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My Turn

A Special Feature by the Honorable Prime Minister

Prime Minister's column

as published in Sunday Guyana Chronicle.

Better Times Ahead

Our Students: Our Hope

TOWARDS 1000 DAYS IN OFFICE

Better days are ahead. But do our people know why?

Take for instance, the news that a fifth oil find has been made offshore Guyana. Has that discovery filtered to our hinterland population? Do they know that the latest find in the Turbot well, complements positive, potential yields of billions of barrels of oil in other wells such as Liza, Payara and Snoek?

The oil discoveries by ExxonMobil and other oil producing partners have become the buzz-topic elsewhere in the world which is why our Guyanese people ought to be better informed.

RADIO MAHDIA

This is the context that explains what is happening today, in the township of Mahdia. Today, for the first time, Radio Mahdia will come on air. Through Radio Mahdia, information will reach people living and working in the heart of Guyana.

For those who are not familiar with the area, Mahdia is located in Region 8 (Potaro-Siparuni), and lies at the centre of gold and diamond mining. Region 8 is bigger than Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados, Grenada and Dominica, combined.

Yet, this region has been without a dedicated radio service, until now. Radio Mahdia 95.1 will reach residents not only in the greater township but satellite areas such as Campbell Town, Micobie, Muruwa and El Paso. Between 75 and 100 mining camps would now hear radio Mahdia.

For many years I have explored the possibility of extending both television and radio signals from the flag-ship state station in Georgetown, to our hinterland regions. This had become important to boost communication to our people, who live in border areas over which spurious claims have been raised.

Radio Piawomak was introduced as a unique station, relaying programmes from the state network and breaking off for local content, sometimes in an indigenous language. There is also the television Learning Channel, which relays children programmes to some 16 locations.

PURPOSEFUL NETWORK

But communication to hinterland communities required a purposeful network which resulted in the commissioning of Radio Lethem and Radio Mabaruma, as regional extension services. Shortly, and during this year, we will establish Radio Bartica, Radio Aishalton and Radio Orealla.

Better times are indeed ahead, since it is our intention to include all regions in our national public communication grid. The intention is not only to spread information and education but to stimulate feedback as well as use, promote and preserve our indigenous languages.

The hinterland regional radio outreaches have become very popular. Lethem is now referred to as “Radioland”. One mother called to say that Radio Lethem has changed her life. Instead of tuning into Brazilian stations, she is happy to listen to English language features, and to learn what is happening inside Guyana.

Folks are now asking why did it take so long to get these regional radio stations going?

FRIENDS AND FAMILIES

You hear people commenting cynically, that the last administration was too busy handing out radio and television frequencies to their family and friends and that they took no heed to the needs of our people in hinterland communities. Their cronies in Friends & Families Inc only wanted to do business in heavily populated areas, which has prospects of lucrative audience, and consequential big revenue returns. That abuse is now being curtailed since all licenses would be allocated in different geographic zones with incentive by way of lower fees for licenses to operate in rural and hinterland areas.

Our people need to know that better days are ahead, They must know of the efforts by Guyana to slowly and painfully claw her way out from the discredited past. It was a past when economic life was mired in incestuous dealings with the drugs cartel, contraband trade, money laundering and the theft of public assets. They must know that economic growth has slowed down, but not come to a standstill, due to the cumulative policy deficits and unproductive investment profiles, such as the Skeldon factory, Marriot hotel/Casino, Amaila road/hydro, etc..

BOUNCING BACK

The economy remains shaken and vulnerable. But the good news is that sections are bouncing back, such as gold and rice production. While the price for padi is not where farmers would be comfortable, they do not now suffer from unavailability of markets. A new destination is Mexico, and already some 70,000 tons of padi have been shipped. Cuba also has re-opened her market to Guyana rice, and the first shipment is on its way to Havana.

Last week, for example, during a tour of the DDL complex, Minister Gaskin and I were told that this local liquor and juice company is investing $10 billion over the next three years in business expansion. This investment plan includes boosting processing facilities in order to buy from farmers greater supplies of local fruits for juice production.

The resurgence of business confidence will not come overnight but the state has a responsibility to tell its story, and the expansion of its radio network to reach hinterland communities is heading in the right direction.

October 8, 2017

Throughout Guyana students are graduating from high schools. Many will proceed to colleges and universities; some will enter the world of work; while others will seek vocational training, enter family businesses or wait for an opportunity to make an honest living.

For young people, life remains a challenge in Guyana as few jobs are floating around outside of state employment. It has been so over many years when it was once estimated that 40% of our youths were jobless or under-employed. But no credible statistics had existed. Statistics, it was cynically said, were a state secret.

NEW INTELLIGENTSIA


Today, our young, high school graduates give us hope that Guyana could mould a new generation of intelligentsia, and better train them as our new brain-gain. They are the ones who would be adaptable to the upcoming petroleum-based economy. Thought there would be unimaginable space for the service and hospitality sectors, this industry would eventually grow an appetite for local technologists and engineers.

Schools are at the initial stage of gearing up for the oil boom. Even in rural areas, they have chalked up unprecedented passes in science-based subjects at the region al examinations. They too have determined not to be left behind in the scientific and technological revolution.

EDUCATION EMERGENCY


Upon assuming office, our Coalition was confronted with declining passes in mathematics; and Cabinet immediately directed that an inquiry be done. Almost a state of emergency was declared in the Education sector, which resulted in the revamping of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme, from the secondary school level. Our native language, English, was falling behind.

At the primary school level, President Granger rolled out his 5 Bs incentive initiative, under what has since become the Triple A policy – Access, Attendance and Achievements. To realise all three As, boats, buses, bicycles, books and boots were distributed to schools in various locations, initially in interior and riverain areas mostly populated by our Indigenous peoples. The programme was funded voluntarily by civic-minded donors and corporate citizens. The State supplemented the humanitarian gesture by re-energising the pilot project of providing breakfast or a hot meal at many schools.

Our Coalition, in just over 900 days, has charted a course to encourage excellence in public education. It is by no means a simple task to dismantle and re-build from the mediocrity that we have inherited from the post-Jagan era. We are still a long way from placing education as the gateway to Guyana’s modern economy, when we could train our own corps of petroleum engineers, environmental scientists, agronomists, agro-processors, etc.

We met broken infrastructures, neglected students and under-paid and demoralized teachers. My wife and I, together, have served for some 50 years in the education sector, and we share the plight of teachers. We understand the needs of students and, more importantly, we know that teaching is more than just a job; it is a labour of love and devotion.

COMPUTER DISTRIBUTION


While salaries remained an issue on the table, President Granger tried to reach out to teachers by diverting the once blotched computer distribution scheme to include them. It is appreciated that in order to lift education standards, no teacher should be left behind.

Access to computers is indispensable for comprehensive education. So, during the graduation exercises at the Corentyne Comprehensive Secondary and the New Amsterdam Multilateral schools, the Government included a dozen lap-top computers among the Prizes presented to the top graduates.

Special prizes were donated by the President, my Office and the Minister of Public Telecommunications who is at the head of the information and communications drive, to provide internet connectivity to all schools in Guyana. The students were excited to greet Minister Catherine Hughes – young, smart and enthusiastic.

WAVE OF THE FUTURE


I was therefore disappointed that the Opposition chose not to ride on this wave of the future, by attending the ceremonies and applauding the successful students. At both schools the PPP instead dropped off just over two dozen protestors in an attempt to disrupt the graduation ceremonies. The picketers were re-cycled from one school to the other. Oblivious to the tragedy of “deviding” our students, one of the picket-bearers carried Mr. Jagdeo’s own favourite dunce picket as if to punctuate the assault on the schools with an attack on spelling.

The chant, again, was about rigging. I found it funny that Mr. Jagdeo should try to take this folly to Berbice, my own home county. Berbicians know too well how he engineered rigging of party elections to oust me from the PPP leadership; how he rigged the process for the selection of a presidential candidate for the 2011 elections; how he resisted a secret ballot after I had walked, to frustrate any chance that the eminently qualified Ralph Ramkarran could be the candidate. Berbicians know only too well that it was Jagdeo’s folly that caused the PPP to lose its majority in parliament in 2011 and that, coupled with “pervasive corruption”, resulted in the PPP’s defeat in the 2015 elections. “Rigging” therefore rings hallow in Berbice, which is why he resorted to a mobile picket, and the recycling of picketers.

LAST CARD


Many have since commented on his last political gambit as regards the appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. But my final take is that he has become sour by his failure to rig the selection process. As I see it, the deadlock on the Commission, is like high-risk poker. With three cards each from the PPP and the PNC, Jagdeo wanted his last card to be an ace, his ace, to be selected as Chairman.
He could also have learned another deadly game – Russian Roulette, where five blanks and one live bullet are placed in the chamber of a gun. To win, the crazy player has to put the gun to his head, pull the trigger, and hope that he survived.

In the elections commission game, the Opposition Leader rigged the process. He gave President Granger a gun with five live bullets and one blank. Five out of six times, had President Granger not found the gun (list) unacceptable, he would be dead – politically speaking.

So, there can be no merit in the use by Jagdeo of the appointment of a Chairman in the manner that the President did, as a ruse to stir strife and ethnic hostility; or to unleash a domestic version of the PPP’s obscene feral blast in Parliament or elsewhere.

In Berbice, we witnessed a sad, pathetic contrast. While our students were celebrating their academic achievements as a ticket to a better future, the PPP mounted a picket to mourn the inevitable loss of power, again. Rightly so, students, teachers and parents ignored the re-cycled picketers.

November 11, 2017

The many activities taking place in Guyana, almost simultaneously, inject positive vibes as we approach the first 1000 days since our Coalition was elected to office in May, 2015.
I believe that the latest infomercial, “One Guyana”, captures this graphically when it refers to the “surge in confidence in the way Guyana is being governed again” and that our country is on the road to national transformation.

MINI DEBATES
For anyone who is interested in progress inside what used to be a badly mis-managed and corrupted state, the mini debates as to whether a new, concrete road should be built in Mabaruma or Mahdia, instead of somewhere else, comes over as political fun. Whether a new bridge should be constructed at Tabachinga or a Magistrate’s Court at Lethem, in the Upper Takatu/Essequibo (Region 9); or a state radio station at Aishalton or Orealla, or somewhere else becomes the talking points on development, not stagnation.

I am hoping that during the first week next month, when we celebrate 1000 days of progress, that the new, spacious, modern Departure Lounge at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport would be commissioned. Departure would now be facilitated by a jet bridge that connects the terminal gate to the aircraft. But I wouldn’t be surprised that another mini debate would surface over whether there should be five or ten jet bridges!

Whether we commission one or three pedestrian overpasses or crossings over busy traffic, one or ten wells, one or several pumps, ten or twenty ICT hubs, schools and school buses, markets, health centres, street lamps etc., the narrative unmistakably is one of progress. Guyana is on the move, again.

KEEP MOVING
It reminds me of an inspirational speech by Martin Luther King, at a college graduation ceremony. He told the students that life is a journey towards a destination. They could get there by walking, riding, or even crawling. It does not matter how you get there; just keep moving.

I think that it would be safe to say that in spite of pockets of non-cooperation and an inexplicable, anti-national hate drive, our Government did not stand still. We moved forward, every day, all the time. When we look back, we could say that the journey in the first 1000 days was bumpy with a few slips and slides, and also challenging. But we came through with shining colours, on most fronts even while conceding that we could have done better in some other areas.

No bump or slide, however, could be more tragic than the cowardly appeal to investors to stay away from Guyana. It baffles the mind that the “independent” press would find it profitable or convenient to publish that advertisement. But, then, the free press is indeed free to do as it pleases, to uphold the right even of dissident free expression (New York Times v Sullivan).

LOVE OF COUNTRY
What it exposes unfortunately is that love of country is not a value inherent to everyone. It is what we chose to embrace and cherish as life itself. This message was conveyed in a Bollywood movie, “Rangoon”, a love tragedy that was played out during the Second World War.

The heroine Julia had journeyed to Burma to entertain British troops, a contingent of which was made up of Indian soldiers. She fell in love with sergeant Malik, an Indian soldier who was secretly a loyalist of the rebel Indian National Army of Subash Chandra Bose. Though he fought against the Japanese invaders, Malik hated the British for denying independence to India. His life was in danger.

In one memorable scene, Julia asked Malik a simple question: “What is more important than life?” His answer was, “something for which one could die”. There was no doubt that when he was killed by the British, he had sacrificed his life for his country’s freedom – for him, a cause more noble than his life.

That was a choice that Malik had made, and there are many other lessons in history where, before dying fighters wrote with their blood as Walter Rodney once reminded us, the word “liberty”. The battle-cry of the Cuban revolutionaries, was “Patria O Muerte” – Country or Death!

LURE OF POWER
The “Beware” ad is just the opposite of such patriotic impulse. It is part of the hate hurdle along the path to progress, which cannot be ignored, but must be surmounted. We could do so by collectively ascending to higher levels of political conduct that would put country first, even while we understand that occasionally the lure of power would titillate the appetite of some individuals and make them behave irrationally or even against the country’s interest.

The better news is that many investors have ignored the ad as just dirty trash, and have emerged from the Guyana Petroleum Business Summit and Exposition (GIPEX) with greater resolve to enter the windows of opportunities in Guyana via the vehicle of capital and technology
Scaring investors is a lost cause. I saw how the campaign to keep Indian investors from involvement in the sugar industry contributed to the displacement of workers. I had met with one such investor from India whose company manages some 35 sugar factories in several countries. He told me that given a chance, his company could rehabilitate the Skeldon factory within three months, and that it could speedily increase the 10 MW power supply from the co-generating facility to 90 MW. All of Berbice and beyond, could have benefitted from cheaper electricity. But the potential investors were scared away with false and wicked claims about “crime” and “genocide” against a particular ethnic community in Guyana.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE
But the Indians would not remain discouraged for too long. Other investors from Canada and elsewhere are flocking to these shores. That is why the Caribbean Development Bank has optimistically forecast higher economic growth, and has assured help to provide technical support to expedite implementation of development projects. This positive attitude provides hope and assurance that we could and are capable of doing better.

This positive attitude was embraced by Kevin Ramnarine, the former Energy Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. He not only welcomed positions taken by the Guyana Government in the oil and gas sector, but embraced the golden vision that production of 360,000 barrels of oil a day from the Liza 1 and 2 wells in the not too distant future, will transform Guyana.

For all Guyanese, keep hope alive!

February 11, 2018

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