President David Granger: Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection; Mr. Kirk Fraser, Chairman of the East Berbice-Corentyne Region of the People’s National Congress, regional officials; I am seeing here Brigadier Collins, Colonel London, I don’t know if there are any other major officials here, executive members of the PNCR in region number six, candidates who will participating in the Local Government Elections, residents of Rose Hall, residents of East Berbice-Corentyne, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls:
You know, I’m always happy when I come to a place like this and I see bicycles because I know the bicycles are only here for one purpose, that is, to help children to get to school. Thank you for your applause.
You know, we are a caring party, we understand the needs of ordinary citizens, children, housewives, workers, and this programme that we started three years ago, it’s not a profit-making programme, it’s not a political programme. We don’t give bicycles to AFC people or PPP people or PNC people, tall people, short people. We give bicycles to children who need them so I was shocked to read in the paper that we are forcing children to take bicycles. In all my life I’ve never heard of anybody having to force a child to take a bicycle, but a very prominent political official claimed that we are forcing children to take bicycles.
I’m telling you, children, if anybody force you to take a bicycle don’t take it. We’ve also brought some exercise books. Look at those exercise books. Those exercise books have pictures of 20 animals which belong to Guyana. We don’t sell those exercise books, we give school children so they understand that this country belongs to them and those animals are Guyanese animals, and we want them to grow up respecting the country, respecting the environment, respecting the animals, and this is all part of local government, because all politics is local, for children, for adults, for institutions, all politics is local and you don’t see Local Government Elections as being political in terms of party politics. I see Local Government Elections as delivering services to the people, and those bicycles are going to help children to get to school. Those exercise books and those pens are going to help children to record their lessons, and if we had more, we’d give them more. That is what Local Government Elections is about; satisfying people’s needs.
You know, I’ve come to Rose Hall Town over and over again and I am always encouraged by the vitality of this town. It is one of the oldest villages in Guyana, 176 years old. This village was first bought by 57 former enslaved Africans in 1842. So nobody could teach you about self-management; nobody could teach you about running a village or about running a community. It was founded as a free village 176 years ago. So we are about to embark on another exercise to do what you know best, and let me tell you this, when the history of local government is written, it is the PPP which, for 22 years, failed to hold Local Government Elections in this country. Don’t clap. For 22 years! And we went into Parliament, and we passed bill after bill calling for Local Government Elections to be held, calling for the establishment of the Local Government Commission.
Up to 2014 we mobilised civil society; we mobilised the entire Opposition; we mobilised the donor community calling for the government of the day under President Donald Ramotar to honour his constitutional obligation to hold Local Government Elections and we brought intense pressure to bear. September, October, November we were on the street demanding Local Government Elections and he refused. He refused to hold Local Government Elections. Even when the bills were passed in Parliament he refused to assent to them. So by the beginning of 2015 we knew we were going nowhere under the PPP as far as Local Government Elections were concerned, but these elections are a constitutional entitlement! They are not a favour that the political party can give the people. You are entitled! So, as fate would have it, you know old people say “God don’t make mistake”. In May 2015, APNU/AFC went into the government and in 10 months we did what the PPP couldn’t do in 22 years.
My brothers and sisters, you know Rose Hall voters so I don’t want to get involved in any unpleasantness this afternoon, but we will deal with that next month. So we didn’t hold Local Government Elections in order to, necessarily, win. We held Local Government Elections because of your entitlement. Win, lose or draw we will continue to hold Local Government Elections whenever they fall due, and they fall due on the 12th of November next month, and as long as I am president I am going to hold Local Government Elections when they are due.
My brothers and sisters, I’ll come back to that a little later but let us look at this little town. This little town might be a big name. In terms of size it is one of the smallest towns in Guyana, but you are a very plucky town because here in East Berbice-Corentyne this is the only Region with three towns: New Amsterdam, Rose Hall and Corriverton, but your government since it got into office, has created four new towns at Mabaruma, Mahdia and Lethem. It is our belief that towns help to develop regions. It is our belief that people will flock to the towns to get involved in business and commerce and the story of Rose Hall proves that that is true. Would you believe, my brothers and sisters, that Rose Hall is the only town where the population is increasing in East Berbice-Corentyne? The population is actually increasing which proves my theory right, that once you have a vibrant town people are going to flock to it.
So even though Rose Hall is just about 14 square kilometres it is part of one of the biggest regions in Guyana, East Berbice-Corentyne Region, which is the size of Belgium – 36,000 square kilometres – but what makes Rose Hall attractive is the power of the marketplace. It is the main business district in East Berbice- Corentyne. People come from New Amsterdam; people come from Corriverton to get bargains here, without banks. You have markets, you have shops and stores, you have a vibrant sports organisation, you have police stations, you have workshops, schools like this one. So we have to look at the municipality to harness the energy of all of these organisations and institutions so that they can make the town prosperous and so that they can make the people richer. We don’t want a lackadaisical municipality. We don’t want a municipality that has to call Freedom House to do one thing or the other. We want a democratic municipality. We want a municipality that makes Rose Hall an attractive destination for investment and commerce. We want Surinamese to come and invest, we want Trinidadians to come and invest. We want Rose Hall to be prosperous. Rose Hall could be the means of revitalizing the whole region, and this is a powerful region.
This Region produces half of the country’s sugar output and let me tell you, ‘leh we stop with sugar’ because as I was coming along there some people who were picketing me. Well, I am Guyanese; they are Guyanese. I’m the President; they are members of Guyanese society so I didn’t drive away from them; I stood up and talked to them. They want to know about severance pay. Let me tell you this, at the beginning of the year we said severance pay would be paid in two parts, one part in the first half of the year and the second part in the second half of the year. Next week we’re going to the National Assembly to pass supplementary provisions for the payment in the second half. Sugar workers are going to get their severance pay. I say so. We are not going to deny sugar workers one dollar of their severance pay.
Now what happened in the sugar industry before we got into office, the sugar industry was being very badly run down, and was working, living, surviving on subsidies. A big sugar factory was built at Skeldon, producing sugar at 60 cents a pound and selling that sugar at 15 cents a pound. Do the Maths. Go ask the people who are talking about sugar industry what is the cost of a pound for sugar Skeldon was producing and at what cost they were selling a pound of it for. Every pound of sugar Skeldon produced was losing 45 cents so what we decided to do was reorganize the sugar industry to make it more efficient. So we did not kill the sugar industry; we saved the sugar industry because we saved Albion, the main East Berbice-Corentyne Estate; we saved Blairmont, the main West Berbice estate and we saved Uitvlugt, the main West Demerara estate. Some of the estates that were not profitable had to go and we are going to work with the unions, NASCI and GAWU to make sure that the workers who cannot find employment on the estates are given a soft landing. That is, we will try to provide employment opportunities so that nobody has to suffer. That is the story of the sugar industry.
We’re not killing and closing down the sugar industry, we are reforming it and at the end of it there will be three estates; one in East Berbice, one in West Berbice and one in West Demerara, producing 150,000 tonnes of sugar, and you can see from the papers that every day, every week, every month we’re looking for ways and means to borrow money to ensure that the Guyana Sugar Corporation could remain efficient and produce sugar at a marketable price, but we could not produce sugar at 60 cents a pound and try to sell it at 15 cents a pound, and if you see Mr. Jagdeo, tell him that. We are reforming the sugar industry and we are going to save the sugar industry. My brothers and sisters, Rose Hall is part of a very important Region to Guyana. We have no interest in undermining Region Six. Region Six is the third largest region in the whole of CARICOM. There are only two countries which touch, which have a border, Suriname and Guyana and Region Six is the frontline of that contact with Suriname, but I’ll tell you that the sheer amounts of sugar, rice and fish that Region Six produces would justify making Rose Hall Town one of the industrial hubs of East Berbice-Corentyne. So you have a powerful agricultural Region and another powerful town called Rose Hall Town, which can guide the commercial development of this Region.
So my brothers and sisters, the way this town is managed is important not only to the Region but to the whole country and that is why Local Government Elections are important. There’s no point putting back people because they belong to Party A or Party B. I’m asking you to put the best people because they are good for Rose Hall. What’s good for Rose Hall is good for Guyana. So this is what we are about, not to put lazy people there, not to put people who come from your party, not to put your cousin and your aunty but to put people who are concerned with the economic development of Rose Hall Town. As I told you before, our party takes Local Government Elections very seriously because we know the importance of democracy. If you put six, eight, twelve people around the table from the same party all, those in favour, “aye”– the “ayes” have it. No discussion. All of this comes from party headquarters. People are not concerned with what is best for Rose Hall, people are concerned about the instructions that they receive but I just want to emphasise to you that this whole concept of Local Government Elections empowers you to make decisions which are in the best interest of your community and yourself. Local Government Elections are the most efficient means of making decisions so when somebody comes with some cockamamie plan you say: “No, why not do this; why not do that?” And through discussion and debate, you will be able to arrive at a better plan. This is what you’re entitled to. This is the freedom that APNU is giving you, freedom to sit around the table and discuss how this town is going to be a powerful economic dynamo.
You know, those of you who have been looking at local government over the years, those of you who may have been living overseas, might wonder what a strange country this is that a government could refuse to hold elections for 22 years and that sometimes, when they hold elections, Ganga Persaud comes and removes the council and installs an IMC. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that a Minister could remove an elected council and install an Interim Management Committee, an IMC? Can you imagine that a President could receive three bills from the National Assembly and refuse to assent to them? What has been happening for over 22 years is that many of our municipalities and our local areas have been kept on life support. They did not have enough funds and support to grow and yet it was barely enough to keep them alive. It is almost like a patient in a hospital in a coma, on a drip, not getting better but not getting worse.
The result is that the people were suffering, and if you would go into these municipalities you could see what was taking place. What we saw in the last administration was a resistance to local democracy because they knew if you were empowered to vote your own members into the municipality and into the NDCs they would lose control. Ganga Persaud couldn’t just come down and move away a whole municipal council. That is why they resisted the legislation but all that has changed now, changed forever, no more IMCs in Guyana.
President David Granger: Thank you for your applause. My brothers and sisters, what we are about to participate in next month, Local Government Elections, is not a question of party politics. That is why the elections are split into two; first, past-the-post and also proportional representation. What I am asking you to do is consider the candidates who you know. Nobody cannot say they are candidates from Lethem or Mahdia; the person has to come from this community. You have to know the person, you have to trust the person. You must be able to meet the person and say why you think that you should be a member of the Rose Hall municipality. Without asking those questions we are going to fall back into stagnation, domination and discrimination. I do not ever want to see the day where a Minister of Communities or Minister of Local Government could simply drive up some Wednesday morning and remove an elected council.
My brothers and sisters, November 12 is a big opportunity for Rose Hall. I am asking you to come out in your numbers. As I said, this is not a partisan affair, this is a developmental t affair and I’ll ask you this knowing very well that Rose Hall did not come out in full support of APNU in 2016 but despite that, the APNU/AFC Government did not shun Rose Hall. We continue to help Rose Hall because we are a government of the whole country.
President David Granger: You know before May 2015, somebody told me about ‘green’ villages and ‘red’ villages. I said ‘red’ villages? And I stood up there at Manchester and he said, “Look over there. You see street lights?” I said, “Yes.” “You see paved roads?” I said, “Yes.” “You see water running? Well look here now.” The PPP was dividing Guyana into ‘green’ villages which supported APNU and ‘red’ villages which supported PPP. I, myself, was in Perth, Mahaicony in the middle of a flood and the villagers asked one of the officials there, “Why can’t you help us?” And he said, “Go ask Granger.” When Granger was in Opposition, he barely got a bicycle much less, you know, an excavator and they had no intention of helping Perth. You cannot run a country like that with ‘green’ villages and ‘red’ villages. You must run a country in which all citizens have equal access to public services. So if you go to Corriverton you will see they have a beautiful walkway to their river front. Even here, you can see that we are improving solar lighting in municipal buildings. There’s a municipal ‘green’ park project with a walkway and benab and we are again putting in more street lights.
We have increased subventions to the municipality so that they could undertake the rehabilitation of drains; they could get an excavator. You can improve solid waste disposal and make Rose Hall one of the cleanest towns in Guyana. We could rehabilitate roads. We are not stingy; we want to see all of the villages, all of the neighbourhoods, all of the municipalities improve. We believe that when the tide rises all the boats will rise that’s what we believe and we want to see all of Guyana improve. That is why I am here today, to speak with you to participate fully in the Local Government Elections. Look at your candidates. I mean I know who I support. I know why I support the candidates. I know what they will do when they get into office, but we are not a stingy party.
Look at these bicycles, where do you think they came from? They are part of a transportation system to help children to get to school. This system was not passed by any legislation or any act of Parliament. When I was in Opposition I went up the Pomeroon River and children were not going to school because they had no transport. My wife gave a 12-year-old girl a book and the girl said, “Miss, I can’t read”. She is 12, she should have passed National Grade Six, but she doesn’t go to school because the Pomeroon does not have a road, it only has a river and if you can’t pay the fees for the boat you cannot go to school. You don’t go to school, you don’t learn. So by July 2015, I started what was first called the ‘Three Bs’ programme, that is, to provide boats in all of the major rivers of Guyana. So, children are going to school, free of cost, with these boats. The boats were the first ‘B’ and I am sure if you sit down on the road here sooner or later you will see a yellow bus pass. You laugh, nah!
Yes, I come up here, East Bank Berbice, all along the coast. How many buses you have here? Four buses all free, and the children don’t have to pay, and the parents do not have to pay. In fact, the parents could take the same money and buy more food for the homes, look after their homes, but we feel it is part of the civic duty of the government to provide that service. These bicycles are the third ‘B’ and even when I was in Opposition, I remember there was this young girl in East Canje, there was a fire and she was confused because she had to write CXC next week, and my staff went up and gave her a bicycle so she could go school. I do not know if she could remember but I have a long memory, I can remember. But what it means is that with these buses, boats and bicycles, children could get to school without having to pay one dollar and let me tell you this, there are now 27 buses on the streets of Guyana. There are now over 1,200 bicycles in the hands of Guyanese children. All I ask, children, is that you look after these bicycles so they last as long as possible. It is for all Guyanese children, without distinction of race or religion or region.
So my brothers and sisters, APNU has a clear policy. The policy is to provide what is best for Guyanese citizens and the way to do it is through municipal elections. I want to see Rose Hall as a prosperous and progressive business district. One of the picketers out there accused APNU of wanting to kill the sugar industry. We didn’t kill the sugar industry. We want to reform and improve the sugar industry. Similarly, at Rose Hall, these recommendations are to improve the quality of life so that you could get better markets, better solid waste management, better street lights, better municipal services, better sports facilities. I am deeply concerned. I come up here for too many funerals. Children trying to cross the street get knocked down – I want to see proper street lights and I will continue to work with the municipalities, work with the neighbourhoods, and let me tell you this, do not allow politicians to divide this movement. I came up here early this year and I had a meeting with Fyrish. Not a PNC meeting, not a PPP meeting, not an African meeting, not an Indian meeting but a meeting of concerned chairmen, and they wanted me to know what their problems were and I came to listen to them, and their problems were accessing clean water, their problems were potholed streets, their problems were telephones. That is what local government is all about, solving problems and providing services to people.
I have great dreams for Rose Hall. I see Rose Hall as a business centre. I see Rose Hall as becoming a financial headquarters for East Berbice-Corentyne. I see the Rose Hall educational system generating entrepreneurs; I see Rose Hall as even becoming a model for energy generation. I grew up at Whim, a little distance from here, and even in those days when I was young, the rich rice millers all had wind chargers. Nobody had electricity. Here and there you had a tilly lamp or a coal one, most people had flambeaux, but the farmers, the millers particularly, had wind chargers because people couldn’t afford to get gasoline and diesel in those days but since we learnt about gasoline, people get drunk on gasoline they forget wind. Now the world is becoming wise to the generation of electricity from alternative sources. The world is becoming wise to solar power. My watch is solar-powered you know. This isn’t diesel. All I have to do is wear it in the sunlight.
We have the capability to generate solar energy in the Rupununi and other parts of Guyana. Which other country possesses that capability? We have over 100 sites that could generate hydro power and we have wind from the coast day and night. Even the sugar industry generates bagasse, which could be used for energy do from any point of view, Rose Hall could tap into any of those sources of energy in order to trigger agro-processing industries.
So my brothers and sisters, this is the moment of opportunity for Rose Hall. Don’t drop the ball. You have the opportunity to move this town forward as a progressive economic dynamo. As I said, all politics is local and you must consider what your communities need, if it is light, if its water, if it is telephones, if its roads, bridges, play grounds and put in place a municipality which is capable of delivering your needs. There are many constituencies here in Rose Hall. It means that you can hear many voices and people can make contributions to what the different constituencies need. All of the political parties are represented here, and listen to them. Here you have also three levels of Government, Minister Ally represents central government, Mr. Armogan represents regional government and Mr. Ramoo, I think is the Mayor, he represents municipal government, but the three levels have to work together. We cannot fight mattie and expect progress. We have to learn to work together if you are to move Rose Hall along, and that is the beauty about Government. Right now, some people are trying to hold back development by giving instructions on what to do and what not to do. Don’t believe them. Just tell them I am voting for my town, I want my town to be progressive and developed.
So my brothers and sisters, this is my simple message to Rose Hall today. It is not a politically partisan message, it is a message about progress, it is a message about the prosperity of Rose Hall and all of you have role to play. I ask you to come out on the 12th of November to express your opinion and ensure that those persons you put in office perform to the standards that you demand of them and if they don’t perform, let them know that as long as Granger is there, there’ll be another Local Government Elections, so it is one chance only.
So my brothers and sisters the decision is for you, not for some office in Georgetown. The decision is for you to be empowered, to put people in the municipality of Rose Hall who can help to develop this town quickly.
Thank you and may God bless you all.