President Bharrat Jagdeo says preliminary indications show that the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 3% in 2008, which he called a significant achievement coming in the shadows of the worldwide financial meltdown, global warming and threats to national security.
Despite what he dubbed “unfortunate” developments in the sugar industry, in his New Year’s address to the nation the president also reported “sterling performances” in rice, gold and non-traditional agricultural sectors and announced that more emphasis will be placed on large scale infrastructural projects to be the catalyst for economic modernisation and increasing competitiveness. At the same time, Jagdeo, said that with the world facing its worst economic crisis, Guyana cannot expect to be unaffected and revealed that with the credit crunch in the developed world has affected financing for some major investment projects. As a result, he noted that the country will have to implement a national strategy which will have to be transformative while preserving the gains of the past. “It is not going to be easy but with hard work, dedication and sacrifice we can all ensure that social, economic and political progress continue,” he said, while inviting the opposition, civil society and all other interest groups to work with the government.
According to the president, the last year tested the resolve and capacity of the nation. Referring to the flooding that has severely affected communities along the country’s coastline, Jagdeo said the consequences of climate change are among the problems over which there is little control and he commended those working to bring relief to those affected and to get the water off the land. “I know it has not been easy for those within the flood hit communities,” he said. “I want to assure them that I am deeply concerned for their well-being and will continue to monitor the situation and make the necessary interventions that are within our means.”
He also recalled the mass killings at Lusignan, Bartica and Lindo Creek, which he said plunged the nation into collective grief but also united the people and fortified their resolve to face down the terror. He also credited the joint services for neutralising one of the major criminal gangs that was responsible for the terror. He added, “The job is not yet complete, but I am confident that we shall in the end bring to justice all those who so misguidedly believed they could inflict such barbarism on our society without recompense.”
Additionally, the president urged a coordinated effort from all citizens and particularly civil society to confront the carnage on the roadways and domestic violence, which also contributed to loss of life. He described these as “troubling problems” and noted that despite tougher laws more civil society efforts are needed.
The president’s address also stressed the administration’s achievements over the last year. Jagdeo reminded that in the midst of the global food and energy crisis, government’s interventions, including cost of living allowances and increased pensions, helped to mitigate the harmful effects. With careful fiscal and monetary management and the drop in the global prices for some commodities, there has been a containment of inflation, he said, while explaining that as a food producing nation Guyana has begun reorienting its agricultural sector to grasp opportunities presented by the increasing global demands for food. He also mentioned the completion of critical infrastructural projects, including the Berbice Bridge and the advancement of the work on the Takutu Bridge, while declaring that attention will be focused on large scale works that will drive the economy forward. He said in the years ahead the government intends to work on second generation projects that would add value to bauxite, exploit the hydroelectric potential and allow the benefits of a deep water harbour and increase investments in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) services.
The provision of environmental services was also cited as a rapidly emerging sector. According to Jagdeo, Guyana can become a major provider of environmental services and secure substantial revenue to address its adaptation needs like improved sea defences and drainage, while creating other non-forestry related opportunities.
The president also promised that government would continue to improve the quality of healthcare while closely monitoring its investment in education. He said new hospitals are expected to be completed this year at Linden and Lethem as well as a high-tech ophthalmology centre at Berbice, complementing new healthcare facilities at Diamond, Leonora, Suddie and Mahaicony. At the same time, the government will be examining whether it is getting returns for its emphasis on education in the national budget. The president said government is already collaborating with the University of the West Indies to address the issue of whether better graduates are being produced at the tertiary level. “We need to more aggressively confront the issue of quality at every echelon of the education system,” the president declared, while announcing that two additional technical and vocational training institutes would be set up in Regions Five and Three.
He also mentioned the continued provision of low income housing and the expansion of utility services and law reform as areas for attention in the coming year.