NEW YEAR'S MESSAGE TO THE NATION BY MR. ROBERT H. O. CORBIN, M.P. LEADER PEOPLE'S NATIONAL CONGRESS REFORM WEDNESDAY, December 31, 2003
Happy New Year
Fellow Guyanese, and Friends of Guyana Everywhere,
We need to Thank God that, as a people and as a Nation, we have endured the trials and tribulations of two thousand and three. Despite the crime and insecurity, increased unemployment, decline in the economy, absence of investment, high cost of living, increasing poverty, bad, visionless and irresponsible Governance, corruption, nepotism, denial of civil liberties and the promotion of injustice by the present administration, we have survived to witness the dawn of a New Year.
The People's National Congress Reform and I extend warm and sincere greetings to every Guyanese, at home and overseas, on the dawn of the New Year, two thousand and four.
It is traditional to make resolutions at this time of the year so that the problems and difficulties of the Old Year are surmounted in the New. As we welcome the birth of this New Year and think of those resolutions, it is necessary for our survival in two thousand and four, to critically examine the last year and assess how the lives of the people of our beloved country and the nation as a whole were affected.
Such an examination will no doubt motivate us to dedicate our energies towards a new enlightened path that will create for us all, working together, improve living conditions and a better life.
The year two thousand and three commenced with Guyana on the brink of social disintegration and economic collapse. It was a year scarred in every way by the unabated crime wave which escalated to new, violent and vicious proportions. Domestic violence, daring robberies, kidnapping, murder, phantom killings, escalation of drug trafficking and organized crime activities were the order of the day. The Law Enforcement authorities seemed incapable or ill equipped to deal with the situation, while the Government did little about it and the Guyanese people suffered. As the year came to a close, it became evident after certain public disclosures why the Government did so little. Officials of the Administration, on their own admission, were inextricably linked to these activities.
The year two thousand and three was again characterized by no major investments, despite propaganda claims to the contrary, and the bankruptcies of many Guyanese businesses continued. This unhealthy economic situation has forced many into illegal activities as a means of survival. State spending was primarily facilitated by borrowed money, [ domestic and foreign], and while the Government complained incessantly about the huge, alleged inherited, debt burden, their own rate of borrowing during the last (11) eleven years has exceeded any other previous Government, including the (28) twenty eight years of the PPP/C propaganda. Heavier debt burdens are therefore being placed on the backs of the Guyanese poor. The rice industry remains shackled by debt and uncertainty and many promises to rice farmers were not fulfilled. The future of the sugar industry remains uncertain. The World Bank in their Interim Report had described Guyana as a “soon to become”, failed state. After political protest by the Administration, they changed their description to that of an economy moving backward. How could a Government be proud of such a description? Because of this dismal economic performance, corruption, nepotism and unfair tender practices in the award of contracts, the people of Guyana suffered.
Inequitable and discriminatory allocation of national resources and house lot distribution continued. Our visits to 3 Miles Bartica, Region 7; Fields B and C Housing Area, Sophia, Georgetown; CanesVille on the East Bank of Demerara; New Henrietta Housing Scheme on the Essequibo Coast and Fyrish Village on the Corentyne revealed the full extent of this scandalous state of affairs. Further, the manipulation of Community Development Groups as instruments to undermine legitimately elected Local Govt. Bodies for political purposes continued unashamedly and the people of Guyana suffered.
Unemployment was rife. The heartless and inhumane dismissal of the entire bauxite work forces of Bermine at Everton and Kwakwani and of Linmine at Linden exacerbated the situation. This led to the feelings of hopelessness pervading our society, particularly among our youth. The one hundred thousand (100,000) new jobs promised in two thousand and one continued to be merely an election gimmick and remained as elusive as the Berbice River Bridge, promised in two thousand, the four-lane Highway from the Demerara Harbour Bridge to Georgetown promised since nineteen ninety three and the sealing of the Wisroc Road, to remove the dust nuisance and health hazard at Linden. In all of this, the people of Guyana continued to suffer.
The organized attempt to destroy collective bargaining and undermine legitimate Trade Unions in Guyana resulted in the further deterioration of the industrial relations climate, as evidenced by the relations between the Government and the GTU and GPSU as these Unions sought to represent the legitimate demands of their members for a decent living wage. In the end the Govt. unilaterally implemented a miserly 5% and the workers of Guyana continued to suffer. Meanwhile the pensioners and other senior citizens are not only suffering but barely surviving.
In the face of this unbearable situation the Guyana Power and Light Inc. and the Guyana Water Inc. became monsters riding on the backs of the poor Guyanese people. Everyone knows that the major problems of these entities are due to incompetence, corruption, graft and waste, yet, the consumers are faced with unaffordable and unconscionable electricity and water bills. This is in addition to the escalating cost of basic food items. But, my dear Guyanese, the Government turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to these realities while the consumers suffered.
During two thousand and three, the quality of Governance continued to decline. The enhancement of the role of Parliament did not materialize despite constitutional reform. The cavalier treatment of Parliament, lack of consultation and lack of stake-holder participation in important matters of State indicate that no progress was made in the area of inclusive governance. And the entire country suffered.
Nowhere was this phenomenon more evident than in the blatant interference in the judicial system and the flouting of decisions of the Court. Notwithstanding the Order of the Court to the Government, the salaries of the Supreme Court Workers remained unpaid for the entire year. I was almost brought to tears on Christmas Eve, when one of these workers, with a year-old baby visited my office for assistance to enable her to feed her family a Christmas meal. How brutal and uncaring can a Government become? Mark Benschop continued to languish in prison on trumped-up treason charges as the commencement of his trial was blocked by the intervention of self appointed or state sponsored lawyers. Justice delayed is Justice denied and political prisoner Benschop and the many other prisoners on remand who have been awaiting trials for several years have been denied justice in two thousand and three. The Court workers, Mark Benschop and the remand prisoners also suffered.
The evidence is overwhelming that two thousand and three was a year of suffering for most Guyanese. The PNCR in putting Guyana first worked to stem the rot and to reverse the malaise wherever we could. The tools available to us, as an Opposition Party in a winner-take-all system and faced with an unconscionable Government were not many. But, driven by our boundless determination to rescue Guyana from impending calamity, we have fought on several fronts in several ways. It is our firm conviction that had it not been for our vigilance, had it not been for the support and hard work of the Guyanese people, this country in two thousand and three would have been worse off.
We entered the constructive engagement process in good faith with the aim of ensuring a better two thousand and three for our people. Unfortunately, those who are responsible for the governing of our society showed no vision, a marked inability to govern, a penchant to peddle propaganda rather than face the facts of our bleak reality and an unwillingness to implement, in a timely manner, the decisions of the constructive engagement process that are aimed at ensuring good governance in Guyana.
As I speak with you this evening, is it not surprising, if not insulting, that, despite the many compromises I have made in the interest of the workers and despite the removal of all obstacles, the Police Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission and the Judicial Service Commission have not been appointed despite the membership having been settled.
It is evident that, notwithstanding the massive propaganda exercise mounted by the Government, even the constructive engagement process has suffered.
What then is in store for us as a people in two thousand and four?
I have painted the picture of where we are today in order to highlight the horizons to which we should aspire. Let us forge together, a New Year's resolution to unite, resist and fight the evil, corruption and poverty in our country. Evil and suffering take hold of a country when the good people of that country do or are prepared to do nothing about it. The good people of our country, and we are in the vast majority, must take up the challenge of change if we want a better life for ourselves, our children and future generations. We must pursue the avenues that are available to us under the law to exert every sinew, every energy, every action, in every community, village and town to create change: a change for the better.
We must raise our voices and speak out, but words must be matched by action. Given the level of degradation in our country, it will take a Herculean effort to cleanse this Augean stable that Guyana has become.
In the New Year:
* we must resolve that the difficulties of two thousand and three must be confronted and removed;
* we must resolve to end the wanton destruction of life through criminal activity and the drug trade;
* we must resolve to fight for the removal of senior officials involved in the narcotics trade;
* we must resolve to fight for a better equipped and trained Police Force to cope with the crime and security situation;
* we must resolve to confront and demand a solution to the spiraling electricity and water rates;
* we must resolve to fight for a decent living wage to cope with the spiraling cost of living;
* we must resolve to fight for an end to the Union busting activities by the Government and a better industrial relations climate;
* we must resolve to bring an end to political manipulation of Community Development Groups and Community Policing Groups around the country;
* we must resolve to fight against the scourge of poverty and the HIV/Aids virus;
* we must resolve to fight for transparency in Government so that we can monitor the use of the debt relief money that should be used only for poverty alleviation projects;
* we must resolve to fight for equity in the allocation of state resources to all sections of Guyana;
* we must resolve to fight for the implementation of all the decisions made under the constructive engagement process, particularly the Depressed Communities Needs Committee;
* we must resolve to fight for the proper functioning of parliament and the many new committees established under the constitution;
* we must resolve to ensure justice for all including the payment of the Supreme Court Workers, the liberty of political prisoner, Mark Benschop and the speedy trial of remand prisoners in the Georgetown and other prisons; and,
* finally, we must resolve to advance the fight for good governance including work with the social partners for genuine power sharing /inclusive governance in Guyana.
Unless there is a change for the better in our country, we will not only suffer but we shall surely die. The motto for the New Year must therefore be CHANGE. Change is in your interest, your family's interest and the nation's interest.
As Guyanese, we are fellow travelers who have come through troubling, perilous times together. We have all contributed, in lesser or greater degrees to the growth and development of this, our homeland. Nowhere else in the world could we honestly call home. How can we fail as a nation if we bond all our strengths together and support each other’s weaknesses; if we respect and tolerate the differences and complexities of each other? On us is thrust the responsibility of preserving and developing our country for our young people and future generations.
Where there is a will, there is a way. Our country is blessed with rich natural resources. Guyanese talent and skills abound. We must either swim together or sink together. Let us, therefore, irrespective of race, colour or creed, join forces to reverse the downward spiral in our country and create a prosperous and united country. Let us unite for change and the future of our beloved country. Join the fight for change and for a prosperous Guyana.
I thank you for this opportunity to wish you all, on behalf of my Party and my family a Prosperous New Year.
Happy New Year.
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia,
December 31, 2003
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