Budget Debate 20133921 03 Apr, 2013
Ms. Wade: I rise in relation to the budget presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance on the 25th of March, 2013 under the theme Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
As an elected Member of Parliament representing Region 5, I want to say this Budget 2013 will not remove the frustration and depression that exist. Shouting the biggest budget ever will not solve the problem. It will not make an impact on the poor people’s life, when on a daily basis residence continue to face hardship. The budgetary allocation to Region 5 continues to be inadequate. Hence the affairs of the region are not properly administered and this is hindering development in all sectors. Sir, the purpose and function of any government is to sustain the welfare and the well-being of all people - rich and poor, young and old - and as such the budget is not a statement to be taken in isolation, it is a part of a design to bring great happiness and comfort to all Guyanese. The emphasis and the objective are and must always be the happiness of the people.
Prior to this budget, the APNU Members of Parliament embarked on a series of outreaches in six out of the ten administrative regions. We went into the highways and byways; we spoke to the residents in the various communities and we listened to their stories and concerns as to how they feel their issues should be addressed. I would like to thank those patriotic citizens most profoundly for my presentation today was aided by them. What is of great concern is the fact that many of those persons and groups claimed that have also voice their concerns to the Members of the Government. As such, I am disappointed, for I know that those issues were not addressed in the budget. I recall that during previous debates I spoke of some very critical problems affecting people of Region 5, matters which required urgent attention, but the Government completely ignores the needs of the people. Whenever I stand up to speak I do not mislead the House. I am here with issues from Region 5. Budget 2013 is before us, so now I turn my attention to rice.
At page 18, the Hon. Minister outlined the achievements in the rice industry as another record performance. I stand here as a messenger of Region 5. I stand here to deliver a message from the farmers of Region 5. I have said before and I will continue to say that Region 5 is the largest agriculture region in the country and therefore its input to the country’s development is very important. All is not well in the agriculture sector in Region 5. A collaborative approach is required to address the key obstacles faced by farmers to ensure that the limited resources are used effectively and efficiently. Priority must be given to the implementation of measures to reduce flooding in the flood-prone areas on a timely basis.
Maintenance of access roads, dams, drains, structures, canals, embankment, empoldering of rice land, repairs to kokers and sluices must always be ongoing. We know that huge sums of money are spent in some areas to rehabilitate farming communities but what is wondering is the failure to manage the business of the State. Cattles continue to ravish farmers… and destroy the infrastructure. Tractors owners continue to traverse the dams on a daily basis in and out of the rainy season, and these are the big ones. I am asking that measures be put in place to deal with these unacceptable behaviours. Because of the adverse conditions experienced in past, drainage and irrigation is absolutely necessary. There can never be any recovery from adverse conditions so the Government needs to put in place a comprehensive disaster preparedness programme to deal with emergencies to save the millions of dollars that farmers would have spent on their farmlands.
In Region 5, there is an ongoing land related issue. Once again, Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MM-ADA) had caused to publish the names of farmers who are delinquent with payment of their drainage and irrigation charges. I recall, some years ago, farmers battled with this very issue under the watch of former Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Robert Persaud. Sir, during that period the Minister came to Bush Lot and he spoke to hundreds of farmers and at that meeting the Minister decided to set up a Land Review Committee. Mr. Minister, do you remember that? That Land Review Committee, Mr. Bishop, the honourable member Bishop, a very good man, headed this review committee… [Hon. Members (Opposition): Is it this Bishop?] I said an honourable man… and we had six such consultations in Region 5. We had three on the West Coast of Berbice; we had three in the Mahaicony. Farmers came out and they expressed their feelings and concerns. This package went to the Hon. Minister then. It is with Mr. Persaud, the then Minister of Agriculture. I am asking the now Minister of Agriculture please to collect that very package. That is a very important package, so that we can proceed with the feelings that expressed during that period. Farmers came out and they expressed their feelings, Mr. Minister, and so I need you to get that package so that we could have a way forward.
There were farmers, also, whose loans the then President restructured because he had to do that to save their properties and gave them the opportunity to go back to their livelihood, as farmers. That was a way forward. We need to have a way forward, this time around; because of the constant flood in some areas farmers are indebted to MMA/ADA. There is no dispute about that and because of this indebtedness some farmers have no choice but to sublet for survival and that is what is causing the problem right now - subletting.
Facilities are not in place to access the land needed. They need equipment. We know in the pas that MMA/ADA had tractors and combines to assist the small farmers and those are not in place anymore and so the problem here is not the repossession, but a meaningful suggestion. Those farmers have to put food on their family’s tables and they have no other means to do so.
Sir, I have some suggestions from the farmers. They want to meet with Hon. Minister Dr. Ramsammy, as urgent as possible. They have burning issues; they have problems, Mr. Minister. They feel also that the notices, which are in the papers, are not adequate. MMA/ADA must send notices to the farmers telling them when that this repossession period will take place because some of them do not even buy newspapers, so they are only hearing, by the ways, that their names are in the newspapers. I am saying Hon. Minister that you need to come and talk to these farmers.
Farmers believe that the rich should not get this land. What about their children? Some of them have five or six sons and those lands must be given to their sons, Mr. Minister. Government needs to bridge the gap between the haves and the have not, the rich and the poor and the grass roots farmers. Agriculture is their business, all their life, since in the days when ploughing was done with a pair of oxen and even before the MMA/ADA came into existence. Can we say to those farmers now that the lands are not theirs anymore? Serious consideration is necessary at this time for those farmers to meet their survival needs and their living standards. I hope that during this 2013 period farmers will overcome the barriers that presently exist. I must warn that consultation is needed at all times when dealing with farming issues.
Let us look at the high prices for fuels, fertilisers, even the labour cost in the rice industry now, the chemical, transportation, be it the truck or even the combines or the draining cart that are loaded into the trucks. These prices continue to rise but the paddy price remains the same and so the farmers need some relief.
Let us look at the Strath Campbell, the Mahaicony area, Washclothes and those areas, the farmers there still awaiting the four-door sluice at the basket primpler canal and they want a continuation of the port Baiabu Canal to link Butenabu Creek to ease them of all their drainage problems in the area. There are problems in the rice industry. We cannot run away from them.
I would like to turn my attention to housing and water. I stood up in this very House during last year and I spoke about Number 22 Bel Air, West Coast Berbice, that there is a squatting area there - I hope that the Minister taking into consideration Number 22 Bel Air squatting area – and the residents there have being clamouring for years to get the area regularised in order to access electricity and pure water supply but to no avail. I have spoken about this before; it is the same old story all the time.
Talking about water: In my area there were those White children from Connecticut and they were on a programme in Guyana, B3. It is called “Building Beyond Borders”. They were in Festival City. We were fortunate in the Kingelly/Chester area to have them built a community centre for us. We called it the “King Chest”. They came in about three weeks ago. Mr. Speaker, a Sunday, getting up in the morning, and on the Monday, getting up in the morning, we were awakened with screams and shouts and we were wondering what had happened to those children already. When we ran to the rescue of the children, it was four of them, it was that they had turned on the pipe and they saw the grounds from the water. If I should display - it is no joke - how those children went on, each and every one of us will run out of this National Assembly. There were screams and the shouts - “There is blood coming through the tap; there is blood coming through the tap”. That was a first impression and, as you know, Mr. Speaker, what you see is that you will get, so they told themselves that that was it here - first time visiting Guyana.
When I heard the Minister yesterday as though “All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small”, I am saying that is not so. When we get up to speak, we must acknowledge, as the Hon. Member Dr. Westford acknowledged, that everything is not well. We must let Guyanese people know that all is not well. There was a second set of B3 students who came. As soon as they got here, they said that they were told not to touch the taps. The message went all the way to Connecticut and that put us in a bad spot. We had to purchase five gallons of water for forty children on a daily basis for them to brush their teeth. You could understand, Mr. Speaker, we need proper water system. If we are talking about tourism, there are people coming into our country and when they will reach here and that is what they will see – “ blood through the taps” - it is a serious message. We are far from tourism.
It is appalling to see the deplorable state of Government houses in the MMA/ADA compound. Mr. Speaker, it is not even at the MMA/ADA level, even in the police compound at Fort Wellington, the houses are all ready to drop at any minute. I mean to say that there are persons who need homes and so it hurts when one goes to those areas and sees those Government houses standing there by themselves. Public servants need homes to live and they cannot have those homes. We have to do something. It seems as if no effort is being made to renovate those buildings and taking into consideration the billions that will be spent in water and housing sector during 2013. I say that consideration must be given to families to have access to water who live in locations all their lives but have no documentation of ownership to take to the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI), hence they have no water. They always have to molest neighbours for water. I would like to see this Government, during this year, gives considerations, say something, to GWI so that those persons in those categories can have some assistance.
Roads and bridges: During the year 2011, the residents of Burma, Mahaicony, had to block the main access road to show their disgust with the state of the road there, yet today the situation remains the same. This is unacceptable. They have changed the name now from Burma Road to “Abortion Road” because pregnant mothers are suffering in that area. Whenever I have to go to Burma, it hurts to go to there. I am saying that and I hope that the Hon. Minister will have the road be completed in the year 2013. He had promised to do it in the year 2012, it did not happen. Please let it happen in 2013. The view of the residents in various communities is that they should be consulted whenever development works are being carried out in their communities. They need consultations, Mr. Minister. The residents feel, whilst the Government boasted about accomplishments of roads and bridges, the works are of poor quality for large sums of money. Region 5 should be part of a level playing field when the determination of whatever is being done there, in the construction of roads and bridges. They want to have their say.
We need proper streets and roads in Number 30; we need them in Number 28; we need them in Linchfield, Bush Lot, Catherine, Calcutta, Hopetown, Yeovil, where I am living, and Belladrum. The south of the public road, at Tempe, there is a police officer living there. When it rains that officer, with her footwear in her hands, would be battling it through, going to work. We need to have those officers more comfortable. It is two of them, one at Number 28 and one at Tempe. Those areas are not listed for works in the year 2013. I do not know what will happen to those people.
Power generation and supply: This is getting nowhere in Region 5. There is no reliable affordable supply of electricity. Our young people have to be using lamps; they cannot even enjoy a simple television programme or computer service. I spoke about Number 30, Back Street, 40 ohms are there, Mr. Speaker. The Hon. Prime Minister knows about it and Dr. Anthony knows about it because it was during the year 2006. The Former President Mr. Jagdeo, during his campaign in those regions, promised the people there. This is 2013 and up to now, there is nothing. Those 40 ohms in Number 30, Back Street, those young people are asking every day when they are going to have electricity and no lamps.
I have been pleading since 2007 also for Calcutta, Catherine, Number 9 and Number 8. These are areas that have not seen electricity all their lives. Young people are growing up without electricity; these are just to mention a few. These poor people cannot enjoy a comfortable living like every one of us in this House. Surely, they cannot afford the $238,000 per household. That is what is causing the problem. The one pole to get to their homes is $238,000. These are poor people.
There is also need for street lights in the Region in the following areas, Chester to Rising Sun – I am living in a little village called Yeoville; I am an original country girl. Electricity installation stopped the village before me four years ago. I stood up here talking about my village. People said to me that I am a Member of Parliament and living in darkness. I hope that the Hon. Minister will see it fit that, at least, the MP of Region 5 can have some street lights in her village. It is disgusting. Guyana needs to show some concern and bring some relief to residents, especially with the ills that are taking place in our society today. Break and enter is the order of the day.
The disposal of solid waste in a safe and efficient manner is supposed to be everybody’s business so as to ensure the health and safety of the citizens of this country. There are three landfill sites that were identified in Region 5 for garbage disposal. The residents are saying that there must be consultation before anything happens. So, the Hon. Minister needs to have that done in Region 5.
Sea and River Defence
The northern embankment of the main drainage canal is being threatened by the Atlantic Ocean – I notice the Minister is not in here. The embankment has eroded significantly in the vicinity of Eldorado Village. The division of the Ministry of Public Works and Communication needs to look at this urgently. Region 5 needs proper sea wall structure in No. 37, Plantation Brahan, Yeoville, where I am living, and Plantation Ross. Urgent corrective measures are needed in these unsafe and frightening areas. Residents of Profit, Foulis, Eldorado and Belladrum are tired of the salt water and the losses of millions which they suffer. These residents are still awaiting compensation.
I now turn to the issue of poverty among our poor, single parents, the elderly, the young, the disabled and the powerless. The emphasis and the objective must be happiness to our people, especial since the Government says “Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana”, which is the theme for the 2013 Budget.
Guyanese need a good life at a personal level. They need a sound education, satisfactory employment, economic opportunity and social protection for the vulnerable. The number of applications for public assistance has increased tremendously, Mr. Minister, over the years. It is alarming - the majority of applications for economic situations. This tells a story, and, judging from the applications, we are sure to have more dropouts in school.
Workers can no longer survive on the meagre wages due to the high cost of living. This is contributing to increased poverty in the Region. There are parents who cannot afford to send their children to school, and there are those who go without meals.
Child abuse, domestic violence, suicide and rape are all on the increase. I must say that the probation and social services workers in Region 5 are doing a very good job. But those who are in charge of the child protection division in Region 5, the Minister needs to give that area complete overall… The officers there are not working in the interest of our Region’s children.
In this National Assembly, we know that we have to disagree to agree. This is our country and we want what is best for everyone. The truth of the matter is that some of us have and some of us do not have. All we are asking for is a decent standard of living. This Government must make sure that this happens.
Young people comprise 60 per cent of the Guyanese population. Our success, as a nation, relies on youth. Although they are graduating from various learning institutions, they remain unemployed. The Youths of Region 5 deserve a better living standard. So, I am saying that Region 5 must have a levelled playing field.
We need a platform for drama, music and arts also. Government needs to create and implement a programme for the children of Region 5, with special needs and also gifted and talented children. Every year the Region takes children to the annual National Athletics Championship and they perform well - from the Region. They are never given the opportunity after then to see the light of the day until it comes around the following year.
Upgrading and developing the sporting facilities in my Region must be priority. We need to look at the such as Perth, which never had a ground, Strath Campbell, Number 28, Litchfield, Number 5 and the list goes on.
I am saying that in health we need a malaria centre. We have young people who are earning their livelihood from the Interior. So, we are asking that they be given a centre in Region 5 to ease them from travelling from New Amsterdam to Georgetown whenever they have this attack.
In conclusion, the purpose of a budget is to improve the quality of life for all Guyanese, not a few. Guyanese have a right to know how their moneys are being spent. Guyana cannot continue in this present state of stagnation. If we allow that to happen, our future generation will enjoy no peace and prosperity. We want not to remain poor; we do not want to be dissatisfied and deprived. Our personal aspiration must not be to remain unrealised. So, we hope for a better life that will fulfil our needs. Our children’s future will be bleak if we do not have this. We cannot allow this to continue. We have to pray and ask the lord to move the Ministers of the Government from a hearing place to a listening place, for it is a known fact that only by listening we can attack and make good decisions.
APNU’s aim is to make this Parliament meaningful and to bridge the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. So, in this Tenth Parliament, we are saying that no gap must exist. This must be the main focus, to make the inputs and shape decisions, especially for those who are affected directly.
Hence, I say in closing that this God does not sleep and he reminds us in Proverbs 29:04 that when the king is concerned with justice, the nation will be strong, but when he is concerned with money, he will ruin the country.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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