We are at a point in our nation’s affairs when we are faced with lower energy prices. I was part on a former administration in 1995 when the country also had to be managed with lower energy prices. Despite this we demonstrated that we were up to the task and the country experienced a level of prosperity which few thought possible. I am therefore not daunted by the current situation but instead feel very confident of our ability to mitigate the impacts of lower energy prices whilst preserving jobs and promoting economic growth. I remain doubly focused on the task at hand. Attempts to distract my attention and energies from my responsibility to lead and manage the affairs of this nation will not deter me from my goal of a prosperous and secure nation.
We came into office at a time when the country’s financial stability was threatened by the 20 billion plus CLICO debacle and the almost 1 billion HCU fiasco. In 2010 I pledged that my approach to managing the affairs of the country will be based on the widest possible stakeholders’ consultation as well as a style of leadership which listens before acting. I have tried to remain faithful to these promises as far as humanly possible balancing the various national demands which must be considered in arriving at decisions that are in the nation’s interest as a whole.
Today as we approach the final few months of my first term as Prime Minister, I can say with a lot of confidence that Trinidad and Tobago is in a better place than when I inherited the responsibility for its administration. May I take this opportunity to point out that despite the ups and downs and the reality that this government has been the most scrutinized administration ever in our political history, we enjoy today political stability, economic growth, financial stability, lower levels of poverty, and increased financial support for pensioners and the vulnerable in our society. Over the life of my Administration over 75 labour agreements have been settled, most of which were outstanding when we came into Office in 2010.
All of this has been achieved without any new taxes ( personal and corporate) in the last five years. In addition we have maintained the subsidy on gas prices and have increased social welfare benefits. We have increased the number of scholarships to students for undergraduate and graduate studies and as well have advanced our goal of universal early childhood education. With the completion of the Children’s Hospital in mid-2015 as well as the improvements which are going to come with the expansion of the Sangre Grande Hospital as well as in Arima and Point Fortin health care will be vastly improved.
On May 24th 2010, you elected me as Prime Minister to lead a Partnership government in order to ensure political stability, sustainable economic growth, prosperity for all through job creation and business expansion as well as an environment which gives all of our peoples the opportunity to realize their goals and potential. In addition, you entrusted us with the responsibility of caring for and protecting he elderly and the vulnerable, the poor and the disenfranchised among us. You made a pact with us to protect the environment and to create a safer community. You challenged us to improve the overall quality of life as reflected in infrastructural development, food security, health services, transport, crime reduction, housing and education.
We have tackled the situation regarding crime and criminals with the level of aggression and commitment required of us. We have used a combination of laws and operational strategies to deal with the criminal elements. We have also pursued white collar crime and have done what no administration has done, that is, we successfully introduced Procurement Legislation. Unfortunately while civil society has supported the efforts of the government to introduce the historic piece of legislation, the parliamentary opposition did not give their support. The passage of this piece of legislation showed that my Government is willing to partner with civil society to ensure that the laws which make for fair opportunity in the conduct of business will be realized. Overall the number of serious crimes has decreased though we are still challenged by the murders and domestic violence cases.
It is my desire to continue to manage and lead this nation to prosperity and towards this end I am committed.
I trust that all citizens had a wonderful Christmas season. I noted that people were very family focused this year and perhaps more introspective. This is good as we enter a new and challenging year.
My Christmas season was enriched by the thousands of happy faces of children who interacted with me during our toy distribution drive. In my view it is the right of a child to be happy not unhappy and I thank all of our citizens for whatever you would have done to make a child happy. Those happy faces gave me inspiration and the strength to continue to do the best that I can for our country and our people and to work harder with the next generation in mind.
As we move into the New Year, I am as concerned about this country as everyone else should be. As such I propose to do the following.
I will speak to the nation on the State of the Economy on January 08, 2015. I will address the issue of falling oil and gas prices and their implications for Trinidad and Tobago and outline the way forward in the year ahead.
On Friday January 09, 2015 the Finance Bill will be debated in the House of Representatives. This Bill gives life and traction to the measures announced in the 2015 Budget Statement.
Following this debate, during the following week, I will also engage stakeholders in a discussion on the state of the economy, the way forward and options for investment, growth, diversification and development.
I wish to give the assurance that there will be no cut to affect the vulnerable and the under privileged as well as health sector reform and crime fighting. The preservation of jobs is high on our agenda.
I look forward with keen interest in the ideas and suggestions which the stakeholders and citizens will share as we deepen our partnership in the interest of a prosperous and secure Trinidad and Tobago. In the mean time feel secure in the fact that your Government is monitoring the situation on a daily basis and working with you in mind everyday.