President's Republic Day address

Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 08:30

The following is President Anthony Carmona's Republic Day address:

Fellow Citizens,

Last year, when I addressed the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on this very day, I spoke to the soul of this Nation. This year is no different and I will continue in my resolve to appeal to the ascendency of the human spirit, amidst our personal and national frailties. Tonight, I beam with pride, as this is a milestone year, 40 years as the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. This special Anniversary carries with it a potent and powerful philosophy of Self-worth, self – reliance and self–sufficiency as a Republic. It behoves us all to continue to push for a society with genuine transformational values, morals and standards of decency. On our fortieth Anniversary, I speak of independence that walks hand in hand with individual and collective responsibility, Republicanism that respects and encourages love for country.

When our Nation achieved its independence in 1962, power was transferred from the British Crown to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, as then Governor, Sir Solomon Hochoy and Premier, Dr. Eric Williams became our first Governor-General and Prime Minister, respectively. As an Independent Nation, we then had, inter alia, our own national emblems and symbols, an Independence Constitution and a Defence Force. Nonetheless, the British reigned, as Her Majesty the Queen remained the ceremonial Head of State and by extension, Queen of Trinidad and Tobago. We still owed allegiance to her. Additionally, the Privy Council remained our highest appellate court. Regrettably, 54 years on and the Privy Council is still Trinidad and Tobago’s highest Court of Appeal, and we continue to deny ourselves that hallmark of full judicial independence, to which, as a Nation, we are entitled. 

Fourteen years later, on 1 August 1976 Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic, and we no longer owed allegiance to the Queen but now possessed the right to choose our own Head of State, an elected President sworn to uphold a new and indigenously drafted Republican Constitution. Republicanism allowed Trinidad and Tobago to forge and  gain absolute control of our own destiny as a sovereign Nation among the Commonwealth of Nations. This is a remarkable achievement that ought always to be celebrated, respected and regarded among the many accolades and accomplishments of our twin-island Republic. 

As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and having been involved in the criminal justice system for some 34 years at all levels, as a Senior Counsel, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, a CriminalHigh Court Judge, a United Nations Prosecutor, and   an International Criminal Court Judge, the social plague that is crime continues to be of paramount concern and importance, as much to me as your President as it is for each of you- sitting at home every evening, watching the news and feeling disheartened and deflated at the spiraling rate of crime in our beloved Republic. I will continue to fight the good fight andmeet the challenges that accompany my attempts not only to confront and assist the ‘man-child’ in crisis but to proffer solutions that can work - yes, as I have always done, within the boundaries of my constitutional remit as President and yes, as a citizen of this beautiful country. Just like each of you, I too want this Republic to heal, flourish and be progressive. I am not in the business of an implementation deficit on social issues. I am in the business of genuine humanity and I have always expressed and actualized that genuine concern in my criminal law career and will continue to do so as President. Everyone is special and has a rightful place in this Republic, regardless of their neighborhood, their station in life, the community you live in and whether you come from north, south, east or west. Yes, Trinidad and Tobago, ALL LIVES MATTER.

There must be more informed dialogue on crime for real timesolutions to emerge. As a father, brother, son and friend, I will not be indifferent or passive when young children are murdered, when little girls are abused and violated, when little boys lacking support and self-worth, join gangs to feel a sense of ‘belonging’, when matriarchs are assaulted. I did not attain my social conscience on assuming office as many have. I cannot and will not stand back and simply look on. That is why I started the innovative Bail Boys Project as a Criminal Judge, a unique judicial intervention that has saved lives and protect potential victims. . Too many innocent people are suffering at the hands of a few. As adults, it is our duty and responsibility to safeguard our children and their well-being and give them the best chance possible to fully realise their potential as contributing citizens and pillars of this Republic, and the world, by extension. I believe in youth empowerment and on this day we must re-energize ourselves to ensure that crime does not hamper the vision for an empowered youth.

What also must not continue is the denigration and incessant disrespect we harbor for and against each other. The public is fed up, yes fed up, not with me, but persons of suspect credentials and a dubious past, who hold themselves out as persons of integrity, fairness and knowledge. We must remember, Trinidad and Tobago, that the public is not a select group of nay-sayers. The Trinidad and Tobago public is far more deciphering and knowledgeable. 

But moral authority is diminishing in this society of ours. On this Republic Day, I ask you citizens to remember some of the great journalists and television personalities of the past. To name a few, George John, John Babb, Therese Mills, Hazel Ward, Holly Betaudier and Owen Baptiste. They continue to be my standard and I feel they must become our standard. Their stewardship was marked by civility, probity, comity, simple good manners and decency. There is simply too much journalistic overreach going on today. There are some journalists and I repeat some, who denigrate without evidential basis,engaged in armchair journalism who hear something by the wayand it becomes reliable news. There are persons in reality media,who are bad examples for our children and the youth of this Nation. Decent, law-abiding citizens must take a stance because it appears, that offensive is in and decency is out. Theirs has become the language of obscenity and racial slurs-yes, that small circle that is leading the national dialogue, you are not the voice of the people because you have unfettered and unfair access to the press and media, because you have created vlogs and videosthat rely for viewership and followers, not on proper and responsible research and wisdom but on distortions and sensationalism. Fairness, respect and international knowledge are still very much in, and will always be the standard and foundation of a progressive society. 

Let me turn to another matter that is pivotal to country’s future. A world crisis looms and it is critical that we focus our energies and expertise on what really matters. The abuse to the world’s environment in the form of deforestation, illegal quarrying, climate change and wildlife extinction, is very real, and we must engage our environmentalists, in a proactive, mediative way and don’t discredit the messenger, who is often the scientist. The onus and responsibility lie on every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that in any way possible, we effect change in the society with regard to environmental conservation and wildlife preservation. We have grown obsessed with cutting down trees, carving out quarries with impunity, the result of reckless and irresponsible commercial activity and squatting. The hills are being made bare and denuded. Deforestation brings with it, numerous negative effects like erosion and flooding, increase in greenhouse gases and loss of habitat for different species. If you decide to cut down a tree, I urge you, to plant a new one. As a Nation, we have to become, individually and collectively, protectors of Mother Earth.

As we commemorate forty years of being a Republic, let us rejoice in knowing that we have cut colonial ties. We musthowever, demonstrate real genuine independence, in the way we speak, think and dialogue and in the way we treat each other.The common denominator of national dialogue, must be compassion, empathy, understanding and tolerance. And so, at this memorable stage in our history, let us engage in the requisite deep introspection and reflection of where we have come from,who we are and where we are headed to and where we must go. I have indomitable faith in the people of this country and that faith is strengthened every day when I interact with a public servant, teachers, students, professors, gardeners, labourers and school children.

This burgeoning growth of Republicanism is secure and I look forward to one day National Awards being presented on Republic Day. A new type of revolution of Republicanism is occurring, and it is demonstrated in small things with big vision. On 14th September, 2016, the Office of the President received,among the scores of letters weekly, correspondence from one, Mrs Nadine Pirtheesingh, a concerned citizen. She wrote and I quote, “In the month of February 2016, I visited a TT Post outlet in San Fernando to purchase ten, one dollar stamps. I was quite taken aback to receive stamps with the Queen’s Head on them. These stamps were used in my childhood. I was a bit jolted because I was of the view that with Trinidad and Tobago having attained the status of Republicanism, ties of that nature were cut.” This demonstrates the kind of critical thinking and the corepatriotism that we must all aspire towards.

At this moment, the Office of the President is in deep grief. My family and I, especially my young children Christian and Anura,are shattered by the sudden death of our dear Butler, Mr Choy Richardson, a man who lived the evolution of Republicanism,who died four days ago. He served our first, second, third and fourth President Sir Ellis Clarke, Noor Hassanali, ANR Robinson, Professor George Maxwell Richards and now my family. The tribute he has received from international VIPs is astounding. Here was a simple man in a simple job, having an exceptional impact on those he served in his capacity as a Butler. His service and his conduct were second to none, so was hiscommendable work ethic. Choy Richardson will remain an inspiration to me and all whose lives he touched.

The strength and fortitude of this Nation and its citizens wereepitomized in the bravery and courage of national intellectuals in the crafting of the Republican Constitution on this historic day, 40 years ago. Each of us must step boldly forth into the global landscape and be the game-changers and peace-makersthat we can be, in our unique and individual ways, because wehave been “forged from the love of liberty”.

All hands on deck must not be just talk. It matters not, your political, religious, economic or social status. It certainly must also include the differently-abled. We are all in the business of transforming a society we can all be proud of, a country that can become a standard bearer of the rule of law to all manner of men, women and children. In a world of great affliction, we must be proud that we have a Judiciary that is a guardian and guarantor of the rule of law. I will never relent from my deep belief that we are a great Nation and we can become greater,through hard work, sacrifice, mutual respect, compassion and vision.

To all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, at home and abroad, happy 40th Republic Day and may Almighty God bless this great Nation of ours.

Goodnight ladies and gentlemen.