Budget Debate 20134434 02 Apr, 2013
Mr. Scott: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Comrades all, at many social gatherings when someone gets heated, I would hear wise old men say, “the man in liquor is the man himself.”
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Scott, take it as they say from the top.
Mr. Scott: Which one?
Mr. Speaker: You have your full time.
Mr. Scott: I have been asked to repeat. Maybe GPL knows that my relationship with them is not so good.
As I was saying, at many social gatherings when someone got heated I would hear wise old men saying, “The man in liquor is the man himself.”
Mr. Speaker: In liquor as in alcohol?
Mr. Scott: Yes, “the man in liquor is the man himself.”
Mr. Speaker: Member, is this a reference to a Member of the House?
Mr. Scott: This is a popular saying. The uncharacteristic VITUPERATION flowing from the month of the Minister of Finance at page 1, bullet 1.4 of the Introduction to his Budget has left me looking askance at my dear friend. It reads:
“The past 14 months have rendered a veritable plethora of examples of Parliamentary action, occasioned at the behest of the Opposition’s one-seat majority, that consumed valuable legislative time and effort in futile, unproductive, and oftentimes counter- productive pursuits. Whether it be attempts to cut essential budgetary allocations or deny an elected Member the right to speak, the moving of motions or passing of Bills that defy reason and collide with our Constitution or, perhaps ultimately, attempts to amend the very Constitution by the slendermost of simple majorities with no attempt at consultation much less consensus, the Courts of Law and the courts of public opinion have both been condign in their judgement.”
When I heard that explosion of attack, I could not believe it was my friend who would have said that. I asked myself is this the preferred way to persuade APNU and AFC as against reasoned consultations that your budget measures are the best for all of us? Are we only good people when we abdicate our responsibility to our constituencies and to the citizens of Guyana and agree to whatever the Government puts on the table? What does that he mean when in his conclusion on page 3 bullet 1.11 he called on “all others to join us in the steady march to further develop our country?” It is development according to whom? Real development will only be realised when there is respect and meaningful consultation between the Minority Government and the majority Opposition.
I come now to what I call the “Ali show”. Listening to Ali… [Shouts of Hon. Ali] I do apologise anytime I miss on that because I do like the idea of saying Honourable for all Members. I have no problem with that. I like to hear Mr. Ali speak. He took me to lofty heights when I heard his expostulations when he was talking about what glorious things would happen. He reminded me of Macbeth where there is a part which says, “It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound of fury signifying nothing.” He speaks of growth. Has this growth he spoke about been translated into more jobs? Tell us then what is the unemployment figure in Guyana? How many teachers are retained as a result of proper pay? Tell us also what are the full CXC passes in all subjects, not some, as against the rest of the West Indies. Why does land under his Ministry sell for nothing less than $500,000 per house lot as against the old days when there was another government and it was $10,000 per lot? This is a country with less than one million people and 83,000 square miles which translates into less than 10 persons per square mile. It tells us therefore that we ought to be in a position to actually give land away as the way in which the west was developed – go west young man and you get free land. We ought to be in a position where we can say to young families go and take land and develop. It is not happening. Instead local people are asked to find at least $500,000 while overseas persons – persons who have a United States (US) residency of some sort – the same land they have to pay a certain kind of inflated amount. This is not the way to develop a housing programme.
Then he went on to talk about being in love with the sugar workers. When I heard him talking about the sugar workers and how he was going on, I know he was at a show because I almost cried. The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government which likes to boast about the representation for sugar workers is the very Government that threatened to derecognize the sugar workers union when those people decided to agitate for a decent minimum wage.
Comrades, we object and shall never support the incompetence of GuySuCo. We will not be fooled with the charade where we are seeing sugar workers at the top, when in effect, it is really GuySuCo that we are talking about. We will not keep sending money into a hole to waste behind a corporation that has failed time and time again that had a turnaround plan that has spun out of control and now we are hearing about a new turnaround plan. We cannot support that. This is not sugar workers. It is because we are concerned about the welfare of the sugar workers that we have to make sure that money must not keep on being wasted down the line.
There was a time when the major parties in this country shared the dream of a tri-sectoral economy. It was a participatory partnership of government, private sector and AND THE PEOPLE THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF COOPS. The phrase that “the small man will be a real man” was meaningful because you would remember how many poor people through the self-help housing programme acquired useful skills and also were able to build their own homes. This type of economic model was successful because it afforded not only the wealthy, but the small man to grow. He also felt involved in building a nation and seeing tangible results for his sacrifices. Now this Budget confirms the shift to openly supporting the business sector. It is called the new engine of…
Mr. Speaker: Guyana Power and Light just sent a message to say they had an unfortunate incident with a breaker. Proceed Mr. Scott
Mr. Scott: This Budget confirms the shift to openly support the business sector, the new engine of growth, at the expense of the majority of citizens. There is little here in this budget for the poor. We all know the song, “the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.” Consider the expectations of the poor as they wait to hear of a reduction in VAT, the receipt of a living wage and the creation of value added enterprises like in fishing, timber and gold. Their hopes have all been dashed; they get nothing while the better-off are smiling all the way.
The Minister presents a bigger budget than its predecessor. This year the budget is $208.8 billion. We have come to expect this, followed inevitably in a few months time by the requests for supplementary approvals. Each year we are told of economic growth. This year we are told to expect a 5.3 per cent growth, and to expect for the eight successive year, positive growth. Why then do we have 50 percent of the population earning US$300 per household per month? When will some of this great wealth begin to flow in the direction of the poor so that they too can rise above the poverty line? Now is the time for an increase in wages. We had asked last year for 10 percent across the board in the first instance for public servants and for an increase in the minimum wage. The Minister says our economy is healthy with positive growth rate, so why is he silent on a call for a reduction of VAT? Why instead of heeding our call for 10 percent across the board for public servants and for a living wage, he breaks his silence only to tout multi-year wage agreements as accepted by the teachers union. There is no increase in wages. The Government persuaded teachers to accept a multiyear deal of five per cent sweetened with a number of things like duty free cars for some headmasters. However, in exchange for a multiyear agreement, they in fact really got nothing, nothing extra that others persons who did not agitate received. So those who did not participate in agitating for an increase also got the same 5 percent. So nobody got anything extra at Public Service Union (PSU) – your union. So why go through the trouble to fight for an increase, is what they said, when all will get the same thing. We say today, that multi-year agreements lock in unions, inflation and wage value outweigh the trend, collective bargaining must be retained as we continue to battle for a living wage for the workers. collective bargaining for all workers and their unions.
Mining is one of the traditional pillars of our economy. The Minister gushes that gold production has reached unprecedented levels. More jobs, he claims, will be created. What he has not told us is the real cost of this money to the society as a whole. Go to internet and google “Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh” and the pictures you will see of our rivers will show the unbelievable discoloration and damage to our river banks as a result of dredging and other mineral extraction in the interior. A few days ago we saw the deadly effect of the outbreak of water borne diseases in Region No.1 as residents of Port Kaituma struggled to contend with polluted water from the river. There is a quote, “only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned, the last fish has been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money.” Tell us then Mr. Minister since gold production was the highest in history, even 20.8 percent higher than last year, how much will you set aside from this wealth to clean up our rivers? How do you intend to restore our river banks and how do you plan to enhance the capacity of the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental forces so they can adequately police mining operations ensuring best international safety practices are maintained so the residents can live in a clean and safe environment. Show us that some of the wealth extracted will be used to help the small man enjoy a better standard of living.
This Finance Minister is a magician. He knows how to dispense handouts some real and some imagined. He is a master of illusion. Here the elderly is given a $2,500 top up on their pension. He says 42,000 pensioners will now receive $12,500 each month from May instead of January as would have been the decent thing to do. Since last year the APNU pointed out that the minimum a pensioner should receive should be somewhere around $15,000. Now in 2013 I find it should be at least 20,000 a month. It should be paid from January this year. We must stop referring to these pensioners as non-contributory. These pensioners have paid their dues; (they have already contributed in the past. [APNU Member: Unlike Jagdeo] You cannot say Jagdeo you have to say Mr. Jagdeo. [APNU Member: Doctor, Doctor, Doctor] No, sorry you cannot say Doctor either. Doctor is honourary, not given to a person to say Doctor; one has to say Mister. If you are doing the curriculum vitae of someone, then one says he has a doctorate. Unlike Dr. Singh, he has earned his. These pensioners have paid their dues; they have contributed. It is on their sacrifices that today we stand. We honour them and acknowledge their contributions. It is therefore not too much to give them a living pension so they may live the rest of their lives in comfort. We ought also to refer to the contribution now with a dignified name.
The real handouts continue – GPL and GuySuCo – and these we should examine. The Minister speaking on the sugar industry asserts:
“No effort must be spared to ensure the long term viability and competiveness and profitability for the industry.”
He confesses that the $39.5 billion dollars was spent to re-capatilise and support this industry and that last year he transferred $4 billion for the same purpose. We have been hearing about the modernisation of the industry for a long time and a vaunted turnaround plan which could deliver 400,000 tonnes of sugar. Each year targets are set, each year targets a few months later are revised and each year these targets are still not met. We need full accountability for the money poured into this industry over the years. This year the excuses for continued failure are the same as before. However, now he wants $1 billion dollars to be transferred and a new turnaround plan is to be prepared. The returns do not give us value for money. With an unchanged management team money will continue to be wasted. A new technical team is needed at this industry including the Enmore packaging plant before any transfers can be given safely to this entity.
The same applies to GPL. We just had an example of the success or lack thereof of GPL. People live GPL. Every time one goes home and has to change fridge parts or call in the technician one is reminded of GPL and its gross incompetence. Last year GPL received $6 billion. In my presentation, I recalled that I had outlined a number of measures that if implemented could have set GPL on the road to profitability. Poor management was identified as one of the main causes of poor performance. Now with the same team, no progress, and consistent failure, Government wants to transfer $11.2 billion to them. We see what is happening and they want to give not another billion, not $4 billion, not $6 billion but $11 plus billion dollars of our money to GPL. Brothers and sisters how can we support this unbelievable wasteful disposal of our assets, the assets of our people? Until a technical team is likewise appointed to investigate and recommend a way forward we cannot support this measure.
The illusion of gifts to the poor is evident. When the minister announces a contribution of $1,650 per month to help pay the light bill of a pensioner the illusion continues. The catch is this: this payment is only to a GPL customer. How many of the 42,000 pensioners still have metres in their names? This is where we see the mean-spiritedness of this budget. On the one hand GPL is given billions when the poor receive a little over one and a half thousand dollars. This so called saving of $590 million is already contained in the billion dollar transfer of gifts. This is not a gift to the poor at all. It is a further bailout for a failed industry.
After 20 years and billions of dollars spent on wells, water supply programmes, and miles of transmission of mains residents of East Coast, East Bank, the City, and the hinterland should have been adequately supplied with a regular supply of potable water. We still have low pressure; we still have contaminated water and the outbreak of gastroenteritis other water borne diseases.
School children still have to travel long distances to fetch water... [Mr. Nandlall: where ...Sophia] Do you want to go to Sophia or Barnwell North? I will go to Barnwell North then. Over head tanks are still needed. Persons still have to buy treated water, thus driving up the cost of delivering water to households.
Martin Luther King in a 1967 speech, asked, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two thirds water.” We are a land of many waters and we see no relief to our water costs. The delivery of water to the first storey still remains an elusive dream.
When it comes to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), every single contributor becomes nervous. The scheme is in dire straits and could very well collapse. The blame for this must be placed squarely at the foot of the Board’s Chairman, Dr. Roger Luncheon and the Board members. To begin the rescue of this scheme, the Board must resign and then a thorough investigation into its stewardship for over the last twenty years must be undertaken. This is a Board which has ignored actuarial warnings in 2001 and 2007.
They only woke up last year when they saw the first deficit of $371 Million. It was in the 2011 Report; that was when they woke up. They made poor investments, like for example, $6 Billion was given to CLICO and we can expect, of course, no returns on that loss. They gave $2 Billion to the Berbice River Bridge and as yet still no returns. Not even reduction in the cost of travel over that bridge. They have a large amount of self-employed persons also, in the mining, fishing and timber industries. These persons remain outside of the compliance net. They are aware of the corrupt practices of some business bodies who prefer to pay their way rather than meeting their obligations to the Scheme and they wrongly blame, for this failing, an aging population.
In order to hide one of the actuaries’ recommendations of raising the contribution to 15%, they raised it instead by 1%, it is now 14%. In order to please their friends in the new found favourite sector, they engage in what I would term questionable legal practices, by agreeing to pay the employers’ portion of the increase, along with the employees’ portion.
I can understand if they wish to cushion the effect of the raise on poor workers, but what help can you want to give to an employer? Is it because the Private Sector Commission rejected the any raise of rates without first a revamping of mng any reforms for the NIS, unless there was a complete revamping of the management?
In spite of this side of the budget, the measures proposed do not help to bridge the gap between the income earners and the wealthy. In fact, it satisfies the wealthy, while it is silent on wage increases for the poor. The vision of creating value added industries and jobs is not yet realised. The school dropout rate, the drug problem, the pervasive corruption continues without adequate remedies. Discrimination in the awarding of contracts, the building of roads in supporters areas while other areas are given far less attention, the general lack of consultation and the secrecy surrounding the award of contracts and the signing of agreements, as in the case of the New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (New GPC) for drugs. The selection of companies for Amelia, Marriot and the Cheddie Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion project among others, all contribute to a lack of trust and confidence in this Administration.
They can redeem themselves however, by according the respect to Trade Unions, restoring the convention to the Critchlow Labour College, by reaching out to the people’s representatives and by governing on behalf of all Guyana.
The Opposition will remain vigilant on behalf of all of Guyana, but we stand ready to engage in meaningful consultation in an effort to build a better country for our children. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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