By IAN R. THORNHILL
Looking back over the past 51 years, I am enormously proud of the progress that (Trinidad & Tobago) has made.
From an economic viewpoint the country has done remarkably well to maximize the benefits of its large reserves of oil and gas.
Petrotrin, which is owned by the government, runs the country’s lone oil refinery located at Pointe-a-Pierre. The government has been proactive with this facility over the years by investing large sums of money in upkeeping 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. Such developments have made us 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.
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.
In the legal field, great strides have been made on many levels in the years since we gained independence. The Ministry of Legal Affairs, the judiciary and the legal profession have embraced technology and modern legal processes. The laws of the country in (their) most up-to-date version are available on the website of the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
You can also access forms for the Supreme Court and the Family Court in order to commence legal action, file a defence and the like.
A mediation pilot project is currently underway promoting mediation and settlement conferencing as a means of resolving court cases and the results to date have been very encouraging with a success rate of 65 per cent and a customer satisfaction rating of 95 per cent.
Our move to a republican constitution in 1976 with a ceremonial president as head of state also highlights the level of sophistication of our legal system.
In life we tend to take so many things for granted that we have been accustomed to, such as democracy and freedom of speech. Since gaining independence, T&T has enjoyed political stability and democracy; freedom of speech and religious freedom remain alive and well.
This is to be trumpeted, in spite of the two unsettling experiences of political upheaval in 1970 and 1990.
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.
We celebrate the success over the years of athletes such as Hasely Crawford, Ato Boldon, Keshorn Walcott, Jehue Gordon, Brian Lara, Dwight Yorke and George Bovell III.
Cricket is somewhat of an exception where after sustained success in the last half of the 20th century, the West Indies have since been undergoing a prolonged drought.
In fact there has been a joke going around that the only thing the West Indies could win these days is the toss.
The heyday of West Indies cricket and the development of our University of the West Indies are two major aspects of our success in Caribbean regional integration.
I would be remiss if I did not mention our soca boys – taking the world cup and Germany by storm in 2006. We held our own, young players were able to gain international exposure and some lucrative contracts in the process.
We also left our mark in terms of exporting Carnival to Germany.
Rich in our cultural heritage, we have continued to excel since our independence with our Carnival, our calypso music and the steelpan, our soca, chutney, parang and limbo.
I am well aware that the path over the last 51 years has not always been smooth, that there is room for improvement in certain areas such as the reduction of crime, a fairer distribution of the wealth, and that there is potential that remains untapped.
I am of the opinion, however, that in the years since gaining independence, T&T has accomplished a tremendous amount and has excelled in many areas and I am very excited about the future.
And as nationals of the country living abroad, I feel that we have one heck of a lot to be proud of.
Now I am confident that after T&T wins, Jamaica and Guyana will still consider us their Caribbean brothers and sisters. (Interestingly, T&T did win the tornament.)
Thank you and happy 51st independence anniversary to each and every one of you.