(25th October 2015) H.E. David Granger: Members of the St. Francis Community Developers, citizens of east Berbice Corentyne region, members of the media. First of all, it is my duty to extend congratulations to the St. Francis Community Developers on the occasion of its 29th anniversary.
I don’t think anyone in this country doesn’t know what the letters SFCD means; it has become a household name, largely because of its industrious and illustrious service, its pioneering work in this region for nearly three decades.
I would like to congratulate you.
I know you have gotten a lot of help over the years but you have also demonstrated tremendous energy and pioneering spirits to make this possible. I think people help you because they realise you are helping yourself.
St. Francis Community Developers has become a model community organization in Guyana. It has earned and it enjoys significant support which is evident here today. And the presence of its collaborating partners including members of the international community, diplomatic community and local businesses and civil society – testifies to the high public esteem in which SFCD is held.
A word about community development- not only is St. Francis a pioneer of community development in east Berbice Corentyne but we must see community development not merely as investing in beautiful buildings and dormitories or hiring a huge staff, or acquiring expensive equipment and duty free vehicles. It is also about changing people’s lives.
Community development cannot ignore the fact that there are huge disparities in our country; disparities in the living conditions within different groups, even within a community. The challenge facing government is to close those gaps, to ensure that national growth translates into improved living conditions and well-being for all the citizens within our local communities, our regions and our local democratic areas.
Communities have been neglected for a long time, but many of our communities indeed are in fact run-down, some of the infrastructure is decaying, some of it is unsanitary: unsafe, some roads are potholed, parapets are unkempt.
Drains and canals have not been cleaned for years; they are clogged up and stink. Playfields are overgrown with foliage and much of our infrastructure is in a state of neglect and sometimes abandonment.
Recreational entertainment facilities are scarce. Road lights are insufficient; I remember going to the funeral of the three young girls at Philippe and when you looked at the condition of the public road or racing track depending on what you call it, you wouldn’t be surprised that there were fatal accidents there.
These public roads as you know are not high-ways. They are really roads running through villages and sometimes people drive through them at a fast rate and the result is far too frequently in this county, fatality.
Garbage disposal is unsafe and unsanitary; residents, in many communities, still resort to burning or burying their own garbage, sometimes not successfully. Others create dump sites not far from residential areas. People ignore building and zoning codes.
So when we speak of community development, we speak about a wide range of services and unfortunately it had to be tried and tested, but the over-centralised local government approach just doesn’t work.
You cannot run a country of 215,000 km², a country that is bigger than England and Scotland, from one little office in Fort Street Kingston. There must be democracy. There must be local democracy and this time last year I was picketing the Office of the President, now I’m in the Office of the President and we are going to have Local Government Elections by March next year.
I am pleased too, that what we see here today at Rose Hall is a representation, not of an exclusionary NGO but of an inclusive one; one that has brought civil society together with NGO`s, with religious organisations and the donor community. This is an example of what we need in this country.
Local communities have, although they have been denuded and decimated over the years; they have the opportunity now to take the lead in rebuilding our communities. The obsession with centralization, the obsession with uprooting elected NDC`s and appointed IMC`s has not worked.
We need now communities which are elected; we need councils which are elected. As I pointed out downstairs, east Berbice Corentyne is fortunate to be the only region in Guyana with three towns and in a little while there will be ten towns and I hope that every single region will have at least one town.
Community organizations and non-governmental and civil society organizations play a critical role in bridging the governance gap. These organizations together have a decisive role to play in animating development and communities. They are the conduits through which the benefits of growth can flow to local residents.
These groups have the knowledge of local conditions; they are in touch with the needs of the people; their leaders are drawn from their communities; their familiarity with the local conditions can effectively mobilize resources for community development as we have seen here in Rose Hall.
Community organizations also are indispensable partners in addressing social ills. Government cannot do it alone. Here in Berbice we have already received complaints about alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, suicide and teenage pregnancies. We need NGO`s to partner with government, to partner with other civil society organizations- if we are to bring this scourge to an end. The active participation of community and NGO`s is necessary if we are to overcome these problems.
International organizations have long recognised the value of community cooperation through NGO`s. What we see here in Rose Hall again, is an example of that cooperation. These organizations are favoured channels for development assistance. Increasingly, donor organizations seek these organizations to boost community development.
This is what Guyana needs and this is what I believe we have been getting through this organisation led by Alex Foster in Rose Hall. I would just like to leave with you, some of the values which I feel are important. I know it is not the value that Alex would like me to talk about but the values which are needed in building community organisations such as this.
Guyana has to see a change, a change in orientation, a change in organisation. That is the reason why the former Ministry of Local Government was renamed the ‘The Ministry of Communities.’ It is not an ornamental name. It is not a superficial name- it is meant to change the attitude of the ministry to the regions, it is one of building communities not imposing government.
So it is not a cosmetic change. It emphasises a new philosophy and we intend to develop that policy, not only through the ministry but in partnership with non-governmental organisations. We are committed to an inclusionary and participatory process and we do not intend to impose any policy upon civil society without extensive and exhaustive consultation.
We see that this partnership under our communities programme will be built on a five pillars at the basis of this structure will be education, and let us not assume that people will automatically embrace community development. It is something that has to be taught, it is something that has to be inculcated at the level of the school. There must be the inculcation of the very values I think that St Francis has been able to inculcate over the years in this particular community.
The values of:
These values cannot be learnt intuitively; they have to be inculcated in the uninitiated; and I hope that in our schools, our masjids, our churches, our homes, our mandirs, our NGO`s – we start to teach young people the values of responsibility, of reliability, of integrity and of regional identity.
The second value- I would like to emphasize; next to education, that takes place within the formal or informal system, is the value of our orientation or I should say re-orientation.
Ladies and gentlemen, Guyana is going green; green not because of choice but because of necessity. Climate change is forever. Global warming is not going to go away next week or next month with a new government. We have to understand the importance of going green right here in east Berbice Corentyne.
Communities have to be taught to change their attitude to solid waste. Change their attitude to the environment. Change their attitude to energy and I am proud to have grown up in Whim village, to have gone to school at Auchlyne and to have seen rice millers, long ago when I was young, long, long time ago; generating energy from wind turbines but now we seem to have become intoxicated with petroleum and we have forgotten wind, we have forgotten solar, we have forgotten biogas, we have forgotten the power of water.
East Berbice Corentyne must, it is almost an island; Atlantic on one side, Corentyne on one side and Berbice river on the other side. You must understand the environment, in which you live, go again let’s get energy from wind, from the sun, from water. This is forever. We must exploit renewable energy and the NGO’s must lead the way and I’m glad that this NGO is leading the way, Rose Hall.
The third value I would like to leave with you is the value of Organisation. That is, the capacity and training of NGO`s and community organizations must be boosted, so that they can improve the services they provide to communities and better manage their operations. We must not see NGO`s as a form of governmental side show. NGO`s are central to modern governance and people have to be trained to run these organizations, the same way that they are trained to run any other branch of the government service.
So I would like to ask that in addition to the current operations, we also train people to build the organization. There are a lot of ‘Fosters’ here in Rose Hall. I think if you throw a stone in the air, it’s quite likely that it might land on a Foster. But we must make sure those children, young people coming into your youth clubs, coming in to our sporting organisations are also trained to lead, also trained to manage organisations. So when we leave the scene, as leave we must, there will be people who are trained to carry on.
The fourth value I would like to leave with you is the value of Obligation. Your government is committed to ensuring that NGO’s survive, but NGO’s have to be accountable for the funds they solicit and which they receive and in this regard I think we must congratulate Rose Hall because if they weren’t accountable they wouldn’t be getting any money from anybody.
I’m sure over the years, donors have discovered that this NGO is accountable and they can come to see where the money was spent. We would like to ensure therefore that there are safeguards against organizations either receiving illicit funds from murky sources or not being accountable for the funds they receive from illicit or illegitimate sources.
And finally, mobilisation- NGO`s are not elite clubs. They must be based on mass mobilization if they are to be effective throughout this region. This region unfortunately has suffered some heavy blows and as you know very well it is perhaps a unique part of this country in which population is falling. Go ye out into the world and make more babies, as best you could. But more than that, we must examine why migration has been taking place at such a rate in east Berbice Corentyne that the population has continued to fall.
So in mobilizing support, you must pay attention to the erosion; the causes of the erosion of that support. People do not have to leave this blessed region. You have the resources, you are one of the biggest producers of sugar in the country, the biggest producer of rice and there are so many other commodities. I was up the Berbice River a few months ago during the campaign and the amount of bauxite, the amount of timber I saw coming through the Berbice River, passing through this region indicates that this is a potentially powerful economic dynamo in Berbice.
It is the only point at which two CARICOM states actually touch, east Berbice and West Suriname. No other CARICOM country is close to another CARICOM country as we are to Suriname and you are the cutting edge, (we will talk about cutting some other time) but you are the edge of that contact between Guyana and Suriname.
So your mobilization must be broad based, not only at a social level but also at the economic level. I am convinced that everything that east Berbice Corentyne produces could be processed, could be the subject of some downstream manufacturing or agro-processing could be exported to the eastern Caribbean or to other countries.
There is wealth enough, there is intelligence enough, there is talent enough in the east Berbice Corentyne for us to bring immigration to a close and allow a virtual cycle to start in which people start coming back home and developing this great region.
The NGO`s do not have to depend on state handouts. You can generate a lot of that money, a lot of the funds you need right here in the region- from the business community and also from the international community.
Ladies and gentlemen, I did make some commitments to the President, (the other President, this is one here, we seem to have two Presidents here today.) and I will grant the waivers that I promised but I will not expend money without the permission of my Minister of Finance. So the other consultancy, the other fees, the other allocations, will be granted after consultation with the Minister of Finance- he is the keeper of my treasury but as far as I am concerned, that waiver that you sought is granted.
The Government of Guyana will not interfere with your work we will support all NGO`s. We are convinced that over the decades, this NGO in Rose Hall has demonstrated its commitment to the region, has demonstrated its commitment to the service of the population. We want to see more like yours; we want to see more NGO`s working to enhance living conditions, to remove inequalities and to overcome the problems which you know- problems of homicide, problems of suicide and to some extent problems of environmental damage which have affected you.
We would like to see NGO`s provide better education, especially for disadvantaged young people and that is why I was very pleased that we were able to present bicycles because I have a personal motto of ensuring every child gets to school. Every single child in this country must be able to depend on transportation, must be able to depend on a meal when he or she goes to school, must be able to depend on uniforms and books.
We have an obligation to keep every child in school and we must pay what it takes; whatever it cost, to ensure that our children get to school. So I’m very happy to be part of these three B`s system- boats, bicycle and buses but today I have to add W because the wheelchairs are important too.
On Monday as you know, I was at President’s College and I was very happy to meet a student of President`s College who actually was bound to a wheel chair. We have to think of all members of society- when we think of sport, when we think of education, not just for a few and even President’s College, they are starting to build ramps into all of the laboratories and all of the classrooms, so that persons in wheelchairs are not left out but they are part of the education system.
So thank you for thinking of that.
So in closing, I would like to iterate our congratulations to the St. Francis Community Developers- SFCD – It is not just a name it is also a service. We look forward to collaboration, not confrontation.
We are working towards the same objective here, to provide a good life for everyone in east Berbice Corentyne region and me of course, to provide a good life for all Guyanese.
May God bless you St. Francis Community Developers!
May God bless you, the residents of east Berbice Corentyne region and may he or she richly reward your endeavours.
I thank you.