Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps, other distinguished invitees, delegates and observers:
May I first of all join our Chairman in extending a warm welcome to all distinguished invitees, delegates and observers to this 13th Biennial Congress of the People's National Congress Reform.
I am deeply touched by the presence of such a large number of delegates and observers not only from the remote and far-
You are here because you love your Party; because you are committed to its people-
To those of you who are attending Congress for the first time, especially the young people who are new to the excitement and challenges of political life, I wish to give a special welcome. My heartfelt thanks go out to you and to all Party colleagues and citizens of goodwill who are prepared to commit themselves to the noble task of national reconstruction. It is not too much to say that the future of Guyana lies in your hands.
At this time, the future of our country is in the balance. Its problems, complex and multitudinous, have infected and undermined every sector of national life. It is manifest that the incumbent government has not only brought about this sad, unhappy state of affairs by its ineptitude, dishonesty and corruption, but has shown a startling inability to grasp the magnitude of the dangers which now beset us. The most cogent evidence of the intellectual bankruptcy of its functionaries is their belief that propaganda is not only a substitute for reality, but an acceptable game-
In the meantime, our people, normally so optimistic, are yielding to despair; traditionally so resilient, are surrendering to apathy. Their spirit is being crushed by the inevitable consequences of a total failure of governance: high and rising unemployment; the withering away of resources necessary for breadwinners to feed their families and live decent, happy and comfortable lives; and a pervasive sense of insecurity fostered by rampant criminality, drug trafficking, homelessness and the breakdown of law and order in the State.
THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY SINCE 1992
Ten years ago, Guyana stood on the threshold of developmental success. Our economy had emerged from the trauma of structural adjustment, and the bold project that was the Economy Recovery Programme had started to yield significant fruit. The international investment community had begun to look favourably at Guyana’s investment climate and to regard the country as a place to do business. The various economic sectors began to vibrate and a new dawn was breaking for us.
We dealt firmly and intelligently with crime and security. Our national institutions functioned well in the public interest. And within the region and the wider world, Guyana was highly regarded and respected. Of course, there were many more tasks ahead, many challenges to overcome; but Guyanese from all walks of life were able to view the future with optimism, confidence, pride, and patriotic fervour. That was a time of hope and promise; but with the advent of a new government in 1992, the hopes were dashed, the promise blighted; and we have been experiencing persistent decline.
Since our last Congress, the country has deteriorated rapidly. The economy is in shambles. All major economic sectors are undergoing hard times and facing bleak prospects. National institutions – the Public Service, the Judiciary, the Police, Public agencies whose mandate is to deliver services to the people -
Starved of resources and unreformed, the Police Force has become demoralised and ineffective. Crime of all stripes, from brazen banditry to white-
THE ROLE OF THE PNCR IN GUYANA’S FUTURE
Given this situation and faced with the ineffectualness of a hapless and confused government, major sections of the society are turning to our Party as the only means of national salvation. Almost everyday we receive urgent representations from many sections of civil society who voice their deep concern about the future of our country. They acknowledge that when we were in government, we ensured good order and stability in the State and they urge us to use our experience and political authority to reverse the country’s rapid decline.
We fully understand their concerns and appreciate their confidence in us. The truth of the matter, however, is that there is no simple formula to bring about the changes and reforms which these concerned citizens would like to see. For one thing they would all require intense public support and public pressure. Clearly, many of them could most readily be effectuated if we were in control of the levers of governmental power. But, even so, it would be a mistake for us to believe that society always necessarily needs the approval and sanction of the government to bring about needed changes and reforms. In the final analysis it is good to recall the constitutional prescription that sovereignty resides in the people, not in a government. If people are sufficiently insistent, if they are prepared to stand up and be counted, great and far-
As a political Party we obviously have an abiding interest in acceding to governmental power. It would be foolish and hypocritical to deny this. Of necessity, this must be a permanent interest and focus. We cannot and will not allow ourselves to be distracted, derailed or diverted from that objective. The evidence is clear that the incumbent regime is incapable of managing the affairs of this country honestly, justly and competently. It is a foolish notion that it has permanent tenure in government. If it continues its silly ways, sooner or later it will collapse. It is an equally foolish notion that our great Party is fated perpetually to be out of government.
Our Party must therefore always be organised, ready and prepared with appropriate policies and programmes to form a successful alternative government. Our overriding objective must be to halt our country’s precipitate descent into anarchy and put it squarely on the road towards becoming a modern, viable, prosperous State. In this patriotic task we invite all Guyanese to join us. Citizens who wish to achieve this desirable objective can no longer afford to sit on the fence. They have to summon up their courage, make a stand and assume an active role in the work to be done. I have no hesitation in saying that the People's National Congress Reform is the only Party that gives them the opportunity to play such a role and bring about the desired result.
We are an open Party. Our Constitution prescribes that, “Membership of the Party is open to all Guyanese regardless of ethnic origin, cultural background, geographic location or religious persuasion”; and it further emphasises “that the Party opposes all forms of racism, discrimination, intolerance and oppression”. We are wedded to no outmoded ideology, nor are we bogged down by any intellectual or operational baggage of the past. We reach out to all Guyanese whose dominant objective is the good of Guyana and all its citizens. And so, all Guyanese who have ideas or insights for creating a better Guyana that is free from ethnic insecurities, social injustice, poverty, crime and sectarianism can feel comfortable and be at home within the ranks of People's National Congress Reform. We reach out to such citizens; we welcome them. We believe that, given our policies, programmes and general political philosophy, we offer the best – indeed the only – hope at this time for rescuing our nation, providing opportunities for all our people, and advancing their best interests.
In recent weeks, we have received formal and informal notification from civil society organisations and groupings of their intention to exercise their constitutional right to play an active role in the political life of the country. To this end, they have proposed some initial ideas for addressing our major national problems and challenges, including possible reforms to our system of governance. We have publicly declared that Our Party welcomes these initiatives and fully understands the patriotic motivations which inspire them. Indeed, we have considered their paper entitled “Shared Governance” and believe it to be a valuable document and a useful basis for discussions. We stand ready to respond constructively to further proposals when they are solidified and to participate in any forum organised to study these issues. Our minds are not closed and have never been closed to new ideas.
We have noted that, despite our clear explanations and clarifications, some people still persist in claiming not to know what is our Party’s position on the dialogue process which we had initiated with the government in the aftermath of the 2001 general elections. I will explain for the last time. We have suspended the dialogue because government has not implemented or fully implemented those decisions on important matters agreed to in good faith. Dialogue can be resumed only when the government honours and implements the agreements fully. This is a position, we believe, that is sensible, logical, principled and ought to be easily understood.
THE PNCR AND CHANGE: THE PARTY
Congress is an important, emotional occasion for us, delegates and observers, to recommit and rededicate ourselves to the service of our Party, to its policies and programmes, and to the grander objective of promoting the development of our country in conditions of peace, security and prosperity. It provides a forum for us to engage in frank and open discussion, to debate and analyse issues rigorously, and to make clear-
Against this background, I would wish to adumbrate three proposals for your fuller consideration during the Congress discussions and debates.
First, I would like to remind you that our Party had, from the outset, been conceptualised and structured not merely as an instrument for periodical elections, but also as an organisation to be mobilised on a permanent basis for community and national development. Over the years, the latter aspect of Party organisation and work has undoubtedly experienced some drift. We need to correct this. The challenges of the period ahead seem to demand that the Party recapture this aspect of its purpose and adapt its structure to sustain educational and development work in our communities. To this end, I would respectfully suggest that the Party consider the establishment of a supportive or parallel organisation which would have as its primary task the mobilising of resources for training, education and fostering entrepreneurship, especially among young people, and for benevolent work in local communities. We should always have the capability, whether in or out of office, to promote development of people in their several communities and provide requisite support to help them to become productive and enjoy enhanced conditions of life.
Second, an adjusted system of governance for our country – whether we call it “power-
Third, our Party cannot stand still; it must grow or decline. For us, growth is the only option. We ought, therefore, to reflect profoundly on feasible options for attracting new members and expanding the base of our Party. To this end, it might be useful for us to revisit and appropriately strengthen our “grass roots” structures; update and intensify our training and public relations techniques; modernise our financial and management operations; and develop fresh approaches for reaching out to a wider cross-
THE PNCR AND CHANGE: THE COUNTRY
We need to have a deep appreciation of the fact that Guyana must change to survive; and we must be in the forefront of the battle to bring about such change. By the same token our Party will have to transform itself accordingly to facilitate and to cope with the inevitable change. It must therefore be our duty to explain and advocate clearly, consistently and vigorously the necessity for change. It is not reasonable to believe that our country or our Party can continue along the same old paths and use the same old methods which we have tried thus far, even if they had validity in the past.
Both the country and the Party have evolved through phases. In the past, there were strategies necessary for achieving and consolidating independence, for finding our unique place in an interlinked world, and for asserting our right to choose our own road to development. The rhetoric and the policies of the past no longer have resonance. Changed times require changed responses. At both the national and the Party level we will have to craft new policies, design new structures, experiment with new ideas to survive comfortably in the new local and world dispensations.
In our present circumstances, we cannot continue to think of government and politics as a zero sum game in which the results of an election confer on some citizens (the government) the right to behave in an unregulated and lawless way, while denying the rest (the opposition) any opportunity to contribute to the national decision-
As we face the future, we cannot and must not dissipate our time and energies in sterile political polemics, in fruitless disputations and controversies. We have had enough of words, of useless verbiage. We must now let our actions speak for us in eloquent and passionate terms.. For us it will be more beneficial to concentrate on the policies to be crafted, the programmes to be designed, and the work to be done to strengthen our Party and stimulate development in the interest of all the Guyanese people.
PNCR’S AGENDA: A COMPREHENSIVE PROGRAMME
FOR NATIONAL RESTORATION/RECONSTRUCTION
At this Congress and beyond in the period ahead, it must be our constant study to derive action plans, buttressed by underlying philosophical principles, for tackling our country’s endemic problems, while identifying key tasks for their implementation.. Our Party does not believe that Guyana’s deep-
In this connection we have to recognise, for example, the link between education reforms and economic competitiveness; the link between judicial and public service reforms and investment; the link between crime and other anti-
In our present situation of near anarchy, the restoration and maintenance of good order in the State and the security of citizens are matters of absolute priority. Critical to this issue is the functioning of the Guyana Police Force and the Security Services. There can be no question about it: we have to reform these Services urgently. Unless we do so, failure will attend all other efforts at national reconstruction and development. We have to work vigorously to ensure the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry to review the operations of the Force. This will give all citizens, including members of the Force themselves, the opportunity to identify strengths and weaknesses and proffer recommendations for its rapid transformation into a highly effective and respected service. Such a Commission will deal with recruitment, training, remuneration, conditions of service, public relations, and the establishment and maintenance of public confidence and support. The Commission would also identify and make recommendations for eliminating unacceptable patterns of behaviour by the few undesirable types, such as brutality and extra-
But the radical improvement in the efficiency of the Police Force, though necessary will not by itself quell the crime wave which is besetting our country. Simultaneously, we will have to deal with a wide range of interlinked root causes such as poverty, unemployment; homelessness, the bad example of corruption in high places, bad social conditions and lack of opportunity.
We have noted the link between malfunctioning national institutions and the problems of governance and the economy. It therefore becomes a critical task to improve the quality of, and restore standards in our national institutions and public agencies to enable them to be seen as, and more important to be models of efficiency and integrity. High on the list must be those reforms necessary to upgrade and modernise the Judicial and Legal System and the Public Service to enable them to discharge their functions with the highest degree of skill and professionalism. In all of these areas, the aim must be to provide decent levels of remuneration and good conditions of service, establish and maintain high standards of integrity and efficiency, and consolidate a culture of professionalism. Equally, we must aim to restore and maintain confidence of citizens in these institutions as a prerequisite for shoring up citizens’ faith in the governmental system and stimulating their interest in for the work of national development.
Above all, a successful outcome of our efforts at national reconstruction will require us to create or revive key national partnerships in the economic and political spheres. We will have to establish modalities and mechanisms for identifying the major areas for national consensus-
The grand objective, to which we must bend our efforts will be to reorganise our country in ways that make it more creative, more efficient, more competitive: in other words, to locate it in the modern world. To this end we have to remove the deadening hand of government as the principal force in allocating resources and introduce arrangements in which key programmes and sectors are mutually reinforcing and generate their own synergies. Required, too, is the introduction of a national system which automatically supports in all feasible ways, initiatives, creativity and innovation at every level of society, whether it be individuals, companies, the university or other institutions of learning. In particular, the University must emerge as an institution which serves as a main focus for technological and economic change. We will have to encourage our business managers, both public and private sector, to leapfrog to the best and most competitive technologies possible as a means of stimulating change and innovation. In this highly competitive world we have to match world standards if we are to survive and prosper. To achieve this objective, we have to pursue a good strategy that utilises all tools at our disposal to train and equip our human resources and get them enthusiastic about the objective.
As we give consideration to what is required to stimulate, develop and modernise our country, we need to clear frontally with a prime cause of the social tensions and disintegration in our country especially the lack of fairness in growth and development. There is little doubt that a major source of our difficulties is the absence of opportunities for large sections of our citizens, especially our young people, and the despair which this engenders. We have to address this problem energetically by putting in place a raft of programmes to provide jobs and restore hope by creating manifold opportunities for them through jobs, investment, skills training and business development.
In one sense all institutional and systemic reforms we target have as their ultimate objective the providing of ever-
Too many young people are leaving school without being able to gain employment and without skills. The reintroduction of the National Service, with the element of compulsion removed, would seem to be a desirable initiative for imparting appropriate skills and attitudes and inculcating a spirit of confidence and adventure in our young people. There are two huge reservoirs of human resources that we have constantly, over the years, failed to utilise fully. These are children and young persons and women. A heavy investment in them is always justified. It would yield significant returns. In this connection, I would invoke the opinion of Erasmus, the Dutch reconnaissance scholar. (He was speaking about young people, but his remarks are equally applicable to women). It was sensible to invest resources in young people because, he contended, “from no quarter was a richer return to be expected seeing that they were the harvest field and raw material of the nation”. We need not fear making a large investment for the harvest will be truly bounteous.
It is a truism to say that the end of all developmental efforts is the welfare and well-
We must not make the mistake of ignoring or underestimating the tremendous developmental potential of our rural communities. Indeed, our work at development would be incomplete and imperfect if we did not tap into, and benefit from, the rich and valuable traditions and culture of our villages. Villagers have long established their own traditional mechanisms for mobilising local savings to finance self-
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. Thus, access to information which is the source of knowledge, is absolutely necessary for empowerment in these modern times. Today, at the very heart of the modern economic environment is the information revolution which touches all aspects of life. It affects financial operations, management, communications and training, and education, among others. It is crucial to the success of any development strategy. We must therefore encourage our young people, in particular, to familiarise themselves with the tools of this technology. It is vital that the country make a giant step to participate fully in the information age. Of necessity, we must adopt what is called, in the jargon, the “informationalisation” -
As we gear ourselves to take on this Herculean task of national reconstruction creating thereby opportunities for all of our people, it is good for us to recall and reaffirm some core values and principles which inspire our Party.
Ours is a multi-
We are committed, too, to the establishment of a market-
Our Party must work to make Guyana an investor-
In the final analysis, we have to work for the establishment of a good, honest, efficient government in our country. We must be astute to identify and denounce fraudulent and corrupt practices in public life, and establish the legal arrangement to deter, restrict and, hopefully, eliminate such practices. Corruption as an element of governance must be eradicated root and branch.
Colleagues, we have important work to do at this Congress. We will be applying our minds to many knotty problems. We will have to take hard decisions; but more important is the work that we will have to do after we have left these halls. The test of your commitment, your understanding, your loyalty will be provided by the quality of the work you do in the weeks and months ahead by propagating the message of this Congress, implementing its decisions and pursuing the objectives of our Party in field, in office, and in factory.
If past history is anything to go by, you will carry out your tasks with exemplary faithfulness and zeal. Thousands of citizens are awaiting anxiously the outcome of this Congress. For them, as for you, the stakes are high. As we begin our deliberations tomorrow, let me recall and invoke some words of our Founder Leader to describe the transcendental significance of the task that lies before you: “We have a nation to build, a destiny to mould”. This work, so brilliantly begun by him, is still not finished. Ours is the task, the honour, to advance it significantly during and after this Congress. To that noble task, then, let us all turn with our strength.