`Every citizen must be a soldier for peace'
-- President Jagdeo urges at Investiture Ceremony
Guyana Chronicle
October 6, 2002

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"EVERY citizen must be a soldier for peace; every man and woman a force for good", President Bharrat Jagdeo urged in his address yesterday at the 2002 Investiture Ceremony at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown.

Here is the text of the President's address:

"I AM today delighted to extend to you the awardees the sincere congratulations of a grateful nation.

Your fellow citizens have esteemed your dedication to this dear land, and your contributions to Guyana to be worthy of national honour. I also offer you the congratulations of the Government.

This occasion ever remains a proud and sober moment in our history: its regularity has not, in any way, diminished its deep significance. Beyond its pomp and ceremony, above the drums and fanfares, this moment allows for silent national reflection and quiet individual resolve.

I am aware that you did not crave national awards when you embarked upon your vocation, and responded to the call to service. Occasionally in utter obscurity, and often unnoticed, you resolutely and persistently served your country and fellow citizens. In the process you have come to know and to show that service to others is the greatest good and a most fulfilling experience.

Your distinguished contributions have been in law and enterprise; public service and education; humanitarian work and religion; culture and community development; business and trade unionism; national defence and the maintenance of law and order.

All of these areas are important and vital for a caring, progressive and orderly society: in the case of Constable Allan Higgins, as in that of others, he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country when he placed his life in danger in the maintenance of law and order.

In countless ways you have inspired others. You have made choices that were not only personally beneficial but were good for your country. Through your deeds you have challenged your fellow citizens to respond to a higher calling.

Today you challenge us to discover the good in ourselves. These national awards are but a modest, deserved response of a forever grateful nation.

Fellow citizens, distinguished invitees: every country has met its share of challenges in the march to progress. Every people have known the hour of trial and the moment of despair in the arduous journey to nationhood.

In such times the men and women who placed country above self; chose courage and rejected cowardice; heeded consciences instead of impulses; and valued humanity above clique or clan are the paragons that live beyond their death in the hearts of their countrymen.

For Guyana such a moment may have come. Upon this generation may now be laid the burden of acting together for the preservation of our society. There can be no matter of greater urgency. There is no time more propitious for us to rise up together and forestall malice; and drive back clouds of despair.

The energy for action must be our unrivalled love and unquestioned commitment to Guyana.

In the process and through these experiences we must come to learn the true meaning of our national motto and know that our diversity is not a reason for divisiveness; that legitimate political competition can bring out the best among us not the worse between us; that in spite of our historical places of origin we are now Guyanese.

The mending of the breaches in our society cannot become the responsibility of the Government alone. It demands the goodwill of others.

Every group - churches, mosques and temples; the private sector through its significant reach; political organisations; all the organisations that congregate under the umbrella of civil society, yes, none is omitted and no one is exempted - must assume its role to slow our gallop away from our traditions and turn us back from the path of ruin.

Similarly, the preservation of our society cannot be accomplished, and dare not become the absolute occupation of any single or combined agency.

This awesome burden cannot be exclusively placed on the shoulders of the men and women in uniform. Every citizen must be a soldier for peace; every man and woman a force for good.

The preservation of our society requires that the sectors of our society that appear to be cowered by fear act in patent fairness to all groups and do not pursue the appeasement of those who condone, encourage or commit criminal acts. Only in that way can they promote national unity, become a voice of reason, promote our security and have an impact on crime.

A lawless society is a frightening prospect and we must cease further attempts to undermine the walls of restraint imposed for the good and safety of all.

Let us not test the strength of the erected institutions less they collapse under prolonged strain. Let us not subject the very fabric of our society to the assault and bombardment of damaging unsocial behaviour, which will set us back in our efforts to create a better life for all.

In the first decade in office this Government, with the essential cooperation of others, has worked assiduously to expand the social space, lay the foundations for a better and just society, reform our inherited political system; strengthen the institution of the State; improve the economic prospects of our citizens; and enhance the life chances of this and coming generations.

Let us reflect on the gains that the society has made, but we must also consider the distance yet to be travelled to lift those of our citizens in the valleys of poverty to the hills of prosperity.

We must work to overcome our fixation on "race" and instead become obsessed with brotherhood. We must build a better society, one in which being Guyanese is esteemed and treasured above political persuasion or ethnic description.

Our country rightly belongs to the fold of governments established on the will of the people. We must now grow and flower into a modern democratic state.

Robust political competition to determine the best candidates and party must be encouraged.

However, we must be watchful against any efforts of partisan interests to hold the system and our country hostage to narrow and not national intents.

We have made significant strides in the improvement of governance. However, there is much more that needs to be done and we need to move forward together to give effect to the many noble initiatives we have collectively agreed to in the constitutional reform process.

The past serves as a point of reference: it indicates the distance to which we have come as well as the expanse to be travelled in making Guyana a place where care dwells, compassion resides, and brotherhood exists.

Political parties may campaign on sectoral interest but a Government is sworn to advance the fortunes of the entire nation.

My Government has been pursuing the improvement of the lives of all Guyanese. Today there is visible evidence that in many areas substantial progress has been made.

We have undertaken to improve the national infrastructure as a springboard for private sector expansion and foreign investment.

We have exercised fiscal prudence; consequently the nation is being relieved of the oppressive and stultifying foreign debt, which once consumed the lion's share of our Gross Domestic Product and revenue.

Today our external stock of debt has been reduced by fifty per cent allowing us to programme and spend more on the development of our people. The education and health sectors have received generous financial increases, as it should be, since health and education are fundamental to a better life for our children.

We have made gains in accountability for public funds and in ensuring that the business of the State is conducted in a transparent manner. There is yet a far way to go in this regard but the policy is clear and the structures to advance this intention have been laid.

In spite of global developments, which often militate against our national interests, our future looks promising.

We are restructuring old industries while establishing new ones. We have secured some 400 Million U.S. dollars for the implementation of projects, which along with private investment will create jobs, accelerate economic growth, and impact on the condition of poverty.

There will be a quickening of the pace and expansion in the housing and water sectors to meet the social needs of our citizens. This will also create additional employment expanding employment opportunities especially for our young people.

Fellow citizens, ladies and gentlemen, the mere presence of opportunities does not guarantee that all our people are prepared and are capable of grasping them.

We must further reform our education system to produce students with the critical skills and a mindset that encourages citizens to seize opportunities and welcome risks.

Perhaps it is the way we have been taught to view the world that predisposes us to believe that success is the avoidance of risks rather than overcoming of challenges.

We must permanently discard the erroneous view that failure in business inflicts a social stigma. Instead we must commend the daring of fellow citizens and encourage them to utilise the experiences to seek new successes.

I continue to believe that we will have to incubate entrepreneurs. Already various agencies are providing "seed money" for citizens to establish, build and expand their own businesses.

We will have to train and retrain and upgrade the skills and competencies of our people in order for them to grasp local opportunities and be better prepared for the challenges of globalisation.

In the end, fellow citizens, the objective is the improvement of the standard of living of all our people. This is the goal of our development programme.

Our vision is a Guyana in which all our people are dwelling within secured national borders, living in harmonious cooperation, and experiencing a measure of contentment.

However, for this vision to be realised and our progress accelerated, the security and safety of our people must remain a priority.

That is why my Government has spared no effort nor resource in the fight against crime and the maintenance of law and order. The success of these measures demands the unconditional support of all Guyanese.

I remain firm in my belief that only through dialogue and consultation can we successfully confront the challenges of our society.

Fellow Guyanese, today let us remember our heroes. They are honoured when in their sacred memories we "dedicate ourselves to the happiness and prosperity of Guyana."

As a people we have made progress over these thirty-six years of Independence. Perhaps, we would have been further along the road of development had we been spared some of the historical difficulties.

Notwithstanding you like many other Guyanese offer us a renewed sense of hope. You have distinguished yourselves in service to others and your country and will remain an inspiration to this nation.

Your unfading acts of goodness and kindness and your noble spirit will silently challenge us to play our several parts in building a just and equitable society in this land that we love.

Let us look to the future. Let us not be daunted by the present challenges and setbacks.

Let our history instruct and encourage us. In our history we have crossed greater rivers and conquered mightier foes. We have confronted larger challenges and did not falter.

I have every confidence that our future is secure and our destiny is sure. Together, we will find a way out of our difficulties. Good will prevail."