President David Granger: Ministers of the Government; members of the National Assembly; Members of the Central Executive Committee of our party; Her Worship, the Mayor of Georgetown; Former Mayor, Mr. Hamilton Green; Members of the Board of Directors of the BEST; students of the BEST, welcome, members of the media and of course 75 per cent of the Victoria Regia Quartet.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you have been told today is a very significant day in the history of our party. It’s the ninety-fourth birth anniversary of our founder leader Forbes Burnham and we felt that it would be appropriate to open this learning centre today, an auspicious, day but one that is dedicated to the housing of three important agencies of our party.
The big question that is faced by every society in this world is where do ‘correct’ ideas come from? And as I have said before to our general council and our congress, correct ideas do not drop from the sky; correct ideas do not come from hunches; do not come from guesswork. Correct ideas grow out of historical experience and social action and for Forbes Burnham, those ideas grew out of his experiences, born 94 years ago, which none of us present here could imagine.
But they also grew out of social action and interaction with the people of this country and it is because of that combination of experience and interaction that he was such a great man. Only a few days ago I was at the Caribbean Community Heads of Government meeting- people speak of the ACP. Where did the ACP have its genesis? In the Georgetown Accord. Where did the Georgetown Accord have its genesis? At the corner of Vlissengen Road and Homestretch Avenue, in The Residence, that is where the Georgetown Accord was born. It didn’t drop from the sky; it came out of the experience, out of the brain of one man, out of social action.
Similarly, the Caribbean Community. The Caribbean Community celebrates its anniversary on the 4th of July. What happened on the 4th of July? Oh, it’s not American Independence Day; it was the day that Forbes Burnham landed at Seawell airport in Barbados in 1965 – a mere seven months after he got into office, he flew to Barbados, met Errol Barrow on the 4th July that is why CARICOM Day is celebrated on the 4th of July.
After that day they went to Antigua with Vere Bird and established the Dickenson Accord and CARIFTA was founded and from CARIFTA we got of course, the Caribbean Community – that is where ideas come from, that is where ideas come from and that is why the man was so great, such a visionary.
So ladies and gentlemen, today we come to bring together three agencies in this little building; a humble building but sometimes big ideas have small starts, small beginnings and Forbes Burnham had three ideas:
One is that everyone in this country, Guyana, should be treated as equal: Amerindian and Indian, African, Chinese, Portuguese, Europeans. Every Guyanese child should have equal access to this beautiful country, to the bounty of this country. That is what it was about; equality of access and that equality, he felt, could best be guaranteed through equality of education.
When we speak of equality of access to education we must realise that before he went into the government in December 1964 access to education was very unequal and we will come to that later. Rich people got access, but a lot of poor people did not have access and that lack of access contributed to the perpetuation of inequality in Guyanese society.
So education, he saw as the key to equality. He himself was not a rich man growing up there in Stanley Place. I remember reading the biography of a civil servant … who used to go to Forbes Burnham every Saturday morning to buy duck eggs. Forbes Burnham used to sell duck eggs for his mother and father.
When he went to Queen’s College he didn’t go on a scholarship. His father had to pay for him to go and after the first year Captain Nobbs- the principal of Queen’s College – sent him a note but before that note came, the mortgage company sent his father another note telling him that if he didn’t pay up the mortgage he would lose his house and Forbes Burnham’s father told him, “Boy is either the house, or you” and from that day Forbes Burnham started to study so hard that he started to win scholarships and by winning the scholarships he stayed in school, in Queen’s College because after the first year the principal sent that note to his father stating that he had been awarded the Percival Exhibition. Percival was the first principal of Queen’s College and thereafter, every year Burnham won scholarships till of course, he won the Guyana scholarship.
So he understood what it meant to gain access to education because without that access he would not have been the man he later became. And of course in Guyana today, without that education we would not be able to gain satisfactory employment and many people drop out of school and find out that at age 18 or 19 or 20 they cannot gain employment because they did not complete their education and that is a contributory factor, not the only factor; it is a contributory factor to the large number of persons who are unemployed today, particularly young persons. Comrade Alan Monroe could correct me, but when last I checked about 4,000 children were dropping out of primary and secondary school every year.
So, today ladies and gentlemen, this building has been opened to bring to life the ideas of Forbes Burnham, particularly with regard to education to give it an institutional framework so that we don’t just talk. We have a skeleton, a backbone, we have limbs so young people could come here and enjoy the benefit of those three institutions that our General Secretary spoke about.
First one and the queen of them all is the BEST and again here I would like to thank the pioneers of BEST who work and ask for no reward: Mr. Alan Munroe, Comrade Yvonne Harewood-Benn, Comrade Cheryl Sampson and Mr. Oscar Clarke. The BEST as you have heard has been able to award bursaries to 58 children.
I think right now BEST spends about $2 million per year in bursaries and once a child receives the award that child will be guaranteed another bursary the succeeding year as long as he or she brings her report to BEST and he or she pays attention to her studies and qualifies. So at the end of secondary school career an awardee should easily gain anything like a quarter million dollars in educational support and we will continue to provide that support for young Guyanese. [Applause.]
Enlarging the number of children who gain the awards and extending the length of their awards beyond secondary school into the University of Guyana. [Applause.]
So I would like to congratulate and to thank the trustees of the B.E.S.T who from the start took up the challenge and quietly, without fanfare, continued to do the work that helps to bring young people into and keep them in secondary school while other people are dropping out the ship of BEST continues to sail on.
The Forbes Burnham Research Institute under Comrade Jeffery Thomas is the second agency that will be housed here. We want scholars to understand Forbes Burnham; nobody tells students in the BEST, nobody tells scholars and students what to think. We want to give these students the opportunity to read Burnham in his own words.
Some people when they are analysing Forbes Burnham- go to The West On Trial because they’ve never seen; they’ve never read what Forbes Burnham actually wrote or heard what he said. In 1992 certain people attempted to erase his memory by destroying his photographs; destroying his printed works and his speeches, can you imagine that? Well, I’m going to preserve his speeches and his photographs and this research institute will help people to understand what he actually said and did. [Applause.]
We have collected over 60 speeches. Sixty books by Forbes Burnham and those books form the basis for the third agency that will be housed here – The Burnham Book Trust and we are going to reprint every single one of those … people ask for them now. What really does he mean by small man and real man? What really is the Sophia Declaration about?
But read his own words and you will understand better what the man was trying to do during his lifetime. We are not in the business of rewriting history. We are in the business of exposing factual history because you cannot imagine the amount of lies that are in circulation, mischievous accounts. Let me tell you a simple one, there is a saying that in 1953 when as a member of the PPP, in April the PPP went into office and there is something called ‘crisis week’ when Burnham demanded leader or nothing – and they put it in quotes as if the man said those words. So I asked the PPP man, I said, “In 1950 who was Chairman of the PPP?” He said, “Forbes Burnham”. I said, “Who was Vice Chairman?” He didn’t know. I said “Cheddi Jagan was the Vice Chairman”. He didn’t know that Cheddi Jagan was never leader of the PPP. He was the Vice Chairman of the PPP but if you read some other accounts they described him as leader. What happened is that in the election of 1947 Cheddi Jagan won a seat on the East Coast so by 1950 he was the only member of the PPP executive who had a seat. That is all.
Some people propose that since he was in the legislative council, as it was called then, he should be leader and a man, not Forbes Burnham, named Clinton Wong get up and say, “If the man is Chairman, why can’t he lead?” So you get this whole distortion of Burnham being power drunk, ‘leader or nothing’.
When of course all … Clinton Wong said is if the man is already Chairman, which is the highest officer in the party at that time, they didn’t have leader; the highest officer in the party – you read all of the accounts from 1950-51 you see Cheddi Jagan is the Vice Chairman of the PPP – I’m just saying this as an example of our history as being distorted because nobody actually goes to the original record to find out what occurred. So that is why we need to reprint those books; that is why we need the research institute, not to publish falsehoods but so researchers could find out what the truth actually was.
Ladies and gentlemen, in December 1964 at the age of 41 years, a little younger than I am now; well not a little, Forbes Burnham became premier of this country. He inherited a broken education system from the PPP, anybody who is my age would know. You see children packed like sardines with slate and pencil and some of you don’t even know what [are] slate and pencil. These were crowded, hot schools, many of them built by churches; poorly ventilated, poor toilets, very little space and this was the situation of the primary schools. There was no nursery school system in 1964. There was not a single secondary school in the entire hinterland. There was no university campus, in fact, 52 years ago in 1965, I left Sixth Form in QC in 1964; in 1965 I went in the same classroom to start UG.
The people in power in 1963 wanted to use the Police Training School as the campus – that was the vision to use the Police Training School in Eve Leary as the UG campus. When you see Rupert Roopnaraine ask him how many Guyana scholars they had the year he won the Guyana Scholarship. Uno! Uno, and then Forbes Burnham came along; he built those six multilateral schools – Anna Regina, New Amsterdam, Bladen Hall, Bygeval, North Georgetown, and Wismar. The first time I stepped into a multilateral school, I say, “Oh lawd, well produce a nation of geniuses!”
That school had everything; those multilateral schools have everything, mek yuh eye run water. The first hinterland secondary school was built at St Ignatius. The UG campus at Turkeyen was built by Forbes Burnham and in one of these photographs (I don’t know if it’s here) but you’ll see him in the tractor because it was just an open sugar plantation in 1966 when he took it over. He built that campus. The New Amsterdam Technical Institute, the Cyril Potter College of Education, all these things came out of the brain of this man. People criticise him but they don’t calculate what he did for education in this [country].
Imagine UG without a campus. Imagine training teachers without Cyril Potter. Imagine technical institute without New Amsterdam Technical Institute. These are the sum of achievements – imagine hinterland secondary education. So this is a man who cared and moved education forward in this country.
He didn’t see education as a privilege, he saw it as an entitlement and he moved years later, not only to increase to number of free places in the so called top secondary schools, but also to increase the number of hinterland scholarships and of course provide as far as our resources permitted, free education. And many people you see around today, some people were civil servants, Class Two Clerks, doomed to a life of semi-poverty were able to go to the University of Guyana and get free education including present company, but the point I’m making, without opening the door, some people could not afford and would never have gotten tertiary education in this country.
We started to produce our own schoolbooks and the intention was to make textbooks free. It was then that the Teaching Service Commission was established in order to regulate the standards within that great profession. Anything you want to know about education had its origin, had its genesis in Forbes Burnham’s first decade as Prime Minister of this country. [Applause.]
Teacher training, university education, nursery education, Teaching Service Commission, hinterland education, anything had its genesis there. People have come on afterwards and added to it but the idea, the ability of that man to see an educated nation is what propelled this country out of the backwardness of the 1960s and made it one of the most educated and highly competitive countries in the Caribbean.
So the establishment of this learning centre which will embody those three agencies: the BEST, the BBT and the FBRI is not an error; it is not grandstanding; it is the fulfilment of the fundamental philosophy of our founder and it is what will move Guyana forward. Yes, nobody will doubt that during the 1970s we had some very serious financial setbacks as a result of the oil shocks but we will deal with oil shocks. We have found a cure. [Laughter.]
We have found a remedy for the oil shocks. [Applause.]
It took a little time but that is the last shock you will get. The point I’m making is that you all recognise that the economy suffered terribly because of the sudden and drastic increase in prices of petroleum and we were not able to provide the level of financing that some of those educational initiatives needed.
Other persons, other countries, other jurisdictions attempted to do the same thing and once the economy suffered they were not able to maintain the tempo; but Guyana was a shining light in terms of bringing education to the masses and we must not put that light out, but we must give to children the same hope now in 2017 and the years to come that we had in 1964 when we turned that corner on the backwardness of the previous administration.
Ladies and gentlemen, this learning centre is being opened to provide a public good. It is not a political party campaign office. As our resources permit, all three agencies will be open to a wider range of Guyanese citizens. Right now we want to ensure that the students of BEST have computers with which to work, to come and do their homework in a safe environment. My wife and I have embarked on a programme which will be supportive of BEST’s efforts. As you know it’s called the ‘Five Bs’ programme. The ministry has provided boats in the Pomeroon River; almost every major river now has boat. The department of buses has provided about 13 buses I think.
Just calculate how many millions of dollars are being saved by households by not having to pay for buses and boats or by having their children ride bicycles to school every day. Millions of dollars are going back into households because of our party’s approach to education and it will continue because we want to see every child in school, every single child in school. [Applause.]
So if you want to know what takes place in B.E.S.T – go ask the awardees. We don’t subject them to propaganda, we don’t tell them lies and falsehoods. They are free to pursue their studies but we want to support their freedom to gain a good education.
In the years to come I would like to see not necessarily the CLC but a similar learning centre in every town in this country. In Mabaruma, in Mahdia, in Lethem, in Linden, in New Amsterdam, Anna Regina, children must have a place of refuge where they can come on Saturday mornings, do research, relax, hang out with their friends and advance their secondary education.
The CLC is not a substitute; the BEST is not a substitute; it’s a supplement to the educational system and the vision behind the establishment of these three agencies has come from the mission of Forbes Burnham to provide a good life to all Guyanese… With these few remarks I’d like to extend my thanks and congratulations to the officers and officials who run these three agencies: Jeffery Thomas who runs the research institute, Mark Archer who runs the Book Trust and to Allan, Yvonne, Cheryl and Oscar who run the B.E.S.T.
I’d like to thank you, congratulate you and wish that this learning centre continues to advance the cause of Guyanese children.