President David Granger: Members of the Regional Democratic Council and Chairpersons of Regional Democratic Councils; Mayors and Members of the Municipal Councils; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen:
I think the Minister of Communities has already set the historical context in which I would like to frame my remarks. As you know, the State of Guyana was founded as three Dutch colonies: Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice which was ceded to Great Britain by the Treaty of London in 1814 and were united by Royal Commission as a single colony in 1831.
The burden of history, however, weighs heavily on the present-day system of public administration. The colony of British Guiana was divided into three counties: Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice, which adopted the geographical and historical contours of the original Dutch colonies. These counties, however, were not functional for development from any point of view, economic or administrative.
These counties, by the middle of the last century, were subdivided into nine districts: East Berbice, West Berbice, East Demerara, West Demerara, Essequibo Islands in Essequibo, the Northwest, Mazaruni, Potaro and Rupununi and these nine districts evolved more or less into the ten regions which we have today. Some people still speak of the Northwest as if it were a region to show how the obsolete continues to penetrate our thinking today.
Districts in the colonial era were governed by district commissioners. These were appointees of the Central Government and their principal duties were mainly to coordinate the activities of various Government departments and collect revenue. This centralised policy has had lasting impact on the system of public administration today, not always a favourable impact. Guyana today, as you heard from the minister, administers a regional system in accordance with the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and this makes provision for the country to be divided into ten regions among other things. Local democratic organs including, municipalities, neighbourhood democratic councils, community councils and village councils form part of the State’s democratic composition.
Our Constitution requires and I quote, “That local democratic organs ensure the efficient management and development of their areas and provide leadership by example.” The Constitution requires further that “Local democratic organs shall organize popular political cooperation in respect to political cooperation, in respect to political, economic, cultural and social life of the people.” Our Constitution demands, therefore, that local democratic organs be responsible for the management and development of their areas and for organised forms of popular cooperation. The historical emphasis on strong Central Government control and the absence for nearly two decades of local democratic elections, however, retarded the development of a vibrant system of local government.
The reintroduction of local democratic elections on the 18th of March, 2016, renewed local democracy in Guyana and opened an opportunity to empower local democratic organs; an attempt to wean them away from excessive dependency on Central Government. The new regional system, therefore, must not embalm the obsolete colonial approach by perpetuating the arrogant attitudes of the past. The opportunity must be taken to abandon the colonial approach and to adopt a consultative approach to public administration.
Guyana, geographically, is a State of relatively large regions by Caribbean standards; most of our regions are larger than Caribbean States. Democratically and economically, the regions are not uniformed; some regions, like the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, are larger than The Netherlands. The Rupununi region is larger than Costa Rica; similarly, the regions have an unequal distribution of the population. The National population distribution is about 3.5 persons per square kilometre and most of the commercial, agricultural and manufacturing enterprises are located on the coastland, which accounts for only 7.5% of our national territory.
Your Government, for these reasons, is continuously trying to strengthen the system of public administration by making each region administratively more resourceful; geographically and infrastructurally more integrated; economically more robust and, depending on your efforts, demographically more populous, something to work on. The Government aims eventually, at ensuring that each region would possess its own capital town. This is necessary to deliver administrative services and to promote economic development. We envisage that eventually, each region should have its own aerodromes, its own banks, its own chambers of commerce, its own courts, its own factories, hospitals, museums and galleries, its own newspapers, radio and television stations, its own passports and regional offices, its own police stations, secondary schools, sporting stadiums, sub-treasuries and other amenities and public services.
We are coming out of an obsolete system in which businessmen in Lethem had to go to Anna Regina or Adventure on the Essequibo Coast to register their businesses; in which persons who went before the courts in Wismar, in Region Ten, had to go to Vreed-en-Hoop in Region Three to collect their financial awards; persons in Kwakwani had to go to New Amsterdam. So the current system of administration would be very slow to adapt to modernity and this has led to, not only administrative inefficiencies, but great discomfort on the part of our population.
Your Government today expects each region to develop the capacity and the capability of creating employment opportunities for its young people. In the Rupununi, in the Barima-Waini Region, in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni, young people should not have to go across the borders to look for work, they should have technical institutes; they should have employment opportunities in their own regions. We see each region developing the capability to attract investors; to encourage commerce with the Caribbean and other parts of the world; with developing, thriving business districts, industrial parks, busy highways and bustling stellings.
A rich country can only build on poor regions; rich regions require cooperation among the local government organs in order to ensure that they are working towards the achievement of common goals. The establishment of this Regional Development Consultative Committee, therefore, is a means of promoting cooperation among municipalities, neighbourhood democratic councils and regional democratic councils if we are to achieve our common goals. The Government operates at three levels: at the local, regional and national and all three must work together if we are to achieve the development objectives that we seek. When regional chairmen refuse to attend important governmental functions like this, you can see where divisionism starts- divisionism spelt with D-I-V, not the other way. This is nothing less than administrative sabotage.
The regional democratic councils, within the limits of the law, must work with municipalities, neighbourhood democratic councils, village councils and other stakeholders in order to promote the development of their respective regions. RDCs must superintend and cooperate with their NDCs and village councils giving them support and assistance when needed. Change is taking place; we are no longer a colony and have to accept responsibility for the development of our country. The National Regional Development Consultative Committee is an important step towards strengthening our system of modern and appropriate public administration.
I thank you.