President David Granger: Honourable Prime Minister and First Vice President, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo and Mrs. Sita Nagamootoo; Vice President Sydney Allicock; Ministers of the Government; Chairman of the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, Mr Gordon Bradford; Mayor of Bartica and Members of the Town Council; other Regional and Municipal officials; Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company, Mr. Justin Nedd; Chief Executive Officer of the National Communications Network, Mr. Lennox Cornette; members of the media; ‘pickney dem’ – particularly members of the choir and members of the band who entertained us this morning.
Today, we open an important chapter in public information in Guyana and in opening this chapter we emphasise the significance of the region; not so much the central government, but the regional administration and also the local and municipal administrations. We are interested in communicating with people where they live and work and we have to be realistic. We fought hard for Local Government Elections.
[Applause and laughter.]
President David Granger: And when we speak of regionalism, we speak of a democratic process; we speak of empowerment at the local level and March 2016 is not only something that we aimed at but it is also a turning point in the development of this country. We have had the opportunity now to make villages into towns – Bartica, Lethem, Mabaruma are no longer villages. No Ganga Persaud will come and remove any Town Council again.
Woman: No way!
President David Granger: No more IMCs. You elected this municipality, and if they don’t perform you will remove them, but you will always be able to determine who will administer this town at the local levels of Government. We have different levels of administration; the central level represented here by my Cabinet- the VPs and ministers; the regional level represented by Gordon Bradford and the local level represented by the Mayor and Deputy Mayor; Mr. Gifford Marshall and Ms. Kamal Persaud, but all three levels have to work together – central must work with regional, regional must work with the local and municipal; and what you see this morning is the working together and the physical presence of all three levels of Government.
Those of you who grew up in Bartica would know about something which I call the ‘compound mentality’. You had some people coming from Georgetown who lived in a compound – the police station was in a compound; the post office was in a compound just by the stelling and half a dozen people would run this whole place: the schoolmaster, the doctor, the inspector, the postmaster and the district commissioner. The people had no say in how the community was administered but let me say this, that by introducing or reintroducing Local Government Elections and by making Bartica a town, we are changing the perception of Bartica; it is no longer ‘bush’. When people regard Lethem as ‘bush’, or Bartica as ‘bush’, or Mabaruma as ‘bush’, they feel it’s okay to send their weakest teachers and civil servants; that’s what it means to me, that Bartica mustn’t be perceived as ‘bush’ and we want to ensure that every part of this country can be developed equitably.
So by making Bartica a town we’re making a statement. When you treat these areas like villages or NDCs we miss opportunities – foreign investors don’t want to come in to invest in a village; they are prepared to come to invest in a town. We ignore the potential of the region and we retard development. Over a hundred years ago an ordinance was drafted to make Bartica a town; it was ignored until this Government came in.
Thank you, Simona. Never leave home without Simona – a strong Bartican… But Bartica is the capital town of a region that is bigger than Switzerland; bigger than The Netherlands; 48,000 square kilometres. A region that is enriched by mining and logging and by beautiful people… But over the years, over the decades, that development has been hampered because of the failure to involve the ordinary people; because the lack of information, the lack of investment, the lack of infrastructure and the lack of innovation. Now the doors have been opened you see innovation, world famous banjo players are coming. Where is he? He’s gone? There he is. World famous banjo players are coming to Bartica…
But most important this morning, I want to emphasise the importance of information; without information there will be no development and that is why we have placed special importance on the public information system. We’re developing public information under this administration to achieve certain specific targets. It is not something haphazard; it is not a flash in the pan; it is not a sideshow, it is central to development and for our administration, public information is based on four major principles.
The first is access. Everybody in Guyana must have access to public information. Every village, every individual, every citizen, every lil’ pickney must be able to communicate; to have access. No Guyanese must be out of touch; if you’re living in Awarewaunau; if you’re living in Mabaruma; if you living in Hobodia you must be able to remain in touch with your country through the communication system. Access is very important; you might be living up the longest river, in the greater Savannah but every Guyanese must be able to tune in to his or her regional radio station. Access is the first principle.
The second principle is that there must be appeal; we must appeal to every citizen everywhere and we must have or make the opportunity to provide outlets for our culture; for our language, for education, for entertainment, so that the radio doesn’t become something episodic; it is continuous and wherever you are you must be able to appeal to every Guyanese. He must want to listen to his regional radio station; he or she must want to listen to his regional radio station. Children at school must know that this is the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Regional Radio Station – Bartica Radio; for entertainment, for education, just relaxation.
And the third principle is awareness. Over the last two days I was speaking to the graduands in different high schools and it struck me that the six significant schools- Saint Stanislaus, Saint Rose’s, Saint Joseph’s, Queen’s College, Bishops’ and Berbice High School – are all over a hundred years old. They were all beautiful wooden buildings at some stage or the other. They were all established by churches, they all have great traditions, but what I am saying is that many of those schools were established on sectarian bases but now they are secular. If you saw the attendance at maybe Saint Rose’s or Saint Stanislaus, sixty or eighty years ago, you will see that it has been changed to what it is today and this is what I saw yesterday and the day before, that we now are creating in those six schools something which I would define as social cohesion; they are more socially cohesive now than they were sixty or a hundred years ago, and when I speak of awareness in public information, I speak of the importance of social cohesion. This is a work in progress and we have to continue believing and accepting and unless we work to make social cohesion a reality we will slip by, slip back and we will become divided – that is D.I.V.I.D.E.D.
[Laughter and Applause.]
So social awareness (in future please put all members of the National Assembly at the front right, I don’t like backbenchers).
This is a multicultural society and it always will be and we have to accept our multiculturalism.
President David Granger: Growing up here I recall the long procession of Hindus when Mahatma Gandhi was killed and you know I am over fifty, so that is a long time ago. I do not tell lies. So as long as I have ever known, Bartica had its mandirs and its masjids and its churches and we must accept Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity as faiths working side by side equally. We must accept, in this great region, the presence of the Arecuna at Kaikan and Paruima and the presence of the Akawaio at Kamarang, Waramadong, Kako and other places; the presence of the Lokono or Arawak. So this radio station must help to generate that awareness of each other so we stop living in little compartments and we can be aware of each other’s culture through Radio Bartica. I think it’s very, very important that we have programmes which are integrative and socially cohesive and I regard it as one of the principles of public administration in this country.
And the fourth principle is attentiveness to minorities and minorities are important members of any society and we have to be very, very conscious because sometimes we build a building but we don’t think that people in wheelchairs need to get access. You can have exhibitions and them lil’ lil’ pickney can’t even see the exhibits because it’s too high; it’s built for adults. So, in everything we do, we have to think about minority, not only ethnic minority, but sometimes gender minority; sometimes minorities are people who are challenged in one way or the other; sometimes people who are in remote areas and do not have access to the media. We must hear all voices – that is the purpose of local government; that is the purpose of Local Government Elections; that is the purpose of a municipality so that everybody can get access. You don’t have to go to Georgetown; you don’t have to go to Fort Street to get instructions, right here you can see the people you elected and speak to them about solid waste management or drainage or beautifying the community.
To my mind, public information is equivalent to the public interest and you may notice that I have a particular affection for the word ‘public’. We have here the Minister of Public Telecommunications and recently Minister Dawn Hastings was appointed Minister of Public Affairs; Minister Rupert Roopnarine was appointed Minister of Public Service; Minister Volda Lawrence is Minister of Public Health; Minister David Patterson, Minister of Public Infrastructure. I like public. Public comes from the Latin word which means “the people”, something that concerns the people, that’s why we call ourselves a Republic. Some people don’t understand why I love the word public so much, but that’s the very name of our country (I hope people can spell it) but that’s the very name of our country. R. E… you got to spell words very carefully nowadays; somebody might put R.I.P. but public information means that it is serving the public, the people.
The people must know what is going on in their communities; if they are to vote, if they are to make decisions, they have to have information, they have a right to information. Information mustn’t be treated as some preserve of a small clique, or a small group or the people will not be able to make informed decisions. Information or freedom of information or access to information is guaranteed under the Constitution and all those of you who practised journalism would know about Article 146; it should be over your bedhead, Article 146: “Freedom to receive ideas and information without interference”. Even if the President goes to Parliament the people must be free to hear what I’m saying without interference.
President David Granger: So, anybody that prevents you from receiving ideas or information is actually interfering with your Constitutional rights. So public information enables the greatest number of people to make informed decisions; they can choose between different parties, between different policies, between different ideas but without that freedom, the freedom to receive information they will not be able to make such choices; and it was very disappointing that there was such a low turnout to Local Government Elections. I believe if people are better informed they would participate more fully because they have to be prepared to accept the consequences of their decision, and even if you don’t turn out to vote that itself is a statement. It means that you have to accept whoever ends up being elected, so you might as well turn out and ensure that the person you want to be elected will be elected. You could go to meetings but now you can stay at home and turn on your radio and listen to the presentations, listen to the Mayor reporting about solid waste management; listen to the Regional Chairman reporting about the latest windstorm in Kako village.
So these are important elements which will flow from a good public information system. In addition to that there may be hazards; as you know Bartica is downstream of a lot of mining enterprises. Soon after I was married I brought my new bride to what used to be called ‘The Golden Beach’. I said, “Girl, you got to get a gulp of this water, you married a Granger”, but now I think twice before gulping, but it means there must be a public information system which keeps you abreast with any health risk, any hazard, so that you don’t put your family in jeopardy. In the event that there is a weather pattern approaching, you must be able to advise the population that there is going to be ‘heavy’ weather, there’s a danger of flooding. Sometimes there may be some contaminated food; you’ll be able to spread information about health risks: the cheese is contaminated; the flour might have worms; don’t eat the tennis roll; but public health warnings could be disseminated through an important public information system. So I was very happy, and I would like to iterate my congratulations and thanks particularly to the Prime Minister who has been in the forefront of this movement.
And I would like to see that the public information system is married to the regional system. We already have a station at Lethem which was opened in May last year, that is the capital town of the Rupununi region. We already have the station at Mabaruma, which was opened in June this year, the capital of the Barima-Waini Region, a region four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago. We have a station at Mahdia, which was opened last month, October, and now we have a station at Bartica which is opened here now, in November 2017, the capital of a region bigger than Switzerland.
I know there are other plans to open stations but I had asked that consideration be given to marrying those plans with the need for every region, every RDC, every municipality to be able to communicate with its residents and in time to come – I know in 2018 there may be some budgetary limitations – there is no reason why there should not be a Radio Anna Regina, a Radio Linden and a Radio New Amsterdam and a radio maybe in West Demerara – perhaps at Leonora; a radio in East Demerara and a radio in West Berbice.
Paradoxically, those three coastal regions don’t have capital towns but it’s important for regional administration to ensure that as far as possible all of the public services are aligned to the region. I’ve said this to the police – that’s one of the reasons why [Commander ‘F’ Division, Senior Superintendent] Mr. Budhram is here, rather than being at Eve Leary – every region must have a Police Divisional Commander. It has started to happen in the court system. I am the Head of the Executive Branch so I can’t give orders to the Head of the Judicial Branch, but it has started that we must have a magistracy and a judicial system which makes sense. There is no point in having a system that was invented a hundred and fifty years ago when they had three counties. There is a prison in Berbice, there is a prison in Demerara, there is a prison in Essequibo but now we have prisons all over so we must look at this system to make it flexible. Before this year, if you had to go to collect your child support and you’re living at Wismar you had to go to Vreed-en-Hoop. If you were living in Kwakwani and you have to collect something from the court you had to go to New Amsterdam. That is why it is important that we align all of our public services to the regions and when I went to Lethem, as the Vice President can tell you, if you want to register your business you had to go to Adventure on the Essequibo Coast. How can you run a country like that? So we want to ensure that all of the business that people need to transact in any region could be transacted in the regional capital, the capital town.
This includes the public information system so that people must identify with their regions. They must have a regional flag, a region name; regional radio station and right now Bartica has become a ‘capital’ town because it has all of the ingredients to be a town. Ladies and gentlemen, today is a very important day for Bartica, for the Cuyuni -Mazaruni and for the country. It’s a step not only in public administration, but also in public information.
And let me leave with you two principles, two principles of professionalism. I’m sure that the experts, Rovin [Deodat] and Enrico [Woolford], and Mr. Cornette and other persons can give you a list of principles but there are two important principles. One, if you are a broadcaster, if you are a journalist, you must adhere to the principle of responsibility, social responsibility. Vulgarity can harm, that’s why I made some comments about vulgarians. There must be a sense of social responsibility on Radio Bartica, on Radio Mabaruma, on Radio Lethem, Radio Mahdia. Once you are broadcasting to the public you have to have a sense of social responsibility. We cannot tolerate irresponsibility at any level. We cannot tolerate vulgarity. This does harm to children. It does harm to our culture and I urge the person in charge of this radio station, this radio system, to ensure that there is a sense of responsibility to anyone who is appointed to disseminate public information.
The radio stations are not organs of propaganda. They are meant to be objective and that is the second principle, objectivity. They must be accurate and they must be truthful. Don’t be afraid of the truth but people, even though they try to be objective, will display some bias. Everybody is biased, you know. What we must try to do is suppress that bias and ensure that in disseminating information, we disseminate all sides of the story. So when people make an accusation, the person who is accused must be able to respond. If, say, a man has built a mansion in two years, you must be able to go to the NDC and say when was this mansion built? Oh, this old house? It was built 25 years ago.
Publish the truth, speak the truth, don’t purvey lies and that is the problem with the social media; it’s not that you don’t want to allow people to speak freely but there is no editor on the social media. So people get away with lies; they want to divide the country; they want to publish their vulgarity. So I just leave with you those two principles; responsibility and objectivity. If you go to a scene and you see something occur, try as best as possible to report that occurrence without trying to suppress one part of the story because you don’t want to embarrass your niece or you don’t want to embarrass a friend.
Journalism is a very difficult profession, you know. People think it’s easy. You know, some people think that they are singers because they sing in the bathroom every morning but journalism only can be practiced by people who have been trained to do so, to practise that profession. I often ask people if they’d fly from Cheddi Jagan Airport to John F. Kennedy Airport with a pilot who is untrained. No. Would you allow yourself to be operated on by a quack doctor, a doctor who is untrained? No. Why do you believe that a person who is untrained in journalism could run a radio station, when he or she does not abide by the basic principles of responsibility and objectivity?
So to be a journalist you have or you ought to be trained. Of course, Article 146 gives you licence. Sometimes you might be some, I don’t know, quack, but you just get a microphone and you start to talk but to be professional and to be part of the public information system which this government is establishing and extending, journalists, radio journalists, television journalists, must be trained and must abide by those two core principles of responsibility and objectivity. I hope that in time we will move beyond the radio and have regional television, that we can have regional newspapers for those who still like to read newspapers. We can have regional films, so that in remote areas the municipality or the region could go up the rivers with DVDs and a screen and show remote communities, mining camps, logging camps what other parts of the country are doing.
I remember, in an earlier dispensation, there was a very beautiful series of films about Guyana but that dispensation unfortunately came to an end in 1992. But we must start thinking again about generating films, which could be disseminated all over the country so that everybody gets access to some form of public information through the system that is being created now.
I feel very happy being here, this morning, with you to share these thoughts. I would like to extend our congratulations to the Prime Minister who is Head of the Public Information system in this country through the government, a governmental responsibility; to Mr. [Imran] Khan, Head of the Department of Public Information and to all of the other agencies within the public information system.
We have embarked on a road of public communications, public information, and many people feel that it’s risky, that we should not disclose, that we should not inform, but the heart of our democracy is that information, having an enlightened population which could make informed decisions. I believe today we have made the correct step and I would urge the Prime Minister and his team to continue this good work in bringing public information to the entire public in the Republic of Guyana.
Thank you and may God bless you all.