Budget Speech Dr Gilbert - 20122909 10 Apr, 2012
Rev. Dr. Gilbert: Thank you Sir. Mr. Speaker, Before I make my contribution to the budget debate of 2012, with your leave permit me to first of all extend a welcome and congratulations to the new Members of this House, those who are here for the first time. I am particularly pleased to note that many of them are young people, many of them are also women, a testimony to the progress that we have made as a nation, in terms of our democracy.
I wish also to commend Dr. Singh for the adroitness that he demonstrated, both in the preparation and presentation of this budget. Also, to say that it would be remise of me if I do not also take this opportunity to express - while I hold in very high regard the Hon. Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh and his unmatchable talents, in the management of Guyana’s economy – I want to also take this opportunity to say that I believe we must give thanks to God as well for his blessings upon our nation. For the scriptures doth truly remind us that, except the Lord build the house, they that buildeth it labour in vain.
I noted the Hon. Member, Mr. Trotman’s concerns regarding the current use of the barricades. I believe his concerns has to do with maybe an interpretation of the use of the barricade as either the Government or the Parliament’s attempt to restrict, restrain, prohibit or prevent, persons from… [Opposition Members: The PPP] the PPP, from entering into the Chamber or be a part of or the exercising of their democratic right. I rather believe that the issue – well this is my understanding - of the use of the barricade has to do more with an issue of security, which is a matter for the management and administration of the Parliament, as well as the Guyana Police Force and I believe that that is a matter, therefore, that should be discussed at that level.
I want to also make… [Interruptions] mention of the fact that there seems to be maybe some confusion, regarding what the budget really is about, because persons, particularly on the Opposition benches, speak of the use of numbers and figures in the pejorative sense, as if we should not be talking about numbers and figures. My understanding is that is what the budget is about. I believe also that over the next few days we are going to be spending a lot of time talking about numbers and figures.
One of the external elements of every budget is expectation. Every budget prior to and during its presentation and debates, is always accompanied by expectations. There are expectations by every citizen of what the budget will address, specific to their lives and their circumstances, their socio-political and socio-economical expectations as well, some of them realistic, some of them unrealistic. Unfortunately, the business of the governance of an economy, will not always unfold in a manner that meets the expectations of everyone. However, the job of this Government, as it is with any good Government, is to ensure that regardless or mindful of those expectations the budget is reflective of the most effective and fiscally sound management of the economy, which redounds to the social and economic well-being of its people.
We in this hallowed Chamber have also come to have our expectations of how these debates should go. It is expected that our friends on the Opposition will do their utmost [Ms. Lawrence: Inaudible] …Thank you for reminding me of that…to find all that they can possibly find that is wrong with the budget. That is what an effective opposition must do. It is expected that we on this side, will do all we can to show what is right in this budget, that is what an effective government must do. But, it is also expected that when we have all had our say, that we will put aside our political posturing, and pontificating and pass the budget, which is what good Guyanese Parliamentarians must do. That is what our people expect us to do.
I wish to pick up from a few lines mentioned by the Hon. Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh’s presentation , and I want to quote, he says, “Perhaps most importantly, it is absolutely critical that all of the people of Guyana are enlisted in this effort to make our country a better place, the investors whose financial capital and entrepreneurial acumen drive business activity and economic growth, the workers whose effort and productivity determine our competitiveness as a nation and the young people whose state of preparedness today will determine the fate and prospects of our country tomorrow.” And he continues, “For all of this to be realized, the clearest signal of all must come from those of us in this Hon. House, whose legislative agenda will chart the course for our country, whose cohesiveness will set the tone for all else in our nation, and whose every decision must be consistent with and never deviate from keeping our country on the path to a brighter tomorrow for all”. This path to a brighter tomorrow to which the Hon. Minister alludes to, is not a path that we are seeking to find today. That is why this budget cannot be examined in an isolated context, divorced from previous budgets. This budget must be viewed as another chapter in the developmental blue print of this Government, to move Guyana closer and closer to the realisation of her true potentials and moving all of our people unto this pathway of a brighter tomorrow for all.
This path to a brighter tomorrow began as far back as 1992, when political democracy was restored to Guyana. This path to a brighter tomorrow began and continued with every successive budget presented to this national assembly ever since then. It is a path and not a destination. We have not arrived at a destination. A path would suggest that we are moving in a steady, clearly defined articulated direction. I cannot say when we are going to get there, but what I can say is that, while we are not where we want to be, we are not where we use to be.
Whether it is the $128.9 billion of 2009, or the $142.8 billion of 2010, or the $161.4 billion of 2011, or the $192.8 billion of 2012, every budget represents Government’s vision and commitment to the transforming of lives and the legacy of the Guyanese people in a sustainable fashion. The point to note is the import of the sustainability of Government programs and intervention. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: One second, is there a problem Mrs. Backer and…what is going on? We are coming to the end of the debates for the night and the Member is making, I believe, some very salient points and we would all like to listen and to hear. Thank you. Continue please, Hon. Member, Rev. Gilbert. If there is a point of order to be made, could it be made so that we can move on, rather than have the entire House disrupted?
Mrs. Backer: Mr. Speaker, I did not want to make the point of order, but I did draw to the attention of the Hon. Minister, Ms. Manickchand, that drinking from a brown paper bag in the National Assembly is not the preferred thing to do. She, having ignored me because the suggestion came from this House, I was constrained to make it again.
Mr. Speaker: I will give her the benefit of the doubt and think it is her medicine she has to take and we move on. Could we…
Mrs. Backer: With the greatest respect, I am on my feet, she cannot tell me, to sit down and shut up.
Mr. Speaker: The point is noted, unless… I do not know. I see that the Clerk is busily going through his Standing Orders. In the meantime, could Rev. Gilbert proceed? I do not know that a bag per se is offensive, but Hon. Member thank you. Could we proceed please Rev. Gilbert?
Rev. Dr. Gilbert: Permit me Sir to record my personal displeasure with the disrespect and disregard. I personally do not show that disregard to persons in the House, I allow persons to benefit in the opportunity of being heard. I wish that persons would do the same when I speak.
What we can safely say and we have heard a number of suggestions being made and very good suggestions as well, I do not believe that the people who sit in the Opposition do not have the interest of this county at heart, I believe they are here because they want the best for this country. The suggestions that they have made are commendable. My question is many of the measures, suggestions and recommendations that they have made, are they sustainable? Are they sustainable in the context of Guyana’s current economic circumstance? What I would want to say is, the measures outlined by Minister Singh, may not pass the test of popular and public expectations, but they will pass the test of sustainability.
Every successive budget, I believe is guiding, bringing greater focus, contributing to helping us get to the path of that brighter tomorrow that the Minister alluded to. Those efforts were expanded to point significantly with the lead of 3433 house lots distributed in 2009, to 7000 in 2011. That is another step towards the path of the realisation of those dreams, making home ownership a dream fulfilled for more and more ordinary Guyanese. It was expanded through the Health sector, with the construction, staffing, and operationalising of hundreds of health care facilities across the country, from Lima to Linden, from Ithaca to Eteringbang, as far as we have the reach or the capacity, Government has sought to address the social needs of our people in those areas, whether it is in housing, health or in education; or $14.5 billion in 2011 towards the implementation of the National Health Sector Strategy; or $998 million for the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of health care facilities, including the new 285 bed facility at GPHC.
I want to pause briefly, because there are times when, we have a responsibility as a people to advocate for improvements in the delivery of Government services, I rather suspect that as a people too, we are quick to forget where we are coming from. Again, the existence of a new facility at the GPHC and the continued efforts by Government to provide health care services to our people, sometimes I think that while we are looking at the trees we are forgetting that there is a forest.
Over $300 million expended on the training of medical and paramedical professionals. So, we will continue to see the expansion of these in this sector with the allocation of $16.9 million in this 2012 budget.
Yes Sir, this path of a brighter tomorrow was expanded in the continued drive by the Ministry of Human Services to address the plight of single women in the Women of Worth (WOW) program. A program which saw over 1,100 beneficiaries in 9 out of our 10 Regions, which is expected to impact another 1700 single parents in the coming months. Or, to tackle domestic violence in the establishment of the many campaigns that we have had, seeking to address these issues, or the training of 633 religious leaders in 5 Regions across Guyana, all being supported by a battery of modern legislations. Or the establishment of a ‘National Men’s Affairs Bureau’, to augment the work of the women’s affairs bureau, to bring focus to the issues of gender justice, all aimed at making this improbable aspiration of a brighter tomorrow, more realisable today.
Time will fail me Sir, if I attempt to enumerate the extent of the expected transformation of the education sector, with the allocation of $26.5 billion , or the in excess of $4 billion for housing and water, or the many other significant allocations, which my colleagues have talked and will continue to talk about over the course of this week. Time will also not permit me to talk about the UNDP’s Human Development Report of November 2011, which shows Guyana’s Human Development Index increasing by 26% from 1980, to where we are today at a rate of about 0.8% per annum, particularly, our socio-economic performances, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability among others.
The minister also recognised the value and necessity of a collective approach as a sine-qua–non to the realisation of this corporate destiny. Here, we want to hail the continued engagement of the national stakeholder’s forum by His Excellency, the President, as a testimony to Government’s commitment to a multi-stakeholder, consultative approach to governance.
It is important for us as a people to examine where we are coming from, where we are and have an appreciation as to why and how we got to where we are. One of the things as I listen to the presentations over the course of this evening, it would seem to me that many of the issues and problems identified by the Members of the Opposition, sounds as though the Government is both the creator and, of course, the expectation is that they are to be the fixers of these problems. I want to suggest that there are problems in our country that are not necessarily problems that have to do with Government. There are problems in our country that has to do with the fact that we have seen continuous erosion in the failure of the other social institutions. Government just happens to be one of the social institutions in any society. Most sociological thoughts would teach us that there at least five social institutions. Many of the problems that we sometimes tend to lay at the feet of Government are issues that has come as a result of the failure of some of these other social institutions and so I wanted to interject that because I believe that it is important for us as a people to recognise that Government has a responsibility to fix and to address the problems that are within their constitutional mandate to fix.
There are issues within our nation; I believe that we need to take responsibility for. Some of our problems are fixed by the failure of family life, by the abandonment of moral and religious values in our society and those are the things I believe that if we are honest with ourselves. We cannot blame Government for overflowing toilets, two minibuses crashes on Homestretch Avenue and the Government is responsible. The drains are overflowing in peoples’ yards and the Government is responsible.
We consider as a nation and the Hon. Minister mentioned it as well, that we are less indebted as a nation and the Hon. Member, Mr. Nagamootoo expressed his interpretation of why he disagrees with that position. I believe that, like Mr. Nagamootoo, I myself am a layman to the issues of economics, but I will attempt nonetheless to express my own view as to what I believe regarding the reduction of our debt. I believe that the debt of a nation also...
We have to see debt reduction in the context of debt to GDP ratio. I believe the evidence that is presented in a number of reports would suggest that with respect to debt to GDP ratio we are doing better today than we were twenty years ago.
One of the outcomes of an emerging democracy is the freedom of its people to demand more and expect more from their governments. We on this side of the House, Sir, do not baulk at the challenge of meeting the demands of our people, which is why they elected us in the first place. And, because we believe we have a responsibility to them, both to those who voted for us and those who voted against us, we have brought this budget to this National Assembly, because it is our responsibility to serve all of the people of this nation. Therefore, in that respect we seek the support of our colleagues on the other side for the complete passage of this budget, that we may together keep our country on the path of a brighter tomorrow for all. Thank you. [Applause]
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