Mrs. Lawrence: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The motion titled, Restoration of Georgetown most aptly can be described in the words of one of Guyana’s outstanding writers, Mr. Martin Carter: “We are all involved; we are all consumed.” Let me first place on record that this motion in no way seeks to remove the mandate of the Georgetown City Council, the custodian of our city, the men and women who were elected by the residents of the city of Georgetown to which the motion speaks.
I will not detail for this honourable House the pleasurable memories of our Garden City, Georgetown, which many of us in this House have experienced and to which we can attest. However, permit me to mention the sadness I feel when I think that amongst our population there is a generation of young people who never had the joy of experiencing our city, Georgetown, in its former glory, thus meriting the name of Garden City of the Caribbean.
We must seek, today, as sons and daughters of this dear land to change this. As an elected body, we have a mandate to restore the splendour of our Garden City. Today, we must let our voices be jointly heard in support of this motion titled, Restoration of Georgetown.
The first WHEREAS Clause refers to the boundaries of Georgetown that have expanded over the last four decades. We have added to the southern section places like Banks Park, Shirley Field, Ridley Square, Rasville, Festival City, Stevedore Scheme, Telecommunication Scheme, Lamaha Springs, Joint Services Scheme, to name a few. To the north we have added Lamaha Park, North and South Sophia, Hughani Park and University Garden. With these expansions listed, addition drainage canals would have been necessary. Refuge build-up would certainly have greatly been evident. Sadly, these new demands have not been adequately addressed.
Today, we are at a juncture where we can no longer continue sitting in this honourable House in this city and pretend that the present condition of our city, Georgetown, does not affect the citizenry, likewise us. Just a look at the parapet outside this honourable House gives a glimpse of the refuse problem which exists. A few steps to the west of this building and the stench of urine overwhelm you. A few steps more and you enter into an area which is known as ‘Shite City’. We can no longer continue with the finger pointing and the politicking. We need to stop the blame game and stop it now and restore Georgetown to its former glory.
Today, I call on all in this honourable House and those outside of this House, who have this dear land of Guyana and its former beauty at heart, to help thwart the impending danger, for example a serious health outbreak, continuous flooding associated with water borne diseases... Cholera is a distinct possibility.
In addressing the fifth WHEREAS Clause, without any knowledge or expertise in the area of engineering, I submit that any clear-thinking citizen would admit that since Guyana lies five and a half feet below sea level, at high tide, drainage would be an important aspect of our survival. With this in mind, our primary focus ought to be on the constant maintenance of our outfall channels, our collector and subsidiary drains and our koker doors. No number of pumps or pumping of water could replace those systems. We have all witnessed flooding in several areas, with the least amount of rainfall.
As the world changes and citizens are finding it more convenient and cheaper to support fast food restaurants, we, in Guyana, have also joined the new wave. This has led to several new restaurant establishments in our city and environs. We must ensure that they do not place any added burdens on the city. We must insist that grease traps be put in place and be properly maintained. For without these devices, grease enters into our sanitary sewer system and creates economic safety and environmental hazards by clogging and damaging pipes, placing added burden on those who manually clean our drains.
The first Resolved Clause seeks to involve a small number of Members of Parliament in the planning, execution and reporting on the measures taken and progress made towards the restoration of our city, Georgetown.
The second Resolved Clause envisions the involvement of every citizen, every department, and both the private and public sectors. Let us begin to clear our outfall channels, collector and subsidiary drains and repair our kokers.
Flooding of the Kingston community last Tuesday due to the collapse of a koker door is testimony to the poor conditions in which many kokers can be found. Our alleyways, our secondary drainage in the various communities, are overgrown with trees, weed and other particles placed there by uncaring citizens. This condition has led to too many citizens having to vacate their lower flats or incur the cost of increasing the level of their bottom floors. Those who cannot afford this must face the consequence of a rotting foundation. Clogged alleyways have also led to many yards and roads being flooded at the smallest downpour of rain.
We are also all aware that these secondary drainage alleyways lead into primary drainage which provides drainage into our rivers and ocean. For those of us who traverse this city, we are aware of several such drainages, known to us as trenches, which appear to strangers as another empty plot of land. These trenches have been neglected for so long that one can walk across them. How can we prevent flooding when our infrastructure is neglected?
Someone said that attitudes become habits. We can say that this is so true given our garbage problem. So often one hears persons make comments such as, ‘If I aint litter how people gon get wuk? I does pay me tax. Dey thiefing de money so let dem spend it to clean de city.’ Research has shown that littering is the result of people not feeling a sense of ownership for their surroundings. In my own estimation, I would concur that many Guyanese do feel that way.
What I also know is that there are many Guyanese and other persons, who reside here, who care. In this honourable House, I know that we can find persons who care. That is why this motion will have the support of this House. I pray I am not wrong.
Since the announcement of this motion titled, Restoration of Georgetown, I have received several letters and phone calls from persons and groups at home and abroad, indicating their commitment to the restoration of Georgetown.
We cannot sit back and do nothing when the City Council indicates that its fleet of garbage trucks is down to two trucks and one tractor or that, due to the heave traffic on the East Bank Road and the distance from the city, we need to extend the hours of Haags Bosch. Neither can we continue to have our public conveniences closed at 5.30 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. each day while there is 24-hour vending at our markets, malls and roadside beverage shops, and, most of all, when we are appropriating large sums of money each year towards tourism. What are we doing - shooting ourselves in the head?
The second Resolved Clause also speaks to those involved in our education system. Our educators must embrace and include in their curriculum the subject of healthy environment, healthy nation, thus moulding our children in the process of preservation of cleanliness. Let us make an effort to change the two many negative headlines on Guyana and, more so, of our city, Georgetown. A unanimous vote on this motion to restore our city can be the beginning of showcasing Guyana and Guyanese in a more positive way.
In concluding, allow me to ask those who will speak to this motion to think of what our city would look like in another few months with the build-up of refuse which can be seen in all areas of the city, or the stagnant water left by those in the process of construction, or blocked canals and abandoned vehicles. Do you think that the words of Valerie Rodway, composer or our national song, will have any meaning? I speak of those words “O beautiful Guyana; O my lovely native land; More dear to me than all the world;” ending with the line, “I love thee, Oh I love thee”. The question is begged, will this generation repeat those words, “I love thee, Oh I love thee”?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
Mrs. Lawrence (replying): Mr. Speaker, as I sat here, I remembered those faithful Catholics in St. Paul’s Square as they waited to see that white smoke. For a portion of time during the debate, all I was seeing was black smoke and I was wondering whether any part of the motion spoke to some of the things which we heard here this evening.
I would like to ask some of the Members who spoke, in my own mind, on something else other than what the motion purports to ask, that we take a look at the National Development Strategy, Chapter 21 – Urban Development. In this particular chapter, Mr. Speaker, it highlights all of the deficiencies in the National Development Strategy. What Members were saying here was not anything new; it is public knowledge and this document was distributed in this very House many moons ago, Sir.
Despite this document being distributed and despite it highlighting all of the deficiencies which are within our City Council, Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs), and municipalities also, we heard, this evening, persons speaking as though the municipality of Georgetown was an isolated case.
The motion before the House in my name titled, “Restoration of Georgetown”, Mr. Speaker, in no way seeks to usurp the authority of any of the agencies which have responsibility for the various aspects, whether it be the drainage, the removal of garbage or the sewage system. What it basically seeks to do is ask this House, as the highest forum in this land, to deal with a matter that has been plaguing and continues to plague us in this land, and we seem to be going nowhere.
The very utterances this evening… We heard about what has already been put into the project of cleaning up Georgetown but I do not think we are anywhere close to where we ought to be.
I would like to read from a letter writer of 2nd February, 2013. I will not read it all; I will just read parts of what he has written.
“There are piles and piles of garbage to be seen at every turn, not to mention overgrown vegetation in our trenches and canals, clogged up drains and dilapidated building which all conspires to create a depressing scenario. Georgetown, once regarded as a Garden City, is now reduced to what some people refer to as the garbage city. With all its shortcomings, Georgetown is still a beautiful place.”
He went on to say:
“Sadly, our city has deteriorated over the years and has lost its former glory. There is need for a consorted effort to rescue it.”
I think that is what the motion is asking. It is asking for a concerted effort to rescue Georgetown. The letter writer went on to say that one of the first impressions that foreigners have is the cleanliness of a capital city. It leaves a lasting impression on them. That is why all government and municipal authorities all over the world practically go out of their way to ensure that their cities are kept clean and tidy.
Last December I had several of my relatives who came to spend Christmas in Guyana with me. [Mr. Ali: The best Christmas ever!] Of the lot, I had two eight-year-olds. I invited them to go with me to the market to get some fruits on Christmas Eve Day. [Mr. Ali: Which one of the markets?] Sir, while the Minister of Tourism is making jokes about it, he should listen to it because these are eight-year-olds and I can tell you that they are smart and on the ball. When we got to Bourda Market and I said, “Let us go”, they asked if that was the market. I said, “Yes, this is the market.” They said, “I am not going out there. It is dirty; it is filthy.” Sir, those eight-year-olds preferred to stay in the vehicle instead of going out and going around with me, like children would want to do, and do some shopping. Especially around Christmas time, we know that all children want to get out because they would see something that they want. Sir, this was their first visit to Guyana. What an impression that was and that will remain with them for some time.
I believe that there are several hundreds of persons – both Guyanese who live abroad and persons who come here to visit for one reason or the other – who would have made comments about the condition in which our city is.
Sir, I want to read, also, from an article titled, “Guyana Shines.” It states:
“Last year, the United States Embassy brought together several diplomatic and civic partners, including the British High Commission, the Canadian High Commission, the European Union Delegation in Guyana, Conservation International Guyana and Youth Challenge Guyana, to collaborate on a project to clean up several parts of our city.”
I heard mention made to it, Sir, but, as a Guyanese, I cringed inside. I cringed inside to know that here it is that we have our diplomatic community calling together a grouping to clean up garbage in our city. I am not proud of that as a Guyanese. I think it is our responsibility and that of any proud Guyanese to have an environment, especially their city, in which people would want to come and enjoy the beauty of this country, Guyana.
Right across the road from the Public Buildings there is a wonderful park. When you drive there from time to time, take a look and see how many persons are utilising that park and know the reason why. If I come to that park, Sir, with my family, then I may want to have something to drink. Where must I go? I must pass all the garbage and go across to that place which I spoke about to one of those side shops, where the garbage is overspilling onto the road and the stench is unbearable, to get some snack or refreshment and herein lies the point. We can talk all we want. We spent all of these moneys to beautify segments of our city but all around it is garbage. What are we doing? We all want to see a beautiful Georgetown. We all want to see a beautiful Guyana, but unless we start somewhere, we will end up nowhere.
I want to ask the Members of this House, persons whom the citizens have placed their interests in, to come together to ensure that the work that is needed is done to bring our city back to its former glory. Let us put Georgetown and Guyana on the map again.
Thank you very much, Sir.