Republic Day Celebration Address to the Nation on of Trinidad and Tobago

His Excellency Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT. SC. President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago address to the nation on the occasion of the 39th Republic Day Celebration on September 24, 2015.

Tonight, as I did yesterday at the Ceremonial Opening of the 11th Session of the Parliament, I intend to speak to the hearts, souls and conscience of the citizens of this blessed Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, as we navigate another transitional stage of our nation’s democratic process. All of us- whether farmer, teacher, doctor, carpenter, student, labourer, banker- give meaning, purpose and life everyday to our democracy by your personal contribution, individual commitment and sacrifice.  We all experience an easy transition from Independence in 1962 to Republicanism in 1976.  This easy transition may well have led to an under-appreciation of what Republicanism to us all. Republic Day is simply not another holiday.

As a Republic of 39 years, we have since been in full control of our national destiny. Errors have been made but we have always displayed hopeful perseverance in righting the wrongs and weathering the storms.

At this stage of our nation’s political transition, it is important that we bear in mind that this country belongs not to any one party or segment of society but is a democracy which is held in the hands of every citizen, despite race, creed, political or economic persuasion. This country belongs to each of us, not to our colonial past, not to the elite few, not to the government and politicians but to each and every man, woman and child who call this Trinidad and Tobago home.

Our duty therefore is to treat it well, treat this country with pride and reverence- and by that I mean especially, that we treat each other with respect, kindness and dignity. Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, it is time we lay down our weapons of intolerance, race and cultural isolationism, back-biting and inhumanity towards each other.

In his address to the Joint Session of the United States Congress just this morning, Pope Francis reminded that the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” points in a clear direction to us all in Trinidad and Tobago.  I wish to invoke the sentiments of Pope Francis Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

In our actions, interactions, reactions and treatment of each other, what yardstick will time use for each of us, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago? This is what I will humbly ask each of you to consider as you go about your business and daily lives.

We fought a constitutional fight to liberate ourselves from colonial power so that we can be free and sovereign, united as one people under one Republican Constitution, where we acknowledged the Supremacy of God, faith in fundamental rights and freedom, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable rights with which all members of the human family are endowed by their creator respecting the principles of social justice and the paramountcy of the common good.

We need to return to a traditional way of life where we were each our brother’s keeper. I believe in this because where I lived in Palo Seco, Santa Flora, Dalley Village and Fyzabad, generally everyone cared and looked out for each other and it was a good, wholesome way of life.

Idealism must have its place in one’s life and the solution is neither to be quiet nor imitate the wrongs. It lies in the morality of our conscience, that part of us-which we ALL innately possess- that appeals to the good in us. As Pope Francis pellucidly stated this morning, “Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

Renewal must be our mission and it begins with our young people.
Our young people are at risk, ladies and gentlemen.  They search for guidance and acceptance but the generational gap is sometimes too broad to bridge.  We need to ensure that they always have a voice; that they are represented in the ‘corridors of power’.  Time and time again I have spoken of the upper age limit which prevents exceptional young people from fully participating in governance because we mistakenly equate only age with reason, wisdom and altruism.  Whilst it is true that age can provide valuable experience and knowledge, it can also breed comfort, inertia and thus resistance to change. There is a need for more young people in positions where they can make a difference with their energy and resistance to jaded rhetoric.

The youth of our nation are searching for answers and will not accept disingenuous attempts to misdirect and misinform.

Very often within our governing structures we make decisions based on our proclivity for holding on to perceived past wrongs.  Then too the reverse can be detrimental as well.  Via the well-established ‘Halo’ effect we can associate past success with future good performance, not being mindful of the rapidly changing environment and the diminishing currency held by many stalwarts.  We have to learn how to let go and move on.  Remember also that the “old boys’ and girls'” club has its place, utility and relevance reposed in institutional memory and conventional wisdom but it is not the only source of quality leadership or of ideas and innovation.

On this Republic Day, let us remember the least of our brothers and sisters. Our social and welfare systems need compassionate overhauling.  A yardstick for measuring success in these systems is the manner in which the young, the old and infirm are treated.  What are the prospects for orphans in this country?  What future can they have?  Extend that thought to troubled youngsters in the various institutions which they call home.  I speak of places such as the St. Jude’s Home for Girls and the St. Michael’s Home for Boys.  What about the residents of the Princess Elizabeth and Lady Hochoy Homes?  They require progressive attention not business as usual treatment. They are left to fend for themselves with only the care of a few dedicated nuns, struggling NGOs and other selfless individuals who try to bring dignity and love to them.

Just a few days ago, I listened to My Lord Chief Justice Archie at the opening of the 2015-2016 Law Term, pine away at the lack of resources, infrastructural and human in the Judiciary and I felt a sense of kindred spirit and connection in his entreaty.

I am still burdened by the inadequacies of physical space and it was evident when I had no choice but to swear in a new Prime Minister and new Government in a concert hall. The President’s House, in its majestic glory, a thing of beauty, is now deteriorating and tottering on its way to becoming an architectural monstrosity, is waiting, panting and hoping to be saved by someone, by anyone. In this regard, I want to implore the Citizens for Conservation Group to be not dispirited by the destruction of the Grey Friars Church- and it makes me wonder, are we becoming philistine?- yours is a good honourable fight- and I continue to seek your intervention, and the intervention of all to support the preservation of our historical buildings. We need to be proud of ourselves and our history because where else will our pride come from?

Citizens of this Republic, while we need to preserve our historical buildings, we also need to preserve our people. Our very man-child who is suffering from the ravages of spiralling crime and often, when confronted with the crimes of our young people, we say in Trinidad and Tobago that “we make our children but we don’t make their minds.” This is incorrect. The brain is biological. We are all born with the organ but minds are sociological. Minds are the outcome of the processes of socialisation and social engineering. Minds are made. Our children are observing and learning. They are constantly in the zone of proximal development. The future belongs to them because we are already the past. We must therefore embrace the present with care and compassion.

As I said yesterday in my Address to the Parliament, The home should be a catalyst for change, a place where members show respect for parental authority, civil authority, and the law of God.”

Just a few days ago on Monday 21st September, the world observed the United Nation’s International Day of Peace and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a call for the laying down of arms and “strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples“.  In the spirit of true peace, I dare say it is our nation’s time to plant, to heal, to build and to work towards a future of togetherness, hard work, cooperation and constructive engagement for the fulfilment of our shared aspiration for a better Trinidad and Tobago.

Our future belongs to us and no one else. It is ours for the taking. And I hope we take it, harness it and convert it for the good of each other and this great rainbow nation of ours. If we do good, good will come to us. To borrow phrases from three of our religions, I exhort you to, according to the Bhagavad Gita “never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction” “for God will see your deeds” as the Holy Quran states and He “will repay every man for what he has done” (Romans 2:6).

If we strive to be good, hard-working, compassionate citizens and leaders of this Republic, that is the yardstick time will use to measure us. Indeed, by then, we will have left an even more thriving, advanced and tolerant country to our children and grandchildren.

It is my firm conviction, a belief ingrained in my soul that everybody is somebody and no one must be left behind. Trinidad and Tobago, today as we celebrate Republic Day, know that everybody is somebody and everybody is important. We will all find our progressive place in this Republic, once we band ourselves together for the common good of country and people over party and politics.

On this Republic Day, I find comfort and much wisdom in the words of one of the wisest men that lived almost 3,000 years ago, King Solomon, whose insight into the drama and dilemma of human life is as relevant today as it was then.  In Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, King Solomon speaks of a season for every activity under the heavens, and said, “there is a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time for war and a time for peaceI know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.”

On behalf of my wife, my children Christian and Anura, I wish you all a Happy Republic Day as we move forward, together, in this country that we love.