Saying that Guyana is “still healing,” Social Cohesion Minister Dr. George Norton told the National Assembly on Wednesday that there will be more sensitisation sessions and other initiatives across the country, including in schools, to further the process in 2019.
“This is the reason it is regarded as a process,” said Norton, who noted that cohesion cannot be achieved overnight.
Norton, who was at the time contributing to the budget debate, also outlined plans for youth, sport and culture for which he has ministerial responsibility.
He informed the House that since it was established in 2015, the Department of Social Cohesion has held a number of training programmes, inclusive of 14 intensive two-day Diversity Education and Inclusivity sessions, where some 532 persons benefitted. Additionally, 30 sensitisation sessions were held countrywide and some 24,000 persons benefitted.
“The Department of Social Cohesion, enabled by Culture, Youth and Sport, would take Guyana to the place where we will be seen as a model for peaceful coexistence, strengthened ties and relations at the community and national levels; where Guyanese display a willingness to contribute to nation building, irrespective of our differences,” he said before informing that in 2019 the Department will be having a greater role in schools.
The Department collaborated with the Ministry of Education and trained a number of teachers in August.
“The Ministry of Social Cohesion wants students to understand the value of being good citizens. The aim is to teach them ways of expressing love, showing respect and imparting knowledge about our multi-ethnic society and contributions made by our diverse groups. Our overarching objective is to nurture a cadre of children and young people who would have positive attitudes and behaviours to differences,” he said.
Norton also said the proposed $1 billion allotment for culture will be used to execute several planned programmes.
He said the Department of Culture will offer grants from the sum of $20,000,000 to both the cultural and creative industries. The grants, he said, would be managed by a committee of experts and eligibility for funding would include the development of local publications, plays, animation and film; support for the development of cultural centres across the 10 Administrative Regions; projects which support the preservation of ethnic/folk music, manuscripts, art and craft techniques which are unique to geographical spaces; and innovation in the gaming, animation, fashion and culinary sectors. Projects would be evaluated for viability, impact and sustainability.
The Department has also budgeted to spend $350 million on the rehabilitation and upgrade of venues in regions one to ten for the hosting of Republic jubilee events in 2020.
With regard to youth, Norton said the primary focus for 2019 will be on the implementation of comprehensive, strategic and sustained plans/programmes and interventions that will enable them to access and compete fully in the job markets and to also establish their own business.
He added that every effort will be made to ensure that training opportunities are made available.
Noting that government is committed to enhancing lives through sport, he said that attention has been given to the rehabilitation and upgrading of sporting facilities.
He said that over $11 million has been spent on the upgrading of facilities and another $9 million has been spent on several grounds across Guyana that were outfitted with floodlights to facilitate longer play time.
Norton stated that the National Sports Policy is an implementation priority for the sector in 2019.
During his presentation, Norton spoke of substandard facilities built under the former government and he said the current administration now has to spend large amounts of money to address the situation. Above the shouts of the opposition, he said that the National Aquatic Centre “is all cracked up” due to poor construction. As a result of this, he said constant maintenance is required
Opposition Member of Parliament Neil Kumar began hurling comments at Norton from the moment he began speaking about sports. Towards the end of the minister’s presentation, Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland warned Kumar that if he continued with his disruptive behaviour, he would not be allowed to remain in the House.
Norton, at the beginning of his presentation, insisted that the 2019 budget will keep Guyana on a path of change and transformation.