But as a party of Government, our focus remains on our people, our country and the future.
This is why we are meeting today, to discuss issues that are important to the lives, comforts, safety and progress of our nation.
We are not here to sound off empty political gyrations, as some have, about ‘a mother of all general elections’.
We are not driven by elections; we are driven by service, delivery and keeping our promises to make our country an even greater one.
We are driven by taking the tough decisions and seeing our work through, so that all the people benefit.
And we are driven by not simply speaking of national pride, but by actually doing the long hours of work to build a country that will naturally instil pride.
So it is easy for us to disregard the political grand-standing by others, who lack the leadership, foresight and vision to even manage a debate in the Parliament, far less a general election.
That’s why you won’t only see us suddenly starting to work when an election draws near. The UNC is a party that you always see working, that you always see engaging its members and the population, and that you always see doing what is required to safeguard the people and their interests.
The proof of that is clear, at least twice in history, when the others thought that they could surprise us by calling snap elections.
On both occasions, we showed them that we are a party always at work; that we are always ready, and that we are a party who will always defeat them – not by anything else but hard, dedicated work.
Today again, as we see the elections off in the distance, 15 months away, let the others know that as we have won before, based on commitment and performance, so shall we win again!
In the time since the members of our party bestowed the honour of leadership on me, and then our nation entrusted me with the leadership of Government, there have been a number of things that became increasingly clear.
The first thing that became clear was the kind of great things we can achieve, when we stand together united by a common purpose, a set of common objectives and a common vision.
The second that that became clear was how much progress can be accelerated, by listening first, and then leading.
And the third thing that became clear was that a Government that takes its responsibility seriously, and conducts the affairs of State wisely and with the guidance of the people, can indeed compensate for a weak and incapable Opposition.
As time progressed, with those three realities becoming clear, I realised that when we are driven by listening to the people, finding solutions to the challenges that face us, and standing united, we can defend our stewardship at any time, against anyone!
When we came to office just over three and a half years ago, we came prepared to take our nation back from the hands of criminal control; to save and restore our plummeting economy; to end discrimination and ensure that all citizens felt there was an equal place for them, and to build a system that empowered each and every person to reach out and achieve their dreams.
We came to office on the strength of a robust coalition, united in our common goal to turn Trinidad & Tobago around back to a positive direction.
Yes, there have been conflicts. There have been disagreements. There have been fallouts.
But today, the Government of which your party stands as a loyal partner remains strong and has defied every prediction of demise.
We stand as a Government that has demonstrated unprecedented performance, with an unmatched pace of national delivery to our citizens.
The signals of growth and development are evident throughout the length and breadth of the country. There is work ongoing in every community.
Businesses are expanding and new businesses are being formed.
Our economy is steadily achieving diversification, even as we have restored the health of the very important oil and gas sectors.
Tertiary, technical and vocational training is now more available, in more areas of study, than at any other time in the history of our nation.
More sustainable jobs are being created in more sectors, providing opportunities for our trained young men and women.
And for the first time in almost 25 years, we were able to realign our revenue generation so as to ease the burden on families by removing VAT from over 7000 food items.
But this is just a small snapshot of our stewardship and there will be time enough for us to speak in greater detail on all that we have done.
AN ANGRY OPPOSITION
Sustaining the restored health of our people and nation is what we must remain focused on.
To succeed, we must understand the prevailing environment in which we have had to operate over the last forty five months.
One of the biggest impediments to delivering needed services and opportunity to the people of Trinidad & Tobago has ironically been the Parliamentary Opposition.
Never before has there been such an uncoordinated, non-performing, unimaginative and bungling Opposition in our history of Parliamentary democracy.
They are an angry and bitter group of men and women who stand in Opposition at even the mere mention of benefit, progress and achievement.
When we deliver progress with the economy, showing evidence of increased stability and better opportunities for citizens, they become angry and fight us with the most hysterical ramblings that now have a reputation of being untrue.
When we speak of progress in education and training, providing more places for more people in more communities to access better training with the support of the Government, they become angry and, with no logical reason, turn to inflammatory and divisive allegations, which also now have a reputation of being untrue.
When we speak of progress with infrastructure, preparing our nation to have the capacity to support increased trade, industry and opportunities, they become angry, because, quite simply, they couldn’t do it!
When we take Bills to Parliament, such as the Bill that would have allowed members of the Defence Force, to provide strategic ground support to the Police, they become angry because it meant that our efforts to make our citizens safer put at risk those the Opposition wish to shelter.
When we speak of safeguarding and strengthening democracy, in our party and in the Government, they become angry and fire off hours of meaningless words, hiding the fact that their own party resisted ‘one man, one vote’ for decades until just a few weeks ago, while our party’s history has been based on that sacred right since its formation.
And when we speak of progress with the business environment, and our local business sectors, they become angry, because whatever progress we make, means less of a chance for them in a general election.
That is the basis of their anger. The Opposition becomes angry not because of fighting for the national interest. They become angry because our progress is a loss to their political chances.
The Opposition has neither leadership, nor political compass, and are completely unaware of what is required to lead a Government.
That is why all of their debates in Parliament, and all of their statements outside, are almost never accompanied by alternatives.
They have no alternatives!
They have no ideas!
And now, they can’t even hide the deep longstanding disunity that exists within their party as “East” prepares to take on “West”.
This is why whenever the PNM has control, they fall apart quickly and everything becomes a free-for-all! If they are always fighting each other, how can people ever expect them to fight for our nation?
They are an angry and leaderless group of people, with no alternatives and no direction who believe that Opposition means shouting any unsubstantiated allegation and making it into the news.
And their leader is also an angry man who finds it surprising that allegations must be based on fact and information and who has absolutely no authority in his party.
WE CARE ABOUT TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
But when steps forward are made in haste, because of self-centred manoeuvring, you can easily find yourself falling backwards. That is for the Opposition to deal with.
As far as I am concerned, the nation’s business, the people’s business – that’s my business!
The going has not always been easy, especially when faced with the incoherence of an angry and bitter Opposition, but when we were elected, the people expected us to work against all challenges and to succeed.
And succeed we have!
Forces opposed to our vision, and against our desire to truly unite our country as an equal and just society, have failed to stop us.
The dedication and commitment that underlines the politics of the UNC may have caused us a lot of scars, but taking the high road has always delivered us.
It is that dedication and commitment that have kept us standing tall over the dirty politics and incoherent ramblings of an aimless Opposition.
And it is that dedication and commitment that gives us the confidence in our march towards re-election in 2015.
The Leader of the Opposition has promised that if he is ever elected, he would return our nation to the policies of his party in the post-2000 period.
He clearly gave little thought to the fact that those policies are what caused so much damage to our nation socially and economically.
He clearly gave little thought to the fact that those policies are what created the most unpopular Government in our nation’s history.
And he clearly gave little thought to the fact that he is promised to inflict the same policies on people that they rejected in 2010.
When backed into a corner, the Leader of the Opposition’s first recourse is to talk about the mistakes the Government has made.
But what he doesn’t understand is that we have acknowledged our mistakes; we have never claimed to be perfect.
In fact, we knew the kind of damage we had to fix when we came in back in 2010 and while we stumbled along the way, we never once tried to hide it.
The people of our country elected us and it is to them we always accounted for our mistakes.
And as we navigate the next 15 months, we will take on the challenges that come as we always have – guided by loyalty to our country and people, and driven by a vision for progress for all.
The first challenge for us is to reaffirm our commitment, through action, to serving the people.
While the excuse of being so busy governing that we spared little time for the people is valid, it must not become a reason.
We have explained ourselves to the people and now we must work hard to show our commitment.
The second challenge is to ensure that we reconnect wherever we have lost touch.
Your Government has achieved such an unprecedented level of delivery, but the people of Trinidad & Tobago are being bombarded by untruths and outright misrepresentations from some who are opposed to us.
We must be ready, willing and fully capable to fight against misinformation and ensure that the people have a reliable source of the correct information.
Renewing our faith with the people must be seen as a sacred task that every single one of us must pursue and achieve. There is no middle ground, and there is no ‘almost’.
The third challenge is to remain focused. Those opposed to us will come at us with everything.
The stronger we are, the more they will fight us and we must ground ourselves with steadfast resilience and remain committed to achieving for our country.
Whatever they throw at you, remain focused. Respond only to ensure that they are corrected, but do not descend into the pits of political dirt with them.
Our responsibility is bigger than theirs so our focus must be stronger than theirs.
We are a party that has stood the many tests of a long period of time. Those tests and challenges have made us stronger, wiser and even more committed to the people of Trinidad & Tobago.
There is therefore no better time to reaffirm our commitment and re-dedicate ourselves to fighting the honourable fight, than at the 25-year anniversary mark.
Use this anniversary for introspection, not celebration. Use this anniversary for re-dedication, not squabbling.
And use this anniversary as a show of force – a force for protection, progress and people, not as the others who intimidate, dominate and discriminate.
We are the United National Congress! They cannot beat us on performance and delivery. They cannot beat us on commitment to our country. They cannot beat us in economic management.
And they certainly cannot beat us in running our country!
Long Live the United National Congress
Long Live the people of Trinidad and Tobago
God Bless you all, I Thank You.