President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. I am always grateful to Linden for giving me a warm welcome and the longer we stay, the warmer I think we will be. [Laughter.]
Thank you, madam chairperson.
His Excellency, the Ambassador [of the People’s Republic of China to Guyana] Zhang Limin; Ministers of the Government; Members of the National Assembly; His Worship the Mayor of Linden, Mr. Carwyn Holland; Chairman of the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region, Mr. Rennis Morian; Bishop of Linden, Reverend Charles Davidson (also Guyana and Suriname, in that order?) Mr. Robert Chang and Mr. Ying of the Bosai Minerals Group; workers; citizens of Linden, ladies and gentlemen, members of the media:
The celebration of the hundredth anniversary of bauxite mining in Guyana is a happy and historic occasion. The purpose of our assembly here today, the presence of so many persons fanning furiously to keep cool and the preparations made for this commemoration ceremony testifies to the labour of generations; to the importance of the industry and to the significance of this place, Linden – the nursery of the Bauxite industry.
Linden has been called a mining town because the route of the bauxite industry, the name of this tri-junction point as you’ve been told, Mackenzie, Wismar, Watooka, tells the story of the circumstances, which brought together people from the North American, the South American and the European continents and today we have people from another continent – East Asian entrepreneurs, who now operate the industry. So perhaps we should have a quadrilateral – bringing people together from four continents right here in Linden.
But this is a magnificent structure, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of bauxite mining. Ladies and gentlemen the social impact of the industry has contributed to enriching Guyana’s cultural life. The contribution of this industry to Guyanese society is impossible to calculate. The population of the communities, which are now amalgamated as Linden, swelled as mining intensified.
Persons came from all over the coastland, from the islands of the Caribbean, Barbados, Grenada, St. Vincent, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago in search of regular employment and higher wages offered by the bauxite industry. So when you go there, tell them where their fore parents came to look for money and employment when they put you to sit down on a bench. [Laughter.]
This industry created thousands of jobs for Guyanese and West Indians; it is noteworthy that by 1960 only 38 per cent of the population of this community that we now know as Linden comprised persons who were actually born here; the rest were actually migrants from the coast and the Caribbean.
The industry made other contributions to nation building. The industry trained and produced highly skilled and competent chemists, engineers and industrial workers and as we saw in young Ronald Gonsalves, people of culture and creativity.
The nation knows, for example, that hundreds of persons were recruited from the ranks of employees and former employees of the bauxite industry to develop what we now know as the gold mining industry, which has become the most lucrative mining industry in Guyana. Many of the operators in the gold mining industry are actually graduates from the ‘university of bauxite’.
The Soesdyke-Linden Highway and the proposed Linden-Lethem Highway, which I hope you all give us a chance to build, so don’t be rash – the Demerara River Bridge and the connectivity of this Region, the Upper – Demerara Region to the Demerara – Mahaica Region, Region Four, the Cuyuni- Mazaruni Region, Region Seven, the Potaro – Siparuni Region, Region Eight and the Rupununi Region, Region Nine – the connectivity through this Region has made Linden a geographical and social hub, and I hope that very soon it will become an economic hub and powerhouse as well. Thousands of Guyanese every year have to pass through Linden coming from south to north and coming from north to south. [The] Bauxite industry, of course, is mainly about the economy. The bauxite industry has been one of the traditional mainstays of our economy for a hundred years.
Production increased rapidly during the Second World War as you heard from Mr. Horace James, another migrant from the coast; that bauxite from Guyana contributed to the manufacture of aluminium, which went into the aircrafts which were constructed by the allies to win the Second World War.
The United States, for example, imported 30,000 tonnes of bauxite ore in 1939 before the war started, and by the time the war got going Guyana had exported 390,000 tonnes annually. So Guyana became the second largest producer of bauxite in the world accounting for as much as 17 per cent of global output by 1949.
The production of refractory and abrasive grades of bauxite by 1952 made Guyana the world’s most diversified producer of bauxite and bauxite production soared to 2.2 million tonnes in 1957 and, as you know, shortly afterwards, we produced this ten-dollar note, which I can let you have at a very cheap price. [Laughter.] This ten dollar note shows you bauxite mining and the aluminium plant so it shows you where we were and where we are going to again. [Applause.] So don’t believe this is history, this is past and future we’re going to go back there. [Applause.]
The Demerara Bauxite Company as you know was nationalised in 1971 and for the first-decade productivity and profitability soared, making bauxite a main contributor to our nation’s GDP at one stage responsible for 43 per cent of our export earnings. However, for reasons which we wouldn’t speak about now, the industry slide into decline and this resulted in a loss of employment, loss of skills, loss of revenue, loss of export earnings and loss of profitability.
As you have heard from Bosai itself one of the most significant costs was the cost associated with transport owing to the shallowest of our river channels which limit the size of vessels which can be used to export bauxite; perhaps if we exported less bauxite and more aluminium – and even aluminium that might be such a big problem, but this is something for Bosai to think about. [Applause.]
Change is continuous; change was evident in the ownership of this industry from foreign to local back to foreign. Change is continuous but changes in global competitiveness, in global demand, in global market prices and the global technology continues to affect but not afflict the industry – we have to adapt.
The increased demand for aluminium during war time led to the surge in bauxite exports. We were one of the strategic allies of the United States at that time; they constructed a base and in fact, as you may know, the base at Makouria and Shell Beach were actually used as bases for seaplanes to escort convoys carrying bauxite from Guyana to Chaguaramas in Trinidad to protect it from German U-boats which actually had penetrated as far as south into the Caribbean.
Continuity also has been a characteristic feature of this export-oriented industry; we still export bauxite as a raw or primary product. The aluminium plant past and future added value to our bauxite; it lasted twenty years and I hope that we wouldn’t have to wait for twenty years before it returns.
This industry is solely dependent on external markets and it remains highly vulnerable to external demand and market conditions and I say this to all of us – workers, managers, politicians, decision-makers, we all have to be involved in working for the survival and more than the survival – for the success of this industry. If it fails, we all fail. If it succeeds, we all win.
The industry needs investment. Guyana’s bauxite reserves are no way near exhaustion. We still have enough reserves to allow us production for another hundred years and I’m sure Horace will be here to see that happens. [Laughter.]
The development of the industry requires significant investments and that is the reason why we welcome our partners from the People’s Republic of China – people who are prepared to invest. We welcome them as collaborators to help to develop this important industry.
The Government of Guyana does not possess the resources to make such investments on its own; international partners are needed. We need large foreign investors with the financial means to recapitalise this important industry. They are the ones who have vital linkages to international markets. The region, Upper Demerara-Berbice Region, must remain attractive to foreign investors and must not repel foreign investment.
Secondly, the industry needs innovation, innovative thinking and planning. It needs new technologies to develop more efficient means of production and to reduce the cost associated with the removal of overburden and the shipping of ore and, of course, the processing of that ore.
The industry needs to explore new sources of cheap energy and here is another indication exploring the sources of cheap energy. A problem which has bedevilled us for decades and I believe that once we overcome that hurdle, we will be able to move from bauxite to alumina and from alumina to aluminium.
Linden must not be satisfied with being a mining town. It must become a manufacturing town. I do believe that better days beckon for the bauxite industry. Bauxite will continue to be produced here in this geographical belt, which in Guyana we call the Hilly Sand and Clay zone – a belt, which occupies about 14 per cent of our land space.
The people of Linden must recognise the challenges of continuity; similarly the challenges of change. The town and its citizens must begin to wean themselves off of excessive dependency on a single industry. I can tell you that your Government is committed to supporting the diversification of the economy of Linden to enable it, first and foremost, to become more of a human community and not just as a mining town.
Linden can become the industrial heartland of Guyana. We have seen the skill, the talent of Lindeners who have gone to neighbouring countries and have gone into the gold fields. Linden geographically is the navel of Guyana; it is the heartland of Guyana. It is part of that unfolding green revolution. It is in this regard that I see this arch as an arc of hope, a gateway to the future, an entrance to a new path, rather than an exit from an old enterprise.
This arch, first of all, pays homage – homage to the pioneering people who built this industry with pick and shovels. This arch is a promise to future generations- the lil pickney them who will inherit this earth, the people – creative students and graduates from our university and colleges who will introduce new technologies and new products. It is my hope that this arch will not only commemorate the centenary of bauxite but, in the words of the chairperson, “…become a beacon of hope” for all of us in this country.
Happy centenary and may God bless you all.
I thank you.