Happy Independence to all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago!
We have come a long way but have not yet fulfilled the promise of Independence. That is our mission and ongoing work.
I was born in colonial Trinidad and Tobago. I remember when the British ruled us. If we are honest, we will acknowledge that there were many good things during the time of colonialism. But perhaps for me, the number one negative thing about colonialism was the purposeful underdevelopment, keeping us down in a subservient state, and not recognizing the greatness of these twin Islands, and our importance for the world.
I remember when we became independent. There was so much hope. We were seen as a Model United Nations for the world. When we had our first oil boom in the 1970s, we were graduated to developed country status by the World Bank in the early 1980s because our incomes were so high. We are no longer qualified for loans for developing countries.
From 1960 to 1980 we had the same GDP per capita as Singapore and Hong Kong if not more. In 1962, we had a higher GDP per capita than Japan, Chile, Greece, Spain, Hong Kong, Singapore, Portugal, Mexico, Turkey, Iraq, Brazil, Malaysia, Iran, Morocco, Taiwan, China, and so many others. Sadly, since then, these countries have now leapt far ahead of us.
Troublingly, we were derailed by mismanagement and corruption and pushed back down to Third World status. Our destiny was to be the Dubai, Singapore, and Monaco of the Caribbean. We had and still have all the ingredients. We were supposed to create a prosperous, advanced, happy, peaceful and harmonious society with all the blessings God had given us to inherit.
There is no way that smaller islands with no resources, like the Cayman Islands or the Turks and Caicos Islands or Martinique who stayed under British and French colonialism, should be better off than us. We should not want to be like them. They should want to be like us!
Our development should have put them in the shade, making them want to be independent and to fully realise their potential. We should not want to migrate and abandon this beautiful paradise that God has given us, like the Garden of Eden.
So, this Independence Day, let us commit to making Trinidad and Tobago fulfil its promise to be a model for the world, to show how people from diverse ancestry, backgrounds and religions can live side by side in prosperity, harmony, safety, joy, creativity and hope.
This is the promise that I give to you. As Prime Minister, I was dedicated to raising the living standards of every single person in Trinidad and Tobago, and to raising the profile and stature of our little country on the global stage, to be something that we can all be proud of.
Let us commit to that again. Let us not ruin and abandon the blessed inheritance that we have been gifted. Our Independence project is not yet over. We must fulfil the promise and potential that Trinidad and Tobago has to be a model and example for the world.
I know in my heart that we can achieve this.
Happy Independence Day.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
31st August 2023