WAY DOWN SOUTH

“WAY up North” was the title of my article on my visit to Port Kaituma in the Barima-Waini (Region One), which was published on September 2 last.

In that article, I recalled that during previous visits to what we used to call the North West District, Port Kaituma had the appearance of a rusty, shanty town with a cluster of shacks running on both sides of what used to be a muddied dam. It had looked like a scene in an old John Wayne frontier movie with the theme song, Way up North, “where the river is windin’, big nuggets [they’re] findin.’”

When I last visited that appearance was changed. Port Kaituma was taking shape as an organised, modern, hinterland community. The aerodrome has an expanded, asphalted runway. The main road was under construction, with parts of it already reinforced by rigid concrete pavements.

As I was heading to the South Rupununi on Friday afternoon, I wondered if anyone had sung a song with the title, Way Down South; so I googled. To my amazement, there was a John Turner song, a stanza of the lyrics declaring, “You will always find my heart way down south.”

MINISTERIAL COLLEAGUES
I was present with a party of my ministerial colleagues, who were on yet another government outreach to commission the eye-catching Barrack Retreat Corridor; the name for the new $473 million, four-lane concrete and asphalted road with the stylistic Takutu Roundabout in the Lethem township.

The road runs from the Lethem airport which itself is under renovation, and soon to become an international hub that would make, in the hopeful words of Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson, the “Mecca” of the South Savannah.

There is no doubt that the Rupununi is beautiful and bountiful. Its rich grasslands and lush mountainsides have been celebrated in our national songs. But yesterday, as I toured the 2019 Chamber of Commerce Expo booths at St. Ignatius Village, children of our indigenous peoples came forward to sing and to recite poetry in such sweet, innocent voices that my heart begun to beat for Rupununi.

On my way to Manari, I passed through the giant business places in Lethem, where once there were only bushes in what used to be, not so long ago, a dusty village. At the head of the commercial zone lies the Lethem Industrial Site, under development on an 80-acre plot, where I intend to return as soon as our government is re-elected to office in March next year.

BREATHTAKING MANARI
Manari is breathtaking, a portion of which is bathed by moisture-laden fresh breeze that caresses the scenic Takutu mountain range, and glides over an artificial lake, similar to the reservoir in the nearby Nappi village. During drought, there is an abundance of fresh water that could be traced to the origin of the mighty Essequibo River in this resource-laden Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo (Region Nine).

As we journeyed “way down south,” Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman and I made a stop-over at the Kaieteur National Park, which is located in the adjoining Potaro-Siparuni (Region Eight). The Pakaraima Mountains, with the majestic Mount Ayanganna and its ever-green virgin rainforests, were a feast for the eyes. We touched down on an improved airstrip. The lodge, built with local, tropical woods, looked friendly enough to house an assorted group of tourists from the Czech Republic, the United States, Switzerland and Great Britain, who were excited beyond expectations by the sheer beauty of our country.

We were welcomed by uniformed National Park wardens, and taken down the pathway to the Kaieteur Falls. As we walked, my Director of Public Information Imran Khan shared his observation that there was no litter, no garbage along the pathway. Then, still not fenced, we came upon the Kaieteur Falls. Some of the European tourists had used words such as “magnificent”, “mighty” and “mind-blowing” to describe this Guyana wonder which, with a perpendicular drop of 741 ft, is one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world – four times higher than Niagara falls in North America, and twice the height of the Victoria falls in Africa.

GREEN GROWTH
As we go south, we could see the new Guyana with stupendous prospects for green growth basking side by side with oil extraction way up north, in our maritime sea. This complementarity would make Guyana unique, as she is blessed with an abundance of both sweet oil and fertile soil.

The Lethem Roundabout forms the gateway from South America to the Atlantic, with portions of the long-awaited Lethem-Linden highway taking shape, and already compacted with laterite. Under our re-elected government I expect that works would be expedited to take the all-weather highway to the Kurupukari Crossing, to be joined with the Mabura-Linden stretch.

At the Lethem Expo, several exhibitors had on display products from wood and balata, and paintings and handicraft that reflects the life and culture of people within the 360,000 hectares of the Iwokrama pristine rainforest, and in the additional one million hectares that President Granger proposed to add for our “green lungs” conservation purposes.

BOON AND BLESSING
Our coalition government has become a boon to and blessing for the peoples of the hinterland. As I noted in remarks in Lethem, during 2015-2018, our government spent some $950 million on roads and other capital works in the Rupununi region. The people recognise what we have done in office in just over four and one-half years as unprecedented.

New wells have been constructed at Aishalton, St. Ignatius, Annai, Karasabai and Hiowa. The electricity system has been upgraded in Annai and Sand Creek, with on-going solar and hydro power at Moco-Moco and Kumu.
New health facilities have been provided at St. Ignatius, Shulinab and Lethem, and new education facilities were built in Nappi, Annai, Aishalton, Sand Creek, Katoka, Yarong Paru and Baishaidhrun.

I came away from way down south yesterday afternoon with deep satisfaction that our coalition government is delivering to this hinterland region, the better quality of life that we have promised. I have also seen fresh signs that other regional players want to work with our government to make this region, indeed, the Mecca of Sustainable Development.

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