Today marks the 46th anniversary of the founding of our Republic, and I bring greetings to every citizen, wherever you are, on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, my family, and myself, as Prime Minister of this our blessed nation.
Yes, we are, indeed, a fortunate people, to be the owners and beneficiaries of these islands. Let us acknowledge this truth about a country which is populated by exceptional people. This all becomes more evident, when one scans the globe, and notes particularly its recent assessment by the U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who said that nations are “gridlocked in colossal global dysfunction” and overall “our world is in peril – and paralysed.”
However, within that global ball of chaos and confusion, there are two islands at the southern end of the Caribbean archipelago, facing, of course, its own socio-economic political challenges — yet its people, in their various ways, thank the Almighty, hold to their unique spirit and idyllically celebrate the joys of just being alive, and live on with “boundless faith in our destiny”.
If as a people, we do a balanced introspection, we will recall that at our political independence in 1962 our Founding Father, Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams challenged us with building a nation-state, which meant the daunting challenge of constructing, out of fragile, tenuous and agitating ethnic groups, a cohesive, disciplined society, intellectually, and now technologically, sophisticated enough, to face the fast-paced modern world, and at the same time founding a political entity acceptable, stable and respected within the international community.
That is the modern Trinidad and Tobago in which we live. Claim your heritage. Last month we celebrated our diamond jubilee. We feel the pride!
On this day as we celebrate its birth, we can point to its many social ills, the current crime wave, the short-comings in our infrastructure, the buckling and impeded education system, our institutions, our faltering work ethic, disregard, in some places, of the environment, etc. – but on the other side of the national balance sheet, we must give ourselves positive grades as being a people, with a confident pride in ourselves. We, the nationals of this country, confidently believe that we are as good as the world’s best – and in many spheres, we have proven that we are.
Let us look at ourselves further. We can see that confidence whenever we interact with the developed world. In short, there is a pervading Trinbagonian spirit, something which is still giving birth to what will be a distinctive national character, which is showing traits of flowering into world-class successes and achievements.
Also, we have been constructing a Republic, probably not strictly according to Dr Williams’ designs plans, but within the traditions of Western democracy. We each can cite incidents of our people’s tolerance for each other’s differences, rather than holding to rigidity and inflexibility. We can talk about instances of general acceptance, rather than rejection and alienation of another group. We can move our discussion to the general acknowledgement of an individual’s rights, and now on to the promotion of individual responsibilities.
Modernised societies, it is said, are also characterised by downsides where citizens feel stressed, chronically-bored with experiences of insecurity, anxiety, burn-out and depression. It is here that I want to appeal to parents and children, the newly-founded Ministry of Youth Development and National Service, along with various other State agencies, to promote a host of vocational training programmes, some with stipends – all providing opportunities for the advancement of youths and the improvement of their quality of life.
My advice to parents, help our boys and girls — from very early – to search for their calling in life; look out for those areas, the signs, subjects, specific activities, which may catch their attention. Let them know that their individual life’s calling is all within them; help them discover their purposeful energy, and follow its potential to a better life. Help your children to search for a purposeful life, rather than be adrift, without meaning – then turning to crime, violence and ultimately early death.
Citizens, I will not say much on our economy, because the Honourable Minister of Finance is due to deliver his Budget 2023 on Monday. However, I do wish to remind that on my return from my recent visit to Europe in which I met the major energy players in our country, I emphasised some truths about our continued dependence on our oil, gas and the energy sector, with the hope that citizens, when they demand wage and salary increases, will understand clearly that this country is only a small vulnerable unit, in a large, volatile international market.
Finally, I wish to remind citizens of the now pervasive dangers of misinformation and disinformation, and the forces, within our nation, who deliberately and calculatedly set about on social media to put their destructive spin on every bit of information in the public space — all to their hopeful advantage.
A democratic Republic caters for alternative points of view, but not those that deliberately distort and undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of its own political system. UNESCO, in a recent publication, warned of these dangers, charting misinformation and disinformation techniques from “Cleopatra to Cambridge Analytica” — that U.K. disinformation agency, which was established here in Trinidad and Tobago some 10 years ago, and is now considered as the originator of the world-wide “crisis of misinformation.” I advise, be alert, be that good citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
Fellow Citizens, I appeal for your continued support for this great Republic and the observance of the national watch words, “Discipline, Production and Tolerance” which Dr Williams gave to this nation. Each word continues to have equal and tremendous significance in our daily lives, as we live on in the 21st century.
Happy Republic Day!
May God continue to Bless Trinidad and Tobago.