President David Granger: Foreign Minister, ambassadors, officials, ladies and gentlemen, I’m happy to be here this afternoon to join you, albeit at the end of a week of hard work; and I’m sure you don’t want to hear more words from me and we’ll have a few minutes to have [an] interactive session.
I would like particularly to recognise the experienced diplomats, particularly [former Minister of Foreign Affairs] Rashleigh [Jackson] and [Ambassador] Cedric [Joseph]; forgive me if I don’t mention the others. I was involved initially in producing their first books on foreign policy matters- Rashleigh did the book called Guyana’s Diplomacy and I hope that every Ambassador here has bought a copy.
I know Rashleigh has still got some copies at home and of course Cedric has done the most work on the Guyana-Venezuela boundary. I think the first monograph he put out was on Anglo- American Diplomacy, and I think we reprinted some without permission of the author and they are available here. Some are available here, Mr. Cox has some.
Certainly in my experience, the Foreign Ministry has put out more printed material than any other ministry and that is a good thing, not only for research purposes but also for the guidance of future generations, and I do hope that during this calendar year we will have, once again, the Foreign Service Institute up and running.
Unfortunately, the room in which you sit at present was flooded out during one of our cyclical floods and we have identified the campus at Ogle and I have committed to giving the Foreign Service a faculty, which more or less is the Foreign Service Institute, so that in years to come our diplomats could be trained at our own institute at Ogle in a faculty dedicated to the ministry.
We have among us, of course, the experienced diplomats and I always say you can’t fake experience. I say this because people think that the appointments are something of a lottery, or worse. Diplomats are appointed to represent the national interests and that is an expression which only a few people are allowed to define. One is the Foreign Minister and the other is the President.
I don’t think any book really answers the question of what is the national interest but what I would say is that the appointment of an Ambassador or a High Commissioner is not a personal matter and some people must remember they shouldn’t get dazzled by the expression “Your Excellency”. It is an appointment for hard work. It is not an appointment for party supporters and I would like to feel that our appointments have been based on merit. This is a difficult concept for some people to accept and understand because they feel that there should be some patronage, some reward system, but it can’t work in Foreign Service and I think we have nearly [a] quarter century of evidence that political patronage is not the sound basis for the appointment of our highest representatives overseas.
We are aiming at the creation of a professional service and in the fullness of time we hope to restore the processes under which officers could be given exposure to a variety of appointments and, eventually of course, be allowed to understudy their seniors overseas; so the Foreign Service is not a place for party patronage. It is a place for hard work and it is a place for professionalism and anyone who has served long enough in one of our missions overseas would know that it is not a place where you can simply flaunt your own interests to the prejudice of those of the country you represent.
It is good that we should study the history of the Foreign Service in Guyana, the history of diplomacy; because there were some rough passages and people who have varied from the path of representing the national interest have come sometimes to a sticky end. In a particularly bad year, you know, I think we had two suicides and it is a tale that needs to be told because being a diplomat overseas requires that you represent the national interests and that when people look to you, or upon you or at you, they see the best values of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. And it is for that reason the Foreign Minister and I have had to defend some appointments and point out that we will continue to make appointments based on merit and, in that regard, I would like to congratulate those persons who have been appointed because the appointments are meritorious and not rewards or inducements for services that were rendered or service that we’d like you to render.
There are just four aspects of your service. I haven’t been here for your seminar this week, but there are just four matters that I would like to raise apart from that acknowledgement of the paramountcy of the national interest.
One the Foreign Minister has alluded to is, of course, paramount – that is the economy; for the last hundred years Guyana’s economy has relied on those six sisters, which sometimes let us down based mainly on the extractive industries and agriculture: sugar, rice, bauxite, gold, diamonds, fish; and at present they are not performing to the level that can give Guyana the sort of revenue we need to propel our development rapidly. So, there has to be some form of diversification and there has to be some augmentation of production in areas in which we have an advantage.
Over four decades ago four visionary leaders of the Caribbean launched the Caribbean Community. In fact historically, as you may know, it was on the 4th July, 1965; even before Guyana and Barbados became independent that Forbes Burnham went to Seawell Airport in Barbados to meet with Errol Barrow. Later that year they met with Vere Bird of Antigua and, even before those three countries became independent, we had something, an agreement – the Dickenson Bay [Agreement].
The point is that they realised that the small economies of the Caribbean could not expect to sustain themselves unless we came together and created some form of free trade area in the first instance and a single market in the second instance.
Over the last fifty-one years you may say that we have not covered sufficient ground in building that single market but, regardless of your evaluation, it is the economic bases on which Guyana’s turnaround will occur. We need the Caribbean. We need to be able to sell our products, not to 750,000 persons but to 5 million or 10 million or 15 million. So, it is not a matter of option; it is obligatory for us to enter more forcefully into the Caribbean and, even if it is faltering, fortify it so that we can have a market for our produce.
So, as the Foreign Minister would have told you, the first diplomat we meet – I think it would have been on Monday 18th May – would have been the Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community and we will spare no effort to ensure that the Caribbean Community is strengthened in order to serve the interests of all of our peoples; and symbolically, if you drove down Carifesta Avenue now you will see the symbols of the Caribbean Community as a constant reminder of our commitment to the community.
We celebrate, 4th July- CARICOM Day – and we will continue to not only celebrate but we will continue to work toward strengthening CARICOM. There is a possibility that in a few years’ time we will be entering profitably into the oil and gas sector. We have been knocking at the door for a long time and solving our energy problem is at bases of creating a stronger manufacturing sector, but let us not get addicted to oil as yet; let us not dream about oil riches. Having lived and studied in Nigeria, I can see the impact. Of course, I’m a Head of State now; I can only speak of the impact.
A value-free expression – the impact of petroleum on the economy – but there is more we can do without oil and I have asked Mr. Cox to circulate a little leaflet on the giants of Guyana, and if only we took tourism; eco-tourism, educational tourism seriously, we could become rich. As I have told people in New York last month, when I was there, when you look at a manatee you mustn’t think of souse and pepperpot; think of tourists coming from Ireland or Austria to see our fauna; so many Guyanese have never seen a river dolphin but yet people arose amongst us who sell the few that we had. Guyana has got the biggest eagle in the world; the biggest anteater in the world; the biggest rodent in the world; the biggest spider in the world; the biggest fresh water fish in the world; we have got about fifteen world class giants that are worth more to us alive than dead and we need to develop an economy, just as the Caribbean islands have been forced to develop economies based on tourism.
We can develop an economy based on our own eco-tourism and I have asked that our ministries return the national collection and start to display on the walls. I have asked that our missions start to display on their walls the most beautiful flora and fauna in the world. You are talking about a country with nine hundred species of birds; there are more birds in the Kanuku than in the whole of Western Europe. There are few places on earth with our eco-tourism product, with our biodiversity, and this is something that we must sell – not only rum and rice – but we must sell this magnificent product.
So when I speak of the economy, I speak of the Caribbean, but I also speak of developing our God-given products; we need also to explore the possibility of sustainable energy. We are literally sitting on our hands; so many countries even in the Caribbean with less have done more. Now wind, we have a four hundred and thirty kilometre coastline. We have the huge Rupununi Savannahs; the Rupununi – a region that is bigger than Cost Rica with over thirteen hours of sunlight average per day.
We have a hundred sites that can generate hydro-power. You don’t have to look for huge falls even if you stood at Iwokrama and saw the river flowing. You know that we can generate hydro-power. So wind, sun, water are literally going to waste while we spend our limited resources on our addiction to gasoline and dieseline.
Even Mocha- Mocha, a hydro-power scheme that was working; there was a little storm, the tube through which the water was flowing got shifted – there was a big argument in the previous administration whether it cost twenty or eighty million dollars to fix. So now we are carrying gasoline and dieseline into an area that has hydro-power potential. So we need to look at these economic initiatives in terms of energy; in terms of the Caribbean Single Market; in terms of eco-tourism; and these are things you would have to sell in your various missions overseas and more, but we cannot expect to rely on the six sisters forever and hope that next year we are going to get better prices for sugar or we going to get a better price for this or better price for that. We have to diversify our economy in order to provide employment for our young people and in order to increase our wealth.
The second thing I would like to mention is our political structure. There have been changes in government. I have created fifteen ministries and the only reason there are fifteen is because I couldn’t get the work done with fourteen; but I’m not about to be persuaded; I’m not to be persuaded; we need to create more and more ministries.
I have a competent Cabinet and I feel that we are capable of leading this country forward with a muscular Cabinet and I have resisted calls to create a Ministry of Tourism; a Ministry of Labour; a Ministry of this; a Ministry of that. There is a little booklet, which I don’t know if it has been discussed, I don’t know to what extent the government has been discussed over the last week, but the whole idea is that these ministries are capable and from time to time I will make some minor changes; for example, the establishment of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications.
I admit that, at the outset in May last year, we did not contemplate having a separate ministry, but that ministry is incorporated in the Ministry of Public Infrastructure but as time went on we discovered that public infrastructure had other burdens to bear: stellings, aerodromes and much else. And it was decided to move tourism into business and to create a separate Ministry of Public Telecommunications.
So, I am satisfied that it is starting to work and those of you who read the paper could see that one of the benefits would be dissuading young people at Barakara and Karawab from climbing trees in order to get a signal. This is true; it is true there are people in certain riverine areas who have to climb up trees to use their cell phones in 2016; it’s incredible, unbelievable that we should be so left out.
So the structure of government has been modified. In addition to that, we will be creating a new Department of Environment; again there are several agencies responsible for protected areas – responsible for wildlife, responsible for climate-change and some of them have not been put under the control of a single managerial authority. So a Department of the Environment will soon be established. I have already had discussions and it will remain under the Ministry of the Presidency in order to ensure that our environment is better cared for. This is important because it is the only one we have and sometimes you fly over (you see me looking up; I just cut my hair so you can imagine the wind chill factor, so I have been adjusting). I see the Minister of Foreign Affairs is able to avoid the impact of that factor but I’m not so lucky.
So, as far as our structure is concerned, we are doing well. We have a stratum of Junior Ministers and we expect that in the fullness of time they too will be able to bear the full responsibility of those ministries; but generally speaking, I don’t see that we should have a huge governmental structure.
I see that we should continue to examine our development needs and those needs are, of course, national in scope in the area of communities; for example, this year we have created three new towns. We expect that those towns will become hubs or magnets for their respective regions. Some bizarre things occur in this country: one of them is that if you are a businessman at Lethem, now a town in the Rupununi, you have to go to Anna Regina to register your business; yes, that is true.
So what you want to do is ensure that nobody would have to leave his or her region to get any government service at all. Whether it’s some insurance or whether it’s electricity or whether it’s health or education we want to create capitals which impart a greater degree of autonomy to those regions and it is those capitals or through those capitals, that we will be able to deliver a greater degree of public service.
Your passports – most of them will become ports of entry; your salaries; everything could be handled within your region. Each region will have its own aerodrome and in due course business persons, tourists will be able to go directly into the regions without having to come through Eugene Correia [International Airport] or Cheddi Jagan [International Airport].
So the political structure is evolving, but we have to break the mould of an over centralized government in Georgetown and over a period of time encourage strong regions which could better administer…, which could raise revenue, which could ensure that their populations and their regional interests are met. So, I would like you to understand that it’s not a fad, creating towns. Its business and these towns must develop the capability to raise revenues and to administer their huge regions. When you have a region the size of Costa Rica how can you expect a village to run it, a village named Lethem?
If you have a region like Barima-Waini that’s four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago, there’s not a single bank in Mabaruma. You got five hours of electricity a day. How can they run anything? You got an 81-year-old lady called Lady Northcote which supplies that huge region. So unless we allow the regions to develop, become stronger, even at the cost of diminishing the controls from Fort Street, Kingston, we will gradually see the development of our country and governance within our country.
We fought hard for Local Government Elections; not for this party to win or for that party to get so many seats, but to give the people of the regions themselves, the choice, the opportunity to choose the councillors. You cannot sit down in Fort Street, Kingston and decide what suite of furniture somebody must have in Paramakatoi or in Bartica. You have to allow the regions to flourish.
The third point I’d like to mention is that of social cohesion. Again, when this ministry was created, it engendered quite a lot of criticism. Well, if you don’t think social cohesion is necessary, think about the opposite, think about the absence of social cohesion. It’s still a big problem in Guyana and there are still forces which are working towards keeping people divided. I suppose it benefits some people, but when you see the demographic figures which were published last week, you can see that it’s a failed strategy to think that any party could depend exclusively on ethnic support to get into power.
On the 15th of July 2011, we embraced something called A Partnership for National Unity. We formed A Partnership for National Unity bringing five parties together – the Guyana Action Party, Justice for All Party, National Front Alliance, Working People’s Alliance and the People’s National Congress – and as you know, on the 14th of February last year, the Alliance For Change joined with APNU and we now have a six-party coalition.
No matter what you say, people in Guyana do not want to see a government which represents only one ethnic group, and I don’t even believe they want to see a government which represents one political party and I am committed to coalition politics, regardless of the numbers. I believe that the synergies, I believe that coming together, I believe that listening to the voices of people from different regions, of different ethnic groups, of different social classes, social groups are all good for Guyana.
We’ve had a lot of exclusiveness and social cohesion is about inclusiveness, it’s about paying attention to the needs of people all over this country and I am inspired by what I see when I go to the various regions. When I say inspired, I don’t necessarily mean favourably inspired. I mean I learn, I listen and I try to solve problems.
So when you go to Friendship or some other place in the Pomeroon River, well there is no road, there is no highway there, there is only one way to get from Friendship to Charity and that’s by boat; but when a father has to pay five thousand dollars a week to get his daughter to Charity High School, that impacts on our education system because right now in Guyana, four thousand boys and girls from primary and secondary schools drop out every year.
My wife, Sandra, last Christmas, at one of the settlements on the Pomeroon gave a child a book, a ten year old girl. “Miss, I can’t read.” Now, if at ten she can’t read, she’s trying to give Sandra back the book but there are 3,999 others like her who have dropped out of school or who can’t go to school because they don’t have a boat, they don’t have a bus, they don’t have a bicycle.
So it’s not a gimmick. People really pay thousands of dollars just to go to school and get back home and when they don’t have the money they stay at home and they drop out. So, we need to understand what is happening up the rivers and up the creeks and in the various regions of this country.
Simple things like shoes. I go to Parishara, three o’clock on a Friday afternoon. A whole class of children come out and not one wearing a pair of shoes. I don’t know how long some of you would last on the laterite roads without shoes, but we’re holding people back by not recognizing that different groups in different parts of the country are entitled to the same benefits as people maybe on the coast or people in the city.
When you see some young Amerindian girl, age thirteen or fourteen, delivering her first child and you look at that child in the maternity ward and you wonder about nutrition, you wonder about health care. In fact, the Ministry of Public Health has developed a policy now that once a young girl in the hinterland is having her first delivery to bring that girl to Georgetown.
So, we need to have a more cohesive society, rather than having one in which we divide up people into different sections – oh, this is hinterland; oh, this is coastland; this is public school; this is private school and you can see how the society starts to come apart because in effect what we have is a form of educational apartheid. You know when you go to certain schools you are likely not to do well from primary level and if you don’t do well there you probably would not get into a good secondary school.
So, social cohesion is not just a fashionable term. It is a matter of bringing society together not only in terms of ethnicity but also in terms of geography but also in terms of the social strata, also in terms of delivery of the public services in a more equitable manner. It’s about removing inequalities, because if society remains unequal you’re going to have crime and poverty of which we have too much at present. So, in your work as representatives of our country overseas, these are some of the values which we expect you to promote; and finally, of course, is the question of security, of our territorial integrity.
Ladies and gentlemen, unless we solve the territorial problem, we will not be able to attract the quality investors we need, the numbers of investors, and develop a huge part of our country. It is a factor; many people do not realise it. Last year October, the Venezuelan Ambassador in Ottawa wrote to the principals of Guyana Gold Fields threatening them with litigation, accusing them of trespassing in Venezuelan territory. Now what does the CEO tell his shareholders? In fact, the Venezuelans have been scaring away investors for fifty years, contributing to our underdevelopment.
So the border issue is not something that could be bargained away or traded. Sometimes our friends think we’re always complaining. Sometimes people have not given us the quality support that we need, some have stepped forward and batted for us; yes, but we have to continue to pursue the goal of completely freeing our territory from Venezuelan claims and also Surinamese claims.
These two claims are hampering our development and foreign ministries and those diplomats who go overseas must understand this inside-out, and that is why this is one of the first things I asked about- Cedric’s book, which I hope you put under your pillow when you go to sleep at night, and both pillows if you sleep different places. But make sure you have a thorough grounding because sometimes I feel that we have diplomats who don’t understand and who don’t care that they don’t understand and sometimes people misunderstand the seriousness of the territorial problem. Sometimes, they feel- okay, a bit pf rice, a bit of oil and we don’t have to talk about it. ‘Oh, you just focus on the rice, focus on the oil, focus on the Hugo Chavez centre, try to get another gymnasium, and don’t mention that.’
No! No! No! No! We have to put that in the forefront of our diplomacy that our territory is not going to bargained away. We’re not going to sell out one cuirass – and you have to believe that, you have to believe that – and you can’t go to the bargain table expecting that after fifty years or more, the best way to overcome the territorial problem is not to talk about it.
This problem has to be solved. We are working through the United Nations; we’re working with the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. I don’t know to what extent the matter was discussed during the week, but it is on the front burner. Guyana cannot develop its rich resources without resolving in our favour, a matter which was settled a hundred and seventeen years ago.
So we need to work to ensure that all of our diplomats, every member of staff, understands the territorial problem thoroughly and can speak up in any forum. I remember, in the previous administration, going into the office of a minister and I saw the clock with a badly drawn map of the New River. I said, “Minister what are you doing with that on your wall?” He said, “It’s only a clock.” I mean we need to understand, we need to understand the seriousness of the problem.
That is one aspect of the security problem that I wanted to speak about. The second aspect was that we are part of the continental landmass. It’s something I had to remind a former British Prime Minister about. I can say ‘former’ safely now because he met with some Caribbean Heads of Government and he promised to re-engage with the islands. I said “and mainland?” …
We are not one of the islands. We are on the mainland and some things come with our territory, that is, an eleven hundred kilometre border with Brazil, one of the worlds’ largest exporters of small arms. We are in the same continent with the world’s largest producers of cocaine. So we have a problem of transnational crime and that crime has an impact on our security. Some of you might not have been here wondering what happened between roughly 2000 and 2010. We were faced with a drug war. We were faced with people who were shooting and killing to expand a drug empire.
Right now you have monuments in Eve Leary, you have monuments in Buxton, you have monuments in Bartica, because of the massacres that took place there. I go to Toronto and members of the Sawh family are approaching me to get justice. So, it’s not something we can forget.
We need to make this country secure by securing our borders from transnational crime. You can’t wink at backtracking and nod at contraband smuggling and expect to be safe. The guns are coming across the border to commit crimes here.
The cocaine is coming across the border. Sometimes we don’t see it until we’re ready to. Somebody has stuck too much in her brassier or other parts of her body, but the security problem is important; and the last administration got a three million pound sterling Security Sector Reform Action Plan and threw it out the window.
Now we have to crawl back out of the hole in order to make this country safe for our citizens. Much of the crime you see taking place in Guyana came out because many of the children who were four and five years old in 2000 are now twenty and twenty-two years old. There’s a secondary impact of that intense violence that was taking place and that violence was drug driven and we need to make our country safe and secure again.
So ladies and gentlemen, those are my major comments this afternoon. There are many more details which I wouldn’t go into at present. We need to develop our infrastructure, yes, that’s important; but I urge you that, in your dealings with the principals, with the people and the officials in the countries, that you’re going to take your guidance from the ministry.
People have pet projects but our Foreign Ministry has to develop the capability and the capacity to deal with those projects. There’s no point going with a long shopping list, ‘Oh we need a course in languages, we also need some doctors, okay, we can so with some hampers.’ We need to narrow our expectations in accordance with the policies that we’ve set ourselves so that there are achievable goals. There’s no point having a big list of things that we can’t get and you go to the same people and you haven’t performed, you haven’t delivered, you can’t absorb the assistance they are prepared to give, even if they are prepared to give the assistance.
Sometimes they’re confused. One minister goes there and asks for a scholarship, another goes there and he asks for a plane, somebody goes there and he wants a train. It is the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs, not your own notion, not the political party that you came from, not your own ambition, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has responsibility for all those international economic relations; and if the policy is green, if it about sustainable energy, if it’s about social cohesion, if it’s about governance, if it’s about economic development, the guide will come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – not your party, not your own desire to be a celebrity.
With these few remarks I’d like to thank you very much for your attention.