ONE of the challenges of development surrounds the important question of ensuring important public services to all citizens. This is a daily challenge for countries with very vast land spaces, comprising population centres that are very distant from the centralised services which are meant for all citizens.
There is no doubt that this was one of the principal concerns when the country’s socio-economic planners gave serious thought to regionalising Guyana over three decades ago. It made sense, given the fact that Guyana possessed the resource potential that could have supported the commencement of such an initiative, with a view towards gradual growth and self-sufficiency for what would have become its demarcated geographical spaces.
It is now history that Guyana has been divided into ten administrative regions, where there has been some amount of decentralisation of social services such as education, water, and public works in which the regional financial accounting system, based on disbursement from the central system, is able to cater for capital works and salaries for workers. But that is as far as making each of the ten regions self-sufficient, in terms of being able to depend on its own revenues garnered from economic activities, as had been envisaged by the regional system’s planners over three decades ago.
Most significant is the fact that all of the important public services were still centralised, causing many citizens from the region’s far-flung areas having to find the time and money, and at great inconvenience, to travel to the nation’s capital city to access such services.
But that was prior to May 2015. Now, three years later and with a new executive, led by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) government, the concept of capital towns, as envisioned by President Granger, has begun the process of taking essential public services to citizens in other parts of Guyana. Capital Towns is a transformative concept with a multi-dimensional strategy to begin the modernisation process of each region, and concomitant economic growth and development, bringing a better quality of life to its citizens and communities.
We can all recall those long lines that once snaked from within the Immigration Office to all the way outside and along the external precincts of its Eve Leary premises just to get a new passport, or have expired ones renewed. But with the decentralisation of this process, citizens are no longer required to travel long distances to the city just to submit their applications, and then have to do the journey all over again to pick up the finished product.
Applications are now submitted within the respective regions, sent to the city for processing, with the finished document being sent to the respective region for the applicant to uplift. Another significant advancement has been the acquisition of birth certificates by citizens from the hinterland region. Only recently, a team from the General Registrar’s Office travelled to Region One (Barima-Waini) where its members distributed over 200 birth certificates to residents. This was after a registration process that had taken place less than three months ago.
There has also been the construction of new Magistrate’s Courts in hinterland areas that will render speedy and timely adjudication to legal matters. In this vein, one has seen the upgrading of the regional health systems that will be able to cater for interventions at primary, secondary and tertiary levels in healthcare. The Diamond Diagnostic Centre, Leonora Diagnostic and Treatment Centre, Mabaruma and Lethem Regional Hospitals and the Paramakatoi Health Centre have been identified by the Ministry of Public Health to be upgraded to SMART hospital status.
SMART Hospitals are meant to be environmentally friendly, with structural and operational safety built into the facility’s state of operations. These centres seek to offer services during wet and dry seasons, which can facilitate very critical medical and surgical cases. This will enable stricken persons quick access to urgent medical attention, thereby preventing the well-known emergency flights to the city.
Another input, as far as bringing public services to the citizens in other regions is concerned, has been the opening of Guyana Revenue Authority offices. These are being supported by seminars that are being held to update citizens in relation to their tax matters. It was inconceivable that Guyana could have been touted by the former PPP/C government as undergoing transformation when all of the pivotal public service functions were still concentrated in the City. This was merely talking development, with no real support base for practical results; not seeking to bring much-needed services to the hundreds of citizens who made, in many instances, tiresome journeys to access public services which are now available in their particular region.
The true test of modernisation is when citizens in the particular state can have prompt and unfettered access to public services which have to do with their daily wellbeing. The visionary initiative of Capital Towns has started this process. It is developing; the results are beginning to impact positively on the lives of those that it serves. It can only get better.