The 19th Biennial Delegates Congress of the People’s National Congress assembles today. Our Party, founded 59 years ago on 5th October 1957 by Forbes Burnham and Joseph Lachhmansingh, rests securely on our sacred institutions – our Constitution, our supreme law; the biennial Delegates’ Congress, our supreme decision-making assembly; our quarterly General Council, which administers the Party between Congresses and our monthly Central Executive Committee, which functions as a quasi board of directors.
The PNCR’s ideology is inspired, largely, by the ideas of Forbes Burnham, its Founder-Leader. His ideas grew out of historical experience and social action. He employed these ideas as instruments to transform society.
The local situation in British Guiana, during his childhood and adolescence and the international situation and intellectual currents in the British Empire convinced him of the injustice of colonialism and the common destiny of the Caribbean peoples. The unequal distribution of wealth and the denial of opportunity to the masses – at the global, regional and local levels – combined to mould Forbes Burnham’s thought.
He responded to the challenge of an unfavourable social environment with a determination to change our country in fundamental ways. Two distinctive traits became evident from his earliest days.
First was egalitarianism, derived from his belief that all persons should be treated equally and should have equal opportunities for self-improvement. Second was his nationalism, expressed as his total commitment to Guyana’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and his resentment of foreign domination. Forbes Burnham’s ideas are relevant today.
The PNCR, over the past four years, therefore, established three new institutions to ensure that our Founder’s ideas continue to inform current leaders and inspire future generations:
– The Burnham Education Scholarship Trust (BEST) promotes education of the young. BEST, every year, awards bursaries to children from each region, who have passed the National Grade Six Assessment examinations;
– The Burnham Book Trust (BBT) publishes and reprints the texts of Forbes Burnham’s Congress addresses and other major political speeches, which express his ideas and the evolution of our Party.
– The Burnham Research Institute (BRI) preserves the works and conducts research into the Founder-Leader’s ideas and life. The BRI enables researchers and scholars to study and discuss Forbes Burnham’s life’s work.
These organisations are essential to understanding the PNCR’s policies and the Founder’s vision for the transformation of Guyana.
Hundreds of delegates have come to Congress Place today. They have been selected to represent thousands of members in groups, districts and regions throughout the country and from the diaspora in the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe. They will discuss, deliberate and determine issues and make decisions to guide our Party for the next two years, in accordance with our Constitution.
We respect the institutions established by our founders. They have sustained us in and out of office, in hard and easy times, over the decades.
Congress, this year is special. Our nation celebrates its 50th anniversary of Independence and a change in government. Guyana became independent after 350 years of Dutch and British imperial rule. We celebrate the anniversary of the Independence we gained on 26th May 1966, fifty years ago. We were inspired, then, to make our cherished homeland a nation of unity, security and prosperity. We are encouraged, today, to renew our determination to provide our citizens with ‘a good life’.
Our Independence anniversary is an occasion not only to remind ourselves about the past. It is an opportunity to renew our commitment to our country and to rekindle the enterprising ‘spirit of 26th May.’ We recall how our Party, the People’s National Congress, struggled relentlessly for Independence.
Forbes Burnham petitioned and appeared before the United Nations Special Committee on 8th March 1963. He reported, inter alia:
“On 1 November 1961, the Premier [Dr Cheddi Jagan] introduced a motion in the Legislative Assembly calling upon Britain to grant Independence to British Guiana during 1962. This motion was supported by the People’s National Congress and was carried on 3 November by 31 votes to 4. The People’s National Congress has always advocated and agitated for Independence of our country and, in fact, was the first political party during the election campaign of 1961 to suggest a date – 31 May 1962.”
Guyanese greeted Independence with the aspiration of enjoying ‘a good life,’ one that was better than what we had to endure as a colony. We toiled to repair a country that had been damaged by disunity, discord and disorder. We strove to create a community of comity and unity.
The PNCR, together with the United Force (UF) led the colony into nationhood. Our coalition administration sought to satisfy the needs of our people by expanding public education, health, communications, social security, transportation improving citizens’ access to public services.
The PNCR, today, is in another coalition. It is our task, collectively for the next fifty years, to complete our historic mission to provide ‘a good life’ for all.’ We must act resolutely to make the changes that are essential to building a resilient economy — one that is adaptive to the changes and responsive to the challenges of the global economy.
Cooperation, not confrontation
The People’s National Congress Reform, in pursuit of its promise to provide ‘a good life,’ established a partnership with four other parties – Guyana Action Party (GAP); Justice For All Party (JFAP); National Front Alliance (NFA) and Working People’s Alliance (WPA) – five years ago in July 2011. We adopted the name A Partnership for National Unity (APNU); we adopted the motto ‘a good life’ for all and the symbol, the Open Hand.’
The PNCR’s objective was to give institutional form to its ideological faith. Its objective was to join others in transforming this country’s confrontational, divisive winner-takes-all political culture into one of cooperation, based on inclusionary democracy. The Partnership – APNU – contested the November 2011 General and Regional Elections gaining 139,678 votes and winning 26 seats in the 65-member National Assembly.
The PNCR, five years after the forming of APNU, reaffirms its commitment to membership of the Partnership, which has become not only a household word but, also, the beacon of hope of thousands of Guyanese. The idea of the Partnership was not an electoral expedient or a political experiment. It was, and remains, an expression of our Party’s belief that a ‘partnership’ is the best example of how Guyanese can work together for the common good.
The PNCR, together with its partners in the APNU, took a step forward when it reached an agreement with the Alliance for Change to form a coalition. The historic Cummingsburg Accord was signed on 14th February 2015. This Accord combined the energies and strengths of six political parties in a pre-election coalition for the first time in Guyana’s political history. The APNU and AFC, at the General and Regional Elections held on 11th May 2015, gained 207,201 votes and won 33 seats.
The PNCR is proud of its ideology of inclusiveness. It is proud to be part of the APNU. It is proud to be part of the APNU + AFC coalition administration. The Coalition is not merely about opposing the People’s Progressive Party Civic. It is about proposing a whole new approach to governance.
The APNU + AFC Coalition is the bulwark against the cronyism, corruption and criminality – misgovernment, which dragged our country to the edge of catastrophe and into the pit of human under-development. The record rates of armed robbery, arson, execution-murders, road fatalities, suicides, illiteracy, unemployment, trafficking in persons and trafficking in narcotics made our country a pariah state in this hemisphere.
The APNU+AFC Coalition is the boldest step in six decades to replace political confrontation with cooperation. I promised the nation, as the APNU+AFC presidential candidate, in the Coalition’s Manifesto, to work towards:
– an education system that will produce citizens of quality, who will be happy to remain here at home to build our great and beautiful country;
– employment opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mining, agro-processing and the arts to provide jobs and promote economic growth;
– an empowerment policy that regularly renews local democracy by ensuring that local government elections are held – as is stipulated in our Constitution;
– an energy policy that utilises our biomass, wind, water and solar resources to provide cheap, renewable electricity;
– an economic development policy that provides a level playing field for local entrepreneurs and investors to develop our abundant resources;
– a social policy that will harness and develop the creative energies of our people and that will support the development of our women and youth;
– a security policy that protects our citizens and our territory, allowing Guyanese to feel safe as they go about their daily lives.
The PNCR renews its commitment to all Guyanese ― but most especially our women, youth, children and senior citizens ― that we will work towards ensuring that we all have ‘a good life.’
The Good Life
My message in our joint Manifesto, as the Presidential candidate of the APNU+AFC ended with the words:
We assure all Guyanese – but most especially our women, youth, children and senior citizens – that we shall work towards ensuring that we all have a good life.
The ‘good life’ is not a dream. It is a plan. It will improve our lives over the coming years. The ‘good life’ is predicated on happiness. It is about making people happy. People will be happy when they know that they have a government which cares for them; when they see a brighter future for their children and grandchildren; when they can be assured of life’s basic needs – food, clothing, shelter, safe water, safe streets, a sound education and high standards of health care.
The PNCR, as part of the Coalition, will continue to work to close the education gap between the one percent, who are super-performers and the more than 50 percent, who do poorly at these examinations. We will work to close the income inequality gap between the hinterland and the coastland and between urban and rural areas. We will do so by boosting economic development in the hinterland and in rural Guyana; by closing the infrastructure gap, which keeps the hinterland isolated and underdeveloped.
That is the main reason why our coalition ensured that local government elections were held in less than a year after we entered office; that is why the Coalition created three ‘capital towns’ in the hinterland at Bartica, Lethem and Mabaruma and embarked on a programme of establishing regional radio stations. These ‘capital towns’ will spur the development of the hinterland.
Our vision is for every Guyanese to be able to enjoy ‘a good life.’ ‘A good life’ is based on the acceptance that people’s existence is characterised by three key freedoms – freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity. Achieving ‘a good life’ requires greater equality of opportunity in order to attain economic growth. A ‘good life’ is about removing inequalities and providing opportunities for every citizen to be the best, he or she can be.
Guyana, today, still needs to stanch the sort of social erosion that degenerated into civil violence in the recent past. We still see how easily the ranting of a few persons can rekindle racial animosity, a retrograde step, which has no place in modern society.
The PNCR is alarmed at the vocal efforts by those persons to promote social division. We warn that such inflammatory tirades run the risk of degenerating into social instability, of fostering distrust and of fomenting disorder.
We need to exhibit the spirit of social cohesion. Social cohesion is about combating exclusion and marginalisation, creating a sense of belonging and promoting upward mobility. It is “…the belief held by citizens … that they share a moral community, which enables them to trust each other.”
A cohesive community is one in which:
“…the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and positively valued, those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities, and strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds and circumstances in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods”.
Guyana ― a micro-state of three quarter of a million people, with land-space larger than England and with bountiful natural resources and beautiful people ― need not be divided. We can build cooperative relationships at all levels of our society among our religious and ethnic groups, among our political parties and among communities.
Discord, arising out of ethnic, economic, political, religious and other differences ― as we have discovered painfully during the ‘Disturbances’ of 1964 and the ‘Troubles’ of 2002 ― has the potential to spawn hatred. Our society has been scarred by violence, which left a lingering legacy of distrust with the threat of disorder. Monuments have been erected to the victims of violence during the ‘Troubles’ between 2002 and 2008. Memories have not been erased.
The PNCR calls on its coalition parties and civil society to work together to repair that damage, restore trust and rebuild the bases of a ‘moral community’ which enables us to trust each other. We are a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country and always will be. Our diversity is an asset, not a liability. We are proud to belong to a society of many faiths. We are proud of the mosaic of ethnicities in our country.
The PNCR, as our Congress theme suggests, is committed to support the Government’s goal to achieve a ‘green economy’. Guyana, as a small, low-lying coastal state will ignore the consequences of climate change to its peril. Rising sea levels batter our sea walls. Extremes of weather, such as the recent bout of El Nino, associated with climate change, have already started to present formidable challenges to our country. Our infrastructure is incapable of coping with the consequences of prolonged flooding and drought.
Guyana is the largest state in the Caribbean Community. Its forests cover more than 85 percent of its land mass. It is a ‘net carbon sink,’ that is, its forests sequester more carbon that the country’s human activity generates. Our economy, despite this, is heavily dependent on agriculture and on the extractive sectors – bauxite, diamond and gold-mining and logging. The high dependence on agriculture and exhaustible natural resources places our natural assets at risk of erosion.
The PNCR supports the adoption of a sustainable model of resource exploitation and extraction in order to reduce the rate of depletion of our natural resources so that these assets will also be available to future generations. A ‘green’ economy is necessary to ensure the sustainable management of its natural resources.
A ‘green’ economy is also needed to wean this country off of its addiction to fossil fuels. The importation of these fuels exacts a heavy burden on the economy. Guyana, in 2012, expended the equivalent of 24 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on petroleum-based products.
The PNCR, as our Congress theme suggests, proposes a Green Development Strategy as a template for the ‘greening” of Guyana. We propose to transition our economy rapidly towards clean and cheaper sources of renewable energy. We will craft a comprehensive Coastal Zone Management Plan to protect human
habitation, our coastal economic sectors and coastal ecosystems. We will create ‘green’ enterprises and jobs and we will inculcate ‘green’ education in our schools.
The Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana defines the territory of the state. Guyanese, today, inherited that territory from their progenitors. They have an obligation to pass it on to their progeny. They have a duty, as trustees, to protect their precious, priceless patrimony.
They have the right to promote the exploitation of their resources. They have a prerogative to preserve their way of life without provocation from any foreign state, whatsoever. Guyanese deserve to enjoy the God-given rights for which their ancestors struggled − their land, their liberty and their livelihood − so that they can all have a good life.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, perversely, continues to claim nearly 160,000 km² of our territory. This area represents nearly three-quarters of our landspace, comprising five of Guyana’s ten regions – the Barima-Waini; Pomeroon-Supenaam; Cuyuni-Mazaruni; Potaro-Siparuni and the Rupununi.
The Venezuelan National Armed Forces, we must never forget, seized the 7-km² Ankoko Island in the Cuyuni River in October 1966, Guyana’s Independence year, and has remained in illegal occupation ever since. The island is used as a military garrison to harass Guyanese miners and to engage in occasional acts of provocation against Guyanese citizens.
The Bolivarian Navy of Venezuela, notoriously, sent a Corvette into Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone on Thursday 10th October 2013 to expel an unarmed petroleum exploration vessel.
The PNCR has always advocated the peaceful settlement of international controversies. Guyana’s pursuit of peace had led to the signing, together with Britain and Venezuela, of the Geneva Agreement in February 1966, three months before gaining Independence. That Agreement required Guyana and Venezuela, in the event of disagreement over resolving the controversy between themselves, to refer the matter to the United Nations Secretary General. It is he who was mandated to choose one of the means for the ‘pacific settlement of disputes’ stipulated in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations.
Guyana’s assessment now is that, after 25 years, the ‘Good Offices Process’ has been exhausted. It is only a fulfillment of the Geneva Agreement therefore to seek another peaceful option if one tried option failed to resolve the controversy.
Guyana has always acted in accordance with the terms of the Geneva Agreement. It continues to urge a peaceful and expeditious solution to the controversy arising from Venezuela’s contention that the 1899 Arbitral Award, under which Venezuela was granted over 13,000 km² of territory, was a nullity.
It was in search of a peaceful solution that I led Guyana’s team to meet the UN Secretary General, first during the Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community in Bridgetown, Barbados in July and, second, during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York in September, 2015.
Guyana, in its engagements with the UN Secretary General, with the teams that he dispatched to Georgetown and, indeed, with many international leaders emphasised that the ‘Good Offices Process’ failed to resolve the controversy and that the time had come for another peaceful option to be pursued.
The PNCR supports Guyana’s preference for a juridical settlement through recourse to the International Court of Justice. Venezuela’s Decrees Nos. 1.787 and 1.859 published on 26th May, 2015 and 7th July 2015, respectively, posed specific threats to Guyana’s maritime zone. We denounced those threats.
The PNCR reminds the international community of our country’s expressed confidence in the capacity of the Office of the UN Secretary General to identify solutions that will validate the ‘just, perfect and final’ nature of the Arbitral Tribunal Award of 1899.
The PNCR will continue to work within the Government to reinforce national security in order to protect the country’s patrimony in the face of threats. We will continue to support the Government’s efforts to work with the Secretary General of the United Nations to seek a swift juridical solution to the spurious claim of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to our territory. Our government will continue to exercise vigilance over our territory and sea space.
The PNCR recalls that Guyana’s first Prime Minister was among the four founding signatories to the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on 4th July 1973. Guyana continues to be steadfast in its commitment to the Community and to support its policies and programmes agreed on at its meetings of Heads of Government.
The PNCR, at this time, is particularly concerned about the dangers that trans-national security threats pose to the Caribbean states. The PNCR recalls that the Twenty-Second Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held in Nassau, Bahamas, from July 3-6, 2001 agreed:
…to establish a Special Regional Task Force to analyze the fundamental causes of crime and security threats in the Region and to develop recommendations for consideration by Attorneys-General and Ministers responsible for National Security…
The Eighteenth Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, held six years later in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines from February 12-14, 2007, declared that “Security is the fourth pillar of the Community, given its ever increasing importance and cross-cutting fundamental nature.”
The designation of security as a pillar of the Community signals the overarching importance of security to the future of the integration process and to the survival of the member states. Security remains a regional priority, fifteen years after the commissioning of that the Special Regional Task Force, which in their Report identified the causative factors responsible for the security threats facing the Caribbean. Those causative factors remain true today as they were then. The threats identified in the Report remain undiminished.
The Twenty-Fourth Intersessional Meeting of the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community held in Port- Au- Prince, Republic of Haiti from February 18-19, 2013, adopted a Regional Crime and Security Strategy.
The PNCR urges the government of Guyana to remain engaged with the Community and its security systems and agencies in order to craft a comprehensive strategy to protect the Region and its citizens from transnational crimes.
Great country, good people
The PNCR and its coalition partners in government, this year, face several challenges. Thankfully, we are ‘better together’ than apart. We must work even more closely together to repair badly constructed buildings; to repay huge unsettled debts; to eliminate armed robberies, contraband smuggling, money-laundering, narcotics-trafficking and other crimes; to stanch the dropout rates and unemployment of our youths; to solve the problems in the sugar industry, which we inherited and to rekindle a spirit of nationalism. This is the legacy of 23 years of mismanagement.
The PNCR, together with the AFC, GAP, JFAP, NFA and WPA, must lead by example. Our parties, with the support of the majority of the population, have the duty to fulfill our mandate to maintain Guyana as the most beautiful, most bountiful and greenest country in the Caribbean. Our mission is to enable all Guyanese to enjoy ‘a good life’, which they deserve as citizens of an independent state.