President David Granger: Minister of Local Government; Mayors; Deputy Mayors; Regional Councillors; Ladies and Gentlemen; members of the media. I did not want to miss this for anything, but I know people have tried to miss it for nothing at all and this is one of the challenges we face in Guyana but we will deal with that in the fullness of time. Today we speak about the municipalities; about towns; about urbanization.
This is one of the most important phenomena in national development; if you look around the world, you’d see that the most developed countries are the most urbanized. The most developed countries in the entire world are the most urbanized and it almost begs the question that poor, agrarian rule countries tend to be naturally least urbanized.
What does ‘urbs’ mean? Urbs comes from a Latin word; you know like you hear about suburbs -urbs means a town or a city. So when we speak of urbanization we speak of the creation of more towns; more cities, because throughout history towns have played an important role in development and Guyana is now catching up with the rest of the world.
And we started catching up last year; before that in 2015 – in 2014 in fact – your minister and I were on the streets for over two months picketing the then president, calling for Local Government Elections. We felt it was the right of people to have elections. We felt it was the duty of government to have those elections and as soon as possible after we entered office we gave back people that right and we fulfilled that obligation.
In one year we did what had not been done for over forty-three years – we created three towns. It is not something ornamental; it is not something superficial – it is at the heart of a philosophy for the development of this country and for the democracy which we espoused and there will be more towns, because paradoxically, three of our most populated coastal regions- Essequibo Islands – West Demerara; Demerara-Mahaica and Mahaica-Berbice do not have towns- strange, that the post populated regions do not have towns; capital towns. Georgetown, as you know, is not the capital of Region Four, as the Mayor likes to remind me.
So, we are in a situation in Guyana in which – believe it or not, if you are to move forward as a country; we not only have to create more towns but we have to strengthen the towns. So, your presence here is a commitment to the strengthening of this country’s economy and, conversely, your absence, is an indication that you have no interest in strengthening this country’s economy. We cannot develop without creating towns. I would say it’s a scenic wonder. We have a huge area of land which is poorly administered mainly because of the absence of capital towns.
The capital towns that we are creating in Guyana bring about the concentration of population. So people don’t have to drift from the hinterland and rural areas to Georgetown, they can go to their own capital towns. It brings about the concentration of wealth – I’m not telling tales out of school but many of the people who occupy the big houses and live in towns tend to be wealthier than the people who live in simpler houses in the rural and hinterland areas.
Towns represent the concentration of wealth. They also represent the concentration of transportation. If you go down to Stabroek now, if you go outside of the GRA; if you go outside many business places you would see transportation comes into the towns because that is where business is conducted. It also represents a concentration of occupation – everyday people leave Parfaite Harmonie; they leave Ann’s Grove; they leave Grove to come to something called a town because that is where work is available.
Some of them come for different reasons, but generally, it is also a concentration of occupation which brings people into towns. So at a glance you can see you how important a town is to national development. Towns also represent modernization; those of you who are my age, that is if you’re over fifty or thereabouts, you will see that we have changed over the years. If you went to Bartica maybe seventy or eighty years ago or if you went to Whim you’d discover something which is almost a relic of the past; if you went to Lethem in the fifty’s and sixty’s – these huge regions were run by compounds; they were run by compounds.
That compound contained sometimes the District Commissioner, who was always nearby, the Police Station, the Post Office, what used to be called the P.W.D. – Public Works Department, the Magistrates Court and of course you had the D.C’s Office; you might have had a sub-treasury if it was a gold bearing area like Bartica; you had a lands and mines department office- in other words the Government concentrated many of these offices in one compound and they used to run the whole region. Those days they were called districts; up to now we still call the Barima-Waini Region North West District; although that term is non-legal we still call it North West district, but those districts were abolished over forty-five years ago. But the function of those compounds was not to develop the regions; it was to collect taxes and enforce government policy.
What we have done now over the last two years is turned that paradigm upside down; our function now is to encourage development, not just to push Government; encourage development and development comes from you. It comes on the people in the region; so from what you saw in the nineteen-forties and nineteen-fifties – the District Commissioner sitting in his little compound governing the huge region, largely concerned with the collection and the imposition of Government policy – we now see municipalities elected by the people which are concerned with development.
They have a different role to play, not just to sit down in your offices in a white suit and give orders, but to go out in the regions in your boats and your horses and your ATVs and ensure that development is taking place. So we have to get away from the compound mindset and that is why you know sometimes I have a problem; I hope nobody is here from Region Five – Fort Wellington is a compound; it is not a town; it’s a compound and we have to change compounds into towns so they would be friendly.
You always need the Magistrates Court, you need the Police Station but what we need most of all is a different attitude, a different mindset for development. So, I see the modern town- I see Bartica; I see Mabaruma; I see Lethem and Linden and New Amsterdam, Anna Regina as modern towns with a modern vision- one that is focused on modernisation not only of the township but of the region which they are responsible for administering in.
Every region in Guyana, practically every region is bigger than one of the Caribbean Island States. Barima-Waini alone is four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago and if you go to every one of those regions – Rupununi is bigger than Costa Rica. [Mayor of Lethem, Mr. Carlton] Beckles has heard that from me several times; he probably talks in his sleep that he has a capital of a region which is bigger than Costa Rica. Well done, Carlton.
So, the capital towns that we are talking about are vital to the integration of those regions. They’re not just running their little boundaries; they’re not just administering the few streets and putting up street lights and closing down discos at 2 o’ clock. They are concerned with the whole region. If you’re in Bartica how does the Arecuna communities in Kaikan and Barima, how does the Akawaio communities get their services? What happens when there is a pensioner at Awarewaunau in Region Nine who needs to collect the old age pension or has a query on the N.I.S payments? How are the people to be served? How do you get investment into your capital, into your region? How do you convert these rivers and savannahs into a flourishing mini-state? You have to strengthen your towns.
The towns are an important element in integrating these large regions. Some Chairmen of regions and some Mayors of towns have never gone through their own region. You only have three years and some of you are already campaigning for next year but I can ask every single Mayor and every Chairman of the RDC- when did you visit a certain point? Say, which region is that in? Because they would not have had the ability; I’m not saying they don’t have the interest; they would not have had the ability to go to those areas within their own regions.
It means therefore, that if we are to get real regional integration, the towns have to play an important role of bringing services to the citizens in that capital town from all of the corners of the huge regions. So integration is important in terms of regional administration – every region is difficult; look at the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region; just to manage the Pomeroon River is a task on its own. Sometimes you call them sub-regions but to many people in the capital they are almost distant regions because the Mayors and the Regional Chairmen themselves never have an opportunity to go to all of these corners, but if you are to have an integrated region, if you were to bring these people, if you were to give them a sense of belonging, if you were to encourage them to see themselves as a ‘collectivity’, you then start to see the importance of the municipality in that capital town.
The country cannot be integrated unless the region themselves are integrated. The country is not a collection of municipalities; the country is a collection of regions and I’ve always insisted that we have to see government not as a group of people going to Cabinet every Tuesday, but we have to see it as three levels of administration. At the highest level you see people like Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan -the level of central government, national government; at the second level, you have regional government – so you have Regional Chairman; if they care to come out when the Minister of Communities calls them … and then at the third level you have local government: at the third level you have the municipalities and the neighbourhoods.
All three levels are important and one of the reasons why development was stifled for nearly a quarter of a century is because the one level tried to smother the other two levels; that is the problem; at the highest level you tried to ‘Soobarise’ local government. You can’t ‘Soobarise’ local government; you have to let the people speak. You have to hold elections, sometimes you make mistakes but, as I warned the Georgetown City Council and as I warned all Mayors, that next year you have to face the people and if they don’t like what you do, well you can apply for another job because they will vote according to their conscience and this president, this Government, will count the votes properly. So you are responsible to the people within your towns, within your municipalities, within your constituencies, but what we want to see is that all three levels of government function.
Ladies and gentleman we cannot run this government with central government alone. We cannot run a government with regions alone. We cannot run a government with neighbourhoods and city council alone; all three levels have to work together. When you are elected, you are not elected to represent the PPP/C or the APNU or the PNCR; once you are elected, almost in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, your responsibilities go to your constituents.
Your responsibilities go to the people of the whole town, of the whole city and at the regional level your responsibilities are to the people of that region, first and foremost. If you are Muslim your responsibility are no longer to the Jamaats; if you’re Christian your responsibility is no longer to the parish; if you’re Hindu your responsibility is no longer to the Mandir; your responsibilities are to the whole community and you have to make yourself available as a man or a woman to whom your constituents have access.
So this is part of the role of the municipality; to develop the whole town and I said a few days ago when I opened the arch at Cummings Lodge “the rising tide lifts all the boats”; some people think it’s John F. Kennedy words; it wasn’t John F. Kennedy words; he copied the words from somebody else; just like people think that you know when he said, “It is not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” – not his words, you know, but we will deal with that another time.
But one of the well-known quotations is “The rising tide lifts all the boats” and when the tide rises in Anna Regina everybody benefits. When the tide rises in Bartica everybody will benefit. No matter how committed you are to one party or one race or one religion or one family, there is no way you can succeed in politics if you put partisan and personal interests ahead of the popular will. Sooner or later the people themselves will get fed up and remove you.
So ladies and gentlemen, in my view national development is inseparable from sound local government and local government is inseparable from urbanization. The town is vital and as I have said in other places and the minister has heard me and he has good ears that I hope before we leave our second term of office or our third, because we’re not leaving after the first. [Applause.]
I would like to see regional capital towns in the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara, Demerara-Mahaica and Mahaica-Berbice. Every region must have a capital town. They’re too important to ignore. So we are speaking today of changing in the models from the colonial bottle and any one of you who might be a child of a policeman or a postman would know what it is to live in the compound. It is almost like an oasis, isolated from the rest of the community. It is not part of what is taking place except maybe Saturday nights in Bartica.
So we’re looking at a new model of economic development. This model has to promote commerce. Towns have to be hubs of commerce and I’ve asked again at another forum – and [I’m] sometimes sorry for the minister, the amount of things I ask. He wonders if he’ll have enough time to fulfil all of those requests – that every region should have what I call a regional agriculture and commercial exhibition. [Applause.]
I have had the benefit of going to exhibitions in Region Two, Region Five, Region Six, and Region Ten and to tell you the truth, if I was a crying man, I would have wept to see how hard people, small businesspersons, micro businesses are trying to promote industry and commerce in their regions. I felt happy to go to these exhibitions. In Anna Regina, people brought out some of the animals, in Linden housewives were making all kinds of things, bottling them, packaging them attractively. In West Berbice, a range of furniture and other items were being produced, in Rose Hall, in East Berbice-Corentyne and I would like to see Mabaruma having an R.A.C.E – a Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition. [Applause.]
I would like to see Bartica, I would like to see Lethem, I would like to see Mahdia and I would like to see Regions Three, Four and Five having regional, agricultural and commercial exhibitions. This is not something ornamental; it’s something that your people want. People are looking to you for leadership and vision. I would like to see each region with a Regional Chamber of Commerce … go through the motion… get people together and it will develop a life of its own. I am the mayor; I am going to have a R.A.C.E in this region. I don’t need ten million dollars; once people see, once housewives see, once young people see that they could come and sell something they’ll come. They will come if they believe that there’s a market; if they believe that people will be coming from other regions to buy their produce they will come and every year, in every region, we’re going to have regional agricultural and commercial exhibitions so the people can show off.
Yes, I would like to see the Regional Chambers of Commerce and Industry take the lead but I would also like to see the mayors pushing the Regional Chambers of Commerce to have these exhibitions. I was really moved in all of the capitals, in all of the capital towns; I was really moved to see what ordinary people can do once they are given the leadership by the municipalities. This is how finance and banking would develop. Some people complain that oh, ‘we want to have a housing drive but people can’t get funds’. Once a bank sees your town starting to get involved in business and commerce the bank will come, the bank will follow the money. You don’t have to tell a banker where money is they smell it and that is how development takes place. You don’t wait until the bank comes… You start doing business and the banks will come… Once there is finance you would see that people will start manufacturing, people will start agro-processing.
Now we have a situation in Guyana. Venezuela is on fire and Brazil is on fire… when I say on fire, I mean metaphorically, I mean they are hot… Suriname, but Guyana is an oasis of tranquillity. One of the biggest businesses now in Barima-Waini is selling something they don’t produce – rice. Venezuelans want rice and they buy rice, particularly through Barima-Waini and similarly you’ll see if you go to Brazil, you go to Boa Vista, you go to a restaurant you’ll probably eat Guyanese rice produced in the Rupununi and if you go to Suriname, too, you will see Guyanese products. In fact there are 20 Surinamese businesses now operating in Guyana.
The point I’m making is that mayors and regional chairman now have a challenge. I’m not saying that we must gloat over the unhappiness of our neighbouring countries, but what I’m saying is that you have an economic opportunity and by having these regional agriculture and commercial exhibitions you will attract people, even businesspeople from Georgetown and other towns will come to exhibit their goods in your R.A.C.E.
Linden now is bottling water and they’ll bring it from Linden all the way up to the Mabaruma. So, ladies and gentlemen, you can see the virtual cycle that municipal administration can trigger, that once we have mayors and councils who are visionary, who are thinking like businesspersons, who’re thinking about trade fairs and exhibitions we will start to see a lot more product production taking place among your residents and your citizens and therefore, as I said before, the tide will lift all boats.
So, I would like to see every region and particularly every capital town becoming a hub of economic activity. Already some towns are ports of entry for immigration. When you go to Bartica I’m sure you’ll agree; you have visitors from Dominican Republic and Columbia. Towns could become centres of education; people know that the best schools are in the towns. Again, once the private schools see that some of the richer residents live in the towns; they will open schools in order to provide educational services to those citizens but towns must become safe.
As you know, in Bartica for the first time we’ve moved the commander of ‘F’ Division from Eve Leary to Bartica and in the fullness of time I would like to see every capital town having its own police command. That is the intention. I’d like to see capital towns as communication hubs. I always tell the story of Karawak where you have to – in the Pomeroon – where you have to climb a coconut tree to use a cellphone but I’d like to see that all government buildings, all regional installations in every capital town must have Wi-fi -free. [Applause.]
Not yet. I would like to see the capital town being centres of ecotourism. Those of you who have travelled to the insular Caribbean would realise that we are living in a gem of a country and those mayors who are from the hinterland regions or what used to be called the hinterland regions have products which are beyond comparison; and if those products are developed I’m sure people will not only go to the insular Caribbean – let them go and take their sun and the sand and the sea – but when they see what we have they will come to see our mudflats with all those flocks of scarlet ibises; they’ll come to see our lakes.
Some people don’t even know Guyana has lakes. They will come to see our islands in the estuary of the Essequibo, where Wakenaam, Leguan and Hog Island alone are bigger than the British Virgin Islands. They’ll come to see our wetlands where the Canje Pheasant lives. They’ll come to see our grasslands with the anteaters and the capybara and the largest river otter in the world. They’ll come to see our highlands, some of them covered with clouds because they are so high; they’ll come to see our rainforests.
So once the regional chairmen, once the mayors, realise what a gem they have in their hands they’ll realise they’ve been sitting on their hands all the time. People want to come and see our flora and fauna and they often say the Kanuku Mountains alone have more species of birds than the whole of Western Europe… Yes, people will come to Lethem and go into the Kanuku and see these beautiful birds. That’s what mayors do – look for business opportunities.
Sport – every year I get an invitation to go to the Upper Mazaruni District Games. What is wrong with the upper Demerara district games? Why is it that ten or twelve indigenous communities could organise games in the middle of the Mazaruni without coming to Bartica? Beautiful games! If you see football; women and men played football; nursing mothers put the baby one side gone and kick ball, come back and continue nursing the baby. It’s fun but you look around at the fields and every village has its own flag, every village has its own pavilion. Mind you some of them dress like Barcelona, some like Arsenal, some like Manchester United but the people having fun.
No government has to tell them to do it. They’ve been doing it for years and they’ve produced some of the best footballers and it’s a form of sport tourism that people can do – not only regatta, not only rodeo but people can go into those areas to see ordinary people doing extraordinary things. One of these days, you know, they’re going [to] get a stadium but not yet. Similarly too, I was at West Berbice at the trade fair there. People produce furniture, beautiful wooden furniture, which you can use in your office and which you can sell in different regions, which can become centres of manufacture. I’d like to see every region have its own aerodrome so that planes could land.
Carlton [Beckles] not at Yupukari you know; I’m talking about Lethem… So legitimate air transport could take place, even from the Caribbean, why not? If people can come from Berbice into Lethem they can come from Antigua to Lethem so we can develop. Every region must have its own aerodrome so that we can supplement our land and water transport with air transport, but ladies and gentlemen, for us to realise this vision of national development we have to work together. Regions have to work with central government; regions have to work with the municipalities. There is no place in our system of government for central government to disassociate itself from regional administration or for regional administration to disassociate itself from local administration in former municipalities and neighbourhoods. As I said before, government is not for personal purposes or partisan purposes. It is for national purposes.
Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve heard it over and over again that we are in a state of transition towards creating this green state. This is our concern, that in every local government area, in every municipality that the concept of ‘greenness’ should take hold. One of the most important areas, of course, is the area of public health. ‘Greenness’ is not a fad. It is not the colour of a five thousand dollar bill alone.
‘Greenness’ is our future, is our life. ‘Greenness’ is about keeping your canals clear; it’s about disposal of solid waste. If you don’t do that we’ll have flooding, if you don’t do that we’ll have mosquitoes and mosquitoes will bring zika and dengue, big foot, filaria. When we speak of a ‘green’ state we speak about healthy communities. When we speak about ‘green’ state we speak about the sustainable generation of energy so that schools, hospitals, police stations, clinics could all be powered by renewable energy sources. Every region has abundant sunshine, abundant wind. Some regions have biomass possibilities because of the sugar industry or the rice industry. Some regions have hydropower potential; there are about a hundred regions in Guyana where we could generate hydropower.
Rupununi used to have one and they will have one again. Potaro-Siparuni used to have one and they will have one again, but the municipalities must look towards the establishment of sustainable sources of energy generation; make money but provide the service too. As I said before, I want to see every region with its own protected area. Every region in this country is unique – there is no region like the Barima-Waini with the Moruca; there is no region like East Berbice-Corentyne; there is no region like the Pomeroon-Supenaam with its lakes; no region like Essequibo Islands-West Demerara with its islands- every region is unique, but we can use that uniqueness to build ‘green’ regions not only energy generation, solid waste management but also development of protected areas, also the development of clean and sanitary communities.
So there are tremendous possibilities if we have mayors with vision. I do believe that the will of the people is paramount and what we saw taking place last year when the people went out and selected mayors and councillors is a demonstration of their faith that people of vision will lead their towns into not only the occupation or the occupancy of high offices but also in providing real social and economic development.
Thank you and may God bless all the towns of Guyana!