President hopes for more `meaningful inclusion'
Guyana Chronicle
January 1, 2002

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo says his Government hopes to build on the experience in consultation and cooperation by "making meaningful participation and inclusion the norms of our political culture."

"The national interest requires this", he said in his New Year's address to the nation.

"The economic climate of the world is very cold. Ensuring economic prosperity in the midst of a world economic recession, depressed prices and shrinking markets for our exports and an anticipated slowdown in development assistance, is a challenge we are confronting", he said.

Mr. Jagdeo said it was therefore "a comfort to us that in Guyana, in spite of the difficult external environment, we kept inflation low and our exchange rate relatively stable."

"Without being fiscally irresponsible we have provided more services to our people. We have built more schools, health centres, roads, water supply systems, and sea defence and drainage and irrigation structures. And at the same time, we have reduced our external debt", he noted.

He said last year was tough, pointing out that some of the strongest economies in the world suffered decline and recession.

"Millions of jobs were lost due to factory closures and bankruptcies. And the outrageous September 11 events in the United States and the consequential war against terrorism have shifted the international agenda.

"Security concerns now overshadow development needs. In other words, developing countries such as ours will benefit less from bilateral aid budgets and assistance from multilateral financial institutions."

The President said Guyana successfully emerged from the challenges of 2001.

"But faced with a world is not going to be easy in the future to deal with our problems unless we tackle them internally as a united people, and externally in solidarity with the Caribbean Community and hemispheric partners", he said.

He referred to the March national elections noting that the results were certified by the international community as free and fair, and representing the will of the electorate.

"The harmful events that followed were fortunately abated due to the commitment of the Guyanese people not to travel the path of division and destruction. They recognised that violence does not resolve differences and supported the process of dialogue in the national interest", he said.

Mr. Jagdeo said that while the elections resolved the issue as to who legitimately forms the government, there were important national issues to be addressed which required the support of every Guyanese, including the political opposition and civil society.

One such issue was constitutional reform to give all Guyanese a meaningful role in influencing and fashioning policies for national governance, he said.

"We have included new provisions in our Constitution to set up a number of commissions to deal with women, children, gender, ethnic and indigenous rights issues. The new Constitution provides for the establishment of a procurement commission to have an oversight role in the awarding of contracts by the Government.

"Each of these changes addresses real concerns of large sections of our population.

"In addition, the Constitution provides for the establishment of four sectoral committees of Parliament - Foreign Affairs, Economic Services, Social Services and Natural Resources - to overlook key areas of government operations. This will allow the various political parties in Parliament to play productive roles in the governance of our country", he said.

Noting that the various service commissions will now have parliamentary inputs, he said these measures along with other provisions "help to make our revised Constitution one of the most progressive in this hemisphere!"

"Moreover, I am proud to say, that the reform of our Constitution reflected the broadest possible consensus of our society, and was a product of political cooperation."

Mr. Jagdeo also announced that the government has gone back to basics and that the rice, sugar, bauxite, forestry, and mining sectors are being restructured.

"We are supporting new areas of wealth and job creation through tourism, Information Technology, garments and value-added industries", he said.

But he warned that economic prosperity is like a "delicate plant."

"It needs stability to survive and develop. Without that it would wither. This is why everyone must work together to ensure lasting political and industrial stability", he urged.

The President projected that 2002 should be a better year.

"Our investment drive will continue. Our focus remains on creating more jobs. We will continue to improve health services, education, drainage and irrigation, housing, water and physical infrastructure. We will make our best efforts to get more wealth from our natural resources."

He pledged that the administration will continue to provide more resources to the security forces, adding, "Our people's protection and our nation's defence are paramount."

"We will ensure that our legislative programme includes strengthening of laws to secure greater safety of commuters on the road and the protection of our children."

He said this year will also see further broadening of the democratic system and announced that local government elections will be held to bring democratic renewal at local levels.

"More resources will be given to local communities and they will be expected to manage their affairs in a more transparent manner", he said.

He promised greater incentives to the private sector and said the Government will work with labour to provide better conditions and benefits for workers.

But, he told the nation, economic improvements and constitutional changes are not the only factors to ensure a better quality of life for Guyanese.

"The sheet anchor of our democracy is the rule of law and due process, the custodian of which is that important branch of the State called the Judiciary.

"Guyana has an enviable reputation of producing many legal luminaries and outstanding jurists known for their judicial rectitude. However, over the years, ordinary people have been complaining about bottlenecks and lethargy in the justice system," he pointed out.

He said this should not be, as unnecessarily protracted trials and delays in handing down judgment, for example, create grave hardships for people.

In the past attempts to rectify weaknesses in the administration of justice were frowned upon as attacks on the judiciary and as political interference with its independence.

"But in the interest of justice we need to walk the thin line between non-interference and rectification. We therefore need to enhance the mechanism by which ordinary citizens can have more protection and redress under the law", President Jagdeo declared.

He said he has been exploring the idea of a Parliamentary judicial oversight committee and intends to seek the support of the political opposition and civil society organisations for this or any other mechanism which will address this particular concern of our people.

"We also need to see further modernisation and improvement in public services to the people", he said and criticised delays that affect teachers not being paid on time and pensioners getting their pensions late.

"Why should someone be denied justice because a file is misplaced or stolen at the Deeds or court registry? Or, why should someone be asked to give a bribe to get public service?

"These things disturb me tremendously. I know that we may not be able to prevent and correct all these wrongdoings. But if we - government, opposition, civil society and ordinary citizens - work together then, I am sure, we can resolve most of these problems thereby creating more responsive and accountable public services, leading to a better quality of life for our people." "Such are the political and economic forces driving our world today that it is only through concerted action, at the national and international levels, can we hope to adequately address and eventually overcome the many challenges to our development", he said.

He said that as a peace-loving nation, Guyana has worked assiduously to build friendly and cooperative relations with its neighbours.

"I am pleased to note that within the past year, we have drawn closer to Suriname through diplomatic contact to the point where I believe my forthcoming meeting with President (Ronald) Venetiaan will lead to a new dispensation of mutually beneficial and good-neighbourly relations.

"Similarly, with Venezuela, fresh prospects have been generated for greater bilateral cooperation as we continue to seek a peaceful resolution of the border controversy.

"At the same time, our proximity to and friendship with Brazil has opened up enormous possibilities for Guyana`s economic development.

"Within the Caribbean Community we are now on the verge of creating a single market and economy whose potential, if fulfilled, will undoubtedly hasten our progress as a country and as a region.

"Guyana will assume the chairmanship of the Conference of Heads of Government in 2002, placing us in an ideal position to play a pivotal role in the integration process. Additionally, as host for the UK-CARICOM Forum this year we will have yet another opportunity to display our commitment to constructive multilateralism."

Mr. Jagdeo declared that Guyana remains committed to the Free Trade Area of the Americas but said, "our trade negotiations will continue to emphasise the need for special mechanisms to recognise and provide for the special circumstances of small economies. This principle will also guide us in the post-Cotonou and World Trade Organisation negotiations."

"The past year has brought us mixed fortunes. Some things were good, some bad. But on the whole, our country and our people lived in peace and harmony.

"We continue to be a nation standing on solid ground. We are hopeful that our fortunes will be better tomorrow. We intend to work hard on the tasks ahead in nation building, including the way we live and work together", he said.

He recalled that at the commencement of his tenure of office, he articulated this approach to moving the country forward.

"I recognised that there would be difficulties and differences. But these can only be constructively resolved through dialogue and genuine cooperation. Over the past six months, there has been continuous dialogue between the two major political parties.

"This dialogue has been constructive and is supported by the people of Guyana. Political leaders have a duty to enhance this process and to display a sense of political maturity in dealing with national issues.

"Surely, there will be hiccups, sometimes fuelled by media sensationalism and speculation. There will be differences. But these are common even in a family.

"What I am most proud of is that Guyanese leaders, without the prompting of external parties, are able to sit down and resolve differences and find solutions to Guyanese problems. This is the only way.

"That is why I am committed to this course and will do everything possible to see that it continues."