Budget Debate 20133145 08 Apr, 2013
Minister of Agriculture [Dr. Ramsammy]: For about 17th or so budget presentation, one of the things I enjoyed most is actually listening to the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamoottoo. I must confess to my Hon. Friend out of all the budget speeches I have heard, he certainly lost his way this year. It is one of his worst presentations.
Mr. Speaker, colleagues, Minister Dr. Ashni Singh and his team have crafted a plan that keeps Guyana on a trajectory of development in meeting the needs of our people and in meeting all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This budget has been crafted along the trajectory of bringing Guyana to a high middle income country. It is a comprehensive budget; it is a people-centred budget. There are many plethora of measure, pro people’s measures, in this budget. After spending so many years in this National Assembly and paying attention to other budgets I cannot recall any budget with as many pro people’s measures as the Budget 2013. For this, I want to congratulate the Minister and his team. In congratulating them, I also want, I do not think it can escape anyone of us, to made mention of the many young professionals, Guyanese professionals, trained in Guyana and working right here in Guyana, producing incredible results. I will return to that. We salute them.
The talk of being a high middle income country used to be an ambition that appears far out of reach, not so long ago. We remember 20 years ago, when we were languishing in the category of a least developing highly indebted poor country, people thought that the ambition of being a middle income, much less a high middle income country, was unrealistic and utopian. Such idealism was unthinkable. Indeed, given our performance and our growth and development in the last 20 years, we can all now believe that we can be a high middle income country. We believe that it is reachable; it is a goal that we can achieve and I believe that we could accelerate the pace at reaching that goal if we can all work together.
I am not timid in saying that we do have a poor record of working together in the interest of the people of our country. I am not pointing fingers. That is not what I am here for today. At this very moment, it is the truth that we have not tried hard enough. We heard us calling each other names; we on this side have many cronies. What is important is that we still have vast opportunities for working together; we still have the ability to work together. I do not propose to go over my time and abuse my privilege but I can, in fact, list the many things we have worked together and we have achieved. The sad and unforgivable truth is that we do find more often to have reasons to polarise and to work separately, to cast aspersion against each other, far more than we find reasons to work together. Budget 2013 is a good place to build trust and demonstrate that we can work together for our people, in the interest of our people and the interest of our country. Talk about walking with a scissors and with a hatchet, and so, do not do us any good and cannot be in the interest of the people of our country.
As in any country, in the richest country of this world, our plan is usually constrained by the resources at our disposal. Surely, we can all recognise this fundamental reality. Still the Budget 2013, as presented by Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, is in the rich tradition of the PPP/C Government’s budgets. It is one with something for everyone, for every community, for every region of our country.
As I said, a good place to start working together is at least acknowledging that there are many good things in this budget. The Hon. Member Mr. Sharma, in fact, was kind enough to acknowledge that. I sense that the Hon. Member Mrs. Volda Lawrence also did that.
When I listened to some of the Members speak, it is as if this budget as crafted by devils, with evil intention, but truly, Minister Singh’s, it seems to have stumped my colleagues on the other side. I heard very little, in terms of what is objectionable. I heard the Hon. Member Mr. Harmon tried to but he went into non-budgetary criticisms. The Hon. Member Dr. George Norton decided to stay safe, and away from the Budget 2013 debate, and go back to the Budget 2012. The Hon. Member Mr. Felix decided it is time to debate the Firearms Bill that the Opposition Members have refused to debate. I heard my good friend and colleague the Hon. Member Ms. Amna Ally - Ms. Ally I am not offering to take you any place, too many men have done that along the way - and other speakers decided that the budget was crafted for PPP/C cronies.
I ask myself:
• How could the 25% increase in old age pension for more than 42,000 people be for PPP/C cronies?
• How come the $2.9 billion for electricity subsidy in Linden and Kwakwani is for PPP/C cronies?
• How come the $400 million for the Amerindian Development Fund possibly can be considered as for PPP/C cronies?
• How come the $1 billion for school feeding programme could be considered by my colleagues as for PPP/C cronies?
• How come the $300 million for school uniforms is for PPP/C cronies?
• How could the $300 million for construction of a secondary school at Kato be for PPP/C cronies?
• How did the $150 million for hydroelectricity at Kato become budgeted sums for PPP/C cronies?
• How come the $166 million for hinterland electrification be considered for PPP/C cronies?
• How shameful it is that $450 million for student loan suddenly is for PPP/C cronies?
• I wondered how come the $160 million for the hinterland and $1.1 billion for coastal water improvement become budgeted for PPP/C cronies?
• How possibly could these MPs see the $850 million for our low income housing and settlements as being for PPP cronies?
• How is it that the almost $600 million allocated for the Parliament of Guyana be considered for PPP cronies?
The Hon. Member talked about the state sector, public entities like the Airport, the Demerara Harbour Bridge and so on, and never considered the fact that when these were established by previous Governments and by this Government that they were not set up to be profit making bodies. They absorb some of the costs. The Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, for example, at a cost of $5 per acre for land fees cannot generate the kind of money to make profit. I ask myself whether the Hon. Member is serious. Is he asking us to raise these fees, to raise the toll on the Demerara Harbour Bridge and to raise the toll for land fees? These are the things that the Hon. Member needs to consider!
I heard the Member say about the $350 million subsidy to the Demerara Harbour Bridge, that we could remove $150 million and raise the toll for the people of West Demerara and all the people who use the Bridge.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I have never said that. That is an invention. I have never said to remove $150 million from the Demerara Harbour Bridge and take it to Berbice. The Minister should retract his erroneous statement. I know he is fired up but…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I believe that the Hon. Member, Dr. Ramsammy, in his debating style was comparing and contrasting as against saying that you had said that the money should be moved to. I would not recognise that as a Point of Order.
Go ahead Dr. Ramsammy.
Dr. Ramsammy: Time does not permit me to go through the billions of dollars being budgeted for the citizens of Guyana to make my point. But, if we listen to these MPs, there is nobody left in Guyana that is not a PPP crony. It would have been good had the Opposition took more of the line of Mr. Sharma, that whilst we would have gone in the right direction… I would have understood if they had said, “You have gone in the right direction, but it is not far enough.” I think that would be a legitimate point. Take the old age pension; there are many people on this side of the House who would like to see the old age pension go up even further. Take the $1 billion for the School Feeding Programme; we would like to see all the schools with a school feeding programme. Take, for example, the $500 million allocated for the agriculture facility; I would have liked to see it be $1 billion.
We have reduced the tax rate. I listened to Mr. Komal Chand and many of us agree that maybe we should work even harder to reduce the tax rate in a progressive way. When you are in a position like the position Minister Ashni Singh and his team are in, where you have to make things happen and balance your revenues with expenditure, you are constrained by what is prudent and what would not cause us to become once again one of the most indebted countries in the world.
Given all the things we need to cater for in the development story of our country, given the balanced development that we must pursue, the Ministry of Finance with the abled leadership of Minister Ashni Singh has done us all very proud. I am disappointed, therefore, that the Opposition Members have found nothing good in the Budget to commend, that they have pronounced that the Budget is dead on arrival and that they find no good reason to support it. I would hope that in the interest of our people we would all support Budget 2013.
I must also confess that it is good for all of us to acknowledge that there are pockets of people in every country, rich countries and poor countries, Europe, North America, CARICOM and in the rest of Latin America, who have not been able to escape the anguish of poverty. That is why there are in many countries, including Guyana, poverty reduction programmes. Guyana must take pride in that we have significantly reduced poverty in Guyana. A greater proportion of our people today compared to another era in our history are better off.
The truth is that alongside the fact that there are pockets of people who struggle to attain a decent standard of living, it is also the reality that more of our people are living better today than ever in the history of our country. No matter which side we are on, we must feel some degree of pride. The truth is that when we look at the trajectory of development, we find… [Mr. B. Williams: The masses are poor people.] And, yes, there are poor people. The people the Hon. Member James Bond spoke about, there are such people in our country. [Mr. B. Williams: The majority.] No matter what anybody does, here are the facts that there are more homeowners today in Guyana than at any time in the history of this country. The Guyana dream of owning our own homes transformed from a dream to reality.
More of our people are vehicular owners than ever in the history of our country. Young people and young professionals are making dreams come true. More of our people are owners of computers. More of our people, in their home settings, are connected to the world through the internet. More of our people enjoy the use of what used to be called luxury items, smart cell phones, air-conditioning units, washing machines, et cetera. These are dreams that are coming true. Not everybody enjoy these things, but more people today than ever in our history.
We must acknowledge and cautiously celebrate the fact that we have accomplished significant improvement in the social and economic conditions, the human conditions, in our country since 1990. We live better lives and we live longer lives. Life expectancy today exceeds 70 years. Child mortality rates have significantly reduced since 1990. More people have access to safe water and sanitation. We have attained universal education. We have made considerable progress; the per capita income of our people and living standards are better. These are inescapable truths but none of this means that we must not work together to ensure that the plethora of improvements in the social welfare status of our society reaches everyone and no one is left out. We, in the PPP/C Government, will continue to craft budgets that will reach every citizen of our country, in particular those most vulnerable among us.
This Budget must not be the end of our discussion on how we could do so better. We have to do better in meeting the most vulnerable. Agriculture continues to be a significant part of Guyana’s development. It is an incontrovertible fact that in the last 20 years agriculture was one of the main vehicles that moved Guyana from a GDP of less than $300 per capita to more than $3,100 per capita in 2012. It is agriculture more than anything else that has moved Guyana from a least developing, highly indebted, poor nation to a middle income country. It is agriculture that has seen Guyana with GDP growth in 17 of the last 20 years, with the reduction of poverty and a decline of debt servicing. This is a remarkable story for our country.
Let me address some overarching issues. Firstly, by the end of July, we will publish the Agriculture Strategy 2013/2020 that will go along with sub-sector strategies for rice, sugar, crops, fisheries, et cetera.
As I listened to the Hon. Member, Jennifer Wade, the other day, one of the things we need to address is access to land and the land tenure issues for agriculture. We need access to land for other crops, not just for sugar and rice. We need access to land for livestock. We need to develop a cohesive policy that will support agriculture by making land accessible to the small and large investors. I have instructed my staff to prepare a paper for us to present to the Cabinet.
When the Hon. Member, Ms. Wade, raised this issue, she was referring to a specific problem in the MMA. I do not intend to go into the details, but I think Dr. Rupert Roopnarine and Ms. Wade, who speak to agriculture, among my colleagues on the other side, are familiar with the issues. I have tried, as Minister, to be fair. I have tried to address the concerns that people have. All of us need to ensure that one, when people have access to land and are given the right to use land that they use it properly and that they pay whatever those charges are, and, two, the habit of some people taking the land, renting it out and living abroad is not fair for those who need the land to use in Guyana. I do not know the right answer and how to fairly deal with that matter, but I think this is something we have to address.
CARICOM has been talking about a policy regarding genetic engineering (GE). They have been doing so now for about 15 years, and they have not yet been able to finalise that document. Guyana is developing and my staff is developing a GE product policy paper, and we hope to encourage CARICOM to complete that document. I make reference here, at this stage, to the comments from the Hon. Member, Mrs. Deborah Backer, on the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issue because it has a lot to do with the GE issue. Whether we were justified in the action we took on textbooks or not – I am not arguing right or wrong on the textbook issue – we still do have a problem with intellectual property right being used by developed countries to promote poverty in developing countries. That does not mean IPR is a bad thing; it is how it is being utilised by developed countries. I only raised that issue here for example, not to debate the Member on the textbook issue.
There are millions of children who are going blind because of the lack of Vitamin A. More than 14 years ago, German scientist Almonsonto developed a GE product which is called the Golden Rice with vitamin A in it. Many of these children’s staple diet is rice. Had we begun to use this rice 14 years ago, many millions of children would not have gone blind; many millions of children who died would not have died. IPR is the genesis of us not being able to use that GE variety of rice. There are two sides to the story. We look on one side, but we must look at this holistically.
There can be no doubt that we need an agro-energy policy. By August, the Ministry of Health will publish an agro-energy policy. We need, in fact, also a common fishing policy which we agreed to at CARICOM. It has been stuck at CARICOM for the last three years. Guyana will try to energise that so that we can have a common fishing policy.
Clearly, rice has been a star performer. Yes, I agree with my Comrade and Friend, the Hon. Moses Nagamootoo, that farmers are the real stars in the performance of rice. They have done an excellent job. But that does not mean Government has no role. Without drainage and irrigation, there will be no rice industry. People must recognise that. In the recent dry weather, the Government, through the Ministry, had to facilitate us getting water to the farmers so that we could have saved 81,000 hectares, more than 200,000 acres of rice.
I want to publicly acknowledge the support I received from the two Members on the other side who speak for agriculture, the Hon. Member, Rupert Roopnarine, and the Hon. Member, Khemraj Ramjattan. I called them in the midst of struggling for water and asked them that whilst they can be out there and score political points to also work with me, because unless we work together we will not be able to protect the cultivation. They did; both supported me and I would like to acknowledge them. The truth is that we have withstood that challenge and protected most of the 81,000 hectares.
At this moment, we are on pace to exceed 450,000 tonnes of rice, and, for the third successive year, passing 400,000 tonnes. I can report to you that at this stage, 25,000 hectares have been reaped out of the 81,000 hectares. More than 90,000 tonnes of rice have been produced. At that pace, this first crop is said to exceed 250,000 tonnes, the largest ever in any single crop. That would be three times what we produced in 1991.
The same way that we celebrate rice, we must have equal concern for sugar. Sugar has had major problems the last few years. Instead of using up my time, I hope that all my colleagues will permit me to say ditto to the comments of the Hon. Member, Komal Chand, the head of the Guyana Agriculture Workers Union.
I heard Mr. Nagamootoo say that last year I said, “...by the end of the second crop”. I know that he did not mean to misrepresent me, but what I said not only in the Budget debate, but in a question that was asked, was that after the end of the second crop, the Bosch Engineering Group will begin some remedial work at the Skeldon Factory, which will bring this factory closer to its optimal operation. That is what I said. I recall saying that when those things are done, which are not all the things we need to do, we would bring the capacity of the Skeldon Factory to about 75 per cent. I can report that of the six things that needed to be done, five have been done and are working as expected. The sixth is not working as expected and that is the cane conveyor belt. We have asked Bosch to come back and rework that sixth activity.
Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled that the Budget includes $500 million for supporting farming. This facility will help particularly cash crop farmers. We will utilise this facility to bring in materials to support new technology for cash crops. In particular, we will assist farmers to expand shade farming, drip technology and hydroponics in a wave of new precision farming for Guyana. In this regard, we will introduce semi-processors for certain products to reduce transportation costs and to support value-added products for farmers. The first such semi-processor will be introduced at Hosororo in Region 1 and will focus on the processing of turmeric and black pepper. The new Guyana Marketing Corporation will purchase these products from farmers and resell to factories in Georgetown.
I would like to highlight two entities, the Guyana Hydrometeorological (HydroMet) Service and the Pesticide and Toxic Chemical Control Board. These are important entities for agriculture. I would like to go into details of what they do, because we should all know about them. Both of these are headed by two young ladies, Guyanese professionals who have stayed at home. I have heard throughout this debate of the many young people who received quality training and used their option of seeking fortunes and opportunities in other countries. That is true Comrades but we should never forget those thousands who have stayed and those who are making things better for all our people.
Today I want to introduce them as the focal points for two important functions. Under the Montreal Protocol, Guyana has certain obligations to reduce and eliminate the use of ozone depleting substances; the so-called ODS, which are significant contributors to global warming and climate change. Under this Protocol, Guyana must reduce and eliminate hydro-carbons, the so called Chlorodifluoromethane or difluoromonochloromethane (HCFCs). Guyana has certain specific obligations, and I would like to reiterate the following points: All importers of HCFCs and HCFC based equipment must be registered with the National Ozone Action Unit at the HydroMet Services. Those who want to bring in those things and are not registered should not call me and should not get anybody in this Parliament, on either side of the House, to call me. They knew of it since 2010; the same people who are not in compliance since last year are now calling and saying that they do not know about it.
All importers must apply to the National Ozone Action Unit for a permit. Based on consumption levels that the Protocol allows for use in Guyana, the National Ozone Action Unit will allocate quotas. The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) must ensure that HCFCs do not enter the country unless they are imported in accordance with the import permit and the standard the quota allows. The GRA will not allow the release of equipment which is HCFC based, unless the equipment is retrofitted to use ozone friendly chemicals.
The Guyana National Bureau of Standards has a mandate to label all such equipment being offered for sale in our stores. Under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), Guyana has obligations. The focal point to implement these obligations is the Pesticide and Toxic Chemicals Board. I can report to this Assembly that all the chemicals banned under the Stockholm Convention have been banned from Guyana, but there are stockpiles of these through previous usage that we must get rid of.
Let me highlight quickly the fact that a new flagship programme has developed within livestock and this is for embryo transfer. If one visits the Guyana School of Agriculture – permit me to say that the Guyana School of Agriculture this year celebrates its 50th anniversary – one will see a calf that was born out of embryo transfer. There are 20 such calves with farmers in our country. These calves have their genetic origin from purebred animals in the United States of America. Those embryos were brought here and inserted in local cows. We did 31 of them so far; 20 have been successful for a rate of 63%. The global average is 43%. I compliment the Guyana Livestock Development Authority (GLDA) staff; I congratulate them.
We have to build on empowering and facilitating infrastructure. In 2013, we will complete the tissue culture and bio-control laboratories at the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) and the veterinary lab at the GLDA. These laboratories will further strengthen our ability to introduce better variety for crops and better breeds of animals for our famers. In addition, they will be important in our efforts to produce safe food and to fight against pests and diseases. The Animal Health Lab is already building a local capacity to test for diseases such as bovine tuberculosis, foot-and-mouth disease and brucellosis.
Through an Indian line of credit, we have secured 14 pumps - eight fixed-site pumps and six mobile pumps. Fixed-site pumps should be located at Lima, Windsor Forest, Pine Ground, Number 43, Paradise, Dazzell Enterprise, Skeldon, Rose Hall, Albion and Number 19. More than 60,000 acres of agricultural land and many residential communities will benefit from these pumps.
Let me briefly make reference to the St. Ignatius integrated school farm which is enhancing food security in Region 9. This farm was established in October with modern technology - drip technology, shade technology, et cetera. It has been done as a multi-sector project with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, with help from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
Even though we started in October, by the end of February, we had produced more than 2,500 pounds of vegetables which went into the school kitchen and into the dormitory kitchen. They sold some to the local supermarket with a profit of $164,000 so far.
This school project is helping more than 700 students to get practical experience for their Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Agriculture Science Examinations, helping the students develop business practices, and it is serving as a model farm for other schools and communities in Region 9. Because of the success, we are now extending that programme to 30 other schools in the Hinterland and throughout the country.
On a visit to Region 9, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Moco Moco community where 30 families will cultivate 41 acres of land, 17 families will cultivate 30 acres of rice and 11 families will cultivate 11 acres of red beans. All the input will be from the Ministry of Agriculture. I think we have all read of Santa Fe which is a living example and a successful example that the Jagdeo Initiative is well and alive. I am glad to say that in the first week of June, the first 120 acres of rice will be reaped from Santa Fe. Already, it has started production of soya bean and corn because our intention is large scale farming of soya bean and corn to replace the 200 million tonnes of corn being imported into the Caribbean.
I wish I had time to talk about fishing and other aspects of agriculture. But this year we will also host the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in October. The Government of Guyana is strongly committed to playing a facilitating and a catalyst role in the development of a sound agricultural programme. But the full realisation of an agro-industrial enterprise for Guyana will much depend on the involvement of an aggressive private sector. We can transform agriculture in the next five years and make Guyana, outside of rice and sugar, a giant in exporting to the rest of the Caribbean and further afield.
I heard many times, in this Assembly, during this debate about the $11 billion being given as a subsidy to the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL). It has been called all kinds of names – bailout. Whatever you call it, it is $15,000 per capita that is going to assist the people of Guyana to ensure that we have more and better electricity.
I have heard about majority versus minority. What I do know is that at the last Election the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) got 32 seats, which are more than 26 seats and more than seven seats.
We talk about the majority. The Hon Members, Mr. Ramjattan and Mr. Nagamootoo, go to Albion, Port Mourant and Whim to those who voted for the Alliance For Change (AFC) and tell them that they gave you the mandate to join with A Partnership for National Unity (APNU). Go and tell them that! [Mr. Nagamootoo: What nonsense!] I am asking you to go. Go! You will have that issue. That is your problem.
I heard about the post-Jagan Government. Mr. Nagamootoo was part of the post-Jagan Government and until he did not become the presidential candidate of the post-Jagan PPP/C, he shifted and that is good. Mr. Nagamootoo talked about the Mirror that he was a part of for 22 years and suddenly the Mirror is not the great people’s newspaper that Mr. Nagamootoo was part of the leadership of.
All the works that were done with the people of Cotton Tree with the contracts for land are things that the post-Jagan Government did.
I am proud to stand here and speak for agriculture and speak for the 2013 Budget on behalf of the PPP/C. I am proud because I do not have to make up numbers. I am proud because I do not have to misrepresent. I am proud because I am part of a Government which steered Guyana from being a least developing, highly indebted poor country to a middle income country that is making life better for all of our people. So, I can be proud to stand as a PPP/C Member. I can be proud of talking about my sisters and brothers, no matter who they voted for, because I will never call a sister or a brother a crony.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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