H.E. President David Granger: Thank you. Please be seated.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson. Honourable Khemraj Ramjattan, Vice President and Minister of Public Security, and other Ministers of Government; members of the diplomatic corps; Chairman of Banks DIH and chief donor today, Mr Clifford Reis; Her Worship, Mrs. Patricia Chase-Green; members of the private sector; members of civil society; distinguished invitees; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen; residents of Agricola; students:
I’m happy this morning to be here. I remember, maybe about 50 years ago, the drinking classes were attracted by a slogan called “Banks Tanks”. I don’t know if any of you are old enough to remember those posters, ‘Banks Tanks’. Well, I have the opportunity again to say ‘Banks Tanks’.
I was impressed, Chairman, with the number of persons who would have been involved in the construction of this arch. It seemed to be a significant source of employment and I must encourage you to do this more often. [Laughter]
Certainly, a lot of hands have touched this monument; and the Chairman is quite right that 50 years ago at the time of Independence many of our villages actually constructed arches. And if you go around the country you will still see some remnants of these arches, but today we are at Agricola.
Georgetown, our beloved, beautiful (and sometimes battered and beleaguered) capital city was founded over 230 years ago but now it is being refashioned and renovated.
The Dutch, we read, were present in these parts in 1748, but they built only a brandwacht, not a town.
The English captured Demerara from the Dutch in 1781 and its military administrator, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kingston, established his headquarters at a place he called Fort St. George, on the site of present Georgetown.
The French captured Demerara and Essequibo from the English in 1782 and the French Naval Commander – Armand de Kersaint – demolished the English site and built another which was called ‘La Nouvelle Ville’ (the New Town).
Georgetown, in coming years, would vindicate the vision of that French Naval Commander Armand de Kersaint. He wrote, and I quote:
“It was…considered necessary, on account of the great extent of the river and its dependencies, to establish a capital which would become a business centre, where religion would have a temple, justice a palace, war its arsenals, commerce its counting houses and industry its factories; where, also, the inhabitants might enjoy the advantage of social intercourse.”
This is what was written in 1782.
Georgetowners, today, share Admiral Kersaint’s vision of a capital which fulfils the cultural, economic, political and social needs of its people. Admiral Kersaint’s initiative, however, did not endure.
The French handed back the place to the Dutch, who renamed the centre ‘Stabroek’ two years later in 1784, but the Brits were back. The English seized Demerara again two years later in 1796 and, with the exception of an interlude between 1802 and 1803, they held on to it until 1966.
The English, on 5th May 1812, as you heard, renamed the place ‘Georgetown’ in honour of their Prince Regent, George, who later ruled as King George IV from 1820-1830. So, if you ever think of changing the name of Georgetown, I can nominate a candidate. I think the English population was happy when King William replaced him.
The Guyanese, after 1966, retained the name Georgetown and it also retained the name of the City’s central ward, which still carries the Dutch name ‘Stabroek.’
The Dutch colonies – Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice – were united under the British Governor, Brigadier, that’s another Brigadier (later Lieutenant General), Sir Benjamin D’urban and this was in March 1831, 185 years ago. In 1837 an Ordinance was passed to establish a Mayor and Town Council.
Georgetown bloomed into a beautiful city, naturally attractive and with valuable assets. Its landscape is still, in some places, embroidered with some of the most elegant examples of Georgian architecture, typically two-storeyed wooden edifices.
Georgetown is noted for its municipal markets – the not so pretty Albouystown and Bourda, Kitty and Stabroek, which now is quite visible, even at a distance of a hundred metres.
Georgetown, the only English-speaking city on the Continent of South America, is decorated with open public places – gardens, parks, promenades and, more recently, the extended Merriman’s Mall, a more sanitary Stabroek Square and a spacious D’urban Park – all places of relaxation, of leisure, of play and also of vending.
Georgetown is proud of its heritage. The names of its streets and wards reflect its Dutch, French and English plantation traditions.
Georgetown is a city of religious houses, reflecting the diversity of denominations and beliefs embodied in the churches, mandirs and masjids. It also has art galleries, libraries, museums and theatres. It is intersected, in places, by grassy parapets and tree-lined canals which were dug by human hands during the brutal plantation era.
Georgetown, today, is becoming a clean city, a green city, and a serene and safe city once again. Sanitation and drainage, to avert the danger of vector-borne disease, of chikungunya, dengue, filaria, malaria and zika, are top priorities.
Business places, public premises and municipal properties must all go green, adopting solar and wind power, introducing renewable energy technologies, developing solid waste disposal techniques, recycling waste and prohibiting the use of non-biodegradable materials, including by beverage manufacturers. Every visitor, every vendor, every taxi-driver, every shop-keeper, every citizen must share the responsibility for keeping the city clean and sanitary.
Georgetown is set to become a safe city once again.
Citizens should not have to shut themselves in their homes on weekends, afraid to venture forth, because of unlit streets. Georgetown must become a walking city where people, in the evenings, can stroll with their families to enjoy the outdoors, can jog or simply ‘hangout’ with friends in our numerous watering holes. Safety and security are essential to enjoying the ‘good life’.
Georgetown must be an ordered city. City wards – comprised mainly of orthogonal grids – allow for regularity and easy access. Avenues, alleyways, pavements, reserves, sidewalks, and streets must be unencumbered. Traffic congestion must be reduced, zoning laws must be respected and the city’s by-laws and pollution regulations must be enforced rigorously.
Georgetown is an important asset. Admiral de Kersaint envisaged a capital at work and play. The city is now one in which the legislature has its National Assembly; one in which the executive has its ministries; where justice has its magistrates’ and supreme courts; where foreign countries have their embassies; where religion has its places of worship; where students have their schools and colleges; where the defence and police forces have their arsenals and where citizens enjoy the advantage of social intercourse much to their delight.
Georgetown means business. It is the country’s workshop, where commerce has its central business district and industry its factories; where transportation has its own international airport, its sea port and its road network.
Georgetown is a growing city. It was, at independence 50 years ago, a mere 6.5km². Its boundaries are now extended to more than 40 km² with 51 wards.
Georgetowners reclaimed their capital on 18th March, 2016. They were empowered, for the first time in nearly two decades, to freely elect a council to manage their city. What a difference that day made! Our capital city was mired in political mud for nearly twenty years. Things are different now and our city must never suffer such neglect again no matter which party is in office.
This Arch, ladies and gentlemen, serves as a permanent landmark delineating the southern entrance into, and exit out of, our national capital. It will indicate to foreign visitors and local residents alike the southernmost boundary of our city.
This Arch, as you heard before from the Chairman, is not unique. Our people, particularly those in rural communities, built their own arches to celebrate Independence in 1966. There were ‘village arches’ in Adventure on the Corentyne; right here in Agricola; at Bartica; at Bagotsville; at Corriverton; at Leguan; at Leonora; at Lusignan; New Amsterdam; and Rose Hall, Ruimveldt and as far away as Wauna in the Barima-Waini Region.
Passing under this Arch today and in the future must mean to us more than passing into a different jurisdiction. This Arch is a gateway to a movement for urban renewal and to the development of our capital towns, three of which were added this year, 2016, to our stock of townships.
This Arch, moreover, will not only separate the city from its surrounding areas but it separates the past from the future. It defies the disappointments and set-backs of our history; it defines our identity; it denotes the victory of our people’s independence after 350 years of colonialism; it is a beacon of prosperity for rural folk who come here to settle in our capital city, including certain magnates from the East Coast Demerara.
Georgetown is remaking itself. The City is undergoing renovation. Georgetown, with good management and the collaboration of civil society, the business community, our foreign friends and our citizens, will recapture its appellation as a ‘garden’ city. It will never again be known as the ‘garbage’ city.
Georgetown will regain its image as one of the Caribbean’s most picturesque and pleasant places for residents and an attractive destination for visitors. It’s a national icon – a city whose attractions and services allow everyone to experience the fulsome quality of life.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is written in the Holy Bible: “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood and stablisheth a city by iniquity.” I therefore pray that the City that lies beyond this Arch will witness neither bloodshed nor iniquity but instead will be built with the bricks of peace and will be bonded with the mortar of prosperity.
Again, I iterate my thanks, my gratitude, to Banks DIH and the other companies which were involved in the construction of this Arch; to our own Ministry of Public Infrastructure and our Ministry of Education, and I take great pleasure now in inaugurating Guyana’s 50th Anniversary Independence Arch.
I thank you all for your attention.