PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, March 19, 2018 (CMC) – Retired jurist, Paula-Mae Weekes, was sworn in, today, as Trinidad and Tobago’s first female head of state, and called on citizens not to allow her “to walk alone” as she sought a new light for the country during her term in office.
Soon after she was sworn into office by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, the retired, former Court of Appeal judge said it “falls to each President to define his or her own role” in the absence of a constitutional guidance.
Weekes, 59, also indicated that she wanted to be known as a “humble first servant, with a mandate to render service with enthusiasm” and was assuming office aware of the ills facing the country.
She told the audience — which included outgoing President Anthony Carmona and Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley — at the open air ceremony at the Queen’s Park Savannah on the outskirts of the capital, that she, herself, has been witness to some of those ills, including the theft of her vehicles and having to wait long periods with family members for health care.
In addition, she also made it clear that she was aware of the troubles being experienced on the sea bridge, between Trinidad and its sister island, Tobago.
But the sixth President of Trinidad and Tobago since the island attained its Republican status in 1976, told the audience that she never allowed such obstacles to prevent her from moving forward and, as a result, was counting on the entire country to shine a light that would pave the way for a better future.
She said her destiny, and that of the population, was now “inexplicably linked’ and recalled the fact “that many experts, real and armchair, in positions high and low, beset us with dismal stories.
“They tell us that Trinidad and Tobago is perilously close to the point of no return. Crime, corruption, racism, dismal public services and an ineffective judicial system among other problems…that all hope is lost. That we will soon be, if we are not there already, a failed state, however defined.”
But she said that the country could respond by adopting two choices, including one where “we can lament, blame, criticise and allow …despair to overwhelm us or…we can consciously and intentionally choose the alternative”.
She said the country should not wish for, or just pray for, the alternative “but make up a hard mind to mobilise forces and resources to step out, boldly, and make Trinidad and Tobago a better place for our children”.
“None of us (is) blind or foolish enough to deny that Trinidad and Tobago is going through dark times,” she said, but urged citizens to accompany her on her mission “to infect each and every one of you with a bright and positive spirit, as we try to turn our beloved nation into what it ought to have been — and still can be”.
She urged citizens to “confront the darkness and declare that it will not take over. It is a tenant of most major religions, that light triumphs over darkness.
“Light always serves a purpose, it directs ships to safe harbours, it illuminates our path, it can lead the way. It purifies and exposes hidden dangers and promotes clear vision and, if legend is to be believed, it even repels vampires, goblins…that try to daunt our spirit”.
In her address, the staunch Anglican Church follower, said that undertaking such a task would involve great sacrifices and the work of a patriot.
“Love for our twin-island (state) has to be planted, nurtured and buttressed, day after day after day, and the seed must be sown from childhood,” she told the audience that also included her mother.
“I am always amazed at the way some of us behave, as if the national anthem is for our entertainment rather than an opportunity to express a fresh national identity. We don’t sing and at the end we applaud,” she said, urging also the citizens to ensure they are aware of the song “God Bless our Nation”.
She outlined three major tasks she said she hoped the entire country achieves before she leaves office, including a change in the communication style among citizens.
“I ask those of you with a platform from which you disseminate your views, to find new and creative ways to inspire your audience, while reporting responsibly and commenting civilly on the facts and, in particular, on social media, which is here to stay and has great value by giving a voice to those who might otherwise remain voiceless.
“But reckless use of this and any other communication channel will defeat its very purpose. Is it all possible to dial down the rhetoric while adding your two cents worth to the discussions on any issue?” she said, adding that she wanted Trinidad and Tobago to change the existing climate of violence.
“It is embedded in every day talk, in common place interaction, in schools, in marketplaces, in business places, in rum shops and, worst of all, in homes. I ask you to be mindful in your use of language, remembering that …hard words turn up anger,” she added.