PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, September 25, 2018 (CMC) – Yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago celebrated the 42nd anniversary of republican status, with the two main political leaders giving contrasting views on the development of the oil-rich, twin-island republic.
In his message, Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, reminded citizens that they ought to demonstrate a keen interest in the country’s parliamentary proceedings, as “persons either elected or appointed to sit, here, make decisions that have a profound impact on all our lives”.
“Elected officials ought to make representation, on your behalf, and act in a way that ensures that your individual rights are protected and that the interests of the national community are served. In this vein, the choice of persons, who serve in opposition, are as equally important as those who serve in government.
“A republican form of government is a system, whereby citizens rule through their elected representatives. It is therefore, paramount that we are closely attuned to the nature of the general representation we are afforded and, more specifically, to the way this representation is exercised in the Parliament,” he elaborated
He said the decision to televise parliamentary proceedings in 2006, was an “an important step in ensuring that you are regularly updated on matters of national interest”.
“We cannot hold our leaders to account if we are ignorant to the quality of their representation. A truly republican state requires the involvement of all us working together to protect and maintain the fundamental human rights and freedoms that have been entrenched in the Constitution,” the Prime Minister added.
But in her message, Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar, said the journey, since the country became a Republic, “has been a challenging one, but what must be celebrated, is the spirit, determination and courage of the people of our nation”.
“We have made many strides in our 42 years as a Republic, and 56 years as an independent nation. Our country is blessed with natural resources, but our greatest resource remains the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Our people remain a constant source of hope and inspiration,” she observed.
She added that while the republican constitution places supreme power in the hands of the people, it “compels us to pursue and fulfill ideals and goals, such as the building of a just, democratic and prosperous nation. It outlines the rights of citizens, but also specifies the duties and responsibilities of the people”.
“We must remain vigilant and protect our nation’s achievements, against threats to our development and democracy. Most notably, are the threats, posed by the criminal elements, who continue to create an atmosphere of fear and insecurity in our country.
“Today, as our country seems shrouded in darkness and despair, we need now, more than ever, leaders who are caring, compassionate and willing to listen and engage with citizens,” she posited.
But she argued, what the country is witnessing “is an administration, which is not only closed off to the people, but which has violated tripartite agreements and principles, by threatening workers who speak out and protest against an autocratic government.
“Many of our citizens are left feeling marginalized, convinced that high office holders are not seeking their interests, but rather the interests of a select few. As a result, we are seeing a contracting middle class, increasing levels of poverty, and a widening of the gap between the rich and poor,” said Persad Bissessar, whose coalition People’s Partnership government was defeated in the last general election, held in 2015.
She said there’s need to improve the level of national discourse and give citizens greater opportunities to participate in governance, noting “This is the only way we can move forward as a nation.”
Meanwhile, 50 people received national awards, later on Monday, for their contributions to the development of the country.
Former Finance Minister and double Olympic medallist, Wendell Mottley, 77, received the country’s highest award, the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (ORTT).
Prime Minister Rowley described Mottley as “a humble patriot, who has selflessly served Trinidad and Tobago”.
Former media executive, Jones P. Madeira, received the Chaconia Medal (Gold) for long and meritorious service to Trinidad and Tobago.