President insists law and order must be maintained

Guyana Chronicle
May 6, 2001

`My Government was elected to represent the interests of all Guyanese and I will not shirk this responsibility.'

`I am heartened by the maturity of our people. They have rebuffed the hate-mongers and those who would ferment strife in our society.

`They have rejected attempts to divide our people along ethnic lines.'

`We must all therefore condemn criminal acts and violence perpetuated against Guyanese because of their ethnicity.

`Beating and robbing of innocent citizens is not legitimate political protest.'

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo has insisted that law and order must be maintained to prevent the society from becoming ungovernable and says he will not shirk his responsibility.

Addressing the formal opening of the Eighth Parliament Friday afternoon, he noted: "The maintenance of Law and Order is essential lest our society slide irredeemably into anarchy."

In his speech, he also outlined his government's programme for the next term, including spurring economic growth and creating more jobs.

Here is the text of the President's address: SPEAKER of the National Assembly; Leader of the Opposition; Members of Parliament; Madame Chancellor; special invitees - The Honourable Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados; and The Honourable Hubert Ingraham, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

Today, mine is the distinct honour to address this distinguished body on the opening of this the Eighth Parliament.

I wish to congratulate the new Speaker of the National Assembly. Upon him is laid the extraordinary responsibility of preserving the noble traditions of this House. He bears the obligation of ensuring legislative progress without diminishing the robust debates and productive interventions that have been the hallmark of our National Assembly.

It is my pleasant duty to congratulate the people of our great country for their confidence in the democratic process. They have demonstrated this by their ardent participation in the recently concluded Regional and General Elections.

Our political competition was passionate. Each political party contended for its programme and resolutely defended its platform. And our people have answered and expressed their wishes. They have given us the mandate to govern in their interest, and the charge to engage our collective wisdom for their good and for the advancement of our country.

Mr. Speaker, whatever stirred us to stand for election, must have included the conviction that we possess the commitment and purpose to devise ways to improve the well being of our people. To infuse hope, and ensure that their lives are better at the completion of our terms than when we commenced: I believe that there can be no higher purpose, no greater call, and certainly, no worthier occupation than service to our nation.

I believe it was for this single purpose we were elected and for this reason we are here.

Our people expect that we who enter these Chambers are seized with the urgency of the tasks that confront us. We must measure up to the requirements that history and this moment lay on our willing shoulders. They are observing us and will respect us if courageously we place the national good above partisan interests; and country above self: Let history speak well of us.

Mr. Speaker, this Eighth Parliament of the Republic is new, both in time and quality. It comes after the deliberate decision to reform our Constitution and consolidate our democratic institutions and practices. It is true that the process is incomplete but already we have benefited from Constitutional changes.

We gave expression to the meaning of representative democracy by the constitutional amendment, which today brings 25 members elected directly by constituencies to the National Assembly. In this act, we hear the voices of ordinary citizens from across the land.

This progressive change, by all calculations, is of major proportion. Additionally, our Parliament is poised to participate in greater measure in the governance of our country.

Mr. Speaker, our society faces many challenges and the legislative agenda that comes before this National Assembly will have to take these into account. The agenda must include the completion of constitutional reform.

In this process the profound hopes of people are placed. They expect that at the end of the process many of the ills that beset and retard us will be removed.

Mr. Speaker, the Guyana I envisage, and for which I "dedicate my energies" is one of accelerated economic progress, expanded opportunities and rapid social development; a place where fairness and justice dwell and from which fear, prejudice and discrimination are banished. The country that would be "more dear to me than all the world" is our land when each citizen, barring none, is free to think bold thoughts and dream new dreams; and all have the capacity to realise their potential. A country where our natural resources are tapped for the benefit of all our people and the proceeds equitably shared.

The future, that we will build together, must position Guyana to rise to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Dwelling within secured borders, and living in peace and harmony, will allow our people to unleash their creative energies and to utilise new and changing technologies to accelerate the creation of wealth and improve their welfare.

...LIKE A SWELLING TIDE Ours must be a future that affords all our people the right and opportunity to earn a decent livelihood. It must, like a swelling tide, lift those who are in the grasp of poverty and in the dungeons of deprivation and despair and transport them to the shore of safety and security. It must be a place of caring for all, where the poor, the weak, and the aged are not trampled upon by the rich and powerful; where capital and labour form partnerships to create wealth; and where there is no eruption of enmity.

Mr. Speaker, the world in which we live is challenging in ways never before experienced. Globalisation and trade liberalisation affect economies in unpredictable ways. While we acknowledge the potential benefits of free trade, the size and structure of our economy and the cost of capital, among other factors, militate against our smooth integration into the global economy.

This can lead to our marginalisation as a nation and as a region. We must display the political will to adjust quickly. Advocate in favour of regional proposals which will give us time and assistance to adjust.

We must combine diplomatic and technical resources at the regional level, build solidarity with other developing states and thereby increase our bargaining power. In that way, we can create structures and systems that will cushion us from being further impoverished.

Already the work of the Regional Negotiating Machinery is proof that uniting our voices and pooling our expertise increases our effectiveness, deepen our advocacy, and improve our negotiations.

As you are well aware, we in CARICOM are labouring to establish a Single Market and Economy, and permit me to acknowledge the guidance that my colleague, Prime Minister Owen Arthur is providing the Community in this area. Additionally, we are working towards the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice, which is an institution indispensable to the realisation of a Single Market and Economy.

Guyana fully supports these necessary regional efforts and calls for their speedy implementation.

Mr. Speaker, globalised and unrestricted movement of capital is not the only threat to our sovereignty. The plague of narco-trafficking is as ominous as economic factors.

Today, drug cartels, with significant earnings are capable of subverting governments, compromising judiciaries, and forcing treasuries to divert scarce resources to fighting the drug war.

We cannot and we will not stand helplessly by and allow this illicit trade to gain a foothold in our society. We will continue to collaborate and co-ordinate our drug interdiction programme with friendly governments.

Mr. Speaker, we must aggressively pursue the recapitalisation of the Guyana Defence Force. A recapitalised Guyana Defence Force will secure our national borders, and safeguard our Exclusive Economic Zone so that our marine resources and wealth hidden beneath the waters of the Atlantic will accrue to the nation.

Our diplomatic efforts must result in peace on our borders. I am hopeful that when Parliament establishes the committee for national defence and borders our best brains will be brought together to advance our cause.

We have never harboured thoughts of aggression. Our genuine desire is to deepen our relations and strengthen our economic ties with our neighbours, while through diplomatic means we seek to resolve contentious issues.

Mr. Speaker, on the domestic front we have urgent, unfinished business, which this Eighth Parliament cannot ignore and which it must not delay.

WILL NOT SHIRK RESPONSIBILITY I am pleased to inform this National Assembly that the Leader of the Opposition and I have met in a number of highly productive sessions. I hope that these sessions have set the basis for meaningful collaboration in the next five years.

My Government was elected to represent the interests of all Guyanese and I will not shirk this responsibility.

I am heartened by the maturity of our people. They have rebuffed the hate-mongers and those who would ferment strife in our society. They have rejected attempts to divide our people along ethnic lines.

It is now time for us to allow the structures and institutions we have established to function for the good of our people. We must utilise the institutions established for the resolution of differences rather than descend to risky and destructive means.

As a people our lives are interwoven to the extent that violation of any does harm to all. We are all demeaned in our own land when any of us is targeted because of our ethnicity.

We must all therefore condemn criminal acts and violence perpetuated against Guyanese because of their ethnicity.

Beating and robbing of innocent citizens is not legitimate political protest.

It is my hope, no, my expectation that agreement would be reached so that the Ethnic Relations Commission would begin to do its work. It is also my hope that from the Churches, the Mosques, and the Temples, the clear teaching of our common humanity and brotherhood will be heard.

I hope that in our schools and in our communities tolerance and respect for each other will be taught and learned.

Mr. Speaker, for us to build a nation secured in its borders and content with itself, we must join hands and work together as one people. The creation of a new society must begin in our minds. The preoccupation must cease to be about preventing, restricting and depriving and become about liberating and expanding - jobs, social opportunities, resources.

Mr. Speaker, my party sought and has been granted the mandate to pursue this journey and to lead this process. This is a great honour as it is a profound responsibility.

It is, however, a journey that none, in spite of capabilities and experience must, or dare undertake alone. Nation building demands the involvement of all of us.

Let us not refrain or delay from embarking upon this task so that future generations will have kind words to say about us.

My Government is committed to creating opportunities for all Guyanese. We believe that creating remunerative employment is a sacred objective of the undertaking of national economic development.

CREATING JOBS Worthwhile jobs are the basis for sustaining a dignified life and a healthy family environment. And viewed from a national standpoint, employment growth is the most effective way to reduce poverty.

To meet this challenge, we are embarking on simultaneous actions on two fronts.

First, greater levels of investment and production need to be encouraged, since they are the engines of employment creation. Second, intensified efforts are required to upgrade the labour force, to increase our workers' skill levels so they can seize new employment opportunities.

To increase the demand for labour, fast economic growth is required, and that means shifting the economy toward those products and sectors that have the brightest future prospects. Innovation, new product lines, and new levels of product quality are needed urgently. Rapid growth requires greater competitiveness on international markets.

Export growth is essential for employment creation. Our economy is too small for domestic demand to be the main driving force for economic growth, so we have to look outward, as many successful economies around the world have done.

My Government's strategy for stimulating investment - and therefore job creation - includes creating a more favourable business environment, developing adequate infrastructure, good governance, and implementing appropriate economic policies in all domains. We are moving forward vigorously in all these areas.

Businesses, urban as well as rural, need access to land. A bold new programme of access to land will be implemented. Priority will be given to market access to land through freehold and long-term leases, and procedures for private access to government-held land will be simplified and made more transparent.

Mr. Speaker, production-expanding investments will not occur on the scale we wish to see without the necessary infrastructure. An extensive national road and bridge network will be laid out, consisting of both north-south and east-west routes.

In addition, we have to improve shipping and air links and accelerate the pace of the development of industrial estates.

In light of the urgency of expanding and diversifying our exports, my Government will support this effort through a reorganised export promotion and investment agency. Procedures for exporting will be revised and simplified, and through our diplomatic efforts, we will work to remove any remaining barriers to our exports.

The cornerstones of a successful economic strategy are good governance and a sound macroeconomic framework. Good governance flows from demystifying bureaucracy, making fair and transparent decisions, and strengthening the judicial system and improving tendering and procurement.

My Government will work with Parliament on these important issues. On the macroeconomic framework, my government will pursue policies that include the reduction of the fiscal and balance of payment deficits, which would impact positively on exchange rate, inflation and interest rates.

We will also continue to raise our voices on debt reduction so that much more of our financial resources could be used for our development.

The success of our economic programme will depend on the rapidity with which our private sector takes advantage of economic opportunities and the speed in which we advertise our abundant natural resources to the rest of the world.

I challenge the private sector to play its rightful role in the development and growth process.

On the social front, my Government will continue to put greater emphasis on the development of our children. They will be provided the tools to ascend to the highest summits of academic excellence, recording achievements in Science and the Arts. We must have an education system that prepares our young people to compete successfully in the global economy, improve tolerance for each other, and develop love for country.

Mr. Speaker, a healthy and a well-nourished population enters the global economy with many advantages. This rationale lies at the core of my Government's health policy. We will therefore improve health services and increase access especially to the poor.

We will redouble our efforts to further reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and more resources will be made available to combat HIV and infectious diseases.

Mr. Speaker, decent and affordable housing is a most basic human need. Strong efforts have been made in recent years to satisfy this need, principally through the allocation of house lots. It is evident that efforts will have to be redoubled and extended to secure affordable mortgages.

Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that the deliberations of this Parliament will be of a remarkably high standard and that benefits will accrue to the nation. It is my view that it can no longer be an asset to be extemporaneous and uninformed.

Therefore efforts at providing research facilities for Members of Parliament must be hastened. Consideration will also be given to parliamentary staffing and the urgent establishment of a Parliamentary Resource Centre.

I support fully the intention to task Special Standing Committees and Select Committees with the work of Parliament. I am appreciative that the affairs of the nation will require longer and more regular parliamentary sittings.

I am sure that one of your major responsibilities will be the completion of the Constitution Reform process, which includes constitutional changes for the appointment of the members of the Judiciary, state procurement and the work of the Auditor General. These are serious issues requiring your full attention.

They have implications for accountability and good governance and must become part of the efforts to root out corruption in our society.

Mr. Speaker, modern communications technologies should be employed in our battle to break down cultural barriers, root out illiteracy and backwardness and expand the horizons of our people. They should ensure that we remain an open society; be critical of excesses; ensure accountability; and that the affairs of the State are conducted transparently.

Our mass media must be used to break down impeding walls and build empathy so that our people can assimilate, change and innovate and not to promote ethnic divisions. Towards this objective we will have to enact Broadcast Legislation.

We cannot remain unmoved at the unnecessary human suffering that the abuse of our roads imposes on families. It is time to introduce tougher Road Safety legislation.

The maintenance of Law and Order is essential lest our society slide irredeemably into anarchy. Where our laws have lagged behind developments and where punishment ceases to act as deterrence to crime and unsocial behaviour, we must act to ensure that our society does not reward lawlessness.

We need to revise where applicable, and enact where necessary, laws that will allow for the modernisation of our financial sector. The business sector will not experience rapid growth in the absence of an enabling legal environment.

Laws that are relevant to our social situation including our children and a judicial system that does not tie-up cases indefinitely and delay judgment unnecessarily is needed.

Mr. Speaker, I have an abiding faith in our people. I am confident that you, their representatives, will meet the challenges of our time.

We are a proud and resolute people. We are a resilient and strong nation. Our history records how our indomitable spirits have soared after horrible hardships.

In the face of unprecedented change and challenges, we must not falter. We must be courageous and stay the course to realise our national objectives.

I am convinced that by working assiduously together we can achieve our vision for the Guyanese people. Let us nurture courage to act in the national interest.

I am persuaded that there is no power on earth that can subvert the will of a united people nor conquer their imagination. It is time that nationally we accentuate our commonality, which bind us to this dear land.

We are defined and influenced by our history and by each other. Beyond our outward appearance lie a spirit and a hope that is uniquely Guyanese.

I wish you all a productive session that advances the welfare of our country and people.

I now declare open this Eighth Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, on this the fourth day of May in the year 2001.

Thank you.