Today, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of our nation. It was a memorable night 41 years ago when, as a people, we hoisted our national flag as a symbol of hope and great expectations.
Our nation decided that we wanted to live in a free and fair society. One in which we governed ourselves, charting our own destiny. Our people rejected the idea that as a people we should just do as we were told and accept colonial rule.
But what were those hopes and expectations?
That we would entrench and deepen our unity as a people, as expressed in our motto “Each Endeavouring, All Achieving.”
That we would develop our economy through investment, trade and the creation of jobs so that we could enjoy a quality of life as good as anywhere else in the world.
That we would eliminate the social and economic inequalities that differentiated us, not by pulling down those at the top but by lifting up those at the bottom.
That all our people, no matter how poor or humble their circumstances, would have the opportunity to build a better life through access to education and proper healthcare and by their own hard work.
That every community would enjoy the infrastructure and basic services that would make them places where people would want to live, work and raise their families.
We have come a long way over these 41 years. Much has been accomplished, but the dream of independence has not yet been fulfilled as much more remains to be done. Today, our prospects for the future appear dim under this Gaston Browne-led Government. We still do not have a reliable supply of water after months of promises and commitments. Our roads and infrastructure are collapsing. Our children have fewer opportunities, some still have no access to online learning and have fallen behind.
But what will it take to overcome the adversities and challenges which confront us in our daily lives?
Crime and violence are out of control and people are living in fear. Our health sector is in disarray, with people unable to get basic care and medication. There is significant inequality and under-performance in education, as well as poverty and hunger amidst the terrible cost of living crisis.
There is also underperformance and uncertainty in our major industries – tourism and agriculture, lack of investments, jobs, educational and training opportunities, particularly for our youth. These persistent challenges will require a great unity of purpose to overcome and improve the quality of life of all Antiguans and Barbudans.
The UPP believes that we must put our people at the centre of development as we plan for the next 41 years. Social transformation requires investing in our people, to build our capacity to compete and excel among the nations of the world.
Our country and our people deserve better. The UPP will be a Government that cares about its citizens and will take decisive action to improve our circumstances. This is the type of government that Antiguans and Barbudans deserve.
We survived the pandemic by coming together as a people and even as we battle in the recovery process we face many exogenous forces and influences. But we must accept that as a united people our future and our fortunes lie in our hands.
The very spirit that has inspired us to achieve independence, the belief that we are a people who can accomplish great things, must never be allowed to die. For it is this very spirit that will propel us to make up the lost ground and will guide us to achieve the goals that our founding fathers laid out for us.
For many of the pioneers that have gone before, achieving independence was itself, a dream and on the journey to independence, there were setbacks and disappointments; but they never gave up hope and never lost sight of that dream.
As we celebrate our 41st anniversary, let us demonstrate the will and energy to make up the ground that was lost as a result of the pandemic. We must fill the social and economic gaps that have been left behind, overcome the challenges that face us and go forward to break new ground and conquer new frontiers. For the spirit of independence can never die, as we rebuild our country and economy.
Although the pandemic left behind a path of destruction and despair, it has also ignited an outpouring of love and unity among our citizens and residents. It has helped to strengthen the bond of interdependence, not only within our twin island state, but it has also reinforced the circle of commitment between Antiguans and Barbudans at home and in the Diaspora. It has also brought us closer to many of our brothers and sisters in neighboring islands throughout the Caribbean chain.
As a proud country, there are so many issues that still threaten to divide us – from the unfounded and aggressive Barbuda Land Act by PM Browne, that disregards Barbudan residents as they struggle to rebuild their lives and to restore some level of normalcy in their communities.
These are all issues which transcend politics and require a mature, responsible and united front among us as a people, as we attempt to find the best solutions to address some of these ongoing issues.
As we continue to mature as a nation and face many challenges that beset us, we must find effective ways to restore the strength and dignity of our people through meaningful employment and social programs that will uplift lives and offer hope. We must commit to honest management of the people’s money, and to putting that money to work for all Antiguans and Barbudans, not just for a chosen few. We must also hold our leaders to the highest standards of integrity, so that the image and reputation of our country is one that we can be proud of both at home and abroad.
As Political Leader of the UPP, I call on all citizens to stand up and take action and work together to rebuild and restore our nation to greatness. I commit that the next era of UPP governance will be one in which we will work for the good of all Antiguans and Barbudans and the growth, development and protection of this fair country. It is our Pride for our country that makes us great!
I wish each and every one of you a Happy Independence and may we continue to Dwell in Love and Unity.