The tripartite process is important in seeking consensus but the opposition has been sending mixed signals

Dear Editor,

A country’s strength is usually measured in part by its economic growth. Undoubtedly Guyana has been a nation on the rise and its people are enjoying a better standing of living today than they enjoyed two decades ago. And I wish to posit that Guyana can move forward to bigger and better things as long as the opposition and government work together.

Our economy has grown over the past two decades  and it continues to grow. Indeed, the World Bank projects a 5.1 % GDP growth for Guyana for 2013, the third highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Per capita income has risen and interest rates have reduced significantly. In addition, we have reduced our external debt from US$2.1B under the PNC government to just over US$1B today, and our external reserves have risen from the US$12M of 1991 to US$780M – the highest ever.

The inflation rate of a country is one of the indicators of improvement or deterioration in living standards. We have been able to keep the rate down to manageable proportions. It has been reduced to single digits and this is a sure sign of an economy and a people on the move.

And so, today we have much to celebrate as a nation. And what we celebrate must be viewed, inter alia, in terms of the extent to which we have been able to propel this country towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), our Poverty Reduction Strategy, the goals set out in our political manifesto. It must be viewed also in terms of our success rate vis-à-vis our efforts at “the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; the achievement of universal primary education; reducing child mortality and improving maternal health; combatting HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; promoting gender equality and empowering women,” as set out in the MDGs.

I am reminded also that at the time when many large businesses in Europe and North America were going into receivership and foreclosures and many were losing their homes during 2010-11, every major business in Guyana was showing profit, viz DDL, Banks DIH, Demerara Bank.

Some of our sugar estates have begun grinding as the sugar industry begins its pursuit to achieve its 2012 target of 265 000 tonnes, in spite of the challenges of heavy rainfall and industrial action. The sugar industry is a vital part of Guyana’s economy and the industry reaching its production target is critical for its survival. In this regard also, government’s efforts through the Minister of Labour to address the industrial issue must be applauded.

Our government continues to assist farmers by distributing planting materials and other supplies such as veterinary supplies to them – moreso those in flood-affected areas – and to clear drains, fix kokers, sluices, etc.

Many Guyanese workers have been able to escape high rental costs by taking advantage of government’s house lots programme and the mortgage loans offered by the commercial banks to support the housing programme. In most cases, the size of the mortgage is far less than what the rent for a property of equal size would have been. Thousands now own their own homes and the Minister of Housing and Water and his diligent staff must be commended for their indefatigable efforts.

Guyana is well poised to make major advances in the mining and oil exploration sector. There is high optimism that we would discover petroleum. Advances in the exploration for oil and gas and the development of hydropower will greatly impact on our economy. This augurs well for the nation’s development – a stronger manufacturing sector; energy and processing industries with their concomitant creation of jobs; and a reduced fuel import bill thereby releasing significant resources to enhance the efficiency of the productive sector. Expected increased investment in gold mining, manganese exploration and bauxite production from the two bauxite companies operating in Region 10 beginning in 2012 will undoubtedly create new jobs for our workers in the bauxite belt.

The Linden-Lethem road is another important project under discussion for continuation and so also is the Linden-Ituni-Kwakwani road. Linking Guyana with its Dutch-speaking neighbour by way of a bridge across the Corentyne River and so enhancing trade, economic relations and cultural exchanges is a project to which we all look forward. And indeed Guyana and Suriname recently agreed to a joint approach to the IDB to discuss financing for this bridge.

We are still a land of opportunity. But there are opposing forces; they are the push and pull factors which threaten to erode these opportunities. Our fellow Guyanese need to help us to build bridges; to build this nation of which they are an integral part. Cooperation brings common development. The PPP/C government commits to upholding our moral, social and economic responsibilities as a government.

We must resolve to keep the wheels of progress turning even in this new political dispensation, this new political landscape which we must view as being yet another chapter in the evolution of our democracy.

Confrontation in public is not good for us, not good for the country, is not the way forward. We must use the Parliament to push for the changes, the reform we seek. This is an approach that must be centred not on the interests of a few with narrow personal agendas and a focus on getting even, but on the interests, wishes and expectations of the Guyanese people. This is an approach that can deliver both national unity and economic success.

We at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development have begun to work more intensely with the RDCs, the NDCs and the CDCs. Indeed, we shall work to conclude local government reforms and have local government elections held, bringing much needed “reinvigoration into the local government entities.” We are also working to build greater capacity within the ministry in order to more effectively discharge our oversight and advisory responsibilities. Our expectation is that these local government bodies would deliver a much better quality of service to the residents.

The tripartite arrangement initiated by our President Donald Ramotar is very pertinent, relevant and important in seeking consensus on the range of issues before our country for redress. This tripartite process has the potential to lay a solid foundation for greater cooperation in the governance process. And indeed most Guyanese have welcomed this opportunity for cooperation in moving the development process forward. Albeit, there is a cloud hanging over the process as our government has been receiving mixed signals from the opposition. I call on the opposition which has been advocating shared governance and greater inclusivity to see the tripartite process as an excellent opportunity to further that agenda.

We all look forward to continual investment in the social and economic sectors, and in infrastructural development. But our development programmes cannot be advanced until the financial resources to implement these programmes are made available through the national Budget. The Budget remains a matter for government. We cannot and must not abdicate that responsibility.

Shortly this Budget will be presented in the National Assembly and the opposition political parties will have the opportunity to scrutinize and to make recommendations and other inputs  before it is passed. Yes, the electorate has conferred on the opposition great powers but with it come great responsibilities. It cannot and must not be about change for change sake.

I conclude by emphasizing that sustaining the growth of our economy requires we attract additional investments. But investors want to invest where the political climate is stable. Let us work together to provide more goods, more services, more opportunities for our people. Remember development is a responsibility not only of the government but the entire nation.

Yours faithfully,
Norman Whittaker
Minister within the Ministry
of Local Government

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