[www.inewsguyana.com] – Fellow Guyanese, I extend best wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year to all Guyanese, at home and in the Diaspora. I hope that in this New Year we will continue to work to strengthen Peace, Progress and Prosperity in our land and make our contribution to the world as well.
As we say good bye to the old year and prepare to face the new, it is natural that we make an assessment of the outgoing year and look forward into the new, the future.
During the last year, despite the challenges we faced, our country kept on moving in the right direction, and our economy continued to grow. Our economic growth last year is expected to be close to five percent. This is not insignificant when we take into account the international environment in which we operate.
The financial and economic crises that affected our world since 2008 have eased, but their negative impact continues to be felt globally.
We could have done much better if demand in Europe and North America was stronger.
We should note that much of our exports have had to cope with fluctuating prices internationally, mostly falling. This is seen in particular with gold and sugar. At the same time, the world market prices of our key imports, most notably fuel, have remained persistently high.
It is in this context we must appreciate our achievements and extend our appreciation to the producers, both workers and employers. We must also appreciate the continued commitment of the investors, both foreign and domestic, who continue to display confidence in our Government’s management of the Guyanese economy, and who are investing their capital in the future prospects of our country.
We have also been investing heavily as a country in our social sector, with over $28 billion budgeted for the public education system and over $19 billion for the public healthcare system in 2013. We have also invested greatly in the housing and water sectors.
Education is becoming more accessible to all our students. We are building a new school in Region 8 and rebuilding the one in Region 10 destroyed by arsonists.
We continue to provide more books and uniforms to our children. We are also training more teachers for our schools at the same time.
The result has been more students completing primary and secondary education, more students accessing tertiary and university education, better performance by our students at regional examinations, and a better educated and more skilled workforce. Indeed, over the last ten years, Guyanese students have won the highest awards given by the Caribbean Examinations Council eight times.
This year we got five of the top eight awards. Clearly our investments are paying off.
We continue to expand health services making complicated tertiary health care available to more of our people.
Today, virtually every community in Guyana has access to basic health care services, our public health care system is better staffed with the highest number of young Guyanese doctors ever, and we are working diligently to expand the capacity of the system to deliver specialist services and facilities. We are training more specialists.
At the moment some forty-seven doctors from the Georgetown Public Hospital are doing post graduate studies, specializing in various areas in the medical field. This will add to the twenty that have already graduated.
Over the past years, the dreams of many of owning their own homes have become a reality. This year we expect to allocate another 6,600 house lots to our citizens, building on those we already distributed over the years.
At the local level we are investing more in the communities to look at drainage, roads and the vexing garbage situation.
Yes, my fellow Guyanese, we continue to invest more in our people to ensure that all benefit in the growth and development of Guyana. We continue to pursue the policy of leaving no one behind.
It should come as no surprise therefore that our country has made tremendous progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In the specific area of reducing poverty and improving nutrition, Guyana had the honour of being amongst only 17 countries worldwide to have been singled out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation for special recognition this year for the progress we have made in reducing hunger and improving nutrition.
While we recognize the gains made in the last year were achieved in a very complex and often difficult local and international environment, it is also apposite to point out that we could have achieved much more. We also had some serious domestic setbacks as well.
I am here referring to the fact that the Amaila Falls Hydro Project which was expected to have started at the beginning of this year was frustrated by the National Assembly, despite many consultations with the opposition parties in the National Assembly, by government and the investors.
This Project would have added a significant investment to our economy and would have created much needed jobs. On completion it would have given us cheap, reliable energy and stimulate further growth in the economy. This project is essential for a strong and vibrant manufacturing and agro-processing sector. Frustrating this was a serious setback.
Another blow to the economy was the failure of the National Assembly to pass the amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act. This impact is now being felt in the financial sector and will also spread to every Guyanese. This will increase the cost of doing business internationally and lengthen the time that the transactions take.
Attempts have been made to also prevent the building of a new Specialty Hospital and a new Airport. These senseless acts have only served to delay the time we can provide advanced health care to Guyanese. It is also slowing down the advances of the tourism sector.
All of these are projects that will have transformative impacts on our country. That is why we have to persevere and pursue them.
This year, 2014, I believe holds out great possibilities and also challenges. How much we will achieve will depend on all of us.
I am working on the assumption that all of us want to see our country move forward, all of us must want to see poverty eradicated and that Guyana can move quickly to achieving a more developed status in the world
I acknowledge that political obstacles stand in the way of our transformative agenda. I hope that the New Year we can get some cooperation from our colleagues on the other side of the house to move our country forward.
If the government is to be held accountable for the performance of our economy, we reserve the right to be responsible for its developmental trajectory. This right however will not be pursued to the exclusion of other forces within the country. We will continue to encourage dialogue, debates and consultations with all stake holders, including the people in the communities.
In 2014, I propose to conscript social and religious organizations in the fight against domestic violence. I believe that these organizations should play a leading role in addressing this concern and I wish to incorporate then to reduce this terrible scourge. It is also my wish to see more community and social organizations involved in enhancing our physical environment.
A clean environment will contribute to improving the mental and physical health of our citizens and will continue to reducing anti-social behavior in the population.
Our Government will continue to pursue more affordable and reliable energy for our country. This is one of the most vital infrastructures for our continued growth and development. With this we will grow by leaps and bounds.
I have already mentioned some of the benefits. But those are not all. We can save almost nine billion that we now spend on subsidizing electricity. Moreover even more billions can be saved in the importation of fuel to generate electricity.
With those savings alone we can solve most of the problems presently facing communities.
The benefits are enormous and we will persevere. We will also continue to work with other friendly governments to move forward other important infrastructural works. Two of which we are pursuing are the Deep Water Harbour and a road from the Coast to Lethem in the South. At the moment we are studying the cost/benefits of these projects.
Clearly too we have to pursue Information Communication Technology. This is essential to the whole process of modernization. It also has great possibilities in creating jobs. You are no doubt aware that last year I joined the Executives of Qualfon in turning the sod for their new campus at Eccles which will be one of the largest contact centre facilities in the entire world when it is completed. When completed six thousand new jobs would be created at that facility to be filled by young Guyanese.
Recognizing the vast potential of information and communications technology to transform both our economy and individual lives, we are working to ensure that no home is denied access, through our One Laptop Per Family programme which will see 90,000 laptop computers distributed across the length and breadth of our country.
At the same time, we are building the network infrastructure that would enable us to deliver e-Government services to all our citizens. Our aim is to ensure that every single Guyanese person is able to acquire computer literacy.
Meanwhile, other new and emerging sectors are also showing great promise for the future. Tourism and hospitality, in particular, promises to be a major contributor to growth in the future given Guyana’s unique tourism product and given the significant investments being made in the sector. During 2014, we expect to open the spanking new Marriott Hotel in Georgetown, which will dramatically increase capacity and raise standards in the sector.
At the same time, a number of major mineral projects are expected in 2014 to advance exploration activities and commence mine construction, setting the stage for a dramatic increase in activity in that sector. During mine construction, thousands of jobs are expected to be created, and once extraction commences, production and exports would experience increased growth.
Very important too is the issue of Climate Change and the challenges it poses. In recent weeks we have witnessed extreme weather in Guyana and the wider Caribbean. This has resulted in millions of dollars in damage and loss of life. The scientific evidence is showing that for our region, which is one of the most vulnerable; these weather events will become more frequent as the impacts of global climate change intensify.
In this regard, I intend in the coming year, to work with other CARICOM Heads to ensure regional action on climate change is given top priority. Recognizing our own vulnerabilities here in Guyana, efforts will intensify in 2014 to improve and expand infrastructure, in particular our sea and river defence and drainage and irrigation systems; enhance our forecasting capabilities and response mechanisms, and build climate resilience in the social and productive sectors of our economy. These will be done within the framework of our Low Carbon Development Strategy.
At the International level Guyana will continue to play its part to promote World Peace and friendship among all peoples. We will also work towards having our diplomacy facilitate growth and economic developments in our country.
We will continue to promote regional integration with Caricom and also with South America. We will also continue to pursue peaceful resolutions to issues affecting us and on the international arena.
My fellow Guyanese I have no doubt that we will achieve these objectives. The speed with which we will do so depends on all of us.
Politics of blackmail will undermine our democracy and can lead to further inequality. It will not be a good example for our people, particularly for the youths.
I wish to urge all to let us work together in the interest of our people. Let us be aware that life is short, let us not waste time on pettiness but focus our energy towards the betterment of our people.
Once again best wishes for a peaceful, progressive and prosperous New Year to all.