Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: I rise, on this side of the House, to pay acknowledgement and to consider, along with the other Hon. Members, the address by His Excellency Donald Rabindranauth Chandarpaul, the new President of the Republic of Guyana…[Interruption]… It is Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar. In so doing, I want to pay tribute to our new President. Our new President in his address did speak to his long years in the National Assembly, and the fact that during those years he has been able to build enduring friendships on all sides of the House, amongst all colleagues. He also spoke to the issue and said that it strengthened, fortified, and I quote, “my faith in the inestimable value of Parliamentary democracy and the importance of this institution in our national life.” I recall too, during the recent elections campaign, Mr. Ramotar did also say, and there are a few billboards of him which are around, that we must continuously strive to unite our people. I take, again, great heart in this statement and in his attitude.
Mr. Ramotar has been an affable, sometime jovial presence in this House, but also one who has been deeply involved in the cut and thrust in the debates and issues related to our national life, in chartering the course also, in the House, of the People Progressive Party and the Civic and its programme, with respect to its perspectives on national development.
It has been thrust upon him now to lead Guyana during this, admittedly, challenging new period where the continuation of the development of our country has to be pursued on the exponential path which has been left under President Bharrat Jagdeo. I repeat - the “exponential path”.
I believe Mr. Speaker…, and there are many assertions as to the results of the elections and the new make-up of the House and all of these things. I note that at the time that the speech was made there was a lot of, perhaps, over exuberance on the part of some, in some quarters, in respect of their new positions in the House.
President Ramotar said: “I urge that we put the interest of our people first.” He said again “…my government is as willing as ever to exercise patience, forbearance and reasonableness in the interest of all our people”. President Ramotar, in my estimation, is perhaps, from his background and ethnic make-up, and all of those things, the most complete Guyanese person who has acceded to the position of the Presidency in Guyana - the most complete Guyanese person. On this side of the House, the PPP and the Civic, at various times… [Ms. Selman: Times! What [inaudible] do you all have?] … as a result of various elections, Madam, has been able to provide leadership of this country in the form of a large and wide-ranging spectrum of persons of various ethnic backgrounds to lead our country: President Jagdeo, President Cheddi Jagan, Mrs. Janet Jagan, President Samuel Hinds. [Interruption] Yes, Mr. Samuel Hinds was indeed a President of this country. I am sure, based on our team and our strivings and our willingness, on this side of the House, and I can ensure national development and the unity of our people that we are prepared that we will always work so that, from this side of the House, at any time, we will complete the full spectrum of all the races as president of this country.
We are committed, and the urgencies, the utterances, the efforts of the PPP/Civic in Government, the effort of Mr. Ramotar as General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic, over the years, these strivings, are in this direction. We believe and we take on board his urgencies, his encouragement in the speech, where we can continue the efforts of building our country and, as he said, that we are on another open path - “…that we are at the threshold of a rapid development that can take us to great heights.”
In terms of my responsibilities as of Minister of Public Works, the speech refers to the issues of facilitating, making our goods and services being globally competitive. He said “we must reduce transport cost and improve market access for our exports” and he has spoken, in the speech, about the need of achieving “…a deep water harbour, a road and bridge link to Brazil and Surname respectively”. These are said to be very important projects, so that we can “…become a major hub for the movement of goods between South America and the North while reducing transport costs and providing easier and freer access to larger markets for our producers.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Speaker, we are all aware of the efforts which have been made in creating, in developing, over the years, the road linked to Brazil. We have had the success, which was mentioned by the Hon. Prime Minister, of the Takutu River Bridge where Presidents Jagdeo and Lula da Silva were together in heralding the new bridge and in having discussions with respect to the financing of the link from Linden to Lethem. We are all aware of the great developments that are occurring now in Lethem, itself, with respect to it being the first entrepot to Guyana, in respect of goods coming into Guyana from Brazil and with respect, too, in terms of having the Guyanese goods go over to Brazil and further afield to enhance our economy and to increase trade between our two countries.
The next significant port and population centre related to this development is, of course, the town of Linden. Linden is the first port at which ten to twelve thousand tons of cargo can be lifted from to go northward into the open ocean for exports, not only of products from Guyana, but also products from Brazil. Linden is also one of the first beneficiaries of the developments in relation to the Linden/Lethem road to Brazil with the fixed link, that there is now, of the friendship bridge, the Takutu Bridge.
It has been suggested sometimes that the development of a deep water port in Berbice, which is natural based on all the calculations and planning with respect to the movements of goods and services, may see Linden being bypassed. I want to set aside this notion, comprehensively, that the first port with access to the open ocean, with respect to the movement of cargo between Brazil and Guyana, is the port of Linden which has been a port now for close to a hundred years in terms of ocean going cargo. So Linden will not be bypassed in terms of infrastructure and will always remain as a viable port.
In respect of the deep water port, the waiting and the bias of movement of sugar, rice, hopefully petroleum and the bauxite coming down the Berbice river and the geographical position and makeup of the Berbice river, makes New Amsterdam, Berbice, the area where the deep water harbour would be established. We anticipate and we are very hopeful that out of the two efforts that we are having now – the Prime Minister did refer to it – of Repsol and CGX Guyana Inc. where there are, right now, two large platforms drilling for oil which, hopefully, will solve some significant gaps in our energy equation, some terms in our energy equation, if we do find oil out there on the ocean of the Corentyne Coast, Berbice, the positioning of the places for the establishment of a refinery and for the export of those products would be in that region.
President Ramotar has spoken to the supporting of sectors, Ministries and firms in respect of the potential to produce globally competitive goods and services. He has also spoken on the issue of having a diversified economy, one in which large public and privately owned firms will be embraced, that small businesses are known to sustain growth and the ability to use managerial skills and expertise skilled workforce and access to the resources. These things will allow us to venture deeper into regional and global markets.
The Hon. Prime Minister did mention the issue of – and it is also stated in the paper – the question of the global environment in which we live, the issue that the world economy is being driven by the appearance of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, Indian, China and, now, South Africa). And it is said that within the next ten years or so, Nigeria, with its large population and market base, aside from the traditional European, North American countries, these are the countries which will drive global development. These are the countries which are bringing their populations out of deep poverty. These are the countries which are also helping other lesser developed and medium developed countries to bring large sections of their population out of poverty. Without them, if we were to have the situation of the 1929 to 1933 global recession, there would have been total global collapse. So with this, we want to take the charge to look towards the regional markets- of course CARICOM. We want to facilitate entrée and transportation links in the regional markets. We want to be able to facilitate that. We have had discussions, up to yesterday, with His Excellency the Ambassador of Singapore, too, in respect of developing air links to Singapore over Africa and Brazil so that the links between the South-South cooperation, between third world and developing countries, could be developed to drive the development of our economy so that businessmen, technicians, professionals and entrepreneurs otherwise would not have to go all the way to New York, Miami or Europe to be able to go to Africa or to go to Asia. It would have a Southern Air Bridge between the Southern countries that is viable and will further deepen sustained, economic development of the Southern countries. So we want to continue to work - and we have had commitments in that respect - and we are looking at finding ways, looking at doubling the number of companies that come to Guyana in respect of air transportation which is the main link for the movement of people and also the main link, particularly and emotionally, for keeping the links with our Guyanese Diaspora. We want to continue to provide opportunity for competitive air fare, cargo transportation, and an expansion of the ability to move into new markets and new areas, not only East-West but also in the South, in Latin America.
In terms of embracing new technologies, we are heartened by the position and the recognition of how these drive growth and we want to point to the changes that we have recently made at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and the Tower in terms of the air navigation systems which have been completely upgraded. We want to indicate, too, that we have recently adopted, in terms of international over-flights, global positioning, and routing of flights over Guyana’s airspace which is resulting in the reduction of costs in fuel and time of international air traffic.
The interest is also encouraged, from the speech, in terms of further modernising, upgrading, and rehabilitating, in many ways, our infrastructure. Issues in relation to roads and bridges - we know that the talk abounds on the issues of the four-lane highway that we are doing on the East Bank to Timehri and, of course, issues relating to the results of the elections and the question of people’s perception of how development occurs.
People have spoken about apathy. People have spoken about disinterest otherwise. There have been various criticisms, but I would like to point to one thing and that is that perhaps after a long period, in the first instance we were threading water in Guyana to survive... [Ms. Selman: What?] ...threading water in Guyana to survive. There was a period when the national resources were sterilised and not available for investment for a long period. There came a change and then there was a great effort to prevent being taken over or swamped by the sea and to rehabilitate all of the roads. I think we have been successful at doing that. And then there came a new period when we started to grow, when the National Budgets grew in terms of the amount of funds available for health, education, and infrastructure. With this growth and, perhaps, great expectations all around, many people on all sides of the House thought two things: one was that if there were a lot of moneys around, it meant that there was corruption; and secondly was that we can build all the roads and meet all of the expectations of all the people, all at the same time; that if I build a road on this side of the house then maybe people on this side of the house will think why it was not built on their side. [Mr. Greenidge: That is what you do.] I want to remind the honourable gentleman and I will present, again, and set aside all the lies and misrepresentations, again, with respect to the development and placement of roads and other infrastructure in this country and to show that the prioritisation is apt and that the sequence of these activities is appropriate. But I state again, the point that perhaps since there was a great effort and we now had the ability to build on the past and to do many new things, there was an expectation right away that we can do all of these things everywhere and all at the same time. This is not possible. We would like to do it, but it could not have been possible. We had to get the income from Value Added Tax (VAT) and other taxes. We had to bring more persons into paying their fair share of taxes. However, we could point to some successes. We could point to the successes of the roads going all the way to Moleson Creek being completely rehabilitated. We could say now that for the first time we have an all-weather, all-year roundly; we will have that soon into the year into Regions 7 and 8, into the Pakaraimas. We can point to these things. And so... [Mr. Greenidge: Is it Kofi you are talking about? You better be talking about Kofi.] I am a shirt-jack man, Sir. I do not wear cufflinks. [Mrs. Backer: We could see that.] Yes. The jesting aside, I want to point, particularly, to the efforts and to the commitment for the continuation of the exponential growth that we have in Guyana and that President Ramotar continues and has said he will continue on the strong base that has been provided. Indeed, we have new challenges in the House and nationally, particularly, and it is strange that sometimes I am happy, in one way, that, maybe, the makeup of the House has changed because now, maybe, the Opposition will not walk out of the House when important Bills have to be passed. Every time we had important things to debate and discuss, there was no interest other than grandstanding. And as soon as the cameras were off, they left. I am glad you are all here now and fully represented so you can make sure of the... [Interruption]
In this House, perhaps, it is that .01 per cent or less of the Guyanese people who represent themselves to the rest of the country as the political elite. President Ramotar has spoken about putting the interest of our people first. The question of patience and forbearance, the question of being reasonable, the question of being rational, and I am aware that President Ramotar who was an affable man, as I said, who is open to meeting all the people, any person, has consulted the Guyanese people on all the perspectives in relation to our national development. I say, again, that President Ramotar has consulted the people and this document is as a result of the consultations and the understanding he has of the new dispensation and of the challenge that he has! President Ramotar has consulted the Guyanese people. The challenge is not only for President Donald Ramotar; it is for all of us here who hold ourselves out to the Guyanese people as the political elite. It is not in a democratic system here for the political elite to be carrying on as if they are fighting over the national trough or having a feeding frenzy over that trough or making statements and assertions without understanding the full import of our national development.
In this House, now in this Tenth Parliament, if this Parliament is not to become a short Parliament, now is the time, Mr. Speaker, for the true patriotic and nationalist Guyanese to stand up. Now is the time for the true, patriotic, nationalist Guyanese! And so in the vein of President Donald Ramotar, I am repeating that he, based on his political experience, his faith in his estimable value of Parliamentary democracy has been fortified. I am thinking, too, that good sense will prevail on all sides of the House and that this purported or supposed elite in this House will, on all sides, examine not only their heads but their hearts in this matter. I anticipate that we will serve the Guyanese people properly and well and that we will also ensure, as we pray, the safety, honour and happiness of the President, Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar. [Applause]