President David Granger: Thank you, please be seated. I’m hurrying because I know you all are hot and hungry and I don’t want you to feel that the next two hours will not be passing in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ so you wouldn’t even realise two hours have passed by the time I finished speaking.
Honourable Sydney Allicock, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs; Ministers of the Government – and we brought half the Cabinet here to Lethem here today- how important you are; Ambassador of Guyana to the Federative Republic of Brazil, His Excellency Mr. George Talbot and Mrs. Talbot; Ms. Shirley Melville, Guyana’s Council to Boa Vista; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Mr. Brian Allicock, Regional Chairman of the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region; His Worship, Mr. Carlton Beckles, the first ever Mayor of the town of Lethem.
Our friends, Mr. Frederico Limianas, Chief of Staff of the State of Roraima, thank you for coming across that little creek; that creek should not separate us, it should unite us. Ms. Veronica Carroll, International Relations Officer of the State of Roraima; Ms. Mary Ann Campbell, Vice Council Acting of Brazil to Lethem; Ms. Yusa Xavier, Toshao of Saint Ignatius Village and other visiting Toshaos; members of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, members of the Regional Democratic Council of Region Nine; Municipal Officials of the Lethem town; residents of Lethem and surrounding communities; visitors from Brazil; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls.
I’m happy to be here today but unfortunately, my happiness is tinged with a bit of sorrow and sadness at the death of one of our soldiers, Lance Corporal Devon Fraser, who came here to join in the celebrations. I just ask you to observe – have a brief moment of prayer; don’t stand, just to think of Corporal Devon Fraser, his wife, his children and the mission that brought him here to Lethem. May his soul rest in peace.
My brothers and sisters, you can’t believe how happy I am to be here. I was here for the first time in Lethem forty-eight years ago- yeah, you are wondering if I came when I was age four. I was here forty-eight years ago, my wife would remember of course; we were engaged that time on a different mission, but today I am happy to be here to join you in welcoming the status of townships. In the past, people regarded Lethem as some sort of El Paso; some part of the wild west, people didn’t know where Lethem was; people never came here but today we’re seeing the emergence of a modern municipality instead of some remote El Paso community.
In the past, Lethem used to suffer from what I call the compound mentality. You know, during the colonial period this whole country was run by a few compounds. You go to the northwest, they had a compound. You go to the Rupununi you have a compound; in that compound you have a district commissioner, the police inspector, the postmaster, the public works officer, but they were not concerned with development – they were concerned with taxation.
But today, we have a municipality which comes out from among the people that is concerned with development and not the Government. That is why we changed the name of the ministry from the Ministry of Local Government to the Ministry of Communities to put emphasis on the community and not in Government because you govern yourselves through these municipalities.
President David Granger: Thank you for your applause. My brothers and sisters, we are here in the biggest region in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana – a region that is bigger than the Republic of Costa Rica, a region that occupies one-quarter of Guyana’s land space. This is a very important region to us all. In this region alone, we have three indigenous nations: the Macushi, the Wapisiana and the Wai-Wai.
In this growing township of Lethem, you already have a population of seven thousand and I am sure that if you put your minds to it, by next year we could have ten thousand; work on it, Carlton. As the Mayor said, the darkest day for Lethem since independence might very well have been on the 13th July 2012; when Mr. Ganga Persaud came here, dissolved the democratically elected Ireng-Sawariwau NDC. Some of you remember you protested against Ganga; you picketed, because you demanded democratic governance in Lethem and he treated you with scant regard, but you had faith and you were determined to establish this municipality and you succeeded.
The IMC did nothing – it did nothing for the roads; it did nothing for the lights; it did nothing for the businesses; it did nothing for solid waste management and they did nothing for sports. They did nothing; nothing- nothing and the people you supported in May 2015 marched and picketed Ronald and I and others, to bring democratic governance and here we are today, the first dramatic change in almost half a century- bringing a township to the largest region of Guyana.
What we did is all about empowerment of the residents of Lethem; putting power in your hands to select the people you want to run this township; if you don’t like them, move them. You’re going to have municipal elections next year, so they have to work. They have to develop, they have to produce – that is democracy; and I have every confidence in the Mayor and his council that they’ll work for the development of this town.
You know Lethem was named after a governor; I think he was a Scotsman; he governed between 1942 and 1947, but one of the important things about Lethem is that he was a wartime governor. He was a governor while Britain, the country from which he came, was at war and his important contribution was to introduce something called ‘feed yourself’. Yes, the boats couldn’t come from Britain and Lethem started a programme for feeding yourself and that programme was continued by our first Prime Minister and President Forbes Burnham and it is continued today and there is no better place for Lethem’s philosophy to take root than in the town to which he gave his name, the town of Lethem. You know, my brothers and sisters, that calling Lethem a capital town or calling Mabaruma a capital town or calling Bartica a capital town is not cosmetic; it is not superficial; this is an important part of our development. People may not realize it now, but it will be a transformative moment in Guyana’s history that here a capital town will start to bloom. What we want to see is that this capital town would be a source of public services. Ask anybody from Aishalton or Achiwuib how much they have to pay to come to Lethem. Ask any businessman before this administration came in where he had to go to register his business.
You’ll see the absurdity that existed in this country for the last twenty-three years. Absurd that a businessman would have to go to Anna Regina or Adventure in Region Two to register his business in Region Nine. So we are putting an end to that absurdity by delivering public services. I have been to all of these communities, Dr. Norton and I, Mr. Bulkan and I, Sydney Allicock and I we have been through north, central and south and we know what the people need; what the people want, and Valerie too. You think I forget? Remember Awarewanau?
We went to all of these villages and that is why when we came into office we knew what to do and we are going to relieve the pressure on individual residents and farmers in communities as quickly and as best as we could. That is why we are distributing and disseminating services. We want this capital town to provide every public service that a resident needs; he does not have to go to Georgetown, he should not have to go to Adventure or even to Linden. If it is something to do with NIS, he can receive it here. If he has to pay child support for his child mother, he can pay it right here in Lethem; you laughing Regional Chairman?
It is true. We will improve the medical system so our hospitals can deliver a higher quality of care so you don’t have to send your patients either to Boa Vista or Bonfim or Georgetown or Linden. We have to overcome that compound mentality. When Government was made up purely of civil servants who were sent here to run things; we have to develop a different mentality, one in which the municipality, business community, the region – all of them would work together.
My brothers and sisters, let me tell you this – administration takes place at four different levels in this region. Right here you have representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the person of Ambassador Talbot. He is looking after Government at an international level and our visitors from Brazil, our Consul General; they are looking after our international relations.
At the second level you have Vice President Allicock, you have Minister Bulkan; they are looking after Government at a regional level, at the national level. At the lower level you have Mr Brian Allicock; sometimes you get confused about the Allicocks in this region, you have to be very careful, and he is in charge of administration at that regional level. So you have international, national, and regional (Ah coming Carlton, ah coming to you) and at the municipal level we have Mr. Carlton Beckles, the Mayor of Lethem. So all four regions, all four levels, all four strata have to work together.
The international, the central government, the regional government and the municipal government and that is what Mr Bulkan is referring to. He’s happy to see the Regional Chairman here celebrating the birth of this municipality. There are some people who drink confrontation soup every morning they wake up. They always looking for something to quarrel about. Who wins? Who wins if this region is divided? Who gains and who will feel the pain? If we work together all of us will thrive. As the saying goes, the rising tide lifts all the boats. The rising tide lifts all the boats; I am not speaking about the flood.
I know Rupununi loves to have floods and so on but we will deal with that later on. But the rising tide lifts all the boats regardless of what party you come from. APNU, GAP, AFC, PNC, everybody wins. You’re Macushi, the Wapisian, you’re Wai-Wai; everybody wins, you’re tall, you’re short everybody wins. The rising tide lifts all the boats and this is what we’re doing with the capital towns and that is why the mayor and the minister spoke of the plan of action for regional development.
This is not a plan-less society, a plan-less region. We have plans and those plans are aimed at delivering quality service to all of your people. Lethem must become an attractive destination- for business, for tourism. Ask those students what they have in their hands? Anybody has an exercise book? Wave it and let people see, wave the exercise book, yeah. Those exercise books illustrate the beauty of Rupununi. Those exercise books illustrate what they call the ‘Gants of Guyana’ and most of those giants are from right here in the Rupununi. The Arapaima, the largest freshwater fish in the world; the Harpy eagle, the largest eagle in the world; the river otter is the largest river otter in the world; the anteater, the largest anteater in the world; the caiman. All of these things come from Rupununi and people will come to see them. Don’t think about pepper pot and souse, people want to see those animals and you can build the tourism industry by inviting people to come here.
I was at Dadanawa some time ago and the people in charge at Dadanawa showed me this postcard of a bird and people from Ireland want to come to Dadanawa to see the red siskin because that Red siskin is only found here…only found in the southern Rupununi and eastern Venezuela. It’s a rare bird and you all have it. There are more birds in the Kanuku protected areas than in the whole of Western Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen of Rupununi, you all do not sit on your hands. This is a tool for development, this is a resource, you all have the potential and I want the Rupununi to continue to be an attractive destination for the tourism industry. That is why on the first Saturday of October I instituted something called National Tree Day and I want you all to cool down these towns by planting trees- boulevards. Go to Brazil and see how they do it over there; don’t plant bush, plant mango trees like they do in Belem; plant fruit trees so that the town becomes cool and the children have something to eat during August.
So all of this is possible if we adopt a policy regardless of our political affiliation, of cooperation instead of confrontation; when people ask you why do something, say, “Rupununi first” and they’ll get the message. Don’t fight down one another to favour people who do not have Rupununi’s interest at heart. You will feel the pain if this region doesn’t develop, not somebody four hundred kilometres away. Lethem must lead the way. Lethem must lead the way. Lethem can become the model town.
Apart from ecotourism, I can see the economy of this region thriving. Already you’ve attracted Brazilian business; already you’ve attracted Chinese businesses. Lethem is booming; there are banks, there are hotels and other places of entertainment but what I want to say is that the Indigenous people, I would like to come one night and spend the night at Macushi hotel, Wapisiana restaurant, Wai-Wai night club.
I want the people of this region – you laugh nuh – I want the people of this region to share in the economic bonanza that the Rupununi is becoming. I want you to work together to help to develop the infrastructure. I don’t like the roads, I don’t like the lights, you complain about the water but when I first came to this Rupununi region as a little boy, forty-eight years ago, some of the ranches already had wind-chargers. They weren’t carrying gasoline up and down the savannahs. The wind was generating electricity. What wrong with you all? You could do it again. Don’t depend on, don’t get drunk with gasoline.
Look at the sun, everybody has got an umbrella. Instead of an umbrella, you should have solar panels on your houses generating electricity. I see the Guyana Defence Force over here in Camp Kanuku with solar panels on their roof, so I stopped sending them gasoline. And use of animals. I am grateful that the police now have started to reintroduce mounted patrols in these savannahs. I want them to go to where the planes land at night. No noisy ATVs, just going like Roy Rogers, like Lone Ranger, getting in a position to stop crime in this region.
So let us work together to improve our infrastructure, improve the aerodrome so that more planes would land legitimately. Improve the bridges. Sometimes I cross a bridge, I say, I recognize this bridge from 1969. It hasn’t changed. We need metal bridges; we need concrete bridges right through to the south. This is the biggest region and we have to work together to give it the best infrastructure. People must be able to drive from Crabwood Creek in Region Six to Sand Creek in Region Nine without coming out of the car except to have lunch.
Why not? We have to unite this country in a network of highways and bridges. We must be able to drive from Mabaruma right down to Achiwuib, one of these days. Just keep me here. So my brothers and sisters this is a happy day for me. It’s a day of fulfilment of the dreams of the residents of this great region. It is the first step in a long journey and I’m glad you have people who are committed, people like the Mayor of Lethem, Mr Carlton Beckles, and the Chairman of the Rupununi Region, Mr Brian Allicock, people who are prepared to work together to develop this region.
President David Granger: Thank you for that applause, Brian.
Rupununi, I wish you happiness over despair. I know there have been difficult times. I wish you prosperity over the poverty that still afflicts and affects some communities. I wish you development over stagnation. There is nothing that this administration will do to prevent you from taking any reasonable step to improve the economic condition of this region.
We are not going to obstruct you; we are going to assist you. That’s what we promised to do. That’s what we’re doing, that’s why I’m here today. So, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Regional Chairman, members of the Town Council, members of the RDC, thank you very much for inviting me today. I have great honour in presiding at this declaration ceremony and I wish you God’s blessing on this great region of Guyana.
Thank you and may God bless you all.