President David Granger: Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development, distinguished invitees, residents of New Amsterdam, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen.
I’m very happy to be part of the celebrations this afternoon and to have witnessed the emergence of a Mayor’s Club. I didn’t know about this Mayor’s Club, calling each other two and three o’ clock in the mornings but I am glad that it has emerged. It has emerged out of our decision to have Municipal Elections when they were due and it’s a promise that we made when we campaigning; it’s a promise we fulfilled, and you can almost feel the energy coming out now that people are free to elect their own municipal leaders and people are free. [Applause.]
Things will start moving at the level of the municipality for the first time in over two decades, because we have young men and women, that includes you Ms. Chase-Greene, who are committed, who are not satisfied with the way that their municipalities have been run, who are committed to transformation, and these Town Days are important because they help to make the citizens, the residents of the town, conscious of their uniqueness.
Each town is different, but each town can make a contribution to the region over which they hold sway, and in this regard Region Six is perhaps the most lucky of all because it has three towns, and I would urge you, Regional Chairman, to encourage the other town which has not yet had a town day – because I think Rose Hall has had its Town Day, Town Week – that this is a municipal obligation not to themselves, but to the people who elected them and through these town weeks we help to improve the quality of life in our respective municipalities, and I endorse your message. I endorse the message of all of the mayors who have spoken this afternoon.
Guyana is going to become a ‘green’ state. People will want to come home to Guyana; they wouldn’t run away to Liberty Avenue, to Brooklyn. They’ll want to stay here and build because their region is run by a pleasant place called New Amsterdam or Bartica or Linden or Georgetown, and we’d like to see this tradition spread into other regions, in Mabaruma, in Lethem and eventually in Mahdia. So I’m happy to be here and to hear the sound of young voices but don’t call me at three o’clock in the morning…
I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank the artistes, particularly this [COFONA Cultural Group]. Wouldn’t it be great if every town had a band? I could just see Carwin and Gifford writing, municipal band, must get one, must get one and the drummers, the singers. I’m always amazed and impressed when I hear the singers from the New Amsterdam Secondary School and it just shows you the cultural talent that is growing in our townships and these are some things to be encouraged so that our towns become pleasant places.
On weekends, Saturday nights, Sunday nights let us have concerts, let us have plays. The Mayor of New Amsterdam is going to show me his proposed boulevard. That is why on the first of October every year we have now launched National Tree Day so that we plant trees along our main streets, along the Strand, along Main Street, along our canals. We keep our canals clean to suppress mosquitoes and when you talk about mosquitoes, don’t go to Bartica and Linden…
This is a town that produced one of the most talented musicians ever in Guyanese history, Valerie Rodway, the most talented writer, Edgar Mittelholzer. This is a town of culture and what Mayor, Kirt Wynter, is doing is really exposing to the next generation and to visitors the historic beauty of New Amsterdam.
I used to belong to the Guyana Heritage Society and people would come here to see one of the buildings, unfortunately now torn down, and also the Town Hall and I am very grateful. I must say thank you very much for that painting and I hope that it is a token that will encourage the preservation of other buildings and other sites in this beautiful town.
So I think we are batting on a good wicket. As I told the Georgetown municipality when I visited them earlier this year, the elections will be held before December 2018. So the clock is ticking. I’m not encouraging you just to do things so you can be re-elected. I’m encouraging you to do things because they are right and they are good for your citizens and good for your towns and, as long as I am President, you will have Municipal Elections every three years. [Applause.]
Ladies and gentlemen, coming to New Amsterdam again is a pleasure. I was here since earlier today; I went to the Berbice High School Graduation Ceremony, a very important event, not part of town week but nevertheless an important event in the lives of Berbicians. It was coming after the centenary celebration of the life of that high school, one hundred years. So Berbice is a place of history, not only the great revolt but the town itself, and of course it’s great education tradition.
The town is celebrating its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary but as you’ve heard it is much older than a hundred and twenty-five years. It was founded in the time of the Dutch regime and we must try to recapture the history of New Amsterdam in little books so that your children could understand what a great capital this region has.
This year of course, Guyana celebrates its 50th Anniversary of Independence and we called this year in January the Year of Renaissance, which means the Year of Rebirth, and maybe it was the voice of prophecy because what I see in Bartica and Linden and Georgetown and New Amsterdam and Rose Hall too is the rebirth of civic consciousness; and one of the things that I was whispering to Mayor Winter is that you don’t have to try to run this town on your own.
If you go to Europe, if you go to Latin America, in every big town you see an alcalde and he’s always somebody who’s from business, who was capable of reaching out to business persons in that community, so that together, residents poor and rich, the government, the municipality would combine their efforts so that people would come to these places as visitors and as investors. So don’t try to do it on your own. Involve other persons, different political parties, from the business community, non-governmental organisations in a consensual, cooperative and collaborative way so that together you move the town forward. No point fighting them down, no point making life unhappy and unpleasant for you and the residents. Find ways of working together and you will see that your town and your residents will benefit.
As I said before I am pleased that the Mayors have adapted the mandate, adapted the mission and share the vision to make the municipalities ‘green’. This is not something that is optional; you can’t decide whether you have a dirty town or a clean town, whether you can have a desert town or a ‘green’ town. I think that the pace at which global warming is affecting the world will tell you what you have to do and what we have to do is protect our mangroves, protect our coastal zone.
What we have to do is protect our rivers, what we have to do is protect our swamps. Yes, protect the swamps. That’s where the Canje Pheasant comes from, a place called East Berbice- Corentyne. If you don’t care the swamp, that unique swamp life, that unique biodiversity in the wetlands will be damaged and we could very well lose our national bird from the Canje just as the manatees have disappeared.
One of these days you will hear from these very lips that the slaughter and export of wildlife will be banned. You ain’t hear it yet. [Applause.] So all [of you] who like manatee pepperpot and manatee souse eat, drink and be merry, because it wouldn’t last [for] much longer but we have to protect our environment, we have to protect our wildlife, our mountains, our rivers, we have to protect our biodiversity and in this way you’ll find that the trees that you plant are more valuable to us growing than dead, the animals are more valuable to us alive than dead because people will come from Ireland and Europe and elsewhere to see that same biodiversity, to get photographs of the Canje Pheasant and our manatees and our dolphins. Some of you [have] never seen dolphins. We have river dolphins. Some people thought they could export the river dolphins. All of that done. Done, done, done. [Applause.]
Ladies and gentlemen, today we are in East Berbice – Corentyne. We are the guests of the Mayor of New Amsterdam. This is a powerful region. I have said so repeatedly during this year. Region Six, East Berbice – Corentyne is the only region in the entire CARICOM which touches another CARICOM State. All of the islands do not have the economic benefit of touching another CARICOM State. There is a little creek that divides us called the Corentyne but we together, Guyana and Suriname, are bigger than Germany.
Guyana and Suriname have a bigger land area than Germany and my intention, like the intention of every mayor, is to solve problems, not to make problems, and I am working towards solving the problem, and that creek should unite us, not divide us; but you have much to gain by exporting your produce, your fish, your rice, your coconuts, to countries in the Caribbean who don’t have the capability, don’t have the resources, don’t have the expertise to produce as much of these commodities as we can produce. We can do much better.
I am saddened when people in East Berbice-Corentyne migrate. To what? To go sit down at Liberty Avenue and watch TV? We can all be rich: instead of selling plantain chips by the bridge we can package those plantain chips and export them. I am saddened when I go to supermarkets and see plantain chips from Guatemala when I know very well I can get tasty plantain chips from East Berbice. So let us use what we have.
Our cattle – we could be producing our own milk and our own yogurt. Our rice, our tourism – some of you have never gone upriver past De Velde where people smoke all sorts of strange things; but let us go all the way up the Corentyne. It’s our country, up to the Kutari; this is a long fine region. Let us develop eco tourist possibilities so people could look at the rivers, and our birds, our flora and fauna.
I want to see New Amsterdam as the economic driver of this region, a dynamo. You have the potential. You have the ability to attract investors. People want to know there’s a clean and stable city that is well administered, and their money will come. People want to know they can set up information technology centres, IT centres to wire this whole region, and they will come. People want to know that we have the infrastructure and they will come.
You have one of the best highways. Sometimes perhaps it’s too good. People think it’s a speedway, they think it’s the South Dakota circuit. One of the best river bridges; you have your own university campus; you have your own supreme court. You have all of the governance infrastructure. In fact, Berbice perhaps has more blessings than any other region outside of Region Four. Let us count our blessings and let us make New Amsterdam a powerful capital of this great region.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think that the Mayor you have here, Mr. Kirt Wynter, has clear vision, 20/20 eyesight. I don’t believe what the Regional Chairman said that he must go to the ophthalmological centre. Where is it, in Rose Hall? Port Mourant, but his eyesight is good, he can see clearly and I like his vision, I share his vision. I want to see towns, industries, coming out of the streets and out of the areas and he has a vision of creating an industrial park, so that people instead of wanting to migrate, fleeing to other countries, would come to these three towns in order to seek employment in order to produce goods.
So everything that I see happening in this region, everything I heard this afternoon – in fact this is like a congress of mayors – everything that I’ve heard has given me a great deal of pleasure. I’ve said in other places, and I would repeat, that for this country to move forward we have to understand that government takes place at different levels.
The most basic level is the municipal level, at the level of the neighbourhoods and at the level of the town council. That is why we were so keen on ensuring that democracy was restored at that lowest level, the grassroots level.
The next level is the regional level, where you have the RDC, and the region must work with the municipality and I am confident that in Region Six the Chairman of the RDC is prepared to work with the Mayor of the Municipality. And the RDCs must work with Central Government. Today I represent the Central Government. Mr Armogan represents the Regional Government and Mr Wynter represents the Local Government in this town of New Amsterdam and all three of us have to work together. We can’t pull apart. It gives me no pleasure for Region Six not to be developed. It cannot make Mr Armogan happy for New Amsterdam to be nasty and undeveloped. We all win when the three branches work together – central, regional and municipal. We all win.
So what we see happening now is the new energy emerging and I can only feel that out of that energy which I saw out of Gifford and out of Carwyn and out of Kirt, out of Patricia, out of all you young people, is that you see your towns as centres for investment. You see your towns as centres of innovation, always looking to get an advantage to bringing new business. You see your towns as centres of information and culture where people can come and enjoy themselves, cultural shows, museums, libraries, concerts, debates, dramatic productions.
Every Saturday night schoolchildren come here on this stage, put on dramatic productions. The town will become a hub of Guyanese culture once again. So being here makes me very happy because I am convinced that the decisions we made are the correct ones to allow the people of Guyana to elect their own municipal leaders, and that I will continue to give support to the municipalities. This morning, at another event, somebody said when they see me smile they expect to get some benefit. Well, I’m smiling tonight and I give you the benefit of all my love. [Laughter and applause.]
So thank you very much for inviting me and I look forward to building strong municipalities in every region of Guyana. Thank you and may God bless you, New Amsterdam.