as part of our continued growth.
Today is not a day to shed tear. Rather it is a time to celebrate.
From this moment we make a new beginning to continue to grow and diversify our party to serve the interests of all as we continue our efforts to build a better and more prosperous Trinidad & Tobago.
UNC BUILDING FUND
And as we do it, let us also establish a special fund that would enable us to have our very own home in the shortest possible time.
This I promise you, that with your help, our great party will have its own home in the shortest possible time.
WHAT WE BUILT
Our detractors say that in the five years we were in government we did not build a home and ask why.
Others say that we spend $290b and have nothing to show for it.
Well if they want to know what we built, we tell them walk or drive anywhere in T& T and you will see development which took place everywhere.
Remember about 50% that is $145b went to pay wages and salaries, transfers and subsidies.
By 2010, unemployment increased with jobs being lost.
We created 56,000 new jobs, including thousands of new jobs in diversification sectors (unemployment at 3.4%)
Minimum wage set $9 per hour
2010 inherited – Stalled over 70 wage negotiations
Court action against Caroni workers and further delays in delivering promised VSEP and lands.
We Negotiated over 130 wage agreements
Increased the minimum wage twice to $12.50, then to $15 per hour
And, so with the remaining $145b over 5 years –
What did we do with the money and Why we did not build a headquarters, well
We did so much and we were very busy building —
Hospitals/health centres (Fuad/Moonilal)
I was busy building/refurbishing hospitals and health centres – Couva Children’s Hospital, San Fernando teaching hospital, start at Arima and Point Fortin, complete scarborough hospital in Tobago
UDECOTT – completed the financial complex in Tobago and left govt campus as a sick project with allegations of corruption involving Calder Hart which found themselves into UFF COI – we outfitted one million sq feet of office space – the biggest office complex in Caribbean of about TT 1b with not one allegation of impropriety corruption – now they moving into Leagl Affairs, Education, customs etc
Police Stations – 8, (Moonilal) Arima, Piarco, Cumuto, Maloney, la Brea, Oropouche, Brasso and Moruga
Schools – over 100 built and/or refurbished – Primary Secondary, ECCE
Tertiary Education (Fazal)
COSTATT- Sangre Grande COSTATT, el dorado nurses training academy, state of the art hq of costatt chaguanas,
UTT – aviation campus Camden (cutting cane to flying plane) , Tobago UTT campus offering Bed and other degree programmes such that teachers from Tobago no longer had to commute to Trinidad, expansion of Tamana, expanded Energy Campus Pt Lisas, the first UTT store at Piarco Airport to showcase all products of UTT.
Launched UTT knowledge tt platform in pursuance of increased online learning
UWI – DEBE CAMPUS, expanded medical training at Mt Hope and San Fdo, commenced construction of 100% expansion of school of dentistry, VET school expanded, student amenities centre at Mt Hope Constructed, completed construction of teaching/learning facility at UWI, CWRD completed, construction of seismic research facility, refurbishment of Canada Hall, ecce, health sciences bldg. completed and outfitted
HISTORIC drilling academy at Usine Ste Madeline, training facility Palo Seco, la brea has two nesc training facilities, nesc automotive technology centre at woodford lodge, dormitory facilities for MYPART programme Pt Lisas, expanded NESC in Tobago, re-opened NESC Debe tech centre
Tobago Technology Centre, Penal, Diego Martin, Omeara,
Training Centre Diego Martin, Culinary Arts Facility and head office, woodford lodge, Cosmetology Bus, MTEST headquarters in Chag as part of decentalisation promise, Digital academy.
OJT – had lauched OJT sectoral aligned to labour market needs , eg agriculture, aviation, medical, environment, maritime and increased OJT stipends by 25%
Increased tertirary participation rate from 2010 42% to 65.2% in 2015 and when vocational training about 70%
Recreation/sporting facilities – over 100 lit
National Cycling Centre
National Aquatic Centre
National Tennis centre
Siparia Regional Sport Complex
Water (Emmanuel George/Ganga/Ramona)
Reduced national water supply to 18% of population with 24 hours, seven days’ supply (down from 65% in 2001)
National water supply increased to 73% with 24 hours, seven days a week, with over 1000 KM of new waterlines installed, and some communities having water for the first time in 100 years
Roads (Suruj) – where there were none- Pt Fortin Highway/ Grand Bazaar Interchange
Houses – (Rudy) 7,000 constructed and 7,000 repaired about 14,000 thousand distributed
So my sisters and brothers, let us focus on the task ahead.
Never lose HOPE. Believe in yourselves and in our party. We will always stand with you. But you must stand with us. Never surrender. Walk with us, united as one family. And let us RISE again.
The sun will rise again as surely as day follows night.