Inauguration Address of H.E. Dr. Irfaan Ali
President and Commander-In- Chief
Republic of Guyana
Saturday, August 8, 2020
His Excellency Chan Santokhi
Hon. Edmund Hinkson – Representative of the
Your Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps
Prime Minister Mark Phillips
Members of Cabinet
Heads of the joint Services
Distinguished Invited Guests
My brothers and sisters of Guyana
My first words must be of thanks.
Thanks to Almighty God who has guided us through adversity and challenges, helping us to overcome them and to stand here today as one people, one nation, one destiny.
Thanks to my parents, my wife and son, Zayd, my brother, grandparents, members of my wider family, my teachers, neighbours, colleagues, and all those who played an integral role in my development.
Thanks to the member states of CARICOM and the international community for keeping vigil with our nation over the last five months as we fought to hold high the flag of Guyana as a democratic state, deserving of high regard.
Some of those who stayed alert with us, through those dark days are with us as a new dawn dispels the darkness of despair and shines a light of unbounded expectation on us today.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the resident diplomatic corps from the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union and the United States who so fearlessly defended our people’s political rights.
Other organisations stood up with us, among them the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the Commonwealth Group of Nations.
They were each outstanding in their own way, and in time their names will form a lexicon of heroes of our nation.
They were epitomized by one man who put our country before he put himself in his determination that democracy should not die in Guyana, nor should our people be deprived of their political rights.
That man was Owen Seymour Arthur – the Leader of the Commonwealth Elections Observer Mission and former Prime Minister of Barbados.
But for his untimely – and profoundly tragic – death, Owen Arthur would have been with us today.
He was a true friend of Guyana; a man committed to justice and the rights of the people.
I honour him today and I call on all assembled her to stand-up and join me in a moment of silence to this warrior in our cause – Owen Seymour Arthur.
With a full heart, I thank the majority of the electorate of Guyana who reposed in me their confidence to serve as President of our beloved nation.
I thank the supporters, volunteers and members of my party, the PPP/C for their extraordinary support at the March 2nd polls.
Their efforts, and the PPP/C’s formation of the Government, will be transformed into a victory not for them alone, but for all Guyanese who aspire to a vibrant nation that delivers benefits for all.
To those of you, who may not have supported me, I also thank you for your adherence to democracy and the rule of law.
And, I promise one and all – those who supported me and those who didn’t – that I will be the President for all the people of Guyana, and I will serve each of you with affection, without discrimination and with every attention to fairness and equity.
In my service to Guyana, I will not see a nation divided by ethnicity; I will see a nation cemented in unity.
This land of Guyana is our common homeland; it is our common heritage.
And every citizen within it is equal and will be treated equally.
My story is similar to that of most of you. I came from humble beginnings, experiencing struggles, circumstances, and aspirations no different from yours.
As President, I will have to walk with kings, in our country’s interest, but I assure you that I will never lose the common touch.
My first and last responsibility will be to the people of Guyana – all of them.
From this day forward, our one nation and our people must join together to peacefully transition our country to a pathway of economic and social development at home, and respect and regard abroad.
From this day forward, we must – each of us – become our brother’s and sister’s keeper, ensuring that in our journey to progress and prosperity, no one is left behind.
In this context, my Government intends to fulfil the pledges in the Manifesto on which we contested the March 2nd general elections.
Central to fulfilling those pledges will be the collaborative and consultative relationship with the private sector, whose Commission was stalwart in insisting on a credible election result, reflecting the will of the people.
The private sector showed, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they care about the political and social stability of our country and its prospects for economic prosperity.
My Government will work in partnership with the private sector to make Guyana a centre for economic activity that will radiate throughout this Hemisphere and beyond.
We have already started to examine, from a fiscal perspective, the extent of support we can give to the private sector to stimulate a resumption of their economic activities, especially putting back to work people who have been dislodged because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this regard, I now highlight some of the programmes and projects that we will start to implement immediately to focus on wealth and job creation.
We will create a Single-Window Clearance System to reduce bureaucracy and the cost of doing business.
This will make it easier for local and foreign investors to start-up and establish businesses in our economy that is forecast by the World Bank to grow by a whopping 52.8% this year – surpassing all 26 Latin American and Caribbean states.
This huge projected growth is a bounty of our considerable oil and gas finds that promise recoverable petroleum resources estimated at more than 8 Billion barrels.
We are conscious that the proceeds of this bounty must be managed in a transparent way that will assure the people of Guyana that they will be the beneficiaries in a fair and equitable manner.
That is why my Government will establish the legal and regulatory foundation upon which a new and modern economy will be built, striking a vital balance between our traditional sectors and the new and emerging industries, including oil and gas, technology and communication.
Our legislative agenda will create a regulatory framework to enhance sustainable productivity, but with a human face and in an environmentally friendly atmosphere.
We will also establish a Petroleum Commission to ensure that the oil and gas sector is not subjected to undue political interference.
More importantly, we will ensure that every cent of the revenues from the sector is accounted for, as well as every cent of it that is spent.
There must be no doubt in the minds of our people that our country, our nation, our people are the beneficiaries of the oil and gas industry.
To stimulate business enterprises, we will reduce the cost of energy by 50 percent through a mix of hydro, gas, solar, and wind, adding more than 400 megawatts of newly installed capacity over the next five years.
High transportation cost will also be tackled through investments in a deep- water harbour, the Linden to Lethem Road, a high-span bridge across the Demerara River, and other transformational infrastructure projects.
Our intention is to open-up every part of our country, and to join them up so that new opportunities are created for housing settlements and businesses, and to create and expand tourism and other services industries.
We want to build a Guyana that is ripe with business opportunities, humming with employment expansion and growing perennially in prosperity.
To aid all this, we will scale up the provision of internet access across the country empowering businesses and persons.
We know that building physical infrastructure and creating the framework for prosperity is only one part of ensuring success.
A vital part is training our people to take advantage of the opportunities and the framework.
Our goal is to facilitate jobs for every Guyanese that wants to work, and to provide them with the skills they need.
That is why we will invest in training and re-training our work force so that they can stake their claim in our nation’s prosperity.
On this point, the workers of this country – the bedrock of our nation – have been made to suffer untold hardship.
Once proud men who worked in the sugar industry from sun-up to sun down, never complaining about the back-breaking nature of their jobs, are today barely scratching a living.
Their anguish is not only that they can’t earn a decent wage; it is that they cannot feed their families.
Hunger and malnutrition abound.
These conditions do not reflect the Guyana in which we were raised; this is not the Guyana we know. And, it is certainly not a Guyana we should allow to continue.
The sugar industry has virtually been abandoned in the past five years, and the workers have been deserted.
No attempt has been made to seek a new path by which aspects of the industry could be salvaged for the production of profitable sugar-based niche products, that would maintain jobs, and by doing so maintain the dignity of labour.
While we are still putting together the torn fragments, the picture of the industry appears deeply distressing.
The assets of GuySuCo seem to have been stripped by NICIL in and disposed of in a criminal manner.
The once greatest contributor to our nation’s economy, has been beaten down to its knees, and the workers tossed to a heap of unemployment and misery.
We intend to raise up the industry and to help it, and its workers resume the once proud place in our economy.
It is bad enough that I must draw your attention to the sore in the sugar industry that has been allowed to fester – neglected and forsaken.
But, sadly, it is not the only sector of our economy where workers have suffered from poor policies of the previous administration that even more poorly implemented.
The workers bore the brunt of this incompetence, inefficiency and irresponsibility.
My Government will dismantle the policies of the previous administration that created an environment completely unfavourable to workers.
The people of this country must not be second- and third-class citizens in their own land.
Their rights and entitlements must be protected, or the struggle of our great labour leaders Jung Bahadur Singh, J.A. Nicholson, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow and Ashton Chase would have been in vain.
The new Ministry of Labour that we have just created will be tasked with the noble undertaking of creating nobility in work, of rewarding labour with adequate wages, and of respecting the rights of workers in every sector, every industry, every business.
We intend to give workers the place of pride they deserve and the rewards that they merit.
This land is our land – every Guyanese has a right to live in it, work in it and thrive in it.
Our Guyana must no longer be counted as one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
We must no longer be scorned or treated contemptuously anywhere in the world.
We must welcome back to their homeland our diaspora who played such a positive and constructive role in defence of our democracy. They may live abroad, but their love remains in Guyana, as they passionately demonstrated over the last five months.
My Government intends to embrace Guyanese abroad as fervently as we enfold them at home.
The wealth of our country must reach the pockets of our people in a fair and equitable manner, so that we can climb to the mountain top of prosperity, respected by all.
Over the next five years, my Government will build the ladder on which we will climb together, as a nation, to that mountain top – in unity and with dignity and with pride.
I am conscious that while we are building our nation to give a better life to our current generation, we are also laying foundations for future generations.
That is why I have appointed many young persons into my Cabinet.
We will chart the future, and they will have a strong hand in the future we chart.
Additionally, I will establish a Youth Advisory Committee in the coming weeks that will reflect our country’s rich religious and ethnic diversity.
The future is theirs; it is right that, even now, they should help to shape it.
In our Manifesto we pledged to pursue inclusionary Constitutional Governance.
I intend to see that pledge is implemented.
To do so will require certain constitutional reforms which we will be formulated in consultation with the people.
We will conduct a national conversation in which all ideas will contend, and all voices will be heard.
And, always, we will enhance parliamentary democracy, support an independent and efficient judiciary and ensure that the rule of law and the constitutional rights of every Guyanese are respected by all.
All of us are painfully aware of the trauma and anguish that our people endured over the past five months as vigorous attempts were made to destroy our democratic credentials, and deny the will of the electorate.
All of us have an obligation to the nation and to ourselves to ensure that never again should any generation of our people be subjected to such unlawful behaviour.
Therefore, a review of events – related to the electoral process over the last five months – will begin shortly in order to determine, forensically, exactly what transpired, and to hold accountable any persons who sought to pervert and corrupt the system.
More importantly, we will pursue the necessary reforms to make our democracy stronger and our electoral process more transparent.
Part and parcel of a strong democracy is robust security.
Every citizen, every home and every business place must feel safe from criminals and from crime.
The air that we breathe in our beloved Guyana must be free of the stench of crime.
Therefore, my Government will strengthen the police force by providing it with the tools it needs to keep our people safe, including training, modern equipment, adequate vehicles, and the capacity for rapid response.
Every life in our nation matters, and my Government will ensure that every life is protected from harm.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already claimed too many lives.
Everything possible must be done to protect our people from this dreaded and dreadful disease.
That is why, as President, I will personally and urgently participate in my Government’s programme to stop infection by the coronavirus, curb its spread, and safeguard the health of our nation.
After completing a rapid assessment, I have already begun to establish a structure to tackle the virus as effectively as possible,
I am creating a Covid Response Unit comprising Government policymakers, represented by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, and our regional and international partners such as CARICOM, PAHO, and UNDP.
The Unit will be guided by a collaborative policy to address medical responses and to create a COVID-19 impact socio-economic plan for our people.
Since taking office in just one week, we have mobilized and received 46,000 rapid antibody-test kits, Personal Protection Equipment, approximately 240,000 surgical masks, and face shields, gowns and other urgently needed supplies.
In addition to the rapid test kits, the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Mottley, is sending us an additional 15,000 PCR test kits which are even now en route to Guyana.
By next week we should receive another 10,000 PCR kits from PAHO with a commitment to supply an additional 40,000 PCR kits.
We have accessed three PCR testing machines with two more being sourced, and plans are in motion to train persons, including persons from the hinterland areas, in the use of the PCR machines and rapid test kits.
We have commenced work on securing immediately an initial sum of $4.5 billion as emergency response to help at the household level.
We met with the Governor of the Central Bank and directed him to extend regulatory permission so as to allow for bankers to continue extending moratoriums. We have also looked at the possibility of adjusting the Reserve Requirement which will allow the banks to have more disposable resources and tying that adjustment with lower interest rates. We have started to examine from a fiscal perspective what support we can give to the private sector and other groups all with the view of supporting a resumption of the economic activities and putting people back to work.
We have reached out to several multilateral and bilateral sources with a view to urgently mobilise financial resources of the magnitude that is necessary to overcome the effects of this pandemic. I must say the response has been encouraging.
As you can see, we have hit the ground running.
We do not intend to slacken the pace.
There is much to be done.
We still have a nation to build, and a people to raise up.
In pursuing this objective, we will build closer partnerships with our CARICOM sister states and with the United States of America and Canada, which are our traditional partners and friends in this Hemisphere, and which have done so much to help us preserve our democracy.
Guyana was a founding member of CARICOM and before it CARIFTA.
We remain faithful to the ambitions and expectations of the Caribbean Community.
We are grateful that CARICOM stood by our side in the recent electoral crisis, and that the Community defended democracy by scrutinizing the national re-count of the votes of the March 2nd elections, courageously and professionally.
History will ever recall that singular role of regional solidarity.
But we go further.
As we look ahead to more prosperous times for Guyana, we look also to enhancing the objectives of the Caribbean Community and the fortunes of all its people – who are our brothers and sisters.
We will play our role in CARICOM by joining our sisters-states in seeking a more equitable place for the small states of the world and for developing countries generally.
More particularly, we will raise our voice in chorus with other CARICOM countries to combat the existential threat of Climate Change.
Under our watch, CARICOM will not find Guyana lagging in our support for, and our duty to, the principles, policies, and pledges of regional integration.
For your new Government, there will be no policy more sacred than that relating to our borders.
As Guyanese, all of us stood with the previous administration in defence of Guyana’s patrimony.
For us, Guyana’s territorial integrity is never a matter for domestic division; it is always a matter for national cohesion.
It was the PPP/C Government that secured our maritime border with Suriname under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2007.
We settled that border which has already opened the doors to offshore oil and gas development for both countries.
In this connection, I especially welcome to this Inaugural Ceremony, my brother Chan Santokhi, the President of our closest neighbour – the Republic of Suriname.
I look forward to working closely with him in the interests of our two peoples and the peoples of the wider Caribbean Community.
It was also a PPP/C Government in 2014 that put an end to the interminable ‘good offices’ dialogue with Venezuela, our neighbour to the West, because it had become, for them, a strategy of prolonging contention rather than of seeking solution.
Therefore, the PPP/C gave full support to the former administration when, as initiated by us, they submitted the Venezuela contention to the International Court of Justice.
In doing so, as a united people, Guyanese went to the top of the mountain of peace.
We shall not descend.
The sovereignty of our State, the integrity of our territory – of both land and sea – is a sacred trust.
In being faithful to that trust, we shall be loyal to our enduring vision of Guyana as One Nation indivisible.
My brothers and sisters
We stand at the beginning of a road that could lead us all to a bright and prosperous future – a future that could take us to the famed ‘El Dorado’, that eluded past generations.
I assure you that we can take that road and march up it bravely, confident that we can find not only harmony as one people, but also prosperity as one nation.
Our destiny can be a great country in which all who reside within it have the opportunity to achieve and the means to succeed.
I pledge to you today, as your President, to work in your interest – all of you – without fear or favour, with great affection and no discrimination.
This is our land – our collective homeland – that we all love and for which we want only the best.
I offer you my hand to grasp yours.
Let us join as one people, one nation, in the single purpose to build our beloved country for the good of all.
God bless you.
And God bless our dear land of Guyana.