Budget Debate 20133420 05 Apr, 2013
Mr. Nadir: Firstly, I would like to join in the condolences expressed yesterday on the passing of the late Rev. Dr. Dale Bisnauth, a colleague with whom I shared five years in Cabinet and also had the opportunity to work five years with as Chairman of the Board of Industrial Training.
Secondly, I joint with my colleagues in extending heartiest congratulations to the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, on the presentation of this budget and I highly commend the work of he, Minister Edghill and the team at the Ministry of Finance.
This is another budget in a history of PPP/C budgets that has overseen the largest expansion in Guyana’s history. It is the biggest budget that I have seen; big, balanced and befitting its presentation and passage. The PPP/C Government has inherited a lot of destruction from the Former People’s National Congress and listening to the Members of the Opposition, in particular Members from the People’s National Congress under the umbrella of APNU, one would feel that we have taken Guyana down a road of destruction, of poverty. They have removed from questioning the economic performance in previous budgets here. The Opposition questions the numbers and the compilation of the growth statistics. Significant in 2013, they have now laid these unfounded these unfounded allegations, as the Hon. James Bond mentioned, of Guyanese living today in squalor and poverty.
While we know vestiges of poverty that still exist in our country, it is far different than we had in 1992 and far different under the People’s National Congress. I have said over and over in this Parliament that I do not like to argue over the facts. I like to argue with the facts. Let us establish what those facts are. Under the People’s National Congress and the failed policies of the Hon. Carl Greenidge during that time, and I repeat, failed policies, he has the temerity today to stand up and criticise this Government? Failed policies! In 1987 when they introduced the fixed exchange rate of $10 to $1, with one fell swoop of the pen… The exchange rate, officially was $4.8 to $1 and with one fell swoop of the pen the then failed Finance Minister moved it to $10. The parallel rate was $11 and then that fixed exchange rate… This is history and you are trying to rewrite history. Some people want to rewrite history today. The parallel rate dropped to $45 to $1. Do you know who got impoverished, Mdm. Deputy Speaker? People like me and you who had some fixed deposits in the bank, who worked hard…
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I never had fixed deposits then and I still do not have.
Mr. Nadir: All the Guyanese who put their hard earned savings into banks immediately got impoverished. Their wealth got diminished by three-quarters over night. That is what the Hon. Clive Thomas said, that that is the social debt. Dr. Roopnarine, the Hon. Member, heard his colleague speak time and time about the social debt that the People’s National Congress owe to this country.
When we talk about the failed policies of the People’s National Congress… Industrial production in the last three years of the reign… In the last three years industrial production was 3%, 8%, 10% and they have the temerity – the last three years – to lecture us about growth, about poverty.
Let us talk about poverty. Let us talk a little bit about poverty. The Hon. Volda Lawrence used the weight of children born. Let me talk about poverty because I was integral in trying to elevate first, second and third degree malnutrition that our children suffered during the failed policies of the former Finance Minister and his colleagues. 73% of our children under five suffered from first, second and third degree malnutrition. Generally when one traveled one saw the vestiges of it – the bronze hair, the moon face and the big belly – and there are medical terms for it and I am not versed in those medical terms. I am versed in seeing the physical signs that were imposed on the poor children. Today we hear about a Government that has expanded this economy, moved it from under US$300 per capita to now US$3,000 in two short decades.
Counting the children who went into school – the Hon. Priya Manickchand mentioned this – the dropout rate was 5,000 annually; counting those who did enroll to school, I am not counting the 20% who never went to school. I am counting the ones who did enroll. 5,000 dropped out. Of the 200,000 children we have in the school system today we still have 2,500 too many who drop out. We still have those. What did they invest their money into?
I am not prone to looking back but they took us back there. The Hon. Former Finance Minister, Mr. Carl Greenidge, took us back. He recommended that we put in programmes like the Guyana National Service. [Mr. Greenidge: I did?] Yes, he did.
Mr. Greenidge: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, we have arrived at a point of great comedy.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hold on. I assume that Mr. Greenidge is rising on a Point of Order.
Mr. Greenidge: We have arrived at a point of great comedy, Mdm. Deputy Speaker.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Greenidge, just get to your Point of Order. Mr. Greenidge, I am addressing you.
Mr. Greenidge: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I had nothing to do with the establishment of the National Service.
Mr. Nadir: Mdm. Deputy Speaker…
Mr. Greenidge: I was not even in the country when it was established.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I do not think that the Hon. Member said that. My recollection is that he mentioned that you mentioned it.
Mr. Nadir: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I am impressed with your memory. Very impressed.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Nadir, it is very late. What I just need is for you to indicate, if you could remember, is whatever it is that you said. Let us clear it up.
Mr. Nadir: Your memory coincides with mine. I never said that he formed it. I said that he recommended policies in his speech like the Guyana National Service and it is there is the verbatim record. He introduced it. I started that by saying that I am not prone to looking back. I learned the lessons from the past to avoid the mistakes of the past and to build on the successes. That is what I do.
I want to give you an example of the National Service. The National Service, during the People’s National Congress Regime, in my view and the majority of Guyanese I can say at that time, was a drain on this nation. It was not supported by the majority of Guyanese. It was not. Let me give you the facts. By 1992 the Guyana National Service employed 2,500 people and trained under 200. 2,500 people were members of staff and it trained under 200.
If I point to Minister Anthony who spoke earlier today…
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Nadir, I recognise another Point of Order.
Mr. Granger: Mdm. Deputy Speaker, could the Hon. Member cite the source of his information that 2,500 persons were employed by the National Service in 1992?
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I am sure you heard. Mr. Nadir is trying to explain what he said so please let us allow him to so do.
Mr. Nadir: No. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I am not trying to explain what I just said. I am trying to now answer as to exactly where I found the information; in the Ministry that was responsible for the Guyana National Service and we have a Former Minister right here too. By the time she took over they still had 1,900 people and they trained 111 that year.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I think what he is asking for is the source.
Mr. Nadir: The records of the Government of Guyana. That is what I am quoting. [Mr. Greenidge: That is not good enough.] That is not good enough? Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I was going on… on two programmes alone. As the Hon. Member, Dr. Frank Anthony, spoke earlier at the Kurukururu Training Centre today and at NOC we have 119 staff members and last year he trained 300; from 119, 300.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Which one of the organisations?
Mr. Nadir: Both of them, together – NOC and Kurukururu. This is how the People’s Progressive Parliament deals with the money of the people of this nation. This is how we deal with it.
Why am I supporting this budget? One of the first reasons, the Hon. Member Dr. Gopaul, the Minister of Labour, said that in last five years his organisation alone, the Board of Industrial Training (BIT), trained over 8,000 people with under 500 trainers and in today’s budget his allocation for the Board of Industrial Trainers has moved from $120 million $220 million. Mr. Finance Minister, thank you very much for that allocation. He said it, the Finance Minister, from 900 we are going to move a bit alone to 2,500 in 2013. Those are the kinds of allocations…
These are opportunities, second and third opportunities for our children who, for whatever reason, did not get a chance to complete high school but here under BIT, under youth, under health – training a lot of the environmental health officers – 4,000 persons are going to be trained and many of them do have CXC’s now. Not only for school dropouts, the programme has expanded to give life empowering skills to an overwhelming number of Guyanese youth.
In this budget… building on the successes of past but not only that… I was so surprised and please, heartened to hear, that $200 million were being set aside for similar programmes for hinterland communities in this budget. One does not necessarily need technical institutions to get technical knowledge. The British, who introduced the BIT in 1908, spoke of apprenticeship and placing people in workplaces from the time they were about 13 years old. The Hon. Member Irfaan Alli says that he remembers. One does not need technical institutes but what is desirable is that we still have to use the opportunity in places where they exist to give our people technical, craft and other life empowering skills.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker, if you use that facility in front of you and you go onto the Yahoo page right now, among the top ten hiring in the United States – and we have to deal with this – is heavy duty equipment operators so this, I must add, caring, well managing PPP/C Government is dealing with our children that way; providing for them and their families. One cannot weaken the strong to strengthen the weak. One has to put programmes in place so that the strong could expand and sprout more wings while at the same time help the needy, helping the vulnerable, hone skills that they can help themselves with. That is what these programmes do. We do recognise that there is a big issue of market mismatch and people do not necessarily want to train for the jobs that are. They want to train for jobs that they like and they want a job not necessarily across the river but at their doorstep. It is not going to happen so we have to ensure that while we council people to train for jobs that are going to exist and that exist, at the same time we have to ensure that there is a good labour market and I have spoken about this time and time again.
The Hon. Finance Minster has taken a small step, a small precipitate step, that we took a few years ago to set up a web exchange. It was small. It was only about $2 million or $3 million but when I saw the budget and I heard the budget speech on $52 million for a modern labour exchange. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, do you know what it has? We hear talk about all of this ‘Guyanisation’ and so forth. It has now… Let me tell you that I was at BIT, the Minister responsible, when the persons building the Marriot first came and put a long list. The records exist. This would be their demand.
It was not only them but for the Amalia Falls Hydroelectricity project. This labour exchange could even bring greater coordination between the 1,200 work permits that are issued annually by the Ministry of Home Affairs, what the economy demands and what skills are available. This is what this budget speaks about.
I was at pains listening to three Members, at least. Again I say the former Minister of Finance, whose policies failed us as a nation, Madam Volda Lawrence, the Hon. Member, and the speaker before the last, that is, Mr. Jaipaul Sharma, speaking about the Value Added Tax. Let me command the Hon. Member Jaipaul Sharma because he did say honestly that at a first glance it is a budget for all. The first glace is the correct glance. He then soured his presentation by saying that he did not see the development among the people. I say just let him look at his own family over the last 20 years that had a little box above a cook shop, not a barber shop, or a butcher shop, but a cook shop, and it is now the biggest television station in the country, today. Let us not denigrate the efforts of hard-working visionary people, because we want more Sharma’s in the country and the economy, growth and prosperity, and making use of the opportunities which the $80 billion of Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) will bring.
We have a new frontbencher, a new Member of Parliament, Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Joseph Harmon. He spoke about the vision of the chairman of the Ogle International Airport Inc. and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Trans Guyana and he said that Guyana has to have a long term infrastructure vision. We have it under the PPP/C. The Hon. Member Mr. Harmon [Ms. Ally: It is without integrity.] We are not like some Members on the Opposition. We must give Jack his jacket. We must give people the accolades for the achievements which they have acquired.
The Ogle InternationalAirport Inc., which the Member was so proud about, and the infrastructure vision, is an example of public-private sector partnership that is working. The Member did not know that that agreement was signed on December 1st 2001. I was in Cabinet at that time; it was not yesterday. The Hon. Member did not know that the expansion of Ogle…, that European Union (EU) money did not go to a private sector consortium it came to the people of Guyana of which this Government signed on to. The Ogle International Airport Inc. is not putting in all of the equipment for the control towers. We are, this Government, and we are paying the workers there too. It is the Government of Guyana.
When we had entered into the Berbice River Bridge as a private consortium, again, Opposition tried to crush that.
I want to talk a bit about an industry that is very close to me. In 2001, June, His Excellency President Jagdeo said to me, “Manzoor, I want you to ensure that we have a sector leading investment in Tourism.” Tourism employs $260 million. Tourism defined and outperformed global economic growth last year and continues to do so. Tourism and ICT are the two sectors which we have to invest heavily in, in order to diversify this economy which this budget does.
Let me talk a bit about the Marriott Hotel and tourism and I do not want the Hon. Minister of Tourism, acting, numbers. If one goes to the World Travel and Tourism Council, it states that tourism today – it is not in the future - contributes $28 billion dollars to the Guyanese economy [Mr. Ali: Big time.] Big time. That tourism and travel directly provide for 10 528 jobs in the Guyanese economy now and by year 2023, in the next 10 years, almost $58 billion will be contributed to the economy because of tourism. We are not going to exploit these opportunities by waiting to make decisions tomorrow. We are going to do that by making decisions today. The prosperity and entitlement of our children depends on the sound decisions today. To deny them these decisions today will deny them tomorrow’s prosperity.
Marriott did not come here because of the Chinese. Marriott came here because of seven long hard years of work and negotiations. A gold mine does not come overnight. After Omai, have we seen another gold mine? It takes time. Marriott, one of the single biggest names, in 2005 the vice president, responsible for Latin America came here and then we got the decisions going. That investment, the World Travel and Tourism Council stated:
“…along with our investment in the Stadium and the roads, in the highways, in the pool will propel tourism growth and diversify the economy of Guyana.”
We have to commend the work of the Guyana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism Industry and Commerce, especially when it comes to nurturing this fledgling industry. The efforts have been paying off. In 2012, when Channing Tatum and Adam Rodriguez from CSI Miami came to Guyana they went on the David Letterman’s Show and talked about the wonderful experience that they have had. They want to come back in 2013. It is not with ten persons but with even more people. Those are the kind of endorsements that our tourism product is getting today. That is the kind of tourism that we are going to benefit from, in terms of putting us on a map for soft and adventured tourism. This is not a dream. The 20 yachts, which will sail down later this year from Trinidad, Chaguaramas, to Bartica, are not a dream. Someone talked about “old men dreaming dreams and young person’s having visions”, these are divine words, so this young PPP/C Government continues to provide visions that will propel even greater growth in our country.
We only heard about negativism, about squalor, about poverty and about overtaxation with VAT. [Mr. B. Williams: Time, Mr. Nadir.] Do not worry with time. There are three Hon. Members on the other side who spoke of the VAT as so burdensome. I had to heckle the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge when he was talking about the high burden of tax because consumption tax at a rate of 30%, imposed at the factory floor, cascaded through the economy to 39% by the time the consumers pay their goods. He wants to compare his 39% consumption tax with the 16% VAT. That is not the true story. The true story is this: They did not say that bread is zero-rated; that brown rice is zero-rated; that brown sugar is zero-rated; that cooking oil, be it vegetable, coconut, palm, corn, soya bean, peanut, olive, is all zero-rated. They did not say that cow’s milk and evaporated milk are zero-rated; baby formula is zero-rated, fresh fruits, except apple, grapes, are zero-rated. The list goes down to 108 items, all zero-rated. It continues in services - education services, health services, all zero-rated.
There is a difference with a VAT exempt and zero-rated. Do you know why it is zero-rated, Mdm. Deputy Speaker? It is zero-rated because any VAT that is accumulated on a zero-rated item one can claim it all back. When we talk about the VAT bringing in more money, it is true. VAT has been a more efficient tax. Wherever it is introduced it does widens the tax net, but this is not a story about VAT. This is a story about the PPP/C Government restructuring taxation. While we remove the 8 taxes, which the Hon. Member Mr. Sharma mentioned, we have worked to ensure that those people who are suffering double jeopardy, especially the PAYE persons, continue to get relief. The Ministry of Finance, in the past, has cited a lot of the tax breaks to companies, correctly so, so that they can reinvest. They can retool and create more jobs. This gives a big break to everybody.
We have been looking at other countries that have a PAYE rate of 25%, today we are 30%. What is going to happen to the homeowner who has a first time mortgage? That homeowners will have the opportunity, not to have to make a decision between the mortgage and the furnishing of their house, but they can do both because of the tax breaks. We will look at VAT as part of a complete restructuring. It is something which the People’s National Congress (PNC), APNU and the AFC cannot conceive, but there is cheap politics in saying that we will give the Toshao $40 000. There is cheap politics in saying that we will give every public servant 10%. That is unsustainable, and we heard the cries from over there about sustainability.
When we have to start looking at this future infrastructure development plan… when we look at investment in hydroelectricity – future infrastructure development plan – the Opposition wants to block it.
We heard the Hon. Member Mr. Harmon spoke about the vision of Michael Correia, the businessman, about the future infrastructure development plan. Everything that has its eye on future infrastructure development plans the APNU and the AFC want to block in this budget.
Hon. Member Robeson Benn, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport expansion project, they want to cut that.
Hon. Members (Government): What?
Mr. Nadir: Amalia Falls Hydroelectric project, they want to cut that.
Hon. Members (Government): What?
Mr. Nadir: Expansion of the four-lane highway, they want to cut that.
Hon. Members (Government): What?
Mr. Nadir: The Hope Canal, I was there for Easter, they want to cut that. They cut Cunha Canal last year…
We have been all over this country and people are watching, and they are watching all of us. Derek Godette, from Lot 67 King Edward Street - Godette is a very famous name in the People’s National Congress (PNC) - said, “We are watching and you guys in the Government are trying. Tell them in Parliament let us put together a plan to clean up Albouystown and to rid it of crime.”
Mr. Smith, the forklift operator, at John Fernandes Limited, said, “I voted for APNU and you tell them, when you stand up and speak in this budget debate, that I am disappointed.”
This morning, actor Derrick Gomes, Mr. Sharma’s grandson was crying for some…, and myself…
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Nadir, please do not call name. You have called two names, which I am not even sure that you should, but you did not say anything bad about them. Now you are talking about somebody’s grandchild. Just let us try to…
Mr. Shadick: It is his grandson.
Mr. Nadir: I am one to bow to the rulings of the Speaker.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I did not know if it was your grandchild. If it is that you want to talk about your grandchild…
Mr. Nadir: I cannot deny the lineage.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Nadir, if it is your grandchild, it is not your child. Your grandchild is not your child.
Mr. Nadir: What is the point?
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: The point is that I do not know if the parents of the child would want you…I think we could make…
Mr. Nadir: I am not accusing him of wanting to hug…
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: I am saying that you do not have to use a name to make a point.
Mr. Nadir: This morning, grandson who I share with CN Sharma, I took him out for a walk around the corner. I ran into Mr. Derrick Gomes, the actor, and he is a very fair and balanced person. The relevance is this: He said, “When are you speaking?” I said, “Tonight.” He said, “I want you to say to the Finance Minister, former, Carl Greenidge, that…”
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Nadir, where are we going…?
Mr. Nadir: These are actual conversations.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Is he going to come to say that?
Mr. Nadir: Yes. He will.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Listen. I am not attempting to fight with you. I am saying to you that it serves no purpose to be…
Mr. Nadir: It serves.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: Mr. Nadir, I am not finished speaking. As I said before, I will sit here until two o’ clock in the morning, if you want. I have no problem.
Mr. Nadir: Neither me.
Md. Deputy Speaker: I am not going to adjourn the sitting but I am saying to you that I see no purpose in you calling the name and saying what he told you to tell Mr…. If you say that you saw someone who said something, but do not call names of someone who cannot defend himself or herself. If now the person disputes that, what forum does that person have to say that what Mr. Nadir said was inaccurate?
Please proceed. I am sure you are an experienced enough parliamentarian to make your point without calling names.
Mr. Nadir: The actor said that “the Opposition Member spoke of the sugar workers problem as your problem over here and he must say that the problems of this country, whether it is the sugar workers, the bauxite workers, are all of you all problems in the National Assembly, not one side.”
We heard many times from the Opposition benches that it is “our constituents”, but they are only speaking for one person. My politics of Guyana states that, when we had a National Assembly by proportional representation (PR), everybody represents everybody. This is not my side and your side, this is the side of the people. This is not my race and your race, this is the human race. That is what this is.
The people out there are looking. I do not know if they are going to give any one side what they want at any other election, but I will tell you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker, this: they have seen who has been responsible; they know under whose administration growth is.
Yes, we have to work hard. Priya Manickchand, the Hon. Member, Irfaan Ali, all of the speakers on this side have been extending that hand to ensure that we can continue to provide a budget that can give us the economic growth to break that bigger economic pie, so that each one of us can have a good mouthful to crunch on.
I, again, commend another wonderful budget of the PPP/C Government. [Applause]
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