Fellow citizens, on August 31, 1962, Trinidad and Tobago became an independent nation. Independence meant that the country was no longer subject to British rule. It meant that we now had the freedom and the legal power to dictate our own future. It was the biggest step that we had taken up to that time in our country’s journey towards full self-determinism. It was a defining moment in our country’s history.

However, notwithstanding our independence, the nation remained a constitutional monarchy, recognising the British monarch as the country’s official head, who was represented locally in our governmental system by the office of Governor General. Securing independence had gained us legal sovereignty, but the aspiration to be a fully self-governed nation was yet to be fulfilled.

Fourteen years later, on 1st August 1976, the people of Trinidad and Tobago finally attained full self-determinism and full sovereignty. We became a republic—a state in which supreme authority rested with the people and their representatives, and in which our constitutional head became our President, as opposed to the British monarch.

At the time, we were only the second independent nation in the British West Indies to achieve republican status. Since then, Dominica and Barbados have been welcomed into the republican fold, with several others only recently signalling their desire to follow suit. Some would say – and not without justification – that our country has always led the way.

Assuming full command of our destiny was no mean feat. It required the architects of our struggle for republican status, as well as the people they represented, to draw heavily upon the values and qualities intrinsic to us as a people. Courage was required to complete the separation process from colonial power, and to well and truly go it alone. Another requirement was confidence—confidence in our ability as a people that, as our beloved and departed Black Stalin sung, “we can make it if we try”. We had to have vision for a brighter, bolder, better future, crafted by and for Trinbagonians.

47 years on, these qualities are still very much part and parcel of our process of nation-building. These qualities are relevant now, more than ever before, as we face challenges of various kinds.

On this Republic Day, amid the hurly-burly of everyday life, let us pause and replenish our supply of courage, confidence and vision, and let us remind ourselves of the reasons that those who forged our liberty believed, not only that we would make it, but that we would thrive.

We are still a courageous people. Our grit has enabled us to rise head and shoulders above the challenges and growing-pains that afflict us, whether they be political stalemates, economic crises, environmental disasters, infrastructural dysfunction, or institutional failures. To say that we do and will rise above these afflictions is not to say that we look at our difficulties through rose-coloured glasses. Not at all – it is rather to say that we acknowledge our difficulties for the extremely serious challenges that they are, but that we tackle and we overcome them, time and again, by reason of that unique Trinbagonian resolve that lives inside each of us.

Trinbagonians are an unquestionably confident and self-possessed people. We are found in every corner of the planet, making a name for ourselves and our nation by our intelligence, our talent, our humour, and our creativity. We have had horses in the most prestigious races, distinguishing ourselves time and again on the biggest stages of world sport, beauty, fashion, film, academia, arts and culture.

47 years along our journey of full self-determinism, we may not be precisely where we want to be – but we know where we are going. We are a nation, young both in years and at heart, ‘small but overwhelming in worth’. Let us continue to work toward realising the full scope of our sovereignty, together. As another of our beloved and departed sons, Merchant, sang – “Come, let us build a nation together”.

As we journey toward our 48th year of republican status, my hope and my prayer is that we do so with an enhanced sense of national pride and purpose.

I extend to the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago best wishes for a safe and enjoyable Republic Day.