Budget Debate 20133100 08 Apr, 2013
Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker and colleagues on both sides of the House. I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate on Budget 2013 presented to the National Assembly by the Hon. Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, our Minister of Finance, on Monday, 25th March, 2013, under the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
Budget 2013 arose out of our commitment to the Guyanese people, with whose support we of the PPP/C Government have been able not only to overcome the challenges of the hostile political climate of the post November 2011 period, but also to have the Budget cuts restored. Indeed, these challenges only serve to intensify our resolve as a people and our efforts as a political party and as a government to ensure that the wheels of progress continue to turn. Those of us who not only read the Budget, but study the Budget, would realise that the wheels of progress have been turning all along, perhaps too fast for some of us.
We have been able to mitigate and successfully resist attempts to usurp the mandate given to the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government by the electorate to govern. Guyanese have been noticing, feeling and benefiting from our gains under the PPP/Civic Government even as they come to the realisation that my friends on the Opposition side do not even have a development plan for Guyana. I offer you $208.8 billion dollars and ask you to prepare a plan and show it to the Guyanese people. Their focus has been on making our country ungovernable, on getting even, and on targeting individuals within the Government. My Friends, your time could be better spent.
I exhort the Opposition not to go down the road of budget cuts again. There is obviously no need to do so at all. Guyana’s economy is doing well. Revenues continue to increase perennially and, consequently, more resources are available to provide more goods and services for our people, and that includes you. This improvement necessarily confirms that we have been making wise choices. How is it that we are able to garner more revenue? How is it that we are able to provide more goods and services? How is it that our people are able not only to enjoy, but be very vocal about enjoying a better standard of living. Our decisions in terms of allocation of resources have been very good ones.
Support Budget 2013. It is the best contribution that you could make at this time for further development.
Guyana is a nation on the rise. Our people are enjoying a better standard of living today than they did two decades ago. I challenge you to refute that. There has been improvement in the areas of education, health care, electricity, roads, bridges, housing, communication, et cetera. All of these have touched our people not only in the urban, not only the rural, but in the Hinterland areas.
I am not about to stand here and say that we have done all that needs to be done, but I say to you that you do not measure progress only in terms of what is achieved. You do not measure progress only in terms of the heights attained. You have to examine the depths from which we started: d-e-p-t-h-s. The Guyanese people know what that was in October 1992.
In the process of these developments I have just alluded to, we have significantly reduced poverty and achieved universal primary education. We have come very close to achieving universal secondary education - access. We have reduced child mortality and provided housing for thousands of our people, more so our young people, and earned the respect of millions not only across the Caribbean, but across the world. Today, I see young people owning their own homes and driving cars and I reflect on my days as a youngster growing up when one could have actually counted the number of young people owning their own homes and count the number of cars traversing the roads.
Coming on the heels of Budget 2012, we have again put together, in collaboration with the Guyanese people – this is not the PPP/C alone – another annual budget for a country that enjoys the unanimous support of a significant majority of our population. I challenge you to discredit that with evidence. We have allowed nothing to daunt our efforts to work towards improving further the social services and sustaining the economic growth we promised all Guyana in our Manifestos of 1992, 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2011. It came out of our Manifestos which, in turn, came out of our dialogue, consultation with the masses of the people. These are reflected in our Poverty Reduction Strategy. They are reflected in our National Competitive Strategy/National Development Strategy (NCS/NDS) and improvements which we have been enjoying since 1993.
Opportunities were presented to all Guyanese who came forward and advanced their views on what should be priority budgetary proposals for the 2013 Budget. Some chose not to see this consultation process as urgent and important. Hence, they did not avail themselves to play a meaningful role in the determination of the basket of measures and interventions that has gone into the 2013 Budget. If they did not and if they behaved as irresponsible Guyanese, who is to be blamed? These anti-working class opportunists are now seeking to undo the results of what is a democratic, consultative process which saw thousand of our people proffering their views on the menu of measures that should go into Budget 2013. We could not allow them to do that. We must not allow them to do that. They focus on what we did not do, not what we have done. They will have some believe that there has been no development. Those who have eyes to see, let them see.
My friends, I implore all on the Opposition side to come and work with us so that we can further reduce and remove the pull and push factors that threaten to erode the opportunities we have created and the gains we have made as a nation under the PPP/Civic Government. Together we can provide more goods, more services and more opportunities for all our people.
In a most difficult period, Guyana, this little nation in South America, has weathered the difficult global financial storm, and Dr. Ashni Singh did focus on it in his Budget. We have achieved impressive financial growth relative to what we see happening in the Caribbean, South America and other countries. Guyana’s US$1.7 billion debt, which is one of the issues the Opposition keeps referring to, today remains a significant achievement when compared to the US$2.1 billion owed in 1992. Do you know why? Then there was nothing to show for the money borrowed; there was nothing, just a document that evidenced indebtedness - nothing to show. Today, there is glaring evidence of the progress and development attained by this nation of ours with that money. Today we are no longer a highly indebted poor country where we feel embarrassed to travel and embarrassed to identify ourselves as Guyanese. The minute a child is born that child is indebted with some US$200,000 plus. Today we are no longer considered a highly indebted poor country, but a middle income developing country. I am proud of that. Are you?
Continuous shortages of food, fuel and medicine were the days of the PNC, the Burnhamism that they want to re-invoke. We are not dealing with Obeahism today. We have gone bigger than that. We are not dealing with that. Indeed, the World Bank has predicted - somebody mentioned it - that Guyana’s economy will grow; somebody mentioned by 4.9 per cent, but the information I have is 5.6 per cent in 2013. [Member: It is accurate] Thank you, it is accurate. This prediction is premised on the fact that what we have is a sound economy with consistent growth.
Budget 2013 channels our continuous focus on preserving the macroeconomic stability which we have enjoyed over the past decade.
My brothers and sisters from the opposite side of the House, I exhort you. Guyana’s future continues to look good. Our credit worthiness has been restored. New schools, hospitals, health centres, roads and houses are being built. Our Gross Domestic Product and our external reserves continue to rise. I feel good when I read that the present figure stands at US$862.2 million; I feel better when I convert this and I understand and appreciate that that is equivalent to four months’ imports.
Do not be left behind or left out. Join us, those on the opposite side. I want you to benefit from the major projects that are being implemented and will continue to be implemented. I want you to benefit from the success story of Amaila Falls. I want to see you on the four-lane highway, driving your cars, made possible because of the prudent economic policies of this Government. I want to see you in your nice homes.
We recognise that our efforts to maximise the use of the National Assembly to advance our development agenda, through motions and bills, are being stifled by the Opposition, in some ways, but we are determined to improve the quality of life enjoyed by our people and to manage the economy so that economic growth will accelerate and, in the process, jobs will be created and workers’ interests will be advanced.
What is important, also, is how far our economy is able to provide for the needs and well-being of our people. We have a society of which we are proud. We have a society in which free education, healthcare and many other social programmes are available to our people. Whilst we advance arguments that there is still a lot to be done and whilst we advance arguments that there have been deficiencies in some areas, we must also recognise that as a Government we have been able to make available free education, free healthcare and many other social programmes to our people.
We have a society in which our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) continues to rise annually, in which interest rates and inflation rates have reduced appreciably and credit is now available.
We have a society in which, unlike the budgets of the 1990s…and this is something that I want to recall. In fact, I want to share it with you because I do recall it. I do recall, as a little boy, my parents glued to the radio as they listened to the Budget presentations of the 1960s and the 1970s. It was not with any measure of excitement that they listened, because those Budgets were mere horror stories with measures such as higher taxes. When last have you heard of a Guyana budget with higher taxes? There were measures such as rising prices for basic food items. Of course, there was the perennial devaluation of the Guyana currency. Instead of feeding the population’s stomach with food, people’s stomachs were fed with slogans: “Tighten your belts” until there was no waist left to tighten; “Tighten your belts. Prepare to eat less and work harder.”
Compared to those days, the People’s Progressive Party Civic’s Budgets have perennially exuded the confidence of our people, providing opportunities and a recipe for improvement of our country.
The 2013 National Budget is about continuity of our development plans. That is what it is about. We have recognised that development is a process. As some other speaker said, no budget can turn a country around or allow us to satisfy all of the individual and composite demands in one year; it cannot happen. We have been focusing on continuity and consistency of policies and programmes which have been working for us. They have been working! The social and economic indicators reveal that. The comments of external observers and the comments of international financial agencies affirm that. We have been getting positive results as a result of the measures that we have been taking.
The 2013 Budget, my Friends, allows us to maintain our momentum and to continue or socioeconomic and infrastructural development. It is intended to and will, in my humble view, impact on the poor, impact on the young, impact on the elderly, and impact on the vulnerable, and will advance our development agenda for Guyana, for it addresses not only socioeconomic growth but the plight of the vulnerable. It places more disposable income in the hands of or people through a range of release measures and a range of fiscal measures. There is something in the 2013 Budget for all of us, now and for tomorrow also.
As I said earlier, Guyana’s economy is predicted to grow; I used a figure of 5.6 per cent. I also have figures from a Report of the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC). This Report states precisely the same thing. This is a report titled, Preliminary Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean 2012. According to the Report, Guyana will see the highest growth…
Mr. Speaker: What year is it, Hon. Member?
Mr. Whittaker: The name of the Report is Preliminary Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean 2012. It was written by Alicia Bárcena. According to the Report, Guyana will see the highest growth in the Caribbean during 2013 while most other Caribbean countries will remain fiscally fragile. That is what the Report states and that paints a picture. That says something.
I want to deal with the hinterland region of Region 1 but, before I do that, I want to deal a little bit with the municipalities, the local government organs, for which we, at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, have responsibility.
Local government is integral to the development of our country. In fact, local government is part of the implementation of the Budget measures that have been set out in the 2013 Budget. At the level of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, we have received $282 million and this amount of money is made available to 65 Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) at $3 million each. That is $195 million. Also, for six municipalities there is a total of $65 million.
It is not my intention to stand here and say that that allocation is adequate to address all the needs of the various communities. I am not about to say that. But it does allow the local government organs and the people in the various communities across Guyana to have a say and to have an opportunity to be a part of the development that takes place in the various communities across Guyana.
For example, the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) for Regions 1 to 10 have been allocated in excess of $20 billion and this sum is intended to assist in delivering goods and services across Guyana under the various programmes – education, healthcare, and public works and, in some Regions, agriculture.
We, at the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, have determined that there have been some areas of weakness that we needed to address and, indeed, we have been working feverishly to address those in terms of monitoring of projects that have taken place in the various communities across Guyana, in terms of our solid waste management and, also, in terms of garbage collection and disposal across our country.
At the level of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, our efforts to empower our staff at the Ministry, RDCs, NDCS, and municipalities have been bearing fruit as evident from an examination and review of our 2012 achievements. This shows that 90 per cent of the capital works in the ten Administrative Regions were completed. The RDCs of Regions 1 to 10 were able to successfully implement more than 90 per cent of their work programme for 2012, and this is commendable.
In terms of the NDCs, a tremendous amount of resources have been made available in the area of road maintenance and rehabilitation. Some $136 million has been spent across the ten Administrative Regions. In the area of bridges, $11,253,000 has been spent. In the area of $34,280,501 has been spent. This is quite apart from other works done by the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA), the Community Drainage and Irrigation Project (CDIP), the Mahaica/Mahaicony Abary (MMA) project, and other authorities. A total of $194,883,000 has been spent by NDCs; that is from the subvention made available to them by our Government.
But these local government bodies do not depend on subvention only. These local government organs garner their own resources, primarily from rates and taxes, but also from other sources such as market revenue - abattoir. This additional revenue makes it possible for them to be able to do additional works.
In the municipalities, we have made available a total of $65 million and this has been used in the municipalities as follows: $17.5 million on roads; $19.1 million on drainage; $24.1 million on asset acquisition such as compactor trucks to deal with the issue of solid waste collection; and $14.6 million on drainage. From these figures, you can garner, Mr. Speaker, that resources have been made available to a number of these local government organs across the country and they have been able to utilise these resources to bring some improvements, in some small way, in the lives of the people within the communities for which they have responsibility.
We have also been compelled, in our efforts to improve the quality of leadership delivered in the NDCs and the municipalities, to reinvigorate some of these NDCs and municipalities by, in some instances, including public servants and, in other instances, at the request or petition of people within the municipality and NDCs, by way of the Interim Management Committees (IMCs)
During 2013, we will work to empower and build capacity in those local government bodies so that they can be better placed to deliver services. We, at the level of the Ministry, will continue to focus on outreaches, reaching out to the people. We will continue to focus on our record keeping so that there will be greater value for money in terms of what we do in those communities.
I have responsibility for the Regional Democratic Council, Region 1, as the geographic representative. Quite recently, because of the fact that there was an outbreak of diarrhoeal illness in some sections of Region 1, people used that to generalise and say that Region 1 has not been accessing the kind of development that we would have wished them to access. But I am in a position, having lived and worked there for in excess of 30 years, to know what I saw when I went there 30-odd years ago and to look at the present situation in Region 1 and see the improvements that have been realised over the years.
I do recall going to the Barima/Waini Region, the North West region, as it was then referred to, and finding that most of the communities did not have a primary school. I do recall that. I do recall that there were only two secondary schools in that Region and that the number of students who had access to those two secondary schools was well below 200, and those 200 were drawn from the centre. For the children who resided in the riverain areas, the numbers who had access to secondary education could be counted on both hands. I do recall that.
I do recall that most of the teachers who staffed those schools came from the urban areas because there were not people with the necessary qualifications and training to teach at those schools. I do recall that more than 90 per cent of the head teachers and administrators of those schools came from the urban areas. What is the situation today?
I mention these things because, as I have said, to understand improvement one has to appreciate the depths from which we had to start. Today, there is a situation in which more than 90 per cent of the children of primary school age are attending school because the facilities are available.
I do recall that over the years we have been building schools where there were none; we have been extending schools where they exist; and we have been rehabilitating schools where they have been rundown, and many of them were rundown buildings. I do recall all of that.
If one goes into any village, even the most remote village – Baramita – one will see a more than significant number of the children in school. I do recall, also, that a significant number of our young people who have gone through our school system have, themselves, gone on to further training so that they have become teachers and have returned to the Region to serve. Today, more than 60 per cent of the teachers who teach in the primary schools in Region 1 are from the very communities. Indeed, a significant number of the heads of those schools are from the very communities also.
I recall with pride that the Regional Education Officer (REO) and the District Education Officers (DEOs) are from Region 1. When one looks at what was in 1978 when I, for the first time, went to Region 1, none of these officers hailed from the Region. Therefore, I emphasise the point that all of this was possible because significant attention and resources were given to education because we, as a party and as a Government, always knew that education was very, very important to bringing improvement in the lives of people. For reducing and ultimately removing poverty, education was very, very important.
Today, there is a scenario in Region 1 in which all of the key players in education hail from that Region, where a majority of the heads of the schools hail from that Region, where a significant number of the teachers who are trained hail from that Region, and very importantly, also, where more and more of the children of school age attend school.
I am happy to know that Budget 2012 allowed us to construct a new school in a newly established community called Pawaicuri. I am happy to know that Budget 2012 allowed us to make available to the school children school uniforms, juices, biscuits, exercise books and textbooks. I am happy to report that Budget 2012 allowed them to access the Guyana Learning Channel (GLC). I am happy to report that Budget 2012 allowed them to establish learning resource centres in some new areas like Wauna Village, for example. We were able to procure some additional outboard engines and it made it possible to move children in the riverain areas of Aruka and Waini so that they can get secondary education.
I am happy to report, also, that the 2013 Budget will allow us to extend what we have been doing so that, during 2013, additional schools will be built, additional teachers’ quarters will be built, and additional teachers would be trained. In other words, additional resources for the improvement of education would be made available in Region 1 in all the various sub-regions.
I will touch a bit on healthcare. Region 1 has 41 health posts, three health centres, three cottage or district hospitals, and one regional hospital. This is the extent to which the Region has improved over the years. I do recall that in 1978 there were only the Mabaruma Hospital, Kaituma Hospital, and Matthews Ridge Hospital. I do recall that they did not have the kind of staffing and facilities that are there today. Today, there are health facilities in all the villages. There are health workers who have been trained and who operate in all the villages. In fact, for given clusters of health workers and for given clusters of health centres, there are medics who have responsibility.
We have been able to extend the service that we provide and to improve those services so that in the areas of malaria treatment and microscopy, there has been improvement. In fact, that is reflected in the fact that the morbidity and mortality rates have been declining for both of these. We have been able to reach out into the riverain areas with outreach programmes so that we no longer sit and wait for people to come. We have a proactive approach which sees us reaching out into these various areas.
Presently, laboratory and x-ray facilities have been established in the Mabaruma, Moruka, and Port Kaituma Hospitals so that a significant number of people can access those facilities. I would also like to say that residents are able to benefit from some amount of surgery being done in the Region. Patients from all sub-regions are screened at the respective district hospitals by the General Medical Practitioners and then transferred to the Mabaruma Hospital where there are scheduled surgical outreaches during the course of the year. There are surgeries for gallstone, hernia, et cetera.
Added to this is the fact that the immunisation programme continues and it continues to target more and more areas. The fact is that more health care is being made available daily to a greater number of the population over a much wider spread.
In addition, lots of resources have been put into linking communities and that is by way of providing roads and improving on the roads that exist. Today, one can move from Mabaruma and go to Yarikita by road; one can leave Santa Rosa and go to Kwabanna by road; one can leave Port Kaituma and go to Baramita by road. Those were areas that were not accessible many years ago.
Besides the roads, communication by radio sets, cellular phones… Communication has improved tremendously. Recently, I was in the Moruka sub-region and was taken aback by the tremendous increase in the number of vehicles in terms of minibuses and cars that traverse the roads in that sub-region.
In the Mabaruma sub-region, the same thing is replicated; people are able to move freely because of the improvement in transportation, made possible because of the tremendous amount of resources that we have put into improving the roads that exist in Region 1.
In other infrastructure – electricity – there has been a lot of improvement, not only in terms of electricity supplied by way of generator at Mabaruma, Port Kaituma, Matthews Ridge, and Santa Rosa, but also by way of solar energy. All the titled villages have access to solar energy and I feel very happy going into those villages today and being able to hold meetings with the people in the evenings, being able to converse with them, being able to dialogue with them because of the fact that they are able to stay up a little longer because of these facilities that are there.
The area of computers is another area. [Mr. B. Williams: Do you know about Region 9? You just spoke about Region 1.] I am the geographic representative for Region 1; there is a geographic representative for Region 9 who will tell you about that.
Computer technology is now made available in a number of schools, homes, institutions, and, very shortly, the North West Secondary School will be a hub of Information and Technology Communication (ICT) activities on the completion of that building.
I want to deal finally with agriculture. Northwest was at one time the breadbasket of Guyana. I want to say that it is not that the people have given up on agriculture; there has been diversification so that no longer do people merely cultivate ground provision and ginger, but people have gone into other areas. People have gone into pineapple on a large scale because the Amazon Caribbean (AMCAR) Company provides the market for pineapples. People have gone in to crab culture; people have gone into lentils; people have gone into poultry rearing, and this is because of the fact that mining activities have resulted in a larger market and so the demand is out there.
This year, Government has provided a significant amount of funds to continue the drainage and irrigation work in the Aruka and Barima riverine areas. Scores of farmers will be benefiting from this important activity. Those of you, who are familiar with Region No.1 and with the Aruka and Waini Rivers, would know that these areas are subject to periods of flooding from time to time. As such, this investment in drainage in those riverine areas, one square mile in each of the two, will bring appreciable relief to the farmers in those areas.
The budgetary allocations provided by Budget 2013 and other budgets before are a prime source of funding for regions like Region No.1. This allows the region to provide more services and opportunities for the people in the region. Presently, those opportunities relate primarily to education, healthcare, agriculture and infrastructure works. However, we are seeing increases over the years in terms of the amount of resources made available. We have also seen increases in terms of the number of persons who can benefit from the resources made available. The people of Region No.1 have therefore been able to improve the quality of their lives. I want to use this opportunity to thank our Government for making this possible.
Mr. Speaker, who will use and benefit from all the investment in people’s development reflected in this Budget? Who will benefit from the Lethem to Linden road, the Amaila Falls project, the electricity project and the Kato Secondary School with dorm facilities? Who will benefit from a new Demerara Harbour Bridge? Who will benefit from more investments on our public roads including our four-lane highway? It is the Guyanese people, all of us, on this side and that side of the House. The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has stood by its commitment to the Guyanese people. We are not saying that all is well. We are not saying that we have achieved all that there is to be achieved, or that we have attained all the goals that we have set ourselves. What we are saying is what was emphasised before: we have made substantive progress. There is a verifiable plethora of examples and measures of achievement, which I, and other speakers before, have adumbrated. Guyana, under the PPP/C is on an irreversible path to more progress and development. Every major business in Guyana has been showing a profit. Ask Mr. Yesu Persaud from Demerara Bank and ask Banks DIH. I am confident that 2013 will see us continue along the path of the socioeconomic growth and development that we attained in 2012 with an even better performance in 2013 so that come Local Government Elections or National Elections, the Guyanese people will be happy to place those who continue to place obstacles on the path of our progress in the abyss of political history where they rightly belong.
Thank you. [Applause]
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