President David Granger: This is a warm welcome indeed. Thank you very much. Chairperson, Nadine Chan-A-Sue, thank you for your welcome and introduction; Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Cohesion; Honourable Karen Cummings, Minister within the Ministry of Public Health; Honourable Annette Ferguson, Minister of Mabaruma roads (Laughter.); Honourable Dawn Hastings-Williams, Minister within the Ministry of Communities; Regional Chairman, Mr. Brentnol Ashley; Member of the National Assembly, Mr. Richard Allen; Regional Executive Officer, Mr. Leslie Wilburg; Mayor of Mabaruma, Mr. Henry Smith – thank you for your welcome into your town; Regional Education Officer, Mr. Nigel Richards; members of the RDC of the Barima-Waini Region; members of the Town Council; donor, Mr. John Tracey of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry, who made this ceremony possible by this generous donation. Welcome and thank you for being here and for our donation. Special invitees, teachers, parents, students, all residents of the town of Mabaruma; members of the media: I am very happy and honoured to be [here] with you today; not only to be part of this important ceremony of handing over this bus and the bicycles, but also to be here in Region Number One. The Number One Region of Guyana, isn’t it?
This is a great region – four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. From the first timeI came here I asked myself; I asked my wife; I asked: Why isn’t Mabaruma a town? And those of you who know me would know that every single time I have come here before the 11th of May, 2015, I said, ‘It is my mission and ambition to make Mabaruma a town; a capital town for this great region’ and it has happened. [Applause.]
We know there are some problems but these problems will be fixed because you, for the first time, have been able to elect a town council and we will work with that town council. Your Regional Chairman is right; we will work together. Government is made up of different layers and at the top layer you have all these ministers; half of the Cabinet is here. They represent central government; I represent central government. There you have Mr. Brentnol Ashley, he is in the second layer – he represents the regional administration; and here you have Mr. Smith, the Mayor, who represents the municipal administration but we are not here to fight each other. We are here to work together for the good of this region, for the good of this town, for the good of this country. I would like to endorse the message of the Mayor, Mr. Smith; endorse the message of Mr. Ashley; endorse the message of Ms. Amna Ally.
All three regions are here to work together to ensure that the Barima-Waini Region resumes its lead as the leading region of this great country. We know about the electricity problems and we will fix those problems. Rome wasn’t built in a day and we can’t fix that problem in a day. We can’t fix the roads in one day. We can’t fix Lady Northcote (Well, I don’t know if anybody can fix Lady Northcote. She is unfixable.) But we will make sure in years to come that this region is properly serviced by a younger lady, not Lady Northcote, but a more efficient ferry.
We are concerned about the ferry service. We are concerned about the roads. We are concerned about electricity but most of all today we are concerned about the future of Barima-Waini, the children. We are concerned about what happens to the human potential of this great region. It is good that we have these ‘Five Bs’; it is good that we have the boats, the buses, the bicycles, the breakfast and the books, but where did these ideas come from? These ideas didn’t drop from the sky – these ideas came from you. It came from people like the ministers who were here long before the 11th of May, 2015, working with you to find out what your needs were and going to Moruka, going to Port Kaituma, going up the Pomeroon, going up all of the rivers of this great country.
We found that one of the greatest needs is for children to get to school. We found that four thousand children drop out of school every year in Guyana for primary and secondary schools. Four thousand children drop out. We found that the lowest education grades in the country are in the hinterland. In some regions ninety percent of the children fail English and Maths at the National Grade Six level. We’re not happy with that, we want a change and that is why we have adopted a motto: Every Child in School! And I want the Mayor to adopt that motto; I want the Regional Chairman to adopt that motto; I want the representative in the National Assembly, the MP, Mr. Richard Allen, to adopt that motto; I want Minister Dawn Hastings to adopt that motto; Minister Karen Cummings to adopt that motto.
Every child must be in school – and we will do everything possible; if it’s a bus, if it’s a boat, if it’s a bicycle, (well we don’t have aeroplane yet) but we will try everything else to make sure our children get to school. But you, too, must establish programmes to ensure that your children get to school, whatever the cost; nothing could be worse than having a child grow up without education. So that is why we are here.
Education is the best thing that can happen to a child. We have too many dropouts, too many low grades and we are confident once children get to school and you heard the beautiful poem about the teacher, teachers respect their students and the students respect the teachers. We are confident that once we can get the children into school they will become better educated than if they stay at home playing if they don’t go to school.
Without education you can’t learn to read, write, count and spell and if you can’t do that, you can’t do anything; you even drive a minibus if you can’t spell stop – S-T-O-P. You can’t go on the wharf if you can’t understand the sign that marked danger. You can’t go to the bank if you can’t sign your own name- you can’t even spell bank.
So these are some of the problems that we have. We have to have an educated nation. That is the starting point and I congratulate the people behind this programme and I congratulate the bank, I congratulate the minister, I congratulate the region. But I want us all to adopt that motto: Every Single Child in School. We are not looking for forty percent, fifty percent; we are looking for a hundred percent attendance. And I will continue to implement programmes to help children to get to school but the parents, the households, the families, must take a stand against truancy; against skulking; against staying away from school. I am confident that once we get our children in school- the second problem will be solved; that is the problem of jobs. I know the problem from the Aruka right through to Aranaputa (I don’t know if any of you ever been to Aranaputa. If you have ever been to Achiwuib; if you have ever been to Aishalton (they are in the north and there in the Deep South), but everywhere there are young people without jobs.
People leave here and they go to Venezuela but I believe things change now. I believe Venezuelans coming here now. Right? Because they have some challenges now. But many of our young people – they go to Brazil, they go to Suriname, they go to the Caribbean looking for jobs. The jobs are right here. This is one of the richest regions in the country in terms of potential. It is, as I said before, four times the size of Trinidad.
There is no other part of the country that produces avocado pears like the Barima-Waini Region. You all have the best pears in the whole country. You drive around Hosororo, you drive along the road, mangoes falling down, people are fed up of eating mangoes; even the pigs don’t want to eat mangoes. All of these fruits – your coconuts to make coconut water, to make coconut oil, your avocado pears, your pineapples could be served in the hotels and the resorts in Barbados, in Trinidad.
The point I am making is if we use our potential, use our resources, you will find employment right here. You have people coming from France exporting heart-of-palm; exporting pineapple chunks; these are industries which can empower our own young people. If they get the education, employment is right here through agro-processing – everything you grow can be processed, every cassava could make cassava bread, every plantain could make plantain chips, every orange, every tangerine could make juice. These things could be put in boxes, put in bottles and given or sold to the school children or exported to the Caribbean.
It is happening; people are opening factories. In the Pomeroon, people are exporting coconut oil and coconut water and if you ever drink coconut water from Barima-Waini or Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, you know you are drinking the real thing. You know sometimes people go in the supermarket and they see coconut water coming from a different country (I’m a Head of State so I can’t criticise the country) and when you’re drinking it you wonder what happen because you’re not feeling anything at all. But you have real coconut water here but your young people must want to bottle these products and export them but you can only do that if you have education, and that education must involve information technology.
So you can go on the computer, you can find out what the supermarkets want, what the restaurants want – yes, they want fish but they also want sweet potato chips, cassava chips, plantain chips and you can sell your products, you can package your products; and I know a friendly banker who would help you to get some credit.
But you need to think about becoming entrepreneurs. When I said this people feel that the government is abandoning young people- no way! We are encouraging young people; we have embarked on several programmes here in the hinterland- the HEYS; we have embarked on the SLED programme for sustainable livelihood and we will continue to help the young people who want to help themselves by providing the training, by providing the credit and giving them opportunities to explore and to obtain new markets.
But you must think of becoming entrepreneurs; that’s the way to become rich… But the point I am making is that there is profit in business, there is success in business, there is independence in business and there is development in business. I want to encourage you to be entrepreneurs, to be independent business persons and you can do so by becoming more literate, by becoming more educated and by embracing science, embracing technology so that you can get little factories…. The point I am making is these little factories cost four hundred thousand dollars, five hundred thousand dollars; that’s not a lot of money. It is a lot of money to you, but when you start to produce cassava products with those mills you will see how quickly you can pay back the money. You have to pay back the money. We are like GBTI, we lend you the money and you will make a profit and you will pay back the money and you will get more and that is the way Region One will progress.
We know you have problems with light, you have problems with water, you have problems with the roads, you have problems with the ferry but we can overcome those problems if we have businessmen who are prepared to invest in enterprises, in new industries.
Ladies and gentlemen, students, residents of this great region; back in March we embarked on a very important exercise and that is the exercise of empowerment. Many of you never participated, never voted in Local Government Elections before. It is a wonderful experience because you now have been able to choose a town council.
Your government has made Mabaruma into a town and you will be able to ensure that that town council carries out your mandate. If you have problems with light and water and roads, the town council must help you to solve those problems and we are here to help the town council to help you, but you must remain engaged. This is not a job for central government.
You live in the house, you know where it leaks, you wear the shoes, you know where it pinches. You live in the town. It’s unfair for somebody in Fort Street, Kingston to try to run Mabaruma and micromanage this township. But you are now empowered and by December 2018, year after next, if they don’t perform move them, put in people who will make this town better and bigger. That is what elections are all about and under the David Granger administration we are not going to wait twenty-three years for the next Local Government Elections. There will be Local Government Elections by December, 2018. [Applause.]
You have twenty-seven months to perform or perish but let us get Mabaruma going again. Students, ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s a warm morning but I am very happy to be here with you because there is nothing I prefer to be doing on Friday morning than giving a bus to school children to enable them to get to school.[Applause.]
I want you to care this bus. It is not a brand new bus but it is a good bus. If you care it, it will last a long time. We will fix the road, we will give you a good road; just be patient; Minister Ferguson came to check out the road- count all the potholes. But we will fix the road; Barabina will take a little longer. I never see a road like Barabina road – that is something else. That road cost millions of dollars but we will fix the roads. We will fix the water flow at Kumaka. We will fix the ferry- just time; be patient.
But the point I am making is this is all about education; it’s all about employment; it’s all about empowerment and it’s all about enterprise. This is the key to your future. I’m not here to talk about the past, the Regional Chairman didn’t talk about the past, the minister didn’t talk about the past, the Mayor didn’t talk about the past. We are all talking about you.
Let us look to the future of this great region. Let us get our children in school and let us make Barima-Waini Region Number One, the number one region of this great country.
I thank you.