Recently, I returned home to Guyana after more than 10 years. It was apparent that numerous drastic changes have occurred in infrastructure, economy and society.
Infrastructure obviously has boomed within the past 10 years with significant growth in the construction industry as many people now own impressive houses. In fact, it would be very hard to own homes of that size and quality in most developed countries. For instance, it is hard to miss the beautiful private residential housing developments on the breezy East Coast around Lusignan Village. However, these homes are clearly intended for the wealthy and overseas-based Guyanese. In terms of the roads, the major ones that I traversed on were quite satisfactory. However, I was particularly impressed with the work done by the Chinese contractors on the East Coast public road. However, it would have been great to be able to travel to Lethem and maybe onto Brazil comfortably by road. I believe that leaders need to make more effort to increase trade and commerce with our Brazilian neighbours.
During my time spent in Guyana, I kept hearing about the influx of Venezuelans into the country and I was able to recognise a number of the spanish speaking people working for bars and shops and holding various low paying jobs. However, the service from the Venezuelans was actually very good, contrary to their portrayal by some local people. It is my opinion that these people are an asset to the bars and restaurants and consequently they are effectively contributing to the economy. In the 80s when Guyana was experiencing very severe economic hardship, a significant number of Guyanese people migrated to Venezuela in search of work. There was also a brisk trade with Venezuela during that time, I recall travelling to Fort Island under the cover of darkness one morning to buy plastics products from Venezuela to vend in Georgetown.
Despite Guyana being an integral part of the West Indies, it is extremely important for us to also be integrated into our South American community. I have been fortunate to grow up with close ties to Brazilian immigrants and I am aware of the potential of these people. Therefore, the unfortunate events in Venezuela that have driven many people to our shores, bringing many challenges but also opportunities to give our population a much needed boost. However, these people should be supported to learn to speak and write English and integrate into our community. Immigrants around the world are known for their hard work around the world and contribution to the economy.
The scourge of corruption continues to be a major issue in our country. During my stay, I witnessed corruption first hand in a police station. My relatives got pulled over for having an old style number plate. The young female officer threatened to impound the car and take them to court for the offense. The officer received a bribe in the police station, and the car was released after the correct style of number plate was installed. We need to find ways to demand higher standards from over police and other civil servants for the sake of the country. It is clear from talking to families and friends that abuse of power by people in authority continues to be a major concern in Guyana. Particularly at a time when our country is being opened up to more regional and international visitors for businesses associated with oil exploration and the other resources that Guyana has in abundance. The level of security for people living in Guyana continues to be a major barrier to development and prosperity.
It was great to witness the decentralisation of businesses from Georgetown. I enjoyed the malls on the east coast and the fact that there is so much commerce outside of Georgetown. As the capital of the country, Georgetown is in a complete and utter state of dereliction: streets are congested and surrounded by garbage. The sidewalks are covered with an innumerable amount of vendors, all selling practically the same goods. This is simply an unacceptable state for the capital of our country to be in. Not only do Guyanese people deserve a more becoming environment in their capital but it is also extremely important in terms of tourism. The town has several tourist attractions that are shrouded by garbage and cluster. It is a great disservice to our tourism sector having Georgetown as a representation of our country.
However, there were certain things that were satisfactory. The art exhibition of work from the students at the art school that was on exhibition at the national museum was amazing. It was a great way to use that space to showcase and encourage our talented young people. The museum itself has not changed much over the last 30 years. In fact it looked somewhat run-down, an upgrade is definitely necessary to get it back up to par.
Despite it all, I have to say that the greatest asset of our country is not our gold or timber or the oil that’s flowing but our people. It was a great joy to see so many small businesses everywhere, the infectious smiles and enthusiasm of our people. I plead with every Guyanese to show more love for our country by keeping it clean and by working together, only in this way that we can build a better country for everyone.