Budget Debate 20144123 08 Apr, 2014
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My first duty is to welcome my Colleague and Friend, Mr. Ernest Elliot, into this National Assembly. I am very happy to have him here. My only regret is, of course, the circumstances which led to his being selected to enter the National Assembly at this time.
I must add that over the last few days we have had to reflect on the political culture in two particular events, one which led to the premature withdrawal of a promising young Colleague, Mr. Jaipaul Sharma, a solid, invaluable Member of our team, just two years into his parliamentary career which has been cut short.
We also know that this month, April, is the twentieth anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide and I would just like to caution on the injury that loose comments can make, in the one instance to the career of Mr. Jaipaul and, in another instance, Rwanda was no joke; it was a deadly serious genocidal conflict in which over 750,000 persons were killed. That is the population of Guyana. It is a crime against humanity and we must not throw around these expressions as if they were just riots.
I hope the lessons learnt from these two events will help to improve our political culture and that we should refrain from making remarks which are deliberately injurious, which are malicious and which very frequently are also gratuitous and spurious.
I stood here on Tuesday, 17th April, 2012 to participate in the first Budget debate for the Tenth Parliament. I stood here again on Tuesday, 9th April, 2013 to participate in the debate on that year’s Budget. Today, I stand here on Tuesday, 8th April, 2014 to participate in a debate on another Budget.
This year, as before, the Budget was planned, prepared, and presented by the People’s Progressive Party / Civic Administration without meaningful consultation and collaboration with the majority in this Assembly. What we have today is a document which will provide a bitter Guyana for many Guyanese. The attention of this nation is focused on this Budget and we have a collective responsibility to ensure that the debates are serious and that the results of our discussions would provide the Guyanese people with the good life. But what we have is the same old PPP, the same old evasions.
The National Assembly meets today to deliberate on the Budget. The Minister of Finance, who has masterminded this document, has avoided mentioning, even once, the word ‘poverty.’ It is remarkable that in 85 pages you cannot mention poverty once. He does not mention the word ‘unemployment’, not once. He does not mention the word ‘emigration’ when everybody knows that there is a massive brain drain. One must ask oneself for which country was this Budget written?
Budget 2014 is not a budget for the poor. It is not a budget for workers. It is not a budget for the young. It is not a budget for the old. It is anti-poor, anti-people and anti-progress. It is driven by politics, not by economics.
The very presentation of this Budget re-emphasises the need to establish, as early as possible, a parliamentary office of the budget. We need to build a permanent institution right here. We need to ensure that all sides in the National Assembly could comprehensively sit down and propose national measures which are needed for national development. It is clear that the Minister of Finance must be given the information and insights which seem to be so desperately deficient up Main Street.
No single person or party knows everything. A Partnership for National Unity is on the road. We are in the villages and among the people every week. We covered the broken and collapsing waterfront at Kumaka. We covered the sunken road in Barabina just before the Hon. Minister got there. We covered the collapsing bridge at Moruca. We visited the flood victims at Friendship and Hackney in the Pomeroon and the Anna Regina Market. We inspected the rotting stellings at Parika and Vreed-en-Hoop. We meet the frequently robbed residents of La Parfaite Harmonie. We walk the ground in Albouystown and Sophia and listened to the woes of the vendors in the Lusignan and the Mon Repos markets. We are in Perth; we are Brothers; we are Sisters, we are in Rose Hall; we are Port Mourant; we are in Bartica; we are in Waramadong. We see the broken water reservoir at Paramakatoi. We are in Bamboo Creek; we are in Annai, Aranaputa, Surama, Sawariwau, Ituni and Kwakwani. Listen to us and let us tell you what is going on. APNU is on the road. We explore the huge country beyond Main Street.
That is why we have been the ones to call, over the past 12 months, for a national flood control plan to stop this annual cycle of flooding. People are fed up. We are the ones to call for a national infrastructure plan to design a reliable countrywide network of aerodromes, bridges, highways and stellings. We are the ones to call for a national plan of action for hinterland development to integrate western Guyana more closely with eastern Guyana. We are the ones to call for a national youth policy, year after year, to allow the young to participate more fully in the management of their communities. We are the ones who call for a National Drug Strategy Master Plan that expired five years ago so that our communities would be protected from drug traffickers.
APNU is on the road; listen to us. We do not know everything, but we know a lot and we know there are problems. That is why we have called for a commission of inquiry into our primary school system. We have called for a commission of inquiry into the public health system where young mothers have so frequently died. We have called for a commission of inquiry into criminal violence. We are the ones who are calling for an investigation into the assassination of Satyadeo Sawh. We are the ones who are calling for an inquiry into trafficking in persons. We are the ones who are calling for an inquiry into the problems affecting the sugar industry. We want to save sugar, but we want to save sugar from mismanagement. We are the ones who are calling for an inquiry into the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) because we want to save our pensioners and other persons who are beneficiaries of that scheme from mismanagement. We are the ones who are calling for investigation into the deaths from gastro-enteritis in the Barima/Waini. We are the ones who are calling for an investigation into the maritime accidents which have claimed so many of our lives.
We know which side of the House does not support independent inquiries into lawlessness. We know which side has not learnt from its mistakes, and we know which side of the House keeps on making the same old mistakes.
These are the micro-economic fundamentals by which people live every day. We are concerned about the people who have to stare into the face of the people who run our schools, our hospitals, our police stations, and the NIS; the unfriendly face of an uncaring state. Our people, the ordinary people, want a budget that goes to the heart of the everyday issues, the issues that confront them – one that does the greatest good for the greatest number. We want a budget for the people who are struggling with stagnant wages with rampant cost-of-living increases, and with rising child-care costs. We want a Budget that stimulates, not frustrates growth.
The Budget before this Assembly, however, has evinced no inspiration, no imagination and no innovation. What is it? It is the same old PPP, the same old platitudes. The Minister of Finance lays on the platitudes with a trowel. They are thick and heavy in the Budget’s so-called ‘medium-term outlook’. No one will challenge the vision of a Guyana which makes the leap from being a country of promise and potential to one in which that promise is fulfilled and that potential is realised. No one can deny that we all want a country, as the Budget Speech states:
“...one where the unique advantages of our geographic location and our historical and bilateral relationships, the vastness of our natural resources and the richness of our human resources, are all harnessed in service to the national good. That Guyana is one where we are better connected infrastructurally with our neighbours to realise more fully the benefits of integration and where, within our country, our people are better connected across land, air, and river to make our markets more efficient and to improve the ease with which our people can travel domestically. That Guyana is one where the domestic digital divide is eliminated, and where access to the vast advantages of information and communications technology is universally enjoyed. That Guyana is one where our domestic energy requirements are met entirely by renewable sources, and where we become an exporter of clean energy. That Guyana is one that is abundant in food supply far exceeding our domestic requirements and making a tangible contribution to regional and global food security. That Guyana is one where every single Guyanese person has access to social services of a suitably high quality, and where our national health and education attainment indicators meet international standards.”
Mr. Speaker, people promise in poetry, but they perform in prose. As the bride said, the wedding was poetry but the marriage is prose. So it is good to have a good speech but what does the Budget provide?
This Budget is not the road to get us there; it is not the way ahead. This Budget simply does not provide the resources to transform the beautiful rhetoric of the Minister’s Budget Speech into reality. What provisions and resources are there in the Budget to build real highways between Linden to Lethem, between Ituni and Kwakwani, between Bartica and Mahdia, between Annai and Aishalton? What resources are there to develop a comprehensive national infrastructure network? None. What resources are there to give our youth access to high quality education even at primary and secondary levels? What resources are there to provide every young person with an opportunity to find rewarding and productive employment? What resources are there to prevent our citizens, our qualified citizens, from migrating? What resources are there to allow every elderly person to retire in comfort? What resources are there to bring an end to the cronyism that is undermining the transparent award of contracts to bona fide businessmen? What resources are there to make our hinterland safe from daily banditry, safe enough from piracy to attract investors who want to bring their business here? What resources are there to stop the contraband trade which distorts our economy and which nearly obliterated Port Kaituma last week when an illegal fuel boat exploded?
Mr. Speaker, let me tell this learned House that the Cabinet commissioned an inquiry, in 2003, eleven years ago, to investigate the same fuel smuggling. The then Head of State - I do not know if I can mention his name – announced, at that time, that the State was losing $6 billion a year in unpaid duties on fuel alone. Yet, 11 years later, in broad daylight, we still have an explosive fuel smuggling situation. Can the blind Commissioner bring an end to the contraband? What do we have? The same old PPP, the same old indifference to contraband.
The public security crisis will not correct itself. Narco-trafficking is the engine of growth that is driving this country’s high rates of money laundering, high rates of gun running, execution murders and armed robberies. Violent crime - not Kaieteur News, not Stabroek News - is what is scaring foreign investors, driving away the educated élite, undermining economic growth and impeding social development. The lucrative narco-trade has spawned armed gangs which use their wealth to purchase political influence and suborn the security forces in order to protect their interests. Money launderers associated with narcotics traffickers also distort the domestic economy by pricing their goods and services below market rates and this undermines legitimate businesses.
Revelations in the international media of a Guyana-Italy cocaine conspiracy are ominous. Evidence that Guyanese narco-traffickers are working hand-in-hand with Italian Mafiosi linked to the Gambino and Bonanno families and the Italian crime syndicates confirms fears that Guyana is sleepwalking into narco-statehood.
Some people diligently collect newspaper clippings of 20 years ago but cannot remember what happened two months ago. As old people say, “Jackass ears long, but he nah hear he own story.”
Guyana’s hinterland west of Fort Island on the Essequibo River is a dangerous place. Banditry is rampant; contraband smuggling is an everyday occurrence; disease is prevalent; poverty is pervasive and educational standards, particularly in those Regions – 1, 7, 8 and 9 - are lower than the rest of the country. The hinterland comprises over three-quarters of this country’s territory. It has long unwatched land borders with Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname; vast unpatrolled open spaces; unmonitored airstrips and numberless rivers and creeks, creeks which have become corridors and channels for illegal narcotics and firearms to be brought into the country.
The truth is that our nation wakes up every morning to the dreary reality of shoddy road repairs, broken schools, an underfunded university, shaky institutions and a brigade of jobless dropouts. The problem, of course, is that this Budget simply does not provide the funds to confront the most serious challenges facing our families. Those challenges are: the unavailability of jobs for young school-leavers; poor quality of education at the primary and secondary levels in both the coastland and the hinterland; the daily threats to human safety where there is an armed robbery every eight hours, two murders every week and twelve fatal accidents every month; and the threats of disease – of dengue, of gastro-enteritis, and of malaria. Why? Because we have the same old PPP, with the same old prejudices.
This minority Administration must not presume that it can ignore the majority will, that it can ignore what the majority of people want and desire in this country. The minority Administration cannot attempt to exclude the majority side from contributing to the Budget preparation. The minority Administration must collaborate with the majority so that together we can be co-workers in creating a budget which affects the future of all the people of this country.
The view from Main Street is limited. It is difficult to fully comprehend the complexity of the demographic, economic, social and political changes taking place throughout the country. All politics is local. We are on the grounds among the people, listening to the ordinary people, learning from the ordinary people. When we speak, we speak with the voice of the people and that is why we want to be heard; we want to be listened to.
The Budget, despite its promise – A Better Guyana for all Guyanese – is, as I said before, degenerating into “a bitter Guyana for most Guyanese.” But more seriously this Budget is dangerously dividing Guyana into two nations. It is creating an East-West divide that separates everything west of the Essequibo River from everything that lies to the East. Let the Budget analyse the average per capita income of residents west of the Essequibo. Let the budget analyse the allocation of finance for roads west of the Essequibo. Let the Budget calculate the standard of living of the largest concentration of poor people in this country west of the Essequibo.
Look at the Budget Speech, for example. Look at the section entitled “Physical Infrastructure for Transportation”, pages 32-33. Where are the roads that are going to be built? East Bank Demerara, West Coast Demerara and East Coast Demerara are not in the rich gold bearing and timber bearing areas. This Budget perpetuates a dangerous divergence; it perpetuates disparities and divisions which have hindered the development of the larger part of this country. Is this deliberate or is it an acute case of Main Street myopia?
The hinterland underdevelopment crisis has been ably articulated by our Members of Parliament - Mr. Sydney Allicock, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams, Mrs. Valerie Garrido-Lowe, Ms. Eula Marcello, Dr. George Norton and Ms. Renita Williams. No one knows the interior locations better than they do in this House. They know that hinterland underdevelopment will not correct itself, there must be budgetary intervention. The Potaro-Siparuni, Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni and the Rupununi regions might be the biggest parts of the country but they are also the poorest. What do we have? We have the same old People’s Progressive Party (PPP) with the same old eye-pass for the hinterland.
The hinterland communities do not need baubles and beads; they do not need toys and trinkets. Handouts smother human initiative, any of the residents will tell you that; handouts extinguish local enterprise. The hinterland, like everywhere else, needs reliable services; it needs community-based solar, wind and electricity generation projects to give it water supply. Look at what has happed at the Chiung River; that is a charade, if I ever saw one. The Chiung Falls, beautiful photographs, but do you know what, Mr. Speaker? Probably in your lifetime there would be no hydro project on the Chiung River, just as Amaila Falls Hydropower Project because there is no road to get the turbines to it. They will plan all they want, but there is no road to get the turbines in. The first thing is that they have the great photographs and then discover there is no road to move the turbines in.
The hinterland looks like a diseased animal with mined out parts which have degenerated into a mosquito infested wasteland. Our evergreen forest and pristine waterways are under threat. Our people are poor. Exploiting the economic resources, sustaining the livelihood of residents and protecting the environment demand a new approach to hinterland administration. The national budget must provide for regional administrative centres. Bartica, one of the oldest communities in this country, over 150 years old, Mahdia, Mabaruma and Lethem, which are all administrative centres for those important regions of 1, 7, 8 and 9, must be quickly ungraded to township status with their own mayors and town councils. We must stop treating the hinterland as ‘bush.’
[Interruption from the Government Members.] I did not interrupt you. I really did not interrupt you. I was tempted, but I gave you a break. The hinterland’s mining, logging and tourism resources have been exploited for over a century and they continue to enrich the national treasury, but their physical infrastructure is inadequate for such a vast territory. Its small scattered population is vulnerable to criminal violence, human trafficking and environmental hazard.
Guyana’s economic development has been impeded. Its international competitiveness has been impaired because of the lack of major investment in public infrastructure. Collapsing stellings, an aging fleet of ferries, deteriorating hinterland airstrips, broken bridges, impassable roadways, and weakened kokers and sea defences have all become major obstacles to everyday commuting, communication and commerce. Why? It is because we have the same old PPP and the same old presumptuousness.
Budget 2014 has done nothing to inspire hope. A bold budget was needed to move the country forward at a faster pace, but such a budget is yet to be seen. Every budget is a plan, an economic plan or a financial plan; a plan that must be forward not backward-looking if it is to be of any value. It must have a clear vision; it must have a sense of mission; it must be a projection of what needs to be done tomorrow to solve today’s problems and the resources must be allocated to achieve these objectives. It is not a recapitulation of previous administrations. It is to be a prospect of what will take place in the future.
The budget is meant to point the economy in the direction of transformation, to marshal the people’s efforts and to draw on their entrepreneurial energy to overcome those challenges together.
This budget did throw a few crumbs to schoolchildren and pensioners, but those amounts are crummy. Those amounts may please some of the people some of the time, but it could have done more to address other constituencies, especially the youth and students and most particularly, the workers. Our partnership deliberately designated 2014 as “The Year for Workers.” The underlying hope was that the authors of this budget would have understood the meaning for that designation and would have taken reasonable and realistic measures to encourage job creation for our potential workforce. This budget continues to neglect our young workers. It neglects the provision of employment opportunity and enterprise.
The PPP spends like a drunken sailor on a lot of little projects - the President’s Youth Choice Initiative, we do not even hear about it anymore, the President’s Youth Award Republic of Guyana, the Youth Enterprise and Apprenticeship Scheme, which just came on board last year, and the National Training Programme for Youth Empowerment. What is the value of all of these schemes? Who measures the impact of these schemes on the lives of young people, on their careers and jobs of the persons who graduate from them? These schemes are good at sharing out lots of red polo shirts, but, in fact, they are just versions of PPP pet projects. What young people want and what they have told us they want are permanent institutions, not ad hoc programmes. They told us that they want regional technical institutes. Every region must have a technical institute; every region must have an agricultural institute; every one of those regions, particularly Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9 is an agricultural region and people make their living from farming and they want to have these institutes, not just on the coastland, but also in the hinterland and regions where they live. They told us they want regional swimming and sports centres; they told us they want regional agricultural development banks. They do not want to be treated as ‘bush’; they want to be treated as part of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
The budget must include real measures that provide work for young people, wherever they are, all over Guyana. The basic fact is that all the parties acknowledge that Budget 2014 is not capable of bringing about change for the mass of young people. The fact is jobs are scarce. Young school leavers simply do not have the skills to equip many of them for the world of work in Guyana. They migrate to Brazil where secondary school graduates work as farmhands or in restaurants because there is no work here in Guyana. The economy simply is not providing jobs for the employment of those young people.
The story of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is another dream that has gone sour. As we know, the NIS began its operation 45 years ago under the People’s National Congress administration. Prime Minister Forbes Burnham had a clear vision of a welfare state which stood on three pillars. One was free education from the nursery to the university; the other was affordable housing and the third pillar was social protection through the creation of the National Insurance Scheme. That scheme was designed to provide coverage from the cradle to the grave and we expect that concrete measures would ensure that the social protection, which was promised through the NIS, is guaranteed. But what do we have? It is the same old PPP - the same old kourchour. The Government of Guyana needs to introduce a serious... [Mr. Nandlall: Is kourchour a parliamentary word?] Check Allsopp.
The Government of Guyana needs to introduce a serious security strategy to protect our citizens from criminal violence. A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) accuses the PPP of failing to implement the types of reforms that could strengthen border and hinterland security. APNU accuses the PPP in this budget debate of deliberately avoiding references to the high rate of armed robberies, contraband smuggling, gun-running, money-laundering, narcotics trafficking, people trafficking, piracy and banditry. These are the crimes that are sucking the oxygen out of the economy, stifling the manufacturing sector and strangling local enterprise. In the meantime, the PPP is infatuated with community policing, citizens’ security and the neighbourhood police, but that infatuation is misplaced. We still experience the shockwaves of criminal violence which plagued the first decade of this millennium, during the presidency of Mr. Jagdeo. This period will be remembered in this country’s history for its extraordinary number of drug driven murders, massacres and executions. Yet, these crimes remain uninvestigated and many of the criminals remain unpunished. Guyana is bleeding. The PPP administration has failed to enforce laws which protect lives and ensure that the killings are investigated.
Budget 2014 has failed to promise new measures which could strengthen the Guyana Police Force to enable it to prevent reoccurrences of those atrocities. The budget must show us how the provision of financial resources will make the country safe by curbing the cocaine trade, by curbing gun-running, by curbing the crimes which are pumping violence into this country. What we have in the budget is the same old PPP - the same old stinginess.
This country has never been wealthy, but the proliferation of hordes of extremely poor, destitute and homeless persons and of street children over the last two decades is a man-made catastrophe. We are not in a post-war situation. Poverty is not an act of God; poverty is not force majeure. It is a man-made problem, a problem that could be solved with good governance and sensible public policies. There are too many poor people, people who cannot afford to purchase even a low cost diet every day. That is why the APNU has put so much emphasis on the human condition in our budget debates. Even at this late stage, the PPP administration can still amend its own budget, by reducing the Value Added Tax (VAT) to 10%, reducing the income tax and by generating and guaranteeing jobs for school leavers. [Mr. Nandlall: We will plant a couple of money trees. Do not worry. ] Our colleague, Mr. Ramjattan, has told you where to get the money from.
The one secret account has never been brought to light. The budget did not even mention Guyana’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, not even as a footnote. This poverty reduction strategy paper was meant to be a mechanism by which Guyana could eliminate poverty, but what we see in this budget is that the poor has been abandoned
The PPP’s Budget 2014 will be measured by its impacts on poor people – its impact on the nation. APNU reserves its right to disagree its provisions, those provisions which we do not see as to be in the national interest. There is no way the country can move forward with such a budget, one that continues to disregard the needs of the most important factor in national development, the ordinary people.
We have here the same old PPP, but the time is up - “Moon ah run til sun ketch um.” There is still time for Guyana to move forward. The National Assembly has an obligation to provide the leadership that is needed to produce a better budget. We have a duty now, as we enter the Committee of Supply, to design plans and strategies to make changes so that we could overcome the economic and social challenges in order to provide the quality of life to our people. We must use the next stage of this budget process to forestall any folly that might prolong the nightmare of poverty that could lead us down the path of destitution.
Mr. Speaker, A Partnership for National Unity signals tonight that it disagrees with certain measures which have been proposed. When you put those questions, as put you must, we shall exercise our constitutional right to express our agreement or disagreement. We might have the same old PPP, but we also have a new APNU and Alliance For Change (AFC) dispensation and if the old PPP would not do it, the new partners, together, must move to save this budget from itself. We must work towards giving our people a better life and not the bitter life that the present budget promises.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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