Good evening my friends and members of our UNC family.
We are gathered here today to mark an important milestone in our party’s history and to signal the start of another phase in our journey together.
It is a journey that would make us stronger, more united and ready to take back government.
For the second time in our party’s history you have overwhelmingly elected me as leader. I thank you for the confidence you have placed in me and I promise I would never let you down. I am your servant and I accept this task with the greatest humility.
This has been a great victory for democracy in our party because it allowed two strong members of the UNC and their respective teams to challenge the leader in an open election.
And by your votes you have determined the direction you want our party to take.
Our founding leaders set a new standard in this country of giving each member a vote to choose its leadership.
That confidence in our members has helped to secure the equality, justice, freedom and democracy upon which our party was built.
Today we remain one big political family.
We have made our differences known; we campaigned among you and you have made your decision.
Now our work continues and we must focus all our energies on remaining united so we can defeat the only political opponent we have – the People’s National Movement (PNM).
We have battled the PNM before and won. And we will do it again.
We brought good governance and prosperity to our country for two terms – first under our founding leader, Mr. Basdeo Panday and more recently under my guidance.
Those were our best years, thanks to our philosophy of putting people first.
Some commentators have ignored the significance of the result of our election and are hastily writing our party’s epitaph. It’s even coming from some of our own. Their prejudice is stronger than their logic.
I have a message for all of them – the UNC has never been stronger. We are strong; we are united; and we are ready for the task ahead.
More than 17-thousand UNC members elected me to take our party forward … you also voted overwhelmingly for all members of our TEAM UNC stars. That does not signal weakness. It says the UNC is alive and well. And the best is yet to come.
So to those who want to see us die let me make it clear that you will be deeply disappointed.
We are strong and healthy and we will continue to grow because we have the people with us. And when the people are with you, there is no force on earth that’s more powerful.
Nothing can stop a people movement that is motivated to achieve its goal.
And so, once more I invite all to come home to the UNC and bring the rest of the family. There is room for everyone in the UNC home.
Our party offers political shelter for all, regardless of ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status or geographical location. This is one country and it belongs to all of us.
And let me make it very clear, my friends that while we consider the PNM hierarchy our political opponent those who support the PNM and other parties are not our enemies; they are our neighbours who just made the wrong choice.
It’s time to offer them shelter through the warmth of the Rising Sun.
Let us show them that we are the best choice for the country and in our home everyone is equal.
Together we will restore good government and create a just society where we respect all, provide equal opportunities and let each person realise his or her full potential.
That is the new Trinidad and Tobago we must build.
But first we must believe.
So let us make the commitment to party and country … and let us do it together.
I offer a warm embrace to all. Let us strengthen our party and move forward. Now is the time to rid this country of the new PNM blight that has taken hold of it.
As we prepare for that I am throwing out a challenge to our party. The UNC has a membership of more than 95-thousand. I am asking you to double that by 2020.
More than 340-thousand citizens voted for us in September so there is goodwill outside our party. Let us embrace those who support us and bring them into the house of the rising sun.
We can climb the highest mountain when we understand the challenge, and plan effectively. In order to reach the target in four years we have to add about 25,000 members a year, which is about 2,000 a month. When you divide that by 41 it means fewer than 50 new members a month per constituency.
That’s a small figure … fewer than two new members a day per constituency. So let’s go out and spread the word. I ask each MP and councilor to get to work immediately on this project and, where we don’t have an MP our constituency executive must take up the challenge. We have an army of volunteers and activists who are energized and waiting to work with you.
In addition to that I am assigning each member of our party one task – bring one new member between today and 2020. Your effort and the constituency effort would see our membership rise to 300-thousand by 2020. There would be no stronger political force in this country.
My sisters and brothers a top priority for our new NATEX is to continue the work on finalizing the review of our constitution to meet the political realities of the 21st century.
The world has changed dramatically since April 30, 1989 when our party was born. We have been in government for 11 of our 26 years. That’s a major achievement you must congratulate yourselves for that.
But if we are to return to government we must ensure that our party is capable of governing itself in the most professional manner with institutions that conform to the realities of our modern world. So a top priority is to make every party institution stronger and better prepared for the challenges ahead.
In 2010 I helped build a coalition that represented the widest cross section of national interest. It was an experiment in participatory democracy that worked well. Our members were committed to the same vision of a better Trinidad and Tobago but each retained its identity and independence.
We didn’t always agree and we didn’t always win. But when we stumbled we got up and walked again, knowing that our mission was to find the best solutions to our national problems. And that is why we remained strong and focused.
There is talk today about “partnership dead”. Doomsday thinking is an unfortunate part of our cultural thinking; we love gossip.
However, I want to assure you that our goal would always be to bring together everyone who shares our vision of a coalition of national interest.
You see we live in a plural society and no single party will ever have all the answers or represent the interest of all sectors. And not everyone would want to join our party although they may share many of our ideas.
By creating a strong political collective we bring together our diversity and the best ideas on how to create the new society that our country so desperately needs. We are the only ones who can do it.
This means a stronger UNC but one in which there is room for political parties and other interest groups to work with us to achieve common goals.
We did it in 2010 and we will continue seek out partners who will maintain their identities, independence and values without having to become a single party. The model is the way of the future. Other countries have adopted it as well. It has worked well before for us and we will make it work again.
We may not necessarily have all the same partners but we will always keep our focus on the target – to bring together groups that share our goals and interests. Think of it as a river in motion; the stream remains the same but it is forever changing.
My friends we are meeting today just days away from Christmas and for thousands of our citizens there won’t be a bright Christmas. Only this week I read in the newspapers that 2,000 forestry workers have not been paid for three months… and no one can tell them if and when they will get their money.
That saddens me because I know it didn’t have to be this way. No matter what the circumstances we never deprived people of their incomes because we know how difficult it is for a family when money is short.
For those workers and thousands of others, this will be a bleak Christmas because the Rowley PNM government has never put people before their politics.
My friends, let’s discard the propaganda and the blame game that is the pre-occupation of this NO PLAN ROWLEY administration.
Rowley is refusing to honour back pay commitments and is telling people they must consider it as savings. Well Dr. Rowley you are out of place to tell people what to do with their money and, if it is savings make sure you add interest when you pay the people.
As a government we never deprived people of their wages. We invested heavily in infrastructure, health care, education, social services, poverty eradication, strengthening national security and earning a respectable place in the international community.
And we honoured the billions of dollars in debt that we inherited from the PNM … including the $20 billion for the CLICO fiasco and billions more owed to contractors and for settling dozens of industrial agreements.
In just three months this government has started to unravel it all.
Just a few months ago we were a country on the move. Today we are seeing a reversal. Everything is at standstill.
People are getting fired every day; the state sector is freezing wages and refusing to pay people bonuses for their hard work.
Today instead of talking about a bright future people are now just worrying about survival, thinking about whether they would have jobs tomorrow, how they would feed their families and educate their children. They are anxious about the future and for good reason. They are also deeply concerned about their personal safety.
If it sounds familiar let me assure you it is VERY familiar. What we are witnessing today is a return to PNM modus operandi based on spite and partisanship. The PNM has no concern for citizens. Their mission is political expediency and public relations. Their modus operandi is based on victimization.
They have fired thousands and brought back PNM dinosaurs and PNM apologists. Cronyism is alive and well.
It’s not my business to tell Rowley and Al Rawi which birthday party to attend. But it is my business to expose their hypocrisy when they are celebrating with people they had always rejected when they were in opposition.
Every day they were cussing Jack Warner and Ish Galbaransingh. Now we find Rowley and Al Rawi and the whole PNM feting at “big people” party and the big people include the very two whom the PNM considered persona non grata. I say no more on that except to note the double standards.
And I have a very important question for Keith Rowley. I want to know why he ignored an important global conference on climate change in favour of a PNM fundraiser in London while travelling on state funds.
My friends, the ROWLEY government has no idea how to run a parlour, much less to run a country.
Every day we see greater signs of its incompetence and lack of direction. They believe they could change reality by pretending it doesn’t exist.
That’s why they are denial about the recession and unable to deal with the falling price of oil and gas. (It was a UNC government that ran a highly productive government with oil prices at $9 US a barrel).
From the moment they took office they have been stumbling and falling over one another, the left hand not being aware of what the right hand is doing.
They have declared war on citizens to disguise their incompetence and inability to govern.
In just three months they have undermined the economic stability of our country and now the Finance Minister is saying there is no money. That’s a farce; they just don’t know how to manage money. They are penalising workers and everyone else hoping to shift the blame to the PP government to hide their incompetence.
They came to office fully aware of the impact of falling energy prices on the nation’s revenue. But they had no plan and so they failed to properly assess our financial situation, find the alternatives and make appropriate arrangements to meet obligations.
The failure to meet this obligation would never have happened under the administration I led, because we took responsibility, we planned and worked by a clear economic plan. When oil prices fell we adjusted our fiscal policies and never burdened citizens.
The Government I led would never have allowed the nation to pay for a Minister’s failure, as the Rowley PNM is now doing.
When we came to office in 2010, we were faced with billions of dollars in budget overruns, debts, missed payments and unsettled wage negotiations, and rather than complaining about it and making excuses, we moved to meet all obligations, and made it our priority to ensure salaries and back pay were fully covered.
We understood that the people must always be a Government’s priority. Unfortunately the PNM sees it through a different set of lens. PNM and its supporters take priority and nobody else matters.
While I was in office I put politics aside and treated everyone the same because I was the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Keith Rowley promised the same but all his actions since September 07 have contradicted that pledge.
One of the most glaring has been the Christmas treat his party held for children. When I distributed toys and gifts for Christmas it was for all the children. Keith Rowley made sure he treated only children of PNM supporters by holding his children’s Christmas party in the privacy of Balisier House.
The PNM has never changed. Do you recall how they victimized Chief Justice, Sat Sharma? They humiliated him and hounded him out of office because he refused to dance according to PNM music.
Today they are doing the same with the Governor of the Central Bank. And what is Jwala Rambarran’s sin? He followed their instruction and disclosed who were the beneficiaries of the lion’s share of our foreign exchange.
Instead of the Rowley GOVERNMENT responding by taking note of the massive outflows of foreign exchange to feed our consumerism they are attacking the messenger.
My friends this government is the worst we have ever had and they have shown their impotence in just three months. We cannot live under this yoke for five years.
Their priorities are all wrong. They have $90 million for the Brian Lara Stadium but not one penny to pay workers. They are refusing to open the children’s hospital. They have cancelled free health care for patients with chronic diseases but are borrowing billions to pay for a Rapid Rail system that nobody wants.
They found three million dollars to buy some Cazabon paintings. We still don’t know the real story. One minister says Rowley bought 10 paintings; the government says it’s 12. And they can’t even agree on whether they paid one, two or three million dollars.
Three million dollars would have gone a long way in feeding hungry families or bringing joy to children during this time of the year. But they don’t care.
And they have chosen this season to penalize workers and children.
The idea of Christmas is to show love for one another. It is a time of peace and goodwill, but you are not getting that from this government. They care only about themselves and their close friends; you never mattered and you won’t matter.
That is why we must be an alternative government. We will not shirk our responsibility to you. We will hold them accountable for every action. I am offering you HOPE that better will come. We will make sure of that.
We look forward to a better day and a bright future when the sun will rise again and bring a new dawn. That is the common cause to which I call you and all our MPs and councillors. Let us unite the people and get ready to march forward as one political army.
My message to our elected officials is to remain optimistic, enthusiastic and at all times brimming with energy to serve the people. Let us serve the families who depend on us and we must never ask for anything in return. Service must be our commitment and sacred duty.
We must ensure that when we create expectations we do it with an understanding of reality. We cannot talk about the future if we ignore the present. And we cannot reap the rewards of the future if we remain anchored in the past.
We must never become complacent. Complacency leads to laziness and shortcuts. We can’t afford that in today’s political environment.
The PNM will throw slogans at you as they did in the past but we must never mistake slogans for solutions. They have no plan and they don’t know how to govern.
There is much work to do and the work we started in 2010 must continue. There is no time to lose.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of our UNC family today a new national executive begins its work and every one of us has a responsibility to act without fear or favour on behalf of our membership and the wider society, not just those who voted for us.
As a party we have a deep responsibility to our membership to do what is right, to set high moral standards and to never forget that the people hold all the power.
If we act responsibly, serve the people selflessly and work everyday to create a just society based on equality and freedom, we will rise again to take charge of the destiny of our country on behalf of the people.
I have always said success depends on having a vision, hard work and commitment. We succeed by the manner in which we conduct our institutions and ourselves.
My style has been premised on service and by acknowledging the almighty in all that we do. I have always put God in front and walked behind … and I urge all of us to do the same.
As I close, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a blessed and prosperous 2016 and beyond.
I know it’s going to be tough for many families. But let us be comforted by the words of the poet HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”
My friends, Look forward to tomorrow. Embrace the dawn. The best is yet to come.
Thank you! God bless you.