Fellow citizens,
“Be at War with your Vices, at Peace with your Neighbours, and let every New Year find you a better Man.”—Those are the words of Benjamin Franklin and there can be no better prescription as we embark upon a New Year and decade.

Traditionally, the new year is when one takes stock of personal and public successes and failures of the foregoing year. 2019 has had its share of highs and lows, and while it often seemed that the lows vastly outweighed the highs, we must not despair. Now would be the time to consider how the successes can be replicated and grown and how declines and missteps can be stemmed or avoided. Just as we take particular pride and ownership in our 2019 accomplishments, we must acknowledge and bear our responsibility, individually and nationally, for the much that has gone wrong. The challenges we face—crime, unemployment, road fatalities and racism, among the list—will define us unless every individual, office-holder and agency admits its role, stops the blame game, commits to doing and then actually does its bounden duty. Boundless faith in our destiny means little unless we are prepared to do the necessary works. Whether we hold the office of president; minister of government; minister of religion, clerk, or that most important office of citizen, we each have a responsibility to make a contribution to the healthy development of our nation.

Citizenship is a contact sport. None of us has the luxury of being a casual observer or bystander or member of the audience. We have every right to comment, criticise and complain but what we do not have the right to do is nothing more.

My undertaking, apart from the formal State work, is to focus on nation-building—national consciousness, national involvement and national pride. Many in our population seem to think that all must be right with us before we can take pride in our nation. I venture to suggest that those people are putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps when we identify and treasure our many blessings as a nation, we will do our part to encourage and develop the good, reject the unacceptable, hold our public officials to account, and ensure that there is much of which to be proud.

In this vein, the Office of the President will in 2020 embark upon a series of visits to schools nationwide in a programme called Inform, Educate, Engage, with the aim of igniting the fire of national pride in the young people of our nation. This will run concurrently with our Citizen True a four-year youth development programme aimed at creating committed citizens, which was launched in May 2019. Regrettably, I suspect you have heard more about who can bring whom to official functions at President’s House or where I will spend my nights than this ongoing project. Two other initiatives, First Females and Youth—Truth to Power will also come on-stream this year.

I invite you to give deep consideration to what you can and will do to make Trinidad and Tobago a better place for us all in 2020, a year in which we can realistically expect to face as many, if not more, challenges than beset us in 2019. Walking around with our heads in our hands crying, “Woe betide us” has not delivered any benefits, so clearly we need to do something different.

Fellow citizens, for better or for worse, we are joined at the hip and together we will determine our outcomes as we step into this new decade. Let us declare in the words of our anthem, this our native land, we pledge our lives to thee, and ensure that every creed and race finds an equal, happy and peaceful place in Trinidad and Tobago.

And may God Bless our Nation.