Mr. T. Williams: I rise on behalf of the AFC and the thousands of Guyana whose lives this motion is intended to better to present before this honourable House the motion – the Reintroduction of the Berbice River Ferry Service from New Amsterdam to Kwakwani.
The clauses of this motion clearly outline certain important facts about the situation that is affecting these residents and many others in this very important part of Guyana. This country is called the Land of Many Waters and that is a title we embrace. It, therefore, is clear that thousands of Guyanese, by way of residence and industry, would have settled and made their livelihood along our waterways. Therefore, I believe, it is important that our Government takes note of the importance of providing not just critical infrastructure but transportation and other important services so that people can settle and enjoy their lives wherever they choose to in this our beautiful country.
We know that this route was once plied by more than one vessels which took persons from New Amsterdam all the way up to Ituni, positively impacting their way and standard of living where residents were able to produce, deliver and make a comfortable and reasonable living from occupying and developing their farmlands.
When this ferry was removed for whatever reasons, thousands were affected. Many had to leave their homes and choose to settle in another part of Guyana, unwillingly so, because they could not afford to stay and carry on their lives.
Ironically, we have seen over the years that our Government, and rightly so, continues to make certain kinds of investments in the Region like schools, health centres, building regional centres, encouraging people to remain and settle there and, at the same time, it is not providing them with the means of transporting themselves, families and produce.
We were there on a number of occasions and we did extensive consultations with the people of the Berbice River. Our consultations were real and people participated. We took this matter as a very serious discourse and we promised that we would raise this issue in the National Assembly.
I have with me two important photographs and I would like to show Members of this House what is happening in the Berbice River. As of 2013, this is what the boat looked like on which the residents were travelling. The photograph can be copied and circulated.
Mr. Speaker: The Standing Orders do say that one may not use pictorial…which I do not agree with because I think in this day and age we should have charts and graphs and be able to have flip boards. Once it is not anything obscene, because the staff will not reproduce any such material, you may ask the staff to reproduce and share so that Members may follow what it is you are saying.
Mr. T. Williams: I do ask.
When this ferry was removed, the route was taken over by private individuals and this was one of the boats that ran the river until late last year. People now have to travel with lumber and sometimes cattle and fuel in very discomforting situations for as much as 20 hours. Women with babies sometimes have to lie and sleep next to wood and fuel. Last year, a child fell through the top of this boat and nearly died. We have a very important motion requesting that this matter be looked into seriously by the Government to be able to restore the livelihood of people in this part of the region.
Youths are affected. It is no secret to this nation – and I regret to say this but it is a fact – that over the years the Berbice River has been one of the places where the production of marijuana has increased. We were there…
Mr. Speaker: Are you speaking on behalf of the residents of the Berbice River? Be careful.
Mr. T. Williams: I am stating a fact that is known.
Mr. Speaker: The Minister of Home Affairs is out of the Chamber. Maybe that is a good thing.
Mr. T. Williams: Regrettably so, the residents would acknowledge that these things come about because people have no work. They have nothing to do. Let me mention clearly that the Alliance For Change is totally against the production, consumption and circulation of marijuana in this country. [Mr. Ali: What is that?] The Hansard will validate me.
I have yet another photograph and this is one of a collapsing wharf. This is at Wikki Kalkuni, a very prominent location on the Berbice River. It is an Amerindian settlement. Things have fallen apart because people cannot utilise the services and infrastructure which are offered. How do you encourage people to settle, work their lands and stay home and develop themselves when you do not provide transportation at reasonable cost?
A ferry is run from Parika to Bartica because there is a great need for heavy cargo to travel. A ferry is run from Parika to Leguan. A ferry is run from Parika to Wakenaam; two ferries are run to Supenaam; a ferry is run to the North West region; a ferry was once run from Vreed-en-Hoop to Stabroek. The route from New Amsterdam to Ituni is no less important.
We have seen a total regress and retardation in these communities where people are literally forced to move out and disappear. When we interact with the residents there, they are sad to know that the thing they long to do – farm and work their lands – they can do no longer. The Berbice River was known for producing livestock, cattle, food, dairy, forestry and further up there was even the bauxite companies operating and running their ships and barges.
This motion is appealing to this House and, at least, the Government can see it fit to undertake an interest and a study of this route and decide on re-implementing the Berbice River ferry. Thousands of persons are affected and we believe that it is a cause that is more than worthy. It will send a serious message that our Government and National Assembly are very serious about countrywide development.
When the Clerk was reading the prayers today, for some reason, I listened a little more attentively. There is one such word in our prayers which says we should deal justly with certain causes that come before us. This is a great cause and I ask this House, the Government of Guyana and the Minister of transport, Hon. Mr. Robeson Benn, to revisit this issue so that this House can pass, after debate, this motion and send a serious signal to the people of the Berbice River that Guyana will develop and we are with them.
I thank you very much. [Applause]
Mr. T. Williams (replying): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to thank all the Members who spoke in support of this motion.
Firstly, I thank the Hon. Minister Robeson Benn for broadly acknowledging the importance of this issue and the very many needs which exist in these communities and for also giving us some sort of a snapshot into what he described as the Government’s plan for this region, with ongoing works, consultations, et cetera. I also wish to acknowledge the Minister’s acknowledgement that the ferry service discussed is used across a number of areas, for example the carrying of heavy cargo and contributing to infrastructural development, so this vessel, as requested, really speaks to a number of areas across the region. I was hoping that the information the Hon. Minister gave us would have been shared with Minister Whittaker because he was indirectly refuting the subject Minister’s position on the issue.
I also wish to commend the Hon. Member Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon for citing and recalling a very important discussion on this issue that for a number of years, it has been in the public domain, via the media, and reminding our Hon. Minister himself about comments made previously which, of course, tells us that the issue is very much alive and interesting.
I thank Hon. Member Mr. Morian for recognising the direct link of the people of Region 10. Again, this proves that this ferry has been understood widely as a necessity and a vibrant piece of support of the livelihoods of the people all across the region. The river distance we are talking about is well over 100 miles.
I come to Hon. Minister Whittaker because he mentioned that the communities were given boats and engines in substitution to make this journey. Hon. Minister, I do not know if you know of any place in this country where people travel by speed boat, except the Northwest and the interior, for probably over 100 miles and the kind of cost. [Interruption] Let me repeat. Do not get excited. Over 100 miles of travelling with speed boat in Guyana is a significant cost. We are talking about almost $10,000, $15, 000, $20,000 and more dollars. Where do people get those moneys to fund speed boat travel? I also wish to point out to the Hon. Minister that there is no speed boat running on the Berbice River from New Amsterdam to Ituni or Kwakwani and I hope the Hon. Minister is not mixing up inter-community travel as against taking the entire journey from New Amsterdam to Ituni.
Mr. Speaker, I am aware that the ferry does not go to Kwakwani but stops primarily at Ituni or Wikki Kalkuni, but people continue from their in their smaller vessels. This notion that the Government of Guyana has given substitute mechanisms for this journey is not a reality of what the people experience in the River. I know there are school boats that fetch students from place to place, but there is no boat which runs from New Amsterdam to Wikki Kalkuni or Ituni, fetching passengers. There is a launch. I have to distinguish the difference between a ferry and a launch. The picture I gave you...
Mr. Speaker: There is a picture of you that came up.
Mr. T. Williams: Is it a picture of myself?
Mr. Speaker: Yes. Is that a wrong one?
Mr. T. Williams: No. There is one of a boat.
Mr. Speaker: I see.
Mr. T. Williams: That is a launch. That is not a boat that is given by the Government to this country or to any community. That does not hold outboard engines either. It is a collapsing launch that was run by a private individual with intent to substitute and provide what the ferry used to do.
The clauses in the motion remain very accurate and intact and so is the intent. We have traversed the communities and interacted with the residents who have furnished us with this information that there is absolute and urgent need...
Mr. Speaker: I think there is a point of order, Mr. T. Williams. Please yield.
Mr. Whittaker: This is a point of clarification. There is a boat service between Wikki Kalkuni and New Amsterdam that goes and comes twice per week. I can make available to you a text from a former Toshao who lives at Hururu, who has confirmed this. Also, the villages, as I said, all have boats. Some have two boats and engines and they choose when they want to travel. That goes regularly.
Mr. Speaker: I think the thrust of the motion is that the Government’s service be reintroduced because the private contractors were proving to be oppressive to the residents in the Region. That was my understanding of the motion, that the cost is oppressive, inadequate or insufficient. I think that is what Mr. T. Williams is addressing us about. Go ahead, Mr. T. Williams.
Mr. T. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I wish to bring this issue to a close but let me say this - and I wish to not go back and forth on this. The reason I brought the photograph is that the launch – that rotten vessel – that runs from Wikki Kalkuni and Ituni to New Amsterdam which takes 20 hours, which I did say in my presentation initially, is not a speed boat. It is a private contractor and I described the kind of service he was providing to the residents. The Hon. Minister, in his comments, talked about the Government providing speed boats and engines. I said none runs the distance. They are for inter-community travel for school, health, police, et cetera, but the issue of having a ferry covering the river journey from New Amsterdam to Ituni is what the motion seeks to address.
Mr. Speaker, once again, I thank those who have supported and understood in its context what this motion seeks to address and I anticipate the National Assembly’s full support. Thank you.