President David Granger: Honourable Amna Ally, Minister of Social Protection; Honourable Annette Fergusson, Minister within the Ministry of Public Infrastructure; Mr. Rupert Hopkinson, Regional Executive Officer; Mr. Mark McLean, Regional Vice Chairperson of the People’s National Congress Reform; members of the Anna Regina Municipality; members of the Region Two Regional Council if any of them are present; residents of Anna Regina, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen:
I’m always amazed when I see these bicycles, because I know they are only going to one set of Guyanese: our school children, and especially when I come to the Essequibo Coast to Region Two, because this is where the idea was born when I was in the Opposition, when nobody was paying attention to what we were trying to say and do.
My wife went up the Pomeroon River in 2014, and my wife gave a child a book and the child looked at her and said, “Miss, ah cyan read”. This is a twelve-year-old child, she’d never went to school in her life said, “Miss, ah cyan read”, and when we investigated that complaint it was because her mother could not afford to send her to school with the hire boat. She could not afford to pay the fees to take her to school, and it happens up and down the Pomeroon River. You know the Pomeroon doesn’t have highway and byway? It just has river. So you either pay the boat fees or you stay home, and that was what was happening to a lot of children in the Pomeroon; they were staying home and they were losing their education. So, I made a promise right there. I said, “When I become president” - not if, me nah say if – “When I become president, I will provide a boat to take children to school”, and this was done.
In July 2015, just a few weeks after becoming President, I was able to come up here to Charity and we launched our first boat – the yellow boats, which is now part of the Five Bs Initiative. From boats we went on to bikes; from bikes we went on to buses and Region Two alone has got two buses. Right now, there are 28 buses on the road taking children up and down to school free of charge. Every day millions of dollars are going back into households. There are over 1,200 bicycles. Children are riding to school rather than having to pay a minibus or pay a hire car, and these bicycles are meant to help children to go to school, but they can do a lot of other things with the bikes but school first, play second. So this is a pretty picture for me because it will bring smiles to the faces of twenty children. I’ve been here before so I’ll be back. I know that I’ve had some challenges with the money, so when I can afford it I’ll be back, but you are first. Children have first call on our finances.
My brothers and sisters, you all belong to a very powerful organisation called Anna Regina Town. Anna Regina Town was established 48 years ago before most of you were born, but you must ask yourselves this question, “does the progress you see around you represent 48 years of development?” Now Anna Regina is what I call a capital town. That means it’s the capital of the whole region if not a town in itself, it’s the capital of the whole Region Two, the whole Pomeroon-Supenaam Region. A region that is over 6000 kilometres; a region that is bigger than Trinidad and Tobago. So many of you might say well, why is Trinidad and Tobago rich and Region Two is poor? Minister Annette Ferguson answered the question in part. It is poor because of poor leadership and next month on the 12th of November we’re going to change that, we’re going to give Anna Regina better leadership. There is no other region in Guyana like Region Two. There is no other region in Guyana with such beautiful lakes like Region Two. There is no other region with one of the largest rivers, hinterland and coastland. It’s a complex region with a large indigenous population, a large African population, a large Indian population, and if I listen to the calypsonian, we alone can make a mixed population, but the point I’m making is this is a beautiful and complex region, a region that deserves a good leadership. Why? Because the economy alone of this region, I tell you: 16% of the national rice production comes from Region Two; 14% of the national fish and shrimp production comes from Region Two and not to mention, of course, 48% of the coconuts. Nobody could come to State House and don’t get a glass of Pomeroon coconut water to drink, no matter where you come from. If you come from Poland, if you come from Colombia, you got to drink Region Two coconut water. I have never tasted coconut water like that in my life. I drink coconut water from Brazil, from Philippines, but I tell you something, Pomeroon coconut water got a special something.
So you could be proud of the things you produce, and at the heart of it all is this town called Anna Regina. The heart of this great region that is bigger than Trinidad is Anna Regina. Anna Regina is not only the centre of government, you also have banks here, you have hotels here, you have restaurants, you have post office, police stations, stores, rice mills, sports facilities, schools, technical institutes, factories, whatever you have, all contribute to the wealth and prosperity of Anna Regina. But most of all Anna Regina has a human capital. I’ve been coming to this capital off and on for years, and I’ve met parents whose children qualify at the National Grade Six Assessment to go to Queen’s and Saints and they say no, they want their children to stay at HRMS, that is the faith that Essequiboans have in their own secondary schools. I applaud you.
Essequibo could be proud of its education system that parents would prefer to keep their children to go to secondary school here than to go to Georgetown, but your town council has a great responsibility. It is not just a passive town council where people just get elected and they sit down there. It has to look after public services, it has to look after public health, it has to look after sanitation, it has to look after solid waste management and keep the canals clean, it has to look after security, keep the roads safe and it has to look after economic growth. So you want people in your town council who are multi-talented. They don’t go there because they’re a political party; they go there because they are prepared to work for Anna Regina and work for Region Two. You’re looking for a different kind of people, people you could have confidence in, people you could have trust in. You know, some of you may not realise it but in 2002, this population of Anna Regina was about 12,000 under the PPP. Ten years later under the same PPP in 2012 the population had fallen to 11,000. Where have they gone?
If the government was so great, how come the population fell? The truth is that the people were running away from the PPP Government. This is a rich region - rich rice, rich fisheries, rich manufacturers, but the population continue to fall. A falling population suggests lack of confidence in the regional and municipal administration and you know who was in charge of the regional and municipal administration between 2000 and 2012? It was the People’s Progressive Party and population was falling and my heart bled. I felt for you, Essequiboans, because I follow the news. Some of you may not remember the 3rd of October 2012. Any of you could tell me what happened on the 3rd of October 2012? Let me tell you -Ganga Persaud came here in Anna Regina and installed an Interim Management Committee. It means that, even the elected PPP officials were not doing their job and he came to remove them, and he installed the same PPP people, so the incompetence continued because it changed nothing. IMCs were unwanted, they’re undemocratic and they’re unsuccessful, and let me promise you this Essequibo, there will be no IMCs under the APNU.
President David Granger: Thank you for you applause. This town is going to be governed by the people you elect, not by whom the Minister of Local Government or the Minister of Communities selects. You must be able to look in the eyes of these persons and say, “What are you doing for Anna Regina”? And if they can’t give the right answer, tell them they’re out next elections. Under the IMCs you know very well the problems continued. The problems proliferated. Development would be rare, and there was a twilight of democracy because the people of Anna Regina were governed by persons that they did not select.
Next month, five weeks from now, you have an opportunity to correct the damage that has been done. Don’t drop the ball; don’t lose the opportunity because you are going to return to stagnation, you are going to return to underdevelopment. So you have to take this exercise very seriously because you have to go out there and vote for persons who you know are going to serve your communities. That is the purpose of Local Government Elections. Let me tell you something about Local Government Elections. There is no other party or partnership in Guyana which has done so much for Local Government Elections like APNU. APNU was on the street picketing Donald Ramotar week after week. APNU mobilized civil society. Other people were saying, “Ah, we don’t go on the street, we hold press conferences”. Press conferences, eh? Okay, keep pressing on but we went on the street and brought pressure to bear and we forced Donald Ramotar out of office because he knew what was coming, a vote of no confidence; but it was the APNU which went on the streets, in September, in October, in November 2014 and we pushed them out of office and, with your support, we were elected as the Government of Guyana in May 2015.
But the story didn’t stop there. The story didn’t stop there. Ten months after we got into office we held Local Government Elections for the first time in 22 years. Ten months! Something the PPP couldn’t do for 22 years. We did it in ten months, and I promise you this, this isn’t only the second time APNU is holding Local Government Elections but as long as I’m here you’re going to have Local Government Elections whenever the Constitution is due. Local Government Elections is not a favour, is not an option, is not a gift; it’s an entitlement. It’s a constitutional entitlement. How can people decide not to have Local Government Elections? People are arrogant. Well, you did the right thing. So we’re going next month to have Local Government Elections and in three years’ time you will have Local Government Elections again.
Now, we didn’t do well, the APNU didn’t do well, at the Local Government Elections in 2016 but let me say this, my brothers and sisters, yeah we wanted to win. Everybody wants to win; you don’t go into politics to lose but Local Government Elections is not about victim or victor, winning and losing; it’s about giving the people the opportunity to run their own affairs; giving people the opportunity to sit around the table to decide what’s best for the market; what’s best for the streets; what’s best for the lights; what’s best for security; what’s best for the roads. This is the importance of Local Government Elections. That’s why I’m so concerned about putting competent people into the municipality. Not just party people, not tall people, not short people, not Indian people, not African people, but people who are going to change Anna Regina Town Council for the good, to make this region a powerhouse.
So when we held Local Government Elections in March 2016, yeah we wanted to win but most of all, we wanted to empower the people, give them that confidence to go into the municipalities, to go into the neighbourhoods and make decisions for themselves. You know, I had an experience in the East Berbice-Corentyne earlier this year. Some chairmen of the NDCs, fed up with talking to the Regional Chairman, asked me to go to Fyrish to talk with them. This was not a PNC matter, an AFC matter or a PPP matter; these were ordinary citizens who wanted to improve their communities. I sat down and listened to them and having listened to them, I called Mr. Bulkan in the Ministry of Communities and said “this is a serious matter, let us convene a national conference of local democratic organs so that we could discuss with the chairmen themselves what could be done for next year’s budget.” So things are going to get better because you have a government which is concerned about the quality of local government and you have a government which is holding Local Government Elections regularly.
My brothers and sisters, those of you who live in and around Anna Regina know what has been going on. I don’t have to give you a chronicle. My sister, Annette Ferguson, the Minister of Public Infrastructure has given you a good run down. You know that you have a recreational park being developed. You know that the market is being rehabilitated; you know that street lights are being provided; you know that the Town Hall now has led lights. You know when we are in government, we don’t say, “Eh eh, this is a PPP municipality, or this is PPP RDC”. We say “this is a part of Guyana” and we help Guyanese wherever they are but we don’t want to help people who are not prepared to help themselves. So what I want you to realize is that this government is a government for the whole country and as far as the municipality is concerned, win, lose or draw, don’t worry with the lose or draw part, we will continue to help Anna Regina to be a better town.
So you will see that the academic compound is being fenced, you will see change taking place so that the Regional Executive Officer knows what he has to do. So in the face of resistance, your government will continue to do what is necessary to give you a better quality of life. We are going to improve subventions to support community work. We have provided $30 million for SLED. You know what SLED is? Sustained Livelihood Entrepreneurial Development Programme. Young people who need a start in life. So we are going to strengthen not only the municipality but also the citizens in Anna Regina. That is what you expect a government to do. You know, people speak of government as if it is something far away in Georgetown. Government is right here. I always explain to my comrades and colleagues. Government has to operate at three levels.
My brothers and sisters, the Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally, represents central government; the Regional Executive Officer, Mr. Hopkinson, represents the regional government, and the municipality represents the local government but all three levels have to work together. Now look around, you think the regional chairman for Region Two is here? No, he’s not here. That is the problem in Guyana. The President is here, the neighbourhood is here but the middle piece is not here, and that is what we have to solve in this country. All three levels have to work together if we are to move this region forward. So my brothers and sisters, what are we going to do? We can’t put up with another three, five, ten, thirty years of stagnation simply because some people decide to vote along party lines. You as members of APNU, you as residents of Anna Regina, must come out of your crease to bat. You must start scoring. You must go to people in your neighbourhood and say I am doing this for Anna Regina; I want you to support my candidate because these candidates will provide a better life for all of us. I want you to go into the alleyways and byways; I want you to go to your neighbours; I want you to go to villages which you don’t normally go to. I want you to take the message to everybody in Anna Regina, that this is not a party-political matter; this is a developmental matter that affects all of us and our children. You know there’s a saying that the rising tide lifts all boats; so if the tide rises all of us will benefit and you must let your neighbours know that, that we are a government. We as a partnership are prepared to work on improving Anna Regina, to make this one of the premier towns in Guyana.
Anna Regina opens the opportunity because many people really don’t know where Anna Regina is. Is it part of the coastland or is it part of the hinterland? The top part is the girl but Anna Regina combines a bit of the hinterland and a bit of the coastland. Anna Regina has a large hinterland of rivers and indigenous communities but it also has a long coastland which is no different from Region Three or elsewhere. So I see Anna Regina as uniquely placed to provide leadership to the new towns in the hinterland. You know I told you at the start that Anna Regina was established as a town by the PNC 48 years ago in 1970 and since then the first new towns were created by this administration two years ago. So we now have four new towns: Mabaruma, Bartica, Lethem and Mahdia but those four new towns are as not as well developed as Anna Regina. For example, Mabaruma doesn’t even have a bank. So we are trying to bring those four new towns up to the standards of Anna Regina.
So I am asking Anna Regina to provide leadership by example so that after a while all of the towns in Guyana will have similar facilities. But to do this, you need people with vision; you need businessmen who are prepared to go to Mabaruma, go to Bartica, go to Lethem, go to Mahdia and carry your expertise, open chambers of commerce, open businesses. I want people to get rich. I want people to open enterprises. I want people to develop all parts of Guyana but Anna Regina, which has so many advantages, will take the lead because you have the experience of being part hinterland, part coastland, and I want to see one day, that you have your own municipal aerodrome so that businesspersons can come from the Caribbean and land in Anna Regina and do business in the morning and fly out before night, so that this could become a port of entry.
I want to see people coming in to Anna Regina from the rest of the world, not only for rice and coconut water but also to invest and to develop this region. So what I’m trying to paint for you, Anna Regina, is not just a matter of cleaning up the streets and picking up solid waste; it’s a vision of the future, five, ten, fifteen, twenty years so your children will remember this day, when their parents went out to Local Government Elections to elect a visionary Town Council, one that looks over the interests of its own people in the town, one that looks over the interests of the other hinterland towns, Mahdia and Lethem.
You know, my brothers and sisters, in due course, you should not have to go to Georgetown for anything concerning NIS, your bank, your passport. Everything you need should be provided by Anna Regina Town, and that is what we must aim at, and that is why we need a mayor who is visionary, not just a clerk who is taking instructions but a mayor who has got a vision to develop this town into an economic powerhouse. So this is my message to you. Let us not stand still, let us not simply vote for the people who were there before because you will get the same thing you had before, because you will get the same thing, which is stagnation. If you want to move forward, if you want a new vision, if you want progress you have to select the APNU ticket, which is supported by the government. Let’s move forward.
Thank you and may God bless you.