President David Granger: Welcome also to the Baridi Benab if you haven’t been here before. This is public property, it is yours; but this was constructed for this purpose and I think if you come here at Phagwah you will see Hindu ceremonies, and if you come here for Diwali you will see diyas; you’ve never seen them before from Main Street coming into this yard. If you’re coming here at the end of Ramadan, if you’re coming here at Eid you will see Muslim ceremonies; at Easter and Christmas you will see Christian ceremonies. So this is for all Guyanese including non-believers. This is yours; it saves rental of tents. Save a lot of money, right, Finance Secretary? That’s why I built it in the first place, because I couldn’t believe the amount of money we were shelling out in renting tents.
As you know “Benab” comes from an Arawak word which means a little shelter covered with banana leaves -that’s the origin of Benab, and the Baridi of course is a special hawk, a bat falcon. It’s a Guyanese bird which I think can descend on its prey at the speed of a hundred kilometres an hour. Very fast when it’s hungry but this event this morning is symbolic – that the Head of State, the Head of the Public Service, the Head of the Government of Guyana should sit down and break bread with the Public Servants of Guyana. This is the way it should be because we’re all engaged in the same business, the proper governance and the proper administration of Guyana. So we can’t fight one another, we have to sit together and work for the improvement of our country. I think any man or woman who is 95 years old probably is fixed on just one or two things. I don’t think anybody here is 95 but when you turn 95 your attention is fixed and one of those fixations is very likely death. You’re convinced of the inevitability of death. Even if you thought you would have lived long, by the time you’re 95 you know that the time is getting short. But Unions are not humans and this Union is not going to die. Some of you will. All of you will, I am sure; if you listen carefully to Pastor Messiah I’m sure he will re-assure you of the inevitability of death but the Union lives on and of course the founders of the Union in 1923 are no longer here with us but if the Unions don’t adapt they die, like the dinosaurs.
The dinosaurs didn’t adapt, they became extinct. If you don’t change, you fossilize. If you don’t reform you will perish and if you look back at the history of unions over the last 95 years, in fact longer than that because this is I think the second Union to be formed, the first being the British Guiana Labour Union(BGLU) and this Union was formed four years after the BGLU; but if you look at the number of unions, unions which once used to be powerful – I remember in the 1960s you had a Union called the NPCA and I don’t think any schoolchild would know what NPCA means nowadays. So Unions can die, they could become extinct, they could be gobbled up by bigger Unions, they could lose their sense of purpose, their sense of direction, they can lose their membership. So even at 95 you must have hope that your days will be long in the land which the lord thy God giveth thee.
In 1953 we had the first major study on the civil service called the Mills Report, and in that report it mentioned that “the main purpose of a civil service is to be an organ for the presentation to ministers of the product of organised thought and collective experience.” It is the public servants who have to present to the ministers; so the public servant has a role to play because the ministers will come and the ministers will go, but that service that the public servant provides is to give the minister the best of his organised thought and his experience. A new minister may come into office in 2015 but he sees a public servant, he sees a permanent secretary, he sees a body of officials who will guide him, who will advise him but those public servants must be people, men and women of integrity and ability and this has been my vision and this has been my mission, that never again should any government have to come into office and be faced with a situation in which senior public servants are charged by the court or are removed from office for one reason or the other.
We should be comfortable with the public service that we inherit, the public service that goes on from year to year and that is why within my first week I met with senior public servants at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre and I went up Vlissengen Road to the Public Service training centre, training division and from the earliest days, I announced that nobody should be able to walk off the street on the 4th of June and become a public servant on the 5th of June. How will you give your minister the benefit of your experience if you have less experience than your minister? How do you know what to do? You have to be trained. Every profession requires training. If you want to become a surgeon you have to be trained. If you want to become an airline pilot you have to be trained. If you want to become a military officer you have to be trained. How can it be that you can be a professional public servant and be untrained? So it seemed to be logical that we should establish a Public Service training college, not to hinder the career development of public servants but to enable them to do the job that they should do; to enable them to advise their ministers and to give the ministers that reasoned, organised thought and the collective experience. When a new minister goes into a ministry he should call his permanent secretary and senior public servants and say “what going on in this ministry?” “How this ministry really runs?” because he doesn’t know. He might be selected by his party; he might be voted for by the population but no minister can know everything about public health or public infrastructure, public security or public telecommunication and you notice how I like the word public? Like public service; we’ll come to that just now.
So, I started work on the establishment of the Bertram Collins College of the Public Service and, as the Vice President announced, we have re-established the Public Service Appellate Tribunal. We convened the Lutchman Commission into the Public Service. We increased public servants salaries and pensions. I think when I went into the 10th Parliament, old age pension was about seven thousand, five hundred dollars – now correct me if I’m wrong, Doctor Butts – in 2011 and now I think it’s about $19,500 or thereabouts. So we know which direction we’re moving, not that you all are pensioners as yet, but it’s a demonstration of our commitment to the vulnerable sections of our society, and also salaries have increased, not as much as you would like but, when you are faced with a situation in which you are bailing out a failing industry at nearly a billion dollars a month, you realise that money is hard to find and I don’t want to be faced with the type of situation one of my colleagues is faced with in the West Indies there. I have never seen such a tale of woe but we have to be prudent in the management of our finance and in a way, many sectors, many social sectors have suffered because of our need to prevent that significant industry from collapsing; but spending a billion dollars a month is very, very hard and I am sure that there are better places that that money could be spent but not now.
And you’re quite right, when I was President of the Chess Federation, thirty years ago or so, I used to rent the GPSU complex for my jazz sessions and I’m not going to rent it now. I don’t think he could even give me for free but let us work together; whatever went wrong, let us work together to restore that sports complex to one of the best entertainment centres in the city of Georgetown, one of the best play fields in the city of Georgetown.
Thank you for your applause and we will do that not by shouting at one another but by sitting down and working together; but that is my commitment. I am very confident that that is the commitment of the other president, present here today, President [Patrick] Yarde. So, colleagues, where are we? We are here together communing. I don’t want to offend anybody by saying having communion but we are communing as states and servants of the state, and I just want to leave three rules with you, and the first rule is the rule of service. That’s what public service means. You know the word public comes from a Latin word; many of you may not know Latin these days; you’ll have to contact people like Pastor Massiah because in those days we had to learn Latin. And the word public comes from the Latin word publicas which means “of the people”. So republic, and that’s why I have Ministry of Public Telecommunication, Public Security, Public Affairs, Public Infrastructure, Public Health because these ministries are concerned with serving the people; but to serve the people, public servants have to be highly skilled, have to be educated and they have to improve their performance. Sometimes you’ll receive a document, a letter and the writer seems to be at war with the English Language and apparently the writer is winning and the language is suffering. But changes are taking place all of the time and the public have to render service not only in Georgetown, at the various ministries, but countrywide.
In 2016, we created three new towns. I’m sure some of you cannot even remember when three towns were created. That’s a very important part of our development, our administration, that no Guyanese should have to leave his region or her region to get any service at all – medical, security, NIS, passport; every citizens must be able to rely on the public service delivery within that region and every region eventually will have a ‘capital’ town. A region like Cuyuni-Mazaruni is bigger than The Netherlands; it can’t be run by a village. That’s why Bartica becomes a town, Mabaruma becomes a town, and Lethem becomes a town. Rupununi is bigger than Costa Rica. You can’t administer an area that’s bigger than Costa Rica with a village with a NDC. Crazy! But the public servants have to understand these changes that are taking place and they must be prepared to go into these capital towns to serve, not only in the central government system because government operates on three levels, central, regional, and municipal – and public servants have to populate the regional system as well as the central system. So you have to be specialised, you have to understand what is taking place in our environment; you have to understand what is taking place on our roads, especially the hinterland roads or bridges. So the public service has to project itself beyond the coastland into this great hinterland.
The second thing is, the public service has to be the custodian of standards, and those standards must characterise the delivery of services to all our regions. My brothers and sisters, it’s incredible for a public servant to be working and living in the Barima-Waini Region and he or she doesn’t understand a single word of Warrau or Carib. This is an abomination, – that there are Guyanese children who do not go to school because the teacher doesn’t speak Warrau and the children don’t speak English. I can’t accept that. So the time will come very soon in which public servants have to learn to speak the language that the people are speaking and the Indigenous people speak nine languages, and if you are going to be serving in the Rupununi, you have to learn some of the languages in the Rupununi, you have to learn Macushi, you have to learn Wapishana, you have to learn Wai-Wai. If you’re serving in Region Eight you have to learn Patamona, if you’re serving in Region Seven you have to learn Akawaio or Arecuna, if you’re serving in Barima-Waini Region you have to learn Arawak and Warrau and Carib. I spoke to a hall full of people in Baramita and the Toshao had to translate what I was saying because the people didn’t understand me. This is 2016, so the public service has to understand the country in which we live and it’s not just about Regent Street, Shiv Chanderpaul Drive; it’s about a whole 215,000 square kilometres and you have to be prepared to serve in every part of the government, not only in the ministry but every part of the country in terms of our ten regions.
So if your minister says “Look, tomorrow or next week I have to go to Baramita or next month I have to go to Kaikan or Chinoweng”, you must be able to guide, instruct, advise the minister on what he’s going to come up against. You cannot know less than your minister because your minister is not a specialist; you are the specialist. You have to prepare that report, that brief, that information and not let your minister go out naked into the world. You have to do the research, you have to brief your ministers, you have to give the ministers the best advice and those are the standards that you must set in the performance of your duties. So the third thing is we need to establish among ourselves some form of social compact, particularly between the State and the servants of the State. We have to work together; what happens out there is not only the concerns of central government. It is the concern of all of us. You may be working in the Department of Public Information, another public; you may be working the Ministry of Public Health. How are you going to communicate with the patient if you can’t communicate in the language the patient speaks?
So whichever part of the government service you work, if you’re a policeman, you have to be able to communicate with the people out there, the public. So we have to work together; it’s not red corner and blue corner, it’s not two rivals or two competitors; we are partners in administering and running Guyana. The public servants have a legitimate arm, which we recognise, called the Union, but that Union must contribute to the improvement of standards within the service itself, insisting that the members improve their education, improve their knowledge of information technology so that when they are deployed in whatever region, in whatever part of the country, they can continue to perform at a high level and discharge their responsibilities. But the GPSU, colleagues, must bring this 95 years of experience. In many ways it is not only one of the most experienced unions, but it should also be one of the most intelligent unions because it contains some of the most educated elites, the crème de la crème, the people who make decisions. So we need to look for a new model, not just replaying the old model over and over again, the old confrontational model. We need to look for a cooperative model in which the people who run this country sit down together and decide how best the people could be served, how best the public could be served. You represent a vital constituency and we cannot deliver public services without you. How could you deliver a public service without a public service union, without public servants?
So today, as I congratulate you, I am filled with hope that under this Benab, there are people who are committed to administering Guyana to the best of their ability and to providing every Guyanese, whether they are from Aruka or Awarewanau, whether they are from Arau or Orealla, to the good life.
Congratulations and may God bless you all.