Independence Day Message by
Dr. the Right Honourable Keith Mitchell
Prime Minister, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique
on the occasion of
GRENADA’S 47th ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE
7 February 2021
Fellow Grenadians, sisters and brothers, before I begin my address this morning, I express heartfelt condolences to the family of the late Elvin Nimrod, who bid us farewell last evening. I know our sisters and brothers in Carriacou and Petite Martinique are particularly aggrieved by his passing. He gave yeoman service to our beloved country, holding various portfolios in Government and serving as a member of Parliament for two decades. Please join me, wherever you are, in observing a minute of silence for the late Elvin Nimrod. May he rest in eternal peace.
Sisters and brothers, the celebration of Grenada’s 47th anniversary of independence comes in the midst of a very challenging period for the global community. This milestone, though remarkable, is a bittersweet moment. Bittersweet, because while we are thankful for God’s blessings and the significant progress our country has made, we are doing so, devoid of that usual spirit of togetherness and camaraderie that has been the norm over those 47 years.
I sincerely miss seeing your beautiful faces before me, the young and the old, all aglow with excitement, expectation, promise and hope. As I stand here looking at the empty seats that would normally be filled with thousands of our people, flamboyantly dressed in our national colours, I can’t help but reminisce on the many times that we shared the same space, united in our patriotism, celebrating the growth and development of our beautiful nation.
Today, we are no less patriotic, because we remain united in purpose, even as we celebrate in our own private spaces. In fact, by adhering to the protocols and maintaining physical distance, we are demonstrating an even greater level of patriotism because we are making the necessary sacrifices now that will give our country and our fellow nationals a true chance at surviving the ravages of this pandemic, which has upended life as we know it. And so, in our new normal, we adapt, we adjust and we keep forging ahead, as one people, one family.
My friends, as one who thrives on interaction with people, I will tell you that this has been one of the most difficult periods for me personally. I am well aware that the extended period of restrictions is also difficult for many of you because humans are naturally social creatures and as such, we tend to gravitate towards each other, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. However, the reality is that this pandemic calls for us to be more responsible beings, to take actions that are contrary to our natural instincts, but which have become necessary to help curb the spread of Covid-19. Therefore, today, I commend most of you for your compliance thus far, and I also encourage everyone to continue adhering to the protocols as the fight against this dreaded disease is far from over. We cannot let our guard down.
Understandably, in recent months, the Government’s focus has been predominantly on the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, the implications for the health of our people, the resulting economic fallout, and the psychosocial impact on the population. Overall, the pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on life as we know it — it has decimated the tourism industry and slowed the pace of world trade; it has halted and in many cases, reversed economic growth, but most of all, it has claimed the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters in the diaspora. Therefore, even as we celebrate this milestone today, let us offer a silent prayer for the dearly departed, especially those whose final moments had to be spent away from the precious circle of loved ones.
Sisters and brothers, even as we face this monstrous challenge, it is imperative that we take stock of where we are, as a country, as a people, as a small player on an enormous global stage. There is no question about the significant strides we have made, but the reality is, there is so much left to be done. Guided by the targets and milestones set out in our 15-year National Sustainable Development Plan, Government envisions a future of hope, a future of targeted interventions that collectively seek to further propel development, a future where dreams and aspirations become the reality of the foundation that is laid for the generations to come. That future of hope is partially predicated on the possibilities that now abound with the recent repurchase of majority shares in the island’s lone electricity company, Grenlec.
Since March 2020, our attention has been focused on fighting the novel coronavirus, but at the same time, we were still marching resolutely on to this 47th anniversary of independence, another milestone in the development of our beautiful country. Let us take a moment to appreciate that fact. It is said that gratitude determines altitude, therefore as we push forward with our development agenda, we must pause periodically along the way and reflect on our achievements, using them as motivation to continue the journey. These achievements include the St George’s University which has played an enormous part in the development of our country over the years; the building of the international airport; advancements in education and social development; the bringing of potable water to the length and breadth of the country and the provision of electricity services to so many villages in a short period of time. In other words, the quality of life of our people has consistently improved.
Government’s focus in 2021 will be on protecting the health and well-being of our people and fostering economic recovery. Putting our people back to work is an important part of this process. Many private and public sector projects will come on stream this year. Government recognises the construction sector as the one that will spearhead the recovery effort and we anticipate these projects providing jobs for hundreds, or even thousands of Grenadians and helping to stimulate the local economy.
3 major hotel projects are underway in Mt Hartman, St David, and St Patrick, with a fourth anticipated to follow soon and the developers have all expressed an interest in providing training to young Grenadians to prepare them for jobs when the hotels become operational. Plans like these align perfectly with the concerted efforts being made by Government to empower our young people and to find opportunities to transition out of the various programmes facilitated by Government. In addition, the timing of these projects and their estimated completion dates mean that Grenada will be better-positioned when the tourism sector begins to ascend its post-Covid trajectory.
The pace of recovery and a return to normal will depend largely on the acquisition and successful rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. Government is moving aggressively, in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders, to procure Covid vaccines. We know there are mixed reactions to the efficacy of the various vaccines on the market, but we are relying on the guidance of the Pan American Health Organisation in selecting our choice of vaccine. My friends, I will be among the first in line to receive a vaccine when it becomes available.
The pandemic has caused many things to be put on hold, but the education of the nation’s children must continue. Government is therefore vigorously pursuing e-learning. We have equipped all of our secondary school students and teachers with devices to facilitate e-learning and we are now moving to similarly equip students at the primary level.
There is so much to be optimistic about as we envision Grenada’s future but we can only get there by taking the deliberate actions now that will safeguard the country and our people. We have repeatedly acknowledged the widespread impact of the pandemic, which is requiring governments the world over, to lead the charge on multiple fronts. Leadership is not an easy job and the challenge of this disease has made it even more difficult. Nevertheless, in partnership with our key stakeholders, and you the people of this beautiful country, we keep pressing on.
The hardship for various sectors of the population continues unabated, leaving many to seek some form of relief from Government, and from friends and family, at home and abroad. Since the pandemic started and over the past few months in particular, I have been personally inundated with requests for assistance — calls, text messages, email. The pain is very real sisters and brothers, some people have been without jobs for almost a year. In the tourism sector alone, that number is more than 2,000. Can we help them all? It may not be possible, but we must still try.
I have always prided myself on being able to sleep comfortably but the suffering of our people now keeps me up at night. The burden is great, maybe even overwhelming but I am committed to doing everything possible to ease the suffering of Grenadians. Unprecedented times necessitate strategic, innovative, outside the box thinking, to find solutions that will soothe the desperate cries of those among us, who simply have no means of helping themselves right now. We must remember them and do what we can to help them.
It is for this reason that I plan to present a proposal to the social partners, for the creation of a social fund that will be used to help the most vulnerable in our society. The concept is that everyone who is working will contribute towards this fund. I will lead by example, contributing a portion of my salary every month to help those in need and I will be encouraging my Cabinet colleagues to do the same. Similarly, I will be encouraging everyone who is able to make a contribution, to do so.
This is by no means mandatory, it is simply a suggestion made in trying to come up with creative ways to help those in need. We are a Christian society after all and we are called upon to be our brothers’ keeper. In 1 John 3, verses 17-18, it is stated, and I quote, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth”. My friends, let us heed the word of the Lord and show compassion to our fellow countrymen.
I assure you that if this fund is successfully started, apart from our individual donations, members of Government will not have any involvement in this fund. The way I envision it, the social partners will establish an independent committee to manage and disburse the funds acquired through this effort. Any beneficiary of this initiative must be someone with a justifiable need, that can be verified. And there are many who fit that category — farmers, fishermen, workers in hotels, restaurants and bars, tourism and market vendors, taxi drivers, water taxi operators, tour operators and tour guides, other industry service providers including operators of marine-based business, LIAT workers and others involved in aviation services, hairdressers, barbers, entertainers, school-based vendors, shopkeepers, small travel agencies, other business owners, property owners. The list goes on and on. So many of our people are hurting.
Sisters and brothers, if you are overwhelmed by the few categories identified here, imagine how I feel on a daily basis, hearing the cries of so many people. The way I see it, I can either be so overwhelmed that I become powerless to help or I can use the cries as motivation to find solutions. I opt for the latter. Making a difference in the life of one person may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things but to that person, it represents a much-needed lifeline, at a time when all else seems lost. We can all be that lifeline to a brother or a sister in need. The reality of the situation facing us now is that while some are forced to make something out of nothing, others are demanding more.
Sisters and brothers, the battle is long and clearly quite daunting, but I am confident that we will win. The key to victory in this battle is collaboration — a collective effort, working together hand in hand towards a common objective. We unite and we persevere, confident that the challenges of today will give way to a brighter tomorrow. Our celebration of this national milestone today is a reminder that good things are still happening despite Covid-19.
My friends, in closing, I pray that God continues to bless our beautiful islands, Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique and our people too. I encourage you to protect yourselves, do not take this pandemic for granted and do not believe that it cannot affect you. Wear your mask, maintain physical distance, avoid large social gatherings and most of all my fellow Grenadians, stay safe. Happy independence to all of you. I love you all. I thank you.