Recently-elected Region 8 Chairman Mark Crawford has big plans for the region, which he hopes to transform from an underdeveloped mining zone to a self-sufficient township by the end of his tenure.
In a recent interview with Stabroek News, Crawford detailed his blueprint for moving the region towards development.
“I am so enthusiastic about serving as the Chairman. I have many plans because this region is very close to me… I want to take the region from where it is right now and transform it to a township, to a place where residents would want to rear a family. I want to work speedily on improving the education, health, tourism and business development sectors,” Crawford, 47, who had previously served as a member of the region’s Regional Democratic Council (RDC), said.
Crawford’s vision for the transformation of the region is divided into several phases.
Crawford was on the AFC slate that won the regional elections last year and he was elected Chairman with the support of APNU, which managed to get four seats. The PPP/C also captured four seats and the TUF won one. With the new arrangements in the National Assembly, where the combined opposition has a one-seat majority over the governing PPP/C, Crawford said that much can be achieved. He added that his business relationship with the current Region 8 Regional Executive Officer is a very solid one and it is for this reason that partnering with him could see much development come to fruition.
The Chairman’s immediate priority is rectifying the water system in the Mahdia district since he said there is little to boast about when it comes to the potable water supply to residents of the region. He hopes that villagers in central Mahdia as well as Amerindian settlements in the region will be able to receive potable water.
Crawford said that he is saddened when he listens to the residents of the village of Campbelltown asking if they would be able to receive water through their pipelines in the near future. “The water woes there [are] beyond imagination. There should be a water supply extended to the back of Campbelltown so that the Amerindian villages will also be equipped,” he said; “the people are not a complaining people, so when you see them saying that it’s so hard on them fetching the water from the front of Mahdia miles into the back just to cook and so forth, your heart bleeds.”
Further, he noted that the villagers would usually use water from the nearby rivers and creeks for their washing and household chores, but they would have to trudge long distances to fill receptacles for potable water.
Healthcare is another area that Crawford plans to urgently address. “I would like to see not just Region 8 but every hinterland region equipped with an experienced doctor. There are not enough nurses in Region 8 currently also, so it poses problems, especially in emergencies,” he said. The village Medexes are used, he explained, but even they are overwhelmed because of the huge patient to Medex ratio. Nevertheless, Crawford is looking forward to residents of the region being able to cut the ribbon to commission a hospital there soon.
The new Chairman is also aiming to implement a proper solid waste disposal plan for residents, as currently there is no proper garbage disposal system. Villagers usually burn or bury their garbage and those who deem this too tedious dump it in isolated spaces. He said having Mahdia become a village managed by a local authority could see improvements. Said Crawford, “Mahdia needs to have… somewhere where people pay rates and have services given, especially garbage [disposal]. There is no system in place to meet the needs of the people.”
He added that most of the RDC’s vehicles are not working, while the remainder are not adequate for the work which should be undertaken. For example, he noted that for maintenance of the road there is a mini-excavator, a dump truck and a small bulldozer. “What we need is a motor grader. We are expected to do the work but don’t have the equipment,” he lamented.
The Chairman also plans to focus on the region’s education system. He said that building a secondary school, which would then be the region’s main school at Kato, should be pursued. He explained that the land space in the village was best for an educational building not only because of developmental potential but because transportation would not be a problem for students.
Currently, Paramakatoi Secondary is the main school but its mountainous environment limits school activities. In addition to the new infrastructure, Crawford said he would like to see a revamped curriculum, giving students the opportunity to have a science lab and a home economics department that the current school lacks. Agriculture Science is another subject that residents have indicated that they would like to see being taught and Crawford thinks it is an excellent idea since the region would be aiming at being self sufficient food-wise.
Crawford also said that more emphasis needs to be placed on the development of Kato, located ten miles south of Paramakatoi, since it is the village that holds the most potential. “Kato should be zoomed in on now, because of the developmental possibilities. It is nearer to Brazil and, if developed, villagers can tap into the Brazil market. It is where if drilled, water would be found… and because of logistics, it dominos into all other developmental areas be it tourism, farming, because of the fertile soil and soil type, producing furniture … the possibilities are endless,” he said.
Crawford, formerly a non-partisan RDC councillor, became a public lobbyist for the Alliance for Change, as he felt that only in a senior decision-making capacity would he be able to help the region move forward. He said it was the AFC’s inclusiveness and concrete plans for development that sold him on the party. “Being the father of three young sons, I had to choose a party that would ensure a good future for my children. When I looked around, the AFC was the only party that I felt would be able to deliver this… their planned inclusiveness and the whole package,” he explained.
His father was a miner and as a result, Crawford’s boyhood was spent in many of the hinterland villages. When he was 16, after the death of his mother, he was forced to work and naturally turned to gold mining, since he was already familiar with the terrain. He has never regretted the decision, he said.
With his love for the hinterland and his experience serving on the RDC, Crawford believes that he is capable of delivering progress to the region. He was grateful for the support from the people of the region at the last elections but added that he understands only too well that as a politician, he can be removed by people. He said he wished that all politicians “keep to the front of their heads” and that they should always look out for the welfare of their citizens.
“It may seem a lot to some and me, a big dreamer, but Region 8 has all the resources, it’s just using them effectively. One day, there will be electricity supplied by hydro from Tumatumari. It will be efficient and reliable. People won’t have to have individual generators. There will farming on a large scale, proper garbage disposal and miners working in an environmentally friendly manner,” Crawford said. He added, “The region which I chair will see miners using state-of-the-art machinery, where they will yield more than 40% in returns and will have favourable trading with Brazil; where miners will no longer leave their families for extended periods, causing family break-ups and adding to social ills, but they will have everything needed for a comfortable life, and can bring their families and live happy lives right here.”