Government and hinterland development

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THE establishment of the towns of Bartica, Lethem, Mabaruma, and Mahdia in Regions Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), One (Barima-Waini), and Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), respectively, after only four years of being given the privilege of serving Guyanese is one of the ‘Coalition’ administration’s most important achievements, and one of Guyana’s boldest steps towards the admirable goal of full democratic governance.

That tangible and progressive step towards decentralised government is one of the APNU+AFC government’s most significant actions aimed at equalising the standard of living countrywide through hinterland development.

Unfortunately, the more than two decades of a flawed policy of political patronage under the heavy fist of consecutive PPP administrations had dangerously divided Guyana into two zones. President David Granger has referred to this division as “the east-west divide”. That political, social, and economic divide, His Excellency explained, separates the living conditions of residents of lands west of Fort Island on the Essequibo River from those of Guyanese to the east. That ‘divide’ has hindered national development and community advancement through the inhibition of social cohesion. The ‘Coalition’ has declared its commitment to a reversal of the PPP’s ideology of division, and backed up that commitment with actions such as the creation of the Ministry of Social Cohesion.

Seventy-six per cent of Guyana’s landmass is hinterland, and as such, President Granger said, national development depends on hinterland development. The neglect of the hinterland by the PPP government has resulted in the stagnant and backward country that the ‘Coalition’ inherited. The government has repeatedly declared its intention to reverse this inequitable state of affairs, and promote countrywide progress by pursuing a sustainable hinterland development strategy. And the actions of the government give credence to that commitment.

It is evident that economic growth is heavily dependent on the sustainable use of our hinterland resources. Mineral and forest resources account for a major part of Guyana’s export earnings. It is clear that the government is implementing policies and administrative arrangements to maximise earnings from mining activities in a sustainable manner.
Regarding surface resources, the President has said that adding value to Guyana’s forestry products will create new jobs. He has committed the government to moving in this direction of sustainable growth, which must necessarily include environmentally-sound best practices. Guyana’s signing of the Paris Agreement on the morning of January 12, 2015 is evidence of the government’s actions towards making that commitment a reality.

No less important than overall national growth is the improvement of the standard of living of the 113,000 Guyanese who inhabit Guyana’s interior. In fact, the two are inextricably linked. For too long Guyana’s hinterland residents have endured a substandard existence.
The majority of those Guyanese are the Akawaio, Arawak, Arecuna, Carib, Makushi, Patamona, Wai-Wai, Wapichana and Warau Peoples, all members of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples. The government has declared a commitment to ensuring that all Guyanese enjoy a decent standard of living, including hinterland residents. The President said, “Your government undertakes to empower Guyana’s First Peoples to be able to sustainably provide for themselves while ending the dependency syndrome that had characterised life in the past.”

President Granger elaborated by noting, “Technical and agricultural institutes will be established in each hinterland region, so as to endow hinterland youth with the skills needed for them to prosper. Currently, although there may be some good jobs available, they are given to persons brought from the coast because local residents lack the skills necessary to fill them. Instead, most [hinterland-based] Guyanese must take low-paying menial jobs. The administration is putting an end to this disparity; our hinterland-based brothers and sisters must have the same opportunity to succeed in life as coastal dwellers.”
The President emphasised that he views development as human development; in other words, improvement in the standard of living of citizens across Guyana. His Excellency said, “The government recognises the need for permanent institutions, jobs, farm-to-market roads, well equipped and staffed schools, airstrips, safe communities, food security, decent infrastructure and efficient services. The establishment of the new towns is one of the first steps in the administration’s quest to equalise standards of living across Guyana’s regions.”
As the administrative centres of the various regions, it makes sense to elevate the status of the areas to towns, as the government has done in four regions to date. The administration has declared that it will now invest in improving infrastructure and service delivery to those communities and regions. Bartica, for example, needs a better stelling and proper waste disposal; Lethem requires improved water and electricity services; Mabaruma’s market must be improved, and all-weather roads must be constructed, as is being done in Mahdia. The administration has said that it will address those and other issues which have already been identified.

The task of creating better lives for all Guyanese and equalising living standards for all citizens will not be an easy one, and the government must not be daunted by the magnitude of the undertaking. Instead, the administration must be applauded for remaining resolute to the commitment to improving lives. After all, the government is here to serve all the people, and although Guyanese certainly know that all goals cannot be achieved overnight, the government deserves to be saluted for making such bold advances, and steadfastly standing by the determination to make life better for all Guyanese.