Children engage President
As world celebrates International Children’s Day of Broadcasting By Sohodra Rampersaud
Guyana Chronicle
December 14, 2003

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(GINA) - PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo’s opinion was sought on key issues as five children from City schools took turns questioning him during a television interview for International Children’s Day of Broadcasting.

The interview took place at State House yesterday afternoon.

Freda Alphonso, 12, of Richard Ishmael Secondary School; Erica Seeraj, eight, of Rama Krishna Primary School; Corwain Cyrus, 15, of St. Stanislaus College; Tavea Abrams, nine, of St. Margaret’s Primary and Paul Phillips, 15 of Central High School, conducted the interview.

They engaged the President on issues relating to the theme of this year’s celebration, `Heroes Are Role Models’.

Paul was interested in learning about the President’s role models, who are Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Martin Luther King. When questioned about his admiration for Dr. Jagan, the Head of State responded that it was the leadership qualities displayed by Dr. Jagan during the historic struggles of Guyana that caught his attention. This admiration grew when the President joined the Progressive Youth Organisation at age 13, and then the People’s Progressive Party three years later. He recalled the many lessons learnt from his local hero, including a commitment to serve with honesty and equality.

The President promoted the idea of having role models, as it enables young people to set high standards and virtues, which can result in immense success.
However, the President dissuaded the children from thinking that role models are only politicians and celebrities. He noted that this is a narrow view often promoted, and pointed to teachers, policemen, nurses and other persons who work hard to improve their country and people as persons who are to be highly respected. He noted that it is not the person’s “fame” but his/her commitment to work and serve that matters.

Commenting on what is the most significant thing he has done for children as the President of Guyana, Mr. Jagdeo noted that the answer is a combination of measures, but paramount is the debt relief secured.

According to the Head of State, his administration has reduced the debt burden by half, as well as the debt servicing payment and this has allowed more money to be available for Government’s spending on social and economic services, which in the long run do make a better life for children.

The foreign debt in 1992 was 94 per cent of the country’s revenue. Now it is about 40 per cent and hopefully with the early completion of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, it will be further reduced by another US$600M over the next 20 years.

“This means that every child born in Guyana at that time would have done so with a burden of repaying half a million dollars if you divide the debt by the population. This has been relieved. The future generation will not have to pay for the excesses of the previous generations,” the President noted.

He also noted the tremendous strides made in the area of maternal and child health with the infant mortality rate being significantly reduced and the vaccination programme upgraded.

Commenting on Government’s expenditure on children, the President noted that about 17 per cent of the $72.9B or about $14.5B National Budget is being spent on education, the largest on any sector.

Erica asked the President what would happen to children when the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination ceases to exist. In response, the President noted that more children will have access to secondary education.

The idea behind the removal of the SSEE, he explained, is to facilitate more of the country’s children. He said that in the past, 35 per cent of the nation’s SSEE children were given a chance to have a secondary education because there was only place in the secondary schools for that number. This figure has moved to 65 per cent. The President said that a single exam should not determine the future of the children.

“The Government sees this as a waste of the nation’s precious resources - its children. So we are determined to move to universal secondary education. Everyone will now go to a Secondary School. That is why you do not need an exam to determine who goes and who doesn’t,” he said.

The children also questioned him about his dreams for Guyana.

“I would like to see a prosperous and united Guyana regardless of race or religion. I want a country, where when citizens retire, the pension will be sufficient and they would not live in poverty. I want a secured nation that doesn’t have to worry about (a) high crime wave. But these are not easy things to accomplish,” the President said.

He noted that Guyana needs help locally and internationally to achieve these dreams.

Commenting on the administration’s provisions for differently-abled children, the Head of State said his government will strive to protect these and all children’s rights. This is the reason he said that the Constitutional Commission on the Rights of the Child was provided for. He also commended the work of NGOs in this sector.

“We have to work together to eliminate abuse. Too many of our children are still being abused …,” he said.

He also noted that Government has invested significantly in facilities for students to have fun while they learn. One is the President’s Youth Choice Initiative, which has seen about 300 projects being built countrywide at the request of youths. More than $800M has been spent on the Initiative so far.

The President also reiterated that his Government is willing to hear the voices of children and urged the media to play a more consistent role in broadcasting children’s opinion on issues and giving them a chance to be heard.

To wrap up the interview, the President commented on what it is like to be President of Guyana. He noted that the job is both hectic and challenging, but gives him an opportunity to serve his people and country.