Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I think that the last speaker gave us an extensive reminder of the importance of continuity of development and how transformation and development bring new priorities into focus.
Many of you may recall that there was a time when our housing programme was non-existent. Today we have a housing programme that has been able to move the average age of homeownership from 57 years to 34 years. There was a time when the average age of a person owning their own home was 57 years. They did not dream of owning their own home until they were about 57 years. Today the average person can own their own home at the age of 34 years. There was also a time when interest rate for mortgage was close to 40%. Today you can mortgage at rates that are as low as 4.25%.
There was a time when we had zero per cent coverage in treated water. Today we have close to 50% coverage in treated water and the goal is to take this to 65% in the short term. However, to do this, we need continuity. We need continuity in the development agenda. We need continuity in policy predictability.
Let me give a simple example of the importance of macro projects to community development. The Speciality Hospital would have revolutionised Guyana’s health care system. Presently, if someone has to undergo a cardiac surgery, they might have to go to Trinidad or some other country to have that surgery done. The cheapest hospital would charge approximately US $25,000 to carry out a surgery such as this. The Government of Guyana gives the patient a subsidy of US $5,000. However, that family still has to pay US $20,000 for the surgery in addition to travelling, accommodation and other expenses. If we had the speciality hospital in Guyana, the complete cost for the surgery for a Guyanese living here would have been US $5,000, which is the amount that the Government is presently giving as subsidy. You might want to ask how this would be economically viable. The model that we had worked out was based on cross-subsidisation. For example, the persons who would come from overseas to do their surgeries here in Guyana would pay the market value of the surgery. The surplus from this is what we will use to cross-subsidise the delivery of the service to local Guyanese. This is the same model that is used in the developed countries.
We have to understand that policy predictability and formulation are done in a national context. That is why the prayers of the religious leaders here today are very pertinent, that is, God’s guidance to policy makers. They do this because they understand that if policy makers do not act in a responsible manner they can derail, hold back or disrupt the development agenda for a country and its people. So there is no way, for example, that we can explain the blockade of projects such as the speciality hospital. However, it has already occurred and we have to move forward. We have to continue on the development pathway.
We had money earmarked for community roads and community development, but we do not have a budget for 2015. So when we want to address community issues we have to address them from a macro perspective. For the Government to assist in community projects, we have to get budgeted resources. If we do not have a budget for a given year then it affects the Government’s ability to deliver goods and services to the citizens.
Let us look at the issue of squatting, which we must address. As I indicated earlier, the development process takes time. When the PPP/C came into office in 1992, there were 281 squatter settlements all across the country. Today we have regularised more than 220 of those squatter settlements. However, sometimes the Government is so busy serving the people that we do not shout about these progresses. We do not shout about this because you deserve it – the people of the country deserve it. It is the duty and responsibility of the Government and policy makers to deliver these services to the people of the country. This is why we continuously work on delivering services to the people of Guyana.
Indeed, I will be the first to acknowledge that there is much more to be done, but we must not forget that a lot has been done. A lot has been accomplished. A lot has changed. A lot of improvements have come our way.
We must now take the mantle forward in a united and cohesive manner. We have to set the development agenda and paradigm to focus on the needs of the future. The needs of the future for young people in this Region are, in my opinion, the creation of jobs and living and working in a secured environment. How are we going to create jobs? How are we going to ensure that we create high paying jobs that are attractive to young people?
Our education system has improved and developed to such an extent that we are now producing graduates with degrees at a faster rate than any other country in the Caribbean Region. These graduates are looking for a different class of jobs. That is why we said that we are going to develop an Information Communication Technology (ICT) platform that is going to move the trajectory of jobs into higher paying and higher value jobs. Very recently we signed a new agreement with the “mecca of IT” – India. Bangalore is perhaps the most sophisticated IT city in the world and has created some of the best minds in IT. We have signed an agreement with India to create an ICT Centre of Excellence in Guyana which will attract people from all across the Region. This project will be linked directly to Region 6 because of the ICT platform that we are building with the fibre optic cable.
We are also going to continue working to bring in more call centres into the country, especially here in Region 6. How important is a call centre for Region 6? Wherever call centres exist in the world, two segments of the society primarily: single parents and housewives and students. This is because call centres operate on a shift system. Students who attend universities work in the call centres for a few hours so that they could earn whilst they pursue their studies. Single parents and housewives who do not have a job can be easily trained to work in the call centres. This is one of the policy directions of the Government. This is one of the areas of interest of the Government. This is an area in which we will invest to stimulate greater job creation.
Let us look at the issue of sugar. The speaker just before me mentioned the issue of sugar and the importance of the industry for the communities. It is for this reason that the PPP/C Government is committed to ensure the survival of the sugar industry. We continue to invest money into the sugar industry to safeguard the jobs that are connected to the industry. Many persons do not understand the impact of the sugar industry in these communities. So when persons call for the closure of the sugar industry, they clearly do not understand that closure of the sugar industry will affect not only the sugar workers and their families but also the shopkeepers, the taxi drivers, the market vendors and so forth. Persons living in communities like this one will always say that things are bad when the factory is not operating. I am from a sugar community so I can testify to this. This is why the PPP/C will always remain committed to safeguard the sugar industry.
Sometimes leaders in the community have to drive people to make use of opportunities. Take for example the initiative of the Small Business Development Grant, which was advertised in all the newspapers and media houses. We had training in all the Regions and a large number of persons from Regions 5 and 6 benefited from this Grant. However, we still have capacity to take in many more applications. So we have to drive persons into this area. Indeed, this calls for collective efforts from the leadership – the Central Government, the RDC, the NDC, and community leaders – to ensure that we bring on board as many persons as possible as we move the development process forward.
I am very happy to have been given this opportunity so that I could address some of the concerns from a more macro perspective.
Today we are here for the commissioning of this well, but as we commission, we are already planning the way forward. We have already established that the priority here in Region 6 is treated water. The Government has invested more than GYD $6 billion in the water sector of Region 6. If one were to calculate the per capita investment in the water sector of Region 6, you will see that we have expended more than $50,000 for every single resident in this Region. We have constructed two state of the art water treatment plants in No 56 Village and Queenstown. We have undertaken the Rosehall Water Improvement Project and the installation of transmission mains in No 74 Village, No 75 Village, No 61 Village, No 62 Village, Letter Kenny, Adventure to Allness, Fyrish, Black Bush Polder, Canefield, Whim, Manchester, among other areas.
Knowing and understanding the priority of this Region, we have just signed a new loan for the construction of more water treatment plants all across the country. Here in Region 6 you will see the construction of a new water treatment plant to cover villages from Sheet Anchor to No 19 Village. This contract has already been signed. This will take the coverage of treated water to 65% in Region 6.
We are not going to stop here because in the five year programme we want to take the national average of treated water coverage to 75%. As a result we are looking at more efficient treatment plants with the relevant technology that are cheaper to operate and with low capital investment cost.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here. I am of the firm belief that our country can only move forward in a united way. Water is one of the most unifying commodities. It is a commodity because it is priced. In some countries the slogan is “water is priceless”. It is a commodity because it has a value and cost attached in its extraction and purification. Just as water unifies humanity, we have to use the independence that we have gained since close to fifty years ago to bring us together and to charter a progressive pathway for the future of Guyana. We have to do this. There is no other option.
We present to you a national platform in which we believe everyone must be involved. The development process is not for me or any particular individuals. The development process is for the betterment of everyone. We have to work continuously.
Sometimes we forget that we are independent. The European Union owes us money dues to the erosion of their preferential price for our sugar, but only a few days ago I see political leaders in Guyana writing the European Union to block that money from coming into Guyana. I wonder if they forget that we are an independent nation. I wonder if they forget that we are no longer under colonial rule. How can you be nationalistic and patriotic in your thinking when you write an international agency to block resources from coming into the country? How can you block resources that would go towards the development of the sugar industry which provides thousands of jobs for our citizens?
This cannot be patriotic. This cannot be fair. This cannot be justified. This is fundamentally wrong.
As we move forward and take the journey into the future, we must do so with a clear conscience. We must ask ourselves some fundamental questions: is life better today? does my child have a better today than I had when I was his/her age? are the conditions in the community better? is the country better? If the answer to these questions is “yes” then you have a duty to be faithful to your conscience. You have a duty to reward your conscience. You are all morally upright enough to reward your conscience by doing the right thing.
Thank you very much.