President David Granger: Regional Chairperson of the Demerara-Mahaica Region, Ms. Genevieve Allen; officials of the Regional Democratic Council; distinguished guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen: This region, the Demerara-Mahaica Region, and this Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition, come at the right time. I would say that for this region, the exhibition is long overdue.
I don’t agree with those who said that this is the first in a series. I attended an exposition at Albion in the East Berbice region in August last year. I attended the exhibition in the Upper Demerara Region – Linden – in March this year. I attended the exhibition at Anna Regina in the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region in April. I attended the exhibition at Bath Settlement in West Berbice again in April, and last month I attended the exhibition at Lethem in the Rupununi Region. So this really is the sixth that I’ve been attending or that I will be attending over this very short period; although they were not all called Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibitions they all had the same purpose, and I look forward to this region holding, annually, from now on, these exhibitions and I look forward to the other four regions – the Barima-Waini, West Demerara Region, Cuyuni-Mazaruni and Potaro-Siparuni – holding their exhibitions in the not too distant future.
This is important because the exhibition is about people. It’s not about Government. We speak about Government operating at different levels. There is a central government represented by the ministers here, there’s a regional administration represented by the regional chairman, and there’s the NDCs, the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils and the municipalities but all three levels have to function, have to work together.
So when we speak of a Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition, we speak of collaboration with the Central Government and with the local authorities but all three, as I said, have to work together. We want to ensure that the farmers and fisher folk, the manufacturers, can benefit from these exhibitions. We want to ensure that the traders can benefit from these exhibitions. I have been impressed with what I have seen in the previous five exhibitions at Linden, at Anna Regina, at Bath Settlement, at Lethem. I have seen women, widows, housewives, producing condiments, coming out of the villages in the Rupununi to put their goods on display. I’ve seen micro and small enterprises coming into being because individuals see the prospects, see the opportunities not only to produce and make profit but also to contribute to the regional wealth. This has started to happen quietly in all of our regions and this is a product of the regionalisation that we introduced, especially in the wake of the Local Government Elections, last year, when we created three new towns; and it’s my ambition that every region would be governed by a ‘capital town’. So far, we’ve produced or created three new towns, Bartica, Mabaruma and Lethem, and we will continue to create towns so that every single region has a ‘capital town’; and Region Four does not have a ‘capital town’. Paradise is not a town, Triumph is not a town but we’ll find new towns. Every region must get one.
This exhibition also emphasises the importance of regional stakeholders. Not only the RDCs and the NDCs must come out but we want to see greater participation by the private sector. Some people in the private sector never fail to criticise the Central Government. Let them come here. Let them come here and exhibit their goods. Let them come here and demonstrate how they are contributing to the economy. Let them put their products where their mouths are. So we want civil society to come to participate in this regional exhibition. Let us show the world, let us show the country that Demerara-Mahaica is united and is willing to demonstrate the full extent of its economic potential. In other regions I have encouraged the Regional Chairpersons and here I encourage Ms. Genevieve Allen to develop, especially next year, financial year 2018, a regional economic action plan. We cannot go through this five-year-cycle; we cannot go on from year to year without having a plan. So let us see a regional economic action plan which caters for the overall development of all of the neighbourhoods and municipalities in this region as well as to augment the production that the Minister of Agriculture spoke about.
Guyana is a eulogized state but, as I said, Government operates at three different levels, at central, regional and local levels; but it also means that we all can operate horizontally throughout the ten regions and it is a paradox, perhaps an unwelcome paradox, that three of the five coastal regions do not yet have their own towns but it’s also painful for me to see that the five largest regions are also the five poorest regions and they are the five hinterland regions. So what we see in Guyana is that we have five more or less developed regions and five much less developed regions, and these Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibitions must aim at creating equal standards between the coastal regions and the hinterland regions.
The hinterland regions are not ‘bush’; they possess wealth. Those are the regions from which we get our gold and diamonds and timber but they also have tremendous agricultural wealth and economic potential in terms of energy generation. So if we are to reduce the inequalities between the coast and the hinterland we need to develop these regional agricultural and commercial exhibitions.
Those of you who could have heard above the noise in the National Assembly when I spoke there the 2nd of November would know that I spoke of the common good. Everybody can’t get everything they want all the time. We’ve grown up and we have to learn to share. In everything that we do, if we speak of the common good we have to think of all ten regions. We have to think of equity and I would like to urge the most developed regions to assist the least developed regions. As you’ve heard before, Demerara-Mahaica is the most developed, it’s the smallest in size but it is the strongest in economy. Forty percent of the population lives here but at the same time much of the economic potential, the banks, the financial institutions, the airports, the international airports, road networks are all located, to a greater extent – all culminate in Region Four.
So Region Four has the infrastructure, it has the institutions. How are we going to develop this country equitably if everything is concentrated in one place? So regionalism is intended not only to diversify the economy but also to decentralise Government and that is why we’ve put so much emphasis on the region. We can’t imagine a system in which an entire country that is bigger than England and Scotland combined is run by a minister in Fort Street, Kingston. That is what we’re putting so much emphasis on regional development. That is why this administration has made so many advances in terms of local government; setting up new towns and ensuring that our municipalities are strong. As the Minister of Agriculture pointed out, this region produces rice – maybe a small percentage, just five percent of the national production. It produces even up to now 11% of sugar. It produces 86% of fish and shrimp. It produces 60% of poultry meat. It produces 70% of pork, as Mr. Anderson is proud of boasting; so you know where you get your pickled pork for Christmas and your garlic pork. He’s a pork man. It produces nearly one third of the national production of coconuts and nowadays Guyana is becoming so good at coconut production you can tell where coconuts come from by taste. Pomeroon coconuts, Ann’s Grove coconuts, Berbice coconuts but Demerara is important not only as a commercial hub, as an industrial hub, but also as part of the food bowl of the nation.
With this economic vitality and with this economic diversity we are confident that the holding of these Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibitions every year and every region can help to augment production and, as far as I am concerned, can help to close the gap between the hinterland and coastland. Yesterday, for most of the day I was in the Upper-Mazaruni at a village called Kako. Many of you will never go to Kako but it’s difficult to run a country when you have so many communities without newspapers, without television, without cell phones, without telephones, without roads.
So you here in Demerara-Mahaica are lucky but, at the same time as President of this country, I want to see this luck shared throughout all ten regions. We are in transition to becoming a ‘green’ state. A ‘green’ state is one that respects the environment, one that preserves our biodiversity, one that promotes the generation of renewable energy. So I’m sure next year, Regional Chairman, when I come to your R.A.C.E., I wouldn’t be hearing the hum of gasoline powered generators in the background but we will be having solar power generation, I’m sure.
I like to tell the story of when I was a young person growing up at Whim on the Corentyne. The rice millers already had wind chargers. Sometimes they were the only people who had electricity throughout the night. Most people had hurricane lamps, Tilly or Coleman lamps, but seventy years ago the rice miller already had wind chargers. We could have the same. There are over five dozen sites in Guyana which could generate hydroelectricity; and we will one day.
The Rupununi has more hours of sunlight than any other part of the country and we could generate electricity using solar power. So by becoming a ‘green’ state and by using these Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibitions to display ‘green’ materials, ‘green’ energy generating equipment, as I saw in Linden and other agricultural exhibitions, we’ll be able to spread that ‘green’ technology throughout the country.
Demerara-Mahaica brings tremendous experience in terms of banking and commerce and shipping. It has experience also in enterprise, it has experience in the sale and production of environmental products and you have a lot to teach the rest of this country. It is my view that Demerara-Mahaica shows the way, Demerara-Mahaica can lead the way; Demerara-Mahaica can instruct other regions in cooperation, in transportation, in communication, not only by growing and showing but also by implanting its technologies in all of the other regions. Why it is that entrepreneurs and miners can come from Brazil or China or Canada to develop our resources and Guyanese entrepreneurs cannot penetrate the other regions in order to establish those enterprises? So I wish that we who are gathered here from the Demerara-Mahaica Region could go into the other regions and implant those economic enterprises which could help to aid their development.
I’m very happy to be here this evening, to be with you at this Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibition. I had hoped that there would have been a wider participation from people along the highway and the East Bank and along the Coast and from the capital city itself. Hopefully, the turnout on Saturday and Sunday would be augmented, but this is a start and, as the Chinese say, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. So I’d like to congratulate the chairpersons and the members of the team. I’d like to encourage the regional chambers of commerce to get on board if they’re not on board as yet. I’d like to encourage all the farmers and traders and fisher folk in this region to support the Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition. What’s good for Region Four is good for Guyana, what is good for Guyana is good for the Caribbean. With these words I am pleased to declare open this Regional Agricultural and Commercial Exhibition for the Demerara-Mahaica Region and I wish it every success.
May God bless you all.