As I join the national community in commemorating Republic Day 2018, this occasion provides us with an opportunity to examine our progress as a people and a nation. Our forebears had a vision of a thriving, united and productive society, but we must ask ourselves whether we have been able to achieve this after 42 years.
On August 1st 1976 our new Republican Constitution came into force completing our nation’s transition toward becoming an independent republic. We celebrate Republic Day on September 24th because this is the date when the first Parliament met under the new Republican Constitution.
When our country became a Republic, fourteen years after achieving independence from Great Britain, it meant that we now possessed the right to choose our own Head of State, an elected President sworn to uphold a new Republican Constitution, which was of our own construct, and we no longer owed allegiance to the Queen. It was only then that we gained complete control to chart our course as a sovereign nation among the Commonwealth of Nations.
Our journey has been a challenging one, but what must be celebrated is the spirit, determination and courage of the people of our nation. We have made many strides in our 42 years as a Republic, and 56 years as an independent nation. Our country is blessed with natural resources, but our greatest resource remains the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Our people remain a constant source of hope and inspiration.
It is important to remember that our Republican Constitution places supreme power in the hands of the people of our country and their representatives, and as your representatives, we must put the needs of the citizens first.
I have often spoken of the critical importance of our nation’s Constitution and guarding against any attempts to violate its principles. The Constitution compels us to pursue and fulfill ideals and goals such as the building of a just, democratic and prosperous nation. It outlines the rights of citizens, but also specifies the duties and responsibilities of the people.
The rights afforded to all citizens must be protected, and I maintain my and my party, the United National Congress’s commitment to work to uphold the rights of citizens.
We must remain vigilant and protect our nation’s achievements against threats to our development and democracy. Most notably are the threats posed by the criminal elements, who continue to create an atmosphere of fear and insecurity in our country.
Today, as our country seems shrouded in darkness and despair, we need now, more than ever, leaders who are caring, compassionate and willing to listen and engage with citizens.
What we are witnessing, however, is an administration which is not only closed off to the people, but which has violated tripartite agreements and principles by threatening workers who speak out and protest against an autocratic government.
Many of our citizens are left feeling marginalized, convinced that high office holders are not seeking their interests, but rather the interests of a select few. As a result, we are seeing a contracting middle class, increasing levels of poverty, and a widening of the gap between the rich and poor.
We need to improve the level of national discourse and give citizens greater opportunities to participate in governance. This is the only way we can move forward as a nation.
The UNC, for its part, has been actively engaging with citizens across the country, especially now as we head into the reading of the National Budget. We’ve been meeting and listening to what are their needs and concerns, so that we can develop solutions.
Greater dialogue is called for, and we must call upon leaders to place their own needs aside and have the strength, the will and the vision to do what is right, and what is necessary for the good of the country.
With that being said, we all have a part to play in uplifting our country. I believe that together we can transform our country and achieve what our predecessors envisioned – a stronger, more prosperous and united Trinidad and Tobago.
I call on all citizens, to pledge today to be more productive, disciplined, tolerant and compassionate, as we work together to achieve our goals and vision for a better future for Trinidad and Tobago.
Let us reaffirm our unwavering commitment to uphold the ideals of our Constitution and strengthen our Republic.
I wish you all 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.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
24th September 2018