The inaugural address delivered by Senator Chester Humphrey on December 10 when he became the first revolutionary figure from the 1979-83 Grenada Revolution to assume the post of President of the Senate.
Honourable members, I take this opportunity under the item “Personal Business” appearing on the Order Paper to make the following remarks which I think are relevant and pertinent on this very historic occasion of my appointment to the Senate and my elevation to the Chair as President.
It is historic not just because it’s a natural progression from the post of Deputy President which I held for nearly five years but it is history making because it’s the first time that a sitting Trade Unionist has been so elevated in the annals of our history in the practice of our parliamentary democracy.
My return to the Senate would mark the 24th year of my membership and service in the Upper House – 23 years of consecutive service, an achievement only surpassed in the current Houses of Parliament by Prime Minister, The Right Hon. Dr. Keith Mitchell who this year marked his 30th successive year as a member of the House of Representatives.
Dear Senators, Honourable Members, it is with a deep sense of honour and humility that I accepted the opportunity to serve the Parliament and my country and I intend to be true to the oath of allegiance and the oath of office as set out in Schedule 3 of the Constitution of the State of Grenada.
For emphasis I repeat that this Honourable House can correctly anticipate that: “I will faithfully execute the office of President without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and that in the execution of the functions of that office I will honour, uphold and preserve the Constitution of Grenada.”
These are the elements of conduct and expected standards which the country anticipates of me and correctly so. I shall do no less.
Honourable members, the historic character of my ascendency to the Presidency is in many respects an acknowledgment of the experience I gained over the last 23 years and for that I am eternally grateful to the workers of this country who first resided their confidence in me when I made my debut in 1990.
Today, this honour belongs to the thousands of ordinary working men and women whom I have struggled for in the pursuit of social justice and there is no need for an enumeration as that part of my life’s trajectory most adequately speaks for itself.
Honourable Members, it is important to note that this historic occasion is anchored not only in my contributions to Grenada but also anchored in the bold and brave decision taking by Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Dr. Keith Mitchell, who at this confluence in our history has dared to challenge tradition; dare to take a different approach, not on the basis of wanton expediency but on the basis of the necessity to change the approach to governance given that our country finds itself in its most challenging economic moment.
I reflect on the life of Nelson Madiba Mandela – the world’s most celebrated statesman. Mandela brought a unique feature to statesmanship when, he, against the popular call to intensify armed struggle opted instead to negotiate an end to apartheid not by armed struggle but by negotiations around the table notwithstanding the serious provocations of violence unleashed by the apartheid State.
At that time hundreds of ANC activists and students were being daily slaughtered by apartheid terrorists. His most celebrated and very popular ANC Activist Chris Hani was assassinated outside his own house by agents of the Apartheid Secret Service and South Africa inched closer to a massive inferno.
Mandela doggedly stayed the course of negotiating in the face of calls to end talks. In fact, at one mass rally in a township, he was booed and heckled by the impatient crowd. He recalled that he stood almost alone on the executive of the ANC. He revealed that there were indeed moments of self-doubt but he was convinced that the path he was following was correct and the least costly to his people in the pursuit of freedom and an end to the apartheid system.
Mandela’s views were not the popular view and he faced many a difficulty; several of his comrades doubted his tact and wisdom but he became a celebrated statesman, not allowing himself to be imprisoned by history and fear but charted boldly a path forward.
He decided to share power with FW de Klerk, the then President of an Apartheid South Africa. In fact Mandela had to negotiate with de Klerk while he was still a prisoner of the apartheid state; the rest is history.
Honourable members, I refer to this example because I think it’s a fitting analogy of congruent reference and similarity to where Grenada presently finds itself.
Now, the fact that Prime Minister Mitchell reached out to a strident opponent offering an open unconditional invitation to cooperate and participate in getting our country onto a sustainable development path without preconditions must appeal to all genuine patriots and consistent social democrats.
These are no ordinary times; these are not times for the faint hearted!! Our beloved country and this sub-region is facing grave economic difficulties and the working people – indeed all classes and strata are hurting as banks are closing branches retrenching workers; small businesses are going under; several construction Companies havefolded and dozens of workers are without work. This is the context.
Thus, on that night of his historic victory celebrations at Tanteen and speaking without a script he said: “what have I done to deserve this”!!! There and then he made the announcement that to face the challenges going forward, he would be calling upon the Trade Union Movement and he specifically named Cdes Madonna Harford and Chester Humphrey. This to me Honourable Members was the first indicative of a new path, a new approach in the context in which Grenada found itself.
To me our politics is maturing and it is important for us to grasp these important changes.
Honourable Members, I wish to thank my immediate predecessor Dr. the Hon. Lawrence Joseph who sat in the chair as President in the earlier part of the life of this Parliament. I know it is a challenge to retrace his steps, a challenge which I have accepted and a challenge which no doubt, Dr. Joseph has confidence that I will rise to the level of the task.
I must give Dr. Joseph credit and I know he feels a sense of gratification that he had been my literature teacher at the GBSS many moons ago; then, he took me through the difficult pages of Chaucer when we read the famous Canterbury Tales. He must be satisfied and indeed be ample proud of the final product; amply proud of a student who was otherwise tempestuous and rebellious in those distant formative secondary school student years.
I make use of this opportunity to convey and record on behalf of all Senators our gracious thanks to him for the services he has rendered as President and continuing advice from him which is available to the House.
Dear Senators, I take the opportunity to thank my family, my wife Ann, children Dr. Camilo Humphrey, soon to be another medical Doctor Camille Humphrey, Arlington and Camerron Humphrey – they have all had to endure along my journey serious competition for my time and attention as I pursued and continue to pursue social justice for the working man and working woman.
Without their understanding and tolerance this stage in the trajectory of my life would not have been possible. I use the occasion also, to register my thanks to the St. John family – Walter St. John and others who are also significantly responsible for where I am today. I also acknowledge the TAWU family and the fraternity of Trade Unionist throughout the Region and internationally.
Additionally, I want to specifically welcome the Hon. Peter David, we have travelled many a road together and he claims that I am his mentor. I understand him to be someone who fundamentally likes people and it is a natural for him to give of himself to the poor and the meek.
I also welcome a newcomer like myself the distinguished Senator from Carriacou, the Honourable Norland Cox. Continuing my flight, Honourable Members, I congratulate Senator the Honourable Simon Stiell on his elevation to the post of Leader of Government Business – a very important elevation indeed and one in which I have every confidence he would meet the expectations of those responsibilities.
Finally, Honourable Members, I look forward to working closely with all of you in the pursuit of deepening and strengthening our Parliamentary democracy, maintaining the high decorum of the House and promoting lively and spirited debate on all of the issues which confront our country’s development and I look forward to your co-operation and support.
I am confident that this House would be exemplary in its collective intellect and justly deserving of the public’s respect. I thank you most profoundly.