- 01 JAN 2023
Prime Minister’s New Year Message 2023
Message to the nation from Dr the Honourable Keith Rowley Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on the occasion of New Year’s Day 2023.
New Year Greetings to all our citizens in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. As we continue our journey into the New Year, I take this opportunity to extend, on behalf of the Government, my family and myself, best wishes for all our various endeavours as we step into the new year.
As we make this festive cross-over, I feel assured that most of us are doing so with a sense of hope that this new year will be far more productive, fruitful, and peaceful than 2022.
It is really to the credit of us all that, so far, we have been able to overcome the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, although we keep our eyes on the external confirmations that it is not over, given the recent surge of new cases in China, and the reported increase in hospitalisation in the United States. Even more concerning is that some travel restrictions have begun to be reintroduced in some parts of the world. However, beginning next week, the Government plans to ramp up its booster vaccination campaign, largely targeting the elderly and most vulnerable as well as the unvaccinated.
The Government will also continue to be guided by our Public Health professionals and place our confidence in the level of induced and natural immunity which currently resides in the general population. This should serve us in good stead barring the emergence of any new and more dangerous strains of the lingering virus. Under these circumstances and especially given the coming of the Carnival season, I implore each and every one of you to be ever mindful of the threat posed by the virus as we continue to do whatever is deemed necessary to minimise spread and personal exposure.
The Covid experience has shown us “a new face” of the globe, which tells us, among other things, that the world is becoming smaller, particularly when viewed through the lens of the advances in 21st-century technology, international trade, and transnational relations.
It is my hope that in 2023 we will make that extra effort to cultivate that feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood among us, with the knowledge that we all belong to one big human family; to do otherwise is to never overcome our socio-economic challenges and face up to the larger dangers of our very human existence. Black Stalin invited us to believe that “we can make it if we try.”
In 2022, we continued to experience the relentless assault of the criminal element, resulting in a record number of murders, facilitated, and bolstered by other alarming incidents of crime, such as persistent gun running, institutional corruption and facilitation as well as the ever-present growth of gang activity in many parts of the country. Whilst none of this is new, it is clear that the scale and frequency of these negative strands of the fabric of our society require constant review and more robust targeted responses if we are to suppress and eradicate them from our future.
It is against this background that the Government commits to making 2023 a year of public review and consequent overhaul and redoubling of our efforts aimed at increased focus on:
1. The utilisation of the considerable resource allocation to this sector.
2. The public health consideration of criminal conduct in our society.
3. A renewed attempt at Parliamentary intervention in support of the work of agencies and institutions.
4. A continued identification and urgent support for “at risk” groups and expansion of the many youth development programmes.
5. Improvements in sustained and effective law enforcement.
We start off these approaches and commitments with a series of public conversations in early 2023, to be followed by the necessary interventions as deemed necessary.
Some people may feel justified in seeing our existence only through the prism of the negative lenses, and believe that runaway criminality is the hallmark and highlight of our efforts but I invite you to take note that our circumstances are not unique and that there is a whole lot of good that is Trinidad and Tobago, a lot of success that we have attained in a difficult period and a lot of good that we can look forward to in 2023 and beyond.
As this country slowly came out of the pandemic in 2022, we saw an improvement in our economic fortunes. The war in Europe and subsequent disruptions of the world energy market caused a dramatic increase in energy prices which benefited this country immensely, especially since we had made some correctional changes in our involvement in the gas and oil businesses.
After being forced to tighten our expenditure profile during the last few years, for the first time in 14 years, this country experienced a budget surplus in 2022, with revenues exceeding planned expenditure. This has not been an easy road and by no means are we experiencing a boom, but our carefully managed circumstances are improving.
Throughout this administration, there has been a careful reduction in excessive and wasteful expenditure, combined with significant changes in our energy fiscal regime. These have positioned us to benefit from the current, higher energy prices. There has been a good response and recovery from the non-oil sector and our financial systems remain strong.
On the other hand, the new global dynamic has created various challenges which we are forced to encounter. High energy prices have resulted in increased global inflation. The cost of food, fuel, electricity, fertilizers and other crucial inputs in manufacturing, agriculture and production has increased globally, to levels unseen in decades.
So, while we experience an improvement in our domestic balances, one of the highest risks to our well-being is global inflation, which, unfortunately, is touching the lives of every consumer in Trinidad and Tobago because we are part of this global economy and are not insulated from its myriad shocks.
Still, we continue to enjoy some of the lowest energy costs in the region, our fuel prices are still below comparable market prices, and though increasing, our inflation rate is still well below what is experienced in many other countries.
I assure you that in 2023 the Government will continue to contain high and rising prices which, I know, is eroding workers’ purchasing power and the value of their accumulated savings. What the improved earnings have afforded us is a renewed attempt to settle a large amount of recurring Government debt which was being carried in a number of Government departments. This will continue into 2023. For example, the HDC has just settled over $500 million in chronic debt load in the last few weeks. Some other entities are also being encouraged and assisted to do likewise. There is the improved payment of VAT refunds and some other outstanding Government debts.
The Government is anxious to have its offer to Public Servants (2013-2019) adjudicated upon by the Tribunal so that negotiations for a new, less traumatic period, can commence in calmer and improved circumstances. An early settlement as proposed by the Government would see a not insignificant sharing of the increased revenues with a large portion of the population, the salaried and wage-earning class, who have been feeling the brunt of the harsh realities that we have been grappling within the last few years.
The mercurial Black Stalin implored us, in one of his vintage renditions, to “look on the bright side, because that is where are going.”
Recently, I and many of our religious leaders urged citizens to remember that in periods of great darkness, there is always a dawn to be had. That dawn is in the performance of the domestic economy, its the signs of resurgence in both the energy and non-energy sectors, and in the aftermath of the worst of the pandemic. Our 2023 budget is focused on continuing this growth momentum, concentrating on infrastructure development of our roads, bridges, and government buildings and providing opportunities for our youth in various spheres, including innovative agriculture and increasing our energy sector activity.
We are restructuring the HDC for better service delivery. We have successfully raised significant sums at the IDB to restructure WASA and assist in an improvement in the delivery of water and wastewater services throughout the country. We have restructured the LNG business alongside our multinational partners. We are ready with the Revenue Authority to afford us improved collection of the country’s tax revenue in an environment of greater efficiency and fairness. We are ready to implement Local Government Reform for improved service delivery at the local level throughout Trinidad. The new boroughs of Diego Martin and Siparia stand ready to welcome this long-awaited arrival. The Procurement Legislation will be proclaimed before Easter.
Our national airline CAL has weathered the storm and is approaching the Government for support in expanding its fleet and services mainly across the Caribbean. Tobago is getting its new Airport Terminal building. Finally, the politics is out of the way and construction is underway. We are making ready to welcome the young Commonwealth as we host the Junior Commonwealth Games in Trinidad and in Tobago.
As a people, we have been resilient, over these recent difficult years. It has been my honour and distinct privilege to lead you through it. Now, the tide is turning, it is the Government’s intention to re-set and fine-tune the national trajectory, as is being seen at present, in the areas of social development e.g., job creation, reforming policies in education, national security, housing, social services, agriculture, youth development etc. all to the benefit of citizens. We are cautiously opening discussions on some aspects of Public Sector Reform, and we continue to prosecute white collar crime. We will advance the Whistleblower legislation and Campaign Finance Reform on the legislative programme.
It is my plea to fellow citizens that as we cross over into the new year that we, individually, acknowledge fully our civic responsibilities. We all frequently talk about our democratic rights and entitlements, but I hold out that this is a good time for citizens to conscientiously demonstrate that desired recognition of the civic responsibilities for their lives, their actions for and against each other. For instance, recognise Crime as a Public Emergency in which every citizen has a part to play. If you see something harmful or threatening, say something. We have established safe channels where your information can assist. Hold up your patriotic and ethical duty to play an active role in society, by showing your participation and advancement for the common good of Trinidad and Tobago.
Everyone has to be mindful, aware and alert to his or her role as a citizen, being physically, emotionally and mentally “in the now” with deliberate, open and curious attention to better our country.
Let us all acknowledge in 2023 that we hold citizen’s rights, but we also hold civic responsibilities. Let 2023 be the year that you consciously show your patriotism, as a citizen. There will be many opportunities to proudly wear and wave the red white and black. Do it with gusto. Let there be no doubt in the minds of anyone looking on that we love this country. For most of us, it is all that we have, and its people are the only family we have. Let us love and care for it as we love and care for our very own family, neighbours, friends and visiting strangers amongst us.
Today, I join every citizen, who extends great hope for this country in 2023, adding to his or her actions our national watchwords of Discipline, Production and Tolerance. Let us all pray and work for good health, safety, security, wisdom, and prosperity.
Best Wishes to all for 2023.