This past weekend, in the euphoria of Christmas, news emerged of the death of Bishop Desmond Tutu. This South African icon outgrew his South African heritage and became also a global icon. If there is something that all Guyanese can agree on, it is that Bishop Tutu is genuinely a global hero. I had the honour of meeting with, and having a number of the most inspiring discourses with, Bishop Tutu. I met him personally for the first time in May 2008 when I served as the President of the World Health Organization. When we were introduced and he learned I was from Guyana, he immediately hugged me and said you are from Cheddi’s country.
After my call for the 75X25 proposal, that is, that no country should have a life expectancy of less than 75 by 2025, he grabbed my hand and said Cheddi taught you well. Without such idealism, he argued, we cannot achieve social justice. When I argued in 2008 that ending AIDS by 2030 is not just a very achievable goal, but with medicines for everyone living with HIV, we can end AIDS immediately and end HIV by 2030, he came by and said to me he never thought about it that way; and, indeed, our timidity in moving immediately to ending AIDS is an example of why social injustice remained the paradigm. Bishop Tutu was a great son of God, and the world has lost a true hero. This week, someone sent me a picture of me and Bishop Tutu. It is one I want to keep so that my grandchildren can see that their papa met a great man.
As we mourn the loss of Bishop Tutu, in less than forty-eight hours, 2021 will be behind us and we will welcome 2022. For the whole of 2021, we were in a mortal combat with COVID-19, and even though we are truly battered, even though more than a thousand of our sisters and brothers have lost their lives prematurely because of COVID-19, we can, and we must, defeat COVID-19. As we end 2021, the numbers of newly confirmed cases on a daily basis have reached their lowest levels, and the numbers of persons in the COVID-19 hospital have also reached the lowest they have been throughout 2021. This signals that if we work together, we can stop COIVD-19. I am afraid, however, that Guyanese have thrown caution to the wind this holiday season, and I will not be shocked if COVID-19 goes berserk in the first few weeks of 2022.
But recognition must be given to the fact that Guyana stood out among developing countries in 2021, with over 80% of our adult population having a first dose vaccine, over 57% of the adult population fully vaccinated, more than 41% of the entire population fully vaccinated, and more than 12,000 Guyanese having had a booster shot. But COVID-19 was only one of the existential threats we faced. Climate change continued to vigorously make its presence felt. Beginning since October 2020, and relentlessly continuing throughout 2021, climate change has brought unprecedented levels of rainfall across Guyana. Every single geographic region in Guyana has had one flooding event after another. Over and above these struggles, Guyana continues to deal with an obstructionist parliamentary Opposition and a judiciary that the vast majority has no confidence in.
Confronted with challenges that hobbled other countries, Guyana still is in a position to record GDP (economic) growth near 20%. In fact, this is the second highest economic growth rate in the world. Overall, Guyana has had two consecutive years of economic growth rates ranking in the top five in the world. For 2021, Guyana stands as the country with the second fastest growth rate, behind Libya. Guyana’s GDP is now about to top US$6B for the first time ever. Most people pay attention to two economic statistics for 2021 in Guyana. One is that OIL has rapidly become the number 1 foreign currency earner for Guyana. This is positive news, and can become the first ever annual billion US dollars’ income earner for our country. The second noteworthy statistics is that while bad weather continues to devastate SUGAR, bad weather was not able to similarly dash the hopes of rice farmers. In fact, rice will earn more than US$200M for 2021.
For the first time ever, the Public Sector investment will top more than $300B. Health, education, housing, infrastructure, and security in 2021 will have their largest-ever investment in the history of Guyana. Suddenly, the construction companies have not only run out of building material, there are also not enough large contractors in the country. But amidst the construction boom driven by Public Sector investment, private businesses, local and foreign, are investing in infrastructure development, building office buildings, warehouses, hotels, hospitals, schools etc. It is now necessary to allow construction companies and contractors with little experience to compete for construction contracts. It is impossible for the present list of contractors to meet the construction needs of the country. As we welcome 2022, Guyana has expanded the vision of a modern Guyana that Bharrat Jagdeo brought to his presidency in 1999. President Irfaan Ali is about to bring Guyana’s infrastructure into the 21st century.