Ceremonial opening of Eighth Parliament
Jagdeo recommits to revitalising economy

Stabroek News
May 5, 2001

President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday re-committed to creating a more favourable business environment and to implementing appropriate economic policies to stimulate investments and create much needed jobs in Guyana.

In his inaugural speech to declare open the eighth session of the National Assembly yesterday afternoon, Jagdeo recognised that to increase the demand for labour, fast economic growth was required and this would mean shifting the economy towards those products and sectors with 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," Jagdeo said noting that Guyana was too small for its domestic demand to be a launching pad for successful businesses.

Guyana has to look outward as many successful economies around the world has done, the President told the National Assembly whose guests included Barbados and Bahamas Prime Ministers Owen Arthur and Hubert Ingraham.

Jagdeo, in his speech, plugged for national unity calling on Guyanese to join hands and work together as one people and to start creating a new society in their minds. He said the preoccupation must cease to be about preventing, restricting and depriving and become about liberating and expanding jobs, social opportunities and resources.

In what sounded much like a budget speech, the former finance minister said greater levels of investment and production had to be encouraged as these were the twin engines of job creation and he committed to good governance as well as investment in adequate infrastructure. He said a bold new programme of "access to land" would be embarked upon to provide freehold and long-term leases to businesses. He assured that the procedures for private access to government-held land would be simplified and made more transparent.

The government would also continue its national road and bridge network as it recognised that production expanding investments would not take place without the necessary infrastructure. The need to improve shipping and air links to accelerate the development of industrial estates was also highlighted.

The President said that because of there was an urgency to expand and diversify exports, the export promotion and investment agency would be reorganised. Procedures for exporting would be revised and simplified and through diplomatic efforts remaining barriers to exports will be removed, Jagdeo asserted.

He again acknowledged that good governance flowed from "demystifying" the bureaucracy, making fair and transparent decisions, strengthening the judicial system and improving tendering and procurement. He promised to have his government work with parliament on these issues.

On the macroeconomic front, Jagdeo said, policies to reduce the fiscal and balance of payment deficits will be pursued and these will impact positively on the exchange, interest and inflation rates. However, Jagdeo stressed that the success of Guyana's economic programme depended on the rapidity with which the local private sector took advantage of the economic opportunities and the speed with which Guyana advertised her abundant natural resources to the world.

"I challenge the private sector to play its rightful role in the development and growth process," he urged yesterday.

The President also plugged the points of agreement between himself and Hoyte, urging that stakeholders needed to aggressively pursue the recapitalisation of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).

A recapitalised GDF, he noted, will secure national borders and safeguard Guyana's exclusive economic zone so that the country's marine resources and wealth hidden beneath the Atlantic would accrue to the nation. He expressed the hope that a parliamentary committee on national defence and borders would bring together the best brains to advance Guyana's cause.

The President told the assembly he has had highly productive sessions with Hoyte and expressed the hope that these sessions would set the basis for meaningful collaboration in the next five years. He noted that when any Guyanese was targeted because of his ethnicity, Guyana was demeaned and all Guyanese must condemn criminal acts and violence against one's 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." Jagdeo said his government was committed to creating opportunities for all Guyanese and recognised that remunerative employment was a sacred objective of the undertaking of national economic development.

The President said the government would continue to put greater emphasis on the development of children; providing them with the tools to ascend to the highest summits of academic excellence.

He also touched on the need for a healthy and well-nourished population and said efforts to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates will be doubled. Resources will also be released to combat HIV and infectious diseases. Efforts to provide housing to the nation will also be redoubled and extended to allow for affordable mortgages, Jagdeo said.

And turning to the issue of parliament, the President expressed the hope that the deliberations in the house would be of a very high standard. He said it was no longer an asset to be extemporaneous and uninformed and efforts to provide research facilities to members of the house must be accelerated. He said that parliamentary staffing and the urgent establishment of a Parliamentary Resource Centre also had to be considered.

Declaring his support for a special standing committee and select committee, the President also said he appreciated that the affairs of the nation would require longer and more regular sittings of the House. He noted that completion of the Constitution Reform Process, which includes changes in the appointment to members of the judiciary, state procurement and the work of the auditor general would be on the agenda. He said these had implications for accountability and good governance and must be part of the efforts to root out corruption in society.

The President also underscored the need for broadcast legislation and tougher road safety legislation. He also spoke of the need to revise and enact where necessary, laws to allow for the modernisation of the financial sector. He touched on the need for a judicial system, which did not tie up cases indefinitely.

However, he stood convinced that by working assiduously together, the vision for Guyana could be achieved and urged that it was time for Guyanese to accentuate their commonality, move beyond the outward appearance of and be influenced by their spirit and hopes which were uniquely Guyanese.