Transcend the bigotry of race
President urges in independence message
Stabroek News
May 26, 2002

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President Bharrat Jagdeo in his address to the nation to mark the country's thirty-sixth year as an independent country last night called on Guyanese to "transcend the bigotry of race" if they are to realize the vision of a new Guyana in which the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the people who witnessed the first independence, can be realised.

Such an approach "demands us to break the habit of the malice" and "calls on us to exorcise that narrowness to build on our unity and strength."

Speaking to the nation during the traditional flag-raising ceremony at the National Park, President Jagdeo reiterated his government's commitment to "good governance, and to a transparent and inclusive approach in the administration of our country".

He said that his vision for Guyana was not burdened by the pain of the past, though he was not unmindful of that pain. Neither was it a vision marred by the guilt of responsibility for that pain which one must seek to hide by posture and rhetoric of one kind or another.

"If anything, it is the vision of a country fully developed in every respect, in which the quality of the daily life of its people, matches in dignity, and grace, the grandeur of our landscape of mountains, rivers and waterfalls, and men and women are completely tolerant of one another's religion, race and culture. Also, it is a vision that provides care, security and opportunities for our children, young people, women, the disabled, and the elderly, for each and every Guyanese."

To pursue that vision, President Jagdeo said, we as a nation had to "get on with the task of providing jobs, through investments, for all our people, and of educating and training them for work in this digital age.

"We must build for the future. We must restructure the traditional industries and create new ones. But your government alone cannot achieve this. This is a task that demands the involvement of all of us; that demands as well, our understanding of the issues involved." President Jagdeo observed that during the past 36 years, as a nation we laboured "to create a comfortable environment with the aim of creating wealth, jobs, security and harmonious relations.

"Roads have been built as well as sea and river defences. Lands have been opened up for various economic activities and housing. We have established services such as waterworks, hospitals, schools and electricity facilities. Indeed our landscape has been reshaped mainly due to the industriousness of our people. In many ways, we have done well."

However, he observed that mistakes were made and many opportunities were lost.

As a result, he said, Guyana remained "to a large extent, an agricultural country, producing primary products for which prices have been relatively, constantly falling.

"We have not been able to garner enough resources to do all the things that are necessary to give our people all they need. There are still significant pockets of poverty among our people, not all our people are well educated, and investment in the economy is not as it could be."

He noted too that some Guyanese "continue to live on the dark side of the law, preying on innocent citizens and even taking their lives, and the political environment falls short of expectations."

Also, he said, "many skilled Guyanese continue to leave our country. Yes, in many ways, we are still to bring that good life to all Guyanese."

President Jagdeo asserted that as a people Guyanese knew what had to be done and said he was confident that Guyanese had "the will and determination to move forward and get these things done." But he noted that one essential ingredient of nation building was missing as "unfortunately, not everyone is seized with the commitment to put the national interest before anything else.

"I know that many poor countries experience similar problems, but that is no comfort. The problems of development are painful, especially in these times. But we have to be mature enough to understand that there will be problems, differences and competing interests.

"What is important is for us to adopt principles and approaches that would afford us the opportunity to resolve these issues without harming the national interest. Let us not lose sight of our common objectives. We must not be derailed from our development thrust whenever problems arise."

President Jagdeo stressed the need for the leaders of the country "to instill these values in all our people.

"When there are grievances, we must seek recourse to established mechanisms and provisions in our laws, not to the streets and violence. Whatever we do, we must ensure that Guyana really comes first.

"It is only when we have attained this maturity that others will have greater respect for us.

"How do we develop and prosper when criminals are being encouraged to do their dirty work because of some perceived political advantage? How can we create more jobs and economic prosperity in an environment of political instability? Some people may want to believe that their actions will hurt the government. They are wrong! At the end of the day, it is the entire country and all the people who suffer."

He reiterated the view expressed by the US Ambassador to Guyana, Ronald Godard, who said "Guyana is a democratic society that is founded on and depends for its existence on respect for the rule of law. There is no justification for criminal violence in a democratic society, just as there is no justification for political violence in a democracy."

President Jagdeo reiterated his commitment "to working with all those who want to take this country forward."

"Your government has been and remains prepared to have meaningful dialogue with the Opposition and all other social groups on national issues. However, in these matters, success cannot be judged by the amount of advantage received by one or another party.

"The success of any serious dialogue must be judged on the basis of what are the benefits to the country and people.

"The solution is not to walk away from dialogue when there are differences. That is the easy way. Nation building is always fraught with challenges, but we must be mature and responsible to find common grounds, guided by, once again, what is good for our country and people."

"Today, we live in a democracy," the President said, reiterating the legitimacy of his government, "freely and fairly elected to office by the people of this country and not foisted upon them by fraud.

"The freedom to protest in a democracy is normal... [but] must not be an excuse for orchestrated lawlessness and violence. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you belong, these activities must be condemned. At the end of the day, they hurt our country and our people."

The President noted that "one lesson that our history since Independence has taught us... is that governance, like development, of this country, for any sectional interest, will not work. We have decades of evidence to show that it has not worked. My government firmly believes in the equality of all citizens, regardless of race, religion or status, and will continue to govern in the best interests of all the people."

About what needs to be done to realise the vision for a new Guyana, President Jagdeo said as a country we had to continue to play a leading role in CARICOM, keep building stronger relations with our neighbours and maintaining our international credibility which he said was now "at an all-time high".

He said that the country's economy "is withstanding the severe shocks of a global economic recession" and that "despite the best efforts by a few elements to retard economic progress, our economic fundamentals are intact - our economy is growing and inflation is low.

"Our social agenda - better health, education, housing and care for our children and the elderly - is focused and has won international recognition.

"We are on the move. We have come some way. Now we have to prepare for the impact of globalisation and trade liberalization. This will demand a creative response of the entire nation - government, workers, employers, religious leaders, the young and old, indeed every citizen."

The hardworking and dedicated men and women of the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Police Force, who are tasked with and are working diligently to maintain law and order and ensure the security of our nation were praised for their efforts. "I have no doubt that we shall rise to the challenges, with our independence and sovereignty intact, with security on our borders and peace and harmony in our society, for we are a resilient people, a strong people, a people with the capacity for creativity and industry," the President concluded.