Budget Debate 20133571 05 Apr, 2013
Ms. Selman: I rise to offer my contribution to Budget 2013 as presented by the Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, under the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
If we are to indeed “Accelerate Gains for Guyana”, we have to put aside party politics and work together to achieve consensus. Consultations and consensus are critical to the country’s survival and growth and should not simply be bandied about.
I wish to turn my attention to Guyana and the diaspora. A nation's diaspora is that part of its population that has emigrated overseas and is permanently resident in foreign countries. These emigrants may or may not hold citizenship in their respective host countries. Whether or not they do, they often seek the services of their home country, directly or through its representatives abroad: embassies, high commissions, consulates, in respect to their own needs and those of relatives and friends. Many of these emigrants may eventually form households, involving persons from within or outside their national group, and create families of second and subsequent generation members who by extension become nationals of the ancestral homeland.
I believe that the budget is somewhat deficient, in terms of allocating resources to facilitate economic foreign policy. The national budget must be used as the economic tool to facilitate the enhancement of diaspora engagement.
My research has indicated that many countries which are subject to development constraints of one type or another have looked to their nationals’ abroad as an effective means of overcoming their financial, investments, technological and human deficiencies. It is worthy to note that His Excellency President Donald Ramotar has recognised these constraints and the need for assistance. This is illustrated in a Stabroek News article dated Tuesday, 10th July, 2012, on page 6, captioned, “Ramotar urges diplomats to tap diaspora for development – South African Mission to be set up”. In that article, His Excellency was quoted as saying that:
“Guyana does not have all the resources to have all investments that will be needed to develop the country and there is a need to attract investment from abroad.”
He further pointed out that:
“Guyana’s image should be one of a country that is efficient and much can be learned from nationals that live in various parts of the world.”
I support these statements but I would like to inform the Government that this would remain an ideal if we do not design a policy that speaks to a coherent system of engagements with members of that community. A tremendous amount of things are happening in a piecemeal fashion. The mere launching of the diaspora project without specifics and how it will be implemented would not suffice. Projects must be used to achieve policies. I wish to pose the following question: Is the Government’s diaspora policy only about selling land to that community? If that is true, it is clearly doomed to failure.
Guyana must be willing to make the social, political, organisational and technical effort to mobilise the diaspora. The budget must open the floodgates for creating structures that could be used to establish the links through which Guyana could effectively and productively be connected with the diaspora. Some members of our diaspora play a key role in many aspects of our society, such as in health care and education. In many instances, it is voluntary. I would like to personally commend the directors of Health and Educational Relief Organisation (HERO) and their tireless core of volunteers who are continuously working on a number of health care and education related initiatives that are designed to improve the quality of life for the Guyanese people and encourage them to continue to do more for the country.
Mr. David Granger, the Leader of the Opposition, has recognised the importance of forging formal partnership with the diaspora to achieve the goals of Guyana’s national agenda and has made a commitment to set up a diaspora unit so as to engage members of our diaspora, those concentrated in the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world.
Our foreign ministry, that is, our consulates, embassies, and high commissions, must be the bridges to the diaspora. They implement diaspora strategies and programmes in the host countries. Guyana’s budget has to make provisions so as to ensure that our consulates and embassies can indeed serve as the bridges to the diaspora, if our diaspora’s policy is placed on a weak foundation, as the bridge was at Supenaam, it will sink, it will float away, as of the wharf at Charity. I believe that economic diplomacy is on shaky foundation because the allocation is inadequate.
My research has shown that the Government of Jamaica is already underway with a broadly-based approach to harnessing its diaspora in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and in Canada as part of a planned, overall development programme. Similar efforts, though not as far advanced, are underway in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It is time Guyana gets on the move in this direction too.
I wish to turn my intervention to remittances. I am appalled that the Minister of Finance did not consider it as appropriate to develop a policy on remittances. Remittances have become a major phenomenon in finance. The World Bank estimated that in 2005 migration sent home approximately $167 billion, up to 73% from 2001. In 2006, the World Bank reported that remittances grew to approximately $206 billion. These flows have led analysts to conclude that the growth of remittances has exceeded private capital flows and official development assistance to developing countries. This is supported by a statement made by the Minister of Finance in his budget presentation on page 9, paragraph 3.12, where it states:
“Net current transfers increased by 1.1 percent to US $419.2 million due to higher receipts of worker remittances which increased by 13.9 percent to US$ 469.3 million…”
As these numbers indicate, remittances have developed into an important source of income for many developing countries, including Guyana. Transaction cost is however, a significant constraint for small, personal transfers. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) estimated that the average cost of sending remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean was approximately $4 billion in 2002 in total. The costs typically include both a fee transmission and a currency conversion. The World Bank has indicated that reducing remittance costs and improving the infrastructure would be beneficial in several ways. It also indicated that by reducing costs remitters will have more disposable income, which may lead to more being available for remittances. It is instrumental to note that other countries, such as Mexico and Nigeria, are trying to lower cost of remittances. I wish to ask: What is Guyana doing to reduce remittance cost?
I would like to focus now on Guyana’s foreign relations and foreign policy as a platform for achieving economic prosperity in our country. The foreign policies of small states are often dominated by economic considerations, both in relation to the general lack of diplomatic resources and the fact that economic development is the main goal of foreign policy. It is my humble opinion that, at this stage in Guyana’s development, a major objective of our foreign policy should be the achievement of prosperity, particularly if we still uphold, as sacrosanct, article 14 of Guyana’s Constitution which states:
“The goal of economic development includes the objective of creating, promoting and encouraging an economic system capable of achieving and maintaining sustainable competitive advantage in the context of a global competitive environment, by fostering entrepreneurship, individual and group initiative and creativity, and strategic alliances with domestic and global business partners in the private sector.”
A Partnership for National Unity supports a foreign policy that would facilitate economic growth and development. The questions which loom large are:
• Where do we focus?
• With which countries should we have a stronger relationship?
• Where would sound foreign direct investments come from?
The Minister of Finance, on page 49, paragraph 4.117, of his budget speech, stated:
“Also in 2012, there was sustained dialogue with our immediate neighbours, Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela, as we sought to consolidate efforts to achieve well defined programmes of cooperation. We will continue to work with these countries to advance current initiatives and to identify additional areas for further strengthening of relations. Government will also continue to consolidate relations with countries with which Guyana has had traditional ties while fostering the development of new strategic alliances.”
In view of the way forward, Guyana needs to consistently apply a pragmatic approach to the formulation of foreign policies, emphasising the need to translate agreements into concrete economic benefits, thereby using its limited diplomatic capital to the most beneficial end.
May I ask the Hon. Minister of Finance as to what have been the specific benefits of these cooperation programmes for the Guyanese people? While we seek to foster the development of new strategic alliance, how about Guyana’s role in ensuring that existing alliances, such as CARICOM, function in accord with the commitments made by its members? We have to bear in mind the fact that some members of CARICOM observed some of its objectives in the breach and in this instance I cite the Shanique Myrie’s case, a landmark case, in which the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is being asked to interpret the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and to provide a clear position on rights and privileges for Caribbean nationals when travelling in the region. We have to be concerned over the fact that Guyanese are frequently denied entry into Barbados, a member nation of CARICOM. Only a few weeks ago, in the Stabroek News newspaper, in an article, dated Saturday, 9th March, 2013, on page 9, observes that “Guyana topped list of CARICOM nationals denied entry to Barbados”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should publicise the existing complaint and appeal mechanisms so that affected Guyanese travellers would be able to lay their complaints when they suffer similar treatment. No Guyanese should be denied entry to any CARICOM country in defiance of the rules of the regional treaty. Underlying a common market is free movement of factors of production, including people. Guyanese should be allowed the same easy entry into member states that Guyana affords foreign nationals.
The last few decades have witnessed a variety of efforts to encourage the multilateral degree of political and economic regional integrations now being seen in South America. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is the most recent to which Guyana is a participant. In committing ourselves to these initiatives, we should ascertain the benefits. What economic benefits flow from our involvement in UNASUR? The UNASUR’s stated objectives include the creation of a single South American market by eliminating tariffs and promoting the increased development of the region’s international infrastructure such as the inter-oceanic highway now under construction between Brazil and Peru. What has actually materialised so far?
We, in APNU, would like to see Guyana move beyond the point of merely attending conferences and signing agreements. We also want to see evidence of cooperation resulting in future benefits for the Guyanese people. We should concentrate on partnership agreements which would see the establishment of joint economic ventures with members of UNASUR. There has been an exceptionally large influx of Brazilians in Guyana, perhaps as a result of Guyana being a member of UNASUR
The question which must be answered is whether there has been any Brazilian investment in sectors apart from mining or the explosion in our entertainment sector. Also, are these legal mining ventures which exploit Guyana’s natural resources and add to the coffers of Guyana Government? The Government should be seeking to encourage all Brazilian entrepreneurs to provide employment opportunities for Guyanese rather than Brazilians exclusively.
As part of the policy of regional integration, our education curriculum, for example, ought to be redesigned so as to ease communication with the new migrants. For example, Portuguese should be taught in all schools in Regions 8 and 9 and Spanish in the schools of Region 1, which is close to Venezuela.
As we seek to deepen regional integration, foreign policies should be fashioned to support our economic development process. Since the PPP/C has no such policy, I wish to urge the PPP/C Administration to adopt the policy of APNU. That policy, as outlined in its 2011 Manifesto, which states that the overarching focus of Guyana’s foreign policy will be Guyana’s national interest, principally the security of the State and its people and the social and economic development of all its citizens.
Let us work together to formulate a foreign policy that supports our economic development and aspirations and brings benefits to all the people of Guyana. Yes, a growth rate of 4.5 per cent may set Guyana apart from its neighbours in these times of sluggish growth, but we have to translate that number into meaningful benefits for the man in the street, the ordinary people, the poor.
In concluding, let me say that APNU wants to see the following:
• Equality of opportunity and equity;
• A willingness by the Government to accept constructive criticism, suggestions and proposals so that the challenges the country is faced with can be overcome;
• An arrangement to lower the cost of remittances and, more importantly, the identification of the Diaspora policy and the establishment of a Diaspora department; and
• A foreign policy that would provide a framework for growth and development.
Instead of suggesting that criticisms and expressions of concerns are unpatriotic, Government and the PPP/C would be better advised to take seriously the recommendations that have been made here and across the country; failing to do so guarantees that the people of Guyana would not benefit fully from the full development of our resources and the realisation of our potential.
APNU is interested in the progress of all the people of Guyana. We urge the Members on the other side to help us make a reality of our motto, One people, One Nation, One destiny.
Thank you. [Applause]
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