REINTRODUCTION OF THE BERBICE RIVER FERRY SERVICE FROM NEW AMSTERDAM T0 KWAKWANI4016 27 Feb, 2014
Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Every year, through our annual budget, we allocate substantial amounts of resources aimed, inter alia, at developing and improving infrastructure throughout the 83,000 square miles of this country. I emphasise this to emphasise the point that we do not discriminate or we do not limit the extent of our intervention to particular areas or particular regions; it is across the 83,000 square miles of this country. Scarce resources and competing needs and uses for these resources determine that we have to make decisions premised on the opportunity cost of the decisions that we make.
So, it is often necessary… Indeed it is always necessary that we, in allocating how we use these resources, look at the alternatives. We must ask ourselves, is there an alternative to spending x dollars now in a particular way as against spending it tomorrow?
Mr. Speaker, my enquiry has led me to understand and appreciate, in the first instance, that the decision to discontinue the ferry service, that decision in 1995, was premised on the financial strain behind its operation.
That strain was affecting the delivery of other services. What we see is private-public partnership going as far back as then. It was the expectation of the PPP/C Government that the transportation service that was being provided would continue. It did continue until an unfortunate accident, which caused a tug to crash into the Lukanani that was, at that time, providing the service, forced a discontinuation of the service. The motion suggests that we unilaterally removed the service when, in fact, that is not true. As I pointed out, the service was sold and it was being continued until there was the unfortunate accident.
It is suggested further that many of these communities were abandoned and deserted and that individuals, families, organisations and institutions from communities of the Berbice River benefitted from this service in the past and now have to severely alter their way of living.
My enquiry reveals that the prime users of the service were students going from Region 5 to Region 6 to attend secondary schools at a time when there were few secondary schools in that Region. I am happy to note that the number of secondary schools has now moved from four to nine so that there is no need to have that movement of students going to New Amsterdam for their secondary education. Add to that the Berbice Bridge Crossing, a cheap, reliable form of transportation. I do not know how the removal of the service affects and continues to affect as the motion suggests that category of users – the students.
The motion also suggests that our farmers had to relocate and some of them altered their way of living, but the information I have suggests differently. I am not aware that farmers have been abandoning their farms, as the motion suggests. To the contrary, I am aware that a substantial number of these farmers are using the river crossing which exists and a substantial number of these farmers are using the private service which exists. More than this, Government, through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and the Ministry of Finance, has ensured that in most of the communities along that route – and incidentally the ferry seldom went to Kwakwani, most of the time it stopped at Wikki Kalkuni for your information, gentlemen and ladies... That is where it stopped most of the time. It did not go to Kwakwani. Through these Ministries, we have been able to make available to most of those communities - and I will name them - outboard engines and boats which they can use and have been using to transport people and commodities. These include Sand Hills, Kimbia, Wiruni, Hururu and Wikki Kalkuni. In each of these communities, we have at least one... in two of them there are two boats and engines that are used to move people and farm produce from the community to the market. It is not as if we have abandoned the people and left them to their own whims and whatever they can manage to do.
In addition to that, through the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and under the Secure Livelihood Programme, a number of these communities have been assisted with economic projects, including farming, so I find it difficult to accept that, as implied in the motion, we have abandoned the people who relied on the ferry service. In fact, that is not so.
I said earlier on that we need to prioritise. We need to examine what obtains in all 10 regions. In Region 1, for example, where the population which uses that service is much larger, where the alternative means of transportation is not as in Region 6, one can now move from Kwakwani to Linden and to Georgetown by road. One can still use the river transportation that is available. But when one talks about going to Region 1, one is talking about travelling for some 20 or more hours as distinct from travelling five or six hours. These are considerations that are very important.
I do not think that the Hon. Members are aware that the Office of the President has provided significant funding and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has been engaging the communities of Sand Hills and Wiruni and funds have been made available for the construction of a 60-foot boat that will provide passenger and freight services. In fact, the engine to be used on that boat has already been acquired and is in the possession of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs. This boat is in the final stages of construction and, upon completion, it will be used to transport passengers, farm produce and school children to New Amsterdam and vice versa.
Today, the steamer service and the demand for the service as a relatively cheap and effective form of transportation have been declining with the emergence of small and faster vessels that ply our rivers daily. This is an acceptable fact and I do not know how many of you, who speak on that side, have been traversing the Berbice River area. Smaller vessels, because of the comfort, time, et cetera, have been the order of the day. However, in some areas, more so over long distances and especially where alternative modes of transportation are nonexistent or too costly, the steamer service has continued to play an important role.
Mr. Speaker, while I would join my Colleagues in supporting the need for us to reintroduce the service and the fact that we intend to, again I say that it is not as if we abandoned the residents; it is not as if we abandoned the users of the service. We have, in the interim, put in place measures which would allow people within that area to move from their homes to their destinations and vice versa.
I wish to conclude, Sir, by saying that we appreciate river transport as an important aspect of development in terms of being able to move goods and services from one point to another. But I also wish to add that this need exists across all 10 regions, some more than others. In taking a decision as to which we do first and second, we must be conscious of that.
I join with my Colleagues on this side and the other side in supporting this motion to restore the service, but I say to you that whilst we would like to see this happen, the people of Region 1 who travel for 20 or more hours per day, who do not have the luxury of the alternatives that those farmers and others have, would wish to be given that priority.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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