Today, we celebrate the 41st anniversary of the significant move forward in our country’s self-determination – the attainment of Republican status. The determination of our people to create our own rules for governance was realized when we adopted a Republican Constitution, thereby placing supreme power in the hands of the people of our country and their representatives.
The significance of this must be underscored; it gave us the right to elect our own Head of State, to govern ourselves and chart our own destiny as a sovereign nation.
Although we are a young Republic, Trinidad and Tobago has made significant progress in building our democracy and our public institutions to serve the interests of the people. In recent years, we have worked towards making Parliament more accountable, such as public scrutiny of the Budget and questions to the Prime Minister, strengthening of the Parliamentary Committees and the establishment of new Joint Select Committees to look into the State sector. Over the past few weeks, we have seen the critical role these Committees play in holding the Government to account.
It has always been my philosophy and that of the party which I lead to improve transparency and accountability and give more power to the people of this country. This is why, during my term as Prime Minister, I sought to engage with citizens to get their views on what they felt was needed to take our country forward, and among the recommendations proposed was reforming the Constitution to expand our democracy and make Parliamentarians more accountable to their constituents.
Under the Government which I led, we focused implementing policies and programs that were people-centered, and we had a clear plan for the development of our country in all areas: ensuring the safety and security of our citizens, providing quality education for our children, improving the standard of healthcare provided to citizens, and focusing on expanding the economy and creating sustainable jobs.
To date, under the current administration, we have seen no movement towards improving our public institutions for the benefit of our people. What we are seeing today is worrying – the approach to governance is authoritarian, and citizens now feel excluded and demoralized. We are seeing crime spiraling at an alarming rate, with citizens living in fear as they go about their daily activities. Our economy is in a downward spiral, with thousands having lost their jobs since this Government took office. Investment is drying up, and our business people are facing tough financial circumstances. By all indications, the outlook for our country is grim.
In all this, I want to remind the people of this country of the importance of our Republican status – the power lies in your hands. It is up to each of us to work together to bring about positive change in our society.
As a Parliamentarian and a citizen, I will continue to work towards serving the people of this country, and I maintain my call for all citizens to join with me and my team as we seek to continue to build our nation, and to build a brighter future for us all.
We must continue to work to protect our hard-won freedoms, and demand of our leaders to take their responsibilities seriously, and work in the interest of all citizens. It cannot be that those holding high office seek the interests of a few while ignoring the needs of the majority. The people of Trinidad and Tobago deserve more, and I call on all right-thinking citizens to stand up for your rights and let your voices be heard. I will stand with you as we seek to further the development of our nation.
Each of us must do his or her part, and we must do better in creating a society of which we can all be proud. We have come a long way in just 41 years as a Republic, but we have much work to do. I remain, and my team remains committed to our great nation.
I wish you a very safe and peaceful Republic Day.
May God continue to bless each of you and may God bless our great Nation, Trinidad and Tobago.