President David Granger: Mr. Brian Allicock, Chairman of the Upper Essequibo-Upper Takutu Region; Mr. Carlton Beckles, Mayor of the Town of Lethem; Mr. Douglas Casimero, Toshao of Aishalton – our host, without whose permission we would not be allowed in; Ms. Genevieve Thomas, Toshao of Awarewaunau; Mr. Patrick Gomes, Toshao of Mururanau; Mr. Paul Chekema, Toshao of Masakenari; Mr. Anthony Fredricks, Toshao of Shulinab; Mr. Gregory Thomas, Toshao of Sawariwau; Mr. Alexander, Toshao of Katoonarib; welcome all to this important ceremony here today. Mr. Enrico Woolford, Chairman of National Communications Network (NCN) Board and Dr. Rovin Deodat, Project Coordinator; Members of the South Rupununi District Council; representatives of the various ministries and agencies; distinguished invitees; residents; members of the media, ladies and gentlemen:
Twenty-four hours ago, I was almost at the extreme north-west of Guyana at Whitewater Village in the Barima-Waini Region. Today, I am at the southwest of Guyana in Aishalton and what a beautiful country we have. Today, as the Chairman of NCN reminds us, 96 hours ago the world celebrated World Radio Day on the 13th of February- celebrated World Radio Day. So it’s quite a coincidence that the launch of this radio station today is coming so close to World Radio Day. It’s a very important observance for us.
This year in Guyana, we are also celebrating the 80th anniversary of radio broadcasting. It started in a sort of a fitful manner in the 1920s but it was in 1938, exactly 80 years ago, that we started to have regular broadcasts through two stations, VP3MR and VP3BG and later on they were merged into the British Guiana United Broadcasting Company and those of you who pass through Georgetown would know the stations ZFY, which is close to what is now the Our Lady of Fatima Church in Bourda. It used to be ZFY, our first major broadcasting station so it’s good that we should celebrate radio broadcasting in Guyana. I remember growing up it was a luxury to have a radio. In any village there probably would be only one or two radios and people would go to the cake shop or the rum shop or the barbershop; it had to be one of those three shops, to hear the radio. When you want to hear cricket or horse racing on a Saturday, everybody would go to the barbershop because people couldn’t afford to buy a radio.
In fact, in those days a radio was about 15 or 20 pounds heavy and even if you could afford to buy a radio, you couldn’t afford to lift the radio and when you had the radio it was on a little pedestal in your house until we got, of course, other forms of pocket radios, little transistor radios and those days you make a song about the radio, little blue transistor radio. When you had a girlfriend, you would give her a little blue transistor radio if you could afford it. If you didn’t give her, and somebody else gave her, you lost out. But the radio was always important to Guyanese, especially those outside of the towns, and now we celebrate the 80th anniversary of consistent radio broadcasting in Guyana.
I’m glad for this opportunity and I think we need to give credit to Dr. Deodat for his vision in ensuring that this vision has been realized, and it is actually spreading throughout the country. So, World Radio Day is important for Guyana and I hope that in years to come we treat the 13th of February with a little more respect, especially in the hinterland and rural communities, because here we rely on radio more than any other means of communication.
Sometimes you go to communities there is no newspaper, there is no telephone, there is no television and if you’re in Karawab, you have to climb up a coconut tree to use your cellular phone. You don’t know that? If you go to the Pomeroon, there’s a village called Karawab; you better climb up a coconut tree or else you don’t get phone contact. So when you buy a phone in Karawab, buy a coconut tree.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my belief that this event today is not just about entertainment. Our country will remain underdeveloped, the hinterland and rural areas will remain underdeveloped unless we make some very serious decisions about hinterland rural development, particularly the policy of this Government to create capital towns and so far we have created three capital towns. There are more to be created but we’ve created the town of Mabaruma, Bartica, which should have been a town a hundred years ago as far as I’m concerned, (Kamal [Persaud, Deputy Mayor of Bartica] would agree with me, she’s shaking her head) and we’ve created a town here at Lethem.
These towns are meant to provide public services to residents, they are meant to promote economic development and they’re meant to ensure citizens access to public services within those communities; and those of you in Lethem would know that in the recent history, recent past, you had to go to Adventure to register your business. The policy of this Government is that everything you need, education, NIS, banking, whatever services you need, must be provided within the region and radio is one of those services.
So your government, ladies and gentlemen, has a vision of pursuing strong regions. Each region must have its own aerodrome. I am a little disappointed at this one here, at Aishalton; I haven’t been here for a while but that is one thing that needs to be improved. Each region should have its own business district, each region should have its own industrial centres, its own factories, each region should have its own ports of entry; stop this backtracking business – but most of all, each region should have its own radio station to communicate with its residents.
It is my view that the designation of Lethem as a capital town gave effect to this principle of regionalism because I feel that Lethem is going to become a powerhouse, an economic powerhouse for developing this entire region. The Government of Guyana is the Government of regions, for regions, by the regions. The Government cannot operate only at central level, but the important link is the regional level. We have three levels: the local level at the village or the municipality; the central level – that’s why VP Allicock is here – and the regional level, that’s why his brother is here. So at all three levels we must have Allicocks: central, regional and local.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is through these capital towns, through municipalities and through the central government working together that we’ll be able to enhance and accelerate the development of our regions. Every region must be able to provide public services, public education; these thousands of children can’t go to Georgetown to school. Public education must be available here. Public health through the health centres and hospitals, public information, now through this radio station, public security through the police station and in due course we will learn that this region will have its own police region so the obligation of Senior Superintendernt Budhram to come from Bartica would no longer exist. The Rupununi will become its own police division; it wouldn’t be administered from Bartica.
I tease Mr Budhram, I say, “you’ve got the biggest police division in the whole western hemisphere, running from marijuana to Mururanau”, you know, everything from north to south down to Achiwuib, down the Masakenari. He’s responsible for everything so I think when we complete our programme of regionalism he can stay in Bartica without going so far north or so far south. Every region must be able to provide citizenship services. You must be able to get your birth certificate and, in the event that you so desire, your death certificate, in your region. You shouldn’t have to leave if you want to be registered. Passports, immigration and naturalization, all of these services have to be available within the region that is why it’s so important that we have a public broadcasting service in Guyana.
A public broadcasting service is essential especially in this region, a region which is bigger than Costa Rica, as I always say, a region of nearly 58,000 square kilometres. More than a quarter of Guyana’s landmass is in the Rupununi- beautiful region, beautiful breath-taking landscape from the wetlands in the north, the savannahs in the south central areas, the rainforest in the deep south and of course your great rivers, the Essequibo, the longest river in the country, 1,000 kilometres long. The Rupununi is awesome but as a concomitant of its great size is the distances between the villages. How many villages you count: 89 villages and all of the satellites and the distances which separate the villages mean that there is very low population density and of course you have to travel a great distance to get the next village. But despite these geographical conditions, you’re entitled; you’re entitled to the same or similar public services to residents in other parts of the country – that’s why we’re here today and we’re keen to ensure that you have access to those public services.
Your Government is concerned that as far as the delivery of public information is concerned, just like public health, just like public education, you should not be wanting for public information and this radio station is going to assist not in education alone, not in information alone but in democracy – in government. When I speak of public information, I speak of a public good. What is a public good? A public good is something that everyone can take away, but it will not diminish; it will not deprive somebody else from enjoying that good; that is what a public good – it is not something personal and a radio station is a public good everybody can benefit and nobody can lose. You have a right to public information; the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, the supreme law of our nation states that, “This is a fundamental right; freedom to hold opinions without interference; freedom to receive ideas and information without interference and freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference”.
That is guaranteed under the Constitution and this radio station will enable you to enjoy that freedom. You have a right to receive information in a form that is comprehensible to you. I looked at the man next to me while the national anthem was being sung in Wapishana and I looked at his lips to see if he was singing along. I make no joke; yesterday I was at the village of Whitewater and a small number of children, not a large number of children, could not go to school. They are of the Warrau nation and they speak no English – the teachers speak no Warrau, so they are mutually unintelligible to one another. As President, I cannot have that; I have to solve the problem. So, it means that here you must be able to broadcast to the residents of the Rupununi in the languages of the Rupununi of which I think there are three if not four. In the north you must be able to broadcast in Macushi; into the south you must be able to broadcasting in Wapishana and eventually, in the Deep South, you must be able broadcast in Wai-Wai.
In other areas you may have to broadcast in Patamona and in other areas you may have to broadcast in English, but people must be able to listen to programmes in their native language and that is one of the challenges of our public radio system that we are creating. And this radio system too, apart from the practical and technical aspects of communications, must adapt the professional ethics of journalism, of radio broadcasting; that is, they must adhere to the standards of objectivity and social responsibility and they must avoid vulgarity. Now, I say this because some people, when they come before a microphone or they write a column in the newspaper, they go one of the social media [platforms] they fell that they can [speak] without restriction; they can abuse, they can confuse, they can slander and this is a great danger that if you are a media operative, if you’re a trained journalist, you have to abide by the rules of your profession and one of those rules is objectivity – you have to hear the other side.
If you hear an allegation against a person you must listen to what that person has to say without publishing the allegation and that is something some of our media operatives still have to learn – objectivity. Objectivity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t publish adverse news, but you should listen to both sides; similarly, social responsibility, and those of you were being trained in journalism would always know the story told at Journalism School. Do you have the right to shout fire in a crowded cinema? And if you have a sense of social responsibility, you cannot exercise that so-called freedom of expression or freedom communication by causing death and destruction. So these are some lessons we still have to learn and I trust that the public broadcasting service that we are creating will be professional enough to adhere at least those two criteria: objectivity and source responsibility.
Ladies and gentlemen this system that we are creating, the regional public radio station system, is one of the most significant changes in the media landscape since we became independent. It will provide residents with the opportunity to receive information and ideas and to communicate those ideas and information through song, through news, through interviews. It will uphold your freedom of expression, your right to freedom of expression; it will support the public interest by allowing residents to know what is going on in their communities, especially communities which straggle over large areas, with satellites; it will enable democratic empowerment of citizens, citizens who are better informed; you’re able to make better decisions; you’re able to participate fully in the affairs of our community because you know what other sections of the community are doing.
It will promote social cohesion, just as you heard here in having communal songs; in having communal celebrations for Mashramani, for example- bringing us together, strengthening the bonds between citizens rather than dividing people one from the other. It will accelerate National Integration, breaking down the bars of isolation and sometimes you feel so isolated; sometimes people on the east of the Essequibo don’t know what is going on in the west of the Essequibo; sometimes people in the north, maybe in the Pakaraima, in Potaro-Siparuni, don’t know what’s going on in Cuyuni-Mazaruni. So the system of regional public radio station will help to integrate Guyana more fully so regions wouldn’t be isolated; they’ll be communicating with each other more regularly, more frequently and it will promote greater understanding of one another, including appreciating our differences. It will build respect so that we don’t laugh when we hear somebody else worship in a way that is different to ours. I may be a Muslim, somebody may be Hindu, somebody else may be a Christian, somebody may be a Baha’i, somebody may be Rastafari, somebody may be from the Arrerueya religion from Region Seven, and somebody will learn to appreciate each other’s differences rather than giggle and chatter when they hear worship in a different language.
All of these things are important and it will help us to communicate with persons who are disabled, who are vulnerable; the elderly who cannot leave their homes – they may just be able to sit down and listen to the radio like my mom used to do. She could always tell me who died because every night she has to listen to death announcements; that was her favourite programme and she had a pile of sympathy cards as soon as she heard a name she’d start writing and sending out – a remarkable woman there. So this is a very important initiative – these regional public radio stations; as I said, it will be important to developing and deepening our democratic participation in public administration. It will cause the Rupununi to be better administered because more people will know more about the way the Rupununi is being run; it will educate, it will enlighten, it will entertain.
So ladies and gentleman, I come here not as a duty; I come here because it’s a pleasure, it is part of my function as Head of State to extend governance by ensuring that there is a wider and more equitable distribution of public information services. There are many areas, too many areas in this country, where communities are out of touch because they don’t have the means of hearing one another, of communicating; and I think this initiative today that the initiative is going to help to break down the barriers of under communication. So regional public radio stations… must extend throughout the length and breadth of Guyana. When I go to Whitewater, I must be able to, as you said, listen to 95.1FM. When I go to Masakenari I must know that I am in Guyana and one day there will be a highway right between Port Mourant and Masakenari; drive all the way listening to 95.1FM all the way.
Ladies and gentlemen, today, I am very happy to be here among you, among the Wapishana in Aishalton, to participate in this important process. It is not complete, it’s a start and I’m sure that as a result of this effort Guyana will be better governed and the people of Guyana will be better informed and belong to a more cohesive community.
Thank you and May God bless Radio Aishalton.