NEWLY minted President Paula-Mae Weekes said this country is in dark times but she is encouraging citizens to work with her to make it better.
She made the call while delivering her inaugural speech before a packed Grand Stand and North Stand at the Queen’s Park Savannah yesterday after taking the oath as this country’s sixth President and first ever female Head of State.
The event began promptly at 10 am and Weekes was greeted with cheers, whistles and shouts. Prayers were offered for her and there were performances by the choirs of Bishop Anstey High School, her alma mater, and the All Saints Anglican Church. Weekes is a Chancellor in the Anglican Church.
After said the oath of office and was then announced by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, the new President was then greeted by former president Anthony Carmona and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. She received a booming 21-gun salute as the National Anthem played and then inspected a guard of honour.
In her address, Weekes said armchair experts have stated the country is perilously close to the point of no return and that “crime, corruption, racism, abysmal public services and an ineffective judicial system, among other problems are so thick on the ground, that all hope is lost; that we will soon be, if we are not already there, a failed state, however defined.”
She said while the first option was to lament, blame, criticise and allow a miasma of despair to overwhelm us, she prefers another option, where the country consciously and intentionally chooses the alternative not only by hoping and praying but to, “make up a hard mind and mobilise forces and resources to step out boldly and make Trinidad and Tobago a better place for us and our children, all the while understanding that though faith is a necessity, without action it is useless.”
Weekes said though she has had some advantages which others have not enjoyed, in no way has she ever lived in an ivory tower or worn blinkers.
“But having lived in Trinidad and Tobago all my life, I have endured the maddening inefficiencies of the public sector. I too drive with my windows up and doors locked even in broad daylight. I have lost two cars to thieves and waited hours for medical attention for a relative at Port of Spain General Hospital.
“I know what the murder count is and how many of the victims have been women and children slaughtered in acts of domestic violence. I am cognizant of the volatile tensions in East Port of Spain. I see people affected by mental illness, addiction and homelessness sleeping on the streets and if I needed to get to Tobago in a hurry, I could not be certain if or when I would arrive. I comprehend fully the state of the State and so understand why we might have every reason to despair.”
Weekes said, however, like the fictional character Pollyanna she wants to infect everyone, “with a bright and positive spirit as we strive to turn our beloved nation into what it ought to have been and still can be. So let us today choose option two and confront the darkness and declare that it will not take over.”
She said the challenge is to be light and see light but said this will not be accomplished easily or overnight, but it is a marathon. She encouraged people to be a light in their homes, communities and in the workplace. “Get to work on time, actually do work while you are there and go the extra mile if need be,” she advised.
She stressed that love for country must be planted and nurtured with the seed sown in early childhood. During her speech, Weekes recognised Len Peters who in February received the first Commonwealth Points of Light Award for exceptional voluntary service in protecting endangered turtle species; and Gabrielle Branche who won an award from the United World Colleges for an innovative project targeting secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Be inspired by Len, Gabrielle and others to be and to look for points of light.” She said as the country’s servant, she promises to work tirelessly. On the country’s climate of violence, Weekes said this was not birthed in overt acts but in everyday talk and she asked people to be mindful of their language.
She took the opportunity to thank the electoral college for their vote of confidence in her and thanked Carmona for his service to the nation and, “for your consideration and kindness to me in the lead up to hosting today’s inauguration.” Weekes also thanked her mother, family and friends for their unstinting support and regular reality checks.
“If I ever get too big for my britches, I am sure they’ll cut me down to size. They keep me humble and grounded.” Following the inauguration, a reception was held for Weekes at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port of Spain.