ON THE OCCASION OF THE 37TH REPUBLICAN ANNIVERSARY
Thirty-seven years ago we chose a path to development with a new constitution that allowed us to elect our own head of state and govern ourselves according to a new set of rules that gave us greater confidence as a young state but still connected us to our former colonial leaders through the Commonwealth.
Today, 37 years later, the world has changed dramatically and globalisation has created the need for countries across our planet to change the way they conduct themselves.
In this new world, we too have accepted that it cannot be business as usual. And that is why you have seen that we have adopted a new participatory approach to conducting the affairs of state since 2010 in which everyone is involved. That is the rationale for our People’s Partnership.
When we asked for your support in the General Election of 2010 we promised constitutional reform as part of the seven pillars of development that became government policy once we assumed office.
I am pleased that we have started that change process, acknowledging that meaningful change comes only when we are prepared to dispense with old memories and some past traditions and embrace the present.
We have ventured in radical change in our constitutional arrangements by passing legislation to elect Aldermen to regional corporations through a system of proportional representation that is accepted globally as a fairer and more democratic system in which every vote counts.
And in the coming months we will unveil more changes, keeping our pledge for term limits for prime ministers and recall of members of your legislature. You would also have an opportunity to peruse a new draft constitution and engage in a national conversation on whether it is right for us.
All of this is a part of the consultative process that we embarked on when you elected us based on our pledge to stay connected with you, to listen to your views and your ideas. We have not deviated from that although we acknowledge that at times, due to pressures of governance, you might have felt a disconnect.
That too is changing through our National Conversation, which is designed to be an open two-way communication forum in which you can reach your government using a variety of channels, with the knowledge that you government is paying attention and working to address your concerns. That is democracy at work.
We have embarked on a people-centred path of transformation and development. For us, this means children getting access to the best education and healthcare; parents having homes and jobs; people living without fear; infrastructure that connects and gives meaning to every community, and a buoyant economy.
Our Balance of Payments current account continues to be buoyant, with consistent surpluses, and foreign direct investment has increased from US$1.8 Billion to US$2.5 billion in 2012.
Gross official reserves are estimated this year at US$9.4 billion, or 12 months of import cover and the Heritage and Stabilization Fund now amounts to US$5.0 billion, having consistently performed well.
After going through a period of economic stress caused by the global situation and problems within the domestic energy sector our economy has rebounded and on the move again. It’s because of sound fiscal management and planning from a government that is committed to people development.
A report just produced by the United Nations has concluded that we are the happiest country in our region measured by such variables as “real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption and generosity.”
It is indeed an endorsement to celebrate!
For us, development means paying attention to the needs of everyone in every part of our country and addressing those needs as quickly and efficiently as we can. We invest in people and institutions that bring benefit to all our people.
When I see our children having the world at their fingertips with computers in their book bags, I know our future is secure. We continue to respect those who built our country. We do it by providing free transportation, higher pensions and retirement incomes in their golden years.
We have been rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, providing vital transportation links and utility services.
We are working with all the law enforcement agencies of the state to rid our country of the scourge of crime and protect our youth, by dealing with the gangs and drugs that pollute our neighbourhoods and pose a threat to the welfare of all of us. We welcome your feedback on how we are doing and your ideas on how we can increase the effectiveness of what we are doing.
My fellow citizens, I assure you that we are heeding your call for the new style of politics in which we are engaged. It is one that is based on inclusivity, discussion and consensus. My Government is firmly committed to creating a political system that recognises that we are all equal members of a just society in which none of us would ever face any manner of discrimination.
In this national conversation we must work as one family. We must discuss our differences openly and respectfully, always keeping in mind that we are seeking the best for all the citizens of our blessed homeland, not partisan interests.
I pledge to continue to lead our nation towards this new political reality. It is an era marked by accountability equality and delivery to you, now and always. Our politics must be distinguished by its unity – divisiveness must never again be allowed to create walls within our communities.
We are a small country but there is room enough for all of us. That is why we must cherish the gift of liberty and freedom that all our leaders have fought so hard to preserve; we must cherish our natural resources, teach our children about our history and stand up against anyone who attempts to exploit our country and you, our people, for personal gain.
Anything is possible when we demonstrate discipline and a commitment to service. Let us do it together as equals, knowing that while we will not agree on everything, we can overcome all the obstacles when we focus on the ultimate goal of service to our country, with respect for one another.
And so today, as we celebrate the 37th Anniversary of our Republic, I ask you to walk and work with me, as we continue to build a nation where each of us has the same opportunities.
The time for the politics of self-interest is over and I promise you that while I remain your leader, I would always put your interest above everything else. And those who serve this nation in my government must follow that rule.
You must demand of all who seek to represent you that they put aside personal interest and serve you and your community faithfully. You must demand of every leader a commitment to nation. I reiterate my pledge to honour that commitment to you now and always.
I wish you a very safe and peaceful Republic Day.
May God continue to bless each of you and may God bless our great Nation, Trinidad and Tobago.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2013