Budget Debate 20133342 04 Apr, 2013
Ms. Baveghems: Cde. Speaker, thank you. I rise to make my contribution to the motion for the approval of the 2013 Budget Estimates presented by the Minister of Finance under the theme, “Overcoming challenges together, accelerating gains for Guyana.”
My first observation is that the theme of the Budget is deceiving when the Minister speaks of “Overcoming challenges together.” Everyone knows that since November 2011, the PPP/C Government has done the opposite. They have excluded everyone else and struggled to do it all alone as though there are no other parties in this National Assembly. They have functioned as if they alone have the mandate from the people of Guyana to make decisions.
My humble advice to the Minister, therefore, is that if he is serious about, “Overcoming challenges together” then the PPP/C must recognise the true composition of this National Assembly, respect the will of the Guyanese people at the last elections and understand that they are no longer a majority in this House. If that is understood, I believe we have a better chance of overcoming the challenges and hopefully, “accelerating gains for Guyana”.
The Hon. Minister made a number of lofty statements in his budget presentation. In his introduction, he stated that the Budget gives us the opportunity to, “Review accomplishments and outcomes over the past year...” What accomplishments is he referring to?
As it relates to social services, there has been little or no improvement in the livelihood of most Guyanese.
“Prices for food commodities generally ended 2012 higher than one year ago...The world market price for rice and sugar declined... while that for wheat increased... by 29.3%.”
That quote was taken from paragraph 2.4 of the Minister’s speech. How can this be an accomplishment? When one juxtaposes the rise in food prices against the fact that the world market price for both rice and sugar – two of our main exports – have decreased by 2.6% and 18% respectively. We the citizens are not better off than we were a year ago.
This brings me to another statement found in the 2013 Budget speech at paragraph 1.8, where the Minister stated that the Government will continue to provide, “high quality social services”. Is the Minister referring to the fact that Old Age Pensioners still have to spend the entire day sometimes in the sun and rain to collect their old age pensions? In some instances the buildings lack proper ventilation and seating. This is also the scenario where pensioners, single parents and other vulnerable groups have to wait long hours at the public hospitals then spend about five minutes with a doctor and in most cases prescribed ibuprophen and or chlorophan. If they have to get more than two sets of medications, they would get one free and have to buy the other one. It is buy one, get one free.
The Hon. Minister mentions giving $20,000 per year to pensioners for helping with their water and electricity rates. That is a smart way in injecting more money into these entities since most pensioners are not customers of the Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL); how smart, dream on. Has the Minister carried out a study of how many house lots given to young people were resold, like the laptops he so boastfully spoke about? People are hungry and when they have a laptop and there is no electricity, they will sell it even if it is just to buy a loaf of bread and some sugar to make sugar water.
Has the Hon. Minister addressed the senior citizens who have to be standing in small offices with little or no seating where hundreds go for their pension? Some with walking sticks, some with crutches with no fans or drinking water available. How dreadful! These old people have served this country. At the General Post Office, it is painful to see those seniors struggling to access the birth and death departments. Seniors must climb all those stairs. When will the Minister address repairs to the elevator in that building? Perhaps the Minister of Finance, like the Minister of Human Services and Social Security are not aware of the call by the United Nations Secretary General’s message to mark International Day of Older Persons on October 1st, 2012; for the well-being of older persons to be insured and for nations to enlist their meaningful participation in society, so we can all benefit from their knowledge and ability. I believe he was speaking to Governments like the one we have here in Guyana; right here in this Parliament, where more often than ever poverty and near destitution are an outcome of the aged in our midst. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when they would heed the call for care homes for our aged in Regions such as Region Nos.2, 5, and 10.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us that he will ensure that request for supplementary provisions will be sought for the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security whenever the budgetary allocations are depleted, just as he does for the many projects, which does not meet the requirements of the law. At least two months before the end of the year the moneys allocated to assist those who are in dire need to meet expenses such as, funerals, spectacles and food are exhausted and not further allocations are made.
At page 14, Chapter 4.1, in looking to the future, the Minister stated among his objectives, building:
“...a Guyana where every young person can find rewarding productive employment and where every elderly person can retire in comfort.”
This objective is laudable, but it is far from reality.
Young persons with the relevant skills were mysteriously debarred from gaining employment in the construction phase of the Marriot Hotel because alleged shady or irresponsible deal brokered by this Government and the contractors. The young men and women out there are saying that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) should have a tour of that place and see what is going on there. They believe that shady businesses have been going on there. This is despite the assurances of the former President promising that the Marriot will create hundreds of job opportunities for Guyanese young people. How can the young people rely on these new assurances that jobs would be there in the future?
How do they know that further incompetence would not continue and the Government would not broker another lousy deal that would see foreign works coming to Guyana to management the Marriot and work in the enterprises being started by new investors?
This is not far-fetched as it is already happening in other sectors where foreign companies have brought from abroad their own workers, including truck drivers. Unless we have a Government with a vision and a concern for Guyanese workers, Guyanese, particularly our youth, have no genuine assurance for further employment opportunities under this Government. What then is the usefulness of all the alleged training of thousands of youths at Kuru Kuru that the Minister of Labour continues to boast of about? If that is true what then is the use of all the training which the Minister of Social Services boasted on National Communications Network (NCN) television recently, that she would be undertaking this year with her Budget allocations. We are still awaiting the thousands of jobs which were promised to the citizens of Linden several years ago.
With respect to the statement of elderly persons retiring in comfort, well the Minister must take a night tour of the city of Georgetown and explain whether the pavement f the old Guyana Stores or the avenue on Main Street or the pavements outside this very Parliament Building are comfort zones.
Additionally, we just have to look at the number of elderly persons who have sought jobs as security guards, sorry, watchmen and watchwomen, because their retirement benefits are woefully inadequate to maintain them.
While the Government will boast of the increase in pensions, the reality is that there will be relatively no real increase because of the rising food prices, inflation and the continued rise in the cost of living.
The Fact is, with inflation, et cetera, the pensions would have had to be doubled, if it was to make any difference in the comfort or quality of life of the elderly. I would therefore wish to recommend to the Minister of Finance that he increase the allocation for pensioners so that pensions could be doubled. I assure him he would have my support for that amendment of the Estimates.
I would deeply appreciate it if the Hon. Minister could state in exact terms the number of “grassroots economic opportunities” which were created over the past year and the number of “at risk vulnerable” and small businesses that were actually able to access credit easier, which he alluded to in paragraph 4.37 of his budget presentation.
Most Guyanese, by now, realise that these initiatives are largely for propaganda and really benefit the few loyal party supporters of the PPP that promise to continue towing the line. Occasionally, they make an exception so that when they are accused of political or racial discrimination they can point to those exceptions as examples.
The Minister, at Paragraph 4.88, alluded to the services offered by the Child Care and Protection Agency. However, it is my view that in order for a proper evaluation to be done more information is needed. It is not sufficient for the Minister only to state the number of children who were reunited with biological families, removed from abusive situations or placed in foster care. We need to know how many cases were reported and how many favourably resolved. We need to know the number in these groups who were able to receive help as against those who required help. I hope the relevant Minister will provide this House with the details so that we can make a proper assessment.
At Paragraphs 4.90 and 4.91, the Minister boasts of the many programmes implemented to target primarily vulnerable youth and the thousands who benefited from training under several specific training programmes. As usual, this information is vague and unacceptable. We need greater details as this National Assembly has approved large sums for such programmes in the past.
Where did these trained persons find employment? Surely not at the Marriot construction site and surely not at the E-Governance project, so where are they employed? The truth is that many of those persons end up back in the ranks of the unemployed after these training programmes. Let us therefore have greater details from the relevant Minister. The youths out there have said that they have not heard, so far, anything in the budget for them. Perhaps, they say, they have a sneaking hidden agenda and they will have to continue “liming” at the shop corners begging somebody to buy a fish and chip for them, or something like that, and then the police will come and shoot them down.
As I conclude my presentation, I am forced to state that this 2013 Budget has come and gone as a damp squib. No longer is there the excitement in our population, as we witnessed yesteryear during “budget time”. Guyanese have resigned themselves to the fact that it’s the same old, same old. The Government will present one budget, then immediately thereafter do their own thing; unknown to either this Parliament or the people. It is only when a scandal breaks or some information is leaked or when they are forced to come for supplementary allocations that the people of Guyana find out what the Government is really doing.
However every long rope has its end and the people of Guyana will soon pass final judgment. I too have to agree with the reigning Calypso Monarch who was unceremoniously banned from our national radio and television that “God don’t sleep”! To have my final say, I would say that God has sent David to free the Guyanese population from their worries. Please let our people go. [Applause]
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