H. E. President David Granger: Madam Chairperson Ms. Dawn Holder-Alert; Honourable Minister of Business Mr. Dominic Gaskin; Ministers Nicolette Henry and Valerie Garrido-Lowe; Chairman of the Private Sector Commission Major General (ret’d) Norman McLean and other members of the Private Sector Commission; members of the diplomatic corps; distinguished invitees; members of the GuyExpo planning committee, mellifluous students of success; members of the media, fellow Guyanese. I am happy to be here this afternoon although I do so at the risk of repeating much of what I had to say to the same Private Sector Commission, but in so doing I would like to thank you for your invitation and to associate myself with the objectives of this launch this afternoon and with the long-term objectives of GuyExpo.
I don’t claim paternity, I don’t know who is claiming paternity but I have a strong recollection of being in this same building forty years ago. It was built by the Chinese, the Chinese definitely had an exhibition here and I attended several national exhibitions here before 1995. So I don’t know where the paternity rests, but I am sure those of you of my age would know that national exhibitions were hosted long before 1995 – in fact from the 1970s. So we have a very long tradition of Expos and certainly this building itself was a gift of the People’s Republic of China at least forty years ago.
So perhaps we should do the samples and the test to discover who is the real father of GuyExpo? As we approach our 50th Anniversary of Independence, it is good that we should examine the whole idea behind GuyExpo; and some persons have asked questions about it and before we actually go into May we should ask ourselves what really is GuyExpo. Is it a parish fair, is it a hang? How do you measure the success, by the amount of people coming in through the gates? Well, in fact it’s the only show in town and you will always get thousands of persons coming here. Do we measure GuyExpo’s success by the number of booths we establish here or the amount of sales?
I have a recollection of speaking to the then Ambassador of the German Democratic Republic; you know long ago they used to have two Germanies. Well, he told me a story that he came to this national exhibition and he saw some beautiful wooden ashtrays. He inquired about the price and he asked the person who had the ashtrays on display at this national exhibition if he could get five thousand. The man said, “no, no, no, no”… He can’t supply five thousand. So what is the point having the exhibition if you could only produce five samples and you can’t supply the market?
And this is one of the problems we had in past exhibitions. Of course, the residents of Lamaha Gardens can tell you stories about the sound of sales because they can’t sleep because of the loud noise that is made by the boom boxes; and sometimes people come and see some of the best imported equipment and they want to know if it is GuyExpo or For-Expo. So we have to decide what is the character of this Expo; is it to encourage, as the Minister of Business said, agro processing? Is it to encourage micro businesses or is it simply to bring on display anything that you could bring into the country. We need to deal with that problem if we are to actually move GuyExpo forward from year to year and actually encourage business, encourage production.
As you know, last May I set up something called the Ministry of Business. Many people pretended to be confused at first. What is the Ministry of Social Cohesion? What is the Ministry of Communities? What is the Ministry of Business? But I think they have gotten accustomed to the new terminology and they know that it means exactly that – business – and similarly the Ministry of Communities means that. We are not talking about Government, we are not talking about a form of central administration; we are talking about the power of communities to become economic dynamos.
We are talking about the power of regions to become productive entities and when we speak of the Ministry of Cohesion or the Ministry of Business or the Ministry of Communities we are speaking about a new form of governance that will do something fresh to our economy. I told the Private Sector Commission and I spoke to them six months ago about my experience during the campaign of sitting on the right bank of the Berbice River at a little village, a little Amerindian village called Kalkuni. And, perhaps, even though I might have heard it before, seeing what goes on in the Berbice River filled me with great trepidation.
As my granddaughter would say, “my heart told me something” and to see barges piled high with logs almost like toothpicks moving from south to north along the Berbice River; to see barges, Russian barges, filled with raw bauxite. I just felt that this was just so like 1916. It looked so much like a hundred years ago when we relied on those six sisters, raw sugar, raw rice, raw bauxite, raw timber, raw gold and raw fish and diamonds. We’re still a raw economy and we have not really moved off of those six sisters.
I do believe that if GuyExpo is to play a part in changing and transforming our economy, we have to think seriously about using this exhibition as laboratory or a forum for value added – for moving those raw logs in to high quality furniture, for moving bauxite into alumina and aluminium, for moving gold into jewellery and for moving fish into products that can be taken to in to our hinterland to help to feed this quarter of a million school children who need to get meals every day. So we need to use GuyExpo as a means of transforming our economy and, if the Private Sector sees itself as the engine of growth, it must be committed to more than just buying and selling, it must be committed to more than trading, it must be committed to adding value to Guyanese products, it must be committed to revitalising our manufacturing sector. And in that regard I would just like to leave with you the same message I gave to the Private Sector Commission six months ago and I gave to the businessmen in Toronto.
The first is that we have to become innovative. Our economy is essentially and fundamentally unchanged and over the last 100 years we have not really created a new economy. Independence or no independence, our economy is still based on the exportation of raw materials; and what we see today and what the world is seeing is that when China sneezes the world catches a cold; and if demand for raw bauxite, demand for raw timber falls on China, if demand for gold falls we will see the problems we have seen for a hundred years producing raw materials which depend on foreign market for sales. So we need to be innovative. We need to use our intelligence; we need to use science and technology to produce commodities, to produce products which do not depend on barges coming through the Berbice River, but products of high quality which can be sold in and out of season. I told the story of what happened at Queen’s College roughly sixty years ago when we had a governor called Charles Woolley.
Few people know about Charles Woolley – only those students, I believe, who might have gone to Queen’s and went into Woolley House would know that he was the governor who created some of the finest laboratories ever in the country and out of those laboratories we were able to create an educated and a scientific elite. And many of the scientists now in Guyana who are seventy years old or thereabouts passed through these laboratories and, if we are to create a scientific elite, we have to start putting laboratories into our secondary schools – scientific laboratories where children can learn chemistry and biology and physics and zoology, and until and unless that happens we will not be able to make that leap beyond what we’re doing now- exporting raw materials. And when we hear of Guyanese like Professor Nigel Harris, a scientist who was once the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies; when we hear people like Professor Clement Sankat who is still the Pro chancellor of the University of the West Indies Campus at St. Augustine – those were the people who came out of science laboratories in Queen’s College.
So what I’m saying is that if you want to produce scientists, if you want to produce people who are going to transform this country, you have to do what Woolley did sixty years ago and give our schools scientific laboratories and you’ll see the difference. So this is very important if you are to innovate, if you are to create a new type of economy, which takes us away from those six sisters and puts greater reliance on manufacturing; because I’m sure Major General McLean would agree with me that manufacturing sector is not necessarily the most vibrant part of the economy today.
The second message I left with the Private sector Commission six months ago was infrastructure and the Major General himself has referred, in some detail, to the need for infrastructure. Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t speak out of the corners of our mouth when we speak about infrastructure. We have to get a road from Linden to Lethem – a highway. We just can’t keep dodging the issue. We’ve been talking about it for thirty-five years and unless we open up the country with infrastructure – we’ve been talking about the Upper Mazaruni road projects; we’ve talked about the roads from Linden to Ituni, from Ituni to Kwakwani – unless we build infrastructure in this country we will not be able to develop, we will not be able to get to the real wealth of our country and you have a whole region like the Barima-Waini Region, four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago, we’re supplied by an 80 year old lady called Lady Northcote. People don’t even know who Northcote was, he’s a former governor and he had a wife and the boat was named after his wife. So if you don’t know what the Northcote is you’ll have a good idea of how old Lady Northcote is. You cannot supply a region four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago with the Lady Northcote.
We just have to get new infrastructure, new roads, new highways that will link every single region of this country. Mabaruma, the capital of this great region, doesn’t even have a bank. I don’t know if they moved up to six hours of light a day. How can you run any sort of enterprise at Mabaruma which has got 18 hours of blackout a day? We need roads, we need stellings, we need aerodromes, we need highways and we need, for example, in that great region, the Potaro-Siparuni region – the region of the most breath-taking landscapes in this country, waterfalls galore, mountains, valleys… coming out of Region Eight – and we don’t have a single highway and what we need is to stop talking about safaris.
Every time we want to go across Region 8, Potaro- Siparuni, we have to talk about a safari. It’s time to talk about a highway. That region will not be opened up until we get proper highways and bridges going through it. So infrastructure is my third requirement, and if we’re talking about using GuyExpo to transform this country, we’re talking about innovation, we’re also talking about infrastructure and I hope to see in the next GuyExpo, models coming out of our science students about this network of roads that will open up our vast hinterland.
The third requirement – and I hope GuyExpo this year focuses on this requirement – is the requirement for information technology. Information is the driver of innovation, is the driver of change. The speed, the volume, the quality of information technology is what will contribute most to the transformation of our economy.
Again, let me tell the story about the persons in Karawab, in the Pomeroon-Supenaam region, who have to climb a coconut tree to use their cell phones. You’ve heard me say that when I was in the south Rupununi, going to Waramadong, and Kaituma River and other communities, from the time you pass St. Ignatius you could hardly make contact with anybody in Guyana.
You’re in a sort of information twilight zone; no telephone, no newspaper, no radio, no television, no nothing. You’re just in a great void and this is a region which is the size of Costa Rica and we cannot guarantee efficient communications throughout that region, the Rupununi region. Bigger than Costa Rica, no contact, no highways; and the fourth requirement – and I hope to see some visible evidence of this in our GuyExpo this year – is the institutional framework, the institutional framework, without which business cannot survive or thrive in this country.
We need to assure investors, either local or foreign investors, that this country is safe. We need to give them the assurance that their investments will be protected by a responsible magistracy and judiciary. We need to assure them that there will be a police force, a defence force that will make sure that their properties will not be attacked or burnt. We need to assure them that there is a National Assembly which will pass laws which will be enforced. We need to assure them that when bills are passed by the National Assembly they are assented to by a responsible President, like me.
So these are some of the requirements which I would like to see GuyExpo emphasize this year:
• The innovation
• The information technology
• The infrastructure
• The institutional framework
It is not the business of GuyExpo alone; it is the business of all of us in Government to make sure that these four factors play a prominent role in transforming our economy.
Ladies and gentlemen, we therefore have to recognize where we are in terms of our economic development. We have to have a regime that rewards innovation that contributes to the rebuilding of the public service that restores trust in our institutions, our judiciary, our magistracy, our police and defence forces. We have to raise capital to allow young entrepreneurs – microfinance- to get money to make that first investment, and these are some of the ways that I believe that our economy will be transformed in all of this, regardless of how people claim that GuyExpo is. We’ve been trying to do this for the last 45 years and I’m convinced that GuyExpo is an important vehicle in this economic transformation and that is why I’m here today to launch this important economic event; and I have great pleasure in so doing.
I thank you.