President David Granger: Honourable Prime Minister and First Vice President, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo; Vice President, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan; Honourable Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Basil Williams; Honourable Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan; Honourable Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon; Chief of Staff; Heads of Services; Officers of the Guyana Defence Force; invitees; members of the media
It’s always good to come back to Camp Ayanganna and today I’m particularly pleased to follow the presentation made by the Chief of Staff which is entirely in accord with the vision and mandate of the Guyana Defence Board. We live in a unique country – a country blessed with teeming coastal waters and a coastland of mangroves and mudflats; a country of fertile islands and idyllic lake lands of the Essequibo; of majestic hinterland highlands; of grasslands; of extensive wetlands; luxuriant rainforests and refreshing rivers and waterfalls. Guyana, by the grace of God, is not barren or blighted; it is a beautiful and bountiful land; its diverse ecological zones are teeming with animal and plant life. These zones are the habitats of world-class giants – the anaconda, the arapaima, the armadillo, caiman, capybara, eagle, jaguar, otter, tapir, turtle, vulture and many more are the largest animals, not only in Guyana or the continent, but in their class in the world.
Guyana must protect its pristine forests and largely uncontaminated aquatic and other intact ecosystems, which are essential to enriching and replenishing its own and the earth’s biodiversity. This homeland is ours to possess and to protect. Our philosophy of national defence cannot be separated from our patrimony. Officers, as you know, Guyana has a coastline of 259 km coastline and over 3,000 km of land borders. Our rivers – the giant Essequibo, over 1,000 kilometres long, is fed by many tributaries; the Berbice River (595 km); the Demerara River (346 km); these are important waterways and when our Exclusive Economic Zone is added, our waterways contribute to major riverine and maritime responsibility for the State.
The protection of Guyana’s coast, rivers and territorial waters is a vital function of national security. The Guyana Defence Force is entrusted with the responsibility for the protection of this country’s patrimony. The Force, however, faces numerous challenges in safeguarding our national territory – including airspace, our borders, our marine resources and rivers. The vast areas, long distances and small aviation and maritime fleets available to our Air Corps and Coast Guard, respectively, limit our ability to effectively control our air and maritime spaces.
The Essequibo River, our longest river, does not have a single bridge, but we will fix that. The Rupununi, our largest region, does not have a single highway. Access to nearly seventy-five percent of our territory, which is covered with forests is difficult, a situation compounded by inadequate infrastructure such as aerodromes, bridges, highways and stellings. Infrastructural development is a top national priority and the Force’s technical corps must all be strengthened to allow it to contribute effectively to national development and to execute its mandate of protecting the national territory. National defence is inseparable from national development. Public infrastructure enables us to provide for public security by guaranteeing safety for our citizens and by providing comfort for investors and visitors.
National defence is a public good. A public good is something that benefits everyone. It is non-excludable; it is non-rivalrous. It is a service to all; everyone could use it without diminishing its use for others. The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana provides, and I quote
The State’s defence and security policy shall be to defend national independence, preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity and guarantee normal functioning of institutions and security of citizens against any armed aggression.
This is a call for total national defence, that is, for ensuring that all the instruments and assets of national power can be employed in order to defend our country. The Defence Act further, as you know, enjoins the GDF at Section V with responsibility for “the defence and maintenance of order in Guyana”.
The Guyana Defence Force’s defence strategy – underpinned by the doctrine of total national defence – is based on diplomacy and defence; diplomacy has always been our first line. The strategic objectives of this policy are to ensure the safety of citizens, the security of the state and the strength of the economy.
The Force’s duty, therefore, is to:
– prevent aggression;
– to protect the population; and
– to project cooperation with friendly countries such as the Caribbean states.
The Guyana Government, ever mindful of its duty to secure our territorial integrity and sovereignty, has been engaged in various, vigorous diplomatic initiatives over the past 32 months. These efforts have all been aimed at reaching a peaceful resolution to the territorial controversy and that controversy, as you know, arose out of the contention by the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that the Arbitral Award of October 1899, an award by which Guyana’s borders were formally delimited under international law, was a nullity. The controversy was placed before the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in accordance with the Geneva Agreement of February 1966. I met the incumbent UN Secretary-General on the 25th of September 2017 in New York and I met the Personal Representative right here in Georgetown, in April last year.
At the present time, Guyana is still engaged in a renewed Good Offices process but we remain confident that the process will eventuate in a juridical settlement of this controversy – a controversy that has stymied the development of our state since Independence. The Force, however, cannot sit on its hands in pursuance of its defence doctrine; it must continue to be strengthened as a well-organised, well-commanded, well-trained and well-equipped defence force with the core responsibilities of keeping our citizens safe and our country secure. The Force, in order to fulfil its mission, must be agile and flexible.
As you’ve heard from the Chief of Staff, reorganisation is continuous and this is needed for organisational and operational efficiency. The reinforcement of the Force’s High Command which started with the restoration of the appointments of the Adjutant General, Inspector General, Quartermaster General and the appointment of the Commandant of the Guyana People’s Militia have allowed dedicated superior officers to pay undivided attention to personnel and soldiers’ morale; the improvement of soldiers’ living conditions; maintaining a high state of operational readiness and the inter-operability with fraternal Caribbean Defence Forces. In addition to which, we have now embarked on the mobilisation and training of reserves.
The Force, in other words, is being brought up to its authorised strength to allow it to be deployed to any part of the country, in any weather or terrain, and at short notice. The ‘reserve force’ – the Guyana People’s Militia – is being rebuilt in every single administrative region. The Militia is an essential arm of the Regional System. Every regional capital town must have at least one company of the Militia, eventually; this will enable each region to respond more promptly to render assistance to residents in the event of emergencies. Our troops don’t have to be flown in from the capital because they will have their own resident companies.
Several corps of the Force are also being reformed and re-capitalised:
– The Agriculture Corps (you would have noticed the changes as you drive past the Garden of Eden); the Agriculture Corps will embark on agro-processing in order to produce foods which can be preserved and packaged as compact rations for soldiers on long-range patrols and field operations and also as emergency supplies to citizens affected by natural disasters and floods. Agri-Corps must be not only an agent for producing food stuff, but also for processing foodstuff for use by the soldiers and in emergencies through the Civil Defence Commission.
– The Air Corps and Coast Guard will be upgraded to allow for continuous surveillance over our airspace, our maritime space and our land space and to support search-and-rescue services to persons in distress.
– The Engineer Corps is being restructured and re-equipped to enable it to re-engage in the development of public infrastructure and to assist in disaster relief efforts, not only here in Guyana but in other countries affected by natural disasters such as our Caribbean neighbours. The Engineer Corps will expand the Force’s capability also to generate electrical energy from renewable sources in every single military base and camps.
– The Signal Corps will be re-established as the main arm for the advancement of information and communications technologies and telecommunications, as you’ve heard from the Chief-of-Staff; and, the National Cadet Corps, recently re-established in January 2018 in our public school system, will see Cadet Training Centres being built alongside the regional Militia Drill Halls. The National Cadet Corps will inculcate the five standards of Service embodied in the Force’s Manual of Values and Standards; these are: responsibility; respect for the law; respect for others; correct conduct; and appropriate social behaviour.
Service in the Cadet Corps will expose young Guyanese to the country’s distinctive landscapes and diverse cultures. The Corps will develop their leadership skills and team work and prepare youths for citizenship. It is hoped that graduates from the Corps, entering the officer corps, will provide a high standard of leadership; too frequently we read in the newspapers and we receive reports of officers involved in all manner of crime such as trafficking in narcotics and civil offences. That will soon come to an end.
The Force is the premier agency charged with responsibility to protect our homeland against new security threats such as environmental degradation, flooding and drought. The Force is being readied to support the Government’s law-enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in illegal weapons and narcotics and transnational terrorism. The Force will support, also, the green initiatives aimed at reducing its carbon footprint.
The Force has embarked on a programme of long-range patrols aimed at re-affirming our national territorial borders – from Punta Playa in the north-west to the Kutari in the south-east; from Ankoko in the west to Orealla in the east. The Force will re-establish a Mounted Police Corps to allow patrols in areas, along our borders, which are not easily accessible by other means and which are at risk of incursions by illegal aliens, bandits and contraband smugglers.
The Force in so doing, will require the support of the rest of our population if it is to successfully realise the doctrine of total national defence. Today in Guyana we are grappling with dangerous men who, with every rant, are pushing the country to the precipice of division. This Government, as early as May 2015, established a Ministry of Social Cohesion. Social cohesion is about combating discrimination and marginalisation; it is about creating a sense of belonging and promoting upward mobility. Social cohesion has been defined as “the belief held by citizens of a given nation-state that they share a moral community which enables them to trust each other”. This is true for Guyana and it is true for the Guyana Defence Force.
Officers, discord and division, arising out of ethnic, economic, political and other differences ― as we have discovered during ‘the disturbances’ of 1964 and ‘the Troubles’ of 2002 ― has the potential to spawn extremism and conflict. Society has been scarred by violence which up to now, has left a lingering legacy of distrust and the potential for fresh disorder. Monuments at Bartica, Buxton and down the road at Eve Leary have had to be erected to the victims of violence during ‘the Troubles’ between 2002 and 2008 and we still have an obligation to investigate those ‘Troubles’ and to ensure that the culprits are brought to justice.
The Force must help to repair that damage caused by ‘the Troubles’. The Force must help to restore trust and rebuild the bases of a ‘moral community’ which enables us all to work with each other. The Force must project itself as an institution committed to the highest values and standards. Officers and soldiers must be encouraged to maintain the maxims of duty, discipline, identity, integrity and loyalty – the Force’s five core values.
Officers, the Force is pursuing vigorously a policy of defence diplomacy. This policy has seen the Guyana Defence Force improving its capabilities through training in foreign countries and participation in joint exercises with other defence forces, including disaster relief and humanitarian exercises.
Defence diplomacy can promote respect for principles of mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, cooperation for mutual benefit, respect for treaties and international law and the maintenance of regional peace and security. On my visit to Brasilia in December last year, these are some of the benefits of interacting with President Michel Temer, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil. Officers, defence diplomacy has allowed the Force to benefit from significant cooperation and donations of non-lethal assistance from friendly countries, particularly Brazil, Britain, the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America.
The People’s Republic of China, particularly, has assisted the Cooperative Republic of Guyana materially, by the providing engineering and other equipment and machinery in 2017 and, indeed, it has been doing so consistently over the years. The vessels have been a welcome addition to the Force’s riverine fleet. The earth-moving and earth-clearing and earth-preparation and other equipment will be used in the Engineer Corps to improve the capability of that corps and to extend national infrastructure.
The Federative Republic of Brazil has been a friend of Guyana for over fifty years. The visit of Brazil’s army Military Commander of the North, General Carlos Alberto Neiva Barcellos, last November, reviewed and renewed existing areas of cooperation between our two neighbouring Republics. The Brazilian Army provides expert instructors at the Colonel Ulric Pilgrim Officer Cadet School and the Colonel Robert Mitchell Special Warfare School and has committed to assisting by drilling wells to provide potable water in the Rupununi, a region which is notorious for its susceptibility to prolonged periods of drought. Defence diplomacy will promote cooperation to boost efforts at combating transnational crime. It will strengthen regional integration and promote solidarity with other defence forces.
Officers, Guyana is our common home, our only home. Our homeland is in transition to becoming a ‘green’ state – a ‘green’ state is one which places emphasis on the preservation of our biodiversity and the protection of the environment. Our Protected Areas System will be expanded by an additional two million hectares; and I have asked the Chief of Staff to reform the so-called Coastal Battalion to enable it to conduct more operations internally and along our borders. Government buildings, increasingly, are to be powered by alternative sources of energy, as part of our renewable energy agenda.
The Force therefore, is being improved continuously to give effect to this doctrine of total national defence. The size of the Force will not be increased. The workload of the Force will be increased. The Force is readying itself to respond to emerging security threats; its presence on our borders is being fortified; its contribution to national defence and to national production is being improved; its role as a national institution committed to values and standards is being promoted and it is pursuing enlightened policies of social cohesion.
The Force, this year, has an opportunity to make decisions which will accelerate the transformation process and hasten its plans to continue to rebuild the reserves; to re-establish the Cadet Corps; to re-tool the Technical Corps; to reinforce border security and to replenish and renew the Force’s contribution to economic development.
The Guyana Defence Force, in this its fifty-third year, is well positioned to become a force for the greater good of our blessed homeland.
I thank you.