Barbadians and friends of Barbados, wherever you are today, I wish for you a very Merry Christmas and a 2022 that is filled with blessings. We are just days away from the end of 2021 and while the challenges have been many, there is no doubt that the things we have achieved outnumber those challenges by far. It is this that I want to talk to you about today.

For there is much for which we must be able to give thanks; for which we must be thankful! Yes, COVID is still with us, even after taking far too many regrettably, of our loved ones. In fact, while we celebrate this very sacred day on our Christian calendar, we do so knowing that we must be cautious, that we must follow the protocols still and that we cannot be unmindful of the advice of our health experts.

Failure to do the right things will leave us facing consequences that can be dire at every level – individually, within our family, and of course, nationally. But still, we are thankful because just a few months ago we were preparing for much worse. Remember, not so long ago, with the Delta variant at our doorsteps, we were gearing up to deal with more than 500 new cases per day as might have been predicted.

And even though it was extremely challenging, it could have been, my friends, far, far, far worst. But we did not reach that point and we are grateful for that. And even as we say so, we are still grieving for those who just did not make it.

We asked for your cooperation in taking the vaccines, and the majority of you who were eligible complied. You did it out of selfless love. We asked you to bear with us when we restricted large gatherings and you understood; you appreciated, and yes, you complied. And yes, it was hard. It meant reduced or no income for many people, but you walked with us as a nation; we give thanks for that.

In this country, where all but one parish is named after a Christian saint, and that one parish still has Christ in its name, we take going to church seriously. For the sake of the majority and to protect the most vulnerable in our society, traditional worship was restricted, and you complied in the interest of your country.

Many of you were asked on the front line to work harder, to work longer, to sacrifice time with your families to look after strangers. And like true patriots you gave your all – and still more. We thank you! Your nation thanks you.

To our health professionals and their support colleagues, but in particular, the entire nursing fraternity and doctors, our members of the Barbados Police Service, our members of the Barbados Defence Force, our teachers, our public servants – those who work at the borders in particular, our nation remains indebted to you.

We remain indebted, equally, to those who work in the private sector to keep daily functions going in spite of the risks that they face. To the many retired Barbadians who took back up duties on a voluntary basis, I also tip my hat to you as well.

Yes, Barbadians, we have survived this pandemic and we continue to do so. We have braved Hurricane Elsa and the freak storm, and yes, we have literally risen from the ashes, literally, that came upon us earlier this year.

We have schooled our children in a less than perfect environment, most of them having to rely on online schooling over the course of the last 18 months or so. And we have had to do without the comforts that we have often taken for granted, but we never gave up that spirit that defines us. We have looked out for each other, and for the most part, people have shared.

We salute you and we thank you – each and every one of you.

We end this year, 2021, having broken the last institutional vestiges of our colonial past, bringing to an end a form of governance that lasted for 396 years. We have declared ourselves a Parliamentary Republic, accepting full responsibility for our destiny and above all else, installing the first Barbadian Head of State in our history. We move forward, my friends, with confidence. This, I believe, is testimony to our maturity as a people and as an island nation.

I say once again, thank you!

The new Barbados Charter has sought to enshrine those values and principles which we hold dear and on which this nation was founded. These are the characteristics which make us stand out as global citizens internationally. We must work now each day to reinforce these traits which will keep us punching above our weight. We must remind each other that being civil and polite is a necessary feature of our daily lives as we interact with each other. Yes, we can agree to disagree but we don’t have to be disagreeable in our behaviour towards each other. We must see each other and look out for each other. We must listen to each other and care for each other. We must recognise that we will have different perspectives in the society but we must always always seek to find the common ground to advance as a people and as a nation. And we must remain thereafter committed to resolving those things upon which there can be no clearly agreed common ground but for which there must still be progress.

Now, we are at the doors of 2022. We are determined to resume the journey towards Barbados becoming world class by 2027. We will start the conversation among ourselves as to who we are and how best we can become even more confident and more committed to being the best person that each of us can be; or how we shall order our constitutional arrangements to better improve the quality of our governance and to promote active citizenship rather than simply focusing on the role of our government or on peoples’ rights alone. We will focus on making our people better prepared, more productive and more empathetic because it is all we have to rely on – our people, you, me, all of us. And, in all that we do, we must hold fast to our faith, our values and our principles.

We must focus, all of us, not just government securing growth for our nation and by extension, for the society, because the issue of growth is not a governmental path alone. It depends on all of us. Fair and equitable growth must be our mission as a nation, for we will not accept jobless growth as others have believed to be acceptable in the past. We must embrace the vision, my friends, of a revitalised economy with a digital backbone, the continued transformation of our traditional productive sectors while building out the new ones and finding places for every Barbadian to be able to find their own form of prosperity within this nation. That must be our goal. And of course, you have already seen our commitment as a nation towards an improved physical infrastructure with better roads, and better traffic management, and dealing with the issues of water augmentation and distribution and, of course, making sure we have a cleaner, greener Barbados.

I should report to you that our air travel is almost back to pre-COVID levels in this month of December, 2021. Projected cruise arrivals are also most encouraging. The economy, yes, is clearly on the uptick but we have, still, grey clouds out there because we don’t know what the world will do, and react even in the rest of this pandemic. So that as we move forward, we remain cautiously optimistic but recognising that we do not live alone in this world. The international rating agencies have retained bright outlooks for our future and for that we are grateful while at the same time ensuring, that unlike many others, that we have not been downgraded. And most tangibly, we are also seeing our people returning to work in large numbers at last.

We move forward, fully committed to building a Barbados that is much better prepared to face the existential threats of the climate crisis and with a people that have been increasingly sensitised to the role that each of us must play in the protection of our environment. We step into this new year far better prepared than we were a year ago, for whatever the world may throw at us – and we all know it has been throwing a lot of things.

Today, let us look forward therefore my friends, with optimism, with hope! We’ve braved the showers, we can see the rainbow, and even the pot of gold at the end of it but we are conscious that we cannot take our eyes off of what makes us work, what makes us function, what makes us care for each other because it is the combined efforts of daily attention to the small things that will help us reach the large things that are needed to make this country world class by 2027. We know, as well, that if we hold on to all of that, buttressed by the Barbadian spirit that is so resilient, yes my friends, we shall make it!

May the Christmas cheer be felt by each and every one of you today for this year requires that we literally breathe and say thank you, thank you!

And as we do that, may we give thanks to God in all that He has done to bring us safely to this point, and to keep us inspired to do better in 2022.

Thank you very much. God bless us all. God bless Barbados!

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