(25th October 2015) H.E. David A. Granger: Thank you for that kind introduction
Mayor of New Amsterdam Mr. Claude Henry,
Representatives of the Private Sector,
Representatives of the RDC,
Representatives of the Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society,
Artistes, who gave us such excellent performances this afternoon,
Members of the media,
I’m happy to be here to help you to welcome Town Week 2015.
I hope you have very happy celebrations and as you’ve heard the appeal before, let there be no disorder or violence, let unity be the theme of Town Week 2015.
On behalf of the Government of Guyana, I bring greetings to the good people of New Amsterdam. This is the ancient county and as you know the name Amsterdam itself tells you that it was given by the Dutch, centuries ago. You have a proud history and one of the duties you have as members of this town is to preserve that history, but also to make that history work for you.
So New Amsterdam Town Week is an occasion to celebrate, to celebrate your history, and celebrate your heritage. As you know, New Amsterdam became a town in 1891 and this year you will be celebrating your 124th anniversary of being a town, congratulations. In fact, East Berbice-Corentyne is a blessed region, it’s the only region in this country with three towns and New Amsterdam is the mother of the towns in this region.
As you know, the settlement and development of New Amsterdam pre-dated the attainment of township status by 110 years. New Amsterdam in its early days was always regarded as a splendid town, it had ornate buildings; unfortunately one of the landmarks was pulled down only within recent memory, the hospital building, but we are not here to mourn what has passed. We are here to plan for the future and Town Week is an opportunity for us to look to the future, it is an opportunity to celebrate the lives of the men and women who have come out of this town.
Some of the finest doctors, some of the finest educators, and lawyers and musicians, businessmen, professionals, parliamentarians, it is the birthplace of that Master of Literature, Edgar Mittelholzer, of the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Sir Shridath Ramphal – in fact I’ve been told that when Eric Williams in Trinidad was looking for a wife he came to New Amsterdam.
So Town Week is an opportunity for us to celebrate, to reflect, to renew, but also to look forward to what we want Town Week to be, what we want New Amsterdam to be. So let us begin tonight to lay a foundation for the revitalization of this community. We want New Amsterdam to be a well laid out, a well-drained, a well zoned town. It has a commercial sector, it must have an efficient governmental sector, and it must have effective regional and municipal centres capable of delivering public services to citizens of the entire region.
As you know, Region Six is a frontline region. Only two Caribbean countries touch each other, Guyana and Suriname, but we have always said that Guyana is a country for peace. Guyana is not interested in going to war with anyone; in 1899 we lost over 15,000 km² to Venezuela. We lost land to Brazil and we are not going to lose any more land to anybody.
Let me tell you what happened, in 1936 the Government of Brazil, the Government of the Netherlands, which was in control of Dutch Guiana as it was then [called], and the Government of Great Britain which was in control of British Guiana agreed that the point at the head of the Corentyne River, called the Kutari, would be the junction of the three countries- Brazil, Suriname and Guyana, that was determined in 1936, but when Guyana was approaching independence in 1965, the Suriname National Assembly just passed a motion renaming the New River, the Upper Corentyne.
Any of y’all speak Dutch here? They called it the Boven Corantijin, Upper Corentyne. A motion in the National Assembly changed the name of our river, New River, to Boven Corantijin and since then they start to draw their maps showing that part of our country, over 15,000 km², an area bigger than Jamaica, they just expect to come in and take it. They don`t know Berbicians fuh true; they don’t know Berbicians. But New Amsterdam is the capital of this great region and I do not want New Amsterdam to preside over the loss of its patrimony.
We here under this tent are just the trustees, our parents and fore parents gave us this land and we have to pass on this land to our children and grandchildren. We are just the trustees; we can’t carry this land when we are going. We have to leave it for them to develop and New Amsterdam is the Queen of East Berbice-Corentyne and you take the Queen out of the hive, how many of you all know beekeeping? So we have to look after New Amsterdam and I want to leave just five little pillars.
New Amsterdam, to use biblical language, is, as it were, a house, which is lifted on five pillars.
The first pillar is the Character of this town itself and Mr. Mayor, your Worship, you and your councillors must make New Amsterdam a “green town” (next year when I come I want green tent). When I speak about “green town”, I mean sanitation, all of these bottles and cups, all this plastic and Styrofoam must be something of the past. At the beginning of this month on the 3rd October, we had National Tree Day. In weeks and years to come, I want to see trees along the strands, trees along Main Street. I want to see Boulevard; a space to cool down. You know what the Amerindians say, “trees hold up the sky, when you cut down the trees the sky will fall”, so let us plant trees. A National Tree Day, I want the whole town to come out planting.
You know, I was in Bartica on the 3rd October and there are 15,000 people in Bartica, living; five in a household would give you about 3000 households. Is my Math right, Colin? (He used to work at the Elections Commissions, so if he makes any mathematical errors….) But calculated, if every household in Bartica planted one breadfruit tree, when that breadfruit tree matures, Bartica will be able to produce a million pounds of breadfruit a year.
I know many of you all descended from Bajans and Bajans like breadfruit. We had a cook in this country; he used to make chips from breadfruit. Every Saturday you go by the seawall, you use to buy chips. But the point I am making is that we have to plant up New Amsterdam, fruit trees, breadfruit trees, let us keep this town looking cool and green; let us keep it looking lean, clean and green.
We must stop litter, we must penalize the litter bugs, and we must train our children, in our homes, in our churches, in our mandirs, in our masjids. We must provide bins to make sure that people don’t drop plastic and bottles and waste along the roadways, we must keep our drains clean.
I remember sometimes I came up here and it is flooding in Tucberg, we have to keep these drains clean. I know some place just outside of New Amsterdam; you can’t help with the flooding, East Bank Berbice, for example, but inside New Amsterdam, let us make sure this town becomes a green town and that you keep it clean and green by keeping waste out of your gutters and trenches.
The second pillar, on which New Amsterdam will be built, will be the pillar of business. New Amsterdam has to become the business centre again. East Berbice-Corentyne is one of the most commercially vibrant regions in the entire country. Meh nah talk about backtrack you know; meh nah talk about smuggling. You have the capability to have a strong legitimate economy.
You produce the most fish in this country; you produce some of the best rice in this country, sugar. I go up to Kalkuni, I see the bauxite and the timber coming out of the Berbice River, some of which coming from Region 10, not Region Six of course, but your commerce must enrich this town.
People must come here to do business; I want to see New Amsterdam being a commercial hub, you must have a nearby aerodrome, business men flying in from Suriname and Barbados and Trinidad, flying into Region Six to do business, to cut deals during Town Week. They want to buy so many tons of sugar, so many tons of rice. They want to buy so many frozen fish. This economy must be booming and New Amsterdam must be the commercial capital of a booming economy, that’s what I want to see; a boom town, a place for investments.
You have the Regional Private Sector Commission represented here. I want to see legitimate business and you have the ability to do it, you have the produce. Free up business, so that we can have a prosperous region. You are better placed than any other region for commerce. Let us use your natural advantages to make East Berbice-Corentyne Region, a commercially advanced region in this country.
The third pillar, on which I see this town being built, is the pillar of orderliness. You must understand that orderliness and safety are very, very important if you are to attract visitors to come here. People don’t want to come, even persons who are born and grow up here; people in the diaspora don’t want to come back if they feel they are going to be robbed and burglarized before they can unpack their suitcases.
People want safety, people want security, and the town must help to make sure by collaborating with the Guyana Police Force to ensure that everything possible is done to make New Amsterdam safe.
I grew up at Whim, many years ago, and Whim used to have Mounted Police and at night the policemen; they didn’t depend on gasoline, they didn’t say they couldn’t go to some crime scene because there is no car or they don’t have an SUV. They used horses, they used bicycles.
Today, I just presented a bicycle to Ms. Sarah Shivpersaud; in East Canje there. She got burnt out and she has exams, I want her to pass her exams, so I gave her a bike and at Rose Hall Town Developers Centre; Developers Club, some students were presented with bicycles.
Sit down and speak with the police; with the neighbourhood police, give them bicycles so they can patrol and keep this town safe. That is what we must do; we must look for solutions in New Amsterdam. If we have no centre, no cultural centre, build a stage so that people don’t have to dance on the roadway. I have been to rallies in this town and I have seen children dance on the roadway before, so don’t tell me that. Build a stage; put some platform so that we can make our cultural presentations without causing discomfort to the artiste. No. Money isn’t there for a cultural centre; we need to learn how to help ourselves.
In keeping this town safe, don’t just blame the crooks and criminals, let us sit down and talk about community policing, the neighbourhood policing. Let us work with the Divisional Commander to make this town a place where people want to come to Town Week, for entertainment any day of the week, any day of the month. Any month of the year, but they must feel safe and secure.
Unlike many other regions, you have your own prisons. You have your own High Court. You have more facilities than many of the regions have in this country. Let us make use of those facilities to give our people that good life. So the municipality and the police and the RDC and non-Governmental organizations, the churches, the mandirs, the masjids, the private sector must be able to sit down and solve these problems.
Today, I started the day at Mibicuri in Black Bush Polder and we saw what NGOs could do. I went to Rose Hall, I went to Fyrish and we saw what NGOs can do. You don’t have to wait for central government. You can do it here if you show the vision and the energy.
So my brothers and sisters, ladies and gentlemen, the solution is in your hands and last but not least- New Amsterdam must be a services town. It must not only be safe, it must not only be a business town and a green town but it must be a services town.
You know, over and over again people complain about the lack of services. The Private Sector Commissioner just complained and I agree with him, but let’s have a plan. There’s no reason why all these licenses and passports should not be issued in this region. You think anybody living in California got to go to Washington DC to get a passport?
You think somebody living in Ohio got to go to New York or Washington to get a license? We can never develop the country like that. You have to have these services right here. That is the purpose of regionalism and that is the reason why I changed the name of the Local Government Ministry to the Ministry of Communities.
I don’t want any Minister to sit down in Fort Street Kingston determining who must be Town Clerk in Georgetown and who must be Town Clerk in New Amsterdam or Corriverton. I don’t want any Minister coming with some piece of paper removing elected municipalities and implanting IMCs. The time for that has passed. We want a town right here in New Amsterdam that is capable of providing the services.
You are not a little branch of central government. You’re administering a whole region, one of the most populous regions in the country and it is because of the dehydration of this township, it is because of the problems we face throughout this region that the East Berbice-Corentyne region is the only place in this country that is losing population. Make two turn around, next thing you know you have 15,000 people in the whole East Berbice. People are migrating; people are abandoning land and homes. You have to create a virtual cycle in which people start to come back to invest.
I meet the diaspora, they love their homeland, they love New Amsterdam but they feel it’s unsafe. They feel they have to waste too much time getting simple services. So let us have a plan to bring those services into New Amsterdam. A strong ‘unbribeable’ public service, policemen who won’t take money when a minibus comes with cocaine; you know what I’m talking about.
We want a town which provides services to the people of this country, to the people of this region. We want a high standard of education and we’ve seen some of those students perform this afternoon at the New Amsterdam Multilateral. I think it’s now called the New Amsterdam Secondary. We want to see a strong education system throughout the region.
There are far too many dropouts. You are a blessed region. There is no other region other than Region Six which has a branch of the University of Guyana. Think about the good things, think about the good things which you have. You have aerodromes, university, schools, and industries. Let us must make use of these benefits to strengthen New Amsterdam and the entire region.
Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen, citizens of New Amsterdam, Town Week should give you greater recognition to the fact that New Amsterdam is the capital of one of the most important parts of this country, East Berbice-Corentyne region. It has to be managed; it has to be maintained in such a manner that befits the capital of an important region. This is not a little sideshow. This is the capital of a region. The Regional Chairman must respect this municipality. The citizens of the entire region must be able to look to this municipality for safety, for services and for economic progress.
Town Week is important. It’s a time of coming together. It’s a time of demonstrating your solidarity but it must also be a time of planning ahead, not just drinking. No point having the highest rate of consumption of Guinness in the country. You have to start thinking not only of Guinness but of business. You have to start thinking about making Guyana a place where people from the Caribbean want to come and making New Amsterdam that part of Guyana where people want to come to do business. You are not a sleepy town; you must become an active, business town.
I would like to thank you for inviting me this evening.
Thank you for the performances, but after the razzle-dazzle, after the music, the songs and the dance, I would like you to sit down among yourselves and chart a future for this beautiful town of New Amsterdam.
May God bless New Amsterdam and may you have a happy Town Week.