Dr. Barton Scotland: Honourable members, I bid Your Excellency welcome to this, the first session of the Eleventh Parliament of Guyana. We acknowledge too, the presence of the many guests and bid you welcome.
Your Excellency, it is the desire of the honourable members to hear from you and we hope that you will be pleased to address us. May I, therefore, invite Your Excellency to the podium?
HE David Granger: Thank you Mr Speaker. Please be seated. Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable First Vice President and Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Vice Presidents, Ministers, Members of the National Assembly, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Clerk of the National Assembly, special invited guests, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen, fellow Guyanese. I congratulate the members of this Eleventh Parliament who were elected to represent the citizens of this country at the General and Regional Elections held a month ago on the 11th of May 2015.
Over four hundred and eight thousand Guyanese exercised their democratic right to elect a Government of their choice. Those of us who were elected have work to do; we have a responsibility to represent the people. We have an obligation to speak to them. We have a duty to serve their interests. They have put their trust in us – that is why we’re here. I congratulate Dr Barton Scotland on his election as the eighth Speaker of this honourable House. He’s a public servant of professional eminence, academic experience and unquestionable allegiance to our country. He will add lustre to the highest legislative forum in our land as the Speaker of this Assembly.
The elections campaign is over. The ballots have been cast; the tally has been taken. The results have been declared; a new administration has been installed. Let us put the hostility of the hustings behind us. Let us eschew the rancour of the campaign and the rhetoric of rivalry. Let us look to the future with hope, determined to do only what is best for the Guyanese people, now and for generations to come. Let us reinforce the foundation of our nation by working together for the common good. We are now the National Assembly, not a political rally. We shall, in pursuit of the common good, build bridges across chasms. We therefore renew our invitation for the People’s Progressive Party to join A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change in this honourable house to serve the people.
Thousands of Guyanese, a month ago, believed that they elected us to craft a corroborative approach to confront the challenges facing our country. This is the time for collaboration, not confrontation. This is the place, the halls of the National Assembly, where we will conduct the great debate on Guyana’s future. This is the time for all Guyanese, from the hinterland to the coastland, from Moruca and Achiwib, to come together. The National Assembly has not met before today for eleven months, since July 2014; this is a consequence of the combination of the recess, the prorogation and the dissolution. No democracy should tolerate such a perversity.
Mr Speaker, when we last met I was sitting right here in this hall as Leader of The Opposition; I seem to have lost my seat. I stand before you today not merely as leader of a party or even of a partnership, or of a coalition, but as leader of the entire nation. I am the leader of an Administration that is committed to doing the greatest good for the greatest number of Guyanese. I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Clerk and staff of the National Assembly for their support and service during my brief tenure as an MP and Leader of The Opposition and allow me to congratulate the Clerk on his award of The Golden Arrow of Achievement for his service to this Assembly.
I’d also like to thank my colleagues who served with me in the Tenth Parliament and also those who have not returned to serve again in the Eleventh Parliament. I would like to thank the thousands of ordinary Guyanese: the paddy farmers from the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, the nurses from the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region, the indigenous villagers from the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, the residents of East Bank Berbice in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region, the citizens of Georgetown, the women, the non-governmental organizations, all of whom, from time to time, would gather outside the precincts of this Assembly to seek an audience, to air their grievances to our MPs. They came because they expected us to represent them and we did. I thank you all for making democracy work. May God bless you!
Guyanese today celebrate the opening of the Eleventh Parliament since the achievement of independence 49 years ago on the 26th of May 1966. This parliament will have the honour of leading this country into its 50th anniversary of independence next year. This parliament will have the duty of charting the destiny of this great nation for the next five years until 2020.
Mr Speaker, your Government recognizes today that our fore-parents came from four continents. We, their heirs and successors, resolve to work together to pursue the ideal of making Guyana One Nation. We must, in so doing, combine our efforts, concentrate our energy and endeavour to defeat the real enemies of our people; crime, disease, ignorance and poverty. Your government acknowledges the democratically expressed will of the people of this great country as expressed in the results of the general and regional elections. We are guided by a ‘One Nation’ policy that will bring enormous benefits to Guyana. We envisage the elimination of one-party domination of the government; the enhancement of local, municipal and parliamentary democracy; the elimination of ethnic insecurity; the expansion of economic enterprise; the enrichment of cultural life and the deepening of national consciousness.
Mr Speaker, your Government has an obligation over the next five years until 2020, during the legal life of the Eleventh Parliament to fulfil the aspirations of our founding fathers. We now, therefore, reaffirm our determination to continue the task of working toward achieving national unity and toward making Guyana One Nation. Your government seeks first and foremost, to eliminate extreme poverty. Our Poverty Reduction Plan will adopt the One Nation Approach; reducing inequalities, removing obstacles to education, opening opportunities to the disadvantaged and uniting the Coastland with the Hinterland. We shall introduce social policies that will harness and develop the creative energies of our people and that will support a holistic development of our women and our youth.
Your government is aware that too many very young and very old persons are still classified as extremely poor with an expenditure level that is far below what is required to purchase a minimum, daily, low cost diet. Poverty can be reduced and perhaps eventually eradicated with good governance and the sensible public policies that we shall introduce. The fight against poverty cannot be run through charitable hand-outs alone. Neither will trickledown economics be the panacea for pauperization and privation. Providing jobs for our people, particularly our young people will be one of our priorities. Today in our country, there’s a crisis of youth unemployment. Many of our young people are leaving school and university but are unable to find jobs. Without jobs they will never be able to escape from the cycle of poverty.
Mr Speaker, we shall continue to introduce measures to establish young people’s economic independence and to improve their livelihood by promoting micro-enterprise development. Our policy will be geared to finding ways to increase wealth to give people a good life. Everyone, both rich and poor stands to benefit if poverty is eradicated. It is not our intention to deprive the rich in order to help the poor, but we should involve all classes in the fight against poverty. We’ll wage war against poverty under social compact, characterised by an inclusionary process. Such an approach would boost national confidence and allow for the mobilization of the material and human resources needed for the tasks at hand.
We met the leaders of our private sector who have committed themselves to organizing a forum that will bring together business, the trade unions, political parties and civil society. At this forum we will work to develop a social contract that will guide the economy for the next five years until 2020. We feel that a vibrant labour movement is essential for social security for a fair society, for effective governance and to national development. We aim at resolving social conflict, reducing poverty, improving productivity, strengthening democracy and enhancing the people’s quality of life.
We shall implement measures to institute inclusionary democracy and social cohesion in every municipality, in every neighbourhood, in every region and right here in the National Assembly. We shall, together, resume our work both through the legislative process in this Assembly and in the country at large to engage the major sections of society including other political parties, to realize our common quest for consensus on a national programme to move the country forward. We shall continue to work to harness the talents of a broader constituency, to foster the conditions for social cohesion, to deepen the democratic process and to develop the economy.
Mr. Speaker, your Government will revise relevant labour legislation to support all legally constituted and functioning trade unions to enable them to better represent the needs of workers. We shall, to this end, give effect to the Motion passed in the Tenth Parliament to restore the annual subvention to the Critchlow Labour College. Your Government will introduce measures to promote social cohesion and protect vulnerable groups. We shall work toward healing the rifts between social groups in this country. We shall re-establish cordial relations with civil society, religious organizations and trade unions. We have the responsibility to restore the integrity and viability of the working people’s and non-governmental organizations which have been gravely undermined.
Guyana cannot become One Nation if gross disparities persist between the Hinterland and the Coastland, between the educated few and a semi-literate mass, and between the very rich and very poor. We shall foster the growth of a united nation in which cooperation prevails over confrontation. Your Government will undertake to ensure that equitable access of all Guyanese, whether they live on the Coastland or the Hinterland or whether they are poor or rich, to good health care. The primary health care system is failing women, children and the aged.
The system is meant to promote equity and social justice. It should be seen as an initiative to make health services more accessible to the people. We shall empower women folk to enable them to look forward to working for living wages and to cope with the cost of living. We shall fashion a more friendly society in which old folk could enjoy adequate pensions and social protection. We will build a country in which women and girl children can expect to live in safety and to be protected from abuse and violent crime.
Mr. Speaker, your Government envisages a prosperous Guyana. We shall craft a long-term National Economic Strategy that will ensure economic stability and social security that will raise the productive potential of the economy and improve the quality of life for all. We shall introduce amendments for appropriate laws that will reform taxation, including the value added tax, to give income tax concessions to wage earners and to offer fiscal incentives on an equitable basis to investors.
Your Government will place the important diamond and gold mining industry on a sound and stable basis. This industry has been the country’s largest foreign exchange earner for several years. There should be no doubt that the national economy could be significantly enhanced and the livelihood of hinterland residents and miners enriched if the industry is placed on a sure economic footing. We shall, therefore, establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund derived from revenues from our forest, our mines, from our waters and lands and other natural resources to benefit generations to come. Our Government will introduce measures which aim at achieving full employment and providing more people with job security. Steps will be taken to create jobs, to increase production and generate wealth.
We shall intensify education in the sciences, technology, engineering, mining, agro-processing and the arts in order to expand employment and promote economic growth. We should propose policies that provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs and investors and our huge diaspora to develop our abundant natural resources. We shall introduce other job creation measures that will include promoting small and medium size enterprises. We will also work towards ensuring greater access to finance and capital to start new businesses.
Mr. Speaker, your Government will ensure that, as a general rule, people, whoever they are, people who are paid only the national minimum wage will not be required to pay income tax. We shall ensure also that there will be no increase in income tax rates, value-added tax or national insurance contributions for this financial year. There will be, however, moderate increases in salaries paid to public servants and pensions paid to seniors.
Your Government will support its economic thrust by implementing reforms in the public education system. We aim at producing citizens of quality who will be happy to remain here at home to build our great country. We shall expand opportunities to improve communications and human learning and to drive our economy forward at a faster rate. We shall improve information communication and education infrastructure in the hinterland and coastal areas. We shall implement measures that will extend access to the information super highway to support the education of our young people.
We shall introduce measures to curb the rate at which so many primary school children are failing to qualify to enter secondary school or are dropping out of our primary and secondary schools every year. We aim at ensuring that our young people attain higher education standards and can look forward to finding satisfactory jobs when they leave school. We want to ensure that their time and talent is not wasted in the penal system but is spent instead in gainful and satisfactory employment. Your Government aims at providing accessible and affordable housing in sanitary and safe communities with the necessities for wholesome and dignified living for citizens in need. We shall ensure that all state sponsored housing developments are provided with recreational, educational and sport facilities in addition to basic infrastructure and services such as electricity, telephones, roads, solid waste disposal and pure water supply.
Mr. Speaker, your Government is committed to a well-governed Guyana. We will assert and re-affirm the integrity and autonomy of the National Assembly. We shall ensure that this Assembly is granted administrative autonomy, institutional autonomy, political autonomy and financial autonomy. We have seen from the benches of the Opposition how a subservient National Assembly could become a bane rather than a boon to democracy. Our Government’s policy reflects the Commonwealth Latimer House Principles on the three branches of government endorsed by the Commonwealth Heads of Government.
• Among these principles are that parliament should be serviced by a professional staff, independent of the regular public service.
• We intend to ensure that the Eleventh Parliament is equipped with its own budget office and its own parliamentary council based right here in the parliament.
Mr. Speaker, your Government will also bring forward legislation to secure strong and lasting constitutional reforms and to guarantee good governance.
• We shall introduce Constitutional (Amendment) Bills – to amend the Constitution of Guyana to add certain entities such as the Service Commissions and the Guyana Elections Commission that ought to enjoy financial autonomy as constitutional agencies.
• We shall introduce the Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly Bill to establish an independent Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly that would allow greater independence in the appointment of all staff of the parliament office.
• We shall introduce the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill to ensure that certain entities enjoy financial independence, the freedom from executive interference with their budgetary allocations.
• We shall introduce – now hear this, former Presidents. We shall introduce The Former President’s Benefits and other Facilities Bill to cap benefits including tax-free concessions and to specify certain conditions under which the benefits are to be enjoyed.
• We shall introduce the Constitutional Offices Commission Bill to periodically review the salaries, pensions and other conditions for persons appointed to constitutional offices, including Members of the National Assembly.
• We shall introduce the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill to curb money laundering and the contraband trade.
• We shall introduce the Telecommunications Bill to provide a new regime for a liberalized and competitive telecommunications sector.
• We shall introduce the Public Utilities Commission (Amendment) Bill to allow equal treatment to all investors in this sector and to ensure better service quality to consumers.
• We shall introduce the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill to allow greater independence to the National Broadcasting Authority and to ensure standards of fairness, balance and accuracy on matters of public interest.
• We shall introduce the Local Government (Amendment) Bill to allow the setting of the date for local government elections, which were last held in 1994 and there will be more.
Mr. Speaker, Your Government will adhere to an empowerment policy that regularly renews local democracy by ensuring that local government elections are held as is stipulated in our Constitution. We shall fortify grassroots democracy by ensuring that local residents are allowed to play a greater role in managing their own towns and villages.
• We shall introduce legislation to upgrade the four hinterland regional administrative centres – Bartica, Mahdia, Mabaruma, and Lethem – to township status with their own mayors and their own town councils.
Mr. Speaker, your Government envisages a green Guyana. We shall exploit Guyana’s favourable geographic locations and abundant assets in order to develop a green economy, one that generates human happiness in ways that are consistent with the economic exploitation of its natural resources. We see a green economy as one that sustains economic prosperity, environmental security and social well-being. It will allow the current generation to satisfy its needs without jeopardizing the opportunities for future generations to satisfy theirs. We shall confront the challenges of solid waste management, of climate change, of coastal zone conservation, of flooding, of public health, of damage to the rivers and forests by poorly regulated mining and logging practices. We shall introduce a strategy to protect the population from hazards, to preserve the environment from further degradation and to sustain economic development.
Mr. Speaker, your Government will introduce an energy policy that utilizes our wind, water and solar power to provide cheap, renewable electricity to more Guyanese in our urban, rural, riverain and hinterland communities. We shall support the responsible exploitation of the hinterland’s mineral and other natural resources. We shall ensure, however, that the livelihood of the residents of those areas is sustained and that the environment is protected by the rigorous enforcement of environmental legislation. Your Government will introduce a comprehensive plan to invest in improved or increased public infrastructure assets.
Guyana’s economic development has been impeded and its international competitiveness has been impaired because of the lack of major investment in public infrastructure. Collapsing stellings, congested city streets, aging ferries, deteriorating hinterland airstrips, broken bridges, impassable roadways and weakened kokers and sea defences must become a thing of the past. They have all become major obstacles to everyday commuting, communication and commerce. Your Government will introduce a national infrastructure for the maintenance and extension of aerodromes, highways and roadways, stellings and bridges. Frequent fatal aviation, riverain and road accidents and delays and damage to vehicles on difficult roadways all increase the risks and the costs of travel. We can keep Guyana green while giving Guyanese safer and more comfortable lives and livelihoods.
Your Government will do everything within its power to secure our borders. We aim at playing a leading role in regional affairs, using our presence on the South American Continent and our membership of the Caribbean Community, the Organization of American States, and the Union of South American Nations to engage our neighbours and resolve the major regional security and economic challenges which confront us. We shall strengthen our friendly relations with our neighbours the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and the Republic of Suriname.
We believe that our four neighbouring republics together have much to contribute to the security of our national borders, to the stability of this continent and to the success of the Union of the American Nations and to the happiness of our peoples. We will seek effective international collaboration to sustain economic growth and to preserve international peace. Your Government will continue to work towards the adherence to agreements that respect our territorial integrity on all three frontiers: Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname. We insist on the full implementation of agreements that guarantee sovereignty.
Mr. Speaker, we shall also deepen our economic relations with the Caribbean Community. We shall work tirelessly with every single State of the Community to ensure complete compliance with The Treaty of Chaguaramas and the fulfilment of the needs of the Caribbean people. Your Government will introduce measures of reform for the defence and security sectors to ensure that the defence and police forces protect our citizens and our territory, allowing Guyanese to feel safe as they go about their daily lives, allowing investors to feel secure as they explore our maritime zone.
Your Government will refashion the Guyana Police Force into a more professional and better equipped law-enforcement agency. We shall pay policemen and policewomen better so that they may not be led into temptation. We shall suppress serious crimes and staunch the spate of armed robberies; we shall reduce everyday crimes, including banditry and murder, piracy, fatalities on the roads, and interpersonal violence. These are the crimes that scare away investors, drive away the educated elite; strangle the economy, the manufacturing sector and local enterprise; undermine growth; and impede social cohesion.
Mr. Speaker, we are a great country and we are a good people. The opening of the Eleventh Parliament today signifies not a victory but an opportunity for a new start for this great country and its good people. The State of the nation requires visionary leadership. We have assembled a Cabinet of men and women who can provide that leadership. They have the expertise, they have the experience and they have the enthusiasm to repair the damage which they found, damage which has been wrought over the past two decades.
The Cabinet, made up of members of A Partnership for National Unity and the Alliance For Change, came together as an executive team committed to working with this legislative branch over the coming quinquennial. I pray, therefore, for the unity of the Guyanese people. I pray for this National Assembly – that it will debate, deliberate and determine the matters that come before it without cowardice or malice. I pray that your decisions will result in a good life for all Guyanese.
May God bless this Eleventh Parliament!
May God bless Guyana!
Mr. Speaker, I thank you.