In what was his last Independence Annversary address to Guyana, outgoing President Bharrat Jagdeo challenged Guyanese to boldly embrace the next era of progress.
A reflective Jagdeo, ahead of the traditional midnight flag-raising ceremony at the National Park Wednesday night, also told a sizeable audience that serving Guyana has been the greatest honour of his life.
The event was the celebration of the country’s 45th Anniversary since gaining independence.
“We have an economy that is one of the strongest in the Caribbean. We are now in the sixth consecutive year of strong economic growth – and have been one of the fastest growing economies in CARICOM every year since 2006.”
Listing developmental works, the Head of State, who has not been without controversy over his style of management, said that the country’s physical infrastructure continues to be transformed.
“Over the past five years, our transportation network has been enriched by the Berbice Bridge, the Takutu Bridge, an international airport at Ogle, stellings, roads and canals.
In addition to two fibre optic cables connecting Guyana to the world, the country now has better social services with the educational achievements of students often the best in the Caribbean and the health system boosted by several new hospitals, hundreds of new doctors and some of the most up-to-date standards of care anywhere.
And we are deepening new legal protections for the vulnerable and those who are the victims of sexual and other violence.
Through the country’s implementation of its “world-leading” Low Carbon Development Strategy, this year US$70 million received through the world’s second largest forest climate services arrangement, is being invested. And we are increasingly doing this by standing on our own as a nation. Our dependence on international aid is decreasing, the contribution of the private sector to our long term future is expanding, and our standing on the international stage is higher than it has ever been. So we are poised for the next era of progress if we choose to create it.”
Staying the course
According to Jagdeo, this will mean staying the course and surmounting the challenges.
”Of course, our vision for Guyana still includes the need for an expanding, broadly based economy. That is why our sustained economic growth and the prudent management of public finances is enabling us to keep inflation low, our currency stable and to build our national reserves to their highest level ever, all the while dealing with the greatest global financial crisis in our independent country’s history.”
The vision for Guyana will need to stay the course in modernising its traditional economic sectors, especially the sugar sector which continues on its path to recovery from the major trading shocks of recent years.
We still need to capitalise on the increasingly valuable mining sectors, while modernising them to meet high social and environmental standards, at the same time as we encourage large scale investment in oil exploration and carefully managed mines.”
New emerging service sectors like tourism will see more jobs and investments in the sector.
“Our call centre industry has been one of the major success stories of the last ten years, with over 3,000 high quality jobs being created across the country. And our agricultural sector continues to diversify away from its traditional base in rice and sugar.” The President also said that the country’s vision is to promote its unique culture. “We have proven in recent years that we are capable of projecting that culture onto a bigger stage – through our successful hosting of the Cricket World Cup, the ICC World Twenty 20, CARIFESTA X and other international cultural and sporting events. Our love of sport is supported by new public swimming pools, track facilities and training grounds.”
But according to the Head of State, the reality is that Guyana wants to take its rightful place among the nations of the world, it will take an upgrade of its vision beyond what might have seemed innovative just ten years ago.
“Instead, we need to look to a field of vision greater than we have had in the past. And the foundations we have built over the last decade and more mean that we can go out and benefit from that field of vision.”
These visions includes the new fibre optic cable link with Brazil, and the completion of the work to liberalise the telecommunications industry, will enable further reductions in the cost of telephony and bandwidth, revolutionizing the digital access of citizens and businesses across Guyana.
“Our One Laptop per Family programme will equip 90,000 families to use some of the most modern technology in the world. Already, 3,000 young Guyanese are working in the call centre industry, which did not exist just 10 years ago. Our new educational channel will use modern communications to help our children advance.”
Jagdeo believes that Guyana is on the threshold of a national digital revolution.
“In the space of five years, we will leap-frog over most countries in the world to achieve a national level of IT literacy, internet access, and fibre optic capability that is among the highest anywhere in the entire world.”
“It is right that more and more Guyanese can accumulate individual wealth, establish and grow businesses, and pursue opportunities in line with their talents. But it is irresponsible to avoid paying the taxes that our country needs to provide the services we value. Healthcare, security, infrastructure development, education, support for pensioners and the disabled, and all the rest of our public services – these need a solid tax base if we want them to continue to improve.”
True to expectations, the President who has had a rocky road with private media over recent years, also took them to task.
“It is right that our media is free to express their views within the law. But it is irresponsible to spread innuendo and untruths about law-abiding individuals and legitimate businesses.
It is not the Government who suffers when this happens, but our entire country through a national reputation that is damaged by the desire to be sensationalist.
Rather, the media should be the scourge of the corrupt, the lazy and those who break the law – but they should avoid the easy line of lies and distortions that damage those who are creating a better Guyana.”
He urged citizens to expand their thoughts to becoming more relevant on the global stage.
“Just think of what I have already referred to in this speech. We are one of the fastest growing economies in the Caribbean. We will soon become one of the world’s top twenty economies in the use of clean energy. We are within two or three years of becoming one of the world’s top economies in the use of modern communications technology. We already have the world’s second largest forest protection scheme.”
On the road ahead with Jagdeo, the President disclosed that he is proud to be the first leader in Guyana’s history to hand over the Presidency before the end of the constitutional term limits.
He also opined that the coming election will see much passion, debate and contestation of ideas. “This competition is healthy and in the nature of democracies everywhere.
It is a robust national conversation that should be embraced, not shunned. But once it has taken place, our country will unite again behind our new President, who will take over the responsibilities of stewarding our nation towards its next era of progress.”
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