President David Granger: Thank you very much Mr. Foster for your introduction and for inviting me into this community again. Her Excellency, Madam Khadija Musa, the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations system in Guyana; staff members of the United Nations; Chairman of the East Berbice-Corentyne Region, my colleague and Presidential Advisor on Youth Empowerment, Mr Aubrey Norton; Chairman of the NDC and other members of the Mibicuri Community Developers; Ladies and Gentlemen:
I came here to look, I came here to listen and I came here to learn. I didn’t come here to talk and I was taken a bit by surprise, but nevertheless I am happy to be here and I’m glad that you spoke frankly and freely about your concerns.
First of all, I would like to say that my biggest concern is the education of young people and that is why Mr. Aubrey Norton is in the forefront of this programme that we have for youth empowerment. Next to education is jobs; finding jobs for young people, and he knows very well that that is his main concern.
There are too many young people who are unemployed. Because of the problems in the education system, many young people leave school prematurely- they drop out of school and very frequently they are not literate, they are not numerate, they can’t read, write or spell properly. So I understand the question today. Maybe some persons who might be doing well as farmers might, might be doing well in other occupations, but because of their education level they cannot move forward; there is a sort of glass ceiling.So these [are some of my] concerns, and we are trying to rectify the education system. We have a system called ‘Every child in school’ and that is one of the reason[s] why, when it was my 70th birthday, back in July, I was given a gift of school boats; a school boat to ensure that children in the Pomeroon could get to school, but similarly in all of the communities, we have what you call the ‘three Bs’ system: ‘Boats, Bicycles and Buses’. So that if you are in a [riverine community] you get a boat, if you are on a road (like this) you need bicycles to get to school and of course if you have a little longer distance to travel, on the highway or somewhere like that, you can hopefully look forward to getting a bus sometime or the other.I don’t want to promise prematurely.
The important thing is that we want to get every single Guyanese child in school, 100% attendance; not 50%, not 60%, not 70%. Every child belongs in school and this idea of, the thought of, Schools Welfare Officers picking up children at 9 and 10 O’clock in the morning …because they haven’t gone to school? The idea that children should not go to school because they have nothing to eat, they have no uniforms or shoes to wear! They have no books or they have no transportation; we have to bring that to an end whatever it costs, whatever it costs.The communities,the organizations, the NGOs, people who can afford it in communities must get children to school, that is very, very important. I think once we solve that problem we will solve the problem of unemployment.
This area here is a rich agriculture area and I was surprised to hear that there are lands which are unoccupied. We need to become an agricultural powerhouse in the Caribbean. Guyana is the biggest Caribbean country. It is the most beautiful Caribbean country; it is the most bountiful Caribbean country and anything we produce; every grain of rice, every plantain,could eventually be marketed somewhere in the Eastern Caribbean. That is what CSME is all about-the Caribbean Single Market and Economy- and we want to encourage production.
Now, you mentioned rice,this is a competitive world; we have to compete, we have to change our technology, we have to change our attitudes; we have to ensure that when we produce sugar or rice or bauxite, or timber, or gold it is done more cheaply than other people. We have to compete with Vietnam; we have to compete with South Africa.We have to compete in every single thing we do. So we have to continuously look at the methodswe are using and that is why education is so important; that’s why those computers are so important.
You don’t have to guess about the weather, you can go use your computer.You don’t have to wonder what the other markets are selling; you can go to your computer. So everything ties up, your livelihood ties into your education, and your education ties into your employment. So we must see them all together, so education comes back to preparing young peopleparticularly for the world of work.
So as far as rice problems, I don’t think there’s a problem. I do believe that it is part of the whole challenge of accessing modern technology…when people discover that there are new means of preventing waste. You come along the roads, all the way from Mahaicony, trucks are lined up there full of paddy,they are waiting, as long as trucks are waiting five days, six days, you are losing money because they are not waiting in Vietnam,they’re not waiting in China or India; they deliver their paddy to a silo, they get paid,and they go home and start preparing their grounds.
So something is happening in the industry that is raising the cost of production and it is creating problems for the paddy farmers. The paddy farmers have a problem and we need to look carefully at the entire industry to make sure, not only that we increase productivity, butthat we lower cost of production…and you can see the waste; the waste is in the trucking,the waste is in the delays in payment, the waste is taking place in the field not using the correct techniques and the correct technology, so I don’t want to go on about that. As I said, I came here to learn;I’m not a teacher on the rice industry.
I agree with you. I will sit down with Mr. Holder, the Minister of Agriculture, and we will look at these problems facing paddy farmers. I don’t want to see paddy farmers burning tires on the road; I don’t want to see paddy farmers not getting enough money to start the next crop.I would like an efficient rice industry because it is good for Guyana;we are looking for markets. I went to the United Nations in September. I was speaking to other heads of states trying to get markets for rice. We are not going to let the rice industry down, but at the same time, the rice farmers themselves need to access the type of education, which will enable them to be competitive with rice industries around the world.
I [didn’t]come here to hear about suicide. I know of the problem. Suicide is not an act of God, there are causes. We need to look at causation,why are young people; why are people committing suicide? As I said during the campaign, happy people don’t kill themselves, happy people don’t kill themselves. We must look at the causes of this unhappiness, whether it is alcoholism, whether there are problems within the family, social breakdown, whether there is unemployment and joblessness.
I don’t have all of the answers. When a person commits suicide he doesn’t leave a list. You can’t go back and say, ‘why did you do this thing?’ you know. And we need to continue to investigate and I hope that organisations like the MCD – Mibicuri Community Developers -will help to make these communities happier. Educated people with careers, with good families, are less likely to turn to suicide; suicide is an act of desperation, sometimes it is an act of folly. I know one evangelical pastor who said “he doesn’t have problems with murder/suicide, except they must commit suicide before they commit murder” well, I think he is a funny man, but he has a large congregation, but we don’t want suicides at all. And again, I don’t have the answers. I turn to people like Mr. Alex Foster, who have been labouring in the vineyard for a long time, since he was young, trying to find the answers to problems like this and, of course, to create happier societies.
Again, I have not come here to offer money or bring solutions; I have come here to listen. I will go back and speak with my ministers, with my advisors, to see in what way we can support non-governmental organizations. We are not a government that is bent on controlling or micromanaging every single community; I think that is part of the problem, why communities tend to be underdeveloped. You can’t run the entire country from Fort Street Kingston. You have to allow the people to make decisions, give them the resources to enable them to implement those decisions and that is what we want to see in the local government system that we are going to introduce in March next year.
East Berbice-Corentyne is very fortunate; there are six towns in Guyana and East Berbice-Corentyne has three, y’all get nuff: New Amsterdam, Rose Hall and Corriverton. So something must be done to make that local government system work for you; strong communities, strong NDCs and towns, strong regions, you have a strong country. I want to see a strong region (and Mr. Armogan knows this). I don’t want to see a weak region; I want to see a powerful region with a strong capital and that is what I’m going to tell New Amsterdam tonight when I go there.
I want to see a region with aerodromes, with sports stadiums, world class cricket coming here with banking systems, with all your organs of the state:hospitals, banks(not only banks), NIS, law courts. I want to see a region functioning almost like a State in the USA. I want to see the Regional Chairman like a State Governor. I want to see planes coming in from Suriname, from Barbados,buying rice, buying commodities, engaging with our businessmen, engaging with our communities, sporting teams coming in. If we had ten regions like that this country would be moving ahead at a rate. I wouldn’t treat the regions like NDCs; I am not in the business of setting up IMCs. I want you to elect the people that you want to govern your NDCs, to govern your communities and let this Region be prosperous. East Berbice-Corentyne is at the front, it is one of the most commercially mature and developed regions in the entire country.
What we want to see is progress. What we want to see is prosperity and to come back to where I started, as I said I came to listen, but Alex got me started-off; what I want to see is an educated population in Region Six.What I want to see is full employment in Region Six. To have these things you have to have the resources, education is going to be transformed over the next five years. I have said over and over again, ‘One Laptop per Teacher’ is where we are aiming at.It is nice to have one laptop per family but, eventually. Let us start in the school system, let us start in the education system.
Give the teachers laptops so the children can come and learn from the teachers and let us start that virtual circle in which teachers teach children and children can then go back home to their families; when children grow up they will be part of that great global village, they will be able to do most of their work using information technology. Right now I’m sure somebody must be recording what I say, somebody is going to call me from Brooklyn, you know, in five minutes time and say how I could sayso because they get information at the speed of light: Facebook, Twitter all sorts of things. That is where we are today in Guyana, we are being left behind in this race for information technology, part of our education system must be able to help us to close the gap between Guyana and the other countries.
“With these few words”, politicians always say that, I would like to congratulate the MCD. I would like to congratulate Alex Foster. I would like to thank the people who are helping him; I see Mr. Kent Vincent from the Food for the Poor, Ms. Khadija Musa from the UN system and all of the other persons who have come together to support this programme, this NGO, a very important NGO and a very important community in Guyana,but no more bad news. Let us start the virtual cycle of helping the people of Black Bush Polder and the entire East Berbice-Corentyne to be better educated, to be fully employed and to be more self-reliant.
Thank you very much and congratulations on what you are doing here.