Approval of Government’s Policy in President’s Address3567 15 Mar, 2012
Leader of the Opposition [Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger]: Thank you Mr. Speaker. The Ceremonial Opening of Parliament should be much more than a spectacular event. It should be an opportunity to review the previous session of Parliament and should be an opportunity to present an outline of the priorities, the policies and the programmes and, particularly, the proposed legislation for the new session. The text of the President’s Address to this Hon. House, although much shorter than some of the presentations this evening, should be a comprehensive document, one that is carefully prepared by the entire Cabinet. It should embrace, in a serious way, the intentions of these 20 Hon. Ministers of the Cabinet. It should embrace the policies of the 15 or so Ministries which have been created since the 3rd December, 2012. It should inform the nation about the policies which it can expect during the course of the Tenth Parliament. It is a serious document. It is a serious exercise. It is not an experience of frivolity.
The President’s address on this occasion was not that comprehensive document which the population expected. It was not what this Hon. House deserves. It was delivered during a month, the month of February, where we were actually witnessing our annual floods, floods that ravaged six coastal regions. It was delivered when pirates were actually terrorising 15 fishing boats off the Pomeroon. It was delivered when shots were being fired at angry Black Bush Polder farmers who were protesting against the conditions in that community. The President’s address was delivered when sugar and bauxite workers were restless, and when the University of Guyana students, staff and workers were striking against the administration in protest against unbearable conditions at Turkeyen. The President’s speech was actually delivered when the sea defences at Wakenaam were actually collapsing. It was actually delivered when parents at Aishalton were writing the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to protest against the shortage of teachers, the shortage of food and the shortage of water at the Aishalton Secondary School in February, 2012. This was the time when His Excellency the President was delivering his Address and this is the context within which this Hon. House must examine the relevance of his presentation. These are the real difficulties which confront our ordinary people in this country today. In addition to those that I mentioned, there were deficiencies in the criminal justice system that we know about, deficiencies in the national health system, deficiencies in the education system, deficiencies in the local government system and other areas of government responsibility which we need not explore further than they have been explored already this evening. These deficiencies continue to demotivate our public servants our nurses, our teachers, particularly our Science teachers. They continue to demoralise the public, in general. To these we must add the burdensome cost of living to the bulk of the population, the loathsome growth of unemployment, particularly of our young school leavers, the destitution of the poor, the homeless and the street children.
This Hon. House had hoped that the President’s Address would have attempted to explain the Administration’s responses to these pressing, everyday problems. This House wanted to be informed about the legislative agenda of the Administration, a legislative agenda that would introduce measures that would improve the quality of life of our people. In nearly 4,000 words, however, the Address managed to ignore the major elements of public life in Guyana today. Those issues which were touched ever so lightly demanded much more deliberate attention than was offered.
Foreign affairs, for example, especially our relations with our neighbours, the Caribbean and the Continent, would be hampered unless there are major changes in our missions and their staff. Will the present quorum of Ambassadors and High Commissioners be retained to pioneer economic diplomacy that this country needs? Will the Ambassador to Brazil blaze the trail towards the continental destiny of this country? Will he be the point man in opening Guyana to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)?
Economic development would be advanced only after a serious appraisal in the manner in which labour relations, especially with the unions in the public sector and in traditional sectors: sugar, the sugar union and in bauxite, the bauxite union. Unless these labour relations are managed much more prudently, our economy will continue to stagger. The regulatory environment for the important gold and diamond mining, and timber industries must be strengthened. Hinterland infrastructure, rail roads, rail bridges and aerodromes must be improved to attract world class investors. This House wants to know what legislation will be introduced to make these things possible.
Education reform is a top priority. The large number of dropouts from our primary and secondary schools, the turmoil at the University of Guyana and the flight of qualified Science teachers all demand urgent attention. Where in the Address did we see a plan for this country to create the scientific elite which will guide our mining, our agriculture and our engineering development?
Public security, particularly the performance of our main law enforcement agency, the Guyana Police Force, has been perennial problems. Banditry and piracy have become household words, but where in the Address have we seen a plan to address these issues? It is a fact that narco-trafficking has pumped violence in this country. I have just been given a report, the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report from the United States, the annual report to Congress, which reads:
“Guyana’s political and judicial infrastructure has been impacted by narco-influence and its economy has become increasingly affected by drug money.”
And it goes on. The Administration has abandoned three counter narcotic strategies during its 19 years but, yet, the Address made no mention of a new plan to suppress this insidious trade.
National unity, above all, cannot be built by airy calls for consensus, for compromise and for the quest for common ground. There must be an institutional framework that must be erected to really build cooperation and that will build inclusionary democracy that our Constitution calls for at the national, regional and neighbourhood levels if we are to move forward.
The voices of the trade unions and civil societies must be heard during the course of the Tenth Parliament. The will of the majority must be respected. Our workers, our women, our youth, our children and our minorities must not be ignored in the policies of this Parliament. Ten weeks are a long time in politics. It took ten weeks from the inauguration for the President to arrive at this National Assembly to deliver his feature Address – ten weeks. The President’s address, however, despite the length of time it took him to arrive here, made short work of the serious issues affecting the ordinary people of this country. The experiences of the past 20 years, the exigencies of current events and the expectations of the electorate should have exerted the greater influence on the preparation of the Government’s policy adumbrated in the President’s Address to this Tenth Parliament.
In the responsive address, just minutes after it was delivered on the 10th of February, an invitation was offered for the President to return to this Hon. House to force a dialogue between the Executive and Legislative branches. The five weeks that have elapsed since then provided the opportunity for all of us to have a deeper reflection of the address to the Nation, the address to this Parliament, but still they confirm the need for that invitation to His Excellency to return here.
The President’s Address did not promulgate the policies, the plans and the programme that this country needs at this time to move forward; it did not point to the way to solve the major problems confronting the Guyanese people. It is for this reason that A Partnership for National Unity cannot support the Motion to approve the President’s Address. I thank you. [Applause]
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