President David Granger: I would like to respond to the matters that you’ve raised and after I’ve finished you can add any other comments you want to make. First of all I decided to come here, I’d received a letter from Mr. [Mark] Archibald and I had intended for him and other members of the network to come to Georgetown but as the saying goes “if Mohammed don’t come to the mountain, the mountain gotta come to Mohammed.”
So I’ve decided to come here to save you the trouble of coming to Georgetown so I can come and meet you face to face, which is an indication of how serious I regard this request and [your importance] to the Government and the importance of your comfort and wellbeing. So I’m glad to be here and I’m glad to hear your complaints, your requests. This is not an opportunity for confrontation, it is an opportunity for consultation so that we can work together to resolve these issues.
First of all let me tell you what my Government believes in: my government believes in equality, that every Guyanese citizen, whether that person is living in Aranaputa, or Mabaruma or ‘C’ Field or Rose Hall, every person must be treated as equal and every person must have access to the public services of this country. So the first point is one of equality – that if you have lost your sight or you have lost your mobility, it doesn’t mean that you become less equal.
You remain an equal citizen; you remain with the same rights as any other person in Guyana, wherever you live, whatever your abilities are, but because we believe in equality of opportunity it means that we must give you the resources to enable you to get access to those benefits that other people enjoy and one of those benefits of course, is the benefit of education but in this case we need to consider what I would call special education for persons who have different abilities.
The saying goes that all men are created equal, all women are created equal but at the same time I think there is a better saying that all people should be given equal opportunity. This means that if it is challenging for you to attend a normal nursery and primary or secondary school you must make special arrangements and this is something that we must not ignore, that your education should not be left behind simply because of disability; and again I’ll come back to this because you have a commission which should be making recommendations for providing better access not only physically in terms of ramps and rails and seating and toilets and so on but also the point that is made is that disabilities are not the same. People may have disability in hearing; they may have disability in speaking, disability in moving, so there is not just one size fits all; we have to look at the individual disabilities if we are to ensure that people get access to the good things that the government has to offer; so special education is the number two on my list.
The third thing is that you need to get special equipment. Now for one, you’ve heard over and over again that Guyana is becoming a ‘green’ state. What this means is that we must adopt renewable sources of energy. We cannot provide everybody with gasoline and kerosene and dieseline but the sun is out there shining and that sun could generate electricity.
The wind is out there blowing day and night and that wind could generate electricity by turning turbines. There are other ways of generating electricity but let us look at those two and let us try to equip the homes and the buildings that are used by persons with disabilities with some form of renewable energy so that it can make their lives easier.
I’m not making a promise now; all I’m saying is that these are considerations which we have to make next month, next year in the future. I didn’t bring a bagful of goodies like Santa Claus but I am trying to understand what your needs are and trying to satisfy those needs. In addition to that we need special tools.
When I look at equipment it’s not just equipment for generating power. Obviously you’d need special tools or machines if you are to do the third thing, which is of course getting involved in a form of employment so that you don’t have to ask people for help, that you can generate your own income. Nobody likes to beg, nobody likes to live on the donations or the, what you call the largesse of other people, sympathy and charity; people would like to be self-reliant. Now there are so many things you can do if you had the training and if you had the equipment.
There are many things you could do in the home and only the day before yesterday I was in the town of Linden and it was a marvel at the variety of commodities that are being produced in households in that town. Jams, jellies, guava cheese, honey, pepper sauce, a variety of foodstuff including some breadfruit chips but they put some cheese on the breadfruit chips. I’m not a cheese lover. Breadfruit chips, cassava chips, sweet potato chips. So I don’t believe that there are many areas of employment which should be closed to you but to access that employment you need the equipment, you would need the energy and of course once you put the energy together with your and equipment together with your enthusiasm, your expertise, you can have products which can go to the market. So let me leave it at that point for now and we believe in equality, we believe in employment for all and we believe in special education and we believe in providing that equipment which will enable you to make your living without depending on favours, without depending on charity.
Now, the previous administration has made some commitments and I don’t believe in breaking promises. If the Government – I represent the Government of Guyana and on the 16th of May, 2016 I said I am President for all Guyana, not President for able and not for disabled, not President for tall people and not for short people – I said I am President for all Guyana and if a commitment was made by one administration I will do my best to honour that commitment.
Now, you say there is land available and let us see how it will be possible; as you know this Government like any household operates on something called a budget. If, for example, in your house you have a budget of $50,000 and you know you have to spend so much for food, so much for clothing, so much for transportation, nobody can’t come at the end of the month and say look, I need $48,000; you’d say look the money done spend. So I must tell you quite frankly that for the financial year 2017, the money has already been allocated.
So what I will ask that the Government do will be for the next annual budget and as you know this Budget was presented since November 2016 so we’re now presenting the Budget in the year before the Budget is to come into force. So in July we are going to start planning for the Budget for 2018.
So I will ask that the Ministry of Social Protection and the National Commission for Persons with Disability would examine this request for a building not only for the Mahaica-Berbice Region but for every region. So we have a national network because there are persons with challenges in other regions too, and we should try to make sure that we make the maximum use of our resources so that if we’re speaking to some international donor that equipment and funds will be provided across the board; not just for the Barima-Waini Region or not just for Rupununi Region but for all of the Regions.
I will start the work now, I will find out if any money is being made available for that building which was promised and I will ask that some feedback be provided either through your MP or Regional MP, Ms. Jennifer Wade, who is here at my right hand and she is writing furiously even though I prevented her from going to church today. You can imagine? No greater faith hath man than this than to stay away from church in order to be with citizens with disability. Thank you, Jenny, but she will have to follow this up with Minister Amna Ally who is responsible for social protection and with the National Commission.
Now, again let me go through some of these points, one by one:
I understand the need for building and that building has to be equipped with ramps, it has to be equipped with rails and it has to be equipped with special facilities so that when people want to go to the washroom or when people want to access the building they don’t end up with difficulties.
Sometimes even in towns you see a pedestrian crossing and you don’t know how a person in a wheelchair will get over this crossing because there is some pavement and the pavement doesn’t have a ramp on one side and when you go to the other side there is another problem and then they have some drivers there who believe they are on the South Dakota Racing Circuit and they see the white cane and they see you moving across and you or he, you don’t know who gon’ reach first or who gone reach alive, but usually I can tell you this I have never seen a car in a coffin. I have never seen a car in a coffin, so pedestrians would suffer.
So I understand the problem about buildings, I understand the problems about marking streets so that people with motorbikes or motor cars and minibuses would pay better attention to you and your needs; the buildings would be made more secure, better lit, better ventilated so that you can do your work and have your meetings in comfort.
As far as the transportation is concerned, you need a special type of transport in order to access the bus in your wheelchairs or if you have some disabilities so it’s not an ordinary bus we’re looking at. As I said, it is likely that there wouldn’t be any money for that financial subvention but let us see if we can get the bus so that you can get the transport. It’s not the money you need; it’s the transport you need. The money is just to get the transport but let’s follow this one up too.
Now the information technology training. Again, I am very sorry that you have been told or you’ve been given information which suggests it is not possible. What Mr. McWilfred told you is quite correct. The Government’s policy is one laptop per teacher and the laptops have gone to teachers. I made it clear that I could not support the One Laptop Per Family Programme because it is the young children in schools who need to be trained and need to be educated in information technology first.
Not that I’m against One Laptop Per Family but when you have limited amount of resources you have to decide who gets what when and how, but right now the priority is on teachers and we have some major problems in education. A lot of children are failing at the level of National Grade Six [Assessment]. A lot of them are failing in Mathematics; if we are not to arrive at a country with a lot of uneducated people we have to make sure that the teachers get laptops so they can teach the children and we can improve the quality of education.
So let me investigate this one again. The computers that are not controlled by the Minister of State or by the Ministry of the Presidency; they are controlled by the Ministry of Public Telecommunications but let us investigate this with Minister Catherine Hughes and see what could be made available for this network and other networks; but I agree with the idea that at whatever centre you have here at the Carmichael Centre, here in ‘C’ Field or any other training centre where persons with disabilities meet, there should be provision for information technology training and of course access.
In my own way, in the party to which I belong last month we opened our first community learning centre and I believe that every community, every neighbourhood should have a learning centre so that children can go, young children and schools can go there Saturday and hang out with friends but at the same time get access to the internet to do their homework, do their research and have some entertainment.
So I have helped from my own limited resources other communities to set up science laboratories, information technology laboratories. I believe in what is called S.T.E.M- Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and I will explore whether at this learning centre here, this building here at ‘C’ Field, we could provide some internet access. So again I’ll ask the MP and even the REO who I see here, I know the chairman is probably very busy but I’ll ask the REO also. I’m sure he’s taking notes because he could remember many things. He doesn’t seem to be writing but he has a long memory- me too.
Now, you have a hospital at Fort Wellington. Again you mentioned your special needs and we will see whether those needs could be met from within the existing medical system. As you know we have some challenges in the medical system, we have a very hardworking overburdened Public Health Ministry and I would not like to add to that burden by asking them to provide special medical staff or medical attention.
The first aid kit is no problem. Every home should have one to deal with emergencies but the first aid might not be enough and again I have to examine whether, REO can you say whether there is an ambulance in the region? Working ambulance! So it means that people hopefully can be taken to the hospital quickly and if the hospital cannot deal with that it can go to another referral hospital; but let us look to see what resources or what equipment could be provided close at hand in ‘C’ Field or to some other place to which persons with disabilities would have access. Again I’ll have to investigate this non-working vehicle; what do you call it? The vendor’s motor cycle. I’ll have to find out what has been the holdup. You say it hasn’t worked for over three months? Never worked … I’ll find out why it never worked.