Hydropower project seen as catalyst for economic development

by Robert Bazil
Guyana Chronicle
November 28, 1999

RESIDENTS and business people at Lethem and the entire Rupununi are upbeat about the prospects for the development of Region Nine with last week's commissioning of the 500-kilowatt hydropower plant.

Already, they have formed a Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) and have met President Bharrat Jagdeo who commissioned the US$2.9M Chinese-built project at Moco Moco.

At the meetings President Jagdeo and his ministers held in the Rupununi, the common view was that the 24-hour guaranteed power supply will encourage the setting up of factories to process the abundance of citrus and nuts produced in the area.

The prospects also look good for the cattle industry now that modern freezers can be put in for beef, and the President noted that Guyana is pursuing efforts to change the stigma attached to its beef with respect to foot and mouth disease.

And Secondary education, which has been lacking in the Rupununi for many years, will get a boost because, as one overseas volunteer teacher explained, there are many pieces of laboratory equipment in the new St. Ignatius Secondary School that can now be used since there is access to electricity.

While in the Rupununi on Monday, the Chronicle spoke with some residents and visitors and these were some of their views:

** ANTHONY SMARTT (Student): "I think it is something good because Lethem would be more developed ... you will have a lot more business places and the place would be more developed; and I think it would be helping to develop Guyana."

The student of St Ignatius Secondary School said that there is no electricity at the school.

** NICK REGUILLAUME (Teacher): "I think it's going to make a good impact on the school, especially on the sciences, because we have got electrical equipment in the science laboratory which has not been able to be used because of the absence of electrical power."

Reguillaume, who is in Guyana for about one year through a volunteer group in Europe, has been teaching Maths and Science at St Ignatius Secondary School.

** FITZGERALD SINGH (worker): "The development plans are just plans at the moment, but I think in the long run, they will benefit Rupununi as a whole, especially Lethem and its environs ... the people can earn more, generate more income and the farmers will be able to produce more".

** CAPTAIN GERRY GOUVEIA (Airline operator): "This hydropower project I think is going to be the start of an economic boom in Lethem because of 24 hours power ... We will be able to reactivate the abattoir to store the beef and more industries will come here."

President Jagdeo told Rupununi residents that while the focus should be on preserving the culture, the conditions for a better life should be created for the children and the young people.

Consequently, the President commissioned the Nappi and Yupukari Primary Schools which were built at a cost of $2.5M each, funded by the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP), the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) and the community.

He assured residents that the Government is introducing Secondary Schools in Region Nine and will so introduce teachers' training so that residents do not have to go to Georgetown for training.

"The Government has changed the elite President's College into one where Amerindian children, for the first time, can participate, and now 39 Amerindian students are attending that institution," he said.

Additionally, over 200 children are on scholarships in Georgetown because the whole of Guyana is dear to the Government, not just the coast, the President stressed.

Impressed with the culture of the Amerindian people, the President said that one of the primary objectives of his administration is to rekindle the community spirit.

This was lost because of the hard times Guyanese had to go through, and it is affecting development, he observed.

"Let me give you a little example ... we spent tons and tons of money doing drainage and irrigation and we asked people just to maintain the drain in front of their yards or the parapets, and they wouldn't do it," he said.

He also assured residents that his Government will continue its quest to ensure that Amerindians, are not treated as second class citizens in Guyana.

He felt that for too long, too many Amerindians have been neglected, and pointed out that since the PPP/Civic assumed office, it had set itself on a path of changing the neglect. The Government has had many successes over the years, he noted.

However, much more work is yet to be done to ensure that Amerindians participate in mainstream of the Guyanese community.

Cheering Rupununi crowds welcomed a proposal by the President to waive the repayment of University of Guyana fees for graduates willing to teach in that region for a specified period of time.

"In Region Nine, we have embarked on a project to bring Secondary education here, because it is vital that the children do not remain at the Primary level, but that they go on to have Secondary education," he said.

Consequently, President Jagdeo announced that the Government will be building a teachers' training school at Annai.

He was hopeful that once the Rupununi becomes an industrial centre, opportunities for trade with Brazil will increase tremendously and was pleased to hear of the formation of the RCCI.

"It fits right into something I've always been speaking of ... that we need to have many such organisations across our country," he said.

A newly-built Amerindian Hostel at Lethem will also facilitate Rupununi residents who travel to the border town to do business or look after other matters.

The President said he was concerned that there is not enough regional representation on certain matters, and reiterated the need to set the task of the Government working in partnership with the umbrella Private Sector Commission (PSC) to form new bodies across the country.

"For us to develop, we have to adopt a positive approach ... with the commissioning of the Moco Moco Hydropower project. This development strategy must have component parts," he said.

According to him, the first of the component parts would be infrastructure for private sector growth, adding that in the Rupununi, focus has to be paid to water supply and the roads.

The Government has already approached the European Union for about US$30M in funding to fix the road from Georgetown to the Rupununi, but this would not be secured until another 18 months.

In the interim, the Government last year spent several million dollars on the road, and this year, $80M has been allocated but, unfortunately, a significant portion of the resources has not been spent as yet.

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