President David Granger: As always, I’m happy to be on the East Bank because this is a part of Guyana. This is a zone which some people felt God had forgotten for a long time. Sometimes when you go along the coast you can see development taking place, the lights and the roads, and when you come back to East Bank Berbice people say, “Is wuh happen wit we?”
I think over the last year or two, you’ve started to see a difference, and that difference has come about largely because of your participation and our activity in Local Government Elections. When I was in Opposition, up to December 2014, I would go outside the then Office of the President and picket President [Donald] Ramotar every week, demanding Local Government Elections, and because of your support I was able to go into office in May 2015 and in less than one year, I held Local Government Elections, elections which hadn’t been held for 22 years. I held Local Government Elections in one year, in March 2016.
It’s not because I wanted to win, because I didn’t win. We’re going to deal with that later but it’s because I believe that you are entitled to make decisions governing your own community; it’s because I believe that you have the right to elect your own leaders; it is because I believe that it was wrong for the Minister of Local Government to go around the country installing interim management committees; it is because I believe that one person couldn’t sit down in Fort Street, Kingston, Georgetown and decide what is good for the rest of the country, sisters, brothers, friends, you know the municipalities, Corriverton, Rose Hall and New Amsterdam. These are things I believe, and that is why we held Local Government Elections in March 2016 and I promised the nation and I promise you, that as long as I am president, Local Government Elections will occur whenever they fall due.
I will not postpone Local Government Elections. I cannot postpone something you are entitled to. It’s not a privilege I give you; it is something that is embedded in the Constitution like your life and liberty, your right to elect leaders of your choice. So what have we seen? We’ve seen, on the part of the various parties, various levels of performance. I must admit that in this region, East Berbice-Corentyne, the People’s Progressive Party won the majority of the NDCs. Although the APNU/AFC won the municipality at New Amsterdam, it didn’t win the majority at Rose Hall and Corriverton, but let me tell you something, early this year, a group of chairmen from the NDCs invited me to Fyrish not because I was the leader of the PNC, but because they had local problems; they had dirty water in the pipes, one re-migrant brought a tube of water to show me what was coming through the pipes. They wanted to see me because they complained about lights in the communities, they complained about the telephones, they complained about potholes, they complained about bridges. My brothers and sisters, two months later I convened something called a National Conference on Local Democratic Organs so that all of the NDCs and municipalities could come together and deal with these problems, because local government deals with local issues. As soon as you step out on the road, no street lights, that’s local; you go home, turn on a pipe, no water, that’s local; you’re riding a bicycle, you drop in a pothole, that’s local and you have the power through Local Government Elections to improve those conditions. So the power is in your hands and that is why I am committed to having Local Government Elections regularly, as the Constitution calls for.
Local Government Elections are important for all sorts of reasons. Here on the East Bank Berbice, you have a very complex society. Some of you would have seen me pass here in May, 5th of May, when we went up to Highbury. Some of you might have been at Number 53 Village on the Corentyne Coast when I celebrated the 180th anniversary of African emancipation. I believe that local government is an important vehicle for social cohesion. I would like to see more Africans at Highbury on the 5th of May. I’d like to see more Indians at Union Village on the 1st of August. This year as a start, I went over to Windsor Forest at West Demerara and we celebrated, for the first time, Chinese Arrival Day. Windsor Forest is the birthplace of the first president of Guyana, Arthur Chung. That’s where the Chinese first landed when they came in and I am proud to go over to the West Demerara to celebrate Chinese Arrival Day.
On the 3rd of May, I went to the Sacred Heart Church in Georgetown and we celebrated Portuguese Arrival Day. On the 3rd of May some of you don’t know, there is something called Portuguese Arrival Day… we’ve started to celebrate Portuguese Arrival Day so we learn to respect one another, and I believe that local government could be a means of respecting one another because we all come together in the community and we have to speak with one another for the common good. When we meet in the council, or in the neighbourhood council, we don’t speak for Hindus alone, we don’t speak for Christians alone, we don’t speak for Muslims alone, we don’t speak for Africans alone, we don’t speak for Indians alone, we speak for the community.
If there are no street lights everybody suffers; if there are potholes, everybody suffers; if there is no water running through the pipes, everybody suffers. That is the beauty of Local Government Elections, everybody wins. So this is not a question about partisanship, this is a question about participation and this is an important lesson I want to leave with this community, the lesson of participation. You know East Berbice- Corentyne is one of the largest regions in Guyana, but unfortunately participation could be very, very low and when people don’t participate in elections it means that a few people who are willing to participate, even though they may have objectives which run against the whole community, are likely to win, and one of the problems in East Berbice-Corentyne is the low level of participation in both General and Regional Elections and Local Government Elections over the years.
So the first thing I want to ask you to do in this community is to carry out a massive mobilisation exercise so that every adult is brought into the web of Local Government Elections, understands the need for Local Government Elections, participates in local government elections. If you don’t participate, it is a means of voting, it’s a means of saying “Me nah kay, let them do what they want, me nah kay”, but if you participate you play your role as a citizen, and say that this is what I want for my community. There is no reason why in a small community like that you shouldn’t have near hundred per cent participation, but we will have to mobilise, you will have to go door to door, street to street, field to field, village to village so that everybody can hear and see you. So when we come to vote on the 12th of November, regardless of whom you’re voting for, people will turn out and you will get maximum participation because people know that it’s in their interest to turn out and vote. So the first lesson is mobilisation. That is, all of these communities on the East Bank must be mobilised and be prepared to participate in these elections. The second duty is organisation. If there is no organisation, even though we only have two months to go, today is the 12th of September, by the 12th of September it’s all about the shouting; month after next, 12th of November is gone but if you have an organisation you will be able to get on to the persons in charge, to the chairman, the secretary, to the committee members, to get materials, to get advice, to plan meetings, to organise fund raising activities to conduct outreaches.
These things wouldn’t happen unless there is some form of organisation. These things will not happen if everybody sits down in their homes and watch television. They will only happen if you have some form of organisation. Most people belong to some political parties, people belong to non-governmental organisations; belong to religious organisation but there must be organisation and that organisation helps to inform every citizen about his or her duties in these Local Government Elections; but even before they get to mobilisation and organisation one of you needs to be registered. You can’t wait till the tenth of November to said “Eh eh, boy I ain’t even got ID cards, girl how I gon vote, I never even pick up a birth certificate?” This is a true, true story you know. I campaigned in Angoy’s Avenue; I go into a house with the woman, not a piece of paper, not even wallpaper. I said “When you born girl?” She said, “Me nah sure”. There was nothing, so it is by having some form of organization in the community that you could go around the village and have a sort of checklist. You have birth certificate, you have national ID card, all of these things have to be put in place.
Sometimes somebody comes from West Bank Demerara or West Coast, living with a close friend at East Bank Berbice. It’s the eleventh of November, 12th of November, but you can’t vote because you belong to Essequibo Coast. Local Government Elections are very specific; these are different from General/ Regional Elections. You have to vote where you belong and if you belong to Essequibo Coast then you have to go back to Essequibo Coast, like Jesus and Mary and Joseph who had to go back to Nazareth, to register. So it’s the same thing here – you have to vote where you registered.
So registration is important and I would expect your organisation to ensure now, not next month, now, that every potential elector or voter is registered in his or her respective constituency because if we don’t do that, we would find people moving in large numbers from one constituency to the next. Local government constituency means exactly what it says, that you have to be a local resident. So it is important, now, to make sure that there is thorough registration and don’t leave issues until the last moment. You have to make sure that ID cards, birth certificates and any other forms of identification documents are available so that if there is a query you will be able to justify your right to vote in that particular constituency.
And one of the most important things is education. You have to know what you’re voting for. In Local Government Elections you don’t vote for race, you don’t even vote for political party, you vote for your community, you vote for improvement of your community, that’s what you vote for. Naturally I belong to a political party and I would support people who support my views but at the same time, all of you must know the people in your community who are capable of representing you, who are capable of going out there and fighting for the issues that concern you; so this is where knowledge of the individual comes in. It’s not a matter of blind loyalty. It’s what is best for sisters and friends and brothers and Islington, Plegt Anker and Highbury and you know what is best and that is why I’m here, because over the years you start to see change. Yes, it might be slow but GWI is up at Plegt Anker and people are getting running water now. There are some lights I think coming up at Edinburgh and we wanted to extend lights throughout the East Bank. You know what it is for your children to be coming home from lessons seven o’clock in the dark. You know sometimes all sorts of strange things happen here on the East Bank Berbice. I don’t want to talk about some of them, but you want your children to be safe, you want your wives to be safe so lights are not a luxury; lights are a necessity and we will continue to work.
Everything is not possible right away but we will continue to work village by village. Let me you something, we went into office with a lot of bright hopes in May 2015, but over the last three years we have had to spend over $32 billion to bail out the sugar industry. Now, I am not blaming the corporation. I’m not blaming the workers. I’m not even blaming the previous administration. All that I am saying is, we have a situation in which you cannot sell sugar on the world market at 50 cents a pound when everybody else is paying 25 cents a pound. So what we decided to do is to reform the industry so that we have three mega estates: one on East Berbice, one in West Berbice, and one in West Demerara, and maintain as many workers as possible in those three big estates. But right now, the government is haemorrhaging with the payments that we have to make and that haemorrhaging has sucked funds from other services, but we are working to ensure that we can save what we could in terms of jobs and the sugar industry.
You know, my brothers and sisters, a lot that will happen over the next two to five years will depend on our capabilities to revitalize the village economies. This is something which we may guard as very easy and at the same time, it is difficult. When I was in Opposition, I brought a motion calling for the 7th of November to be regarded as the National Day of Villages because I believe that most villages in Guyana have the capability to produce foods or to produce products based on agriculture, what they call agro-processing. I see it all over the East Berbice-Corentyne; go to the Bridge, you can see people selling plantain chips; even that was a form of agro-processing. People selling nuts; you go to the Rupununi, people selling cashew nut butter, casareep, honey.
I’m glad that all of the Regions have embraced what I call the Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibitions (RACE). Unfortunately, I had to miss the last one here in East Berbice-Corentyne but when you go to one of these Regional Agriculture and Commercial Exhibitions what you see? You see ordinary housewives, farmers, villagers, young people, women, producing commodities at home and putting those commodities on sale in the market. So this is not a question of partisanship, this is a question of getting organised so that the government could assist people who need that assistance, and there are several programmes.
One of the most important is the Sustained Livelihood Entrepreneurial Development Programme, SLED. There are young women who have come out of school looking for jobs, who’ve been able to get a grant from SLED to set up their own enterprises and this could be done in other parts of the country. We have to look at these enterprises; some people call them plantain chip economy but as far as I am concerned, these are household economies which can help to make people rich. So we need to look at the economic side of local government. It’s not just political but the villages of the East Bank, in fact the villages throughout the Corentyne, could become economic powerhouses so that they can help to keep the young residents in those communities and help to provide not only employment for them but also to enrich them; and this can be a function of local government, that once you have an NDC which is installed, you can then negotiate with the other levels of government.
You know there are three levels of government in Guyana. The local level is the most important. The local level sustains the whole structure of government and that is why we suffered badly for over 22 years because there was no Local Government Glections and people seemed not to care about what was happening to the communities, but now that we’re strengthening the local level we’re empowering people at that level to negotiate and to deal with the regional level. That is the second level. So the local level, municipal level, neighbourhood level must collaborate at the regional level and the region must collaborate with the central government level.
So those are the three levels at which we need to have collaboration. Central, regional, and local. My brothers and sisters, if we fight each other none of the three levels will progress. We have to work together regardless of which party we come from. We have to get the chairman of the region, whichever party he comes from, to work with the chairmen of the NDCs and the mayors of the municipalities, and we have to get the regions to work with all of the neighbourhoods and this makes it easier for the central government; so the central government doesn’t have to try to run every single NDC. The central government could deal with the Region and the Region could deal with the NDCs.
So, we have to come together to make local government work, and this I feel is one of the benefits of what we are involved in, the three tiers of government: central, regional and local. So my brothers and sisters, this is some of the work that we have to face over the next two months. I am satisfied that because of the efforts we have made we will be able to deliver a better quality of public services, especially in the form of utilities; road, lights and water, to the residents of East Bank. But there’s another dimension that I must mention, and that dimension is standing at the door. His name is Clifton Hicken. He is here to help to make East Berbice-Corentyne safe and, you here, on the East Bank are concerned about human safety.
The whole country is alarmed when some young man is raped or some girl is murdered but there is a form of community policing that would help to prevent those horrific crimes. Do not feel that crimes are inevitable. Oh yes, now and then somebody steals a parrot or a fowl cock, but we have made some changes in the Guyana Police Force in order to streamline administration, to improve the quality of policing. I am very unhappy as a Guyanese hearing about 12 or 14 people being killed in the waters off of Suriname. At one time there used to be piracy attacks off the coast of Corentyne. We’ve stopped those piracy attacks, but many of the pirates seem to have migrated but we have to stop them wherever they are because they may bring their crimes back to Guyana. I do not want East Berbice-Corentyne to be affected and I’ve asked the police to consider a form of community policing which allows the sub divisional commanders and the divisional commander from time to time to meet with the residents of the communities to discuss the security of those communities.
So if you know you have a rapist in the community, let the police know. If you have vulnerable old folk in the community, let the police know so they can keep an eye on them. If you have drug traffickers coming into the community, let the police know. There is no point keeping these things secret. Community policing means policing the community. It doesn’t mean somebody riding around with handcuffs and batons. It means that you, the members of the community, must have access to the police commanders to point out what threats exist to your womenfolk and children.
Now, of course, in another part of the country you have a big problem with migration and Venezuelans. You all don’t have that problem here but I’m just warning you that we need to be very careful when strangers come into our communities. The communities themselves must alert the police to find out who they are and what business they have in those communities, whether they’re pushing drugs or they are involved in some contraband activity. The police are your friends and we have to work closely with the police and if you get worries from your police let me know. I know what to do and I have the power to put things right. I don’t say this as a threat, but I say this because I want the people of Guyana to be safe and if the policemen are, themselves, not protecting the communities. You need to make a report. What time is it now? Five o’clock? Four hours ago, I swore in Justice William Ramlall as the Police Complaints Authority. He’s a one-man band, he is the Authority. He’s not the chairman of the Authority, he is the Authority. So if you want to complain you can now go to the Police Complaints Authority and say inspector A, or Sergeant B, or Corporal D did something and that complaint would be investigated and if he is found to have done something wrong he or she would be punished; but we need to have an efficient police force if we are to have a safe East Bank Berbice.
What I am saying, my brothers and sisters, is that this is all part of the consciousness which I expect local government to generate, a community spirit, not a battle between political parties but a collective endeavour to make these communities safe. So this is my message to you: over the next two months, to mobilize, to organise, to register and to educate one another; educate the communities about the role that they have to play in local government. But to make local government work, after the elections for you to sit down with one another and solve problems and where those problems cannot be solved, to take them to the next, higher level- to the Region, and if the Region can’t solve them take them to the central government level. But I am confident that you here on East Bank Berbice, are starting to see the changes, and believe me, if you go out on the 12th of November and you participate fully you will see further and better changes to come.
Thank you and may God bless you.