Address by Minister McCoy at WSIS Ministerial Roundtable discussion
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, colleagues, distinguished delegates, it is indeed a pleasure to represent the government of His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali at this year’s summit of the information society and more particularly with the other esteemed panelists of this ministerial round table.
Our government, in and out of office remains diametrically opposed to any notion that runs opposite to the universal democratic values of inclusivity, access to information and knowledge empowerment for all citizens of the country. Therefore, the record would show that throughout the colonial dispensation, we fought side by side with other parties and civil society actors to secure the right to self-determination, a rite of passage that allows us as a 56-year-old independent nation to universalize those principles as constitutional guarantees for our citizens. However, most unfortunately, our country spent the greater half of her independent life subjugated to the fringes and outer bands of those sacred democratic values, under a prolonged dictatorship.
But good fortunes saw our country break free from the self-inflicted bondages in 1992, when our party was finally able to take the reins of governance in one of the many electoral victories we had secured at the polls since independence.
Since then, Guyana has steadily and progressively climbed onto the shared platform of the international community of democratic nations, with an impressive array of transformational interventions that solidify the gains over the post-dictatorial years for inclusive governance, universal access to information and ground-breaking initiatives for the building of a knowledge-based society.
Mr. Chairman, colleagues, within the past decade the push-pull factors that build and then test the mettle of a democratic nation were at play in Guyana. Between 2010 and 2015, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic government, opened the media spectrum to exponentially increase the options for information transfer beyond the state media apparatus. This move quickly ushered in the proliferation of independent media channels across the various platforms.
We introduced constitutional reforms for inclusive governance, guaranteeing among other measures, the Chairmanship for the opposition in Parliament on several key Parliamentary committees, including the powerful Public Accounts Committee.
We established a constructional office of Commissioner of Information, guaranteeing universal access to state information to all citizens.
We introduced a One-Laptop-Per-Family programme, with the first phase placing free mobile computers in the hands of 90,000 of the most vulnerable families, representing a 12% target of our total population size. This first phase was supported by several hundred community-based ICT Hubs providing internet access and training to beneficiary families.
We introduced a Low Carbon Development Strategy with built-in carbon credit earnings mechanisms through a ground-breaking partnership with the Kingdom of Norway. Money earned from the facility was leveraged to guarantee self-determining development for indigenous communities through direct access to those funds.
Colleagues, within a single five-year term, the other party while in government, scuttled and unraveled many of these programmes and initiatives, setting the country back by several decades.
And, after losing its mandate to govern for another term, our democracy was held hostage. It took the full combined weight of the judiciary; the international community; and the indefatigable will power of our freedom loving citizens, to restore democratic order in Guyana for the rightful winners of the elections to return to government.
Allow me to demonstrate the consistency of our government’s commitment to safeguarding these fundamental principles of democratic governance being discussed here today, which we embrace as sacrosanct.
Since returning to office in August 2020, we have reinstituted and recalibrated all the related programmes halted by the previous government and indeed, we have gone much further in just two years.
We have introduced an expanded ICT empowerment programme, with e-governance and national internet access at the heart of the initiative.
As a direct response to the challenges brought about by COVID 19, we streamlined internet services, including video-conferencing capabilities to almost 400 educational institutions and almost 1,000 central and local government and essential services entities across the country, and this has since expanded in both scope and reach.
We’ve expanded the national fiber-optic and broad-band networks to ensure access in poor, remote and hinterland communities with the ongoing establishment of over 200 ICT Hubs. This project which included extensive training of indigenous communities is being done through collaboration with UNDP.
We’ve expanded e-governance to include a Prison Management System; an Integrated Immigration Software Architecture; an online application and tracking system for old-age pension; a safe-city vehicle identification and warrant information system for the police; and an e-business Women’s Leadership and Investment Network.
We have ratified the conventions of the International Press Freedom Coalition and just concluded a national conference and symposium in observance of World Press Freedom Day 2022. This activity saw the largest gathering and engagement of the media in Guyana’s history, with the convergence of traditional and new media.
We’ve launched the virtual ‘Guyana Media and Communication Academy’ in partnership with the world’s largest online learning platform COURSERA, for the upskilling of the media fraternity, including Citizen Reporters, Social Influencers and Practitioners.
We dismantled a decades-old private monopoly on telephone and other related services, thereby liberalizing the telecommunications sector.
We launched the ‘Guyana Online Academy of Learning’ (GOAL), to provide scholarships from Certificate to PHD levels to 20,000 Guyanese citizens by 2025, along with a lateral programme called ‘GROW’, (Getting our people Ready for Opportunities to Work) … the GROW programme will cater to all citizens who missed the path to a secondary education.
*And to ensure our country remains on its path to democratic transformation and full development, we have commenced a new round of reforms, including electoral and constitutional reforms that will strengthen the bastions of our fragile democracy.
Mr. Chairman,, Excellencies, friends all, through these comprehensive and decisive interventions, our government has been able to achieve significant mileage on impacting the Sustainable Development Goals 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 16.
Be assured that The Government of Guyana under the People’s Progressive Party Civic remains resolute in safeguarding, advancing and expanding Inclusiveness, Access to Information and Knowledge-For-All.
We will continue to universalize these Sustainable Development Goals in Guyana, as we look forward to networking and collaborating across the widest reaches of the international community of democratic nations, to strengthen the pillars and bastions of freedom and development in Guyana, while we lend our support on the global stage, wherever and whenever it is needed.
When we talk about ICTs for wellbeing, inclusion and resilience, we are addressing a monumental gamut of issues that are at the very core of the current survival paradigm of fragile, underdeveloped societies that must adapt, and adapt quickly with meagre, depleting and stretched resources, to keep up with the ever transforming, fast-paced global landscape in ICTs.
Against this backdrop, the application of the more mundane ingredients for development, those that pertain to our society’s well being, the inclusion of all, especially those furthest behind, and the construction of bastions of resilience within our national structures, to withstand these current and future blows to our development; become ever more taxing.
As many, if not all of you can appreciate, that it’s all well and good when our governments find ways and means to prioritize meagre resources, in efforts to help our countries and societies keep up as best as possible, with the evolution of the very nature of how we deliver public service. By and large, we find ways to adapt and streamline those efforts and resources to targeted needs intended to impact wellbeing, and foster inclusion, however, the most challenging task comes, in trying to build resilience.
Certainly, for us in Guyana, we have got to constantly battle and cope with many mitigating circumstances. When we are faced with seasonal floods at home on an annual basis, we must divert resources to cushion the impact on our people’s lives and their communities, when we are blind-sided by a pandemic which ravages our resources and drains our energies thin, we know we must act to the best of our ability, in collective sacrifice to cushion the impact on the entire population. But, when a change of government results in the unravelling of hard-earned gains in the ICT transformation programme or the undermining and up-ending of the democratic order of our country, we are stupefied.
So, while I look forward to sharing and hearing insights on initiatives and interventions that impact wellbeing and inclusion, I’m keen on hearing perspectives on the case for building resilience.
I also believe that the challenges from the COVID-19 Pandemic should serve as instructive entry points for a redoubling of WSIS networking cooperation efforts, to source, streamline and deploy targeted technical support to small-island states and developing countries, that are most at risk and worst affected by the vagaries that underpin and up-end structures in the resilience continuum
I thank you.