President David Granger: Members of the Diplomatic Corps, past District Governors, Dunstan Barrow, Elvin, Assistant Governor Marcel, past presidents Juban and Johnny and Errol, executive members of the club, distinguished guests, rotarians, ladies and gentlemen and members of the media, first of all let me express my gratitude for being elected as a Paul Harris Fellow it’s an honour, and I was inducted earlier as a patron of the Club so let me thank you for both honours. I appreciate that very much.
Tonight, again I’m honoured to have been selected to deliver this talk which will outline some of my ideas, which I hope over the next four years will inspire the Rotary Club to continue the great work it has been doing in Guyana. As you know, this year Guyana celebrates its 50th Anniversary of Independence; in fact 104 days from now.
This is our jubilee celebration and it follows the Jewish tradition in which every 50 years – in fact that is what jubilee means – every 50 years there is a celebration of emancipation and restoration; so that is where the word comes from and that is what we are going to be doing this year; our 50th Anniversary.
Our nation unfortunately, sadly for those of us in my age group would remember that we were born broken and when we became independent on the 26th of May 1966 it was under a state of emergency. We had just emerged from a period known in our literature as the ‘disturbances’ and during that period 176 persons were killed, over 1000 were injured, over 15,000 were made homeless or became internal refugees and over 1,500 homes and other properties were burnt or destroyed – a very inauspicious start to our nationhood. At that time, as you know, even in 1966 British troops were still patrolling our countryside in their khaki uniforms and in fact between 1953 and 1966 about 18 British regiments came to Guyana to keep the peace. So it was a very disturbed period, a period of much misunderstanding and much disorder. But as if the disturbances were not enough, this nation witnessed the most intense and sustained wave of criminal violence since independence in the first decade of this millennium between 2000 and 2009 or thereabouts. This period is known as ‘the troubles’ and only God knows how many people were killed then; but most of them were killed as a result of the wave of criminal violence and perhaps more people were killed then than at any time since the 1823 revolt. It was a terrible period.
The scars of ‘the troubles’ are still visible. There are some places you can go and people still show you the bullet holes in their walls. People have become so conscious of the bloodbath of murders and other unnatural deaths that you know there’re monuments in Eve Leary not far from here, at Bartica and Buxton, monuments to the dead. As you know also, a group of legislators some years ago actually compiled a dossier entitled Dossier in Support of An Independent Legal Interrogation of Grave Human Rights Abuses in Guyana on State-sponsored Violence and Other Crimes.
So when you look at these events both immediately prior to independence and even in the first decade of this millennium; you can see there is a great need for greater understanding right here in Guyana, much less in the world at large. Our country cannot continue teetering interminably on the brink of catastrophe, staggering from crisis to crisis, slipping and sliding into violence every now and then. We need to exhibit common sense. We need to achieve a level of social cohesion which will bring an end to this senseless cycle of divisiveness.
The solution in my view, at least in part, is more effective representation and inclusiveness. That solution is provided for in our Constitution at Article. 13 which as you know very well like the Lord’s Prayer and I quote:
“…the principal objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organizations in the management and decision-making processes of the State with particular emphasis on those areas of decision making that directly affect their wellbeing.”
The Constitution therefore, explicitly provides and prescribes for an opportunity for civil society to participate in the management and decision-making processes of the State, and this is where Rotary comes in. Civil society, while pursuing its individual interests, generally works to ensure that its efforts are directed towards the broader objectives of society. Men and women like yourselves, who comprise civil society, are united in a covenant to serve others, to promote strong communities and to solve the problems that exist in the country; Guyana, a small state.
But there is too much inequality and poverty. There are too many uneducated persons and every year the ranks of the uneducated are being augmented by another 4,000 dropouts from our primary and secondary schools. There is too much unemployment, especially among the uneducated young; there are too many communities which are still regarded as unsafe – unsafe for old widows, unsafe for the very young. This does not mean that our communities are in a state of collapse. There is however, a need for change and it is in this regard that I address rotary this evening to work together to bring about this change. We need change if we are to avert another decline into the type of violence that I spoke about during ‘the disturbances’ and during ‘the troubles’.
There is, as you know, a plethora of social problems; alcoholism, drug abuse, there is homelessness, interpersonal violence, poverty, suicide and many other problems. They all pose a threat to the common good and they all demand urgent attention and action. These problems cannot be addressed by any single group, whether that group is the government or even non-governmental organisations like yours. These problems are national in scale and they require national responses. They require combinations between civil society and government to strengthen communities in which our people live.
For this reason as you know, we’ve emphasised the importance of communities and one of my first acts was to name a Ministry of Communities. We will emphasise the importance of security by enhancing community policing. We will enhance sanitation and development of the communities by establishing more community development councils. We will improve education by revisiting the idea and strengthening the community high schools, the common dominator is the Ministry of Communities, community policing, community development councils, community high schools.
It is the community that we see will be the recipient of the attention not only of government but hopefully of civil society. That’s where the action is. We’ve declared our intention also and we’ll fulfil our promise in another 35 days, five short weeks, to conduct Local Government Elections for the first time in 22 years. So that our village communities and our municipalities will once again be able to have freely elected councils after two nightmarish decades of imposed municipal despotism.
Ladies and gentlemen, communities are important. Communities give primacy to the needs of individuals, to the needs of families and to the needs of households. Communities recognise that residents are social beings and they seek therefore to harmonise the interests of individuals with the interest of society as a whole. Communities uphold the dignity of individuals, they guarantee their rights, and they advance their interests insofar as those interests do not collide with the rights of others. Communities and civil society share common concerns to eradicate social problems. They share a common desire to end what you heard me say before about the four horsemen of the Guyanese apocalypse, crime, disease (particularly zika), ignorance (particularly the ‘ignars’), and poverty.
Civil society understands the plight of the poor. When I say ‘ignars’ I don’t mean eliminate the ‘ignars’; I mean eliminate ignorance, so please don’t misquote me. I don’t want to eliminate anybody. Civil society understands the plight of the poor. Government and civil society can support each other instead of attempting to supplant each other, particularly at the level of communities; because it is there that the greatest need exists. The results of the General and Regional Elections of May 2015 I do not regard as a victory, I regard as an opportunity. For one group to win 207,000 votes and another group to win 202,000 votes is not a grand victory; it’s an opportunity to work together. And these results gave us on both sides of the divide, only the difference of a single seat, but that should not be an obstacle. As I said it should be an opportunity for us to collaborate and to understand that working together and not fighting each other is the formula for the future.
I therefore propose a social contract. A contract that will furnish the basis for the major sections of society, civil society, the government, the political opposition, trade unions and the private sector to come together to seek agreements on a broad national programme to move our country forward for the next 50 years. [Applause.] Such a contract, such a compact, such a covenant, call it what you will, could be the means of combining the talents of a wider constituency and of creating the conditions for social cooperation. Such a contract could create a broad consensus on the goals of national development. It could establish sustainable institutional architecture; it could create effective policy instruments for the achievement of our national objectives. Such a contract will allow government and civil society to combine their talents, their resources to become more focused and to exert a greater impact on society.
Civil society; all of you in this room, have the experience, you have the expertise, and you have the social capital to address these social problems. I just had one moment of despair when I saw Gus Lee is in the choir; I was just wondering if I could hand these responsibilities over to him but I was glad that he didn’t come on with a solo. [Laughter.]
But the covenant of which I speak will facilitate the pooling of resources so that we can better address the root causes of social problems rather than merely dealing with the symptoms. The covenant of which I speak will ensure the delivery of human services that are most efficient.
Guyana is a big country by Caribbean standards. We’re bigger than England and Scotland combined and we need to remove the inequalities between our coastland and our hinterland, between the educated and the uneducated, between the very rich and the very poor, and in this jubilee year we have the opportunity together to revitalise our communities, whether they’re in Achiwuib or Orealla, whether they’re in Kildonan or Paruima. Let us revitalise our communities to make them into thriving economic hubs, to make them into safer societies, cleaner and greener places; vibrant cultural social spaces.
Our administration will establish in accordance with CARICOM’s charter of civil society; written and promulgated several years ago for the Caribbean Community, and I quote from that charter, the charter provides for us to and I quote, “…establish a framework for genuine collaboration and consultation among social partners in order to reach common understandings.”
And that is the theme for tonight and this month, to reach common understandings on and support for the objectives, the contents and implementation of national economic and social programmes and their respective roles and responsibilities in good governance.
Rotary, this is my invitation to you, to recognise the injunctions of the CARICOM Charter of Civil Society, to recognize the injunctions of our own Constitution and work with the central government and other social partners to bring about change in the country, in this jubilee year. This is an opportune moment for us to promote the spirit of community development through partnerships between civil society and government. This partnership will allow us to solve our problems while at the same time promoting the common good.
I do believe that much that is wrong in our country has come about because of ignorance and because of a lack of understanding. I believe too that by and large we can all attain the good life, the life that we desire if we work together for the improvement of our communities and the promotion of the good life.
I thank you for this opportunity and may God bless the Rotary.
Thank you and good evening.

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