Budget Debate Speech 2014 presented by Minister Jennifer Webster, M.P- Minister of Human Services and Social Security2146 08 Apr, 2014
Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this honourable house to lend my support to Budget 2014. Let me extend congratulations to my colleague the Honourable Dr. Ashni Singh M.P - Minister of Finance and his team for articulating a vision in this year’s budget presentation, which seeks to support our Government’s pro-poor approach to enable a better quality of life for all Guyanese; including through the improvement of quality Social Services being provided throughout Guyana.
Mr. Speaker, the theme of this year’s budget “A Better Guyana for All Guyanese” speaks to our Government’s primary focus which is to address the needs of our people. Budget 2014 is practical and it is “people centered.” Budget 2014 is good for Guyana! It has captured the key issues that will enable us, as a people to continue along a trajectory that continues to realize and harvest Guyana’s true potential.
Mr. Speaker, it would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge the fact that Guyana’s economy over the past eight (8) years from the year 2006 up to 2013 has seen the longest period of uninterrupted real economic growth in independent Guyana. From a growth rate of 5.1% in 2006 and by the end of 2013, Guyana’s economy had grown by 5.2%. Mr. Speaker, we must not forget that during that period the world economy saw a downturn as a result of the Global Financial Crisis which had a negative and severe impact upon many economies around the world.
In Budget 2014, the budgetary allocation of the Social Sector is 1/3 of the National Budget, and greater emphasis has been given to social programmes for the vulnerable and at risk populations within our society – youths, the elderly, our women and children. Through a menu of targeted interventions the ordinary Guyanese man or woman will benefit. Mr. Speaker, this PPP/C Government has demonstrated over the past years, through our policies and programmes, continued commitment to better the lives of all Guyanese. We have a track record that is premised upon the approach of sustainability through a number of measures being implemented throughout all the sectors. Whilst some detractors may say that this budget is deficient, and that it does not address issues affecting the ordinary Guyanese; I wish to reassure everyone in this house that our Government’s position is supportive of every Guyanese citizen having access to the same opportunities, let us not be skeptical about the benefits this budget brings to our people, but let us recognize that “what matters now and, equally, and what will ultimately matter, is our contribution to making our country a better place”, Therefore all of us as representatives of the people, to see the need to work together in the interest of all our people”.
In 2014, the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security in accordance with its mandate will continue to focus on the provision of Human Services - meeting the human needs of our people through prevention as well as remedial work and other targeted interventions for vulnerable groups. In 2013, the Child Care and Protection Agency worked diligently and prevented 2,432 children from being separated from their families, whilst 519 children were removed from abusive situations. Like similar agencies around the world, the agency in 2013 performed admirably to meet the increased demand for services to children and their families. In Guyana today, our populace has become even more aware of societal ills which have affected our children. Our Government has therefore seen the need to support the placement of children within the family setting instead of placement in institutional care as a preferred option. We will continue to provide alternative care options for children; training and support for parents to prevent the unnecessary separation of children through parenting initiatives; conduct effective monitoring of children placed in home care; undertake mental health and therapeutic services for affected children and their families; foster community awareness and psycho-social support for vulnerable children and their families; support those vulnerable children in the school system, and through inter-agency collaboration advocate on behalf of those children whose rights have been violated to ensure that there is access to justice. It is important that we recognize the range of services being provided and that we accept that no single agency or organization working in isolation from others, can address these demands successively without inter-agency collaboration between Government and its partners. Vulnerable children and their families do require a number of services. The pooling of resources, skills and coordination of care services must be seen in a positive manner for the purpose of inter-dependent problem-solving which focuses on improving services to children and their families. Mr. Speaker, “just think about a child or a family having to visit several social service agencies for assistance and having to provide the same information on every occasion,” this can be frustrating. So Mr. Speaker, inter-agency collaboration must be seen as having tremendous benefits to vulnerable children. It will provide easier access in a timely manner to services, increase the quality of case monitoring and evaluation, more effective use of limited resources and eliminate duplication of services being provided to victims. The Child Care and Protection Agency will work to ensure increased collaboration with other key Governmental and non Governmental agencies. I am sure that all of us in this honourable house will agree that working with families is a key strategy to ensuring the continued well being of children, whilst forging strong family ties and discouraging the development of dysfunctional families. To this end, the sum of $382.5M has been budgeted for the delivery of effective Child Care and Protection Services. It is also our intention to promote foster care as an alternative care option. Training will be conducted in all ten administrative regions for approximately 2000 parents. Whilst there are some children who will have to remain in institutional care, greater emphasis will be placed on monitoring the 19 privately managed children’s homes in Guyana to ensure that the operations of these homes are in accordance with the minimum operational standards and guidelines in place. Mr. Speaker, towards the end of 2013, three juveniles from a children’s home in Region 6 were charged for wandering. There was a lot of criticism in the press about the maltreatment of these three girls. As Minister of Human Services and Social Security, I appointed a team of competent persons to undertake an inquiry into this incident. The Committee has since submitted its findings along with its recommendations with a comprehensive report. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform this honourable house, that the minimum operational standards for children’s homes states that “homes must ensure that all children within their care are protected and their rights respected”. In addition, the diversity and individuality of each child must be promoted and supported to encourage his/her personal growth and participation in decision making. This enables each child to develop an individual identity and to grow up with a sense of belonging. Among some of the key recommendations are:-
a) For the immediate establishment of a Management Committee to review and have oversight responsibility for the operations of the home;
b) To develop and implement procedures that govern the rights of children living in that home;
c) Training of personnel on the relevant laws for the protection and rights of children in Guyana;
d) To recruit a tutor to assist the children with homework and assignments;
e) To institute disciplinary action against those officers who failed to execute their duties in the requisite manner in accordance with the Public Service Rules. However, we must ensure that all the gaps in the juvenile justice system be closed to address issues relating to minors who are placed before the Court. Mr. Speaker, it is therefore important to ensure that there is compliance as it relates to the protection of Guyana’s children who live in institutional care.
Work is on going on the completion of regulations for the Child Care and Development Services Act 2011, and this will be completed shortly. It will support the registering and licensing of daycare facilities and the privately managed children's homes and orphanages. It will be a requirement that all these facilities operate at the minimum operational standards or cease operation. Registration and Licensing officers are currently being recruited and will be trained. The Child Care and Protection Agency will conduct an awareness campaign to sensitize the providers of day care facilities on the prescribed requirements for the operation of these facilities. The "TELL Campaign" in schools and other activities for "breaking the silence" on childhood sexual abuse will be expanded as well as education awareness activities will be conducted in communities as it relates to children's rights and protecting them from harm and abuse. The Half-Way/Transitional Home for Children which will be housed in the recently renovated building located at Sophia, will facilitate the aging out of children 16 years and over from the formal care system. Among other activities to be undertaken by the agency, as part of services that will be developed for vulnerable children and their families, includes increased mental health services being provided.
Mr. Speaker, in the year 2013 through the Difficult Circumstances Unit the sum of $33 million was expended to meet the cost of poverty alleviation initiatives such as funeral grants to the tune of $2.7 million, eye care assistance for the elderly, school children and public assistance recipients - $1.8 million, support to persons with disabilities towards the access to prosthesis limbs and hearing aids -$2.3 million, Food assistance - $800,000, small business initiatives to assist women’s groups - $2.2 million, Trafficking in persons - $1.7 million, transportation cost for the Disabled People’s Network and persons from other disabled groups - $2.1 million. Mr. Speaker, these are some of the initiatives which are poverty alleviation interventions to support the vulnerable within our society.
Trafficking In Persons
Trafficking in persons is a global phenomenon. It is the second largest criminal activity in the world, in conjunction with arms trafficking and trailing the drug trade, according to the United Nations.
Notwithstanding the extent of the problem globally, repeated assessments have revealed a low prevalence of trafficking in persons in Guyana. However, the potential impact of trafficking in persons on the safety and human rights of citizens has driven the Government and its partners to develop strategies and programmes aimed at combating trafficking in persons.
Initiatives aimed at combating trafficking in persons have been undertaken under the guidance of the Ministerial task Force on trafficking in persons which comprises representatives from Governmental and non-governmental agencies and is chaired by the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs.
The policy of this Government on this issue of Trafficking In Persons is to wage a consistent struggle against perpetrators. However, we will always honour our obligations to offer protection and assistance to victims, this is contrary to some recent Public Statements made in the press.
It must be noted that investigations of reported incidents of trafficking in persons are conducted by the Guyana Police Force and all files/matters with respect to Trafficking In Persons are duly reviewed by the Commissioner of Police or an authorized officer. There is an established protocol in place as to how such matters are dealt with. It is the Guyana Police Force that is responsible for informing witnesses/alleged victims of their scheduled appearance in Court. The Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security is primarily responsible for the support of alleged victims or victims of TIP and we have diligently done so. Communication is a key element in relationship building for effective inter-agency collaboration. We must communicate and understand the roles and responsibilities of the participating agencies and appreciate each other’s cultural and operating differences. The barriers to inter-agency collaboration are many, but true professionals will continue to work towards removing these barriers.
For the year 2013, there were 20 alleged victims, nine reports, three convictions and six cases which were brought before the Courts. One case was dismissed. The three convictions pertained matters in 2012. With respect to the three cases in 2013 which were not brought before the Court, no charge was instituted based upon the legal advice provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security has never rejected any alleged TIP victims and has rendered support in the form of financial aid; the provision of housing, food, and clothing; together with training opportunities and job placement for victims; to facilitate their reintegration into society.
In 2013, the Ministry supported 30 alleged victims, some of whom were rescued during the previous year.
The Ministry continues to urge full reporting of incidents of Trafficking In Persons by every concerned Guyanese and also urges ALL TIP victims/alleged victims to ensure they testify in the Court of Law to ensure prosecutions which will result in the conviction, and we would like to assure everyone, that Government remains ready to support all victims/alleged victims to ensure their meaningful reintegration into society.
Shelter and Rehabilitation
Mr. Speaker, we continue to exert our efforts to improve the quality of life for those vulnerable persons within our society, so as to transform their lives in a significant way. Very shortly the Hugo Chavez Center for the Rehabilitation and Re-Integration of the Homeless will commence operations. This signifies our Government’s commitment and concern for the welfare of our citizens, especially those who are faced with difficult circumstances, and who ‘have no place to go’. During my budget presentation last year, I had indicated to this honourable house that the facility would have become operational in 2013. However, there were some challenges which included the conclusion of some remedial work which was deemed necessary, and procure furnishings and equipment required. It is our intention to support the rehabilitation and re-integration of these individuals into society through the following programmes:-
1.) Training in Agriculture through cash-crop farming and rearing of poultry
2.) Providing training opportunities through various skills training programmes in the fields of catering, office ethics and basic computer skills training, carpentry and plumbing.
This facility has the capacity to house 180 persons.
Mr. Speaker, the National Commission on the Elderly continues its work during 2014. This year the Ministry in collaboration with the National Commission will conclude the formulation of minimum standards for all homes and facilities providing care to the elderly. We will work with the Commission to make the Palms Geriatric facility, a model for elderly care, with the focus on establishing best practices, as we seek to build the capacity of patient care assistants, who care for the elderly. In addition, there are plans to partner with state based organizations, and to establish centers for the elderly in various communities across our country. Mr. Speaker, just a few days ago there were reports in the media about incidents where two of our elderly women were targeted by criminals and who have lost their lives within the confines of their own homes. At least one of the victims, it is alleged was raped! Mr. Speaker, this is horrific! We cannot condone this sort of violence within our society any longer and as leaders we must by our actions send a signal that this must not be tolerated in our society. The recent murder of two senior citizens - Joyce Lewis aged 75 and Yvonne Adams aged 76 who both lived alone, raises concerns about the need for the protection of the elderly. This is a worrisome trend Mr. Speaker and needs to be addressed urgently. My condolences are extended to the families of these two elderly women. Mr. Speaker, the abuse of the elderly within our society must be addressed. There are cases where some persons are taken to hospitals for treatment and are abandoned by their families, whilst some elderly citizens within our society are abused on a regular basis and their pensions taken away from them. The Ministry has been in receipt of such complaints and has had to address these matters. To this end, the National Commission on the Elderly will work assiduously to conclude the formulation of legislation for the protection of the elderly. We must uphold the rights of the elderly within our society. We will work with our elderly in our society to make them more security conscious, and I strongly support my colleagues in the expansion of the Community Policing Groups, which will enable all communities to be safer. Mr. Speaker, this year the Old Age Pension will be increased from May 1st from $12,500 per month to $13,125. Mr. Speaker, since the year 2006, our pensions have increased annually. This year, some 42,500 senior citizens will benefit and this results in some $6.6B being provided to meet the cost of Old Age Pension. Since the introduction of the Old Age Pension Electricity Assistance programme in 2013, 7,026 pensioners who are customers of GPL were eligible to receive the subsidy.
Region Number of Pensioners
Mr. Speaker, this year that subsidy has been substantially increased by 50% so that the total subsidy this year will be in the sum of $30,000 for every pensioner. Every succeeding generation is bon of the sacrifice of the previous one, and our elderly have contributed to the development of Guyana in many ways, and it will always be a major priority within our Government’s remit to provide for the elderly and t meet their needs.
Gender Equality and Empowerment
Mr. Speaker, at the recent 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women which was in March, to review the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls, Guyana reported on good progress made in its efforts to reduce hunger, increase access to social services and benefits, improve enrollment in and completion of primary education, and the empowerment of women were among some of the areas posited. Mr. Speaker, Guyana by virtue of adopting a people centered development approach has come a long way towards mainstreaming gender equality and the empowerment of women in national policies. Recognizing the importance of creating space for women to contribute to society, strong advocacy was done at the international level for stand alone goals to be included in the post 2015 Development Agenda with respect to issues on gender equality, the economic advancement and support of our women and girls, the protection of women’s rights, together with the issue of the Elimination Gender- Based Violence. Our Government understands that it cannot achieve these objectives alone and that the broader political and civil climate will remain critical in creating a conducive environment, to encourage greater investment in our country. Further, a well developed civil society has a vital role to play in supporting enduring democracies underpinned by good governance practices. Mr. Speaker, among the challenges faced are gender-based violence and persistent gender inequalities in employment which require urgent attention.
The 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development concluded that, in the context of gender equality, patterns of progress and persistence of inequality are both consequential to development outcomes. Corrective policies are needed which focus on persistent gender disparities, given the evident elimination of economic development in and of itself in addressing these disparities. Studies in the region have shown that gender inequality represented a socio-economic loss to our society and a cost to human development. Mr. Speaker, in addressing the challenge of gender inequality, I am of the firm view that this requires a change of attitude and approaches at multiple levels. In this regard, the role of men and boys and that of the family, as the fundamental unit of society is crucial and must be strongly and visibly supported. There is also greater need to promote equal opportunities to continue women’s access to economic and investment opportunities, which promote entrepreneurship and the financial independence as well as women’s participation in all levels of decision making in our society. Mr. Speaker, I am happy to say that in this year’s Public Sector Estimate - Volume II under the Ministry’s programme outline, we now have a sub – programme titled ‘Gender Equality and Empowerment’ which contains activities clearly identified for the protection of women’s rights, protection of men’s rights, economic advancement and support; and the elimination of gender based violence. Isn’t this testimony of our Government’s commitment to these issues?
This year there are plans for the Men’s Affairs Bureau to increase their efforts by working with our men and young boys at every level of our society, to make them aware of their roles and responsibilities, with a view to enable them to respond to conflict in the family in a non - violent manner. The National Commission on the Family will collaborate with state based organizations and other non -governmental groups to provide resource opportunities through community based interventions, to support those men in our society who are prone to violence and need to seek psycho-social help in dealing with anger management and other disorders. In addition, the National Commission on the Family intends to conduct training with men on parenting skills and techniques for fathers and design a public communication campaign to ensure the messages are held by all.
For this year 2014, the Women’s Affairs Bureau will continue to support the advancement and the empowerment of women through training opportunities in micro-financing to support women in small business enterprise. The Bureau intends to engage the legal fraternity to assist in developing simple user-friendly handbooks entitled “Know Your Rights”. In addition, there will be a countrywide campaign to sensitize women and girls about their rights, which would assist them in making positive choices and decisions in their lives. This activity will be a collaborative effort with all partners and stakeholders, NGOs and educational institutions. In addition, the Conversation on Gender-Based Violence will continue in schools, in collaboration with the Men’s affairs Bureau.
A National Action Plan as required in the Sexual Offences Act (2010) has been developed by the Ministry. We intend to consult with all stakeholders on the Draft National Action Plan shortly.
Mr. Speaker, The Women of Worth (WoW) Micro-Credit Initiative has two main purposes:- to improve the socio-economic status of women in Guyana and to promote a pivotal component in Guyana’s quest towards attaining a society that is economically vibrant.
Mr. Speaker, the Women of Worth Programme continues. However, we recognize the need for the women to first benefit from training in the management of cash and the execution of their business plans as a prior condition for granting financing. I have met with the partner bank, and together with the Ministry, a more coordinated approach will be taken to tackle the default rate of existing beneficiaries, evaluate the impact on existing beneficiaries before the next phase of expanding the programme to eligible beneficiaries later in the year.
Since the introduction of the WoW Programme in 2010, there have been fifteen (15) second time loan recipients in Region 6, thirty nine (39) second time loan recipients in region 4 and thirty four (34) in region 2; totaling eighty eight (88) second time borrowers. In Region 2, there has also been five (5) third time and two (2) fourth time loan recipients.
Mr. Speaker, this is testimony to the support that this programme continues to provide through micro-credit enterprise development in the agricultural sector – poultry rearing, food processing, clothes vending, catering and cosmetology, among many others.
Mr. Speaker, one success story of this Programme is the single mother in Region 5 who now owns a thriving variety store in which she offers both GT&T and Digicel mobil credit to her community. Another recipient, Mr. Speaker is a single parent in region 6 who now owns a well established boutique. Several other recipients have used their loans to expand their catering businesses, hairdressing and cosmetology studios. Mr. Speaker, another beneficiary utilized her resources from this Programme to expand her veterinary clinic in Region 4. Mr. Speaker, isn’t this testimony to Government’s commitment to the continued advancement and empowerment of women in Guyana.
In concluding, Mr. Speaker, I wish to note that our work in the areas of social services – be it our children, women, men, the elderly or homeless will continue to receive priority attention from our Government. As Mahatma Ghandi said “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”. And here at home, former President Cheddi Jagan noted “Democracy can only prosper in an environment of economic, social and ecological development. Poverty atrophies the vigour and initiative of the individual and deprives the society of incalculable human resources. Our Government has demonstrated throughout, that the core of our poverty reduction efforts, has been to empower men and women to become viable citizens. Citizens who have the opportunity to earn and achieve a higher quality of life, citizens who become responsible parents to their children and caring sons and daughters to their aging mothers and fathers.
Mr. Speaker, we will continue to pursue this path, and as always we reach across and invite our colleagues on the other side of the august house, to join us in these efforts, and let us together build a better Guyana for our beautiful Guyanese family.
Mr. Speaker, I therefore add my endorsement to Budget 2014!
I thank you!
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