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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks during Friday’s sitting of Parliament.

Independence Day 2020 message from Prime Minister

Dr Keith Rowley

In this, my first address of a new term, it comes at a time, where, as one people, we have crossed 1000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. We will face down the current outbreak and I have every confidence that we will surmount not only this but the very many challenges in the coming months and years ahead but there is none so immediate and as serious as COVID-19.

In the coming months we will have many choices to make as a Government and as citizens of this Republic, as serious as the one you made on Aug 10.

On that day, you chose your representatives and in doing so chose the party that will lead your ship of state through the choppy seas and uncertain currents for yet some time longer. We all expect this pandemic will pass, eventually, but our future and fortunes cannot be just tied to the passing of COVID-19. It must be built on us growing, on our sowing and building, on us thriving in new businesses and in new ways while we make our national recovery and passage through these difficult times, no matter how long they last.

Like everything else, it could happen quicker if all hands were on deck. We can move faster and stronger if all sectors of Government and civil society were toiling in the fields with one goal as I know we all already have. I want to assure every citizen now, this government is already in the fields and has the determination, grit and imagination that will lay the foundation on which we will re-emerge with a society, a Government and Public Service that would be transformational and progressive in every sense. In every crisis there is opportunity and this government will embrace this global cataclysm as an opportunity to unlock the potential and empower the people of this country as it has always been our greatest strength and would continue to be during the recovery.

We in the Government and Public Service must in this moment recognise ourselves as facilitators, incubators and accelerators of the interest and requests of citizens. Now more than ever we need that culture of “yes” and the Government and Public Service must become enablers. During this period of recovery, we simply do not have the luxury of a lack of urgency.

There is one reality that is as inescapable as it gets and that is that “we are all in this together”. There has to always be a vision of only one whole, one country, one people working together for the common good.

This Government will harness the strengths and contributions of all our people to make the national recovery. To do otherwise would be to work on only a part of our potential. The only way forward is together, firing on all cylinders using the best of the willing amongst us.

Before I go further I want to take a moment to particularly thank the citizens that voted (no matter the party you voted for) you cared about the direction of this country and your communities. To the hundreds of thousands of citizens that distinguished themselves by going to the polling stations, thank you. In a democracy it matters that the citizens vote.

For the many of you who wanted to participate but for one reason or the other didn’t make it to a polling station, there is caring there too. Your voice matters and your vote matters. I want to specifically thank the tens of thousands of young people that cast their votes for the first time in this election. I say to them and all people in every democracy including ours, TO VOTE IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT CHOICE.

We have the health and lives of each other now in the hands of every citizen. In each of our hands does not just rest the health of your friends, family and co-workers but also for everyone else that you encounter. In a pandemic there is an awesome responsibility that is thrust upon us all marshalled only by how serious each of us takes that responsibility to protect the other.

The spread of COVID-19 is not metaphorically or figuratively in your hands, it’s literally in your hands. We have been asking since January to “wash your hands, wear a mask, physically distance and don’t congregate.” If you are sick with any viral symptom don’t just stay home, remain in your room for the quarantine period. Doing so is an act of, patriotism and a duty of citizenship in this period.

Our country is no different from any other in the world, from the richest to the poorest where there is a limited amount of hospital beds and ventilators, a limited number of doctors, nurses and personal protection equipment (PPE). We have so far held among the best in the world on the management of Covid. As the virus progresses through its natural cycle today we and 146 other countries are fighting community spread. We have worked hard to still have options and healthcare capacities that few other countries have. One of which is the parallel health care system that we must protect at all cost. Do your part to protect our national stock of beds and medical resources now. No country in the world has been able to evade the virus but our goal is to make sure that we are able to provide the health care that is needed by all those who may fall ill in response to the virus.

I have seen that our infection rate is growing most rapidly among the younger age groups 25 to 35. I have many times put out the call for the young people to take responsibility for this country and its future and many have done so. Tonight is no different. To the young people of this small country I’m asking you to make an immediate contribution and take responsibility for stopping the spread of Covid in your circles. I know of the thoughts and feelings of the invincibility that youth possess but now is not the time and, a pandemic is not the circumstance to wager bets on your indestructibility and those around you.

Young people take responsibility for your clips, crews and limes and become protectors for, and of each other. This is it! This is not a drill, it’s not a joke, this is not a trendy share on IG or a cool forward on what’s app. This risk is real. We have had deaths and have right now a number of citizens in high dependency care. I have seen what a contact tracing list looks like when it trails out to secondary and tertiary contacts. I tell you we are all living in a small interconnected, interdependent and intricate village where one irresponsible person can risk hundreds of lives or one responsible person can inversely protect hundreds of lives. You may see someone unknown standing next to you at a grocery or market, but they are no stranger, they are exactly like you, they are loved and have love for their family. They are connected to you, they live in your community. Their children go to the same schools. You need to protect their families as you would want yours to be and we will control this spread relatively quickly. To do otherwise for fun, frolic and bravado is to invite unspeakable disaster. Just think and act sensibly.

Today, as we celebrate our fifty-eight years of Independence, it is again a pleasure to bring greetings, as Prime Minister on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to everyone in our beloved country.

We exchange greetings at a time, when mankind is confronting one of its worst experiences of the past century.

With deep sadness, international medical experts are predicting that the mounting deaths we are experiencing, worldwide, reflect just the early phase in the flurry of the COVID-19 virus. In other words, Trinidad and Tobago, like the rest of the world may yet feel its full ferociousness and we still have no idea when it is going to end.

Our own medical experts––and again, today, I want to publicly commend them––continue to emphasise that, in this invisible battle, the singular weapon resides in individuals accepting their responsibility.

Everyone, at this time, has to assume responsibility for his or her actions and life, and even those around them––practising personal cleanliness, physical distancing, washing hands, wearing masks and avoiding congregating in large groups.

If we do not do this with diligence and sustained social responsibility, our medical system will be overwhelmed, with the potential of a collapse, posing then further disasters for us all.

I appeal to everyone residing in Trinidad and Tobago to be responsible. Everyone has to be involved, because it is now a question of this country’s overall survival. Where COVID-19 is concerned, there is no “my side” and “your side”, there is only victory for all of us or defeat for all of us. We must therefore come together and win this battle together!

This country just completed voting in a general election, which, with a new government in place, historically signals a new beginning.

For you, the individual and the wider society, there should be now a readiness to look inward. It is also opportune for us to reflect at this time on the vision of our founding father, Dr Eric Eustace Williams.

Writing in 1962 on “the Reality of Independence”, he observed that we were confronting the world with “an evil trinity––“a mentality conceived in slavery, cradled in indenture, and nurtured in colonialism”. Another writer, at that time also warned us that we were “possessors of a pseudo-European culture in an Afro-Asian environment”. In describing this human amalgam trust the calypsonian to explain it best when he sings “all ah we is one family”!

Sure enough, when we gained Independence on August 31, 1962, we then became masters of our own destiny, responsible for the development our society and economy.

Dr Williams and his colleagues hoped that the people of this nation would work together to create a society in which we––people of all races––could emotionally call our own, free from external influence and control and worthy of our care and devotion.

Almost six decades later, I believe we have achieved, in many aspects and some measure, Dr Williams’ vision. We have done reasonably well as a nation. We have maintained our sovereignty, and, in turn, respected the unfettered rights of other states to determine their own destiny. However, there is much, much more to do, many journeys to make and many pitfalls to avoid. This time, 2020, is one such challenging period. This is not a time to lose faith, kindle racial hatred, spread fake news, undermine institutions and selfishly stoke ethnic, religious, social or geographical division, regardless of who is doing it. Just stop!

This is a time for coming together, a time for defending ourselves from visible and invisible threats, a time for being responsible, a time for being a contributor rather than an extractor, a time for being brothers and sisters and being our brother’s keeper, in short, this is a time for love.

Looking at the globe, we can point to the prominence of nationals in various international fields such as sport, finance, education, literature, international relations, law, culture and countless other areas. There will always be room for improvement especially in our Public Service, but, as a people, we keep marching on with full recognition of the need to be proactive in all areas, and with Dr Williams’ watch words, Discipline, Production and Tolerance, ever present in our minds.

Unfortunately, during the last election campaign, there were some unfortunate advertising mis-steps followed by crass and acrimonious racial social media postings. Some persons flippantly dismissed those comments as “just blips” on the national landscape but in reality, those persons who perpetrated any or all of it were aiming at the racial fault lines in our society.

Their intention was to promote panic, fear and stimulate the hatred, which have created racial animosity and grievous harm as has happened in other societies.

There are appeals, in some quarters, for these comments to be checked. And they must end. I appeal for a return to the sanctity of respect for each other, and the aspirational tolerance, which Dr Williams identified.

During the new term, my government intends to focus on reforming the education system, youth and the millennial contribution, understanding their “head spaces” and untapped potential, and promoting their social energies and perspectives into new and creative institutions.

This is aligned to the recommendations of the Roadmap to Recovery Committee, and my later announcement of a Task Force. It will also be incorporated into our plans for educational reform, and our digitalisation programme. I hope you will be ready to be a part of the beneficial changes that await us if only we are bold enough to engage the issues and the needs.

Our Roadmap to Recovery team has been part of the bigger picture to charting the way forward along with input from members of the public who have submitted ideas on our post-COVID direction, as a nation.

A digitalised Public Service will connect every Government department and the private sector, allowing citizens to interact and to improve the ease of doing business using an electronic identity. To this end I have established a Cabinet Sub-Committee to team up with an equal component from the business community to bring this about by moving the needle from complaints to action.

We have to recognise that our path ahead is challenging.

At present, energy and product prices are low, in an extremely volatile market. Creative solutions are needed, and are underway, to boost both our oil production, in the face of this weak international market, and at the same time settling our domestic gas pricing, and the sale of the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.

On the other hand, the pandemic has devastated our efforts in the tourism market, and has created a $15 Billion hole which is likely to impact our national budget, considerably. We were on the verge of having an international label at Tobago’s Magdalena, that is now in limbo and even Carnival, more than likely will be a casualty.

But this country has seen some dark times in the past, like 1986 and 1990. The latest being 2015, when my government took office, and discovered the insufficiency of the national treasury and collapsing revenue, but, with the support of nationally-conscious citizens, not without pain, we found creative ways to “keep the lights on”.

The government will continue to plan and execute, as we have been doing. The records will show that we have been taking the relevant steps to improve how our nation functions for both the present and the future of our children and grandchildren. At present we all worry about our children who are at home, not knowing if and when they will be able to safely go back to school. As a major component of our Covid response, we will continue to keep this challenge under constant review and we will continue to consult with all stakeholders to ensure that we do together what has to be done to help our children through this indelible piece of their lifelong experience.

I have promised that in the face of all of the difficulties “No one will be left behind”. This is a good country, filled with great, creative and talented people. It is full of promise and opportunity for us all. Let us grasp them even in the face of a pandemic. Let us prove to be worthy citizens, grateful for what is available and industrious enough to make more each day.

We will meet our challenges, and we, the people, will survive and prosper.

As you enjoy our national holiday, be safe and at some point turn to the Almighty with the words: “May God, continue to Bless our Nation”. HAPPY INDEPENDENCE!