Strong civil institutions essential for democracy to flourish -US Ambassador
By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
December 8, 2002

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United States Ambassador to Guyana, Ron Godard, speaking last Saturday at the annual luncheon of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association [BCC&DA], expressed the view that "strong civil-society institutions are essential for democracy to flourish" while noting that "respect for the rule of law in combination with political stability are indispensable prerequisites for economic growth." During his almost half-hour address at the Caribbean Cuisine, the Ambassador touched on the crime situation, the private sector and the stalled dialogue. The BCC&DA was also celebrating its 70th anniversary having been established back in 1932.

Noting that businesses were going through hard times today, the senior diplomat told the gathering that "it is sad to witness and experience the disturbing recurrence of this malady of political instability that has troubled Guyana's development since Independence. It is from my observation, and that of others, that it is essential that the political dialogue between the major political parties succeeds in giving this country a strong consensus for inclusive politics that bridges racial and ethnic differences." He referred to the relationships established between New Amsterdam and the cities of Huntsville and Midland, Texas and congratulated the Chamber on its anniversary, which he described as "a remarkable achievement." According to Godard, "New Amsterdam is a town with a long and distinguished history, founded some 100 years before Huntsville was even thought of." He alluded to the restored 75-foot high tower of the Town Hall which was built in 1868 as "a major landmark" while mentioning that the Embassy had provided funding for the renovation of the Town Hall.

He recalled that the Chamber was established during the recession of the 1930s, saying that "over the 70 years there had been many ups and downs for businesses," and he referred to "the hardship that members must have gone through during those long years of government in Guyana that did not look with favour on the private sector. Years ago Chambers of Commerce were not popular institutions." However, he noted that during the last election campaign the two main political parties advocated an economic model in which the private sector was the primary engine of growth.

Outgoing President of the Chamber, Ramesh Maraj in his remarks said "the Chamber takes pride in what it has been able to achieve for its members by way of representation and social/commercial links established over the past year." This he said was as a result of the hard and imaginative work of the Executive and members of the Association who now total 61. Also attending the luncheon was India's High Commissioner to Guyana, Tara Singh.

Touching on the crime situation, the US Ambassador told the gathering "crime has also been a frightening problem this year. Hopefully the wave of criminal activity that threatened to overwhelm law- enforcement has subsided somewhat." Positing that "we cannot be complacent", Godard said crime is also on the increase in the region and the United States. "The police must continue to have resources and training to maintain law and order," he commented. He expressed the hope that the Social Partners Initiative will be successful, while pointing out that "it is a good sign for Guyana that this initiative comes from civil society."

Over recent times, there has been an impressive renaissance in the activity of Non-Governmental Organisations including Youth Groups fighting the spread of HIV/ AIDS, the diplomat noted. He said he was impressed with the vitality, high energy and motivation of Guyana's youths in the fight against the pandemic: "If we do not act now it will devastate the entire country since Guyana has the second highest rate of infection in the region." Ambassador Godard also said he had noticed the renewed vigour of Chambers of Commerce throughout the country. "They have emerged as a dynamic force supporting respect for the rule of law, and end to criminal violence and the search for political stability." Concluding, the Head of Mission said the United States Embassy was proud of its association with the Berbice Chambers of Commerce over the years. The Caribbean Cuisine is located just outside New Amsterdam at Number Two Village, East Canje Berbice.

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