SPEECH BY MINISTER HUGHES, GTT’S LAUNCH OF 4G LTE NETWORK IN ESSEQUIBO

 

MINISTER C.A. HUGHES

The eGovernment tower at Anna Regina.

The Ministry of Public Telecommunications couldn’t be happier that GTT has acted on its promise to provide faster internet connectivity to the people of Essequibo.  This is long been overdue but finally this day full of new possibilities is here!

Even before we assumed office in 2015, this government was very aware that Guyana was lagging far behind our Caribbean neighbours, and much farther behind the developed countries like the USA and China, in terms of our inability to provide better internet connectivity across Guyana.

This has limited our progress, dampened every possibility for our citizens to get involved in and benefit from all that this technology-driven world has to offer, for example:

  • In e-commerce and international trade – simply producing a product and selling it via the internet on the world market
  • Improved educational opportunities e.g. introduction of eLearning that should equip classrooms in rural communities with video conferencing facilities that would allow a student in Suddie or Dartmouth to be part of the same Biology class as a QC student
  • It means improved research opportunities, access to online libraries
  • It means advancement in telemedicine giving nurses and doctors in regional hospitals and health centres the ability to speak to a doctor in Georgetown in real time about complex health issues

I truly believe that information communication technologies will deliver the transformation of Guyana and improve our people’s quality of life.

Before 2015 Guyana was nowhere close to being able to inspire our people to innovate, to create money-making businesses out of the produce that grow right in their environments.  Our students for example, had little access to the essays and theses written by world class researchers, and we were not ready when CXC announced in 2015 that ALL candidates must submit their SBA’s online.    Guyana was not ready a year ago!

That is not how it should be.  Every single student, whether they live in Anna Regina or Charity; in Region 1 or Region 9, they must have access to the same information at the same time.

They can only do this if Guyana is equipped with universal LTE and fibre optic networks surrounding the perimeters of this nation and stretching all across it.  That is why we are happy that GTT has activated this vital 4G LTE service.  It is going to improve the lives and livelihoods of the people all over this county of Essequibo … and it adds a fillip to our own efforts to digitize this nation.

This is the trajectory we’re taking, and we have only just begun!   Even before we came to government we started to devise a plan to provide what we call “an enabling environment” for citizens to put their imaginations to work and earn export dollars for their efforts.  This plan, from an ICT perspective, has many parts – some low-hanging fruits and many long term objectives.  Most of these objectives are already in progress:-

  • Installing a modern LTE and fibre optic network not only along the coast but in the hinterland and inland regions
  • Providing computers and equipment to community centers especially in remote and poor communities
  • Training community leaders to use the computers and the internet so that they could support and teach residents … remember the goal is a technologically savvy population
  • In the last quarter of 2016 we conducted a Needs Assessment in several Poor, Remote and Hinterland communities across Guyana. That report was submitted at the end of the year and now we are close to finalizing plans for a massive spin-off project taking internet and other digital services to these rural communities.  This project will begin by October 2017.
  • At midyear last year we began installing internet-ready equipment in secondary schools. To date there are over 101 schools, technical institutes, Regional Education Offices, the university campuses in Georgetown and Berbice, and the teachers training college equipped with free access to the internet. Of course this comes with software to restrict the students’ access to unhealthy websites containing pornography, terrorism related material, and such.   

One very key item on our agenda is placing public services within easy reach of every citizen through the internet.  We are still refining the process and very soon you will not have to travel to Georgetown to join long lines just to submit your application for a passport.  You are going to be able to either use your own computer at home or at any wifi hotspot that will be set up … or you could go to the district post office that will also become an internet hub, fill out your application and submit it online.

Passports are just the beginning.  The objective is to place every single public service online including applications for birth and death certificates; drivers’ licenses; business compliance certificates; land, housing, mining and forestry permits … every public service, and in time we will use technology to pay our pensioners.

This is a good time to tell you that we will shortly activate a plan to rehabilitate strategically placed post offices – most, unfortunately, have been allowed to deteriorate for decades into deplorable conditions!   We will add internet-related services, and convert some post offices into ICT hubs.  They will also offer a new service that was introduced recently – Swift Shipping for online shoppers and business owners.

So with vastly improved internet capacity and speed, rice farmers in this region can now search online for spare parts for your combines and tractors; beauticians can source your hair and nail supplies and have it shipped to Guyana by Swift Shipping.  Supermarket owners will enjoy being able to buy new products online and have them on their shelves in no time.

And most importantly, our entrepreneurs will have a readymade export shipping route for our indigenous products – hammocks, high quality coconut oil, tamarind balls – to a massive diaspora market.

Technology is the greatest equalizer.  No more will we in Guyana be at a disadvantage trying to do business with the rest of the world.  It’s happening now.  To you I say: “Remember that the only limitations in your life are the ones you put on yourself.  It is time to get up and go … see what I am going to create today!”

My friends, we have a lot of ground to make up so we could catch up with our business competitors in Suriname or St. Vincent or Barbados.  We are only just beginning but we’re moving quickly.

If only the previous government had not spent more than a billion dollars to land a fibre optic cable from Brazil that turned out to be useless.  The contractors handled it so badly that it broke in a thousand places.  If that cable was usable you would have had fast digital connections 18 months ago.

We have started connecting government ministries and offices to the e-government fibre optic network to improve our own efficiency and provide a better service to you.

CONCLUSION

Allow me to close with a word of encouragement to the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company.  This nation will only move forward if the private sector continues to invest in our economy.  We do appreciate your expansion into the Essequibo and we look forward to seeing the rest of it.   We hope that your company will continue to fulfill the promises you’ve made to expand and strengthen the range of telephone and digital services. We see your participation as vital to the transformation of our nation.

I ask you to look for the opportunities to be an entrepreneur, to put your skills to work and earn.  There are many of you who are building great software applications, preserving and processing fruits and vegetables, and doing other innovative things.  Just keep thinking outside the box and venture into new areas.  With all that lies before us – a hydrocarbon industry and possibilities for a stream of downstream industries for example, can we do it?  Yes we can!

Thank you.

Catherine Hughes

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