Guyana would have to spend billions of US dollars on adaptation to climate change as rising sea levels and adverse weather patterns could lay waste to fertile lands agricultural lands, particularly on the coastland, President Bharrat Jagdeo said.
Speaking on a number of issues including climate change, food prices, fuel prices and the global trading environment and their impact on the local scene at the opening of the PPP 29th Congress at the Diamond Secondary School yesterday, Jagdeo shied away from referring to developments under the PPP/C which he felt had been covered by the PPP General Secretary Donald Ramotar and former President Janet Jagan in their addresses. He nevertheless engaged in his usual bashing of sections of the media over their coverage of the government, more particularly the Stabroek News and the Kaieteur News.
Jagdeo said that in protecting the coast from the Atlantic Ocean the government had had to spend recently US$6.4 million to build one kilometre of concrete sea defences and US$4.4 million to build with the riff-raff design. The country, he said, needed to fortify 360 kilometres of sea defences an the sums already spent on one kilometer would give an idea of how much money was needed for the country’s infrastructure.
This did not include financing needed for other areas that required attention in terms of climate change, including the conservancy dams and drainage and irrigation.
He noted again the need to lobby for a change in the Kyoto Protocol which would allow Guyana and countries like Guyana with standing forests and tropical rainforests to earn more from carbon trading, which he felt could pay even better than the traditional industries like sugar and bauxite.
On the issue of fuel prices, Jagdeo said that he had no doubt that in the near future Guyana would be an oil and gas producing country, following explorations and gas finds in the Rupununi and in areas next to Suriname where exploration is set to commence later this year and some time next year.
He noted that the government had already invited bids for a major hydro-electric power project which, if the price was right, would begin by year end. This would help in the medium and long terms to meet energy needs and the costs associated with these. At present, he noted that the government has undertaken to meet consumers costs through billions of dollars in fuel subsidies that were also impacting on the food situation particularly, flour.
The sum of $12 billion had been budgeted to subsidise electricity costs which if it had been passed on to consumers would have reflected a 40% to 50% increase in current costs to consumers. This was unlike what took place in 1976, he said, when the fuel crisis caused the PNC administration to ban a number of food items.
There was also a huge interest in bio-fuel production which would not affect current food production or involve the cutting down of forests. In addition he said that the government had begun the introduction of solar energy in some Amerindian communities where they had given each household a small solar battery so it could have lights. “We want to do it in all Amerindian villages,” he said.
On the issue of increasing food prices, Jagdeo said that there was need to deal with agriculture on a scientific basis with large shareholdings for sustainability in grain crops and peasant-type holdings. There was also need for more research.
On the global trading environment, he observed that the World Trade Organisation’s mini-ministerial negotiations had collapsed because of the developed world’s interest in protecting their subsidies and markets, which did not assist developing countries. On the Economic Partnership Agree-ment (EPA) between Cariforum countries and the EU, he said that Guyana was the only country in the Caribbean which would not sign it until there had been a national consultation on how it would affect Guyanese. He felt that the EPA would harm more than help and in some cases would wipe out certain sectors of the economy.
On the local scene, he said that there would be need to strike a balance between civil liberties and the protection of the citizenry. This would include legislation for wiretapping to guard against acts of criminality and legislation that protected children from paedophiles among others.
He said too that there was need to change the political culture and to work for the renewal of local democracy. Earlier in his address he spoke about some of the achievements of the government in dealing with transparency and accountability on fiscal matters, particularly as it related to legislation.
Speaking about the party which he said must not be defined by “the hostile media, not Peeping Tom, not Freddie Kissoon,” Jagdeo said, “We must be defined by ourselves.” Earlier he had castigated Stabroek News and Kaieteur News for picking and choosing issues. “They never choose to write about the challenges in dealing with issues,” he said, “and sometimes our own comrades suck up to these so-called analysts.”
He went on to refer to some media “intellectuals” who were “pedantic” and “PPP haters.”
“They would never see anything we do in a positive light. And then there are others who are clothed in intellectual garb; they are asinine analysers.”
Thanking the party members for support they gave him while in office and the party “for the confidence it reposed in me when it chose me to be the presidential candidate” Jagdeo said it was the last congress he was addressing as President of Guyana unless “we have another but I doubt that.”