His Excellency, President David Granger: Thank you, Pastor Valerie.
You know, there was a man named Ray Charles. Before Ray Charles there was a song titled “Georgia on My Mind”, but after Ray Charles sang “‘Georgia on My Mind” nobody else in the whole of Georgia – I mean Georgia itself – accepted the Ray Charles version.
Pastor McDonald, that is the authorized version of ‘My Guyana El Dorado’. When you can play that old song and eye water start to run in the President eye, you know that you’ve touched my heart. Thank you very much, Pastor. Please let me have the CD before I leave.
Young Gonsalves, I’m not ignoring your “Let us co-operate for Guyana” because, you know, Barack Obama come back and next thing you know Barack Obama says, “Can we do it? Yes we can!”. Forty years ago Bill Pilgrim wrote that song, “Can We Do It?” and when Barack Obama came on the scene – Barack Obama was five years old when this thing was written – so that expression “Can we do it? Yes we can!” came from Guyana.
I’m very happy and honoured to be here. This is what Linden calls a warm welcome. Thank you for your warm welcome. Madam Chairperson, young lady, Honourable Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin; Honourable Minister of Communities, Ronald Bulkan; other Members of Parliament; Chairman of the RDC, Pastor Renis Morian; Chairman of the IMC, (You’re not a reverend yet, you’re out of place. We’ll have to take away your Linden visa); Mr. Orrin Gordon; members of the RDC and the IMC; Mr. Klenzil Grenville; members of the Board of Directors and other Boardsmen. Can we call them ‘Boardsmen’? Other members of the Board – though when I see Horace in front of me, I think if he ever left Linden I don’t know how this town would stand up. He is a stalwart – Horace. When Linden becomes an independent republic he will get a national award from the Republic of Linden. Sometimes I think that Linden is moving very close to republic status. Chief Executive Officer, Mrs. Valerie Patterson; Mr. Garvin Clarke; (Jermaine, I greeted you already as an MP); directors and staff of LEN; members of civil society; pastors; mulvies; imams; pundits; community leaders; residents of Linden; members of the media.
It’s always an honour to be here and especially on this happy occasion. Not only are we celebrating the formal launch of LEN, but I believe it is part of L.A.P (Y’all don’t know about LAP. Many of you grow up in your mother’s L.A.P.) It’s the Linden Action Plan. LEN is not a stand-alone project. There are other projects and, particularly, I’d like to refer to the Youth Awards which would be granted or launched on Sunday the 13th and Pastor Morian, the Chairman of the RDC, will recognize the work and contribution of young people in all sectors of recent development. So as part of this LAP, you are going to have LEN. You’re going to have all sorts of other programmes coming together to make Linden, or to give Linden that position of prominence in the country that it deserves.
But you know, Lindeners, there’s a West African proverb which goes like this, “God only gives to those who unfold their arms.” God only gives to those who unfold their arms. So if you want to stand with your hands in your pockets, or, if when other people are working you stand and fold your arms and admire them, God will give you nothing. So today is an unfolding of your arms that you are prepared to help yourselves and God and the government will put something into your unfolded hands.
Linden, as we all know, is known in Guyana as the mining town. For over a century, we’ve been producing bauxite here. In fact next year, I think you should celebrate the formal centenary from 1916 to 2016. You’ve got the resident historian here – I see Horace shaking his head. So I can’t make mistakes when it comes to this place. But people came from all over this country, from West Coast Berbice, from East Coast, from all over the country and created this township and I think many people became intoxicated, if I can call it intoxicated, or maybe addicted to wage labour.
When you get addicted to something you can’t do without it, you know. You have a craving for wage labour; and it doesn’t always work in our favour when you have an addiction, and any parent, anybody who has a friend who is addicted to some type of substance would know how dangerous it is to have any sort of addiction, and I believe, sometimes in mining and other professions, civil service, people can suffer from addiction and when that employment or occupation comes to an end they don’t know what to do.
So, I believe that LEN is opening the door to a new form of occupation; self-employment. So when you know you’re getting $25,000 or $50,000 at the end of the week, you don’t have to plan because the money coming straight. You don’t have to put up. A farmer knows he has to put up to buy seed and fertilizer, to pay rent for his fields, to buy chemicals, to put gasoline in his tractor, but when you’re a wage labourer you go around with the boys and, you know, you drink Guinness whole weekend because next weekend you’re getting another wage and another wage and so on.
So some professions encourage you to S.A.V.E and other professions sometimes unfortunately allow you to S.P.E.N.D, but LEN is one that will encourage you to be more prudent because we are not dealing here with civil servants and wage labourers, we’re dealing with people who want to be enterprising. What the “E” means in LEN? Enterprise. Not Linden Employees Network, but Linden Enterprise Network. So we have to talk about enterprise. My brothers and sisters of Linden, the glory days of bauxite have passed. They wouldn’t come again. Nowadays people are using all types of synthetic materials and the demand for commodities has always fluctuated, but sometimes it declines and almost disappears.
You’d be surprised to know the types of commodities Guyana used to produce a hundred years ago. Balata, what has happened to balata? Some of us growing up used to play with balata balls, but people nowadays don’t even know what balata is; it has become obsolete because it has been replaced by synthetic materials. So do not put your faith in somebody coming, walking down the Demerara River – you know, walking on water – who will promise you milk and honey from the bauxite industry. It’s not going to happen again, not in your lifetime.
But Linden must not be a town of a thousand impossibilities. It must become prosperous. This Region – and Linden is only the capital of the Region; Linden is not the whole region – this Region, Upper Demerara-Berbice – the name is a little clumsy, so when you ask people who come from Kwakwani they say, “Ah come from Linden” because they ain’t able with this Upper Demerara-Berbice thing – but this is a great Region as I’ve told you over and over again, nearly 20,000 square kilometres.
Two weeks ago I was in a place called Malta. You know the size of Malta? Malta is smaller than Iwokrama. Malta is about 360 square kilometres. This Region is 20,000 square kilometres. You all are big! You’re bigger than Jamaica; you’re bigger than Kuwait; four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. This is a powerful Region. There is no reason for Region Ten to be poor. You have everything you need to be rich apart from bauxite – you have timber, you have rich agricultural lands, people coming from a thousand miles away to cultivate your rich agricultural lands; what about you? You have some of the most beautiful sites for the development of tourism and, as I have told you over and over again and as you’ve heard this morning from the Chairman of the IMC.
Linden is in the belly of the country. You can’t get to Rupununi without passing through this Region. This Region is unique. It has borders with Region Three, with Region Four, with Region Five, with Region Six, with Region Seven…the only way you can get to Region Eight, by land, and of course, Region Nine. There’s no other Region like this that is so well connected, well wired to the whole country other than the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region. You have air links. I want to see this Region like a state. You know in America the states have all these individual and unique characteristics. I see Region Ten as being like one of the States.
You have your own aerodrome; you have your own regional centre here – this town. In fact, the Minister of Communities would have advised you that we will create other towns; every single Region must be governed by a town, not a village. Bartica should have been a town a hundred years ago. Mabaruma, Lethem will be towns. Every Region will have a town as its capital. You deserve and you have already your own aerodrome. I want to see businessmen flying in from Barbados and Jamaica, coming to do business here from Brazil, coming to do business, landing at your own airport. I want to see more banks flourishing, courts (not Courts stores).
So you have everything. You have your schools, you have your hospitals, radio and television, you have your libraries, you have your museums, you have your cultural centres, you have everything that you need to be a strong State and you have a strong population, but population is important Why? I’ll tell you this – you know I grow up at a place called Bartica, one of the next towns, and Bartica has about half of the population of Linden, about 15,000 plus; roughly there are about five persons in a household. I know there are some households which are hyperactive with eight, nine, ten or more. Some people have more than one household, but let us say in Bartica you have 15,000 people, five persons in one household. You have three thousand households.
My Minister of Agriculture – you know my ministries are named ‘A’ for Agriculture; ‘B’ for Business, ‘C’ for Communities; you never realized that? I have an alphabetical Cabinet – but my Minister of Agriculture told me that if every household in Bartica had one breadfruit tree and those breadfruit trees were allowed to mature Bartica alone could produce a million pounds of breadfruit every year, which means that with your population you could produce two million pounds of breadfruit every year. This place would flood out with Bajans, because Bajans don’t like see breadfruit.
When we are talking about enterprise we must think outside of the box. If every one of you pays attention to the President of this country, who on the 3rd of October this year launched something called National Tree Day, instead of planting a pepper tree, plant a breadfruit tree. Pepper nice but breadfruit, you can’t take off the amount of breadfruit. My grandfather was a Bajan and if you go to my family house now, it got a hundred year old breadfruit tree. When I was young breadfruit used to come out your ears: “Mommy, I don’t like breadfruit.” “Eat it, it’s good for you.”
Linden alone, not the Region Ten, Linden alone could produce two million pounds of breadfruit a year, and you all could do it here. You could produce the best breadfruit chips in the Caribbean and those breadfruit chips you can sell in places like Barbados, which loves breadfruit and don’t have breadfruit trees like we could produce. So I’m encouraging you, Lindeners, to think outside the box. You don’t have to be poor; you are rich in ideas, rich in talent, and rich in human capital.
So several attempts were made to repair the damage caused by the decline in bauxite. As you know the LEAP and the LEAF – the Linden Economic Advancement Fund – and today we launched the LEN, and as I said, I put all of them under this umbrella of the LAP – The Linden Action Plan because I was over the Wismar shore and I had some discussions with the Regional Chairman and I hope that we’ll be able to create that LAP; so that many Lindeners won’t ever suffer from poverty ever again.
So I will use whatever resources are available to me to support schemes – voluntary schemes, educational schemes particularly. I want to see every child in Linden in school and some of you who’ve got that green book will see that education is a top priority for me and anyone who sets up any educational institution, any school or any fund to make sure that every child gets into school will get some help.
You know when it was my birthday. I actually am over 50 as you know. Is that untrue? Am I incorrect? I’m not Gocool you know. I can count. I am over 50 years old, but when I celebrated my 70th birthday on the 15th of July, I asked for school boats. So we have launched the ‘Three Bs’ movement – “Boats, Buses and Bicycles”. Every child must get to school, and over the next three weeks or so of the remaining part of 2015 I’ll be going back up into the Pomeroon, into Canje, into the Mahaicony River. I’ll be going up the rivers; Kalkuni, you will find me; Malali, you will find me; I’m not leaving out Region Ten, but every river must get school boats to get their children to school. I don’t want to see children paddling canoes and when they reach they’re tired and they have to paddle their canoe back. I don’t want to see children not going to school because they don’t have transportation.
If it’s a reasonable distance they can get a bike; if there’s a river they’ll get a boat; if it’s a great distance by land they can get a bus, but we must get every child in school in Linden – every single child. Nobody must stay home selling sweeties on the street corner. So we’re helping Linden to help itself and we do this by making this credit or replenishing this credit. I know that the most recent widow has introduced me to somebody named Grant. You know anybody named Grant? I don’t know the young man, but we’re thinking about loans.
We are going to ensure that Linden Enterprise Network remains viable and will not be starved of resources. We want to make sure that credit is available through LEN; we want to make sure that Linden becomes the crucible, becomes the womb for entrepreneurs and young persons who’re going into enterprise. As the Minister of Business said, we see a role for micro-credit and for small enterprises and I would just like to mention these four pillars. You know when you’re building a house you have to put on pillars. The pastors here will tell you what happens to people who build their houses on sand without a strong foundation and, if you try to build your economy without a strong foundation, that economy will be washed away. It will collapse, and I have identified four pillars for LAP, four pillars for LEN, four pillars for whatever enterprise you wish to embark on. It happen and you’re starting to ginch, nah. It’s warm; this is warm.
The first pillar is the pillar of investment. You have to get capital. I was a businessman at one stage. I tried to become a capitalist without capital. You can imagine what happened, but micro-credit can transform this community, can transform this Region. It can lift people out of poverty. Micro-credit can establish and boost small businesses. It can create jobs for young people and for women, and I believe that investment at the level that is below that which is desirable at some of the big banks. Some of the banks don’t see you. Micro-who? You come to the wrong place, go down the road to LEN. Well, LEN is here now and we are going to provide micro-credit to small persons as our founder/leader taught us; small persons, men and women. He didn’t actually say men and women but nowadays we have to be politically correct. Small men and women could become real men and women.
So investment is the first and important pillar and we want to launch LEN today on the basis of strength of that first pillar.
The second pillar is the pillar of information. We’re living in an information age. Information is not optional anywhere, it is obligatory. You cannot embark on enterprise without information. You may have good ideas, but unless you have information about the market, unless you have information about production you will not be able to succeed. I speak of a truth. Verily, you got to know what the market wants and you have to produce commodities of a certain standard. So you need information and you also need Information Technology. I met somebody at Silver City. He has to go to UG and he could tell me how many thousands of dollars – young Terron Alleyne from Regma. I remember, first his father used to try to send him down to QC. He won that scholarship back in July 2011. He lost his computer the other day; some bandit stole his computer with all his SBAs – terrible, terrible. You mustn’t allow bandits to steal student’s computers with their SBAs. It’s very bad. Anyhow, he got a new computer. It’s a good thing y’all vote right or else he wouldn’t… poor Terron Alleyne would have been without a computer now. It’s very prudent of you to vote right but the point I’m making is that you cannot proceed in business nowadays without access to Information Technology.
As I said before in my various rallies here, because I rallied everywhere. I rallied at Kwakwani, I rallied at Ituni, I rallied all here at Linden, rallied at Wismar and over at McKenzie. Y’all had more rally than bicycles. But let me say this: Information Technology, it is not optional, it is vital; it is a necessity and if you’re going to go into business after getting your loan or depending on this grant, once you get your capital you have to get access to information because there’s no point embarking on some line of production to discover there is no market for it, to discover you don’t know what should go into it. Sometimes you might try to export something and it doesn’t reach the standards. Something may arrive in Barbados and it has mould or too much sugar, too much oil, too much salt. You have to know all of these standards that have to be incorporated in your production. So you can only do this, or you can best do this, if you have access to information to know what the markets call for.
You can get somebody who would correspond with you, even in Georgetown or in the Caribbean, who would be prepared to accept your commodities once they reach certain standards, and you can communicate at the speed of light. There was an incident here last year and before I got in my car people in Brooklyn were calling me to say, ‘how they could do that to you?’ Y’all know the story, but information passes nowadays at the speed of light and if you were to keep abreast, if you were to get ahead you have to be able to communicate with your market and your market can communicate with you. So you have to find out, you have to have knowledge, you have to be able to use information which is out there.
The third pillar of your enterprise is the pillar of infrastructure. Yes, it’s going to be expensive but you cannot do without it. There was a time before 1965 when there was no bridge, when to cross the Demerara River at this point it was only by boat. The bridge represents infrastructure. I am pained by having to go between Ituni and Kwakwani or Linden and Ituni. I would like to be able to promise you that this government will, as soon as possible, complete the road between Lethem and Linden, Linden and Ituni. We’re getting there, we’re getting there, but we need to ensure that you have the sort of infrastructure that could facilitate travel and transportation to this Region. We need aerodromes so people from overseas could land straight here…
You know, it may seem like a small thing for a businessman in Barbados to just jump on a plane and in two hours he is in Georgetown by landing at Ogle. That is how business operates. He comes in, he leaves Barbados eight o’clock in the morning; by three o’clock he is back in Barbados transacting his business, everything signed up; and the same thing must be for Region Ten. So we want to see the infrastructure. We want to see bridges, we want to see highways, and the fourth pillar of this enterprise is innovation.
I told you about the Bartica breadfruit story and you have to think outside of the box. Sometimes you go by the market and everybody selling the same thing. People got fish shops. What about using sweet potato chips and, you know instead of everybody using plantain chips, come to the place with the sweet potato chips and you will see business will change because some people you know – they have dental challenges. You know sometimes when you’re getting old you got to soak the chips in the coffee. So plantain chip ain’t mek for everybody; you know when you’re over 50, like me, you prefer sweet potato chips, but the point I’m making is you have to be innovative. You have to look and see what other people are doing and do something else. So you have to think outside of the hub and Linden, Region Ten, could be a hub for those new enterprises – communications, technology, tourism – and I tell people this country has got the best tourism products in the entire English speaking Caribbean.
Linden should have a massive zoo that people are paying money…, not the zoo you think I’m talking about, a real zoo. I don’t know what’s the joke, but with real wild animals. I tell people already, we have the biggest anteater in the world, the biggest predator on the continent of South America, the jaguar, the biggest river otter, the biggest rodent – the watrush – and, instead of regarding these animals as sources of, what should I say, souse? You ever eat manatee souse? Well you probably wouldn’t eat manatee souse again because all the manatee from Canje River gone. So anybody who rubbing they belly and belching because they eat too much manatee souse, manatee has now become a very rare animal in Guyana, but people are prepared to come. People don’t want to lie down on the beach anymore and get sun tan; people want to see rare animals, rare birds.
A few weeks ago I was in Dadanawa. It’s in the south Rupununi and there was a rare bird. People come from Ireland to see this bird. Kanuku alone has more species of birds than the whole of Western Europe and you have to pass through Region Ten to get to Kanuku. Y’all have a lot of nice birds here too; but Lindeners, these are the four pillars on which we will build this new economy. I am very confident in the ability of LEN to implement a programme, but you have to help yourself. Remember what God said, “Don’t fold your arms.” You must be prepared to take that step forward and to build this new economic structure on those four pillars.
• The pillar of Investment
• The pillar of Information, particularly Information Technology
• The pillar of Infrastructure
• The pillar of Innovation
I join with my colleagues in wishing you a happy Christmas. For me it’s better than last Christmas. I wish every success to LEN and also wish to remind you of the bigger LAP. I beg you, do not see LEN as box-hand and even though we know that in a fortnight’s time we’ll be celebrating Christmas. It is not a Christmas gift- it is an economic agreement that you have between yourself and the enterprise.
These are projects that will not only propel you and your family to prosperity but the whole Region. So I congratulate you, I congratulate the persons who have kept the flame of LEN burning and I’m sure that LEN will function for the benefit of the entire Region.
May God continue to bless Region Ten.
Thank you and happy Christmas to all of you.