I am pleased to greet you once again as, both at home and abroad, we celebrate the 46th Anniversary of our Independence. We thank Almighty God for the many blessings so richly bestowed upon us and for bringing us safely to yet another year of celebration.
Reflection on the pursuit and achievement of national independence provides a timely reminder of the importance of taking responsibility for our own lives and our own future.
Countries pursue independence because they want to take their destiny into their own hands and mould that destiny as they wish. That desire inspired the founding fathers of our nation in 1966 and motivated them to end our status as a colony of Great Britain.
The achievements of Barbados over the last 46 years have fully justified the decision our founding fathers made.
At the social level, we can boast of having a Barbados that is more balanced and inclusive today than at any other time in our history; our children now have access to education from the nursery to the tertiary levels; enlightened legislative reforms have `massively expanded the rights of our women; we continue to provide for the care and protection of our aged; the disabled continue to benefit from mechanisms put in place to integrate them into the mainstream of our society; our social safety net continues to provide effective cover for the more vulnerable groups in the society; and we continue to provide for a secure future by making a strategic investment in our youth.
At the economic level, we have been able over the last 46 years to diversify the patterns of both what we produce and what we consume; we have increased substantially our national output; we have opened career opportunities to fit the diverse talents being thrown up by our educational system; we have created an environment friendly both to the local and the foreigner who wants to invest; we have expanded opportunities to encourage the development of micro- and small businesses; and, on the whole, we have been fostering the development of an entrepreneurial culture in Barbados.
At the political level, we have deepened those processes and strengthened those institutions that both encourage popular participation and guarantee the freedom of the individual.
Is it any wonder then that Barbados has been described as a country with one of the highest levels of human development in the developing world? Is it any wonder that Barbados is a leader in the world among small island developing states? Is it any wonder that our success continues to baffle countries much larger and better resourced, materially, than ours?
Fellow Barbadians, history does not develop in a straight line. There are zigzags; there are ebbs and flows; there are ups and downs. Over the last five years, the world has been hit by a financial and economic crisis whose effects are still being felt in Barbados. Those sectors from which we have traditionally earned our foreign exchange have faced unprecedented challenges.
Thanks to the social partnership which we forged two decades ago between the employers, the trade unions and the Government, we have been meeting those challenges successfully. I should like to thank the employers and the trade unions for being faithful to the cause of Barbados during this continuing global downturn. I should like to thank them particularly for agreeing to be part of the Barbados Action Team which I set up in February this year. I applaud the work they have been doing on the three working groups set up to deal with Growth, Efficiency and the Social Safety Net.
The alertness of the Government, the efforts of these social partners, and the patience, the intelligence, and the understanding of the people of Barbados are a sure guarantee that we will continue to withstand the worst effects of this global crisis.
We have been fortunate always to be able to benefit from the loyalty and support of those Barbadians abroad who make up our very active Diaspora.
Independence never promised to confer only benefits. It also imposes serious responsibilities – the responsibility to be productive and efficient in what we do; the responsibility to nurture and to guard jealously those moral and spiritual values which have served us so well throughout our history, especially our post-Independence history; and the responsibility to see hard work, sacrifice, and the pursuit of excellence as the best means by which to protect and promote that independence for which we fought 46 years ago.
Our aim must be to create a Barbados in which can be found families that are sound, communities that are vibrant, a society that is just, and a nation in which the well known Barbadian resilience continues to reveal itself.
We are living in very difficult and challenging times. Information and communications technology has brought within the reach of every citizen ease of access to developments social, political and economic taking place far beyond the shores of Barbados. Our options, however, are not unlimited. As we embark on our 47th year as a nation, let us not forget that the options we take will influence the choices we make and will determine the future we create.
Happy Independence to all of you!