ADDRESS TO THE NATION BY THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITON MR. ROBERT CORBIN, M.P. Monday, January 24, 2005



My fellow Guyanese: I greet you with a heavy heart. I have been meeting with many of you as I traverse the flood ravaged communities of East and West Demerara. I have seen the look on hundreds of faces of families as we assessed the devastation of their homes, property and livestock. I am still at this time unable to fully absorb the scale of devastation and the depth of trauma which we are enduring as the flood waters make the lives of our young children difficult, the comfort of our babies and the welfare of our senior citizens impossible.

The record torrential rainfall which has inundated the East and West Coast of Guyana is quite obviously the worst natural disaster in our history and we need to ensure that we act in such a way that we minimise the impact of this situation.

When a large scale natural disaster strikes, it provides a test of our moral fibre, our resilience and our integrity. The reactions necessary by a nation to natural disaster are not new. Disaster preparedness is now a highly refined and systematic aspect of the art of governance. We have seen in the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster the impact of unpreparedness but also the tremendous benefit of an effective response. Where countries are prepared with a response plan and a sound professional system, they are able to minimise the suffering of the people and prepare the ground for recovery. Just as significantly, countries use the occasion of natural tragedy to bring out the best in the human spirit of their communities and many countries have taken the opportunity of natural disaster to heal wounds and bring their communities closer together in the responses to their national crises. We have seen the factions in Sri Lanka and the disputants in Indonesia rise to levels of statesmanship and generosity in response to tragedy.

Let us not deceive ourselves, when the flood waters recede, we will have to combat the threat of disease, impoverishment of farmers, destruction of infrastructure and immeasurable personal losses. Guyana will have to pull together in a spirit of collaboration, with discipline and efficiency, if we are to recover from these floods. It will definitely have a devastating effect on our national economy.

In this spirit, we have taken clear and unequivocal positions.
 The People’s National Congress Reform will continue to be active in the provision of relief to anyone and any community in distress to the limits of our resources, utilising the material and volunteer support from whomsoever it comes
 The PNCR will make available the human resources and expertise available within our ranks at the national and regional levels for as long as the crisis exists.
 This disaster is not an occasion for partisan positioning or cheap politicking. It is not an appropriate opportunity for the exercise of patronage or the seeking of temporary and illusory advantage. It should not be used or exploited by political parties, be they in or out of office to fiddle and grandstand whilst the people of Guyana are up to their necks in water and entire communities are suffering
 The response to the disaster should be a transparent, multi-skilled and broad based national organisation with clear guidelines and tasks. The national coordinating body should communicate accurately and frequently to the nation and the affected people. Covert food shipments and political chicanery have no place in this time of crisis. The relief, be it from local organizations, the national assets and resources, or donations from abroad belong to all the people of Guyana.
In this regard I would like to express my sincere thanks to all persons and organizations who, despite not being formally invited, have rallied to the cause and have been providing assistance to those in need.

I have been particularly disturbed by the fact that despite my warnings and advice, the Government’s response to the crisis has been ad hoc, chaotic and confused. The reluctance of the President and his Administration to involve persons and organizations with competence and experience is beyond rational explanation, but we must persist in our efforts to bring relief to the suffering.

We will not rest in our assertion that an organised, transparent and systematic response is desperately needed. Without it, the work of any agency willing to assist us will be made more complicated and difficult than it already is. . I call on the government to devise, disseminate and implement a valid disaster response plan with a transparent structure. Such a plan must have a clear mechanism for utilising the skills of all Guyanese who are able, capable and willing to contribute. When internationally recognized experts in these matters continue to complain of exclusion, and when public spirited volunteers are told they cannot serve in the relief efforts of the state unless their names are cleared by Freedom House, it would appear that this message has not gone across to the government.

We hope that good sense would prevail and that the government recognizes that Guyana needs help and needs it desperately. We also hope, however that the international aid agencies will not arrive to find no proper system of coordination in place and the relief effort stymied by cheap electioneering. Even at this stage, the PNCR urges the Government to implement a coordinated relief effort and to put country before Party.

The PNCR and I will continue to give every support within our capacity and to the extent that we are allowed to assist the national effort.

Now is the time to show the world that Guyanese can and will pull together for the relief of those who are suffering regardless of who they are or where they live. History will not readily forgive those who do not have the vision to see that this tragedy is greater than all of us.

Fellow Guyanese,
I close by appealing for all of us to work together for the good of our dear and great land of Guyana.

May God bless us all.

People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Georgetown, Guyana.
Monday, January 24, 2005