Thirty-five years ago today the Father of our Nation the Rt. Hon. George Price said and I quote: “Belize is a people with all the attributes of nationhood having one flag, one government, one constitution. Our mind imbues the democratic process. Our hand works the mixed economy. Our heart beats with social justice and our soul cherished treasures of the spirit.”

Today is a day to reflect and remember those audacious words for they capture the very essence of our identity. They define us as a people who desire to live free, and who work to build a fair, just and better nation. And we will continue to do so.

Thirty-five years into this Belizean experiment, we stand here in awe of those who embarked on this important work. We must recognize and appreciate all who participated in the struggle that led to that historic 21st September 1981 and all who continued the work that has brought us to this 21st September 2016.

We take great pride in the knowledge that our Independence was not won on the battlefield with guns and bombs, but on a battlefield of ideas and aspirations, through determination and hard work.

We are the inheritors of a legacy built on the conviction that together we can and must serve our people and country, with humility, integrity and honour.

Let us remember that the work of nation building is never over and that it requires an unceasing commitment to defend those values articulate in the words of the preamble to our Constitution which recognizes that mean and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual value and upon the rule of law.

Today too many of our people have become unhinged from those noble principles that define us as Belizeans.

The Belizean heart that beats with social justice has all but stopped, fatigued by the greed and selfishness that has taken root and given rise to the ever increasing poverty in our nation. In a time of so much it is not right that so many Belizeans have so little. Think of what we are doing to our future, squandering it because so many our talented youth are being left out of school and left behind.

The unfairness of rampant cronyism and cynicism which has crept into every aspect of our lives robs our young people of their dreams, it forces them to subscribe not to the principle that knowledge is valuable, but to the notion that the only value needed to succeed comes from who you know.

Thirty-five years after independence, too many of our children go to bed hungry and too many of our elderly beg in the streets.

Where is the fairness in that?

And where is the respect for the rule of law when so many of our young men and, yes, even women, die senseless deaths in our streets? Today a second generation of young Belizeans will be entombed in their fathers’ greaves in this endless cycle of violent death.

Thirty-five years later, too many of our elders are too poor to have dignified golden years; instead they must keep their tired backs to the plough. We have rewarded their contributions and sacrifice with suffering. There is no justice in any of this; only social decay and we cannot store anything of value in a broken spirit. No Independence Day treat can paper over that. No sweet sounding words can compensate for that.

I know some of you may question whether this is the occasion for such plain speech. Others may go further to question whether I, or the Party I represent, possess the moral authority to speak of such things on such a day.

I reply with an emphatic “yes”.

Was it not our National Hero Phillip Goldson who said that the time to save your country is before you lose it? Are we not a nation currently at risk and in the midst of an economic, social and moral recession? Is this not the appropriate time for some sober reflection? True, it can be said that during the last PUP administration all was not right, but neither were we all wrong. Yes, we all share blame for those things that have gone so wrong. No one is innocent or immune; none of us is without sin. But we cannot fix what is wrong unless together we recognize the causes and do the right thing. We must fix it.

To show our commitment to good governance on Monday Parliamentarians of the People’s United Party presented our declaration of assets to the National Assembly.

We look forward to the day when we can do so to a fully constituted Integrity Commission and we welcome the news that the Government will sign the UN Convention against Corruption, Yes, more needs to be done, but it is a start.

We who chose to offer ourselves as political and civic leaders must never forget that our work should not be about personal gain, but about service to others, particularly the poor and disadvantaged. The sense of arrogance and entitlement we see in too many of our leaders creates a hurdle to our social and economic development. It hinders progress and destroys our people’s confidence in our democratic and political process and leads to further erosion of our national development.

If we are to be honest, then we must recognize that too much of the greed and selfish behaviour we see being displayed by those in high office is hindering our development and we must take the necessary actions to put a stop to it.

But all is not lost, for we know that when we face adversity as a united people we prevail. We know that just as we overcame the obstacles that hindered our independence movement in the 60s and 70s we will overcome the challenges of our time. No, we cannot allow our spirit to sink because so much has gone wrong. We have never feared the future, for we are a people who live in hope and inn the conviction that God willing, there are brighter days ahead. And Belizeans like the auditor general give us hope, our teachers give us hope, our children in the farthest corners of our nation give us hope.

Throughout history we have seen that change comes from the bottom-up. This is why we uphold our democratic principles and believe that it is only through the ballot that we hold those who govern accountable for their actions. Belizeans expect and demand that their leaders always seek to do what is right, and when we do not, the people remind us in whose hands the real power lies.

“la patria, segun el politico y escritor cubano Jose Marti, es dicha, dolor y no feudo ni capellania de nadie.” Nosotros todos somos duenos y senores de esta tierra y de este pueblo y debemos todos aceptar la responsabilidad de lo que aqui sucede. Estamos enfrentando una crisis profunda que no nos permite desarrollar y nos hunde cada dia mas.

Compatriotas, Belice es una nacion que ha sido bendecida con abundantes recursos naturales, con una deversidad cultural inigualable, con una poblacion joven y energica, con la experiencia de nuestros mayors y con la Fortaleza unica de nuestras mujeres; todo esto nos de las herramientas necesarias para salir de la profunda crisis en que ahora nos encontramos y que no nos permiten desarrollar.

Este pueblo necesita un gobierno que tenga el bienesrar de todo beliceno no solo de algunos como objetivo final. Juntos tenemos que hacer el esfuerzo para salvar la patria del abismo. Juntos debemos de trabajar para asegurar que nuestro pueblo salga adelante.

If we are to live up to the expectations of those who worked so hard for our independence, we must see it as our sacred duty to defend and protect our nation from those domestic threats that impede our progress as well as those threats that may come from and increasingly hostile neighbour. We must remain soverign and strog and together as one in defence of our territorial integrity. We must remain forever clear in our minds and actions that we will never, ever, surrender one square centimetre of what is rightfully Belizean territory.

Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Belizeans, we face the future much like those who less than two generations ago face it, confident that together we can realize the aspirations set down in our constitution. Today we are confident that together we can build a Belize that works for everyone. And can proudly proclaim that we fulfilled Mr Price’s vision of a Belize where our hands work towards the promise of prosperity; our hearts beat fervently with social justice and where our soul cherishes freedom, equality and those treasures of the spirit.

To our visitors here with us today, thank you for sharing this moment with us. And to every Belizean at home and abroad we say: Long Live Belize! Que Viva Belice! Happy Independence Day!