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BY THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION – AUBREY C. NORTON, MP
My fellow Guyanese, Happy Independence Day.
On the occasion of this the 56th anniversary of our Independence, I wish, on behalf of the Opposition and on my own behalf, to congratulate the people of Guyana for achieving another milestone.
As we contemplate where we are today as a nation, I find it appropriate to recall one of the solemn pledges we, the Guyanese people, have enshrined in the Preamble of our constitution. We have pledged to:
“forge a system of governance that promotes concerted effort and broad-based participation in national decision-making in order to develop a viable economy and a harmonious community based on democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law.”
Unfortunately, all of these elements (from “concerted effort” to “the rule of law”) have come under severe assault in recent times. Our 56th Independence anniversary therefore finds a nation scarred by bad-governance and devoid of national self-confidence and optimism.
Instead of concerted effort and broad-based participation in national decision-making, we find a government increasingly hell-bent on instituting political dominance and autocratic rule.
Instead of a viable economy, we find an economy that privileges the political elite, friends and family, but shortchanges the elderly, single parents, unemployed, the working poor, the young and upcoming, small business owners, small farmers and families with babies and small children.
Instead of a harmonious community based on democratic values, social justice, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law, we find that the lack of good governance in our country has reached crisis proportions.
Our nation has simply not lived up to the aspirations in our constitution. We can and must do better. We owe that much to the generation who fought for our Independence. Even more, we owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to the generations to come.
What do I mean when I say “we can and must do better”? How does our nation get there? First, as a people, we must believe in ourselves. We must believe in our creativity to envision a great nation. We must believe in our abilities to reach those great heights, in our strengths to overcome inevitable obstacles. And we must believe in our resolve and resilience to forge ahead relentlessly.
Second, we must build an unshakeable and shared understanding that Guyana and its riches belong to all Guyanese. No ethnicity, no group, no class, no citizen is superior to any other. All must be treated equally and respected. And all must share fairly and equitably in the national patrimony.
Third, we must not allow the current mal-governance to be normalized. We must strive for good governance as our fundamental human right. Accountability to the people is achievable and a must. Inclusivity in national decision-making is achievable and a must. Transparency is not a government bonus but a necessity and the people’s right. So is the rule of law. So too is the effective management of the nation’s resources.
Fourth, to do better, the social and economic rights enshrined in our constitution and in the international conventions to which Guyana is a signatory must be seen not as merely aspirational, but as rights to be actually fulfilled and enjoyed by citizens. Our constitutional rights, for example, to be free from want, hunger, and ignorance; and our right to work, to leisure, to good health, and to a safe environment must no longer exist only in words. They must be actually guaranteed fully—and urgently.
Fifth, we must move beyond lip service and give substance to building racial harmony in Guyana. We can and must take tangible steps to eliminate racial discrimination, to guarantee equality of opportunity for all, and to establish healthy inter-ethnic understandings and interactions.
Sixth, we can and must do better as a people to entrench our shared values, strengthen our sense of “One Destiny”, and rejuvenate our national pride. We need to end the existence of Two Guyanas.
My fellow Guyanese, despite the decades of challenges, the fact that we, as a nation, have travelled this far together is an achievement in itself. Fifty-six years is not a short journey. Our survival speaks not only to our strong spirit and will power, it also speaks to our capacity to keep travelling forward. But we have arrived at a critical crossroad in our history where we are required not only to travel forward but also to travel upward.
Upward towards a society and an economy in which we can end poverty, lift and expand the middle class, and ensure all citizens can live decently and comfortably. Upward where being classified as one of the world’s richest countries could translate into a better quality of life for the people of Guyana. Let us together climb to a better Guyana.
These are the thoughts that we need to ponder on this the 56th anniversary of that historic day in May 1966.
Once again, Happy Independence Day!
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia