Welcome to our party’s National Congress and thank you all for coming and being part of this moment of re-dedication to service to our country.
All our party institutions are in place… a national executive, constituency executives, a Women’s Arm and Youth Arm. The Disciplinary Committee of the Party will be finalized today.
Some of the matters being addressed on the way forward:
- Establishing our Elections Committee with the aim and objective of winning the upcoming Local Government Election
- Establishing an Events Committee to manage all the Party upcoming events
- Establishing a Communications Unit, this unit would be responsible for the coverage of our Party events
- Establishing a Committee to look at establishing a Party’s Headquarters
- Restarting our visits to constituencies in April to listen and then lead
- Restarting our Monday Night Forum in April
Thank you all for coming here today.
You are our eyes, ears and voices as you all are across Trinidad and Tobago.
Through you, your advocacy, your work on the ground and your presence in communities, we must identify the issues that affect the people of Trinidad and Tobago people.
You must demand that your representatives find solutions for your problems.
The Rowley government is not listening because they have never been a party to listen to the people.
The UNC is built on participatory democracy, unity and action, so as we listen, we hear and we act.
We are blessed with a glorious climate, a talented and well-educated population, people from every ethnicity and religion living in harmony.
Trinidad and Tobago is a model to the rest of the world.
Look around this room and you will see in this one location the faces, races and religions that make up our world.
This is the real Trinidad and Tobago … and each of us has a sacred responsibility to keep it so.
Let us show that we can live in harmony in spite of our diversity.
Let us express our pride in our plurality and work hard every day to build bridges of understanding while we demolish the walls that separate us.
Ours is too small a country to quarrel with one another.
SO let’s continue debate and discuss but always keep harmony in diversity as the model for our party and strive to build on it every day.
If that is how we see our country, then that is how we must see our party.
A political party is strong only when its membership reflects the entire society.
For me, the most important role of our party is to attract men and women whose deepest interest is in making a difference to enhance the lives of others while seeking no reward or favours.
That has always been my mission and that is the mission to which I call each and every one of you today.
I want you to join me as we continue the crusade for a better Trinidad and Tobago that Basdeo Panday and a few patriots embarked upon more than twenty-seven years ago.
Our United National Congress is the only political party in our country that was born from among the people and today as we approach the 27th anniversary of our formal launch, I am proud to say we have built on our initial strength as we remain a party of the people, for the people and by the people.
We did not huddle in a room and create a party and assign ourselves leadership roles to govern over you.
We first met as a Caucus of LOVE, UNITY and BROTHERHOOD in 1988 (CLUB 88) … our leaders committed to work with the people.
And after more than one hundred meetings of small groups they met in Aranguez on a rainy weekend in October 1988 where 40,000 people gave Mr. Panday and his colleagues the mandate to form a political party.
Our founding leader hailed it as a momentous development and invited everyone to join the movement not because of the colour of their skins but because of the content of their minds … service, unity, freedom and justice were some of the watchwords of our party … and they remain today the cornerstone of our organization.
And I say to you today that we are ready to embrace anyone in this country who shares that vision.
Six years after our party was inaugurated we were in government … the best government in our history up to that time, until a rebellion by over ambitious members of our own party led to a constitutional coup d’etat that put back the PNM in office until a new team under my leadership removed the PNM from office.
In 2010 I led a coalition to form a new government.
We remained loyal to our partners although we had a clear majority to govern on our own.
We did a wonderful job of governing on behalf of the people, of ensuring that all our actions were people oriented, that we had a strong social conscience.
And we are here today to renew our pledge to the people that we will always put people first; all of us must commit to that mission.
We must not allow a corrupt and merciless group of people to bankrupt our country, and bankrupt families.
Each person here and EVERY member has a function to uphold the principles of the UNC, and act according to the progressive, participatory and action-oriented traditions we have built.
What Trinidad and Tobago needs today is more of the UNC.
With the founding generation of our party, working hand in hand with the new generation of young men and women, we have a duty to stand together with the people and for the people.
Many of you in this audience were not born when the founders created the UNC. But we have faith in you and with your help we will continue to build a party for your generation and the ones to come.
While we hold on to our fundamental principles we will continue to adjust to meet the changing times.
And we will continue to listen and learn as we embrace ALL.
But we must be wary of the Rowley government and its dirty tricks.
This week’s IMF Report confirmed that the fundamentals of our economy are strong and that the propaganda of the Rowley government about the last government bankrupting the economy is nothing but a vicious lie.
The PP Government that I had the privilege of leading left this country with a strong economy and that is why it is only the reduced revenue from oil and gas that will cause a challenge.
The IMF found that there are no systemic faults or deficiencies as the Rowley government would have us believe.
The real problem is that the government does not have the ability to manage the coming economic storm.
They are bankrupt of ideas … and that would lead to serious problems in the months ahead.
The only good news in the IMF report is that the Rowley government inherited a strong economy from the PP administration.
It is time for the Rowley government to stop misleading the population.
Since taking office, the Rowley Government has consistently carried a message of doom and gloom over the local economy, making petty politics out of economics in attempts to condemn the former Administration.
Despite repeated calls from business and citizen groups, the Rowley Administration, has failed to articulate a clear economic plan and chooses instead to blame the last Government for challenges.
The harsh reality is that the IMF report is projecting a decline in our GDP by as much as six per cent and it has cautioned that “the imbalances that are now starting to build up could lead the country to uncomfortable levels of debt”.
The IMF formula is to widen the VAT tax base, cut fuel subsidies and streamline the civil services. It wants to phase out some social support programmes and review GATE…
The IMF is knocking on our door my sisters and brothers and the way the Rowley government is running things it is only a matter of time before we have to live under the yoke of the IMF.
We have experienced their bitter medicine before and we must never open our doors to let them in again.
And the only way to guarantee that is to unite to work to legally put the Rowley government out of government so we can introduce the right policies and govern in the best interests of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
We have done it before and together we will do it again!
A query has arisen as to the status of employees at constituency offices.
Two persons were hired at my constituency office, one upwards of twenty years ago and the other upwards of fourteen years ago.
They were properly employed and did not fall into the categories of persons restricted from employment by the parliamentary guidelines for decades.
It was recently brought to my attention that the parliamentary guidelines were changed to expand the categories of persons restricted from employment to now include relatives in addition to the previous restriction on family members.
These two persons may now fall within the expanded guidelines with respect to relatives.
My MPs office has followed the guidelines for over twenty years.
I want to make it clear that this situation is very different from that with respect to MP McDonald in that unlike that case, when these persons were hired and continued in employment for decades the guidelines did not place them in any of the existing categories of persons restricted from employment.
After the matter was brought to my attention, I have sought clarification and advice from the Clerk of the House on the said changes in the guidelines: I await responses from the Clerk and will take whatever steps may be necessary with respect to same.
I call upon you not to be distracted by this latest attempt from our detractors.
That is the typical modus operandi of our detractors.
And do not forget there is a father-in-law and daughter-in law of the Rowley government in the Parliament today.
We have a job to do and together we shall do it.
In 2010 you gave us a job to do.
We accepted the responsibility and brought back our country from the brink of disaster.
You know what we faced but we did not complain.
We rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
And look at what we accomplished in five years:
- Early childhood centres
- 5 per cent unemployment, jobs for all
- A buoyant economy with the lowest inflation ever
- Falling crime rates
- A social safety net that took care of those in greatest need
- An agriculture policy to feed us
- Expanding foreign direct investment four fold to more than two billion US dollars.
- Infrastructure projects across the country to correct decades of rural neglect
- Water for all
- Social services and grants for those in greatest need
- Increased pensions; services for seniors
All this success has evaporated in just six months. The Rowley government is in crisis mode; they don’t know what to do.
We left the economy in good shape. The IMF confirmed it. But look at where we have come in six months.
We are meeting today as our country is facing unprecedented hardship created by this new administration that believes it can present misinformation and distort reality and no one would notice.
The Rowley government has taken us in six months into a dark tunnel of despair and doom and gloom.
We must never let them continue on this destructive path that will push us into the abyss and make us a failed state.
We rescued Trinidad and Tobago in 2010 and with your help we are going to do so again.
In six months we have shifted from a progressive, happy state where people were talking about investing, educating their children, building homes, getting married, and embarking on a wonderful life.
In fact T&T has fallen in the World Happiness Index.
Today we are facing the worst hardship we have seen in decades…it’s an enormous lack of confidence caused by incompetence, arrogance and ignorance of their role as representatives of the people.
Everywhere you turn you find hopelessness and helplessness.
Families are in despair.
Everyday people are losing jobs; food prices keep going up and wages and salaries are going the other way.
Desperation has reached a new high; it was so sad to learn about one couple who chose suicide to escape from the mounting debts they faced; in our schools children are attacking teachers; young boys and girls are having sex in classrooms; gangs have infiltrated our schools.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR SOCIETY?
Criminals seem to have become bolder than ever. In less than three months in 2016 there have been more than 100 homicides … the highest ever in our country and the government has no plan for the protection of our citizens.
Their answer is to amend existing laws to create a Gestapo-like security force concealed within the national security services.
Everywhere you turn in this country we see an image of stagnation and decadence, the flip side of the progress you were seeing under the PP government.
Almost every project we started is on hold – no highway to Point Fortin, no Children’s Hospital, no bridge right here in Couva, no Debe campus, no sporting facilities, no aqua Centre…In short, my friends, nothing is happening; we are in deep trouble.
While you struggle to live off the crumbs they are having caviar and wine; one man is earning $100,000 a month as a super director of a dozen companies while Rowley is taking away milk from babies and letting sick children die because of lack of funds to pay for life saving medical treatment.
But they can find money for their vanity projects buying paintings, one billion dollars for a beach in Tobago, millions for tarouba stadium
This is indeed the worst we have seen and it’s going to get worse.
And contrary what they have been telling you, we didn’t cause it.
We left the economy in good shape.
But my friends there is an end to the longest rope.
I tell you never lose HOPE. You stood by us before and we changed things for the better.
We will do it again with your help.
We will stand by you.
And we ask you to stand with us.
Keep talking with us, keep encouraging your families and your neighbours to believe again.
Better will come, perhaps sooner than you expect.
But only if you keep HOPE alive and work with us as one united family.
We have always put God in front and walked behind.
God works in mysterious ways.
We will win our electoral petitions and we will be back in government either through by-elections or a general election.
WE WORK WITH THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE.
NOMINATIONS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS OPEN
THAT IS WHY TODAY I AM ANNOUNCING THE START OUR CAMPAIGN TO WIN THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTION THAT IS DUE THIS YEAR. (AND IF ROWLEY WANTS A GENERAL ELECTION WE WILL BE PREPARED FOR THAT TOO).
So today I am asking you to put your name for consideration for the mammoth task of serving our nation at the local government level.
That’s the best place to begin a life of public service because it’s the place where you have the greatest contact with people and the issues that concern them.
It’s where I began my political career. Never feel that local government is less important that national politics. It is at the local level that you best understand people and how they live their lives. It is the ideal incubator for national politics.
SO COME forward and be counted among the UNC patriots dedicated to saving our country from the grips of the Rowley PNM.
But I have a word of caution.
Anyone who puts self-interest above the people; anyone who becomes arrogant and stops listening, has no future in politics under my leadership.
And in asking you to join us for the local government I am serving notice today that this is about the people, not about you.
You must always remain a servant of the people; that is your only purpose in public service.
Our nomination forms for Local Government Election will be available at our headquarters from Tuesday.
The form outlines all the rules that you need to follow.
We know there are hundreds of you who would want to get involved and we welcome all of you.
YOU HAVE TO GET IN BATTLE MODE AND REMAIN SO UNTIL WE GET THE JOB DONE.
Every single one of you has something to offer our party and our country; your party cares about you and your future. So today, I ask you to rededicate yourself to our mission and the vision of our great party for a new, more prosperous Trinidad and Tobago; a country where each of us will be equal.
Let us pledge to build a just society in which there will be no second class and third class citizens.
Today we take our first step as we begin a new journey that will take us back to government.
Our fundamental mission must be to turn the national will – your dreams and aspirations – into great accomplishments. But in order to do this we must remain focused on our goals.
We need a fresh approach to politics that is not necessarily new. It is one in which we focus on the people, because the people are truly the government.
It must be about a national purpose and national achievement so when we win the people win.
We must renew people’s faith in politics and politicians. There must be no room for partisanship based on divide and rule. It must never again be about “we time and their time”; from here on it’s about OUR TIME.
Today the very people who fell for the propaganda are the ones caught in the debt trap, in the unemployment, in the destitution, in the rush to survive.
Sadly, six months ago they were comfortable because the government I led put people first.
And if we had been returned to government this feeling of despair and hopelessness would not be spreading across our land like a wildfire.
We are rapidly going downhill and the victims are many of the very people who chose party over country.
Dr. Rowley promised to be a prime minister for all the night he was declared prime minister designate.
But the next morning he forget that pledge and for the past six months he has been prime minister for a selected few.
If he really believed in equality, he would have never let this happen. And this is why we must stop him now.
The chronic poverty that he is ignoring and expanding is becoming the nesting ground for social discord and crime.
There is no concern for addressing these problems and we are at risk of a national social upheaval the likes of which we have never witnessed.
We must stop it now because it is cheaper to prevent such a fire than to put it out when it becomes the inferno it’s shaping up to be.
The role of public service must be to make a difference in the lives of people. That’s what we aspired to do in our five years in office.
We aimed to strengthen our social foundations so no one would be left behind.
We must continue that journey and measure our progress not by which corporations support us but by the standard of care we set for the least fortunate among us.
That means early childhood development and continuous learning for only through education can we achieve success.
We have to care for our senior citizens who brought us to where we are.
It means better health care and shorter waiting times for everyone.
It’s easy to talk about these things, but much more difficult to achieve them.
But if we have a clear vision we will do it.
And people will feel it and see it when the quality of their lives improves.
We saw the evidence in the five years that we were in office and we are seeing the reversal of it today in just six months of the Rowley government.
Let me tell you something that I have learned in three decades of service.
We govern only with the consent of the people.
That’s what democracy is about.
That is why we must continually connect with the people because they determine our future as politicians.
When we understand their needs; when we become familiar with their aspirations we begin learning about governing for the people.
THAT IS WHY WE WILL RESTART OUR VISITS TO EACH CONSTITUENCY… THAT IS WHY WE WILL RESTART OUR MONDAY NIGHT FORUM SHORTLY
Today as I close I express my sincerest thanks to UNC friends and family everywhere for the support you have given me over the years … and that extends to all of those outside of our party who also believed in the dream of service to the people and our communities.
I want to say thanks as well to those with whom I have worked closely and those from whom I learned, especially the founding leader of our party, Mr. Basdeo Panday.
Without him we would not be meeting here today, discussing the future of our great party and our country.
The true challenge of leadership is to rally everyone to a common cause.
As your party leader and a former prime minister I am dedicated to rallying our nation to come together to build a society on the foundations of equality, not privilege; one based on caring and compassion, not influence and arrogance.
We are a great nation waiting to awake. We can fulfill every dream and I extend my hand to you in this hall and everywhere where my message is heard. Come and join me to fulfill our destiny.
Let us put aside our differences and celebrate our cultural and social relativity; let us find all that we share in common and unite in a common purpose of building our great nation.
Trinidad and Tobago is our only home; we belong to it and it belongs to us.
So let us stand firm and defend our country; fight to ensure that our rights and freedoms are always protected and ensure that we always pay attention to the softest voices among us. Every thought, every idea is worth something.
In 2010 we made history together; Let us join together and do it again.
Each person here and in the membership has a function to uphold the principles of the UNC, and act according to the progressive, participatory and action-oriented traditions we have built.
Times are challenging, and for as long as the Rowley government is there times will become harder.
But it is when we face the most severe adversities that our resilience is fortified.
Today, Trinidad and Tobago needs the UNC more than ever, and depends on us to call the government into line.
With the founding generation of our party, working hand in hand with the new generation of young men and women, we have a duty to stand together with the people and for the people.
We stand with the people of Trinidad and Tobago and with the right work, our re-dedication and a re-commitment that starts again today, the UNC will win again!
I thank you!
As always, let us put God in front and walk behind.
God bless you. God bless the UNC; God bless our nation.
The Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP,
Political Leader of the United National Congress (UNC) &
Leader of the Opposition of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago at
The Party’s National Congress, Couva, March 19, 2016