President David Granger yesterday declared that the nation’s future depends on wider political inclusiveness and challenged the National Assembly to take a lead in the process.
“The National Assembly must take the first step on the long road to social cohesion, to political inclusion and to economic resilience,” Granger said in an address to Parliament yesterday.
“Our nation’s future stability depends also on wider political inclusiveness; the ethnic arithmetic of the past can only mean that a minority could be excluded from government by a majority, however slim,” he further told those sitting in the parliamentary chamber, including members of the diplomatic corps and heads of the joint services.
He noted that confrontation characterised the old politics and that calculation of ethnic support determined elections tactics and the ‘winner-takes-all’ jackpot became the prize of every election. Further, he noted that the political landscape became a battlefield not always of ideas but of racial rivalry. He posited that such a system belongs to the past and that it is now dangerously dysfunctional, while adding that Guyanese could be proud about what the country has achieved in the first 50 years of independence
Speaking just a day after the anniversary of last year’s general elections, President Granger made no mention of his coalition government’s year in office nor did he speak of any specific plans in his just over 20-minutes-long address.
According to the president, independence offered citizens the opportunity to work together and heal their divisions and to promote reconciliation.
“Independence offered us a new beginning; an opportunity for national unity. But that national unity has been elusive for most of the past five decades,” the president said, while adding that this has impaired national development.
The state of affairs also, according to the Head of State, has triggered continuous migration and has led to political and economic fatigue.
He called on the National Assembly to renew the independence covenant with the nation and resolve to work together to reunite the nation.
He said that the nation’s future depends on deeper social cohesion and that today’s generation has an obligation at this year’s celebration of the independence jubilee to repair past damage, restore trust and to rebuild the basis of the country’s moral community. “These will enable our people to co-exist and to cooperate with each other. We can construct a more cohesive society by doing more to eliminate extreme poverty, by eradicating the worst form of inequality, especially gender inequality, by ensuring equal access for everyone, by enabling greater partnership and inclusion at the political level and by enforcing employment and anti-discriminatory laws in order to guarantee the health, happiness and safety of our working people, of our women and our children,” President Granger said.
He added that social cohesion is about fostering greater integration in the nation, which can increase a sense of belonging and give recognition to all groups to allow them to freely practice their culture.
According to him, the communities were recently liberated from the paralysing failure to conduct local government elections. The lack of local democracy, he added, constrained the economic participation of citizens within their neighbourhoods and municipalities. “Local democracy is the lifeline of increased local involvement,” he said, while adding that the creation of new towns at Mabaruma, Bartica and Lethem will improve the provision of services to those hinterland areas.
The President said regular local and municipal elections are needed to afford citizens a greater stake in the affairs of their communities. He made reference to the fact that there was no local democracy for over 18 years and stated that “it wouldn’t happen again,” triggering desk thumping from the government side.
Granger said the country’s constitution is an instrument of political inclusion and stated that his government has initiated the constitutional reform process, which he said must aim at strengthening the provision which speaks to inclusion. “The reform process must be extended to involve consultations with citizens in their communities in all ten regions. Every eligible elector in this Republic must be given the chance to be heard so that our country can advance with a constitution in which we all have confidence,” he added.
The Head of State also said that the upcoming 50th anniversary must not only be a time of reflection on the past, “but it must also be an opportunity to plan for the future…It is a moment when we can commit to ensuring that our children and generations to come could inherit a country that will allow them to enjoy a good life,” he added.
Granger also said Guyana is committed to building a green economy as the country’s future economy depends on speedier adoption of renewable sources of energy and environmentally sustainable exploitation of natural resources.
“This, therefore, requires a commitment to sustainable development that is mandated again by our constitution… it is not an option,” the President said, while indicating that economic change is compatible with stewardship of the environment and measures for sustainable development.
He pointed out that the Paris Agreement, approved by the parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change and signed last year, committed Guyana to a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming.
“The transition towards renewable sources of energy as part of our ‘green’ development thrust must be accelerated. Investment in solar, wind, hydro and biomass sources of energy must be augmented,” President Granger said. “The next 50 years must be different. Let us use this special year to usher in an era of social peace, political collaboration and economic prosperity for this and all future generations,” he further said.
Granger spent a significant part of his speech speaking about the state of the country when it became independent. He noted that the political predicament of the country at the end of the colonial era should not be underestimated as it was not a pleasant country for poor people. It was an elitist country but independence broke those barriers down, he said. He added that the country’s economy, at the start of the independence era, was ill-suited to the demands for the development of the new state
He also spoke of the claims made on Guyana’s territory by Suriname and Venezuela, while stating that “these ominous threats still persist and still offend our people and our independence fifty years later.”