Today as we in Trinidad and Tobago celebrate our 44th Anniversary as a Republic, one of the first nations in the Caribbean, we do so with the utmost appreciation of our past leaders and patriots. In 1976, when we decided to cast off the last remnants of colonial rule, we were driven by the determination of our people to create our own rules for governance, and the idea that to be completely free to chart our own course, we must have our own Head of State.
On this 44th anniversary, we are called upon to remember the sacrifices, great tasks and responsibilities which accompanied this achievement. Our 1976 Constitution ensures the rule of law and gives us rights as citizens of a free democratic nation. The power lies in the hands of citizens, but also, we have the responsibility to protect our democracy and work together to build our nation.
As we reflect on our progress, we are acutely aware that we are entering a difficult period in our nation’s history. Over the past five years, and long before the COVID-19 pandemic, our economy was in a vulnerable state. The last few months we have seen the added impact of the pandemic, which is expected to continue to affect us for some time.
The ongoing pandemic has clearly revealed that in our society there is rampant inequality as so many, especially our nation’s children are being left behind due to the requirements of the new normal. As a result of poor planning and lack of vision, we have thousands of children without the means to participate in online learning. Had the government not callously and thoughtlessly scrapped the laptop initiative, these students would be able to benefit from the shift in education that is taking place.
Another major challenge is that of increasing levels of poverty, as thousands of citizens continue to struggle, to look on helplessly as opportunities are taken from them, as the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen.
Further, this visionless government stopped so many initiatives designed to give citizens a hand up, choosing instead to push citizens further into poverty.
Today, each of us must draw inspiration from our forefathers and remain strong and united. We must each do our part to help our fellow citizens in need.
We must also jealously guard the tenets of democracy which our forefathers fought for. We must ensure that there is accountability, transparency, and equity in the distribution of our resources.
We have an obligation to our forefathers to ensure that the working class, together with the business community, have a voice in government in determining our nation’s priorities and direction. We must hold the government and its institutions to account.
My greatest wish for our nation this Republic Day is for us to ensure that each and every citizen has the ability to fulfil our true potential. We must ensure that every community, every young child, every individual, regardless of their social, economic or ethnic background as the opportunity to achieve their dreams, after all this is the foundation of our Republican Constitution.
We must face our challenges head-on, together, with boundless faith to forge our own destiny.
I wish all citizens a happy and safe Republic Day. May God bless our nation.
Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition