PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 31, CMC – Trinidad and Tobago is on Monday observing the 58th anniversary of its political independence from Britain without the traditional military parade and other activities usually associated with the celebrations as the oil-rich twin island republic continues to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has killed 21 people and infected 1,691 people here.
Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley in a nationwide radio and television broadcast on Sunday night, urged citizens to follow all the measures and protocols outlined by the health authorities in order to face the pandemic and also help in a recovery of the local economy in the face of difficult times ahead.
“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,” he said, reminding the population that the pandemic is not the only problem confronting the country.
“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,” he said.
Rowley said that his administration which was returned to office following the August 10 general election is already examining socio-economic measures for the future development of the country 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”.
He told the nation that in every crisis there is opportunity and his 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.
“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,” Rowley said, adding that the Government will harness the strengths and contributions of all the people to make the national recovery.
He warned to do otherwise would be to work on only a part of the country’s potential insisting “the only way forward is together, firing on all cylinders using the best of the willing amongst us”.
As he did soon after the elections victory, Prime Minister Rowley placed the country on a warning that in the next few months Trinidad and Tobago will have many choices to make such as it did on August 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,” he said, adding “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,” he said.
Rowley described 2020 as a challenging period, adding “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.
He said this is a period “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”.
In her message, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of life and living and presents the country with many new challenges.
“We are now, each of us, called upon to adapt, to change the way we operate, to evolve in our thinking and our modes of operation. Business unusual is now the new normal. Nonetheless, despite dark days ahead, remember there is always hope that even the darkest day must end, and the sun will rise again.”
She said that as the country reflects on the significant achievements achieved in the past 58 years, it can be proud of the strength, courage, and resilience of its citizens and residents, who have stood together in times of adversity to overcome challenges presented to us.
“And so, I do not just offer just the usual greetings but also thank everyone for the role played in the enhancement of the people of our nation. No task was too small or too grand. So many have contributed to the beautiful creation and advancement of our twin-island Republic.
“We are indeed but a speck on the global scale, but that should never impede achieving greatness. The past 58 years have taught us that. As a young fledgling nation, not even 60 years old, we have been able to accomplish feats equivalent to some of the best in the world.”
But she questioned “what good is a global achievement when we have citizens who are still excluded and marginalised in our own country?
“Today we have thousands of our citizens, from urban Scarborough to rural Barrackpore, who continue to struggle, to look on helplessly as opportunities are taken from them, as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen. What good are the hundreds of achievements putting our tiny nation on a global scale when we have children without equal access to education?
Persad Bissessar, who led her United National Congress (UNC) into defeat in the last general election, accused the government of lacking vision and scrapping “so many initiatives designed to give citizens a hand up, choosing instead to push citizens down into poverty.
“We cannot hope to advance as a nation if we do not unite to address the many challenges confronting us. Without unity, survival at the very least and prosperity at the very most is never possible,” she said, using the occasion to “remind those in authority that we must ensure that all citizens must be included in our national development, regardless of educational, economic, social or geographical background.
“I repeat the commitment of the duly elected loyal Opposition of Trinidad and Tobago. We will continue fighting to protect citizens’ rights and to ensure the inclusion of all in national development. The challenges we face as a nation may be difficult, but we are resilient, and we will get through this, together,” Persad Bissessar added.
Meanwhile, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque has congratulated Trinidad and Tobago praising the country’s role in regional integration.
“Trinidad and Tobago, one of the founding Members of the Community, has maintained its leadership role in advancing the integration movement, including through its leadership on regional security and energy issues,” Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque said in a congratulatory message to Prime Minister Rowley.
The Secretary-General noted the wide-ranging successes recorded by the people of Trinidad and Tobago over its 58 years of Independence.
“The country has benefitted from the renowned creativity and imagination of its people, and the vision of its leaders to make significant strides in its development. Its successes in the fields of culture, sports, academia and diplomacy have been well chronicled,” LaRocque said.