Fellow Citizens and Residents of Antigua and Barbuda,
Today, as we come together to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of our beloved nation’s independence, I am filled with unwavering confidence and boundless hope for our future.
There is every good reason for my sentiments.
Over the last 42 years, our journey, as a nation, has been nothing short of extraordinary, marked by myriad challenges and continued progress. Our advancement amid these challenges, is a result of our people’s resilience, determination, and their capacity never to surrender to natural and other forces; but to battle on, with “Each endeavouring, all achieving”.
We are all aware of the numerous powerful and destructive storms that have rocked our country over these last four decades.
We are all cognizant of the external economic shocks to our economy, including the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020; the numerous hurricanes we have suffered; and the impact on commodity prices of the Russian war on Ukraine.
Yet, combined with skilful management of our resources by your government, the great people of this nation rallied, never accepting defeat but always keeping their faces steadfastly fixed on climbing upwards to the heights of better prospects.
As we reflect on our remarkable achievements and the challenges we’ve surmounted, I am reminded of a powerful biblical exhortation in Galatians, Chapter 6, verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Collectively, we have never given up and we shall continue to labour unrelentingly, amidst the various challenges for the advancement of our nation.
Just a few short years ago, we faced the daunting spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic, which wreaked havoc on our economy, causing us to lose a staggering 18% of our GDP.
It was a trying time for our nation, but we banded together, and with prudent economic stewardship, we have accomplished nothing short of a miracle.
Over the past three years, our economy has soared, growing at an astounding average rate in excess of 8% annually, resulting in a truly remarkable 25% aggregate growth.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has forecast our growth this year at 9.5%, second Only to Guyana with its vast oil and gas resources.
And, the Commission has already forecast our growth next year at over 8 per cent, maintaining our position as the second fastest growing economy in the Hemisphere.
This growth has not only strengthened our economic stability but has empowered us to invest significantly in the well-being and future of our people.
Our commitment to education has never been more resolute.
We’ve made substantial advances in education, alongside a surge in scholarships for our nationals to pursue higher education.
The Five Islands campus of the University of the West Indies is flourishing, ensuring that every family in Antigua and Barbuda will have the opportunity to achieve a university graduate among its ranks within the next decade.
We understand that education is the pathway to prosperity, and that knowledge-based entrepreneurship is the cornerstone of our future success.
That is why we are sparing no effort to give our young people and our older generation the means to expand their knowledge and to gain the certification that is key to opening opportunities both at home and abroad.
Moreover, our unwavering focus on healthcare has transformed the quality and accessibility of medical services in our nation.
It is undeniable that our healthcare system now stands at a level never before achieved in our nation; a testament to our investment in this vital sector.
We are not yet done in these two important areas.
Our aspiration is to make both our education and health systems beacons of excellence for the benefit of all in our society.
My fellow citizens and friends,
As we look forward, I want each of you to know that the road ahead is not just bright; it is radiant with potential.
New projects are nearing completion, and others are already on the horizon, promising to expand economic growth and opportunities beyond our dreams.
Among these projects are the ongoing PLH and Paradise Found projects in Barbuda and the Sunwing Chic Hotel which will become operational next season, creating over 800 new jobs.
In addition, two new ultra-luxury resorts will commence construction in 2024 at Halfmoon Bay in Antigua & at the former Dulcina Hotel site in Barbuda.
Not enough is said about the special qualities in our nation that promote and uphold political stability, democracy, and human rights to expression, dissent and media debate.
In many countries of the world, including in neighbouring states in South and Central America, these political and civil rights which we take for granted as a natural expectation, are denied to thousands of people.
By contrast, we, as a nation, have much of which to be proud.
Since our independence 42 years ago, we have held 9 national general elections, two by-elections, and several local government elections in Barbuda.
In every case, as a people, we have accepted the results of these elections peacefully, seeking to resolve disputes only through the Courts of Law.
We have no political prisoners, and we seek to silence no one, provided that no slander or libel is committed,
The importance of this political stability should never be discounted.
In other nations, where such stability does not exist, not only does local talent and expertise flee to other shores, but so too does investment both local and foreign.
Therefore, we should take special pride in our commitment as a people to peace, democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
They are an essential part of what has made our country attractive to investment for the major part of the last 42 years.
Nonetheless, brothers and sisters, we acknowledge the challenges we still face.
Water production and distribution, road infrastructure, and the need for more robust social welfare programmes for our most needy, remain pressing issues.
However, let us be guided by the profound wisdom of another biblical verse, from John, Chapter 8, verse 32: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The truth is that we must continue to prioritize our spending wisely, especially in a situation where we have all chosen to abolish personal income tax, thereby leaving money in people’s pockets, but increasing the challenges for the government to provide from limited revenues.
This prioritization is exactly what we have been doing as a government and will continue to do.
It is the application of the wisdom of every housewife who knows that in order to accomplish much with little, priority choices have to be made to provide for the family.
That is why we have prioritised, good health, sound education, and housing so that more people have the comfort of a roof over their heads, and four walls to protect them.
We are – all of us – deeply concerned about the alleviation of poverty throughout our country, because that is the condition from which most of us arose.
We cannot and will not leave behind any of our relatives, our neighbours or the people in whose community we lived or went to school.
The economic and social development of our nation will never be complete until we have improved the circumstances of all.
The housing transformation of Booby Alley that is now taking place is a model of what can be achieved in raising housing and living standards, across traditionally economically depressed areas.
What is required is the willingness of all to join a national effort to uplift our one people.
We should recall that overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is a recognition of the right of every person to a life, lived with respect and in dignity.
My fellow Citizens and Residents
I recall the words of our National Hero and first Prime Minister, Sir Vere Cornwall Bird on November 1st, 1981 when as a free and independent nation, we raised our national flag as a declaration of our sovereignty.
“The ultimate safeguard of our independence is productivity… I can give no assurance that if you sit idle, benefits will fall in your laps like manna from heaven. But I can promise that provided we all work together in our national interest, we will sustain our independence with dignity and with respect”.
These profound words from our beloved National Hero still resonate with us today.
They remind us that our independence is not a passive state but a commitment to hard work, productivity, and unity. It’s a reminder that the blessings of independence are earned through collective effort and a dedication to our national interest.
Therefore, as we celebrate this 42nd anniversary of nationhood, in which we are masters of our own destiny and creators of our own prosperity; let us remember that, while we have travelled far and successfully, our journey is not yet over.
With unyielding resolve, let us continue to confront our challenges head-on, celebrate our victories, and steadfastly work toward a future that shines even brighter for all.
Let us create a future where every Antiguan and Barbudan thrives, where dreams are realized, and where our nation’s potential knows no bounds.
Together, we shall rise to even greater heights!
Happy 42nd Independence Day, Antigua and Barbuda!
May God’s blessings continue to pour upon our great nation.