President David Granger: Honourable Volda Lawrence, Minister of Social Protection; Mr. Jermaine Figueira, Member of the National Assembly; Mr. Mortimer Mingo, Former Chairman of the Upper-Demerara Berbice Region 10; special invitees; members of the media. Let me start by apologising for coming a bit late, but this is my third event for the day. I started at 6:00am with my Party’s 59th Anniversary at Congress Place.
Unfortunately, the Party is not yet an elderly person, the Party is not entitled to old age pension but next year the Party will be sixty. And then I had to go to Cyril Potter College of Education where we handed over some laptops. You know in 2011, five years ago, I was in a place called Aranaputa in the Rupununi and I told the people of Aranaputa that when I become President, I will make sure that every teacher gets a laptop because the teachers have to know about Information and Communication Technology if they are to teach the children and I made that promise.
I gave one laptop to a teacher there. I went down south to Lethem. I gave one laptop and I went down further south to a place called Aishalton. The man that got slapped by the President’s guard – I gave him a laptop too. So I told the teachers, you don’t have to get a slap anymore to get a laptop. But we are serious about education, we want to make sure that our children and grandchildren get a better break than we got and this is the Government that is going to do that, and that is why I am late because I was at Cyril Potter College of Education.
Cyril Potter taught me at school. He was born in 1899, a hundred and seventeen years ago, but I had the benefit of learning from him. You hear that song “My Guyana Eldorado”? [It was] written by Cyril Potter after whom the Cyril Potter College of Education is named and I was very privileged to be taught by him, a great man… He wrote the words of the national anthem – same Cyril Potter; a person whom I regard as one of the most eminent Guyanese who ever lived and I always feel very humbled… A very modest man, he was about 6’5” but he was a very modest man- a real gentle giant.
So we have a lot to be thankful for, that a Guyanese could write those two beautiful songs: The National Anthem and the My Guyana Eldorado. There were other songs that he wrote, but when you look back so few people have come along to write national songs like Cyril Potter and Valerie Rodway – God bless them.
My brothers and sisters today I am glad that you have come down from the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region – Region # 10, particularly Linden, to see how these people in Georgetown live. But it is my mission; it is the mission of the coalition to ensure that people all over the country enjoy equal standards.
We don’t want to have rich regions and poor regions. We want to ensure that people all over Guyana could enjoy equal access to the benefits of the State and that is why when I went to your region – and those of you who were there would remember I said that it is the only region – the only region in Guyana that touches the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice Rivers.
No other region has that privilege to touch the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice Rivers – you all lucky bad and I think you got about three boats- school boats. How many boats you have, two or three? There is one in the Berbice River…. Three? …Three boats. And why you have three boats? Because I have been into those rivers; I have been to Malali, I have been to Calculi and I know the difficulties. I have been to Coomacka; you got bus … you got bicycles and I know the difficulties children have to get to school; that is why we launch that initiative. And last year, 15th July, when I became seventy years old, that is a promise I made to provide buses and bicycles and boats so that our children can get to school – and those were the lessons I learnt from you – that when children cannot get to school they stay home and they dropout and in this country we have four thousand dropouts from primary and secondary school. If they dropout they can’t learn, if they can’t learn they end up being illiterate – nobody wants to employ them and that is why we, our generation, must do everything possible to make sure that the next generation could have a better life than we enjoyed and that is the good thing about becoming an older person.
This day, as Minister Lawrence explained, is observed all around the world on the 1st October as International Day of Older Persons. This 1st October, Saturday, I declared to be a national day for trees – National Tree Day. So I was far away from here, a place called Iwokrama, planting breadfruit trees and this is what we have to do – we have to understand that Guyana is becoming a more ‘green’ country and I hope that you in Linden and Upper Demerara-Berbice Region [will be planting] trees on the 1st of October every year, or the first Saturday in October we observe as National Tree Day.
In Guyana we actually earn money from trees, not cutting down trees. We earn money because trees absorb carbon dioxide; we are the lungs of the earth, we help the earth to breathe and 85% of our country is still covered by trees and one day I hope that you all can go to Iwokrama. Again, as I pointed out to Brother Jermaine Figueira and Valarie Patterson – Region Ten, no other region in Guyana touches as many regions as Region Ten. To get to Region Nine you got to pass through Region Ten. Region Ten has borders with Region Six, Region Five and Region Four, you all are well connected – you all are like the navel; y’all connected to everything. But I would like you to help to make Guyana green and this is an important activity, a hobby for persons like you and me – people over fifty.
In the world today there are over seven hundred million persons over the age of sixty; seven hundred million and the way things are going by 2050 we are not going to be around then, but there will be over two billion persons over the age of sixty years.
So, as the Minister explained, in 1990 and starting from 1991 the United Nations declared the 1st October as the International Day of Older Persons – not elderly persons. This world only got two sorts of persons- younger and older and we’re older. We are not elderly. So we are committed to observing International Day of Older Persons by ensuring that your needs are met and that is why last year, when the Coalition went into office, we created a Ministry of Social Protection.
We changed the name from human services to social protection. I want you to know that somebody up there is protecting you. Somebody else because somebody protecting you already, right – to God be the glory. But you have a ministry on earth that is dedicated, that is committed to social protection and social protection has to be extended to the most vulnerable sections of our population – to older persons, to the younger persons, to poorer persons, to the persons who are physically challenged, to persons working in the mines and in dangerous occupations. That Ministry has a lot of work to do and fortunately we have a capable person who is doing that work- Comrade Volda Lawrence. [Applause.] She is a very encouraging and inspiring person and I am glad for this event today because you should not allow growing older to make you feel depressed, to make you feel endangered, to make you feel unwanted.
This is a time for second spring. [Applause.] Who could spring- spring! But this is a time when you really enjoy life, the children have grown up and gone away; you are at peace with the Lord – you can plant trees. You can indulge in a hobby. You can come down to Georgetown and look at the Parliament, look at the museums, look at the monuments, you can go for boat rides up these three beautiful rivers that pass through Region Ten – Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice. You can have excursions; you could wake up late and all.
So this is a good opportunity for you to enjoy what I call ‘quality of life’. No more hassle. You can now enjoy quality time, time with the grandchildren but not too long, you got to know when to go back home. You know they used to have a t-shirt, children used to have a t-shirt, “When the going gets tough I go to grandma.” Well, grandparents must get t-shirts, “When I want to get rest, go to mommy.” But International Day of Older Persons alerts us in the government to our responsibility to you, people who have served, people who have served in the government service, in the defence force, in the police force, in the civil service, in the mining industries – and that is why we are so lucky that after the Government changed in 1964 we had a gifted, visionary leader who thought about you; he thought about housing. He started a housing revolution to get people out of the squalor of shantytowns and shacks and the yards, but, most important, he initiated one of the finest social protection mechanisms we’ve had in the country- The National Insurance Scheme.
People laughed at it. Some people never even contributed and suddenly, after 1992, they get sick, and then they discover they didn’t have any contributions, but we had a Prime Minister who was thinking of you from the cradle to the grave. It is a small scheme; perhaps it is not as elaborate as we want it to be but where would we be without that scheme. Some people come in and see money in the scheme and they take it and push it here, there, and put the scheme in jeopardy.
Now we are trying to consolidate and build it back but we always had a concern for older persons and that is why last May, as Comrade Lawrence said, we created a Ministry. We called it Ministry for Social Protection so that you would know that you have protection. We don’t want you to live in poverty; we want to ensure that everyone can enjoy that quality of life.
This is the silver period of our life; silver, not gold. I don’t have golden hair; we have silver hair. Some people don’t have at all but it’s the silver period of our lives and it must be a time for a good life. When we can celebrate our contribution to society and when young people can learn to respect us and look up to us, learn from us – because they, too, although they don’t realise it, will become older persons. Some of them think they’re young forever but they must learn to respect the older persons because we are the repositories of experience and, very frequently, expertise.
Sometimes you know in the political life, you see some people spring up. When the sun gets hot they wither and die like Matthew. You read Matthew about the sower who went forth to sow his seed but we depend on the older, wiser persons who could stay the course. Where are they now? They come and one big hullabaloo. Shouting and screaming, but they do not possess that quality of service to the wider community. Sometimes people want to serve themselves and they tend to disparage older people. We don’t want to see old people following we, as if they’ll be young forever.
So ladies and gentlemen, we have a plan and that plan is based on ensuring that you live in happy households and we have to do more. We’re not a rich country. We inherited a lot of debts from the people who were there before. We wish we could have given you better but every year we have to bail out GuySuCo at ten billion dollars. You heard me right, billion dollars. It’s not a problem that was created within the last fifteen months but we are saddled with those debts.
There’re lots of unpaid bills all over – international organisations. Some people pretended [that] they were economic wizards, but in fact they were witches creating problems for us to clean up but we want to give you what we could afford to make sure that you live in happy households.
We want to ensure too that you have quality housing, and that is why when we were considering who would be put in charge of housing, we looked at Region One, Region Two, Region Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine and then we said, “Heh, somebody from Region Ten”. And when you look at Amelia’s Ward, when you look at Tucville, when you look at South Ruimveldt, you’d see the vision and genius of that man who set out to house the nation. And the same people who were laughing at him now trying to use every opportunity to grab as much as they could; and the third thing we want to assure you of is our concern about your health.
We know that the older you get the more you need medical attention. We know that there’s a time when you face challenges and that’s why I don’t want to talk too long because some people might get hungry and faint, especially when the sun get hot; so let me try to wind up; but your health is important to us, but people are living longer but we must make sure that we choose a lifestyle that would extend our lives. And we must take responsibility for our health, and I say this seriously because sometimes when people retire they get very careless with what they eat; and once you become inactive you start eating a lot of salty foods, sugary foods, oily foods. That is the danger.
I remember speaking to one person, offered them salad – “I don’t eat grass”. [Laughter.] But, you know, sometimes as soon as they get sick the doctor says stop drinking, stop smoking, stop eating pork and beef and start eating lil’ grass. If you want to cure your diabetes the first thing you have to do is control your diet. I’m not attacking anybody, mind you; and the second thing you have to do is start exercising.
So, if you want to have good health, don’t expect the hospital to make you healthy; it starts at home. Eat properly, avoid salty, sugary, oily, fatty foods, and try as far as possible to get exercise. Walk to church, go for walks, and I hope within the municipality of Linden we can create proper parks where the older persons could go and relax. We are creating a ‘green’ economy. That’s why Iwokrama is so important to me. That’s why National Tree Day is so important – not just to cool down the country but in order to preserve our biodiversity.
Ladies and gentlemen, you all live in a blessed country; the most blessed country in the whole Caribbean. [Applause.] Guyana and Suriname together – bigger than Germany, we big bad. Guyana alone has the biggest freshwater fish in the world- the arapaima; the biggest anteater, the biggest armadillo, the biggest anaconda, the water camoudi, the biggest rodent – the watrush, the biggest river otter, the biggest spider.
We have some of the biggest animals in the world and I would like you from the Upper Demerara- Berbice Region to be able to go into the Rupununi, into other areas, the protected areas, and see some of these animals. Relax, learn more about your country; enjoy life. Enjoy this beautiful country which God has given us but wait till they build the highway. Right? Because I think some of y’all might get shake up with that road to Mabura; but we’re working on it. We’re working – much less the road to go to Ituni and Kwakwani. All these things I’m aware of and I really would like to have enough time and enough money to deliver to you the sort of infrastructure that you need.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s good to see you. I’ve been to Linden so many times; I’ve had so many experiences at Linden. Linden is unforgettable. I know y’all look forward to seeing me, y’all always give me a warm welcome and I’ll keep on coming because I know that your hearts are in the right places.
May God bless you, Upper Demerara!
May God bless elder persons and may God bless Guyana.