My People of our One Guyana

I speak to you now to wish you all, sincerely, a Happy New Year.

I know it is easy to wish you well. Even though it might be much harder to create the conditions that will truly make the New Year a happy one for all, as your President, I am committed to trying my very best.

You would recognise that it requires genuine commitment and real resolve to put in place the programmes and projects that uplift the quality of life and, with it, the human spirit.

I agreed to seek the Presidency of our one nation because, to the marrow in every bone of my body, I wanted to help fashion and implement policies that would benefit every person in Guyana, regardless of race, colour, or creed.

Having accepted your mandate for that task, I do not intend to be derailed, diverted, or deterred from it.

It is for this very reason that my Government and I have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of every single Guyanese person in the ways that matter most. In this regard, during the short sixteen months that we have been in office, we have:

•                    Confronted the pandemic frontally, vaccinating over 441,000 persons across our country with first dose vaccines and 317,000 persons with the second dose, and we have also administered booster shots to over 11,000 persons.

•                     Distributed over $7.5 billion worth of COVID-19 relief cash grants to households across all ten regions, injecting critical liquidity into the economy and providing a cash lifeline to households so many of which were thrown into distress as a result of the pandemic.

•                     Distributed over $7.3 billion in flood relief cash grants to farmers and households to help them recover from the May/June floods of 2021.

•                     Removed punitive taxes on such things as electricity, water, medical and educational supplies, basic food items and household necessities.

•                     Restored the Because ‘We Care Cash’ grants to parents of school-age children, and expanding it to include children attending private schools, amounting to over $3.6 billion—benefitting 192,000 children.

•                     Restored the one-month tax-free bonus to members of the disciplined services, while also granting one-off payments to workers in the health sector and granting a seven per cent across-the-board increase to all central government employees.

•                     Made a one-off payout of $250,000 each to sugar workers who were severed, while we continue to work to reopen the sugar industry that was so callously closed by the previous Government.

•                     Increased old-age pensions by over 21 per cent to $25,000 and public assistance by 33 per cent to $12,000 monthly.

•                     Distributed nearly 10,000 house lots to applicants.

•                     Started to construct over 20 new housing schemes in several regions of the country, including in such places as Edinburgh, Stewartville, Great Diamond, Golden Grove, Cummings Lodge, LBI, No. 75 Village, No. 79 Village, Region 10, among others.

•                     Launched the GOAL scholarship programme and awarded 6,000 to Guyanese students in all ten regions.

•                     Built and opened a new interlink road between Eccles and Diamond, and started construction on a new four-lane highway from Mandela to Eccles. Furthermore, we have already advanced the procurement process for the continuation of the four-lane highway from Eccles to Diamond link.

•                     Launched the tender process for a new bridge across the Demerara River, a new road from Linden to Mabura, the Amaila Falls Hydropower Plant, and the Power Plant to be built at the Wales Development Authority, while work is also advancing on the historic gas-to-shore project.

•                  We also reduced serious crimes to their lowest level in ten years, the highest seizure and interception of narcotics in a decade and reduced road fatalities and fatal accidents to their lowest level in 16 years.

•                     Restored growth to our economy, lifting the non-oil economy out of a contraction of over seven per cent in 2020 to positive growth in 2021.

Against the background of these very exciting developments and the even more exciting prospects that lie ahead, it would be remiss of me not to deplore the unseemly behaviour of the opposition members of the National Assembly last Wednesday when they resorted to violent threats and intimidation to stop a bill whose virtues they feared.

The contempt to seize the Speaker’s Mace – the symbol of his authority over the conduct of the Assembly – and to surround the Minister of Finance, shouting in his face was gross unparliamentary behaviour that carried a dire warning.

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest fighters for political freedom and human and civil rights, warned that: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit”.

What we witnessed in the National Assembly was not only a violent assault on democracy but a blatant disrespect for the highest law-making institution of our nation.

If persons charged with the responsibility for the conduct of the nation’s business resort to violence and intimidation, what example do they give to the nation, especially to the young?

Our nation must not be hobbled by those trapped in a culture of violence and intimidation whose only contribution to the national debate is physical confrontation.

My brothers and sisters,

It is worth saying a few words about the real cause of the undignified actions of members of the opposition in the National Assembly.

They claimed that repealing a bill they unilaterally passed, giving the Minister of Finance excessive power over the National Resource Fund, and placing it instead under the supervision of an independent and nationally accountable body, is somehow wrong.

Yet, even children would know that if a government wished to steal from the NRF, the best way to do it would be to remain with the APNU-AFC proposal and to leave the Minister of Finance in control with little or no oversight.

That is the plan that the APNU-AFC put in place for itself, assuming that it had fixed the March 2020 elections and would have all the power today to abuse the money in the NRF as they pleased.

What your democratically elected Government has now done is to remove the Minister of Finance from having such unlimited and unbridled power.

Instead, we have created a governance and operational structure that is transparent and accountable and in which non-political, highly reputable persons carry out the responsibilities of supervision and compliance.

In essence, the powers of oversight and control are with you – the people.

The opposition and certain media outlets have tried to mislead their audiences into believing that I will be appointing the Board of Directors unilaterally and will have control over them.

Nothing is further from the truth.

While as President of this country, I am obliged to sign letters of appointment, the Board will include a person selected by the National Assembly – all parties therein – after consultation and debate among themselves. It will also include representation from the private sector, which gives a voice to civil society in the newly established decision-making body responsible for overall management of the Fund – mind you a decision-making body that did not exist under the APNU-AFC bill.

The Opposition brawl in the National Assembly was to prevent you from hearing all this.

Of course, I know that you – the people of our One Guyana – expect to see benefits from the NRF flow to you, to improve your lives now; to deliver more jobs and better wages.

Therefore, it is obvious that some of the money from the NRF, which now stands at approximately US$534 million, must be spent on your welfare and wellbeing.

It is for that reason that the new legislation provides a mechanism by which the Parliament will approve the transfer of funds for projects and programmes that the Government has to carry out to raise your standard of living, to improve your circumstances and to give you a better life.

And, I add, has to account for every cent of that money.

When transfers are made, to what department, for what purpose, and the results of the spending – all have to be made public. It has to be audited, the audited report has to be presented to the National Assembly and of course the PAC will have a chance to review the Auditor General’s report.

And, you should recall that the World Bank has projected that, over the life span of oil and gas production, Guyana could earn US$72.8 billion in revenues from the multiple offshore projects that will be operational.

Surely, it is right, that with full and adequate supervision by reputable persons, nominated by parliament and the private sector, a portion of those funds should be spent on improving the lives of the people of Guyana – all of them – and bettering the conditions in which they live.

Sadly, but truly, that is what the Opposition parties fear.

They believe that if your government delivers the development, the betterment, the advancement you want and deserve, they might become irrelevant.

They do not regard politics as a contention for better policies and governance; they regard politics as nothing more or less than a battle for power.

That is why we had the display in the National Assembly of violence and intimidation – that is their default strategy; to whip up antagonism and hostility based on misrepresentation, misbehaviour and mischief.

My brother and sisters that is their game.

Your Government will not play it.  I repeat, your Government will not play it.

As the President of Guyana, and of all the Guyanese people without exception, I will not be distracted from the goal of building a One Guyana in which all our people enjoy equality of opportunity and a pathway to prosperity.

I have said it before, and I say it again now – I do not want a rich Guyana of poor people.

Yes, Guyana must be rich so that never again should we be among the poorest in the world; never again should our poor have to be nomads, seeking survival in other parts of the world; never again must we be subjected to insults and contempt.

But, our people must share in the benefits of the wealth that is now Guyana’s – and share in it without fear or favour.

It is the right of their birth and a right that has been earned by them and their fore-parents who toiled, sweated and sacrificed to make Guyana their beloved homeland.

I know that, underlying the strategy of intimidation by certain persons in the opposition – and let me be clear, not all of them – there is the desire to exploit the old bogey of race and racism.

But, I repeat what I have stated from the very first minute of my Presidency, racism and racial discrimination have no place in a One Guyana nation.

As one people, we cannot advance our country and improve our lives until we do it together.

For 187 years we have lived together, worked together, studied together and played together.

In unity we cheered for Lance Gibbs and Joe Solomon; collectively we cheered for Rohan Kanhai and Roy Fredericks; as one we cheered for Clive Lloyd and Alvin Kallicharran; in common we cheered for Ramnaresh Sarwan and Carl Hooper.

In our cheering and support, we cheered for our own, paying no attention to their race, and every attention to the national pride they represented.

That symbolised, in the most telling and compelling way, that we have one common bond and shared aspirations.

We all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

I believe with all my heart and soul that this is what the people of our One Guyana want, and it is what your government and me, personally, are committed to delivering.

I also say this, whenever old, outdated and outmoded expressions of racism and division raise their ugly heads, what renews my hope and strengthens my resolve is our young people who, like me, have different more productive attitudes, beliefs and openness about our way forward.

So, as darkness sets on the old year, and brightness rises on the new, I announce that I propose two urgent actions:

First, I want to create new educational and work opportunities for young professionals in our country. I want them to gain experience and to become educated and trained to be owners and managers of all sectors of our society. While, at this time, we must rely on foreign know-how in the oil and gas sectors, the ground must be readied now for young Guyanese to assume those positions, regardless of their race, colour or creed.

The Ministers of Government have already been advised to implement policies throughout their ministries and departments, and in the award of scholarships and the building out of training institutions to this effect.

The second thing that I announce now is my intention as President, to hold meetings with individual organised groups of young people, including the youth arms of all the political parties, starting as soon as these can be arranged. I want to hear their views; I want to learn how they think we should shape the future of our One Guyana; I want to dialogue with them about the kind of country they wish to inherit and how they will advance it.

My fellow countrymen, the next generation must be better than this one, if not our country will regress not progress.

When I look at my little son, in all his innocence, I want the best Guyana for him; one that is free of racism, discrimination and violence; one that is firmly set on the path of harmonious relations and equity for all Guyanese.

I know that every parent wants the same thing for their children.

I turn now to two of the main threats that Guyana continues to face along with the rest of the world – the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the supply chain crisis.

We have had 39,238 infected persons of whom sadly 1,051 died.

In other words, 2.6% of the infected persons died.

The low number in comparison to many other countries is a tribute to the government’s timely actions and to the health workers, particularly those in the frontline who provided unselfish care.

We continue to be grateful to our health workers and to thank them for their outstanding service.

Similarly, we mourn with the families and friends of the 1,051 persons who succumbed to the dreaded disease.

Every life is precious, and my Government is doing all in its power to provide the equipment including ventilators, vaccines and medical facilities to curb infections.

No effort will be spared until the pandemic is ended here and everywhere else in the world.

I use this opportunity to call on unvaccinated persons to overcome their fear of inoculation.

The evidence from both within Guyana and across the global community is that vaccines save lives and give protection against new variants such as Omicron, which is far more transmissible than the original virus and its Delta variant.

We all want a life free of fear and free of masks; a life in which we can mix freely, embrace our elderly, travel to see our families, and welcome our relatives and friends to our homes.

But none of this will be possible with any level of comfort and safety, until at least 70 to 80 per cent of our eligible community, including our children, are inoculated.

I urge everyone who is not vaccinated to reconsider their position in their own interest, their families’ interest, and the interest of our homeland.

This is another battle that we can only win together.

With regard to the global supply chain – the goods that we import for consumption and production – COVID-19 has disrupted the process, adversely impacting the world.

It is disturbing our development plans.

It is also causing an increase in the goods we import, hiking shipping costs from US$2,000 at the beginning of 2021 to US$20,000 by the year’s end – not only for Guyana, but for every country.

There have also been massive delays in the transportation and the delivery of cargo.

All this has pushed up prices for goods and consumable items internationally, and Guyana is no exception.

Tackling this issue requires new and creative measures, which my Government has either started to put in place or is in the process of implementing.

I do not promise that we can solve all aspects of the problem alone; it is a global challenge.

But I do pledge this: my government will lose no time in seeking ways to ease the strain on the people of Guyana. In collaboration with the private sector, we will roll out strategies early in the New Year to alleviate the problem as best we can.

My fellow Guyanese;

Following the ICJ ruling on the jurisdiction in the case regarding the Guyana-Venezuela controversy, we have been putting all of our efforts in preparing to submit our Memorial on the merits of our case by March 8, 2022. We will not rest in our efforts to preserve our sovereignty and territorial integrity. Equally, we will continue to be a responsible member of the international community, enhancing our profile at the regional and international levels.

So, as the New Year brings rebirth, renewal and reinvigoration, I call on all Guyanese to join me in taking our beloved nation to a higher destiny; and the noble expression of our oneness from which all will benefit, thrive and prosper.

I wish you a Happy New Year.

Let us make 2022 a year of joy and progress.

God bless our beloved Guyana; God bless our one Nation; God bless you.

I thank you and continue to be safe.

December 31, 2021