By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE
Over the past “51 years, Trinidad & Tobago has emerged as a strong, stable and growing economic giant in the Caribbean”, Dr. Vidhya Gyan Tota-Maharaj, T&T’s Consul General in Toronto, said at a reception last Friday to mark the country’s 51st anniversary of independence from Britain.
Trinidad & Tobago gained its independence on August 31, 1962.
“Our main natural resource, oil and gas, has propelled and maintained our gross domestic product per capita at US$18,010 in 2012 with a GDP of US$24-billion.
“The petro chemical sector sought out foreign direct investors and natural gas was exploited making T&T the largest exporter of methanol and ammonia in the world and is the key exporter of urea to the U.S.
“These products contribute 66 per cent of our exports with 45.3 per cent of our GDP and our Foreign Direct Investment continues to be buoyant, averaging US$879- million for the period 2010-2012.”
Dr. Tota-Maharaj, speaking following a flag-raising ceremony which was performed by members of the Toronto Police Service, paid homage to the country’s first Prime Minister, the late Dr. Eric Eustace Williams, “whose wisdom and vision set the ship of Trinidad and Tobago sailing towards attaining Independence in 1962 after 151 years of colonial rule”, and Dr. Rudranath Capildeo, the country’s first opposition leader, “and all other illustrious leaders who assisted in forging our own destiny and identity”.
She said that the new country’s Constitution, which was adapted from the Westminster system of government, gave rise to “a strong democracy, functioning effectively, to deliver five changes of government in 12 peaceful elections with our last giving us our first female Prime Minister, the Honourable Kamla Persad-Bissessar.”
The Consul-General said that one of the benefits of the country’s high GDP is free primary, secondary and tertiary education in medicine, law, veterinary science, engineering, agriculture and other fields.
“The World Economic Forum, Global Competitive Report, 2011-2012 ranked T&T 37th out of 142 countries in Quality of Educational Systems. Overall, T&T boasts the highest literacy rate of over 99 per cent in the Latin American and Caribbean Regions.”
As for trade between the two countries, Dr. Tota-Maharaj said that Canadian investment in Trinidad and Tobago “has grown substantially, now exceeding CDN$1.3-billion and the annual two-way merchandise trade grew by 45 per cent between 2005 and 2012, and is now approaching $600 million”.
Prior to the Consul General’s speech, Father Carlyle Guiseppi, Maulana Mustapha Kemal Hydal and Pundit Ramesh Maharaj offered prayers for the leadership and people of both Canada and Trinidad & Tobago.
In his keynote speech, Toronto lawyer, Ian Thornhill, said he was “enormously proud of the progress that (Trinidad & Tobago) has made” over the past 51 years.
“From an economic viewpoint the country has done remarkably well to maximize the benefits of its large reserves of oil and gas,” through the government-owned Petrotrin, which runs the country’s lone oil refinery.
“The government has been proactive with this facility over the years by investing large sums of money in up keeping it and upgrading it.
“Petrotrin also expends considerable effort in the exploration and recovery of oil reserves. We now boast a substantial gas-based industry with the hub of the activity located in the Point Lisas Industrial Estate.
“We have several methanol plants and one liquefied natural gas plant which has enabled the country to become a major world exporter of ammonia and methanol.
“The consequent success of our steel industry is further evidence of economic diversification.”
He said that these developments have made T&T “the most important economy of the English-speaking Caribbean”.
A significant event for T&T has been its removal from the list of Developing Countries by the OECD in November 2011, he told the audience, adding that T&T is regarded as one of the most educated countries in the world.
“In recent years tertiary education has become free for undergraduate students and there is generous assistance also for postgraduate students. That is a marvellous achievement as it is an investment in our youth who represent the future of the country.”
Since gaining its independence, T&T has enjoyed political stability, and “democracy, freedom of speech and religious freedom remain alive and well,” Thornhill said.
“In the area of sports, we have seen many new facilities being built in the country in the last 51 years and this has translated in many instances in improved results at the international level,” he added, citing the successes on the world stage of athletes such as Hasely Crawford, Ato Boldon, Keshorn Walcott, Jehue Gordon, Brian Lara, Dwight Yorke and George Bovell III.
Following the official part of the celebration, those present were treated to a delightful buffet of Trinidad & Tobago delicacies.