(8th November, 2015) H.E Brigadier David. A. Granger: Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Heads of the Disciplined Services, Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force, Brigadier Mark Phillips; retired Chiefs of Staff, Regional Chairman Ms. Genevieve Allen – Demerara-Mahica Region, special invitees, members of visiting delegations from veterans organizations, veterans of Guyana, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.
I am very happy and honoured to be here and I’m glad to see Mr. Arnold Bascome from C Field Village. Two years ago I went to his village to meet him and a spritely young man came to the gate. I asked him to direct me to a certain Mr. Bascome who is celebrating his 100th Birthday. He say “Is me!” and he told me what his regimental number was, the first day he enlisted in the BG Garrison, his days at Tacama and I was very happy and I’m glad to see him here today among us.
Ladies and gentlemen, we gather at the War Memorial every year on Remembrance Day. We solemnly pay homage to the men and women who lost their lives during the two World Wars 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. We call their sacrifice, a service in the cause of peace. We remember also Guyanese military veterans who served in the British Guyana Militia in the British Guyana Garrison, in the South Caribbean Force, the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, all incorporated before or during the second World War. We remember also, those who served in the British Guyana Volunteer Force, the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana People’s Militia afterwards, during the post-Independence period.
Today we commemorate their service which occurred in the past, but more importantly, we celebrate the future, and those who serve now and those who will continue to preserve Guyana’s independence.
The Second World War’s historical significance for us was the transformation of the international system. The war all but destroyed imperialism and erected a new international order superintended by the United Nations. The great European empires of which we were a part; the Belgian, the British, the Dutch, the French, the Italian, the Portuguese and Spanish empires with scores of colonies spread all around the globe collapsed. A plethora of independent new states sprouted in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Guyana was a child of these changes. Independence, statehood and unison however, were expensive and did not come without a price.
The price we had to pay and the price we still pay today is eternal vigilance; vigilance to secure our territory, vigilance to protect our citizens from armed aggression. Guyana has been targets of gunboats from the east, gunboats from the west. We cannot afford to blink, we cannot afford to close our eyes to the threats to our territory. We cannot cede our territory; we cannot cede our sea space as some have suggested.
The GDF was established 50 years ago, on the 1st of November, and I join the President of the Legion on congratulating the Chief of Staff on this milestone. As you will see in the newspaper, the President has declared 1st of November every year as ‘Defence Force Day.’
The Defence Force had the expressed mission to defend Guyana. Our military men and women for 50 years, have watched over our motherland. The Defence Force is our shield. It has safeguarded the territorial integrity, it protected the patrimony of our nation, it has deterred would-be aggressors, it has made our country secure from both external and internal threats, it has given honorable service to our nation; we are proud of the Guyana Defence Force.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those members, past and present, who have served and who continue to serve in the Defence Force. They, together with other persons who have served in the Colonial Era, have in the fore-court of Camp Ayangana, a monument, and on that monument if you have never seen it, the words are inscribed, literally carved in stone, or maybe bronze, “Dedicated to the men and women who served in the Defence Forces of British Guiana and of Guyana.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Guyana owes a debt of gratitude to our veterans and to our Defence Force; a grateful nation cannot forget the service they have rendered when they were young, and we have an obligation to protect them from the scourge of unemployment and poverty and disease when they grow old or in my case, mature.
We thank the old Guyana Legion, we thank the Guyana Veterans Foundation and we thank the Ex-GDF Association and at one stage I got three badges to wear- for all three, because I enjoyed simultaneous membership, but today we thank the Legion because the Legion has been able to bring together the work of the old Legion, the Veterans Foundation and the Ex-GDF Association, barred of shouting.
We thank the Legion for its efforts in providing for the welfare and wellbeing of our veterans and their families. Veterans and their dependents have had nowhere else to turn for assistance other than the Legion. The state acknowledges and accepts its obligation to assist our veterans to ensure that they too can enjoy a good life. The state will help to open opportunities for veterans when they leave active military service.
We would like to iterate our four initiatives to place the issue of veterans rights and conditions on more stable basis. As I have promised before, I promise again today, that two years ago on the 21st of November 2013, as Leader of the Opposition I moved the motion in the National Assembly, which became Resolution Number 60, calling for the establishment of a National Veterans Commission. That Commission will be convened on the 21st of November, 2015 – exactly two years after the resolution was passed by the National Assembly and never assented to, but now it has been.
That Commission will examine the conditions under which veterans are living and working and make recommendations for their improvement. Second, a Veterans Trust will be established to raise and maintain funds for the continuing education, training and re-settlement of veterans in society. The Trust will also seek to procure veterans land for housing and agricultural purposes.
The Veterans Department has already taken shape in Camp Ayangana. I don’t know about the one in Coglan House, but I know that one has been established in Camp Ayangana and we will support a well-staffed and well-equipped Veterans Administrative Department entrusted with ensuring that veterans and their families receive their entitlements on a timely basis; and finally, the benefits due to veterans will be placed on sound, a legal basis with the passing of a Veterans Act. The entitlements of soldiers and their families must be guaranteed and secured under law so as to avoid future misunderstandings about such entitlements.
The Government of Guyana congratulates the Guyana Veterans Legion for its organizational and administrative work. We will cooperate with the Legion to ensure a good life for all veterans and that cooperation starts today.
It is our pleasure, therefore, to announce that henceforth, the Guyana Veterans Legion will receive a fixed annual State subvention. I have brought with me a few million dollars, some of which had been promised in previous years but maybe due to some oversight, for which I am not responsible, was never delivered. My understanding is that, we have one million, five hundred thousand dollars outstanding from previous years and the Office of the Prime Minister, who unfortunately could not be here, has added another three hundred thousand, so that’s $1.8 million dollars.
The current President and Commander-in-Chief, a patron of the Guyana Veterans Legion has brought another million, and there is another special contribution for the maintenance of Coglan House, the physical infrastructure, repairs and rehabilitation to the value of a million dollars and the National Veterans Rest Home Incorporated, which is located in Lamaha Springs and which now is not administrated by the Guyana Veterans Legion, will receive a million dollars to offset their expenses.
Ladies and gentlemen, fellow veterans, we are serious about the quality of life for all Guyanese citizens and we are aware of your special contribution to our country. We do not see this as a reward for past services. But we see it as an investment in the future so that young entrants into the Defence Force must know that they can look forward to a comfortable and dignified retirement.
I now ask President George Gomes to take delivery of these cheques before I take them back.
…That God may bless this Legion, that God may bless your families, and that God may bless Guyana.
I thank you.