PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Trinidad and Tobago is celebrating its 49th year of political independence from Britain under a state of emergency, an eight hour curfew and President George Maxwell Richards saying now is the opportune time for citizens to reflect on the supreme law of the land.
The Kamla Persad Bissessar lead coalition People’s Partnership government put the oil rich twin island republic under a state of emergency and an eight hour curfew since August 21 as it sought to deal with the rising crime situation in the country.
So far nearly 900 people including more than 33 gang leaders and members have been detained under the measures and the government has already signaled that it will seek an extension of the state of emergency when the parliament meets on Friday. There is also the possibility that the eight hour curfew would be reduced.
In his Independence Day message President Richards said that the country must continue to build on its achievements over the years but there was also need for reflection.
“None of us can deny that we are in troubling times, as is the rest of the world, and as the world is certainly looking at us, we as individuals and collectively, must take a deep introspective look at ourselves.
“We did not come to this place suddenly, so shock would hardly be appropriate, in the circumstance. Blame and posturing cannot help us either and so we must , if we say we love our country above self and mean it, do what is necessary to bring us back from the edge, to which we are dangerously close,” he said.
The head of state said that what is necessary remains a question that may be answered, only partially, by some of the action that may be regarded as “inevitable.”
“We cannot succeed if we do not ask ourselves how we came to this place of tension. Everyone has an opinion, I am sure, but none of us can afford to be insensitive to the issues that pervade our society. We have been spared some of the tragedies that beset other nations, some of them post-colonial like ours, but we cannot trust to luck.”
The President said that as the country celebrates 49 years of Independence, “from now and in the future, it cannot be business as usual for any of us.”
“There must be a clear demonstration, well understood by all, that we are all participants in the process of building our nation and that the majority of us are not just consumers.
“ At all levels of our society, good ideas abound and while leadership must lead, as we are required to do by reason of our office, solutions to critical matters may reside with the seemingly most insignificant among us, whose rights must be secure and whose responsibilities must not be diminished.”
He said the independence celebrations also provide the ideal time to reflect on the Constitution, in the preamble of which it is declared that, among other things, the people of Trinidad and Tobago assert their ‘belief in a democratic society in which all persons may, to the extent of their capacity, play some part in the institutions of national life and thus develop and maintain due respect for lawfully constituted authority,’ ..’respect the principles of social justice and therefore believe that the operation of the economic system should result in the material resources of the community being so distributed as to subserve the common good.
“We must not lose hope, but have faith in a common citizenship where Trinidad and Tobago is paramount, even as we recognise our several ancestral origins from many different parts of the world.
“We owe it to ourselves and to the generations to come, to renew, in absolute consciousness, our pledge of allegiance to our beloved Trinidad and Tobago,” he added.
Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, whose People’s National Movement (PNM) has been critical of the government’s decision to impose the state of emergency, said that he had every confidence that “our future is bright and our confidence in ourselves is not misplaced. It is in this spirit that I wish a happy and thoughtful independence to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
“At age 49, we are a youthful but resilient nation. We have experienced some thrilling highs and have had some agonising lows. However, our people have always been able to pick up the pieces, band together and travel along the road to further growth and development in that quest for a better life.
“Today, we continue to face various challenges which threaten our economic, social and psychological well being on both the macro and micro levels. As political leader of the People’s National Movement, the party whose founding father steered our nation to independence, I urge all the people of our country to hold fast to the hopes and aspirations of 1962”.
The traditional military parade that forms the highlight of the Independence Day celebrations is going ahead but the traditional firework display has been cancelled since it would be taking place during the 9.00 pm to 5. 00 am (local time) curfew.
Meanwhile, Zalayhar Hassanali, the wife of the late president Noor Hassanali, is among four people given the country’s highest award – the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
She will receive the award for her contribution to community service just as businesswoman Helen Bhagwansingh and businessman Anthony Norman Sabga. Retired judge Philip Louis Ulric Cross will receive the country’s highest award for his contribution to law.
Forty six individuals, including 15 women, and two organisations, will also be honoured on Wednesday.
Among them is singer Denyse Plummer, who is being awarded the Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for her work in the sphere of culture.
Roman Catholic priest Father Clyde Martin Harvey, will also receive the Humming Bird Medal (Gold) for religion and community service while Pastor Winston Cuffiewill receive the Chaconia Medal (Gold) for religion.
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