Forty years ago Trinidad and Tobago took a giant step forward to consolidate its independence from Great Britain when it inaugurated its Republican Constitution and Sir Ellis Clarke changed official titles from being the last Governor General of our country to become our first President.
It signaled our desire to put supreme power in the hands of our people and their representatives, with a native president replacing the Queen of England as our Head of State.
Forty years ago we started a new journey to create a society built on the dignity and stability of our government, the high morals of our people and an independent judicial system to steer us into a new era of sovereignty.
It was the natural progression from our proclamation of independence 14 years earlier when we lowered the Union Jack and proudly proclaimed our infant state, pledging to protect our love of liberty and guaranteeing an equal place for every creed and race.
In all those years we maintained close ties with other sovereign states as we took our seat as equals in the global family, standing firm against injustice and protecting freedom and democracy in our world.
We have come a long way since taking that first step but we still have work to do. While we continue to celebrate the freedom from colonial domination we remain deeply influenced by our former rulers; little has changed with our institutions and political system.
Now is a time to reflect on how far we have travelled in the journey of self governance and whether we need to explore different routes to create a just society in which we enjoy our freedoms and live as one family, as our Creator meant it to be.
Perhaps now is a good time to ask if our constitutional arrangements need refreshing to suit the needs of our unique society and whether our institutions are serving us as they should.
Today is a good time as well to reflect on the journey thus far and question why in spite of our best intentions we are feeling a deep sense of desperation and hopelessness.
Our society remains stratified on social and economic grounds with an imbalance between the rich and the poor, which is a glaring defect in our republic.
Our economy is stagnating, crime is the worst ever, there is a growing army of jobless and a social safety net meant to protect the poor and vulnerable has all but disappeared. This state of affairs does not reflect the principles upon which our republic was founded.
Some seem to have abandoned those who are less privileged in their quest for power and fame with the result that they have shifted the focus from a just society in which each of us would always remain free to enjoy the bounties of our state to one where a privileged few control the destiny of the masses.
Still I urge you to never despair. In my Independence Day message I asked that we challenge ourselves, and our leaders, to achieve bigger hopes and dreams. That challenge is even greater as we celebrate the anniversary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
We must strive to define ourselves as a community guided by virtue and high morals, which are the foundations upon which we have built our republic.
Whatever our differences, we must continue to hold a positive passion for the public good. We must always strive to guard the public interest through service, not through power and glory.
And more than anything else, let us stand on guard and protect our freedoms, and those institutions that are the bedrock of our free and democratic state.
Happy Republic Day.