I have noted with utter alarm in the two independent dailies a statement by the PPP/C’s Presidential candidate of a 150% increase in employment in the bauxite industry in Linden and Aroaima. Whilst this is desirable and a commendable motive for any of the political parties on the hustings it is imperative that we do not pontificate and prognosticate on such sensitive and serious issues in our communities because of the historical underpinnings. Bauxite has traditionally been the main economic pillar for these communities for decades until it became an old horse unable to carry its own weight with time. Still, it is the single largest employment entity in the community save and except for the government and quasi-government entities. I would have given a ‘long suck teeth’ if the statement was made at some venue outside of our region and relate it to the usual inflationary verbiage spewed at such rallies. I am not oblivious to the fact that in the height of political competition at election time politicians are loathe to others outdoing them with pronouncements and rhetoric which can make a full term, human pregnancy possible in five months.
But to come to the community where people are hurting and bearing their chafe, riding in with an armoury of gold, money like sand, posters adorning the landscape end to end, huge best portraits and signaling the moneyed class of Guyana was in town and have arrived, then proceed to insult our intelligence and communal space with such a statement is tantamount to disrespect and a Jamaican ‘bad word’ I cannot use here. The next time I encounter this type of ribaldry from high places I will find a forum to be excessive.
I will also exhort the opposition politicians including the APNU not to come to this community nor go to any other with such effrontery and make believe since for many of us it is insensitive and flaming debauchery. All people in this country must be treated with respect and not as minions you throw anything to.
Why am I incensed? In 1994-1995 Prime Minister Samuel Hinds will remember the promise of ten major projects for the area including timber, jewellery, agriculture among several others. These projects were to be housed in an area at Dallawala where an export promotion zone (EPZ) was to be housed. Mr. Mortimer Yearwood, then regional chairman was told that he should find ten entrepreneurs in order for the government to spend $100m on the site. Ms. Sandra Baptiste then head of the investment arm of the government was also instrumental in bringing two gentlemen from Mauritius to advise on this project. Not very long after Ms. Baptiste left and maybe the idea of the Dallawalla project went with her. I should remind readers that the government was touting a development plan for Linden which was never seen by most in Linden.
It is claimed that over $7b was spent on infrastructure et al within the past 8 years. This is in addition to the mantra of spending $2b yearly to subsidise electricity in Linden. Well, of all of this money spent just two projects greater than $10m were allocated to Linden-based contractors. In fact the study showed that 93% of all these works went to persons outside of Linden. Where Linden-based contractors were many and made up the 7% was in small contracts between $100,000 and up to $3m. Many contractors have disappeared and resigned to their fate since they are not prepared to kow-tow. A few have told me they would bid for contracts outside of the region since the level of intrigue is too much. You have to ensure the czars get pieces of the pie. The government can claim that it is the regional administration that is lynching them. However all complaints to the authorities have fallen on deaf ears. Then most of the other projects such as LIS etc are handled at reaches outside of the region.
About two years ago Prime Minister came up with a stimulus package of $200m for the Linden-Ituni-Kwakwani carriageway. It was ruthlessly taken away and when the IMC and Regional Chairmen complained to the Prime Minister we were pointed to the source of the ruthless removal of the project. Of course you would expect nothing to happen and that was that. No doubt the road was not done properly and the residents continued their incessant complaints on the matter.
The much touted LEAP $2.2b programme had its usefulness and made some impact on entrepreneurial development in the town. However the most visible and potent component of the programme was the revolving fund (LEAF). LEAF stuttered along but produced despite these problems. Lindeners proved many wrong with more than acceptable parameters and benchmarks of a well managed financial institution. Cometh the year 2008 when we should have moved on with the lessons learned from the programme and have a smooth transition into LEN it was once more halted. To date the revolving fund is not up and running. Maybe they are waiting to punish Ms.Valerie
Sharpe since she is APNU. We are also watching to see what will happen with the rest of the board which is stillborn after three years. The board must reflect the spectrum of interest groups and stakeholders of the Region and Town. So much concern for residents of Linden.
OMAI took hold of the bauxite industry in 2003 and not long after a war broke out over the Block 37 deposit, said to be around 100 million tons of high grade bauxite.
Apparently, the Russian bauxite giant had been given these reserves at knock down prices with no caveat for development. Omai won the battle and got block 37 but soon after was sold out to BOSAI. Again Block 37 came up for consideration as the Chinese began a feasibility study on an Alumina Plant. The bank must be assured that adequate ore was available so that its repayments would be assured. The trouble withthis deal is that the Russians still control the lands in these areas and so my friend Mr.Balgit who has fed this community for more than three decades with vegetables and fruits cannot get a lease for the land he has occupied for over 17 years. Just four years ago a lease was produced because LEAP needed to partner with Mr.Balgit for his land to be used as a demonstration farm. Can you believe that after this has expired he is unable to get a lease for himself? We keep touting how caring we are but this is enough testimony that we are not caring enough.
Well we were advised last year that the Alumina study done by BOSAI did not yield positive results for its implementation. That means it is not on. So where will we get this huge increase in employment with the products they produce at the moment.
If you know the Chinese they have maximised on every piece of bauxite available and therefore I find it incredible that they will produce more products to increase the job requirement by 1500.
Mr. Mortimer Mingo, Regional Chairman spearheaded a study in producing a Regional Development Plan with assistance from LEAP and UNDP. The document was presented to cabinet more than three years ago and there has been no response from that august bunch.
So is it not a good thing for the people to state what they think would aid in their development? It was a document born out of extensive grassroots consultation across Region 10. Someone and probably the PPP/C’s Presidential candidate should state what has happened to the document and if we will spend some more money reinventing another study. Our guinea pig days are over.
Lindeners need to understand that their survival continues to rest on their own astute, novel and resilient behaviour to living. This has been amply supported by their families in the diaspora, the 500 currently working at BOSAI, Government and quasi –government services as in NIS, GRA, teachers, medical personnel, RDC, M&TC and the large band of the self employed in retail trading, gold, timber, hospitality services, construction, transportation et al. It is to be noted that many of these are fuelled by the repatriated funds which is estimated at US$5.2m per year. So thanks to God for relatives and friends abroad who have been supporting us staunchly in season and out of season. Many are of the view that things would flow into the community only in some seasons from certain quarters.
I will conclude by stating that we must reject out of hand the statement that jobs will be found in the multi hundreds in the short term. It did not happen within the last fifteen years and will not happen just after November 28, 2011 by any discussion with the current investors. Why were we waiting to talk to them now?