Heavy hinterland investment; land use strategy among keys to development – Irfaan Ali

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– slams APNU/AFC shortsighted approach to developing towns

In any economy, long-term development must be driven by strategy and the spin-off effects of development initiatives. This is according to People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali.

Ali sat down for an interview with University of Guyana (UG) Lecturer Hugh Todd, and articulated his party’s development agenda should it win office. This agenda includes heavy investment in the hinterland, and a land use strategy.

“We have to look at the bigger picture of what will propel us into the future… I give housing as an example. The hinterland has tremendous potential for us, whether it’s mining or forestry. We have to support investors in these areas to ensure that it is economically viable and sustainable.”

PPP/C Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali

Ali noted that some other potential areas of development in the hinterland could centre on a carbon credit market, but investors in the hinterland are often hesitant due to lack of access to these areas, a point alluded to by Ali.

“What is one of the prohibitive factors that persons who want to invest in the hinterland will tell you? One: They will tell you transportation; the cost of transportation and the roads. So we have to address this. We cannot have a situation where important communities from a social and economic standpoint are cut off from us as a result of rainy season for months. It is not sustainable.

“It’s not sustainable for investors or the country, and it drives up cost-of-living in these areas. So we’re going to invest heavily in hinterland roads; in improving transportation link; In reducing the cost of transportation.”

The Presidential Candidate touted the potential benefits a renewed focus on hinterland development could have, including a reduction in transportation and air travel costs, and increased opportunities for the ordinary citizen.

According to Ali, a new PPP Government could look at setting aside a minimum of $2 billion a year just for maintaining and building hinterland roads. In addition, he noted the need to upgrade hinterland airstrips.

“We have to upgrade a number of airstrips in hinterland locations; that would help other sectors to propel themselves. And the road links are critical if we’re going to expand agriculture and mega-farms to ensure that we have greater and less costly access to markets. These are how things are linked.”

Ali stressed the need for Guyana to diversify away from the city of Georgetown. He noted that if opportunities are created in rural areas, then persons will have a reduced need to migrate to the city, thus lessening the pressure on Georgetown.

Critical to this is an integrated land use and management strategy, something that will see undeveloped and under- developed areas becoming a hub of residential and commercial activity.

“Look at Diamond (East Bank Demerara). We created the investment opportunity. Huge housing development. Linked it to economic development. The financial sector developed in that area, and look at the benefits it brought: Job creation, empowerment, and the whole area got a new life. That came out of a very strategic move by (former) President Jagdeo. He launched the concept of secondary towns.

“I was in charge of the Caribbean Development Bank Unit at the time when we negotiated that loan. We saw the institutional strengthening component; the infrastructure component; we saw the link, and how it would lead to the evolution. Compare that to what we have now: a minister walking into a community and declaring a town; there is no supporting infrastructure, no plan in terms of the economic output, no plan as to the final objective.”

Since coming to office, the Coalition Government has officially declared four new towns: Mahdia, Bartica, Lethem and Mabaruma. While there has been talk of establishing Government offices in these communities and upgrading roadways, the state of hinterland roads remains a sore issue.