Today as you gather with family and friends to celebrate, I want to wish you a happy, healthy and productive New Year, one filled with hope and optimism.
The year that just ended has been an extremely difficult one for all of us. Crime remained a menace, with children and our elders becoming targets of killers and rapists; human trafficking was a disturbing and frightening reality, with women and girls being at greatest risk.
Our economy experienced its worst performance in our history and everywhere there were signs of a country on a downhill slide. The present regime has led us to a sharp economic decline, and its irresponsible policy of borrowing to fund recurrent expenditure is putting future generations in deep debt.
Added to all of this, are the government’s chronic lack of vision and the absence of any economic measure for growth and job creation.
I remain fearful for 2017 in every aspect of national life – the economy, national security, health care and social services. The forecast for 2017 is bleak and the stresses that so many of our citizens have felt for more than a year will no doubt increase.
Still, I ask you to be optimistic. Let us reflect on who we are and reaffirm our love and commitment to our country. If we can do that, we will rise again and make Trinidad and Tobago a better place for all of us. We can do it if we all work together, putting country first.
The divisiveness and political partisanship that is the hallmark of this administration is a cancer and it will only go away when all of us decide this is our country and each of us has a responsibility to help make it the best it can be.
Every citizen deserves the protection of the state and as legislators, we in the UNC will continue to act in the best interest of everyone, not only those who support us and have voted for us.
My colleagues and I will to continue to work on your behalf as a government in waiting, and I assure you that our opposition caucus will be ready to collaborate with the government and the parliament to pass laws that enhance the lives of our citizens.
However, we will reject any measure that infringes on citizens’ rights and freedoms.
The FATCA Bill is an example of how we treat with critical legislation that impacts all of us. The Government needs to be responsible and consider the views of experts that this US legislation is badly flawed and infringes the sovereignty of many countries, and will likely be repealed by the new administration.
Our position will remain constant in 2017: we will pass good laws but oppose anything that compromises our independence and poses a threat to our rights and freedoms.
Under different political circumstances we would have worked with all stakeholders to navigate these turbulent economic waters to achieve growth and expansion through our green, blue and silver economic models.
Instead we find stagnation and a level of despondency our country has never experienced.
I have asked you to unite and work at nation-building because that is the only way forward. We cannot build a nation based on hate and political spite.
Today, citizens of this country are forced to carry the burden while those who govern treat you with contempt. The Government has not kept a single promise and there is every indication that they will continue this way in 2017 because they have no idea how to take us out of this crisis they manufactured to conceal their incompetence.
We are governed by an administration that is handicapped by its arrogance and lack of vision and guided by a small elite that has no concerns for the people.
As we begin a New Year we find, as we did in 2016, that unemployment is on the rise, the cost of living is pushing families to starvation, new taxes will erode your shrinking income and the elite they serve will continue to prosper.
So my message as we start 2017 is that while you must be aware of the new circumstances in which we must live, you must also take charge of your destiny and work together as one family to effect the change that is inevitable. You, the citizens of our nation must know your rights and stand up for them; indeed, you must demand that the government listen to your concerns.
The New Year is a new beginning and we must cherish what we have to keep the flame of hope burning. I will continue to lead on your behalf and to do the work we set for ourselves when you first elected us to serve.
I resolve to work harder in 2017 to hold the government to account, and to try to push them to work towards enhancing your lives. Nothing is more important for me than the people of T&T and my colleagues share this view.
Taking charge of the future means continuing constructive dialogue with you to understand your dreams for a better, more prosperous Trinidad and Tobago.
The uncertainties you feel today are natural and the circumstances are real. But let me assure you that we have faced similar circumstances before and we have overcome them. The darkest night ends with a new dawn that brings freshness and new hope.
So keep hope alive and continue to have faith in your dreams and in our country’s future.
Greg and I, and our extended UNC family, wish you a Happy New Year. May God continue to bless you and your families, and our nation.