“Guyana’s prospects have never been more promising”
November 10, 2020
My fellow Brothers and Sisters,
Today marks 100 calendar days since I took the oath of Office to become Guyana’s 9th Executive President but it can hardly be counted as same given the dire state of affairs and the two year absence of a budget.
When I assumed this Office, I promised a Government that would serve all the people of Guyana. I noted that there was much work to be done. This work, I announced, would commence immediately. Indeed, the pace of the past 100 days has been frenetic. We have worked with feverish intensity to deliver benefits for all. But we did not do it alone.
I wish to thank all of our frontline health workers, teachers and members of the joint services for their heroic efforts during the pandemic and for the additional risks which they have so willingly shouldered. I wish to thank my cabinet colleagues who have buckled into the driving seats of their sectors from day one as they steer their teams to deliver our vision. I wish to thank you the people of Guyana for your patience and understanding during these difficult times.
My Government did not need to formulate a 100 Day Plan. For us development is not a sideshow but a sustainable process. Our Manifesto constituted our pact with the people. It is underscored by a long-term vision. The tasks, which we have set after widespread consultations, commit us to work day-in, day-out to ensure opportunities, engineer equality and entrench national unity.
We anticipated that there would be challenges along the way. But we did not cater for a five-month interregnum as a consequence of the sinister conspiracy which was hatched to hijack this year’s elections and subvert the will of the people.
Democracy triumphed. We must not forget the post-election anguish and embarrassment. We will not allow the agents of discord to escape culpability. Yet, we are moving forward together as one people in unity and love.
We inherited a grim state of affairs. The economy was in a state of neglectful distress. During the five-month post-election period, our people not only patiently awaited the election results but they were forced to confront the effects of the pandemic alone, while the caretaker government shamelessly engaged in corruption, squander mania, unauthorized forays in the public purse and the unlawful disposal of public resources.
These and other iniquities occurred whilst our people were being subject to extreme hardships. The coronavirus pandemic triggered a downturn in production, a slowdown of business and the loss of jobs and incomes. Many families struggled to put food on their tables; many small businesses found themselves in a financially perilous state. Schools had to be closed; examinations adjusted and our health care system was left to rot with no basic medical supplies procured in the last two years.
Instead of a comprehensive, coherent and coordinated response to address the pandemic, the former government’s reaction was illusory, incoherent and inept. Testing was abysmally low. Many regional hospitals were ill-equipped to treat severe cases of the virus. When we assumed office, we found insufficient quantities of testing kits, testing equipment, protective gear for frontline workers, ventilators and oxygen concentrators. The much-vaunted Infectious Diseases Hospital turned out to be an inoperable, bareboned facility.
The social sectors were also hobbled. Our people’s struggles were real. They were provided with little or no relief. Despite the diligent efforts of teachers, the majority of our school-aged children were left without access to, engagement and opportunities for learning. The housing sector was in disarray with unacceptably low levels of house lots and housing units being allocated or completed. Poverty levels grew when many workers in the sugar, bauxite and gold mining sectors were unapologetically terminated and families placed on the breadline because of the previous administration’s visionless actions, political vindictiveness, incompetence, and the poor industrial climate.
Workers have traditionally been the backbone of our country’s economy. Yet, we had no labour ministry. The Labour Department lacked the capacity to effectively undertake the protection of workers’ rights.
Public administration was anemic. Assessments, which we conducted in Ministries, government agencies and departments and in public corporations, found appalling levels of incompetence, maladministration, gaps in the delivery of public services and poor or absent policy directives.
PPPC administrations, however, have never been daunted by challenges. When the nation’s interest so demands, the PPP/C has always risen to the occasion. And, true to form, we have commenced the task of remedying the lamentable state of affairs which we inherited. We have over the past 100 days delivered.
I am extremely pleased with the performance of my Government during the past 100 days. Ministers have been proactive. They have been going out to meet and address the people’s concerns. Over the past 100 days, my administration has responded responsibly to the health crisis; it is rebooting the economy, relieving citizens’ burdens, restoring hope, rebuilding confidence and re-engineering development.
Responding to health crisis and immediate challenges
Our foremost priority upon assuming office was to craft a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Our response has been comprehensive and multifaceted. We assembled a taskforce that included medical personnel and our regional/international partners. We increased testing capacity to the point where we can administer as many as 600 tests per day and we are working to increase this to more than 1,000 by the end of this month. We have also acquired adequate supplies of personal protective gear and allocated $150M in the emergency budget for frontline workers. Ventilators, oxygen concentrators and other equipment necessary for treating patients have been received and are being operationalised. We have retrofitted the Infectious Diseases Hospital making it suitable for offering meaningful patient care and we have enhanced the capacity of regional hospitals to treat coronavirus patients. We have acquired much needed drugs which are being used to improve patients’ recovery. When a vaccine comes, Guyana will be part of the worldwide immunization process. We have signed on to the facility being provided by the Vaccine Alliance which will provide us with access to the vaccine. Our healthcare actions have not only been focused on covid-19 as we have also procured medical supplies that have been lacking in the system for over two years.
The first 100 days of my Presidency bore witness to the horrendous murders of three teenagers in West Berbice and the brutality meted out to villagers, friends and neighbours due to political manipulations. I have already promised that we will leave no stone unturned to apprehend those responsible for these heinous crimes. It was my government who invited a specialist team from the Regional Security System to examine and assist with the investigation. The team has expressed confidence in the capabilities of our local crime investigators. My government will persevere in its efforts to ensure that justice is served. I am confident that we will be able to bring the guilty to justice. Our investigators, however, must be given the latitude, time and cooperation to bring the guilty to justice. These deaths are not a matter which should be manipulated to divide our people. Every life matters.
Rebooting the economy:
Another of our immediate priorities was the rebooting of our economy while ensuring that our people and society were protected. We came into government without a Budget. In record time, we crafted an Emergency Budget which included measures aimed at nursing our economy to good health, stimulating our economic sectors, attracting new investments, creating employment and improving the economy’s competitiveness.
In this year’s Emergency Budget, we have instituted measures to improve competitiveness including providing tax concessions on mining, agro-processing, cold storage and packaging; the removal of VAT on exports and allowing exporters, including those in the fishing, rice and timber industries, to reclaim input VAT. We have also removed the VAT on fertilizers, agro-chemicals, pesticides, and key inputs into the poultry sector. And we have zero-rated the poultry industry.
We are reigniting the engines of commerce and industry. Our people are being put back to work. Small businesses are regaining ground with the co-operation of financial institutions and financial initiatives of my Government. Investment interest is high. Our economy will be made robust again in a positive development trajectory.
Support for our traditional sectors is integral to aligning Guyana along a positive development trajectory. We have begun the process of reopening the Skeldon and Canje estates. We will be establishing the Wales Development Authority aimed at implementing new and innovative opportunities for the Wales community. Land preparation, servicing of equipment and the recruitment of staff are moving full steam ahead. In the bauxite sector, RUSAL has expressed an interest in restarting its operations here. We have asked the company to submit a proposal which we will insist must be consistent with our labour laws and the protection of workers’ rights. Investors have also expressed an interest in mining bauxite ore located at Tarakuli, in the East Berbice-Corentyne Region. Efforts are being made to revitalize our forestry sector which has fallen into ruins in the last four years. Guyana is rising again.
As part of the efforts to ensuring a growing, diversified and modernized economy, my government liberalized the telecommunication sector within the first 100 days of being in office. This is a tipping point in our country’s development. Guyanese have been waiting for 30 years for this to happen. The liberalization of the sector will stimulate greater investment and competition, and spawn the expansion of the sector and the range of ICT services available. Consumers are already benefitting from reduced costs for overseas calls and improved capacity of internet services.
We are eager to ensure that tourism emerges as a major growth pole in the future. In our first 100 days, we launched an Expression of Interest for the development of new hotels which has proven that there are tremendous interests in this sector. In addition, we have engaged in discussions with a number of airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, West Jet and Inter-Caribbean Airways with a view to having them service the Guyana route.
The construction sector will be key to driving growth in our non-oil sectors. Construction activity is being propelled throughout our economy. The availability of stone is a vital input into the sector but supply constraints are affecting production. This past week, I instructed that taxes on imported stone be waived so as to allow for the availability of adequate supplies.
My Brothers and Sisters,
Over the past 100 days, your government has been relieving the burdens which had been placed on your backs. Mindful that our people were left stranded without much relief during the pandemic, we launched an almost 5 Billion dollar COVID-19 relief grant which will see every household receiving G$25,000. As of today, the hinterland communities have already benefitted from this grant and our distribution is now on the coast.
We have set aside G$150M for risk allowances for our frontline health workers. We know that this cannot compensate fully for their efforts. But we have done what was within our means at this time given the state of the economy. We will do more as resources permit. You have my solemn word on that.
We have not forgotten our men and women in uniform who have helped maintain order and peace in difficult times. The members of our Joint Services have benefitted from a two weeks tax-free payout for 2020 -which they were denied for the last five years.
Our people also had to shoulder burdensome increases and additional taxes and fees over the past five years. These taxes and fees deprived them of much needed disposable income. It stifled business activity within the productive sectors.
Within the first 100 days we have lifted those burdens. We have removed the unconscionable Value-Added Tax (VAT) on water and electricity. We have restored free water for pensioners. We have carved-off the oppressive corporation tax on private education and VAT on medical supplies.
Our farmers were saddled with increased fees for leases and drainage and irrigation services. Many of them could not afford to pay these unconscionable increases imposed by the former government. We have reduced these fees. We have also slashed by half the increases in license fees which were instituted after 2014.
We have provided relief aimed at reducing your burdens, while we aim to restore hope. Over the past 100 days we have introduced measures aimed at making life better for you the people.
We have reintroduced the education cash grant which was callously snatched away from parents. But not only have we restored it, but we have increased it to G$15,000. In addition, we have increased the uniform allowance. These measures will make it easier for parents to outfit their children for school.
Housing is a basic need which we intend to satisfy. We have begun to prepare the groundwork to deliver on our promise of 50,000 house lots over the next five years. Our housing programme will create tens of thousands of jobs in the construction and home improvement sectors.
We want to ensure affordable housing for all. The cost of housing construction is expected to be lowered with the removal of VAT on building materials. Homeowners are also being provided with interest relief. They will now be able to reclaim, from their taxes, the interest on mortgages up to a ceiling of G$30M. Persons will now be able to borrow an additional $2M (up from G$8M to G$10M) at low interest rates.
We have not forgotten the elderly. Old age pensions have been increased from G$20,500 to G$25,000 per month.
Our people – all across the country – have seen and experienced progress over the past 100 days. All of our Ministries have been involved in delivering improvements in the lives of citizens. The achievements are so numerous that it would take me an inordinate amount of time to enumerate. Let me, however, highlight some snapshots of our work over the past 100 days:
A Road rehabilitation and streetlight installation programme has been launched. The Sheriff Street-Mandela Road Project has recommenced.
- We renegotiated the Payara License as well as constituted a Local Content Panel that is expected to produce its report shortly with recommendations and actions to be taken for Guyana’s Local Content Policy.
- Additional power is being added to the national grid. The Guyana Power and Light has signed a Power Purchase Agreement with Giftland for the acquisition of 5 Mw of electricity. Another agreement has been inked which will allow GPL to obtain another 10 MW in time for peak demand during the Christmas Season. A number of unserved areas have either been provided with electricity for the first time or are in the process of being connected to the national grid.
- The cost of hinterland transportation is expected to be reduced as a consequence of removal of VAT on such travel. Also a new ferry will be sourced for the Parika to North West route. In addition, the Government is concluding an agreement with the Government of India for the supply of 30,000 solar panels to provide energy for hinterland residents.
- 108 Community Councils have been established to boost local development. A further 347 are expected to be revived or established. Community enhancement projects are being undertaken. A total of 951 Community Enhancement Workers have been employed to undertake works in their communities. The Ministry of Local Government has commenced rehabilitation works at the La Penitence, East Ruimveldt and Mon Repos Markets.
- Work has resumed on completing the rehabilitation and new build of a number of police stations and quarters. The government is seeking to acquire 50 new patrol vehicles for the Guyana Police Force to reduce the acute shortage of vehicles occasioned by aged fleets, poor operational and maintenance culture and practices and technical failures. Other vehicles are being sourced locally to assist the police to become more agile.
- In conjunction with the judiciary, a number of virtual courtrooms have been established at Camp Street and Lusignan to allow for trials during the pandemic. In an effort to reduce overcrowding at our penal institutions, Phase 1 of the extension of Mazuruni is expected to be ready by the end of January 2021. Works on the new Mahdia Fire Station were restarted while the rehabilitation of the Leonora, La Grange and Mahaica Stations have resumed.
- The Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme is being revived in order to generate greater hinterland employment opportunities. Forty six (46) villages have been engaged in the programme since 1st October 2020. Despite the pandemic, Ministerial outreaches were made to Fairview, Mahdia, Tumatumari, Micobie, Kurukabaru, St. Cuthbert’s Mission;
- We are supporting the small business sector. One- hundred (100) small contracts have been issued to small contractors for the maintenance of road shoulders and sea defence verges.
- In the area of education, we have combined with COURSERA and the Commonwealth of Learning platform to offer 4,000 free online courses. The response has been enthusiastic. There have been more than 50,000 registrations, thus far. The Learning Channel has been expanded and is offering increased educational content to students. The Channel is now accessible in Berbice, Bartica, Lower East Bank, Lower East Coast, West Bank Demerara, and Georgetown. We are rolling it out to other areas, including the hinterland and this should be completed by April 2021. Face-t0-face classes will resume for Grades 10, 11 and 12 this week, under strict COVID-19 protocols and we have already been sanitizing and retrofitting schools in preparation for this reopening.
- The Ministry of Housing and Water is accessing 6,356 acres of land, between Golden Grove and Peter’s Hall on the East Bank of Demerara and between Ogle to Cummings Lodge on the East Coast of Demerara, for the development of additional housing schemes. In addition, land clearing works have commenced for new housing schemes at Mon Repos and Cummings Lodge. The ‘Dream Realized’ housing drive has provided legal title to hundreds of Guyanese. Unserved areas such as at Lust-En-Rust are now receiving water supplies for the first time. Also water supply has been restored to residents of Red Village and Onderneeming. A new well has also been installed at Kurutuku, in Region 7;
- The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport has restored the Cricket Administration Act, commenced the preparations for the creation of three multi-purpose sports complexes in Regions 2, 6 and 10, distributed sports gears to communities and is developing new models to modernize sports organization.
Restoring Guyana’s Confidence
We are restoring international confidence in our nation. Over the past 100 days, I and my Ministers have been involved in a number of international engagements which attest to the international recognition and interest in our country.
I have, inter alia, addressed:
- The 75th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on behalf of Guyana and also on behalf of the Group of 77 and China;
- The Virtual Island Summit 2020;
- The Forecast on Latin America and the Caribbean Conference 2020, organized by the United States Department of Commerce and the Association of American Chambers of Commerce;
- The 75th Commemorative Meeting of the United Nations, on behalf of Guyana and also the Group of 77 and China;
- The United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, on behalf of Guyana and also the Group of 77 and China;
- The Meeting of Heads of Government on Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond;
- A Flagship Event on the occasion of Guyana’s Chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China;
- Meetings of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community; and
- The Closing Ceremony of the Pivot Event, organized by the Inter-American Development Bank.
I have held meetings with a number of investors, heads of institutions and world leaders, all of whom have expressed a willingness to support Guyana’s development. The World Bank and the US International Development Finance Corporation have offered their assistance. I have engaged the Emir of Qatar on possible areas of economic cooperation between our two states which will see the contribution of three fully functioning field hospitals.
The Republic of Guyana had the distinct privilege of welcoming to Guyana the United States’ Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, the highest US official ever to visit Guyana. We hosted the newly elected President of Suriname, Mr. Santokhie immediately after assuming office.
Guyana’s international standing has never been as highly regarded as it is today, a mere 100 days since we assumed office. We will need much of the goodwill which flows from this recognition if we are to advance our country’s transformative agenda over the next five years.
We have begun to lay the foundation for the implementation of a transformative infrastructural development programme. The PPPC administration has in the past created a wave of impressive infrastructural projects which had transformed our country’s landscape. These projects have included the construction of the Arthur Chung Convention Center, the National Stadium at Providence, the National Aquatic Centre, the Marriott Hotel, the Berbice River Bridge, the extension of the country’s main road networks, and the creation of a new airport at Ogle.
The second wave of modern infrastructural transformation is unfolding. Over the past 100 days, my government has begun to lay the groundwork for transformational infrastructural change:
- We have finalized the location for and advertised invitations for Expressions of Interest for the new Demerara River Crossing;
- We have been in discussions, with the Republic of Suriname, about a bridge link between Guyana and Suriname;
- We have begun to reformulate plans for the construction of a four-lane road from Ogle to Haag Bosch;
- We are in the planning stages for a road link between the new Demerara Bridge Crossing and Parika;
- We expect, next year, to begin work on a 250 MW gas- shore project. We have commenced plans for a mix of energy-generation projects, including hydro and solar power.
Never before has so much been achieved in the first 100 days of an administration. Your government has been busy rebooting the economy, bringing relief to citizens, restoring hope, restoring confidence in our country and reengineering transformation.
And we have only just begun! There is much more in store for you as we realize the promises and commitments in our Manifesto.
Guyana’s prospects have never been more promising. We will translate that promise into prosperity. Guyanese can look forward to a better life under the PPPC administration. Despite the monumental challenges which we faced, we have defied expectations and delivered progress.
We must continue to progress as a united people. We must join hands and hearts in a common pact to ensure that the next five years and beyond realize the best of our people and best for our country. “We are at our best when we are united.”
I thank you.