President David Granger: Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection; Honourable Dominic Gaskin, Minister of Business; Mr. Devanand Ramdatt, Chairman of the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region; Mr. Rupert Hopkinson, Regional Executive Officer; Mr. Deleep Singh, President of the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce; Mr. Isahakh Bashir, senior statesman- patriarch of Region Two; exhibitors; special invitees; artistes.
It is a joy to be here again in Region Two and it is a joy to participate in this series of trade fairs in the various regions. I already attended one in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region. I already attended one in Region Ten; tonight I’m at Region Two and next week I’ll be at Region Five. This is a good practice that every single region should adopt the theme that the regions are ready to do business. So congratulations Region Two and I see that in a few minutes I will be walking around looking at the various exhibits and the booths and I’m sure you will compare favourably with what I saw two weeks ago at Linden- Region Ten and at Region number Six.
Pomeroon-Supenaam, of course, is a special region; it’s a big region- it’s bigger than Trinidad and Tobago. If you put all the Caribbean and some Leeward Islands together – Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica Grenada, Saint Kitts – Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – all of them would fit in Region Two. So you are a big region and as we pointed out earlier this evening you are one of the most productive regions in the country in terms of agriculture. Region Two has been punching above its weight; Region Two’s output of coconuts and fish; of rice; of timber put it as one of the leading agricultural regions in Guyana. Last year, Region Two produced 85,000 metric tonnes of rice, 810 metric tonnes of fish and shrimp, 270 000 metric tonnes of agricultural produce and 44.4 million coconuts, so Region Two is not poor; Region Two has potential.
This region in 2016 accounted for 16% of total rice production in Guyana, 48% of coconut production in Guyana, 14% of fish production; so you see there is a lot that we can build upon in Region Two. The region contributes immensely to Guyana’s food security. Your economic activities generate wealth; they create jobs.
The region has tremendous potential for further development. You have the land, as I pointed out, more land than Trinidad and Tobago; you have the experience; you have been producing rice for generations and you have the expertise in agriculture. This region is the country’s food bowl and I’m sure that with added production you can feed Guyana and feed the Eastern Caribbean as well. You all know about the industry of your people. You all know about the intelligence of your students.
Many students who qualify at National Grade Six don’t even worry to go to Georgetown to go to the other schools; they stay right here in Anna Regina to do their CXC (Caribbean Examination Council) and to do their CAPE [Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination]. So we are quite aware of the potential and talent of your population. We are quite aware too that your region is facing some challenges, but we have to work together to overcome those challenges. One of the challenges, as was mentioned before, is the challenge of political collaboration. Another challenge is the challenge of social cohesion. These are not challenges which we cannot overcome if we work together.
You have a challenge of geographical differences- the Pomeroon is different from what we have here on the coast and the coast is different from the lake lands where your nine Amerindian communities reside. So here in Region Two, we have to find a way to work together to unleash this potential that the region has so that we don’t separate ourselves in little cubicles; so that we don’t divide our labours in ways which do not bring about the best result for this region; we have to find a way to collaborate; we have to find a way to cooperate with each other.
The central government, which I represent and which is represented by Minister Gaskin and Minister Ally here this evening; the regional administration, which is represented by Chairman Ramdatt and Regional Executive Officer Hopkinson; and the Anna Regina Town Council which is represented by your Mayor and your stakeholders and the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce as well.
Citizens of Anna Regina have to develop the means, have to develop the will to work together for this region. In particular, Anna Regina has a role to play; it is a capital town. Last year we created more capital towns- we created Mabaruma as a capital town; we created Bartica as a capital town; we created Lethem as a capital town, but Anna Regina is a capital town of older vintage. It is the administrative centre of this large region; a quarter of your population of 46,000 lives right here in Anna Regina.
You have the responsibility for delivering certain public services to the people of this region: public health through your hospitals, public infrastructure, public transportation, public education, public security, and social protection; these are the responsibilities that we expect in a town like Anna Regina which is the capital town of this region. Anna Regina is also the region’s central business district; the centre of commerce.
Most of your government offices are located in Anna Regina. You have banks; you have entertainment places, hotels, markets, post office, police station, rice mills, shops, sports facilities. So what we see here in Anna Regina is a hub but it should not be a hub attracting poor people; it should be a hub of prosperity; it should be a hub of social cohesion so people from the river; people from the lakes and people from the indigenous community can come out here to do business.
But government, as I pointed out, operates at three levels and all three levels must work together; central government cannot run the country on its own – it needs regional administration. The regional administration cannot run this region on its own – it needs municipalities like Anna Regina and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils. It needs Amerindian Village Councils, but all three levels must work together: municipality must work with region; regions must work with central government if you are to get the best out of Pomeroon-Supenaam.
Moreover, as your Chairman has pointed out, as the Minister of Business has pointed out, the economy of this region cannot be tied eternally to producing raw materials. This country cannot be tied eternally to producing raw materials.
At the national level, we face challenges with raw sugar, raw bauxite, raw timber, raw gold. Unless you start adding value; unless you start refining, unless you start manufacturing, we will not be able to overcome the problems of poverty and we will not be able to make that breakthrough into prosperity.
The Minister of Business has pointed out already that we have to add value; we have to diversify and how will we do that? Let us work together, central government and regional government; regional government and municipality. Let us work together to build a more resilient economy right here in Region Two.
Let us develop a regional action plan that all of us can buy into that plan and make Pomeroon- Supenaam rich. First of all, let us build strong institutions; let us help the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce; let us help civil society to be strong and to represent the interest of their members and their various constituencies.
Let civil society and Government produce this plan so that we can all bind with so that year by year, we see greater production coming out of Region Two. The Central Government is prepared as always to work with the region and the municipalities. So the first pillar of this plan must be the institutions. The second pillar must be investment. There must be fresh investment; new investment in Region Two.
It can only come from making sure that this Region is safe and secure, for making sure that this region produces enough commodities to attract people in the diaspora; to attract people from other countries to come in here and invest. We cannot chase away our investors if they are French or Americans or Chinese; we have to attract them to bring their money so that they can promote manufacturing and value added.
In this regard, the Ministry of Business is committed to developing enterprise from grassroots level; from cottage industries, so we could use micro-businesses; micro-financing and small businesses to promote the economy of this region and he mentioned several ways in which this could be done. Even within households, you can start producing your pepper sauce and your guava cheese and these commodities could be exported just as we export coconut oil and coconut water to the Caribbean.
Small industries become big industries, so let us make a start. The region can also start to generate its own electricity. You don’t need a generator humming in the background. You have a long coast and that coast, as you can see, can generate wind power. I grew up on the Corentyne and many of the rice millers on the Corentyne, long time ago when I was young, had wind chargers. The sun is free; you can have sunlight, generating solar power; so do not feel you have to be addicted to gasoline, even though a lot of people look forward to Guyana producing its own petroleum.
Let us export that petroleum and get money to develop our infrastructure. In the meantime, let us walk on two legs; we could be producing our own energy from the wind, which is so abundant in Region Two and the sunlight, which is so abundant throughout our country, and that electricity can power machines, can run banks, can run lights, can run schools so that we can start our manufacturing in a serious way without gasoline and without dieseline. The Minister of Business has mentioned already- every fruit that you produce here could be processed into jams and jellies and juices; your coconuts could be processed.
The third pillar on which we build this plan is – Minister of Business and Regional Chairman, President of the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce – the third pillar is the pillar of infrastructure. This region cannot be developed fully and quickly unless we improve infrastructure. If you want to go to the resorts you have to have good roads.
If you want to go up the rivers and creeks you have to have good boats and bridges and infrastructure; if it’s not properly developed, will continue to obstruct the growth of this region. I told my colleagues this afternoon that one of the reasons my wife and I started the ‘Three Bs’ programme of ‘Boats, Buses and Bicycles’ came from a visit that I made to this same region, Region Two. I met people in the Pomeroon River who were not sending their children to school at Charity because they couldn’t afford the boat fare and I came back here in Region Two to present my first boat to the people of the Pomeroon River. You made me do it Region Two, but what I am saying is that this region could only be developed if there are more boats and there are more facilities on that Pomeroon River to help farmers to get their produce to market; if there are better roads and bridges on the coast to help people to access your potential tourism resort.
And the fourth pillar of this plan that I want to leave with you is the pillar of information and communications technology. No business could do without ICT. You have to know what the market demands, you have to know what your competitors and your rivals are producing; you have to know where to get the best raw materials and materials for producing your commodities. Without the Internet, you are operating blind; you will be producing commodities to discover that other people are producing them in greater quantities more cheaply. The internet will help you to get information and will help you to disseminate information about your own products. So that people will learn about you coconut water and your coconut oil and your rice crispies and your jams and jellies by advertising these commodities on the Internet. The Internet is not just about Facebook and chat and gossip; it’s about economic development and about sales.
So ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Chairman, Honourable Ministers, I feel very happy and very proud being at this Expo tonight because I see great potential in this region, a region that is bigger than Trinidad and Tobago, and as far as I am concerned a region that could become richer than Trinidad and Tobago if you make use of your economic potential particularly your capability to produce agricultural goods.
I have great faith in Region Two. So I am very proud to be here at this Agro and Trade Exposition. I don’t know who invented that acronym Essequibo Agro and Trade, EAT, but it sounds good to me. You are making a national statement; you are making a statement to the other regions about your capability and your productivity.
I urge this region to follow up on this exposition. It is not a one-off event but it should be a showcase of your production and your productivity. It should show the rest of Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean what you are capable of doing.
I hope that in years to come as I keep coming back here to this expo I will see investors from the Caribbean. People who come to invest in your agriculture buy your commodities. I will see improved infrastructure so people can drive more easily into your tourist resorts. I can get easier access to the Internet. I always tell people about the example of Karawab; some people told me in Karawab they have to climb a coconut tree to get an Internet connection. So I told the people from Karawab when they buy a cell phone, buy a coconut tree too, so that they can get Internet connection but I hope that wouldn’t happen after this; but I would like to come back to the theme that the Chairman referred to himself and that is that the productivity of this great region would be enhanced if those three levels of government could come together: central government, regional government and municipal government.
It would also be enhanced if we can bring our geographical zones together; our social groups together with the spirit of social cohesion. And with these words, I would like to close by wishing this Expo every success; by wishing the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce every success. It is now my pleasure to declare open this inaugural Exposition Trade and Agro-Development in the Essequibo, particularly in the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region.
May God bless you all.
I thank you.