My fellow citizens, as we begin the year 2014, I wish to take this opportunity to extend to each and every one of you my sincere wish that you would enjoy good health, joy and success in the new year and beyond.
The past year has been a mixed one, with highs and lows, successes and setbacks which, in retrospect, appear to have all worked together to raise us up as a people and as a nation.
Our nation, particularly our economy has advanced, even amidst regional and global challenges.
We have fortified our unity and democracy, even as our institutions were tested more than ever before.
And we have held together as a people showing the depth of our resolve, even as our limits of compassion and industry were pushed.
At times of greatest distress and need we have been there for you, as we were in Diego Martin in August and September and in La Brea and south Trinidad earlier this month. And we showed the same compassion and love for our Caricom sisters and brothers following devastating Christmas storms.
Each citizen who bears a love for freedom, a passion for success and a desire for making things better, has the right to hold his and her head high and be proud because your government has stood in defence of democracy at every step of the way.
As the New Year begins I reaffirm my commitment to continue leading with a compassionate heart, a listening ear and a greater appreciation for your needs. In 2014 we must extend the social mechanisms to improve and enhance the quality of life of those families we have not yet touched.
This will be my fourth year as your Prime Minister and my vision for Trinidad & Tobago has been fortified based on your desires and evolving demands.
AN EXCITING YEAR AHEAD
In May of 2010, a wave of hope brought us to office and since then we have been working very hard to reorganize our national priorities, restructure our growth strategies and build a nation of which each and every one of us can be proud.
Having moved rapidly from policy development to delivery, this year will see the culmination of many months and years of careful planning. The year 2014 will be an exciting one as we accelerate the pace of delivery.
A hallmark of this Government has been its dedication to fostering a leadership that listens. Therefore, we must listen carefully to what you are thinking on our policies, and your thoughts will continue to influence and guide our direction.
A NATIONAL CONVERSATION
This is why I am extremely delighted that starting this month, my Government will launch the largest coordinated national consultation in our nation’s history – the National Conversation.
In our almost four years as the Government of Trinidad & Tobago, we have made many changes in leadership, in policy, in programmes and in how we inspire growth and sustainable development.
The National Conversation will be my Government’s continuing progress report to you. And it will be a two-way conversation that gives you, the people, the opportunity to direct us on where and how we must now proceed.
It will be a review of our priorities; an opportunity for you to see how we have aligned our delivery to your needs, and for you to tell us what you want us to reconsider. You must tell us where to get more aggressive and where to expand what we are doing. We work for you. And together we must build this country!
The National Conversation will also offer an unprecedented opportunity for you, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, to experience how you can take our nation forward through your own thinking.
It will be a particularly proud moment for our nation, giving us the opportunity to advance to a higher level of commitment to freedom, transparency and democracy.
This has always been my promise to you, and this is how I will ensure that my promise remains strong and unbroken.
A LOT STILL TO DO
Trinidad & Tobago today, in 2014, has come quite a distance as an exemplary democracy; as a powerful model of strength and unity in diversity, and as an influential economic leader in the region and in the world.
The renewal of hope and the energy that drives our nation, however, comes when we look back and see how far forward we have come. It gives us to the impetus to boldly advance, to learn from our challenges and build on our successes.
While there is much that we can celebrate, there is a great deal still for us to do.
In moving forward, there are unmistakable priorities that my Government will continue to face frontally.
In the area of personal security, I intend to measure success not just on statistics, but also on how safe you are and how safe you feel.
We have already commenced an ambitious crime-fighting programme and we will continue to roll out more as we advance into 2014. Security will always be a very big concern for my government.
Every family must feels safe. Too many families bear the tragic memory of personal loss, too many of you are traumatised by fear, too many of us feel resigned to insulating ourselves and denying our families the freedom of movement, which is our right, in order to escape criminals and bullies.
My Government finds that unacceptable and that is why we are so focused on fighting crime with all the energy and resources that are necessary to combat this evil.
In particular, the past year jolted us to our core, when the reality of how unsafe some of our nation’s children are, even with their own families, hit us.
Cabinet has received a comprehensive report from the Child Protection Task Force, which I established following the tragic death of young Keyanna.
We have accepted its recommendations and will ensure that the Task Force gets all that is necessary for The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago to become fully functional.
This requires the acceleration of certain legislative matters, which the government will pursue immediately. It also requires a commitment to meet the operational requirements.
The Authority plans to be fully operational by August 2014 but before that date it would open its first Assessment Centre at the Children’s Hospital at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC) and have it fully operational by June 2014.
The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development is also building two assessment centres, one in South and the other Central Trinidad, that will be operational by September 2014.
Our children are at great risk not only at home and their familiar environment but at other places such as foster homes and those under the supervision of care givers in child welfare institutions.
I challenge every one of you to put aside partisan interests and rise up against child abuse. I also ask all political leaders to join us to fight violence against our children and crime in general.
My Government will put all of its weight behind ensuring our nation’s children are safe and I ask that you, the citizens, also reaffirm your responsibility for each and every child of Trinidad & Tobago.
Even as the war on crime continues with increased aggression, and you have the opportunity to rethink your views and share them with us, I will make it my priority to make you feel safe again.
Our nation’s health services continue to be one of the greatest priorities as my Government continues to enhance the delivery of services that you need, in an environment that provides for your comfort, and inspires your confidence.
Our hospital construction programme in Point Fortin, Penal, Sangre Grande and Couva will continue with vigour.
We will bring on stream plans for the major redevelopment of the Port of Spain General Hospital, and in San Fernando, we will complete and deliver the Teaching Hospital. The expanded hospital will have more beds and state of the art equipment and facilities for delivery of the highest standards in health care.
I ask all of you living in communities that have already seen vast improvements in your health facilities to guard them as your very own. And I promise that we will develop these primary care facilities in every community.
PRICES AND INFLATION
In the area of prices, my Government will aggressively increase its drive to ensure that the prices you pay for food are fair, and the quality of food you buy is assured.
Yes, there has been some progress in controlling inflation, especially in the area of food prices. I assure you that I have heard your views and your concerns.
We know that we must do more; we will do more! That is a promise.
We are doing all this while keeping the economy strong. Lowering the cost of food is only one part of our commitment to poverty eradication.
I am sure you know someone who has benefitted from other programmes such as higher pensions, grants to poor families, social security programs for low income earners, water and electricity rebates, free transportation for seniors and children, elimination of VAT on thousands of every day food items – and for Christmas, a special gift of a 20 per cent reduction on the price of flour, rice and oil.
JOBS AND YOUNG PEOPLE
Jobs, professional opportunities and especially the needs of our young people graduating from University, and technical and vocational programmes will also occupy a great deal of attention from the Government.
Here as well, a lot has been achieved, but there is still a great deal more to do.
I have heard the views of our young people who have shared their desires for better opportunities aligned to their changing needs.
Work on the new University campuses in Central and South Trinidad, as well as the integrated campus in Tobago, will all continue with the aim of delivering quality education, to more young people, closer to their own communities.
In addition, this year will see advances in the On the Job Training Programme (OJT) which will deliver opportunities more relevant to your interests and training, better compensation and broader opportunities for you to learn directly from senior professionals in your fields.
My Government has also put an unprecedented level of energy in driving forward our economic diversification programme, and here as well the nation will see an expansion in the number, quality and diversity of employment opportunities.
FOCUS ON EVERY CITIZEN
Let me give you the assurance that while I have named these priorities for this year, the Government will remain dedicated and committed to the needs of each and every single person.
Whether you are in your senior years and you desire greater efficiency in your access to services and grants…
Whether you are a new or growing family and you desire better programmes that will secure your future…
Whether you are concerned about how we preserve our environment…
Whether you are concerned about governance and the advance of constitutional reform…
Or whether you wish to see an acceleration of our transport and infrastructure development programmes, my Government…your Government, will continue working hard and delivering for your benefit and comfort.
THE CHANGE WE BROUGHT
My fellow citizens, your vote in 2010 delivered a needed opportunity for our country to change the political landscape.
We offered you an alternative to a rigid hegemonic party system that had characterized and restricted our politics for decades.
You ended that style of divisive politics forever and embraced a new form of participatory democracy that serves the interest of all the people, all the time.
I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and that includes protecting people’s democratic rights.
And I demonstrated that in 2013 by holding four elections when they were due.
We also took bold constitutional steps in passing legislation to elect Aldermen at the local government level through a system of proportional representation and in exercising the right to recall a parliamentarian.
And in 2014, we would have a new Constitution for you.
It has taken time, but I wanted to make sure that the reforms were born out of the desires and ambitions of the people, so that those reforms will last.
Some of the changes we propose include the right to recall a Member of Parliament, fixed dates for national and local elections and term limits for Prime Ministers. These are bold steps forward in the right direction to strengthen our democracy and hand more power to the people.
And it is a commitment that my primary interest is in serving you, not holding on to power.
In spite of the progress you can see everywhere, there is still a lot to do. I therefore ask for your continued confidence as we work to ensure that we build a nation that can stand up to any challenge, with people who can compete anywhere in the world, and with communities that are built on the values of fairness and equality, and with love and compassion.
I assure you that as long as I am your Prime Minister, you will continue to enjoy the freedoms that are your right, the democracy that you have worked to build and protect, the communities that you have fought to preserve and the social justice upon which my Government is built. WE WILL robustly defend all of these.
As the first Government in our history to have made its manifesto into Public Policy, we stand on a very strong platform today in 2014, with confidence as we move forward.
We may take great pride in our nation as our prosperity has increased and this is evidenced by the World Bank classification of Trinidad and Tobago as the second wealthiest nation within the Caribbean.
That is a credit to all of us but it is also an affirmation that your government understands the value of proper fiscal management and how to invest wisely in national development that is people-focused and people-centred.
On Christmas Eve, we received the welcome news from Standard & Poor’s that our economy remains buoyant and that our credit rating remains high. The agency credits your government’s policies and the political stability we have maintained.
Today, from a period of near economic stagnation in 2010, we have returned the country to positive growth. And there is strong confidence and renewed optimism in our country, its leadership and the economy.
Economic diversification has begun building itself into our economic pillars, even as our energy sector continues to deliver more finds, better operations, higher revenues and more opportunities.
And more and more of our citizens are experiencing the joy and security of property ownership through our housing and land re-distribution programmes.
My fellow citizens, with this message I reassure you that your trust and faith have been well placed in us.
You challenged your Government to do better, to serve more and to work harder… and we have.
As we move forward, I ask that you stand with us as we continue on our path of delivery, and as we work together to make our country a true jewel of the Region and the Americas.
Let us continue to live together in harmony, dream dreams together and build a nation of equals where each of us would freely enjoy the bounty of our land, free from fear, and focused on unity and a commitment to community. Let us make that our primary goal for 2014.
I wish God’s Blessings for each and every one of you and may you have a safe, healthy and successful New Year.
NEW YEAR’S MESSAGE TO THE NATION BY
THE HONOURABLE KAMLA PERSAD-BISSESSAR, SC, MP
PRIME MINISTER OF THE REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
DECEMBER 31ST 2013