Decade for defence and economic development

The New Year, 2020, will be an auspicious one for the country and for the people of Guyana. We shall celebrate the Republic’s Golden Jubilee on 23rd February.

It will be a significant year, also, for the Guyana Defence Force which will celebrate the 55th anniversary of its establishment on 1st November.

The establishment of the Defence Force in 1965, the coming of Independence in 1966 and the founding of the Republic in 1970 broke constitutional bonds with the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Guyana, as a sovereign state, ceased to be subject to external authority. Guyanese were invested with the responsibility for safeguarding national sovereignty and the defence of the country’s territory.

Guyana’s territory includes its land mass and maritime zone – its territorial sea and Exclusive Economic Zone – and the resources which are found within these zones. The defence of the country’s territory is integral to the protection of its land and maritime resources – the national patrimony.

The Republic’s Constitution [at 197A (1)] stipulates that: “The State’s defence and security policy shall be to defend national independence, preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity and guarantee the normal functioning of institutions and the security of citizens against any armed aggression.” The Defence Act [at Section 5] explicitly entrusts the Guyana Defence Force “with the defence and maintenance of order in Guyana …” inter alia.

The Defence Force is charged with preserving, protecting and safeguarding Guyana’s patrimony, political independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Force is mandated to protect our territorial borders and maritime zones and to resist and repel attacks on our land and people.

The Defence Force has executed this mandate in an exemplary manner for fifty-five years. The Republic owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women who have protected our homeland and its resources. I particularly remember that last year, 2019 when we observed the 50th Anniversary of the defence of the New River and the suppression of the Rupununi Rebellion. We should always remember the men and women who were involved in those operations.

The sovereignty of the state and the prosperity of the people depend on the preservation and protection of the country’s bountiful natural resources. Illegal appropriation and exploitation of these resources undermine national sovereignty and security and deprive the people of the opportunity to enjoy a good life. The Defence Force is tasked with responding to the four formidable threats facing the country:

. First, the interruption of economic activity in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been a grave threat in the recent past. The country’s maritime zone now is the scene of a surge of economic activity; petroleum production has commenced and exploration is continuing. The EEZ must be protected from illegal incursions aimed at the intimidation of investors or interference with production.

. Second, the country’s fisher folk have been threatened by criminal attacks in the past. The fishing sector contributes to the national economy and food security. The country’s fishing grounds, and those who are employed in it, must be protected.

. Third, illegal miners from other states have entered our territory, occasionally, to exploit our mineral resources unlawfully and steal our wildlife. Incursions into our territory by illegal miners and wildlife raiders must be resisted in order to protect our natural resources. Criminal gangs, known as ‘sindicatos’, have been known to invade mining camps, blockade rivers and commit murders. The country’s frontier communities and their residents are vulnerable to attacks from these armed gangs.

. Fourth, natural hazards such as floods and drought can inflict destruction, distress and death. Natural hazards can degrade our natural capital and result in the costly damage to the environment and public property. Both the coastland and hinterland have been affected.

The Defence Force has effected organisational change in order to better identify and deter threats to territorial integrity and the national patrimony. The past five years have witnessed the Force’s regularization, reorganization and recapitalization.
The Defence Force today is fit for role. The promulgation of a defence doctrine, the strengthening of the technical corps, the pursuit of defence cooperation with friendly countries and the implementation and organizational restructuring have improved the Force’s readiness to respond to threats.

The Force’s overarching defence policy – the doctrine of Total National Defence – implies that all the elements of national power – diplomatic, economic, military, political, social and technological – will be employed to reinforce defence and promote economic development. This doctrine means that the nation must depend on an affordable but effective Defence Force while counting on the cooperation of citizens in the event of a challenge to its territorial integrity.

Improvements in the technical corps – particularly the Air Corps, Engineer Corps, Signal Corps and Coast Guard – have enhanced the Force’s agility and capability. The Air Corps’ fleet was augmented with the acquisition of light reconnaissance aircraft. The Signal Corps benefitted from the acquisition of new communications equipment and personnel training. The Engineer Corps received equipment to improve its responsiveness to climate hazards and promote greater stability and climate resilience in frontier communities particularly in the South Rupununi.

The Force’s recapitalization programme has been boosted by increases in Central Government’s budgetary allocations. The Force has received financial resources to improve its capabilities. Budgetary allocations increased by more than 72.7 per cent from G$ 8.04 B in 2014 to G$13.9 B in 2019.

Defence cooperation has allowed the Force to benefit from donations of equipment, training and participation in military exercises with friendly states. It has enhanced cooperation in combatting transnational crime and managing disasters.

The Force’s policy for the augmentation of the Reserve has allowed the Militia’s personnel strength to grow from fewer than 125 members in January 2015 to nearly 1,500 in January 2020. The presence of the Militia in all ten administrative Regions allows for swifter response to threats and emergencies, wherever and whenever they occur.

The Force’s border defence policy strengthens the security of our frontier villages and protects them from threats of incursions.

The Force’s institutional reorganization policy established a more resilient architecture for the high command with the restoration of the appointments of Adjutant General, Inspector General, Quartermaster General and Commandant of the Militia.

These changes allowed dedicated superior officers to pay undivided attention to discipline, recruitment and soldiers’ morale; to the improvement of soldiers’ living conditions; to the maintenance of a high state of operational readiness and to inter-operability with fraternal hemispheric armies and Caribbean defence forces and the mobilization and training of reserves.

The Force’s training policy for the ground forces has re-focused attention on operations in the jungle, rivers and savannahs and to improving logistical support to soldiers in the field, in difficult weather and terrain, for long periods. I was happy to visit the Force’s annual exercises at the Tacama Training Area (TTA) in East Berbice to witness how effective these changes have been.

The promotion of greater training in long-range jungle operations will ensure a more versatile force. It will better equip our Defence Force to help to protect the country’s biodiversity, mineral resources and the integrity of our environment. The Decade of Development will incorporate policies to better equip the Defence Force to protect our country’s natural resources, on land and at sea.

The Defence Force, today, is a superior organization to what it was five years ago. Public confidence in its capabilities has been restored. National defence, as a consequence, has improved. These improvements will continue over the next ten years.

Guyana is entering a transformative stage of development during which four transformational processes will unfold. We are in the process of becoming:

. a ‘petroleum state’, possessing substantial petroleum reserves in our EEZ;
. a ‘green state’ emphasising the preservation and protection of our environment, the sustainable management of our natural resources and increased generation of renewable energy sources;
. a ‘digital state’, promoting increased communications integration and interconnectivity; and
. an ‘education nation’, enabling universal primary and secondary education and easier access to tertiary education.

The Defence Force, at the institutional level, can take advantage of the opportunities offered by these processes and, also, at the national level, ensure an environment conducive to realizing them. The nation looks to the Force to protect economic activity in its maritime zone, to ensure safe and secure borders, to protect its people and natural resources and to suppress transnational crime.

The protection of the country’s national patrimony is paramount. There can be no human development and no opportunity for increased prosperity unless a safe environment that is conducive to national development is created.

The Decade of Development 2020-2029, launched this year, will include investments aimed at the continuous retooling and strengthening of the Defence Force, expanding the Militia and intensifying field training in long-range jungle operations.

The Coast Guard has the primary responsibility for safeguarding the country’s maritime zone and to protect investors operating there.

The Coast Guard’s fleet and personnel will be increased, continuously, to provide greater security of economic activity in the EEZ. Technological improvements will allow for better surveillance and policing of our maritime zone. The objective must be to assure foreign and local investors of the protection of their investments and our artisanal fisher folk of their safety.

I became President in May 2015 and visited Coast Guard Headquarters on Monday 1st June 2015, almost exactly a fortnight later. I called on the Coast Guard to protect the country’s most vulnerable frontier – the fourth frontier, the coast.

I urged the Coast Guard to combat maritime crimes such as contraband smuggling, piracy and all forms of trafficking which distort the economy and contribute to making Guyana a poor country.

I said, then: “You…in the Coast Guard are not just looking after the rivers and the coastland, you are protecting the future of our country, you are protecting our children’s inheritance [and] you are protecting the patrimony of this great nation.”

I returned to Ruimveldt on 30th March 2017 and urged the Coast Guard to augment its capability to provide security for offshore oil exploration and production and to suppress illegal activities …” I said, nearly three years ago:

“Our Exclusive Economic Zone [EEZ] is the next, new frontier of economic development. Petroleum exploration is now taking place apace in Guyana’s offshore waters. A number of foreign companies are engaged in this sector.

The Coast Guard must be strengthened to provide greater security to investors in petroleum, fishing and other maritime activities.

Guyana must continue to ensure the safety and security of its sea-lanes so that ships can enjoy safe passage within and through our waters. International trade, just like petroleum exploration, is a driver of economic development.

The Coast Guard needs a stronger and larger fleet of vessels but we can do only what we can afford. We need surveillance equipment; larger and faster vessels…the Government of Guyana will do everything that is possible within the limit of its resources to ensure that assets are provided for the re-capitalisation and strengthening of the Coast Guard [so] that it can effectively discharge its functions.”

The Defence Force, as the guardian of the country’s national patrimony, is integral to its economic development. Economic security is essential to national development. The people of this country can benefit from its bountiful resources only if they are protected.

Officers’ Conference 2020 should therefore consider the Defence Force’s role in strengthening border and maritime defence and in ensuring the economic development of our beloved country. 

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