The Great Dr Martin Luther King said, “We all came in on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now”. This statement rings so true after 57 years of independence. We are Trinidadians and Tobagonians; we cannot be and should not try to be anyone else. While we must never forget our ancestral lineages, customs and cultures, we must strive to build a society that is distinct to our unique circumstances.
In the years leading up to this day in 1962, we aspired, as a nation, towards the freedom to chart our own course. We aspired to throw off the chains of colonial servitude and oppression and build a democratic society to benefit all people.
Therefore, it is the greatest irony that on the occasion of our 57th Independence Anniversary that our own Government is doing the same as our colonial oppressors by using the archaic charge of sedition to torment a political opponent. Clearly, massa day is not done!
Today, on the 57th anniversary of our independence, it is critical that we ask ourselves: what have we allowed our society to become? Have we thrown off the shackles of colonial tyranny and now allowed ourselves to again find our country under similar governance? Are our news editors, journalists, unionists, religious leaders, civil society leaders, concerned citizens, political commentators and non-government politicians now being tacitly intimidated by the recent resurrection of the sedition laws?
Watson Duke was charged with sedition in relation to comments made during a television interview last November in which he urged workers of TSTT, TTEC and WASA to be “prepared to die. “This is your belief folks, this is your family and I am sending the message clear, let Rowley them know that the day they come for us in WASA, we are prepared to die and the morgue would be picking up people,” he was quoted as saying.
Fitzgerald Hinds at a PNM meeting said: “I said to my colleagues, as a younger parliamentarian then, I said the UNC is badly wounded. We need to finish them out. Kill them dead. I want you to understand that on November 28, you have the opportunity to drive a PNM balisier deep into the hearts of the wicked UNC vampires. Take a stake with a balisier on top and drive it deep within their heart and finish them off once and for all.”
One speaker says be prepared to die for his union members while the other invokes his supporters to kill them dead. Which is worse? Yet there was no investigation, no charge, no protest from the government for one while the other is being prosecuted and persecuted.
What exactly is the specific criteria that is being used to determine what is free speech and what is seditious after 57 years of independence? What are the criteria to determine who is charged and who is not? I do my duty as Opposition leader and ask these questions so as to protect all patriotic citizens from running afoul of this archaic law and an ever-increasing oppressive Government.
Today, the standard of living of our citizens continues to decrease at an alarming rate. Today the dreams of many of citizens are being shattered and their true potential ignored by this Government’s failure to equitably address the needs of the population. Many of the policies, acts and even inaction in some circumstances by this Government have led to this nation’s image being tarnished and the way of life we once knew is constantly being eroded.
I call on the government to remember their constitutional responsibilities and suspend the modus operandi of the last four years which has seen them operate as a government for “the few and not the many”. I call on the government to be inspired by the accomplishments, dynamism as well as the world-class talents of our people and do all in their power to ensure that each citizen is empowered to be part of nation-building.
Today how can we truly celebrate independence when we see some of the same repressive behaviours that were used to torment our pre-independence leaders and citizenry being reemployed today. Let us remember those that came before us and who helped to pave the path we now walk upon. We pay tribute to those leaders and seek to build on what they have laid for us.
As we mark this day which all citizens should hold dear to them, given its historic as well as life-defining significance, it is also a day for national self-introspection as every citizen is called to critically assess the role they have, and the role they should be playing in our nation’s development
It is our responsibility to now help pave the way for the next generation.
I have faith in the citizens of our nation, in their strength, their innovative spirit, and their courage. I call on all citizens to reject those who seek to promote divisiveness, oppression and tyranny in our society.
We are the creators of our own futures.
We the people of Trinidad and Tobago are the masters of our destiny.
I wish all citizens a very happy and reflective Independence Day.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
31st August, 2019