Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Eco Tourism
(Aired 11 April 2002)

   I sometimes ask myself if it is just me, or is the rest of this country completely disconnected from reality.

   This country has been telling us for years that they are developing a tourist industry, specifically an ECO tourist industry.

    This is 2002, so if you are one of these people who enjoy tramping all over the bush getting bitten by mosquitoes, snakes, scorpions and so on, well it is a free world, so YOU decide that you want to take such a trip, the rougher the better, you enter Eco tourism in your computer and you search the web. NOWHERE on the web is Guyana listed as a Eco tourism destination, check and see for yourself, the site is ‘Eco tourism top directory' and lists all the countries in the world that have Eco tourism industries, enter Guyana in the advanced search and see what you get.

   Tourist industries are built on two things advertisement and infrastructure.

    Nowhere in the 2002 budget have I seen any budgetary allocation for advertising Guyana as an Eco tourist destination. It is the best-kept secret on the planet.

    But let us say that we do have to get such an industry going, and obviously we want to make substantial amounts of money from it, we are talking about at least four thousand visitors per month and this would be a VERY small tourist industry, even so, where pray will you put these 4000 people, now remember that in 1998, 500,000 people visited Barbados, 44 thousand visitors per month, it is an average over 12 months but during the peak months October to March there are over 70,00 tourists in Barbados monthly, 37% of the Barbadian tourists are from the UK and Europe please remember that, the income from that amount of tourists was 1.5 Billion US dollars.

   Let us assume this small number of 4000 visitors per month, using the Barbados figures, it means that we will bring one tenth of the people that Barbados attracts, so we will make one tenth of 1.5 Billion US or 150 million US per year from this industry, not an inconsequential amount, given our national budget of 340 million US, but where are they going to stay? At Nadir's house?

  I took the tourist Guide printed in 1999 by the Tourism association of Guyana, who have been fighting a losing battle over the years without any government support whatsoever, and added it up, Pegasus 136 rooms, Tower 33 rooms etc., the total PROPER hotel accommodation in this country is around 400 rooms, not 1300 as Mr. Nadir alleges, you cant bring tourists here and put them in all of the poorly located and flea infested short time hotels in the country Nadir, you have to have 10 Le Mederian Pegasus type hotels, or are we going to bring these people and take them directly to the tourist resorts which combined can only accommodate around 100 people at a time. Perhaps since this is Eco tourism, and since this is Guyana, maybe we can just build tents in the bush and let the tourists stay in those. Dig a few latrines in the ground for them and let them get the full impact of the ECO experience, They will surely come in droves then.   

   We brought 116 tourists here recently they were in their own boat, amid much fanfare we announced that we were taking their boat up the Essequibo river to show them Bartica and the resorts there.

  We provided them with a pilot who in short order parked their boat on the nearest sandbank. It was a national disgrace. For years The Evening News has been telling the public that the Demerara and Essequibo rivers had over 300 Buoys twenty years ago, identifying their respective channels, today they have maybe 20.

   The Essequibo river is a mine field of rocks and sand banks, we claim that we want to develop a tourist industry, any fool would realize that the first objective should be to make the river safe by identifying where you should and should not go with your boat, the road on the eastern bank of the Essequibo should be properly built almost all the way to Bartica, since 1963 we have been talking about this road, where is it? There should be hotels all along this road with proper entertainment etc for the tourists, the 2 million US dollars we are allocating to tourism and culture in the 2002 budget is a joke and cannot possibly rectify the problems facing this nation in establishing a viable Eco tourism industry here, so come off the pretense Nadir we do not have an Eco industry in this country and the way we are going we never will.

   Owen Arthur has raised 1 billion US dollars in the last 4 years in direct investment in the tourist industry in Barbados, where are you going with your measly 2 million US. All this propaganda about unrest in the country destroying the ECO tourist industry is absolute nonsense.

   Ladies and gentlemen Mr. Nadir stood up in the parliament and went through the amounts of visitors month by month since 1997 for almost an hour telling us how the marching destroyed our tourism industry over the last few years, it was a complete waste of the parliament's time so don't insult our intelligence. It is just another excuse to cover up a total disconnection from reality.

   Now since the ECO tourist industry of Guyana is for Guyanese alone, who want to take a trip with their visiting relatives, who presumably stay at their families houses and not the imaginary hotels Nadir says we have, what may I ask is this nonsense of blocking up the highway to Parkia every Saturday and Sunday morning and diverting the vehicular traffic away from the highway to a side road which takes as long as it does to drive from the bridge to Parika. Why can't the vendors conduct their business on the side road and leave the highway free for traffic? Now the vendors are even occupying the highway some 150-ft in front of the access to the side road making things worse. And the road to Road-en-Rust, how many times will this government repair that road before they get it right? It has been done at least three times since 1992 and it is still a nightmare. What about Jonestown why don't we fix up the place and take some of these tourists there, I am sure that they would like to see the site of the biggest mass suicide in modern times. Don't you love it when these tours to the Essequibo take you to visit Fort Island on the way to Baganara etc. the first time they took me I almost fell out of the boat laughing, after all the hype, all I saw was bush. The other tour members were so disinterested in it that none of them even got out of the boat for a walk around.

    Let me tell you about reality ladies and gentlemen, every year our Transport and Harbors department are required to certify that all barges, boats, tugs etc. plying our waters are sea worthy and licensed, these inspections are done by our Transport and Harbors Department officials, the general manager of our T&HD is one Mr. Ivor English, the deputy general manager is a gentlemen whose name happens to be W. Joseph. 

   Here is how the system should work, someone wants his vessel inspected and licensed he approaches the transport and Harbors department, the vessel is inspected and the owner pays for the inspection and the license for the year and the money goes into the treasury. End of story. Correct? Not so, I have in my possession 13 vouchers signed by general manager Ivor English authorizing the treasury to pay directly to Mr. W. Joseph,, 5.729 million Guyana dollars between April and November 2001. I have the check numbers, the ships that the surveys were conducted on, and the dates the monies were uplifted from the Central Bank. When the internal auditor of the Transport and Harbors Department discovered these shenanigans, he was sent home on 90 days leave.

  The fact that our Central Bank, which we all know is a ship travelling up the Essequibo river without a rudder or a pilot, pays out these huge amounts without smelling a rat or without first verifying that they are indeed legitimate expenditures needs no further comment by me. Now there may be some logical explanation for all of this but I doubt it, our people at the T&HD are not involved in making our rivers safer for the population; they are too busy ripping us off for that.

   This will be my last comment for some time ladies and gentlemen perhaps a month or so. 

     I think that I have given you much to think about, and I want what I am doing to be maintained in the context I envisaged when I started. A united Guyana where we all can work together to build a better place. The path we are on now, is disastrous and leads nowhere, I love my Indo Guyanese brothers and sisters as I love my Afro Guyanaese brothers and sisters but you have to work together, you are Guyanese, no one will take all the Indo Guyanese and put them on ships and send them back to India, just as no-one will take all the Afro Guyanese and put them on ships back to Africa, you are stuck with each other and you have to pull together. All of you want to go to the US anyway, not India or Africa, don't you find that hypocritical, you all want to go to a country which by virtue of its mandate as nation, is a land where everyone has an equal chance and rights, regardless of race, instead of going there, why don't we come together and demand, those principles here at home?