Budget Debate 20133242 03 Apr, 2013
Minister of Natural Resources and Environment [Mr. R. Persaud]: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. Let me commend and congratulate the Minister of Finance and the team of the Ministry of Finance for doing an excellent job in putting together Budget 2013 titled, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
Budget 2013 does not only bring a pot of goodies for all the people of Guyana but it continues to pursue the vision, it continues to realise the commitments of the PPP/C, that is, to provide a better standard of living for all of the people of Guyana.
It is important to reflect on the context of the budget and the Minister of Finance, very eloquently, certainly painted a very realistic picture as to the external environment, the developments taking place in our country as well as where our country is heading and where we want the people of Guyana to go, in terms of development and prosperity.
The measures, the policies, the direction outlined in Budget 2013 gives life to what was promised by the PPP/C at the 2011 Elections as contained in the manifesto. I make reference to this, not only out of partisan consideration, but I make reference to the manifesto because it shows consistency, but more, it reflects a Government that is honourable, a Government that when it makes a promise it delivers that promise. If we look at subsection of the manifesto and at all the areas ranging from infrastructure to growth for development and then move to the area looking at ICT development as a critical enabler, modernising and diversifying the productive sector, education, youth, sport and culture, new economic activities looking at health, and the list goes on, we will see that the commitments and the promises here are being given life, are being realised and are being enabled by Budget 2013 as part of that larger five-year programme that is outlined in the manifesto.
That is an important context because we must not see the budget as a singular document in isolation of the visions, in isolation of the wider plan or the framework of development. That vision, as the Minister of Finance mentioned, is contained in a number of documents and an important one being the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), a document that is not only being celebrated and supported locally but one that is winning international support. We must recognise how the budget was framed and the context and the perspective that are so reflected in the document.
Over the past several hours of listening to the debate and the contributions of the Opposition points to a number of factors. The first one, as some of my colleagues would have mentioned, shows that the Opposition, so far - because there are many others to come, there are many big guns to come, as it were – has been unable to pinpoint weaknesses, has been unable to criticise or to show the demerits, or to show the errors, as it were, in the measures and the policies that are outlined. There has not been a single strong criticism of any policy, of any measure that is being contained in the budget.
The fact that we have seen this certainly indicates that we get a feeling of reluctant endorsement and which we welcome. That is good. It is something that we should all admire each other for, that when something is good we should compliment it. It is not because it comes from the other side; and likewise when there are good ideas and good suggestions from the Opposition the Government supports and gives consideration. By the omission or the inability to come up with any sound strong effective criticism of Budget 2013, so far, certainly indicates that - we have a document, we have a budget here - in a way, enjoys some form of support from the Opposition. It is a compliment that I am offering; it is not necessarily a criticism. One of the first speakers to do so far, including the Hon. Member who just spoke before, actually I was surprised by the… [Hon. Member: Brevity.] It is not only brevity, but the lack of depth, in terms of looking at the issues as they relate to the budget.
What we have found so far is that the focus was on addressing extraneous matters and a lot of it is addressing issues that have been repeated. We go to the old lines of corruption, discrimination, marginalisation, and the list goes on. The lines and points raised have been old arguments made since 1992, as was recognised by the Hon. Member. These accusations have been effectively debunked Parliament after Parliament, public inquiries, various investigations and even those constitutional bodies have found that the claims and the accusations have been empty. They continue to be without any substance or validation.
Having said that, we also heard issues, in which the debate was being transformed into a complaints forum. As we have just heard from the Hon. Member, who preceded me, that if you have a bone to pick with the judiciary you come here and you use that… [Mr. B. Williams: …you and your family.] Do you have a problem with my family? [Mr. B. Williams: Yes.] Do you have a problem with my family?
Mr. Speaker: Gentlemen, one second Mr. Persaud, let us not make any comments about other person’s families. I recall last year Mrs. Backer, and rightly so, took umbrage when there was a mention of, I believe, a relative of hers and she was correct. If a Minister is speaking, or a Member, let us avoid, at all cost, any reference of any Minister’s family. If there is an issue with a Minister let us deal with the Minister but avoid their children, their families please. If there is a substantive motion on the floor that wishes to go to that then we will consider it but until such time I would ask that we, whether by way of certi verte comments, heckling, or otherwise, families, in my view, should be sacrosanct and away from our personal attacks.
Mr. R. Persaud: Mr. Speaker, it is just to say that I am very proud of the people who surround me - my biological family and the family of the PPP. I am not embarrassed. I am not sure that many of us can say that.
We need to also look at the budget as a document that recognises the need for us to construct a society that is one which is inclusive and provides opportunities for all of our people, particularly the current and future generations. I say so because we are a country with a particular makeup. We are a country that has had a history of struggle. We are a country whereby we have undergone some serious challenges, immediately and certainly, if we look deep, and look very deep, into our history. We need to recognise that in going forward it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the type of measures and policies that we put in place continue to create a country in which every single Guyanese - not withstanding race, not withstanding religion, not withstanding social status - feels as being a part of this country or, as my colleague said, being a part of the Guyana dream. That is what this budget also seeks to do. It creates an environment and the opportunity for inclusion. If we look at all the measures, which have been detailed and outlined by the Minister of Finance, we will certainly point to that.
This budget does not only offer up those measures for inclusion, in terms of people’s participation in the development of our country; it does not only give every single Guyanese the opportunity to write the story of development, but it also gives us elected leaders the opportunity to create and to build a culture of tolerance, to build a culture of creating a Guyana for all. That is also the opportunity that this budget presents.
Several speakers before me - I remember the lead spokesman on finance the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge - raised the issue, and certainly reference was made to the Minister of Finance’s comment, about political dialogue and political consultation. The records will show that we in the PPP, and now the PPP/C, have not only talked the talk but we have walked the walk when it comes to political consultations and political cooperation. If we look at our history when Dr. Jagan was elected as Premier in the 1960s he came out and he offered half of the Cabinet to then breakaway PPP, which became the PNC, to the late President Forbes Burnham. If we look throughout our period… [Hon. Member (Opposition): Where did you get that from?] Where did I get that from? It is contained in our history. The Hon. Leader of the Opposition, a very versed historian, can probably point you to that address.
Over the years, too, even when the late President Forbes Burnham was in Government he also made overtures and there were positive responses from the PPP, in the form of critical support, in the 1970s and even just before his death in 1985 when there was some form of discussions. If we look in recent history, in the 1990s, when we were coming towards the end of that struggle for the return of democracy, the PPP, from the Opposition side, again, sought to create unity, to forge alliances, and we had the patriotic coalition for democracy, something that the Hon. Members Gail Teixeira and Dr. Rupert Roopnarine might be quite familiar with, and again those showed efforts.
If we look throughout the PPP/C time in office and the efforts that have been made starting with the t City Hall when we thought that we were going to use the Mandela’s Formula, in terms of sharing the governance… It was Dr. Jagan who had said to let us start it at the City Hall. We said that we would allow the others, as it were, to go first. Because of the make-up of the city council when it was time for the PPP candidate to become the mayor the agreement was aborted. We did not give up on that and then we continued with other efforts. The PPP/C even presented a document which is called “Political Cooperation,” that is, a building thrust for political cooperating in which it enunciated a road map to bring about increased, enhanced political dialogue with the aim of lifting and making much more substantive political cooperation. There have been a number of efforts. Some we have seen progress; some we have seen some positive responses from the Opposition and others we have seen those opportunities squandered.
Whilst I do not want to go into the details of what took place prior to the budget, but certainly one cannot ignore the facts that efforts were made. Discussions were held to entertain the views not only on the Opposition, but of the wider Guyanese society, so that at the end of the day we will have a budget that reflects the aspirations and also that reflects the needs of our people. When we talk about political dialogue and about political cooperation we must ensure that we do what it takes. Even if we look at what has been the positive response by other stakeholders and also the silence, in a way, from the Opposition, so far, shows that there has been some levels of consensus that this Budget 2013 reflects what the people of Guyana wants, but more so it points to the collective vision of taking our country forward.
In the Minister’s presentation he referred to the performance of the various sectors of the economy, both the traditional as well as the new and emerging sectors. Yesterday my colleague Minister Irfaan Ali quoted one of the Caribbean reports, in which a number of other studies have confirmed, that countries such as Guyana, which possesses the type of rich natural resources, are in a position to withstand global and other difficulties. What this Government has been doing and the measures contained in Budget 2013 will certainly reinforce policies and measures that will see our country developing our natural resources, in a way, to bring about prosperity for all of our people.
Already, when we look at the performance of some of the subsector within the natural resources sector we will see that they are positioning themselves for growth, for expansion and also for provision of more opportunities for people. Take for instance gold, in the year 2011 gold declaration was three hundred and sixty-three thousand ounces, last year it rose to four hundred and thirty-eight thousand six hundred and forty-five ounces, the highest ever outside of OMAI. If the target is looked at, which is set for this year of four hundred and fifty-one thousand ounces, it certainly points to a sector that is growing.
Let me dwell a bit on gold because its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is significant. That is why thousands of hard-working people within gold mining and the wider mining sector are offended when they are described in the most demeaning of terms about their activities. We are building a gold mining sector that every day we want to modernise; we want to improve extraction and recovery. Currently it is about thirty-five to forty per cent.
We are embarking and introducing and working with the miners association in introducing technologies that will see us improving recovery rates in the nineties... We are also looking at technologies that are very green, environmentally friendly, moving away from… to mercury free technology. Last year there was, for the first time, the importation of close to one dozen mercury free gold processing plants into the country. The miners themselves had done that and they must be commended. These are not plants that were imported by the Government and distributed and issued on an edict, but the miners on their own had took the initiative because of their own sense of responsibility, and certainly also because of insistence too that mining is conducted in a very safe and environmentally friendly way.
This sector has brought about life to communities that had lost hope. If we go into Region 1, the Port Kaituma area, if we go to parts of Region 7, Region 8 and even other towns and areas that support the activity, and even right here in Georgetown, we will see the thousands who, on a daily basis, depends on mining and mining related activities and they are not prostitutes as someone had wanted to suggest.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Persaud, there has been no suggestion that prostitutes…
Mr. R. Persaud: Mr. Speaker, I can clarify and then withdraw if you insist. The context of my reference to prostitute is that the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan, in his presentation, said that there was prostitution being brought within, and with my reference to the thousands who depend, I am saying that they are not all prostitutes.
Mr. Speaker: I do not think Mr. Bulkan meant that, but I can tell you as a frequent…
Mr. R. Persaud: I am not suggesting that he does, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker:… or he never intended or inferred that. I can tell you, myself, as a frequent visitor to the interior that it does breed and is breeding trafficking in persons and prostitution. That is a fact. I think we accept that, but Mr. Bulkan was not implying that mining equals prostitution.
Mr. R. Persaud: Mr. Speaker, what I just made was a clear statement of fact that when we go out there everyone is not a prostitute and that all miners are not engaged in prostitution. What we have is progressive hard-working people who are seeking to eke out a decent salary and they ought not to be castigated or to be damned and shamed for some political reason.
We are also looking at two large scale mining plants. There are the Aurora as well as the ETK Inc./Sandspring Resources Ltd. whereby we are looking at that as part of those transformation of the gold mining sector. If we look at the other area…because mining and quarrying last year contributed close to eleven per cent of GDP - a significant chunk of the GDP.
If we look at the bauxite performance too we will see that we have been able to, more or less, under this Government, revive what has been a dying industry to one that is very vibrant today. If we look, in terms of production, in the year 2011 the production was about1.8 million tons. Last year, notwithstanding the disruptions of Bosai’s operation due to the unrest in Linden, bauxite output was recorded at 2.2 million tons. It shows the dynamism; it shows the growth in activities; the opportunities and the jobs that are being created because of the instrumentality of the PPP/C working with the investors, working with the communities too, in bringing about life and economic activities to those communities. We need to recognise that whilst we have been pursuing growth in new and emerging sectors of our economy this Government has not neglected the traditional sector of rice, sugar and bauxite. That is why if the budget is looked at the Government continues to place emphasis on investment in those areas.
As the Hon. Minister of Finance has done… He has reviewed the performance, so I need not to repeat that, in terms of the growth and even in some areas in which there was a decline, take for instance in forestry, for a number of factors, but these certainly have pointed to a very dynamic, expanding and growing natural resources sector that can only bring about more wealth, more prosperity and more opportunities for our people.
Whilst we move and put emphasis on the development of the natural resources sector, we are also doing so in harmony with the environment, and our Low Carbon Development Strategy sets out that pathway. It outlines that vision. It gives the direction in which we can have, as it were, the better of both worlds, that is, to be able to develop our natural resources and at the same time manage and preserve our environment so much so that, as a nation, we have been able to earn in excess of US$115 million from environmental services of our rainforest due to sound environmental management.
As the Minister of Finance referred to our agreement with Norway and the contribution that has been made to the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF), in terms of these resources being used to promote Amerindian community development, looking at clean energy, I am quite sure, very soon, the Minister and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will be signing an agreement for the medium and small enterprises, whereby there are resources here to create a number of green jobs targeting medium and small enterprises. That is how we have been able to manage and to achieve that balance, a balance which has been recognised internationally whereby we have seen growth. We are one of the few countries so richly endowed with natural resources where eighty-eight per cent of our land mass is covered in tropical rainforest. We have been able to expend natural resources and at the same time manage our environment, manage our forest areas that that also become a contributor to national wealth and national development. This is something we all must be proud of. This is not something that the PPP/Civic Government singularly claims credit for. This is something that the people of Guyana must claim credit for, including the Opposition because, from time to time, it has supported policies and measures there that allow us to build that framework whereby we are able to develop our natural resources in harmony with sustainable and sound environmental practices.
The environment will continue to be given tremendous focus. If we look in terms of the allocation in the budget, looking in terms of how do we manage the environmental effects of mining and the resources, which have been provided and the work programme planned by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC)… For instance, fourteen mobile stations, which have to do monitoring, have been purchased and reinstalled. Eight GGMC stations will be built at different mining communities. Another one hundred and twenty-five staff will be employed to do monitoring. We will be working with Amerindian communities to train environmental officers and to equip these environmental officers so that they too can help us to police and to manage whatever effects that we may have.
We are looking at how it is too that we can manage the social effects and the relationship with this sector, not only from the ecological standpoint, when we talk about the environment, but also the economical standpoint, looking at how it is, especially with Amerindian communities on how do we manage the relationship between those who are engaged in that natural resources sector and in various communities because the indigenous communities are part and parcel too of the development of our natural resources, not of the exclusion. There are a number of legislation that speak to that; there are regulations. We are constantly reviewing and ensuring that we are effective in their implementation. We have engaged the Indigenous Peoples’ Commission to work with the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment in the environment and our agencies, in terms of preventing conflicts and managing situations so that there can be a better working relationship.
We are also looking at how it is that there can be special regulations put in place so that we can, at the end of the day, doth see an activity or activities that are generating wealth and income and prosperity at the same time are doing so and it is happening at the cost of social development and national harmony. We are trying to manage those. It is the balance between the national resources, ecological development as well as sociological development throughout the length and breadth. That is what we will continue to pursue. That is the vision that we will continue to pursue as outlined within the budget measures catering for all sectors of our economy.
In 1595, when Sir Walter Raleigh came to the northern part of South America, he came in search of El Dorado. He did not find that fable city but when he reported back, in London, he did not say that his mission was failed because he did not find fable city. He said what he saw there was an area rich in natural wealth, rich in potential and, for him, the El Dorado was real. In 1595, he believed that the El Dorado was real although he did not find that city. I make reference to the El Dorado, not the El Dorado fifteen, five, twelve or twenty-five year-old rum, because it was a dream of the El Dorado that had inspired our people, our ancestors. It was the dream of that El Dorado that certainly would have inspired the 1763 Slave Revolt which 250th anniversary we are celebrating this year. It was that dream of pursuing an El Dorado that saw Indian immigrants, some forcibly, some voluntarily leaving poverty and coming in search of that El Dorado to Guyana. We must be proud of that too because this year we will be celebrating 175th anniversary of the arrival of Indians. Also the Chinese too, and I wish to remind ourselves that they were in pursue too of the El Dorado when they came here. The Chinese this year will be celebrating 160th anniversary of their arrival. The Hon. Member has left but I want to remind him that the Chinese are part of the six people that make up our nation and they continue to.
Our first President, President Arthur Chung, and you, yourself, Mr. Speaker, are from Chinese descent.
Mr. Speaker: It is some.
Mr. R. Persaud: It is some. I have my research correct, Mr. Speaker. We continue to be in a land in which we are diverse, very open, and our people continue to be inspired to pursue that El Dorado. The dream of El Dorado is alive and, as described by our honourable colleague, Minister Irfaan Ali, it is a Guyana dream. Certainly, if we look at Budget 2013 it will allow every single Guyanese to pursue that El Dorado. I say so because we need to move away from this mindset that the cause of our problem is someone else and because of that we are not able to get opportunity because of someone else. Even as a nation, we must also start take a grip of our destiny more and spend less time looking back and blaming our colonial masters and those before. Likewise, when we get up and we speak, and when we make our presentation too, we must let our supporters, we must let our constituents, know too that this Budget 2013 is about solving their problems. It is about empowering them, about giving them opportunities. This budget is not about discrimination, it is not about taking away opportunities.
With those few remarks, with those comments, I wish to join with my other colleagues, those silently and those certainly who have spoken here, in commending the Budget 2013 to the National Assembly.
I thank you. [Applause]
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