Budget Debate 20143841 07 Apr, 2014
Ms. Selman: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise to offer my contribution to Budget 2014 as presented by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh. I wish to remind the House that I had recommended last year, in my budget presentation, that the Minister of Education review the schools curricula to include Spanish and Portuguese as course subjects in our school.
This year’s Budget theme is “A Better Guyana for all Guyanese.” The theme presupposes that with the passage of this Budget, all Guyanese will experience a positive transformation in their way of life. No one will doubt that such a transformation would be a wonderful ideal that every Guyanese would welcome.
What is a better Guyana? In my view, a better Guyana would be, a Guyana where the conditions are conducive to attracting and retaining foreign direct investment; a Guyana where there is proper infrastructure in place; a Guyana where all Guyanese perceive that our resources are allocated in an equitable manner; a Guyana whose foreign policy ensures that all Guyanese are treated fairly by our continental and Caribbean neighbours. I am convinced that if the programmes and policies outlined in Budget 2014 were supportive of those ideals, Guyana would be well on its way to securing a better Guyana for all Guyanese. Regrettably, an examination of the budgetary allocation reveals quite the opposite.
Let us take for example, the budgetary provisions for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is approximately $3.5 billion. We in A Partnership for National Unity consider this monetary allocation inadequate. We believe that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade has an important role to play in creating a safe and better Guyana for all Guyanese and, therefore, must be given the financial resources to enable it to perform its functions in achieving these lofty objectives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can and must contribute to our country’s development. Foreign policy is an extension of our domestic policy.
I wish to turn my attention to the issue of protecting our political sovereignty and territorial integrity. The formulation and implementation of a country’s foreign policy is primarily based on a country’s desire and obligation to foster and protect its national interest, national security, independent sovereignty and economic prosperity. Guyana’s foreign policy objectives are grounded in safeguarding the country’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity as outlined by the Minister of Finance in his presentation at page 54 paragraph 4.125 where he states, and I quote:
“Mr. Speaker, the preservation of Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains central to the policies of the Government.”
A fundamental feature of sovereignty is that, it is a claim that must be recognised by others if it is to have any meaning. Therefore, the Budget has to provide the resources so we can be able to put the mechanisms in place, that would ensure maintenance of political sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in relation to incidents like the one that took place in October, 2013, which involved the research vessel RV Tenik Perdana. This is the second such occasion that such an expulsion from our Exclusive Economic Zone has occurred. The first was the driving away of the CGX drilling platform by the Suriname Navy. To all appearances, Suriname and Venezuela are saying to Guyana that we lack the capacity to take care of our sovereignty and to protect our territorial waters. Because they are given this impression, they are treating Guyana however they please. The onus is on the Government to ensure it has the support of all of the people and their organisations in signalling to both of those countries that these occurrences will not be countenanced.
A GINA release dated 16th January, 2014, quoted the Minister of Foreign Affairs as saying, and I quote:
“The Government has opted to pursue a course of reasoned dialogue to preserve the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Mr. Speaker, reasoned dialogue cannot undo the damage this action had, on the commercial initiatives we have undertaken. At least one of the firms which had expressed interest in undertaking off-shore explorations, has indicated it is reconsidering its options and reflecting on the implications of the action. Are we satisfied, that as a result of this development, diplomatic engagement as currently undertaken by the PPP Government, is enough to prevent a recurrence and resolve the situation? Diplomatic engagement is surely an important element of such activities. But, other courses of action must be pursued to ensure that our territorial integrity is protected. I submit here that it is unsatisfactory for the Government to have held only one meeting to deal with such a significant matter. That meeting was held in October, 2013. Is the Government saying that in spite of the tremendous significance of this matter, additional resources could not be found to ensure the protection of our territorial integrity?
The Guyanese public needs to be told of the status of the current relationship with Guyana and the new regime in Venezuela. While it is true we have had a cordial relationship with Venezuela over a relatively long and sustained period, it is absolutely necessary in light of the events of October, 2013, that maintaining our territorial integrity must be given priority. The Guyanese people need the vision and mission of our foreign policy to catch on at every level, from the man on the street to the executive in the office. This would lend itself to a greater feeling of security by all Guyanese, thereby signalling to foreigners that Guyana is united and on that basis, we will be strong to resist their high handed behaviour.
We in APNU believe that in order to be in a position to lend maximum support to our country’s fight to protect its sovereignty, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade should reinforce its institutional capacity at two levels. First, it must establish at its headquarters, a team which draws on the skills from a range of entities such as the University of Guyana, the Department of Lands and Mines and related agencies. Second, at the level of the Mission, there should be a variety of skills such as geography mapping, law, history and local language speakers along with those skills normally retained. These must be recruited in sufficient numbers so as to enable the Mission to be able to service standing bodies such as joint commissions, which call on a range of skills complementary to those at headquarters.
Mr. Speaker, allow me to turn my attention to the promotion of Guyana’s Foreign Policy through Economic Diplomacy. Economic Diplomacy refers to the use of trade, economic strategies and influence to consolidate the right political climate to facilitate peace and security, promote international trade and investments, develop international telecommunications, energy and transport networks to name a few. It was reported in the Guyana Chronicle Newspaper on 3rd March, 2014, that “High level Suriname meeting examines enhancing exports to Brazil”. It was reported that with Brazil having become an economic powerhouse in Latin America, Caribbean Export which is the regional trade promotion and facilitation agency, commissioned a study which detailed an immediate set of actions, aimed at addressing the less than stellar performance of firms based in Guyana and Suriname in the Brazilian market. The report noted that Guyana and Suriname are not adequately exploiting trade opportunities either between themselves or with Brazil.
The report found that the partial scope agreements between Brazil and the two countries do not cover most of the country’s most competitive exports. The report also found that infrastructure limitations, such as energy cost and road networks, inhibit trade. Some of the recommendations of the Trade Assessment Plan include the establishment of trade desks in the Suriname business forum, the Private Sector Commission of Guyana to provide training for export ready firms, trade and market intelligence and trade show support, including the subsidising of air fare and accommodation for export ready firms. Mr. Speaker, APNU endorses these recommendations in Guyana’s context and calls upon the Minister of Finance to make the budgetary provision to implement those recommendations so as to create the capacity to utilise the natural market created by our links with Brazil.
The APNU believes that Economic Diplomacy is the vehicle by which we can effectively collaborate with our continental and regional neighbours to achieve our domestic developmental policies. Economic Diplomacy should therefore be a policy priority in order to support Guyana’s economic development. The Budget should demonstrate Guyana’s capacity to invest in Economic Diplomacy so as to boost its economy. The APNU wishes to recommend the establishment within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of an Economic Diplomacy Department. It should have responsibility for interfacing with Guyana’s diplomatic missions abroad, the business entities and the other institutions with economic or commercial duties. There is urgent need for economic attaches to be appointed in our embassies in Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil immediately. This recommendation is intended to realise better coordination between our Ambassadors in those countries and the Foreign Trade Department representatives stationed therein.
Mr. Speaker, given the importance of the opening up of our borders through cooperation with our continental neighbours and through regional integration, the action plans of our embassies in those countries must include an increased and intensified economic trust with adequate skilled personnel. A Partnership for National Unity believes that in order to perform their functions properly, each overseas mission should be staffed with competent and skilled personnel. The purpose of this recommendation is to ensure that wherever they exist staff shortage will be addressed and filled as a matter of urgency.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mission Statement on page 29 of the 2014 Estimates of the Public Sector, Volume 2, states:
“To foster and further strengthen relations with foreign countries and attract trade and investment in Guyana and provide consulate services to Guyanese and foreign nationals.”
I believe that in order to achieve these objectives, the staffing of our embassies and the budgetary allocations would need to be adjusted appropriately.
The Government says that it recognises the importance of deepening relations with our Brazilian neighbour. This is outlined in the presentation by the Minister of Finance in his speech on page 54, paragraph 4.126, where he states that:
“During the past year, we embarked on an expanded programme of cooperation with Brazil and continued to enjoy good relations with Suriname.”
Therefore, our relationship with Brazil must be taken into account in our domestic policy. Brazil’s economy, as have been said by the Foreign Affairs Minister, is one of the largest of the Latin American countries and the second largest in the western hemisphere. According to the World’s Economic Forum, Brazil was the top country in upward evolution of competitiveness in 2009, gaining eight positions, among other countries, overcoming Russia for the first time and partially enclosing the competitiveness gap with India and China among the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) Economies. Guyana should seek to ensure that we exploit all avenues of trade with Brazil.
I wish to turn my attention to Regional Integration. Permit me to remind this August body that the People’s National Congress Government, under the leadership of our late Executive President, Forbes Burnham, was instrumental in the founding of CARICOM. He is one of the founding fathers of CARICOM.
Caribbean integration is therefore important to the members of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and by extension, A Partnership for National Unity. APNU wholeheartedly supports Caribbean Integration. Mr. Speaker, the 21st century is and will continue to be of a different complexion from that of the proceeding eras. This epoch is one of highly competitive global markets, increasing trade liberalisation, new and improved information and technology, as well as enormous challenges with respect to national and global economies, as defined by the 2008/2009 Global Financial and Economic Crisis.
The small size and open nature of Caribbean economies, as well as their susceptibility to external shocks render them vulnerable to the various challenges and developments of the 21st Century, as separate and disjointed entities. The Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME), if operated properly, can provide a solid platform for member states to act in concert, to address issues at the national, regional and international levels, especially at a time when the lines separating what is national, regional and international are increasing becoming blurred. The CSME also promises to be of tremendous benefit to people and businesses throughout CARICOM.
The free movement of people creates avenues for the region to share skills, while simultaneously facilitating those seeking improved standards of living and better employment prospects, away from their domestic spheres. Businesses also have access to a much bigger market than their national markets and would allow, therefore, the potential to generate additional revenue and increased profits.
The region can share its expertise, technology and resources to greater effect. It is in this context that A Partnership for National Unity believes the budget should have made provision to strengthen our capacity to compete or cooperate within CARICOM. We believe that Guyana is no exploiting our Caribbean markets sufficiently, though we recognise the agreements between Guyana and Barbados in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, education, tourism and security and investments and civil aviation. These are commendable, but greater collaboration should be pursued with more of our Caribbean neighbours.
The West Indian Commission Reports of 1992 notes that a single market and economy is supposed to be structured and functioning, as if it were within the borders of a single country. We support this report in its entirety and urge the Government to give more meaning to the CSME.
While we supported the passage of the legislation to strengthen the CSME, we believe that the Caribbean Single Market and Economy is about people and if there is no public buying effort and resources expended thus far towards the implementation of the CSME, could very well prove to be futile.
CARICOM is capable of advancing our territorial interest. This is set out in Article 4 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas:
“Coordination of foreign policies and that is, presenting a united front in its relations with countries outside the grouping.”
The issue is whether countries, including Guyana, have the political will to give meaning to Article 4. Through a coordination of regional foreign policy, we can increase our influence in international affairs. It should be noted that meetings and discussions are not to be confused with operationalising this critical function of Regional Integration. A Partnership for National Unity recognises that with the inter-dependent nature of world politics, sovereignty means little without capacity to influence and enhance external events. Such influence can only be achieved by joint action in the international forum. It is our submission that, when nations are linked economically, socially and culturally, through gradual development of a common market, providing movements of goods, services, capital and people, this could well prove to be a great deterrent to conflict from countries outside of the grouping. Today, the European Union (EU) is a unique example of this. The APNU believes that there is urgent need to rethink and to establish coordinated foreign policies. Perhaps it is time for the CARICOM Secretariat, the Department of Government and International Affairs at the University of Guyana and the Institute for International Cooperation to begin collaborating on a conceptual template for a sustained coordinated regional foreign policy.
In concluding, I wish to reiterate the following:
1. The budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is inadequate. As a result, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will not be able to pull its own weight in terms of foreign trade.
2. Advancing Guyana’s interest is not a task for the Government alone, let alone the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is a task that requires a new inclusionary approach, an approach which requires dialogue and understanding among Government, business and the rest of the community.
3. At every stage of our dialogue, the public, not only Members of the National Assembly, needs to be informed.
4. If Guyana’s foreign policy is to succeed it must aim to mobilise the understanding and support of all Guyanese.
5. Finally, if there is to be a better Guyana, we have to institute policies that will ensure that we build a strong economy through robust international economic relations.
Budget 2014 fails to do that. I thank you. [Applause]
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