by Prime Minister, Dr the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell
Fellow Grenadians, my dear sisters and brothers, we are gathered here to mark yet another year as an independent nation.
It is an opportune time to pause and reflect with gratitude on the countless freedom fighters who struggled, strived and made heroic sacrifices to win us our freedom from colonial rule. Today, as we reflect with appreciation, we also anticipate the future with hope and optimism. The illustrious generation which charted the path, did not perceive independence only in terms of transfer of political power, but rather considered it a stepping stone in a longer and larger process of nation-building. Their objective was to improve the quality of life of each individual and the wellbeing of society as a whole.
Sisters and brothers, today that intention still holds true. As we celebrate our 46th year as an independent nation, we are indeed at a special juncture. A juncture that heralds the era of the implementation of a non-partisan national sustainable development plan; a plan which reflects the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of our people and which sets out the strategic objectives required to address some of our major challenges. The next 15 years of our continued independence and growth as a nation, will be aligned to this plan that has been endorsed by you the people of this country.
Perhaps the most important among these cross-cutting issues that will touch every citizen and visitor alike, are health care, education, infrastructure, crimes against our children and unemployment or underemployment. Although we may share different political and religious beliefs and value systems, these areas touch at the very core of who we are as a people and therefore, if our underlying goal is the progress of this nation, we will share a collective outlook.
Sisters and brothers, as we gather here today to celebrate our independence as a nation, we must also recognise the interdependence of today’s global environment. Today, through ease of travel, access to constantly improving technology and other advances, the world is virtually shrinking and becoming more of a global village. So much so that occurrences in one part of the world, have unavoidable implications for other parts. This is evidenced through the impact of climate change and emerging health threats such as the one we face today, with the outbreak of Coronavirus. With the rapid escalation of infected persons and the geographic spread of those affected, this has become a global health emergency.
Here in Grenada, government has taken decisive action to help prevent this disease from penetrating our borders and affecting our people. We are guided by the expertise of organisations such as the World Health Organisation, Pan American Health Organisation, the Caribbean Public Health Agency and our own Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health and the Grenada Airports Authority have fully activated their response protocols and all persons arriving at our ports of entry are appropriately screened. I must commend personnel from both the Ministry of Health and the Grenada Airports Authority, who are at the frontline, ensuring that we do all in our power to prevent the potential spread of this health threat.
I must also commend the President and Government of the People’s Republic of China for the actions being taken to address the situation. As the outbreak has become a global concern, it is important that we all work closely together to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus. While we recognise that the epicentre of the outbreak has been identified, we should refrain from making a country, the pariah. Remember sisters and brothers, all countries face challenges at some point, whether it is the impact of a hurricane as we experienced with Ivan in 2004 or the current health threat in China. What is more important is our willingness to stand in solidarity with each other when these challenges arise and seek solutions together.
It is therefore alarming and nothing short of mischievous that elements among us, some of whom we expect to demonstrate a greater level of responsibility, are using the situation to create panic, fear and distrust among our people. By making irresponsible statements that have implications for the health of the nation’s people, these persons are playing on the emotions of a population that is already concerned about their own vulnerability. They are arbitrarily fuelling fears about our own mortality and you are creating unnecessary doubt where there should be absolute clarity.
These are not the actions of nation-builders, these are the actions of persons who seek to cultivate division where there should be unity, and mistrust where there should confidence. Sisters and brothers, let us seek to build rather than destroy. It is well known that it takes a lot to build but a few to destroy. Some of us spend all our time trying to destroy others but we offer little or no advice on how to build. Let us choose today to pursue unity of purpose. The words of our national anthem are particularly instructive in this regard, as they encourage us to join our heads, hearts and hands in unity to reach our destiny and to use faith and courage to aspire, build, advance. Nation-building is our goal and togetherness is the conduit through which we get there.
Sisters and brothers, the health of the nation is of paramount importance. It is not only evident in our response to health threats but more so, in our proactive approach to ensure universal health coverage for all Grenadians. It was in full understanding of this that government embarked on a plan to introduce National Health Insurance (NHI). It is heartening to note that we are now in the final stages of preparing for the launch of NHI. While the introduction of NHI would be a noteworthy achievement in the healthcare system, we are ever cognizant that the provision of universal healthcare alone will not solve our challenges.
Accordingly, coupled with the introduction of NHI, in 2020, we must all seek to bring about attitudinal change at all levels – government, healthcare workers including doctors, nurses and administrative staff, and the people of Grenada in general. That to me, is the only way we can truly optimise the benefits of the significant investment government and workers are making to the overarching objective of improving the healthcare system.
Like health, education is a critical pillar of this country’s development. We have invested significantly in the physical infrastructure of schools and in capacity building for educators. In 2020, that investment will continue unabated, as government honours its responsibility to constantly improve the education system. An educated population is an empowered population; a population that experiences lower levels of unemployment and is far less dependent on public assistance programmes.
The imminent launch of the E-book initiative will modernise the education sector, introducing students to a new learning dynamic and revolutionary setting which will bring them squarely into the technological era. It is also critical at this juncture to recognise and applaud the willingness of the present executive of the Grenada Union of Teachers to partner with government to address deficiencies in the system. It is only by working together that we will achieve the broad goals for improvements in the education system. Sisters and brothers, any compromise government makes in addressing discord in the education sector, must therefore be seen as our unwavering commitment to creating a harmonious atmosphere in which we can truly partner with teachers and focus on the task of educating our children.
My fellow Grenadians, even as we focus on more people-centric development, we cannot ignore the urgent need for ongoing improvement of the country’s physical infrastructure. Therefore, government, through the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, is immediately embarking on a special infrastructure programme focusing on serious upgrades to roads, especially that entire western corridor; as well as the continuous upgrade of our water systems.
Fellow citizens, as we chart this path to progress, we solicit your patience, because in order to get where we are going, literally and figuratively, there will be interruptions in accessibility, but we are determined to minimise and ultimately eradicate, the implications that failing infrastructure will have on livelihood. Further changes will be made in diversion routes as we seek to ease the inconvenience experienced by many. That said, progress has a price and we must be willing to pay that price for the better, long-term good of the nation. Progress also brings opportunities and the onset of numerous public and private sector projects, with many others in the pipeline, are creating significant employment opportunities for Grenadians. Thousands of jobs will be created through both private and public sector initiatives. This scenario creates the backdrop against which we pin our hopes for continued reduction in unemployment figures.
Sisters and brothers, I cannot address you today without confronting an issue of great concern. Let me state categorically that child abuse in any form, has no place in our society, or any society for that matter. As a government, we are unable to fight this scourge alone and so we call on the churches, family members, mothers, fathers, societal leaders, members of the community, let us all continuously speak up and speak out against this serious issue. When we stand in silence and allow it to occur, we become equally complicit in this travesty. The government would make every effort to strengthen the law and other infrastructure to deal with the perpetrators and seek recourse and assistance for the victims; however, our preference is to not have any victims at all. Despite these and other challenges that confront us as a nation, we are not daunted because there are many things to be grateful for.
Sisters and brothers, in recent years, we have become the poster child in the region for restoring economic wellbeing; significantly reducing debt through our homegrown Structural Adjustment Programme, and we are poised to record yet another year of significant economic growth. We the leaders of today hold the future of this beloved nation in our hands; working collectively with you the people, we must ensure that we safeguard the legacy that will be passed to future generations. 46 years from now, when the future generation gathers, maybe at this very location, to celebrate independence, let us make them proud of the strides we made, working together, to chart the way forward.
While we consolidate our place as a small island developing nation in a rapidly changing and volatile world, we are always reminded that the only real and immediate influence we have is that of transforming the lives of our citizens here at home. The people of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique represent the immediate priority of this government. We pledge to play our part in fortifying and preparing you for your rightful place in the world, even as our country takes its rightful place amongst nations. Our domestic agenda of continuity and renewal continues, at this juncture, where reality and hope intersect. The reality is we have made tremendous strides in bettering lives, but hope calls on us to go much further. And so, we march on; we keep moving; fueled in the security of knowledge that we can do anything when we do it together.
May God continue to richly bless this country and its people. Happy Independence Grenada Carriacou and Petite Martinique. I thank you.