President David Granger: Madam Chairperson, thank you for your introduction. Honourable Moses Nagamootoo, First Vice President and Prime Minister; Vice Presidents Khemraj Ramjattan and Sydney Allicock; Ministers of the Government; members of the National Assembly (on both sides); executives of the National Toshaos Conference Council; citizens of Georgetown; distinguished guests; special invitees; members of the media.
There is little to be said after hearing the Minister of Social Protection, but I would like to add my voice to her enthusiasm and to thank the donors because these buses did not come from State funds; these buses came from citizens with a conscience, private citizens who want to see the best for Guyana’s children.
Boys and girls, brothers and sisters, we in the Coalition see education as the gateway to the good life. We see that by providing these buses, the boats and the bicycles we will improve access to schools, we will improve attendance and in so doing we will improve achievement. We want to see ‘A’ students and those are the three ‘A’s that we are working towards today: access, attendance and achievement – ‘A’ Students.
But where did these ideas come from? We didn’t sit down and dream them up. Over the last twenty-three years we have been seeing what happened to Guyanese children. When we campaigned we went up the rivers and creeks, we went along the highways and byways; we saw children who were not going to school because they could not afford transportation. We saw children who were dropping out because they couldn’t afford transportation. We went up the Pomeroon River, “Why aren’t you at school?” “It costs $5,000 to go to Charity to go to school.” We went to Trafalgar on the West Coast Berbice, “Why aren’t you at school?” “It costs $5,000 to go across the Berbice Bridge to go to the Berbice High School.” This is what was happening to our children. They belong in school, not at home liming and we made a pledge that once we got into government, and we knew we were going to get into government, once we got into government, we will do everything possible to ensure every child had a place in school – E.C.I.S- Every Child in School. That was a pledge. We didn’t have money, but on the 15th of July, 2015, I made an announcement: don’t bring birthday gifts, just send a bus; just send a boat, and that message caught like wildfire. People started to call and say, “I want to give a boat”; “I want to give a bus.” “I want to give ten, twenty bicycles.” That’s how it started. It started from the Guyanese people who realised that we were serious about educating our children.
So where do correct ideas come from? They come from the people, they come from you, they come from your experiences; they come from your practices and that is how it started; on my 70th birthday, on the 15th of July, 2015. Since then we have gone to Kabakaburi, we have gone to Kalkuni, we have gone to Emery River, we have gone to Malali, we have gone to the Berbice River, the Demerara River, the Essequibo River, the Pomeroon River and we have provided boats with the help of corporate citizens and only now we have come to Georgetown. And I told the Toshaos this morning that it was the hinterland which was given preference, it was the Indigenous people who were given preference because they have longer distances to travel. It looks very pretty to see an Amerindian child paddling a canoe to go to school but it’s not easy work; you paddle an hour and a half to get to school in the morning and an hour and a half to get home at night.
So, we want to make access to education easier for children and we want to create a more equal society so that the children in Mabaruma, the children in Waramadong, Jawalla, the children in Awaruwaunau and Aishalton would have equal opportunity to education as the children in Sophia or Industry or Cummings Lodge. So the rivers were the first places to get our boats but we realised too that along the highways children were staying home. Children at Kuru-Kuru and Dora couldn’t get to school and Soesdyke; children at Soesdyke couldn’t get to school at Houston. So we continue to work, we set up a ‘Ministry of Buses’, but we wanted to make sure that this programme was not a one-off one; it was not a flash in the pan and we are going to continue this programme where we can assure every Guyanese child transportation to go to school. We cannot do it all together; we cannot do it all at once but we are working, just give us another five or ten more years and you will see the amount of buses.
You know, the former Secretary General of the United Nations said we must be like Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt doesn’t stop running at fifty yards so we mustn’t stop at twenty buses. Let us keep on keeping on until every Guyanese child can get to school. And from one thing, we went on to another. I have now established what we call the NEST-N.E.S.T – if you know about birds you know what they do with their nests. The N.E.S.T means National Endowment for Science and Technology and sometimes you see me give money, I don’t give away money easy you know, but I provide money to schools which have science programmes, which have laboratories. I don’t care about race, I don’t care about religion, I don’t care about location. Hindu schools have gotten money, Muslim schools have gotten money, and Christian schools have gotten money; as long as you’re teaching Guyanese children you will get money for science and technology. I don’t have a lot of money to give, but there is no better investment in this world than investment in children. So two abbreviations that you will hear over and over again from this administration are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics- S.T.E.M and N.E.S.T- National Endowment for Science and Technology the one follows the other.
Guyanese, we are living in the largest CARICOM State. The most beautiful, the most bountiful state but the biggest region in Guyana-Rupununi does not have a proper highway. Our rivers do not have proper stellings, some of the aerodromes (the legal ones you know, not the other type) some of the aerodromes need repairing and refurbishing. Who will do it? Foreigners…? No. We have to train a generation of Guyanese technicians and engineers and mathematicians. Children, who ten or twenty years from now, will be going to school in these buses, will become our engineers; so education is the first step and we are helping children to make that first step.
But the second step is employment because without education it will be difficult for you to gain employment. But let me warn you, the Government doesn’t have jobs in the army, or the police or the civil service. We want you to be self-employed and we will help you to be self-employed and this is what we see happening all over Guyana. Once you have the skills, once you have the education we will help you to get the employment. All over Guyana I am seeing resurgence in interest in self-employment. I have gone to the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region at the Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition and I have seen animals, I have seen craftwork, I have seen products.
Guyanese are creative and imaginative and productive people. You’re not lazy and don’t believe the people who tell you that you’re lazy. I have been to the Mahaica-Berbice Region, to the Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibitions and I have seen the quality of goods that they produce. I have been to the East Berbice-Corentyne Region; I have seen what they produce. I have been to Linden, the Upper Demerara-Berbice Region and I have seen the genius; I have seen the ingenuity of Guyanese. These are not state sponsored events, these are local events. These are events that were mounted by the Chamber of Commerce, encouraged by the regions. There is a flurry of activities and every year you will see these Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibitions providing opportunities for young entrepreneurs, young men and women, who are prepared to make things, not prepared to sit down and watch things, happen; they are prepared to go out and get things once they get that opportunity, once they get access.
Boys and girls this is a blessed land. Which other country in the Caribbean can produce gold, can produce timber, can produce bauxite, can produce rice and sugar and vegetables to compare with the Cooperative Republic of Guyana? And you will inherit a new mineral product – petroleum. You don’t need to bring in foreigners to process your bauxite. You don’t need to bring in foreigners to manufacture goods from timber or gold; you can have the educational intelligence to do it yourself in due course. Yes, we need foreign investment, I’m not going to chase out foreign investors but gradually, year after year, I want to see more Guyanese doing the same things that foreigners have been doing for the last hundred years and it’s the children who will be going to school in theses buses who are going to be controlling our petroleum industry, ten and twenty years from now; who are going to be controlling our gold and diamond industry.
I want to see a nation of owners, not a nation of observers. A nation of owners of our resources, not people who sit down and watch foreigners come and go and the owners will be the educated people that we are now going to be sending to schools in these yellow buses. I want to see rich Guyanese, not poor Guyanese. I want to see independent thinkers, not dependent workers that is what independence means to me, that is what we celebrated last year May on this very spot; that we must be independent, not only because we have a flag but because we can run our own country for the interest of our own children. So these buses will not only take us to school, but they will take us further along the road to full employment.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you talk to any Guyanese for more than five minutes, sooner or later he will mention the word elections. Well, that is a Guyanese way of life but when this Coalition came into office we transformed the elections from an ethnic census into a platform for empowerment. It is empowerment that people had the power to make decisions. They saw before them six parties and they were not interested in race, they were interested in representation; they were interested in ensuring that their vote counted. That is what the enthusiasm was about, that after quarter of a century; they could choose people who could go to the National Assembly and speak for them; they would choose people who went into their communities and discussed their problems with them as we were discussing with the National Toshaos Council today. They can choose people that they know, people who worked with them, people they trusted and that is what empowerment is about.
It is the ignorant people who vote race. It is the intelligent people who make intelligent choices-choices that will give them the good life; choices that will put education as a top priority, choices that will make employment a top priority; choices that will make empowerment a top priority- that is what they voted for and that is what is taking place in Guyana. So what we see is that education doesn’t only lead to employment, it also leads to empowerment. Here you have a generation of intelligent people, not blind sheep, follow the leader; these are people who are making choices, who are communicating with their MPs, who are communicating with their representatives, they voted for people who are picketing the Office of the President to demand Local Government Elections because they wanted to be empowered and that’s what the Coalition did for them. They empowered them and having empowered them, we created three new towns and the mayors are proud, the town councils are proud, citizens are proud that after a quarter of a century that they can actually elect their own mayor and their own councillors. That is empowerment. That is what they voted for.
So they made educated choices, they made intelligent choices and they can see what we have been doing. They can see how disunity held us back and that is why we created the Ministry of Social Cohesion, to remove discrimination and remove inequalities, that is what people voted for- an intelligent choice. And by being educated, children now can tell you that they have seen the change in their lives. So this empowerment is what is moving the country forward; this empowerment is what will help communities to eliminate poverty and eliminate inequalities. So my brothers and sisters, boys and girls, citizens of Georgetown this is a highly symbolic moment, a very emotional moment for me and for the coalition. Here we are, not demanding anything from the people from the citizens, but giving something to the citizens: educating them, employing them and empowering them.
I therefore would like to thank the donors who made this possible. Gratuitously, many people feel that Guyanese are greedy and selfish but this is generosity here – generosity 101. So allow me to thank the donors, not only for the buses but also for the boats because we started with boats in the Pomeroon and many other citizens have come to give us bicycles. You who could afford to give ten-give ten; you who could afford to give fifty, give fifty but every week we are saving millions of dollars in bus fares and boat fares because our children can get to school because of the goodness of the Coalition Government, which they put into office in May 2015.
Particularly I must thank Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Amna Ally, who has been the driving force behind this programme (and let me tell you something, don’t promise she a bus and don’t give she you know). I would like to thank my wife Sandra, who has travelled out to the regions helping to hand over bicycles and buses. This is not a political partisan activity; it is national service on the part of this Government. You have elected us to serve and we are serving you.
Citizens of Georgetown but particularly boys and girls I urge you to care these buses and I pray that when you go into them you can see that you are driving on a new highway, the highway to education, the highway to employment and the highway to empowerment.
Thank you and may God bless you all.