Political Leader of the Peoples National Movement (PNM), Dr. Keith Rowley on the occasion of the Party’s Annual Convention.
Venue: The Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain.Date: Sunday, October 28th, 2012
Theme of the Address:
Putting the Nation back on Track
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Senate, Parliamentary Representatives, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Leaders of Business, the Trade Union Movement, Members of the Central Executive and the General Council of the PNM, Constituency Chairpersons, Executive Members of the PNM Women’s League and the PNM Youth League, specially invited guests, distinguished Delegates, members of the media, other distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you very much for your warm welcome. Thank you also, Chairman of this afternoon’s proceedings, for your very kind introduction.
Today, October 28th 2012, is a remarkable day. My spirit tells me that it is a day which we shall always remember. It is a day filled with meaning, a day filled with significance and a day which gives all of Trinidad and Tobago a justifiable reason to be filled with joy. The PNM cup runneth over. The Peoples National Movement is alive and well.
The spirit of the PNM is moving through all the land. The bold and beautiful spirit of the PNM is awakened. You are the spirit, you are the backbone and you are the life of our nation. It is upon your sturdy and stubborn shoulders that Trinidad and Tobago will once more see the light. Your light shall shine like never before. Your light of freedom, your light of justice, your light of equal opportunity for all shall lead our people forward boldly and bravely into the Promised Land. Come the year 2015, or before, it is your dazzling and shining light that will lead the Peoples National Movement back into governance where the Peoples National Movement truly, sincerely and deservedly belong. Great is the PNM. It shall prevail.
I must admit that I am exceptionally enthused and overwhelmed by the spirit which is being displayed among you today. It is infectious. It brings back to me fond memories of the PNM with which I had grown up ever since I was a child: occasions when I could not have withheld the awe and esteem in which I gazed upon the noble men and strong women who pioneered selflessly over the years to make this Party, the Peoples National Movement, the only true, honest, dedicated, disciplined and committed political edifice ever to have adorned the landscape of our beautiful and bountiful twin island republic. The PNM: the one and only distinguished national political institution, forged from the souls of the people, driven by the spirit of the people, built on the sincerity of the people and steadfast in its determination to work tirelessly and selflessly on behalf of the people for the ultimate benefit of all the people.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, permit me to preface my address to you today by asking you to focus for a while upon two quotations which I have always treasured very dearly. The first one says:
“On August 31, 1962, a country will be free, a miniature state will be established, but a society and a nation will not have been formed. After August 31, 1962, the people of Trinidad and Tobago will face the fiercest test in their history - whether they can invest with flesh and blood the bare skeleton of their National Anthem, Here, every creed and race find an equal place.’ That is their challenge. They may fail..... But merely to make the attempt, merely to determine to succeed, would be an enormous tribute to their capacity, a powerful inspiration to frustrated humanity.”
Ladies and gentlemen, those were the words of Dr. Eric Williams in his History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago (p. 282). The book was an Independence gift to his people - a chronicling of our history.
In yet another message, again written in his book, the History of the People of Trinidad and Tobago, here is what he said to us. And I quote:“What use will you make of your Independence? What will you transmit to your children five years from today? The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more, than the right to vote. Democracy means recognition of the rights of others. Democracy means equality of all in the eyes of the law. Democracy means the protection of the weak against the strong. Democracy means the obligation of the minority to recognise the right of the majority. Democracy means responsibility of the Government to its citizens, the protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power (I repeat: protection of the citizens from the exercise of arbitrary power …. (Section 34 my emphasis…) and the violation of human freedoms and individual rights. Democracy means freedom of worship for all and the subordination of the rights of any one race to the overriding right of the human race. Democracy means freedom of expression and assembly and organisation… All that is Democracy…. Democracy, finally, rests on a higher power. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion.”
Ladies and gentlemen, these are the words of the founder of this party, the only Chief Minister, only Premier and first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Eric Eustace Williams. These words of enlightenment, wisdom and admonition were among the many which he left with us as part of his Independence Day Address to the Nation on August 31, 1962.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have chosen to remind you the officers, members, friends, supporters and well-wishers of this august Movement and indeed the people of Trinidad and Tobago of these prophetically inspired words of wisdom so that in addressing you today I can truly and decisively place the significance and singular importance of the 44th Annual Convention of The Peoples National Movement in its true, meaningful and urgent context.
So I have chosen as the title of my address to you this afternoon the theme: “Putting the Nation back on Track”
This year of our Lord, 2012, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Independence of the People of Trinidad and Tobago. The year 2012 also marks the 56th Anniversary of the birth of our Party. It is this Party, the Peoples National Movement, which safely and painstakingly took Trinidad and Tobago to Internal Self Government in 1956, full Self Government in 1958, led the Country faithfully and confidently to Independence in 1962. We then transformed the governance structure of the nation to that of republican status in 1976.
It is this party which today is taking steps to deepen and broaden its own internal democracy by giving all its members a direct say in selecting its leadership as well as the rest of the National Executive by one man one vote. Today a long and detailed process of consultation within our party has brought to you, from our General Council, proposals for your consideration and endorsement. I thank all of you who participated in this period of reform especially Mrs. Bridgette Annisette George and her Committee who guided the process to this successful conclusion. I look forward to addressing the Conference of Delegates, who in service to party and country, will gather at the City Hall on December 2nd to complete the exercise. This PNM is on the move.
Whatever may have occurred along the way marked by these historical milestones, and there is so much that the PNM could be justifiably proud of, one fact of history can never be erased. It is that it was the PNM that gave to the people of Trinidad and Tobago the right to determine our own destiny, under conditions dictated by our own people and for the good and welfare of all our citizens. That is an undeniable, indefatigable and inalienable truth and no bearer of gifts laden with false and fake manifestations dares question or challenge that.
Since attaining Independence, we as a people have witnessed changes in our landscape, many of them brought about by our own volition and others imposed upon us by forces over which we had no control.
Today, the world in which we live has become phenomenally different to the one in which we started our journey to nationhood in 1962. We have witnessed and continue to experience drastic and dramatic changes in our social, economic, cultural and political norms and in our personal lifestyles, some for good, others for evil: changes in ways too numerous to recall.
Set against this background, it is imperative that our Party, aspiring as we are, to return to Government at the next opportunity whenever it comes. We must of necessity diligently, and with decorum, prepare and equip ourselves to achieve this goal. In pursuing this legitimate expectation, we as an enlightened Party, are compelled to keep uppermost in our minds not only the conflicting and treacherous trends which are developing in our own backyard but, more watchfully and meticulously, we must take into account the major hemispherical economic, social and political imbalances that are currently shaping the course of world civilisation at an alarming pace. These are the developments around us which, like it or not, will have the greatest impact on how, at what speed and under what circumstances Trinidad and Tobago will see its way to strategically position itself in order to live up to the determination to move our Nation forward.
A quick glance at the world today tells us, that, as the present administration gropes in the dark for solutions to the nation’s nagging problems, as they continue to flounder, toss and turn from side to side, searching aimlessly and without a clue, for ways and means beyond the boundaries of their most ambitious but stunted capabilities; as they continue to test the patience and endurance and tamper with the minds and emotions of a tolerant and long suffering people, developments all around us are urgently calling, with understandable urgency, for leadership that is incisive, bold, imaginative, trustworthy and intellectually grounded. Unfortunately, what passes today as Governance in our beloved country is a far cry from that which meets the demands of these perilous times.
The world today is stagnated by unfavourable economic and security conditions which challenge the most passionate potential of modern day civilization: civil unrest and strife in the Middle East, economic challenges in North and South America; stagnation and decline in the United Kingdom and Europe, atrocities being committed in the name of religion in Asia and Africa; starvation, poverty, deprivation, not too far from where we meet here today, hunger, homelessness, disease, some say hopelessness, afflict our brothers and sisters in Haiti. At least one Caricom country has defaulted on its debt and others are tottering on the brink. We live in an era in which drug cartels exploit the parlous and corrupt conditions which plague and bedevil unstable communities. Drug lords roam the land in search of profit from human prey. Children are being used as pawns in societies bent only upon exploiting child labour for the almighty dollar. Human beings are being bought, trafficked and sold like everyday commodities and their body parts traded on the open market bereft of any feeling or emotion.
Here in our homeland, we have joined in the chorus. The social fabric of the society progressively deteriorates; hard earned tax dollars and borrowed money are being frittered away in cavalier fashion by an unconscionable government; the new leaders, rather than respond to the urgent demands of a frustrated people in a hostile environment, focus their attention frivolously and provokingly on propaganda and party. Day after day they line their pockets and those of their favourites to a degree never before imagined, even in the worst of times. As the melodrama continues, each Minister strives to be the main attraction, stalling and stumbling on stage: one jostling to be the village idiot from San Juan, the other to be the “energizer bunny action man” and yet many others fight for the title of head crook.
We have to admit as well that we seem to have given up hope that this generation can stem the tide of influences which are imported from outside. Materialism has taken centre stage at the expense of spirituality. Integrity is being sacrificed at the altar of expediency. Quality is being surrendered for quantity, licentiousness is celebrated; ethics and decency are scorned. Official communication, based on truth and the fullness of information is abandoned under the least threatening circumstances, and substituted with the proverbial naked lies, half-truths and misrepresentations. To complicate matters even further, we now live in the now for now instant world where patience and tolerance appear to be alien virtues.
Our awareness of international issues which daily stare us in the face gives us no comfort, no respite. The new technologies of weapons of warfare, suicide bombings, poison mail, wanton violation of fundamental human rights, human trafficking, drug trafficking, racial and religious intolerance, crime and lawlessness, global warming, all create a complex, complicated and convoluted society which, if we dwell upon without faith, could appear overwhelming. Some of our people just cannot cope, especially our young. We spend so much time dealing with the problems of living that some of us have forgotten how to appreciate life. The means and the end are in conflict. It is a major challenge for all of us in the years ahead. It calls for strength, empathy, confidence, discipline and vision. It calls for the tried and tested PNM.
Are you ready to answer that call again? Ladies and gentlemen, this in miniscule format is but a brief overview of the issues which as a society and as a people we face today: issues which are being brushed aside by an uncaring and inept administration and, in more cases than we wish to recall, these burning issues are being trivialised in the very quarters where they are expected to receive the most ardent, efficient and expeditious treatment.
But, do not be dismayed, ladies and gentlemen, let not your hearts be troubled. The PNM is in charge. Our rivals are in disarray and are running scared. Their empty promises are returning to haunt them, with a vengeance. And they know only too well that these are just some of the issues which we in the PNM are examining and addressing as we work hand in hand with you and all who care about our nation to find the most sensible, practical and humane solutions: solutions which will lift our people out of the depths of despair and pull them out of the valley of evil – the vale of iniquity - which this current, corrupt administration has singlehandedly and collectively plunged us all into.
Ladies and gentlemen, rest assured that your PNM has not been idle. We have not been passive or asleep. In fact we have been encouraged by the convergence of vibrant support which has been knocking at our doors as we maintain our vigilance and put ourselves on the alert, ever aware as we are, of the insecurities and injustices which are being inflicted upon us all. Your leadership has been diligently and doggedly reconstructing and relaying the foundation for nationhood at a pace which exceeds all antecedents. We have been picking up the pieces, brick by brick, as we witness the uncivil and well-orchestrated dismantling of the institutions which once made us all so exceptionally proud, confident and assured of the illustrious destiny toward which we were heading in harmony until the agonizing aberration of May 2010.
And now in spite of all their protestations, these destroyers, posing as men and women of goodwill, but with no semblance of competence honour, dignity or conscience even in the most redeemable parts, continue to chip away at the solid foundation which was so painstakingly laid by our fathers and mothers, our great grandfathers and great grandmothers. They sacrificed to leave for us a country distinguished not only by the wealth of talent which they left behind but spiritually endowed with the vast potential of human endeavour which resides in those who are present and those who will follow us.
These long standing and treasured values are now being cynically and cavalierly trampled upon. The infamous Section 34 manipulation speaks out loudly and clearly. This disdainful act will stand for all time as the most offensive and dastardly act of betrayal which any Government has ever contemplated for execution upon our citizens. It represents a monumental abandonment of all the tenets of civilised behavior that are expected of Parliamentary representatives, in and out of chambers: uninhibited, disgraceful and distasteful disregard and disrespect for the welfare, image and wellbeing of the citizenry.
Let us face it ladies and gentlemen, any self-respecting Government with the minutest modicum of pride left in itself, having been so glaringly caught and disgraced, would have immediately demitted office for less than that. But here in Trinidad and Tobago what do we have? We have in our country, which we took so much pain to build; we have in our midst a Government which continues to make us the laughing stock of the world, a government whose only desire is to unashamedly hang on and scrape the bottom until time inevitably runs out.
In Trinidad and Tobago, what we must never allow to disintegrate are the many exemplary legacies which characterized each successive era. These must be jealously cherished, stubbornly protected and lovingly nurtured and, above all, must be made to endure. Legacies collectively represent the deeply engraved cornerstones upon which strong, progressive and mature societies prevail. This PNM and its unwavering commitment to develop all the people of Trinidad and Tobago is one such legacy for as we said in the beginning, emphasise today:“We are not an ordinary party in the narrow sense of the word. We are rather a rally, a convention of all and for all, a mobilisation of all the forces in the community, cutting across race and religion, class and colour, with emphasis on united action by all the people in a common cause.” (People’s Charter 1956)
So today I make this call to all who have ever been or have ever worked alongside us, who have ever voted for us, who have ever shared our vision of nationhood, regardless of who you are or where you’ve been, if you still subscribe to, and believe in these fundamental principles, come home to the PNM. If Trinidad and Tobago ever needed you, it is now. And for you young people who have never participated in the organized political process, it is your time now to get on board with the PNM and take responsibility for your country. We have a Youth League, a Women’s League and we are a proud and resilient Movement.
I sound a warning to all those who believe that they can rewrite our history. You will never succeed. Just as has happened in the past, you have come and you will go. But the PNM is here to stay. 56 years of unbroken and unshakeable solidarity and unconditional commitment to the people of Trinidad and Tobago indelibly portray the PNM record: a feat of no mean or ordinary distinction.
But what is the record on the other side? Instead of taking us forward, we see our gains being rolled back. We see our multi ethnic, multi- cultural, multi- religious fabric being stressed to the point where failing, desperate, puny politicians invoke the spectra of rawan to describe political opponents and dissatisfied civil society. We see the press under sustained attack even to the point of Ministerial threats and open harassment of journalists at their homes and at their workplace. We are still not even proud and confident enough in our legal and judicial evolution to embrace the idea of our own final Court of Appeal, except for a token, watered down and half-hearted attempt, trotted out for temporary, political expediency.
Those of you who would have heard or read my address to the nation on the occasion of our 50th Anniversary of independence will recall the capsule record of achievement which I shared with the national community. These were largely, PNM achievements, labored for hard and long over many decades of commitment and dedication to nation building. These achievements represented fulfillment of the vision much along the lines that the founding fathers saw it.
At the time of our Independence 50 years ago, our economy was dominated by foreign-owned enterprises. But as much as foreign investment was and still remains important for our economic growth and development, the PNM was and still is of the view that as an independent nation, those areas of national life which our local young men and women can effectively direct and steer must remain or be placed under their control and management. But this scenario has changed.
Too many of our young people complain of being sidelined, overlooked or ignored as they seek to add value to the workplace. Their initiatives are dampened in spite of their high levels of academic qualifications, their energy and their impulsive enthusiasm for the taste of success. With passion bursting at the seams and their enormous potential for personal and professional growth and development, too many of our young people labour in the vineyard praying in vain for nothing more than mere recognition of that which they diligently desire to offer. The PNM stands for the creation of increased opportunities and for equal opportunity in national participation.
The PNM is committed to changing this culture of social deprivation. Upward mobility for our young men and women in all walks of life must become the goal and the order of the day. PNM abides by the philosophy which affords our young people their rightful and respectful place in the sun and their well-earned and deserved ascension to hierarchy in the workplace.
It was based upon this well-defined and established philosophy, that the PNM localised the banking, energy and insurance sectors and gave the country the First Citizens Bank and Petrotrin. We established the Unit Trust Corporation, the National Insurance Scheme, the National Insurance Property Development Company and the Home Mortgage Bank and many other initiatives of expansion. Where else would the leadership and support base of these new institutions have come but from the intellectualism, intelligence and potential for hard work which resided in the brilliant young people of our nation.
They on the other side try constantly to minimize our successes, consumed with making endless, deceitful, self-serving allegations.. They take pains and spare no effort in wasting taxpayer’s dollars to discredit where they fail to measure up. Their mantra is clear and focused. It is to hide the truth from the young people of the nation: the truth that PNM utilised the resources from our oil and gas earnings to create the Point Lisas Industrial estate and develop and expand the petrochemicals sector which will forever stand tall as one of the pillars of our stable economy offering sustainable employment to thousands of our young and ambitious technocrats, professionals, technicians and craftsmen. Today Point Lisas stands supreme as the largest and most diversified petrochemical-based industrial estate in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Sadly we have seen absolutely no improvement or growth of our industrial base under this coalition cabal, not even an idea which could blossom to a significant new project. As we sink lower on the anti- corruption index chart investors bypass us for safer shores where governments and their agents are less greedy and vulgar.
So when they come today pretending to make life easier for you by “‘removing VAT from food items’”, they are nothing more than annoying copy cats, mocking pretenders, transgressing the most innocent opportunity to deceive and to dishonor in their constant belief that you are stupid.
The task of rebuilding our nation is daunting: so widespread has been the demolition and destruction which has taken place in the recent past, some unfortunately inflicted in our time and among our own ranks.
Our Soca Warriors, once the pride and joy of our people have been stripped of their honor and dignity, reduced to mendicants travelling abroad to represent our country penniless and deprived of the meager means to purchase food, wash their clothing and be assured of shelter, but nevertheless flying our flag with honour and holding their heads up high in victory. What about those Soca Warrior heroes who brought us fame, honour and glory at World Cup level but are still languishing in utter dismay and disbelief awaiting their just due from a heartless and heavy handed administrator long after adjudication by the local courts in their favour – fighting for what is due to them from a Head Honcho openly and internationally labeled by one of the highest level Sports disciplinary institutions worldwide as being best known for his “Economy with the Truth”? Shaming and disgracing us on the world stage and then being rewarded to act as our Prime Minister. Is this the type of example we hold out to our children as we spend billions in schools trying to fashion them into good citizens of the next generation?
We have an Attorney General who is generally known more for his belligerent indiscretions, who admits to his inadequate qualifications for the successful performance of his duties, thrives on threatening law abiding citizens as he provides abysmally poor legal advice to the Government of which he is the legal head. All of this flies in the face of justice, fairplay and judicial integrity, wasting taxpayers’ money through unnecessary and uncalled for compensation to innocent citizens for false, misleading and misguided arrests and trumped up charges, depriving citizens of their right to liberty and freedom. How in God’s name did our beloved country descend to such low levels befuddles you and me and many of their own most ardent and loyal sympathizers.
And I can go on and on about a Prime Minister best known for her missteps, mistakes, miscalculations, misrepresentations misunderstanding of her power and authority over the Tobago House of Asembly; misinformed, misguided, wallowing in misfortunes, mis-directions, mis-appointments, mis-judgments, mis-allocations, and on most mornings missing in action and mostly leading a Government which clearly misses the mark.
What else can be said about this administration that we do not all already know? They have sought to strip us of our moral and spiritual values, whimsically influenced by a belief that money, in their hands, is the answer to everything. So they spend your money like if it is running out of style, casting all care and caution to the wind. In fact it is Makandal Daaga who warned us that that “they tiefing money like they invented it”. They now seize every opportunity to photo op even donations to the church obviously in the firm belief that they can even buy their way into heaven. They now think that they can buy Tobago!
Ladies and gentlemen what did Trinidad and Tobago do so wrong to have been deceitfully taken to this abominable and abysmal level? In two and a half years!!!!! I ask you pointedly and directly. Do we as a people deserve this? I ask again. Do we as a people deserve this? I can only be reminded of the Calypso by the late Lord Melody: “Woe is me, shame and scandal in the family” Now it is Woe is we, shame and disgrace for us in Trini”
So where does this leave us? Ladies and gentlemen the road ahead is going to be difficult as it will be treacherous; rough as it will be rugged; and costly as it will be complex and complicated. That is what they have driven us to but we are up to the task of putting this nation back on track.
As a party in Opposition and the Government in waiting, we have been working since 2010 on redesigning and redrafting the framework of our economic and social policies. We began our work from the base of policies developed under Vision 2020. You will recall that the Vision 2020 Plan, which as Minister of Planning and Development in 2003, I was pleased to engage as Chairman, one of our leading private sector businessmen. It involved several hundred qualified persons drawn from all sectors and areas of national life. These persons contributed their time and expertise in formulating best options in every area of policy formulation, from International Relations, Education, Health and Poverty Reduction, to Housing, Social Services and Industry. I can state without fear of contradiction that it was the most comprehensive consultative process ever undertaken in the history of economic and social planning in this country. This herculean effort must not be put to waste.
While the Vision 2020 Plan formed the base of our work, we know that the world has moved on since that period and considerable time has been lost, therefore, some aspects of our policy needed to be thought through afresh and reformulated to meet the new global, regional and national realities. By way of illustration, the discovery and production of shale gas in the United States and America’s move to secure its energy independence have profoundly changed the dynamics of the global energy industry with significant, sobering implications for us here in Trinidad and Tobago.
In the area of Information and Communications Technology, the mobile revolution and the increasing use of cloud computing offers opportunity for software developers in any part of the world. In the sphere of International Relations, the post 9/11 response to Islamist militancy, the Arab Spring, the surging Chinese presence in Africa and Latin America in search of natural resources will test traditional alliances and require Caribbean nations to determine how we should position ourselves in the emerging world order. The sudden collapse of Wall Street in 2009 and the lowering of horizons in Dubai have reshaped the prospects for the growth and diversification of the world of Financial services where we had hoped to participate.
Our policy working groups have continued to grapple with these issues, engaging expertise locally and abroad, to reformulate the PNM’s policy agenda for the next decade and beyond. This work is ongoing, well advanced and will be comprehensive and thorough; forming the basis of our manifesto readiness. I would like to take this opportunity to provide some of the preliminary thinking that has emerged from our work and which will form the foundation of our policies in several areas going forward.
First, successive governments, including past PNM administrations, have fostered an overwhelming dominant role for the state in spawning, nurturing and sustaining our economic efforts. This aspect of national life runs parallel with a growing welfare bill which may not be sustainable in a period of prolonged deficit spending and potential unbearable debt burdens. We would need to stimulate production in every area with private sector capital being encouraged to assume a much greater responsibility alongside a government philosophy which continues to see a pivotal catalysing role for the state as we set out to grow our economy through ideas and initiatives utilizing our savings of local capital and whatever foreign direct investment which we are able to harness. We also would need to tackle all elements of wasteful consumption.
The outlook for the medium term is a challenge to finance and maintain the national standard of living that we have attained and have become accustomed to. Our first assignment is to prevent any erosion of our standard of living as we focus on improving what we have already achieved. We are an innovative and resilient people who, with the cooperation of Government, business and labour are capable of the highest levels of productivity in such a way that our best achievements could be made to lie ahead of us. More than ever, we have to bring those qualities to the fore.
In a situation where government revenues will be constrained, we must limit government to targeted interventions designed to secure increased production, exports and employment in decent, jobs that pay well. We must encourage our local private sector to cease its almost total reliance on government projects and contracts and to be more proactive in pursuing opportunities for growing their businesses here in Trinidad and Tobago, in the region and in the wider world. I know that some businessmen and professionals are already doing so. More of them need to do that.
The next PNM Government will work harder at encouraging a better collaborative environment between business and labour so as to minimise distrust and maximise Government’s role as an investor and a facilitator in establishing economic projects in which Government, business and labour could have an investment stake as we expand the national economic pie for the improved benefit of an expanded investor class.
Our people need to embrace the values of Personal Responsibility, Personal Initiative and Commitment to Responsible Family Life. The new social support framework and expenditure will be reoriented towards this goal.
A PNM government will ensure that its policies and programs are geared to provide you with safer communities, accessible, affordable water and electricity, decent roads and bridges, mass transportation and a clean environment. We will provide the full range of opportunity for a good education which will allow our children become well prepared citizens ready to hold good, well-paid jobs in the public and private sector. We will invest in and provide quality primary and secondary health care so that you can lead a productive and healthy life. But it is up to you to take personal responsibility for your success, to create or find productive jobs, to ensure that your children learn at school, to save part of your income for the future, and to carry on a healthy lifestyle which will prevent diseases such as diabetes and hypertension later on in life.
I want to emphasise that what I have articulated is not new to the PNM. As a party, we have always embraced the values of Personal Responsibility, Personal Initiative and Commitment to Family Life. It was Dr. Williams in his speech entitled The Chaguaramas Declaration: Perspectives for the New Society who said, and I quote:
“Perhaps the PNM Government has sometimes in the past gone too far in being paternalistic in the face of the severe lack of social amenities (particularly housing) and appalling levels of unemployment. But the New Society must now place greater emphasis on self-reliance and personal and group initiative. The urban dispossessed must still be assisted by the State in many ways, but they must learn to create employment for themselves… Hard work, thrift and perseverance must … become a way of life for most of us.”
Forty years later, those words are still relevant and resonant. Personal Responsibility, Personal Initiative and Commitment to Family Life. These are the values which underpin our policy thinking and which will be the touchstones of economic and social policy under the new PNM administration.
A Team comprising all elected Members of Parliament, Senators, Local Government Representatives, Chairmen and Mayors of Cities and Regional Corporations, and Officers of the Movement have been involved in a series of retreats where we have reviewed policies and programs in the following areas:- Energy, Macro Economy, Diversification, Education, Health, Foreign Affairs, Sports and Culture, and Local Government. National Security and Social Services will be considered at our next retreat early in the New Year.
Let me outline at least two policy initiatives which a next PNM Administration will pursue in office. I need to say that those initiatives will continue to be refined and developed, and become more specific as we move toward 2015 when we come back into office.
First, the Energy and Energy-based industries require urgent attention. Energy policy is an area which must transcend whichever party or government happens to be in power. In short, you can’t play politics with Energy policy. The foreign multinationals which are important to our exploration and development efforts plan globally over a period of 20 to 25 years. They are not concerned with our electoral politics and they cannot plan if energy policy changes with every change of government. They need to be sure that there is consistency in policy and transparency in how those policies are applied. Our competitive advantages in natural gas are being eroded by technological and market developments and we have seen, in recent years, a disastrous decline in oil production to levels not seen since the 1950s. We will focus our attention on three areas.
First, working with and fostering our energy services industry to provide professional and technical services to newer developing areas of oil and gas production in South America and in Africa. Many of our local companies are already involved in these efforts with the support and cooperation of the ministry of Energy, and a PNM administration will intensify and broaden these efforts. We will explore the opportunity to place our considerable knowledge, human resource and diplomatic clout with selected corporate partners who are prepared to joint venture with the state sector in new domains outside of Trinidad and Tobago.
Second, the positions of both Petrotrin and the NGC in the emerging energy landscape need to be revamped (merger into a Petrobras Style Administration). We are currently engaging with experienced industry practitioners in this regard and will also consult with the trade unions involved in this sector as we map the way forward.
Thirdly, we need to re-position our energy-based industries – ammonia, urea, methanol (moving downstream of these) -- given the medium and long term outlook for gas prices in this hemisphere. Here too we will be consulting with industry players and with professionals with deep knowledge of this area to formulate the best approach.
A PNM government will however, not be a buyer of last resort of plants which are beyond their useful economic life, but we will partner with companies in pursuing new initiatives and share the risks of these where we can identify clear and tangible benefits to the country in so doing.
We would want to work with the Opposition in ensuring that Energy policy transcends political immaturity. To this end we would establish the Parliamentary Committee on Energy to oversee and develop longer term strategies. I would like to expand a bit on the macro-economic environment for business activity since this is an area of immediate and great concern given the policies pursued over the last three years by the UNC administration. First, we know that the outlook for revenues flowing to government over the medium term is not encouraging. We also know from experience that the macro-economic situation can change adversely very quickly. We therefore must not put ourselves in a position of higher debt levels which are ultimately unsustainable. The way things are going, the PNM might well find dangerously high levels of debt when we come to office in 2015 or sooner. We have to prepare ourselves for this scenario. We will also tackle frontally the Transfers and Subsidies budget by ensuring that monies spent under this head are targeted and achieve their purpose, and when the objective has been achieved, the subsidies must be reduced.
We will also separate the Heritage component from the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund and place disbursements from the Heritage component under the control of Parliament. The Heritage component is for the long term benefit of our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, and we must ensure that use of those funds is not subject to the exigencies of the day or to the whims and fancies of any government in power.
Our policy teams are working and continuing to consult widely on the reformulation of the policies of the next PNM government. We will develop these policies in greater detail and with specific areas of intervention and legislation, so that the legislative agenda will also flow from this work. We are a serious party, committed to working for the betterment of all of our citizens by pursuing sensible and well thought out policies that meet the needs of the times in which we find ourselves.
The Energy Crisis Deepens
In my contribution to the 2013 budget debate, I made the point that the economic review of the energy sector confirmed that this important sector of Trinidad and Tobago which, over the past 25 years, has fuelled our economy is in serious crisis. Every element of that sector was shown to be in decline but the Minister of Finance gave but three (3) paragraphs in his budget presentation to that sector without recognizing the nature of the crisis.
The decline, prompted by gas curtailment to the end users, has created a more serious problem – namely: reducing the attractiveness of Trinidad and Tobago as a preferred destination for investment in the gas intensive industries. The reduction of gas supplies has led to a reduction in the production of ammonia, urea, methanol and steel.
Unfortunately, this reduction which has been in existence for the past two (2) years has coincided with better market prices for these products. Better market prices lead to higher gas prices – normally, something of great benefit to the country; but when gas shortage results in decrease in production, the reverse is true - reduced profits for the downstream companies also leads to reduced income for the country. The current Government believes that fortuitous sales on the volatile spot market are a satisfactory substitute for a sustainable response.
However, a more frightening result of the present situation is that - not only new investors are being discouraged but even existing investors are considering leaving and seeking to invest elsewhere.
There are at least two (2) current examples. One major investor in Trinidad and Tobago is in the process of moving plants from another country not to Trinidad and Tobago, normally an obvious choice. Up until recently, Trinidad and Tobago was a preferred destination for such plants; but it’s now going directly to the USA where, for the first time in several years, gas prices and reliability of supply are beginning to be competitive with those being offered in Trinidad and Tobago.
We may be witnessing the start of investors fleeing or reducing their investments in Trinidad and Tobago. Prior to this we have to be prepared for proper responses to discussions centred on gas pricing and supply issues in Trinidad and Tobago.
There are solutions to this energy crisis but, as in any crisis, there must be first acceptance of the fact that there is a crisis and a decision to treat with it imaginatively and with urgency.
The present administration refuses to give recognition to this and, in any event so far, has not shown any level of competence in treating with the energy sector.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, now it befalls the PNM, you and me, and all right thinking citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, and all our friends, well-wishers and supporters to rally to the cause, to close ranks and face up to the daunting challenge of PUTTING THE NATION BACK ON TRACK. That is our Mission from here on in. PUTTING THE NATION BACK ON TRACK.
So the question which remains to be answered is this. Where do we begin?
In providing the answers to this question, of one thing you can be sure. It is this: It cannot and will not be a case of business as usual.
Much has occurred in and around us that requires us to take a very serious, sincere, objective and honest look at ourselves not only as a Party, not only as an Institution not only as a force to be reckoned with, as much as a force of no mean significance we already are. We have to prepare ourselves to take back our country.
We can do so not by wishful thinking, not simply by having a burning desire nor by winning an election as win we must and win we will. As important and significant as these factors may be, they are not ends in themselves. They are only the means to the end.
So, Ladies and gentlemen, what this means, what this signifies is that we in this country have come to the most defining moment of our 50 years as an independent nation. There can be no turning back. The events of the past 30 months, since this administration has come into office, are enough to make it abundantly clear to all citizens whose interest in the welfare and wellbeing of Trinidad and Tobago is pure, honest and sincere that the time has come for all citizens to make the most delicate and defining choice with respect to what they wish for our country. What do we really, truly and sincerely wish for our Country.
The choice is simple and straightforward but the way forward, once the right choice is made will be hard and may be demanding.
There are only two options. There can be no middle of the road: Ladies and gentlemen. Members of the PNM. It is a choice between the forces of good or the forces of not so good. That is the choice. It could not be clearer. It could not be more straightforward. I repeat. You have to make the choice between the forces of progress and the forces of regression. We in this country have come to the most serious crossroad since our attainment of Independence. The lessons of the past 30 months have placed that burden upon us as a Nation and we cannot slink away from it or shirk our responsibilities.
Those of us who wish to put the county back on track have no choice but to line up with the PNM. The PNM raises the standard for Progress and welcomes all who desire to follow that standard for Trinidad and Tobago. Those who wish otherwise and or wish to stay on the fence all we say to them is think hard and think deep. The forces of good will always triumph over the forces of evil. For us in the PNM, the choice is as clear as day follows night. So the battle is engaged and of one thing we in the PNM are assured. Victory will be ours.
Out of the depths of nothing came the unprepared coalition in May 2010. They came, pretending to bear gifts of love, but instead gave us mountains of hate; instead of gifts of caring they have injected division and fear; instead of gifts of a better way of life they have made us to suffer; instead of truth, honesty and integrity, they have poisoned our space with graft, greed, and corruption and last but by no means least instead of gifts of comfort and faith in ourselves, they have sought to shake the firm foundation of our confidence in ourselves; they ridicule us and portray us as figures of fun in the region and the world. The time has come for them to depart. And so I declare unto the hapless Partnership: From nothing and with nothing you have come and so unto nothing and by elections you shall return.
And so, with this pronouncement to all and sundry, on behalf of the People’s National Movement, I, as Political Leader do hereby now further declare that the battle to rescue and save our country is on. The troops are gathering in Tobago and the moment of decision is at hand.
From the first moment the Prime Minister set foot on Tobago, her bellicose stance was marked by her declaration that she has “courthouse clothes” and her hostility to the duly elected PNM- controlled Tobago House of Assembly never abated. She refused to acknowledge the existence of the legal Executive body and insulted the Assembly at every turn but Tobagonians are a proud, respectful people who are more than capable of enduring these slights and defending their honor with dignity.
Unlike the PNM they have chosen minority partners in Tobago in the hope that they could prevail, not directly, but by proxy. Such deceitful traps are doomed to failure.
The PNM on the other hand has been evolutionary, open and always upfront with our sisters and brothers in Tobago. Within our party we amended our Constitution to devolve autonomy to the Tobago Island Council. This regional arm of our party has been functioning effectively in representing the people of Tobago under the wise and steady hand of Deputy Political Leader Orville London and his Tobago team. We are very proud of them.
With respect to Tobago’s desire for greater autonomy in the form of internal self- government, it was the PNM, at a national Convention in Chaguaramas, in 2010, which accepted a resolution in support of the island-wide consutations which were embarked upon by the Assembly in search of a Tobago position on this matter.
We let the Tobagonians conduct and conclude the process, all along with a commitment from this party, that we will support Tobago’s legitimate aspirations. That commitment stands and is unshakeable. If there are those who believe that their political expediency and puppetry could trump the intelligence of Tobagonians then we invite them to identify themselves.
As Political Leader of The PNM, and a Tobagonian by birth, I deliberately allowed the Tobago position to emerge without interference having stated that I would join in support at the appropriate time and all Tobagonians know that they can count on me, and the PNM, to protect the best interest of Tobago.
The PNM is on the march. The march is on to return your Party to its leadership role in providing enlightened, enriching, honest and good governance to our beloved land. The ground work is being methodically, systematically and scientifically laid.
It involves taking the necessary steps to engage in institutional strengthening; to remodel, reshape and redress the PNM to bring it in line with the changes and demands of a modern and enlightened society. It involves taking advantage of the wealth of talent which abounds, wherever it is to be found; reopening our doors, welcoming the patriots in, assembling the best brains in the country, embracing the vast reservoir of knowledge, skills and expertise of all fellow travellers to nationhood. All of whom without exception have been the beneficiaries of PNM education, PNM training, PNM opportunities for advancement professionally and academically and PNM wealth creation over decades of PNM vision, PNM values and PNM virtues. We are expanding our frontiers and extending our vision beyond party to country, the region and the world at large.
But here is the key to it all.
Suffice it to say that since I have been honoured to serve you in the capacity of Political leader of this great Party, I have been privileged to assemble several teams of dedicated and committed individuals in and out of the party who have been engaged in the process of developing the infrastructural framework within which to restore the Party to the pride of place which it once enjoyed in shaping the destiny of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
You have heard from our Deputy Chairman, Ms. Camille Robinson Regis in respect of the call by many of you to bring about constitutional reform within the party. Now this is a very serious matter. It is serious not only because it is absolutely necessary, but also because of the fact that as the party prepares itself to resume its rightful place in the governance of the country, the evasive issue of constitutional reform will take center stage in putting the nation back on track.
The fact of life is that since our establishment in 1956, that is 56 years ago, the constitution of the PNM has not undergone any significant upgrade. This is in the face of the fact that change has been taking place all around us. The times are different, the experiences are different, social and educational transformation engulfs us, we have moved away from being a colonial territory owing allegiance to others, to being masters of our own destiny. The experiences of politics, government and governance have evolved worldwide, way beyond anything that we could have anticipated or dreamt of. Faced with these realities we would be bordering upon being naïve or obsolete not to recognize the urgent imperative to reshape our constitution, to give our membership a greater say in the decision making process and to improve the system of democracy which must govern all that we do. Ours must be a party which must thrive on decentralized power and authority, transferring power from the bosoms of the few and placing the power of the party in the hands of the many. So that work is in progress and you our members and the national community will hear more about this in the not too distant future.
We are also engaged in an exercise which seeks to bring all our Constituencies in line with modern and up to date structural adjustment. In other words we are engaged in a Constituency modernization exercise designed to reinvigorate our Constituencies, bring them to life, and create the environment for meaningful membership participation and involvement in a very positive and satisfying way; giving life and meaning to the doctrine of being a Party of the people, by the people and for the people. This too you will hear much more about imminently.
We are currently reviewing the Nation’s Constitution. You are no doubt aware that many administrations, including our own PNM have been talking this question of Constitutional Reform, filling our hearts and minds with great expectation but so far with precious little to show for it. With national consensus and commitment to the citizenry we could revolutionize the way that this country is governed in such a way as to bring our governance in line with that which is expected within a modern, civilized and enlightened environment. This will be a major plank upon which we plan to incorporate the citizenry in becoming actively involved in the governance of our country. We will do this not just as a PNM exercise but in conjunction with as wide a cross section of the national community as is feasible and available.
These are just a few of the initiatives which we are pursuing as we prepare ourselves. It means redefining our roles, reengineering our organization, and putting all the systems in place to provide you with modern and contemporary governance even prior to resuming office once more in the year 2015, or sooner.
Side by side with these initiatives are others which will see the modernisation of the party secretariat and Headquarters, the way in which we communicate with you the membership in general and the quality of relationship which we maintain with the national community, the way in which we interact and interface with the special interest groups, the labour movement, how we rebrand the leadership, how we relate with the mass media, giving them their due regard and respect, how we reassure the Trinidad and Tobago Diaspora, our citizens and friends overseas that relief is coming and that soon they can return to holding their head up high as proud and privileged citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
How we engage and treat our women, our mothers, our daughters and our sisters and grant to them the dignity and respect which is their right:, whether it be in the household, the workplace, the playing field, on the roads they walk, in the parties, the mas bands, wherever and whenever, that dignity which we owe our women must be restored and assured, come what may. And last but by no means least the confidence and faith which we must repose in our young people that they too can return to the days when they can stand tall and be counted, confident that there is a place and an opportunity for them as they chart their course into the future and live the dreams which only they themselves dare to dream.
Yes, fellow members of the PNM. This is the beginning of a new dawn …..for you, for your party and for our country. A great deal is taking place behind the scenes and soon we will unveil it all to you, at the right time and in the right place.
Over the past 50 years and more, in spite of our frailties, in spite of our shortcomings, no one can deny that the PNM did its best to make you and the nation proud. Today, the call is no different. We are committed as a party to make our nation proud once again.
In this regard I want you to remember one thing: This reincarnation, this resuscitation, this resurgence is not about me, nor is it about Camille, or Faris or any one person, group or institution in the PNM. In fact it is not even about the PNM. It is about Country.
It is also about you, it is about all the people of Trinidad and Tobago irrespective of colour, class, creed, religious persuasion or ethnicity. It is about all of us, you and me, your children and mine, young and old alike and it is about the pride in ourselves and faith in our destiny which we are called upon to fight for with all our might if we are to recover the lost ground and to restore this Nation to the position of prominence which it once enjoyed among the illustrious international family of nations. We can only achieve this …. together.
And so, let me begin my descent and take you to a safe landing by asking you to commit yourselves to the progress and development of our Nation in the manner which has been so eloquently, meaningfully and intellectually prescribed in the words of our Party’s first Political Leader and the nation’s foremost Prime Minister and I quote:
“Together, the various groups in Trinidad and Tobago have suffered, together they have aspired, together they have achieved. Only together can they succeed. And only together can they build a society, can they build a nation, can they build a homeland. Eric Williams, History of Trinidad and Tobago (p.279) On April 24th 2007, the President of the Republic of South Africa His Excellency Thabo Mbeki bestowed posthumously on Dr. Eric Williams, the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa’s Supreme Order of the Companion of O. R Tambo (Gold). The tribute was in recognition of Dr. Williams’s commitment to peace and cooperation and his inspiration to South Africa’s own quest for unity and harmony.
According to Professor William Darity of Duke University, “The vision during South Africa’s struggle for liberation was strikingly similar to the vision of that great West Indian Historian and Prime Minister Eric Williams who directly addressed the great diversity of his own country in the cause of national unity. He quoted Eric Williams as follows:
“There can be no Mother India for those whose ancestors came from India. There can be no Mother Africa for those of African origin. There can be no Mother England, and no dual loyalties. There can be no Mother China, even if one could agree as to which China is the Mother and there can be no Mother Syria and no Mother Lebanon. A Nation, like an individual can have only one Mother and a Mother cannot discriminate between her children.”
He said“This is the wisdom that we too apply in our quest for a single South Africa,” wrote President Mbeki in his foreword to the 2005 book: Timol: A Quest for Justice by Imtiaz Cajee.He went on to say that “Dr. Williams example continues to be a force in South Africa’s fight against hegemony and the President praised Williams for the latter’s efforts in this regard in his 2005 feature address at the 50th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference which marked a turning point in the mobilisation of third world peoples against imperialism – both past and present.
This posthumous Award which was conferred upon Dr. Williams by the President of South Africa, His Excellency Thabo Mbeki, was in fact instituted by the President himself to reflect the new spirit of South Africa to create a history of South Africa’s achievements and to provide motivation to future citizens.
The account recorded the fact that “The Supreme Order is awarded in three classes of which the Gold which was posthumously bestowed upon our first Prime Minister, Dr. Eric Eustace Williams is the pinnacle”.
Fellow PNM members, even as others ignore it, we cannot allow this distinction which has been posthumously bestowed upon our nation’s founding father to be frittered away and be lost to our own generations. It behooves each and every one of us to take that cue from the people of South Africa who even today, hold our first Prime Minister in such high esteem. It is a distinction of unquantifiable international acclaim and dimension which regrettably the current regime, jealous and afraid of their own shadows, not only hates to come to terms with but many times seek to discredit and/or to hide from our people.
No greater tribute to the memory of the father of our nation and to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and South Africa can be paid than all of us, rank and file of the PNM, committing ourselves to return our party to the pinnacle. Let us as a country aspire to restore our nation to the pinnacle. Let us together aspire. Let us together achieve. Long live, the PNM. Long live the nation of Trinidad and Tobago, Long live our native land.
GREAT IS THE PNM! GREAT IS THE PNM! GREAT IS THE PNM! AND IT SHALL PREVAIL.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for affording me the opportunity to address you on this very auspicious occasion, enjoy the balance of the evening, mix and introduce yourself to someone whom you have never met. Return safely to your homes after the party in the courtyard and may almighty God bless each and every one of you and May God Bless our nation.