President David Granger: Chairman of the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region; His Worship Mr. Carwyn Holland, Mayor of the municipality of Linden; dear Ms. Sandra Adams, Chairman of the PNCR Region; Mr. Klenzil Grenville, Chairman of the Linden Enterprise Network; Mr. Kevin DeYounge; Mr. Keiron Williams, the MC – I should have greeted you first, but having faith in God I greeted the pastor first, so I know the pecking order; Mr. Statham Payne, Coordinator, and Mr. Walter Glasgow.
I am very happy to be here. When I came here I had a warm welcome, but I noticed the temperature has gone down a bit so I can now say I have a cool welcome into Linden once again. I am always happy to be here and things are happening and I was very encouraged by the words of the Mayor and, of course, what everyone has said so far. I just feel that there is this upwelling of confidence in Linden and I believe this confidence will translate into production and economic growth. I feel that.
Once upon a time, just about two years ago before that date that was mentioned – the 11th of May, I was standing on the bank of the Berbice River at the Village of Kalkuni and I saw these slow moving barges, one filled with raw bauxite going north and the other one piled high with lumber, everything going north.
It looked like 1916 rather than 2015 because we’ve been doing the same thing for a hundred years; exporting raw bauxite, exporting raw gold and if we continue doing the same things that made us poor then we will remain poor. That is why I was so encouraged by the remarks of the speakers before me because we all recognise there is need for change. If we continue exporting raw wood, we’ll continue importing furniture. If we continue to export raw materials without moving forward to value added and to manufacturing we will remain poor, we will always be the victims of high prices. He who consumes, he who buys will always be at a disadvantage to he who produces and he who sells and that is a good lesson that we must learn. The seller invariably has the advantage over the buyer. So what I saw at Kalkuni, I’m sure you all have witnessed it, but to me it was a painful experience that all we could do is get involved in digging, cutting, and fetching.
After 50 years of independence, we still digging, cutting and fetching. The time has come to add value and to create new products. This region needs to unlock its potential, unleash its energy. It needs to combine its abundant natural resources with its human talent and financial capital. I am happy therefore, to be present here this afternoon, to have had the opportunity, to listen to the presentations and I want to applaud the collaboration that now exists between these two organisations, the Linden Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Linden Enterprise Network, the people who planned this trade and investment fair.
This is important for us; it emphasises the importance of partnership aimed at invigorating investment, in activating business and stimulating economic development. It encourages capital towns and Linden is the leader in these ‘town days’ and is now going to be the leader in capital town development.
We must not get accustomed to, and I’m not accusing anyone, to passive administration. We must adapt the model of positive economic development and I think you have a Chairman who understands this. His job is not to administer Upper Demerara and Berbice; his job is to develop this region and there’s a big difference between somebody who sees himself as an administrator (collect state funds and pay salaries) to somebody who promotes development.
And this fair too will exemplify the role which the public sector can play but, more important, what this emergent private sector can play and the collaboration between the two will help us to overcome the challenges which we face in this region.My brothers and sisters, there has to be change and if you are to become rich, we have to get away from this habit of just buying and of just working for other people and start to work for ourselves and our communities.
Linden is the capital town of the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region. This region, as you’ve heard me before, is over 17,000 square kilometres. It is three times the size of Trinidad and Tobago; it’s bigger than Jamaica as some one of the speakers said you could have been a country; if you were an island in the Caribbean you would have been a country bigger than Jamaica. I don’t see Usain Bolt, but still, with your resources, your size, I don’t think you should feel that you are underprivileged or disadvantaged. This region is strategically located. It occupies 12% of Guyana’s land space and as I have said, often in this very town – this is the only region which borders with seven other regions. This region straddles the three main rivers: Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice. When you show your children the National Coat of Arms say, Linden or the Upper Demerara Region is the only region that straddles all three rivers, true, true story and this is the way to the south. It’s like a human navel; if you want to go down … you have to pass the navel to go to Rupununi, to go to Brazil, to go to the rest of the continent.
So you’re right in claiming that Upper Demerara is the gateway region to the hinterland. This means that Upper Demerara must leverage its strategic location, it must boast, it must tell other people how important the region is to the rest of this country. They can get to Region Eight, they can get to Region Nine, they can get to Region Six through this region and in this way people will become attracted to the Upper Demerara in order to boost their own profits and your business development.
Linden could become an example of the role which capital towns can play in the development of the regions and that is why last year we created three new towns – Mabaruma, Bartica and Lethem – and that is why I’m proud when I go to new Amsterdam, (some of the older towns), I can see the Mayors coming together and they form their own club, the Mayor’s Club, because they learn from each other, they share ideas and they have a friendly rivalry to see which town will be the greenest town or which town will attract the most investment; and that sort of friendly rivalry and competition will make each one strive to be better than the next. But Linden cannot develop in isolation from the rest of this region – again I am repeating what the Chairman said – Linden is located in this huge region so let us look not only at the town itself, but also at the savannahs, at the rivers, at the forest because Linden can draw its strength from the resources of the whole region. You don’t have to depend only on what you see around you here; the whole region is administered by this capital. The prospects for the development of business, of commerce and industry in Linden are linked to the development of the rest of the region.
Linden will develop faster, its progress will take you further and it will become richer if it looks beyond the narrow boundaries of the town itself. With all due respect to his worship, we have to think regional and not only municipal. Linden must lead; it must show the entire region the way forward, the way towards becoming a significant commercial and industrial centre. It must leverage its status as a capital town and as a strategic location with its stocks not only of natural resources but also of human entrepreneurial resources.
This region has several advantages. I don’t regard it as a backward region. It is and can be one of the most progressive regions. It possesses its own aerodrome and I know the Chairman has an intention to develop that aerodrome to become a useful airport for people to come from overseas straight into the region. You don’t have to come from Eugene Correia, you don’t have to go to the Cheddi Jagan … It has its own banks, it has its courts, it has its fire and police station; it has other utilities and services.
The region is rich in agricultural lands; over and over again, as the Chairman explained a few minutes ago, people are interested in those savannahs. So many experiments have taken place, some have failed, but they have not failed because of the absence of arable lands – they failed for other administrative reasons but your agricultural lands can contribute to food security.
I’ve been in a region where the lands are slightly more arid than those in the Berbice, the savannahs, the intermediate savannahs, and people are producing rice there, exporting rice to Brazil, and producing tons of rice, watermelons, pak choi and bora coming out of the savannahs. So don’t feel that the savannahs are just there for the GDF to go on artillery training, they are there to produce food and this is one of the windows open to this region. Your forests produce timber, your flora, your waterways are habitats for wildlife and tourists are prepared to come to see that wildlife…
You have the potential for ecotourism. Guyana is becoming a ‘green’ state. When I speak of the ‘green’ state, I mean a state where 85% of the land space is still covered with forest. I speak of a country that is in the middle of the Guiana Shield. The Guiana Shield is as big as Greenland; the Guiana Shield is part of the lungs of the earth; it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits. In fact some of the industrialised countries are prepared to pay us what they call carbon credits because we actually absorb their carbon dioxide and I am glad to see that EverPure, although it is not being distributed as yet…is being disturbed? I got a bottle with a green cover but still, I baptise you Ever Pure, but we harbour so much of the freshwater reserves of the world. In fact, the world needs us. We have the resources that this world needs simply by being green. So do not ignore your ecotourism potential.
You know I was recently with the Prime Minster of a neighbouring country. I just mentioned the size of Region Ten in comparison of that country. I don’t want you to publish that country; people may feel that as Chairman of CARICOM I am being disparaging but I had to tell him that this country had 899 species of birds and I showed him the wall with a huge flock of scarlet ibises. So he is asking me which direction they’re flying in, from south to north or north to south. I said south to north. I said that’s how y’all get them.
As you know, this region has been the heartland of bauxite mining for a century but during that period you’ve produced some of the finest engineers, some of the finest electricians and geochemists and geologists, machinists and mechanics, surveyors, technicians and welders – a range of skilled persons. Many of them are still around; some of them are in Suriname. I remember a few years ago when OMAI was in operation, I said, what part of Amelia’s Ward is this? He said nah, this is not Amelia, this is OMAI. I can’t tell the difference. Everybody in OMAI seems to have come from Linden because they had been trained, because they were experts, they were technicians; they were concerned with mining and they just transferred their mining skills from bauxite, which at that time was facing challenges, to Omai, which at that time was on the rise.
In addition to that, Linden has an abundance of intellect and entrepreneurial talent. When I used to come to ‘town day’ or when I come to ‘town day’ I used to say you throw a brick in the air it will land on a PhD. I don’t know why Lindeners love PhDs like that. As soon as they go to Georgia they come back with a PhD but the point is these are intelligent people. These are people who not only possess intellectual capital, but some of them have some savings which could be invested back in their home town. They love their home town. I can tell you that. From New Jersey right down to Georgia, right down to Florida, they love Linden and once you create a safe and attractive environment, I am confident that they will come back and lead the entrepreneurial and economic development of this great region.
So the initiatives such as the Linden Enterprise Network are posters for the other capital towns. You’re right, if LEN succeeds well then as the pastor would say, ‘…to him who have more shall be added’; and when I go to New Amsterdam I say, what about NEN. Who’s NEN? I say the New Amsterdam Enterprise Network. When I go to Bartica I say what about BEN? I say come on, you all have a model here, where is the Bartica Enterprise Network? And I see that this model, once it succeeds, can bring young entrepreneurs into the world of business; so a lot depends on LEN’s success, a lot depends on you.
People look to you for leadership. So Linden must fulfil its mission as a capital town by becoming a commercial and services centre. You can not only lead the region, but you could lead other capital towns; and there are three major areas and I’d like to agree with the mayor and one important area is information technology. Information and information technology are the windows of business opportunities. Information is vital to ensuring some business decisions. If you want to know where the markets are to sell your water or to sell your sauce or to sell your pepper and let me tell you a secret, I know you all keep secrets in Linden, I wouldn’t announce this to the media, but I just announce it to my friends. Last year I went to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Barbados’s Independence and some of you may have seen a photograph of my wife sitting down next to Rihanna. Anybody saw that? When the food was served, the first thing Ms. Rihanna asked for was the pepper sauce. You know she didn’t come from California! First thing she asked for was pepper sauce, Guyanese pepper sauce. So do not feel that what was being said here is farfetched; so you must know not only to make pepper sauce and try to sell it but you must know the market. I’m not saying to take a picture of the lady now and say she got Guyanese pepper sauce now, an unpaid advertisement because now those people have some powerful lawyers, but what I’m saying is that you can get celebrities to promote your pepper sauce in the places where Lindeners live, in New Jersey and New York or in Florida. That’s how it’s done.
There is a certain island in the Caribbean; again as Chairman I can’t call names, but wherever those people travel they go to a shelf looking for jerk sauce. They don’t make fun with the jerk and we must get people accustomed to doing that – going to stores in the diaspora and asking for products that they are familiar with.
So to get that information out you have to master information technology not only to sell your product, but to find out what the market is demanding; and you’re quite right and I hope that as a start in this economic initiative that we are embarking on we pay attention first of all to information technology and Linden could very well become that hub, a vehicle. Information technology is a vehicle for accessing and communicating; not only for storing, not only for your video game but to find out what the markets need and you can direct your producers, your entrepreneurs, to sell their products in those markets.
When I was growing up you never see so much fish and chip shops and people can produce sweet potatoes. So when you go in there say “I don’t want white potato, I want cassava, I want sweet potato produced in Upper Demerara” because they have the sweetest sweet potato, some sweet, sweet potato, sweet, sweet. This country is very peculiar. You know where the products come from and when you drink a bottle of coconut water from certain countries, I cannot call the name, you say where this thing come from and you drink a bottle of coconut water from Guyana, from Pomeroon or something and you know the difference. So do not believe that your diaspora is not aware of the special qualities of your products but you must use information technology to identify those markets and to push your products into those markets and you have some very inventive journalists, people who are savvy with the social media who I am confident can help to put that technology in front so that the markets are aware of what you produce.
The second way I think we can advance this initiative that we are embarking on today is by attracting more investment. You need investment in order to trigger economic activity to create jobs, to generate wealth to reduce poverty. You need investment; that’s what the ‘I’ in your enterprise is about, and in this way we have to change our habits. You know when you have money in your pocket you must save, you must think of saving, putting up some of that money, not spend all you have so that when you’re ready to embark on a business you have a nest egg, you have money that you’ve been saving. People have to be encouraged to save rather than spend everything that they earn.
Sometimes you may not think you earn much but by simply getting in the habit of saving, and there’s a little secret. Let me tell you this: when you have a young child, when that child is born open a bank account for that child; even if you just put $2,000 dollars a year when that child is 18 and becomes a big woman or a big man and want go out there and vote, drive a car, own a gun, and do things that big people do, that child will be able to start with $30,000 or $40,000 just like that, just because the parent encouraged him or her to save. The best present you could give to your 18 year old is not the key to the door – is a bank account.
So think of that; so that is the start of this habit of investment that we must learn to save and we must learn to invest prudently and, as I said before, there are so many Lindeners in the eastern states of North America that I am very confident that once the investment climate is safe, once Linden is secure and the Upper Demerara is a secure region, they will come back and invest. You need the investments. Many of them have done well; many of them boast that they have done better in those countries than if they’d stayed here.
Nothing is wrong with that, but now as they get older and wiser and richer you must be able to attract them to come back and invest in this region which gave them their birth and gave them a start in life. And that is why I would like to refer to what, I think it was the Mayor who said, there must be a plan of action for regional development, certainly the Regional Chairman is aware of this much used expression, PARD – everything has to be planned for.
Agriculture and its markets and production, timber and its production into furniture for schools, uniforms for children, snacks for school children – all of these things can be planned for and you must have a plan of action to develop the region not the town alone, but the region; a plan which aims to add value to the region’s natural resources; a plan which includes manufacturing, which includes ecotourism and which includes renewable energy generation; and don’t feel that the only way to generate energy is by having a big powerful Wartsila Plant or a massive hydropower scheme.
As long as the river is moving, and almost all Guyanese rivers move from south to north, a few move from west to east but most move from south to north; the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice all start in the south; once it’s moving you can generate electricity. Once the sun is shining you can generate electricity. Like this watch I have here. All I have to do is look at it and its been working for three years. All I do is go in the sun; come up here in Linden because y’all sun particularly hot and the watch keeps on going because it is a solar watch. So let us use the sun, particularly in Berbice and the savannahs. You can have huge farms, not the little pooh pooh panel, you can have huge farms which provide electricity to schools, hospitals, clinics, restaurants, business places.
Use your rivers; as I said, this is the only region that straddles the three rivers of Guyana: Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice. Use wind. Growing up on the Corentyne a long time ago, the rich rice millers all had wind chargers. Those were the days of Stilly Lamps, Coleman, hurricane lamps, flambeau but the millers had wind turbines already. So when you drive down Corentyne road 1953, the brightest lights were the rice millers’ because they were using the cheapest form of power, but since then they’ve become addicted to gasoline, become gas-aholics; people who go in the bush now they want light they got to get a generator.
We must start using more solar, more wind, more water and these are the means of generating electricity, which will power our manufacturing which will help the lady at home to have a little sealing machine, or a little packaging machine or a little cassava mill and that is how we’ll start, in the cottage, in the little community, in the wards. And, the Minister of Business is here – you know we have a special affinity for micro enterprises, not only through LEN but we will explore other opportunities.
Last year we launched the SLED – a development for sustainable livelihood. One of the beneficiaries of SLED as you might have noticed made the headline news for reasons, which I didn’t intend and which SLED did not contemplate but anyhow she got the loan – I think you know what I’m talking about. And the third pillar on which this thrust will be based is infrastructure. Now this had been one of the traditional complaints from this entire region.
I would like one day to be able to get into a car, a motor car, not a tractor, a motor car in Kwakwani and drive all the way to Lethem. Drive across good highways, good bridges. It wouldn’t happen next week or next month but that is my objective. This great east-west corridor from Kwakwani in the east right through to Ituni, Linden, Mabura and Lethem, it must come. It must come and those communities particularly Kwakwani and Ituni are deprived of opportunities for development because of the poor infrastructure; and I have often asked in this very community what would have happened 45 or 50 years ago if we did not have a visionary who created that highway.
You would have still been coming up in the RH car, you know; you would have still be coming from Georgetown to Linden in the RH car; but you can see the difference that that man’s vision made to this country and we must have the same vision to give this region a highway that will take it eastwards to Kwakwani and westwards to Lethem.
My brothers and sisters, without that infrastructure many of your products would remain uncompetitive. Although I have been here and seen canter trucks coming from Parika and all over the country bringing bora and pak choi. I hope that that is coming to an end if it has not ended as yet, but it hasn’t stopped as yet? Well try nuh?
But you know you must have that vision of ensuring that infrastructure is created in order to be able to move your products from the farm to the market and sometimes you may need more efficient boats, you may need more efficient vehicles to take your products to the bigger markets in Guyana.
My brothers and sisters I am very happy to be here, I am very proud of the initiative that has been taken and I learnt a lot from the brief presentations and the shared energy and enthusiasm of the speakers. Everyone seemed determined to move the economic development of this great region forward. I often repeat a Bambara proverb and those of you who are savvy with the internet could go and check Bambara; they have a lot of proverbs from Bambara and my favourite is that ‘God gives nothing to those who keep their arms folded’. I know somebody like to praise, somebody like praise but God gives nothing to those who keep their arms folded.
You have to open your arms and work; that’s what the Bambara proverb means. You have to unfold your arms and I have witnessed that desire and intention to unfold your arms today. I see this not only the unfolding of the arms, but an unfolding of the mind – that people are breaking out from that old thinking that they must simply be buyers of other people’s goods; that they simply must be the takers of other people’s decisions. What I sense today is that people are making their own decisions; they’re decision makers, not decision takers here in Linden.
I see an unfolding of great possibilities and opportunities for this region. So allow me to close by congratulating the Chamber of Commerce and Development and the Linden Enterprise Network and the other agencies which sponsored this initiative today.
I hope it becomes annual and I’m glad that it was separated from other celebratory events so that people can focus on the seriousness of economic development. This is not a street party, comrades. This is not a street party; this is a declaration of the intention to put economic development as the top priority.
You can always tell a community from the way it makes its living. When you go through a community and you see trucks being filled, petrol stations, factories, colleges, is different from when you go through a village or a community and you see people drinking Guinness and other brown stuff. I’m not criticising. People have to relax but you can tell the difference in communities: one is committed to economic development and one is committed to entertainment development and today, what I felt is that the people who spoke with such sincerity are committed to the economic development of this great region.
I wish this fair all success and I really pray that God may bless Upper Demerara-Berbice Region.