Statement by Hon. Dr. Vindhya Persaud, Minister of Human Services and Social Security at the 59th Session of the Commission for Social Development

Statement by Hon. Dr. Vindhya Persaud, Minister of Human Services and Social Security at the 59th Session of the Commission for Social Development under Agenda Item 3(a) on the priority theme: “Socially just transition towards sustainable development: The role of digital technologies on social development and well-being for all” (February 11, 2021)

Madam Chair,

Guyana aligns itself with the statements delivered on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The consensus approach, adopted at the World Summit for Social Development, to put people at the centre of development, remains crucial to the attainment of social development for all. More than 25 years after the Summit, we continue to work to eradicate poverty; promote full and productive employment; foster social integration and inclusion; attain universal and equitable access to education and primary health care; and reduce inequalities.

However, gains made are threatened daily by the coronavirus pandemic which has compounded challenges to development and exacerbated existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, further impeding the ability of governments across the world to make good on the commitments of the Copenhagen Declaration as well as those outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Among other things, COVID-19 has brought to the forefront the importance of digital technologies. In the wake of lockdowns and physical distancing requirements, much of our communication is now online. However, varying levels of digital skills and access to technology have magnified the existing digital divide and created new inequalities.

Guyana, therefore, welcomes this Session’s theme. It is more important than ever for us to evaluate the role of digital technologies in social development and explore how we could utilize technology to promote social inclusion for vulnerable groups. Indeed, already marginalized groups are overrepresented in the offline population, which is disproportionately made up of women, those living in poverty, people in rural communities, indigenous people and older persons.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions, has challenged the Government of Guyana to find alternative and innovative ways of providing continuous and efficient services through digital technologies. In my own Ministry, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, several notable initiatives have been implemented.

A Virtual Help Desk with direct public interface was created to address a range of issues and queries. In response to under reporting of Domestic violence, sexual and child abuse due to COVID-19, a toll-free emergency number was introduced. Its built-in follow-up mechanism links persons to law enforcement, counselling, the Domestic Violence Unit, Childcare and Protection Agency, training and job opportunities. An ‘ENUF’ app is being developed to help victims to contact hotline operators and allow responders to identify the victims’ locations and activate intervention by the police.

Cognizant that men, too, face unique challenges in society, the Ministry recently launched a virtual safe-space for men to be candid about issues affecting them.

An interactive and robust online platform will soon be introduced to facilitate submission of online requests for various services and aid in data collection to bolster the quality of service offered by the Government.

In the education sector, recognizing that many students have limited internet connectivity and access to devices, the Government has implemented a blended approach to ensure continued learning utilizing online platforms, television, radio and material.

The State channel dedicated to education now delivers daily content tailored to nursery, primary and secondary school students with simultaneous dissemination via radio. The positive results of this approach led to $300M being allocated in the 2020 National Budget for expansion.

The Government is also engaging internet service providers to provide   online reinforcement lessons for students in the hinterland and riverain communities. Indeed, our first smart classrooms were recently launched, linking indigenous students in the hinterland to centralized teaching.

While the implementation of these initiatives is a step in the right direction, many persons continue to be left behind, a stark consequence of the digital divide that exists within Guyana and many other developing countries.

In a historic move last October, the Government liberalized the telecommunications sector, ending a three-decade, anti-competitive monopoly. It is expected that the creation of a level playing field will result in improved ICT infrastructure and increased access to the internet.

Madam Chair,

We cannot overcome the digital divide without tackling poverty eradication. Climate change, food insecurity, the global economic downturn, and now COVID-19, are impeding efforts in this direction.   Indeed, access to decent work and continued education, as pathways out of poverty, have been significantly affected by COVID-19. However, we know that having a more digitally informed and connected population will play a crucial role in attacking the scourge of poverty.

As we maintain our efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, our immediate priority is vaccinating our population against COVID-19.  In this regard, there is no place for vaccine nationalism. We must ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is declared a global public good which is affordable and available to all. Only then can we build back better, more inclusive and resilient societies and ensure equitable sustainable development. Indeed, Madame Chair, this is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate to our populations that multilateralism works for them.

Reiterating the crucial role of multilateralism, I wish to underscore that through increased international cooperation at every level and genuine partnerships among all stakeholders, our national efforts to fight inequality and eradicate poverty can be significantly bolstered. We emphasize the importance of scaling up the mobilization of resources for sustainable development, including through Official Development Assistance, innovative financing, support for capacity-building, technology transfers and trade.

Madam Chair,

It is Guyana’s fervent hope that the discussions during this session will inspire us all to redouble our efforts to build back better together.

I thank you.

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