Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: I want to thank the Hon. Member for his enduring interest in this matter.
I would like to recall that, I believe, I did give, a couple years ago, a statement with respect to our position on this matter. I would also like to state that the PPP/C campaigned on this issue at the last Elections, on the upper Berbice River, where we said that we will restore viable ferry services to the communities up river.
Mr. Speaker, I recall also saying what would be the deployment of our older maritime assets, those which go to the Northwest district, when we put in place a new ferry vessel for the Northwest District. At that time, I recall saying particularly that when the new ferry vessel comes in place for the Northwest District… I believe I said that the MV Lady Northcote will be retired. The MV Barima will be used as a trading vessel and the Kimbia would return to the Berbice River to ply that route to respond to the development that is again unfolding in the area.
We have, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, approached the Government of India with designs and proposed specifications for a new ferry vessel for the Northwest District. We anticipate at current arrangements and designs that we would hopefully have. I do not want to be specific or emphatic about it. At the end of this year, this matter should be resolved. I do not want to be specific because the designs have to be completed, accepted and the vessel built. I repeat, the Kimbia, which was specifically designed for the Berbice River ferry service, will return to the Berbice River at that time.
Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members, I would like to point out that the degradation in services, directly from the Government, with respect to the river ferry service on the Berbice River, happened a long time ago. The MV Kimbia was not removed because there was production. It was removed because the efforts - some of us would say those efforts were heroic - to produce cotton, black-eyed peas, red beans and other things at Kimbia failed. The economy on the upper Berbice River went down. The bauxite itself was impacted and gradually people moved out of the communities. All the old estates and farms were going back into the bush.
Fairly recently and even now, the fact is that we have been able to restore the overland transport into the Upper Berbice River to Kwakwani, Aroaima, and to Mapletown. That alternative is there as we speak. Through the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and the efforts of other Ministries, boats have been provided to the communities to deal with their transportation arrangements, the logistics to the points at which they could access overland transport.
Now that we are having, indeed, a response in terms of revival of agriculture and revival of forestry in the area, particularly forestry too, I think, in terms of heavy transport and bulk cargo, it is now, as we anticipated, the time when this service would be put in place.
Our approach to this matter, as I have said, has been proactive. The solutions are at hand. I again want to congratulate the Hon. Member on his interest, and the interest of his party too, in the matter with accords with our interest and the activities that we are undertaking to resolve this problem, to respond to the growth in the area and to respond to the increase in population in the area, because that is actually what is happening. There is a healthier population in the area. There is a population that is going into more agriculture activities, not only farming, but forestry related activities. The overland recourse is not necessarily the most efficient one at this time in terms of distance to places for overland transport, but we are dealing with this matter.
I would like to point out that there was no unilateral removal of the critical service from the area. There was no unilateral removal of the service. There is a suggestion that the removal of the service in itself created the abandonment and the dissertation, in the fourth Whereas clause, of significant economic activities.
I recently went to Mabaruma to raise our national flag on our Republic anniversary and one of the discussions I was having with the persons up there, the Regional Chairman and others we met with was the question of having cargos to come out on the boats. Even now in the Northwest District, we have a difficulty where there is a weekly service into the area, either at Kumaka for Mabaruma and at Port Kaituma for Mathews Ridge and Arakaka and the surrounding areas. There is insufficient cargo coming out from the areas. We have to have and to revitalise, as we are trying to do, agricultural work in the area so that we return to the days when the boat came back filled, rather than the boat going up filled but coming back empty because of the question of labour cost, the question of moving into the gold fields or doing work in the heart-of-palm and other activities.
The fact of the matter is that the ferry service declined on the Berbice River. At that time, the Kimbia was removed, not in the period of this PPP/C being in Government, but at the time of the previous Government, previous to the PPP/C, because there was nothing to bring out on the boats.
The resolution clause calls on us to restore the service, revive the communities and give hope and stability to the many Guyanese who wish to venture into agricultural entrepreneurship. We agree with this resolution clause and we state emphatically that this is the activity we have been working on and which we are about. So, we really have no difficulty with going along in accordance, perhaps, with what we are already doing here. We will go along with what we are already doing. We are advising again that we are already pursuing this activity on the ground with respect to reintroducing a viable Berbice River ferry service.
I thank you. [Applause]