Budget Speech Hon Ms Webster- 20123178 11 Apr, 2012
April 11, 2012
Minister of Human Services and Social Security [Ms. Webster]: Thank you Mdm. Speaker. I rise today in this Hon. House to give my support to Budget 2012 under the theme Remaining on Course, United in Purpose, Prosperity for all.
Let me extend congratulations to my colleague the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, Minister of Finance, for articulating such a vision in this year’s budget presentation which will ensure that our country remains on the path to prosperity.
I believe that we, as representatives of the people, must all work together for the benefit of all Guyanese, especially at this time in our country when just recently the people of Guyana, through a process, re-affirmed our country‘s strength as a maturing democracy. We must be steadfast in our endeavours, and continue the process which would enable our people to realise their dreams and aspirations; one where all citizens can live and work in unity and harmony for a better Guyana.
This PPP/C Government has, over the past 20 years, demonstrated by our policies and programmes a pro-poor approach to growth in our economy, aimed at improving the quality of life of our people, and has placed emphasis on the provision of quality social services to our people. In fact, this year’s budget is a budget for all Guyanese, and is structured to provide greater relief to our people.
His Excellency President Ramotar in his inaugural address to this National Assembly, identified a number of areas for priority focus in several sectors which are aimed to further improve the quality of life of all Guyanese. The vision of our President cautioned us to work towards representing all our people, and is one which would secure the path for an enhanced, representative legislative agenda in this Tenth Parliament.
His Excellency highlighted our Government’s intention to intensify work for the empowerment of our women and youth. I quote from his speech:
“We will intensify work for the empowerment of our women and youth. They must be accorded a greater say in national development. Their problems must become our concerns and must be addressed in a systematic way.”
The mandate of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security in many ways reflects the central thrust of our Government, through its provision, promotion and indeed protection, of the rights of all citizens, with special emphasis being placed and given to our most vulnerable groups – our women, children, the elderly and disadvantaged.
The delivery of services by the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security is one of the clearest reflections of the fact that we, as a Government, are here for the people of Guyana, and will ensure that no one is discriminated against.
The provision of human services focuses on meeting human needs through the prevention, as well as remediation of problems, whilst maintaining our commitment to improving the quality of life for target populations.
This Government has recognised the importance of investing in the most valuable resource vital to Guyana’s continued development – our people.
On a daily basis a number of issues are addressed which include the provision of public assistance, payment of pensions, eye care assistance, provision of legal aid services, support for the homeless, the disadvantaged and the elderly, which are all aimed to address the issues affecting those vulnerable groups in our society. In addition, there are a number of issues pertaining to sexual and domestic violence, and the protection of our children, which continue to engage our attention on an ongoing basis.
The Child Care Protection Agency which was commissioned in 2011 has played a leading role in the investigation of a number of reported child abuse cases. This has resulted in an increase of the number of cases investigated, from 3,377 in 2010 to 3,653 cases in 2011. Of this number 489 children have been removed from abusive situations and placed in safe homes.
Additionally, the National Foster Care Programme has a total number of 103 children in foster homes. These foster parents currently receive monthly cash transfers to tune of $18,000 per month, per child, in an effort to ensure the continued wellbeing of all our children being placed in foster care.
A new facility, the Sophia Care Centre, which was commissioned in 2011, brought the total number of facilities which are owned and managed by the Government to three. This facility currently houses 180 children between the ages of five to eighteen years. And will provide holistic care to our young children, including specialised counseling services, and will undertake programmes aimed to improve the development of our children in fields such as music, dancing, art and craft and information technology.
In 2012 our Government will continue to implement policies and programmes to secure a safer environment for our children, and transform the lives of those vulnerable persons in our society. The care centres and homes will continue to provide protective and parental care. Very shortly, through an initiative with a private sector company in partnership with the Ministry of Labour Human Services and Social Security, the Mahaica Children’s Home will be upgraded to provide better care exclusively for our young teenage girls who have been victims of sexual abuse.
We will also continue to provide support and training opportunities so that our young people are afforded an opportunity to acquire life skills. Plans are ongoing to establish a “half way house” to accommodate those youths who have attained the age of 17 years and are expected to leave the formal care system.
Additionally, the quality of our child care services will be regulated through the implementation of the new Child Care Development and Services Act (2011), which mandates the licensing and monitoring of child care facilities, including day care centres and playgroups countrywide. In addition, the agency currently monitors the operations of 19 private homes throughout the length and breadth of our country. In May, 2012 the Ministry will install visiting committees for which the primary role will be to ensure that all these private homes operate within the minimum standards required, whilst ensuring that the well-being of the children placed in these institutions is secure, and that our children benefit from a better quality of life.
We have made significant strides in providing homes for children in need of refuge, counseling, support services for families in crisis, foster care and adoption services, where these are deemed the best possible options for some of our children. We will continue to provide a supportive and caring home environment so that all of those children will be equipped to take advantage of all the opportunities being offered in Guyana, so that they too can become productive members of our society.
In 2012 the Child Care and Protection Agency will also concentrate its efforts on early childhood development, through a number of initiatives and programmes, which would benefit children up to the age of eight years.
As stated in the PPP/C’s 2011 Manifesto, the National Foster Care Programme will be expanded this year towards ensuring the long term goal of every child in need being placed in a family. This is indicative of the wider Government position of promoting family-based care and ensuring that ultimately all children are cared for in a home versus an institutional environment.
Guyana’s first family court has been completed and this court will allow adults and children to seek redress in family related matters, adoption, guardianship and custody. The rules of court, comprising rules and regulations to create and govern a child friendly environment for the judicial address of family matters, are currently being finalized. The family court is expected to commence its sittings shortly.
In addition to decentralising child protection services throughout Guyana, officers will be housed permanently in all ten administrative regions to create a stronger and more interactive link with the public. More community outreaches will be conducted to educate both parents and children about the harmful effects of abuse and its impact on our society.
In 2012, our primary focus will be to place greater emphasis on the role of the family in our society. To this end the National Commission on the Family will be appointed shortly. This Commission will be tasked to address issues affecting families in our society with emphasis being placed on parenting skills, health and family life education, to mention a few.
I am sure you will agree that strengthening the bond of the family inevitably strengthens our bonds as a nation.
The Government has demonstrated its commitment to the provision of human services through the bolstering of the legal framework, and the passage of several key pieces of legislation in this National Assembly in the areas of child protection, sexual and domestic violence. The supporting institutional framework has been strengthened to enable the efficient provision of services in these areas.
However, I must respond to some concerns raised by the Hon. Member Mrs. Volda Lawrence. At a recent forum held by the Guyana Women Lawyers Association, which I attended, and which was intended to review and assess our approach in particular as it related to violence committed against women, all the stakeholders present at that forum, including NGOs representing women’s rights, were united in our resolve to work together towards the further strengthening of the relevant laws including the Sexual Offences Act.
I have noted the sentiments expressed by the Hon. Member as it related to amendments being made to the relevant laws to protect our women. Despite all the consultations held when we looked at the Sexual Offences Bill during the Select Committee in this Hon. House, when training under this Act commenced, it was noted that there were two sections which needed to be changed. This is no different than in any other country.
In fact, I understand that whilst we were drafting this Bill, Canada’s courts had ruled that one of the sections which we wanted to include in ours was unconstitutional. So Canada has had to amend their Act. Other countries have gone through scores of amendments. The Hansard will show that during the passage of this particular piece of legislation the then Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Hon. Mrs. Priya Manickchand, pointed out there was need to make further amendments. However, operations under the Act have begun and our first paper committal conducted in this country under the said Sexual Offences Act was done by the Chief Magistrate Mrs. Priya Beharry.
Let me assure the Members of this Hon. House that our Ministry continues through its work to reach out to everyone in need of assistance throughout the length and breadth of our country. We will continue to exert our efforts to ensure that the quality of life of those vulnerable persons in our society is transformed in a significant way.
Very shortly the Centre for the Rehabilitation and Re-integration of the Homeless, which is situated at Onverwagt, will be completed. This will signify once again our Government’s continued commitment and concern for the welfare of all Guyanese, especially as it relates to those who are faced with difficult circumstances, and those destitute persons who, for various reasons, are forced to make the streets their home, being afforded the opportunity to access available support services. Persons living on our streets are vulnerable to illness and other social ills in our society. That is why this Government has seen the need for a comprehensive approach to address the needs of those deemed vulnerable, because we care about the welfare of all our people. As part of our programme it is our intention to support the rehabilitation and re-integration of these individuals in our society.
It is often said that women are the backbone of our country. Our women are our nation’s wealth. Indeed our women contribute to our national development in a significant way. The fact that Guyana was ranked 38th in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index in 2010, was ranked 27th for the Political Empowerment of Women, and 33rd for Educational Attainment out of 134 countries, indicates that women are poised to play a greater role in decision making at the highest levels.
Our women provide the foundation for life. We are care givers of the highest degree, and are productive and valued members of our society. It is a criminal and abhorrent act when any woman is abused, emotionally, mentally or physically; and no woman should be a victim of sexual or domestic violence.
It is my view, and the view of many, that no act of domestic violence should be tolerated or condoned in our society. Domestic violence must be seen as a national pandemic that cuts across all borders - ethnicity, race, socio-economic status and religion. Domestic violence affects women’s health and well-being; it hurts our children and families, and poses considerable cost to societies economically and socially. What is needed in Guyana immediately is to further address this issue in a truly coordinated national response. I am proposing that a national conversation on this issue be held involving all stakeholders, who will include parliamentarians, civil society, private sector, and the judiciary; and which will also see maximum participation at the community level aimed to address the root cause of this issue, to identify preventative measures, and ultimately develop a national action plan.
We must take our society back. We have become a society where many do not have moral values. This reckless behavior must be stopped. I have already initiated the collection of data which would be used to analyze the current social trends which presently exist in our society with the view to utilizing that data to inform policy making. It is Government’s intention to establish counseling centres throughout this country to provide support to victims of domestic violence and abuse. We must commit ourselves to do whatever it takes to reduce the number of incidents which we see occurring so often in our society today.
We as Members of this National Assembly have been elected by the people of Guyana to make a difference in their lives. I would advocate in this honourable House that we all join forces and unite together on this issue.
I would like every woman in Guyana to know that our Government will ensure that the systems in place in our country will provide her with a safe refuge, when she needs it.
This Government, through the work of our Ministry, has sought to break the silence on these atrocities and is committed to the sustained rejection of abuse in any form and strict and strong actions being taken against the perpetrators.
We continue, through a number of policies and programmes, to empower our women, especially those who are single parents, to provide training opportunities in a number of fields and also through the availability of micro credit schemes, so that they would be afforded an opportunity to improve their quality of life, whilst, at the same time being able to generate income to support themselves and their families and similarly contribute in a meaningful way to our nation’s development.
In considering the family unit, Government has paid special attention to the single parent household with a number of initiatives geared towards this specific target group, including the Women of Worth Programme (WOW) and skills training initiatives for single parents. Micro credit has evolved as a multi faceted programme, aimed to benefit this vulnerable group of women, “Our single parents”, who are in need of support, so that many of them will be able to achieve economic independence. Government intends to expand the range of benefits available to them. In 2011, 864 single women accessed loans under the Women of Worth Programme from the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry to support small business development, in areas such as leather craft, catering, the provision of day care facilities, to mention a few. It is also noteworthy to mention that in one instance, one of the success stories or one of the beneficiaries was able to access a loan to expand her veterinary clinic at Golden Grove, on the East Coast Demerara. Is this not a fine example of empowering our women to enable them to contribute in a meaningful way to our country’s development? In 2012, approximately 500 single parents will benefit from this initiative. We plan to launch this programme soon in Regions 1 and 7.
This Government’s concern for the pensioners and the elderly has been evident from the beginning of its term in office in 1992. Our first priority was to abolish the means test in July 1993 to allow every Guyanese, 65 years and over, to be able to receive and old age pension.
In 1992, our pensioners were in receipt of a mere $211.00. In those days at an exchange rate of G$125.00 to US$1.00, that sum was a mere US$1.69. In this House a lot has been said about the quantum of pension payable to our pensioners. If one were to look at the budget presentation presented by the then Finance Minister in 1992, no mention was made of any increases in pensions in the measures posited. We must not forget what has happened in Guyana and where we have come from and not stifle our conscience that nothing is being done to improve the quality of life of our senior citizens. It is this Government who ensured that every year pensions were increased. In fact, from 1992 up to 2006 the amount payable had increased almost 17-fold to $3 500.00. From budget 2006 to budget 2012, pensions have increased significantly. In fact, to date the pension increase amounts to 131%. We must look at the reality and it is that the amount represents, once more, a sustained increase, which could only have been possible as a result of prudent fiscal management of Guyana’s growing economy.
We must not behave as though nothing is being done for the elderly, there is much more.
The Hon. Member, Mrs. Lawrence, referred to the size of the increase of old age pensions versus the size of the support for the consumers of electricity. These two amounts are not opposite sides of the coin, but one and the same. This Government will ensure that our people, including our pensioners and our elderly, are able to have a reliable supply of electricity at an affordable cost. We would not deny them that.
This Government has worked tirelessly in the health sector to ensure that health systems, food security and other issues, which contribute to the calculation of life expectancy, were improved. Based on the latest published data from the Ministry of Health, calculations for life expectancy at birth indicated that in 1990 life expectancy was 60 years. I am pleased that today life expectancy is calculated to be 70 years, thus, indentifying that an additional 10 years of life can be expected of every Guyanese who is born under this Administration.
Our commitment to the elderly aims to address a package of support services ranging from health care, nutrition, institutional care, direct financial subsidy for water, travel passes, assistance with medical bills and the provision of the spectacles through the Eye Care Guyana initiative.
Free health care is available to all, including our elderly. The ability to provide public health facilities in the communities shows that Government is demonstrating its commitment to taking these services to the people.
In 2012, 42000 pensioners will benefit from the monthly pension payable.
The Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security provides a number of other support services to our pensioners in addition to the monthly pension payable. Our commitment to the elderly aims to address a package of support services ranging from health care, nutritional institutional care and annual direct financial subsidy with respect to water charges incurred at the official residence of the individual pensioner, provided that no business is conducted at their place of abode. This subsidy amounts to $11 880.00 per annum in respect of those pensioners who reside in Georgetown, whilst pensioners who reside out of Georgetown benefit from an annual subsidy of $8 976.00, which is payable to the Guyana Water Incorporated.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker, 21 980 pensioners were beneficiaries of this subsidy in 2011. For the record, I would like to give this Hon. House the details of the allocation of those 21 980 pensioners,
Division 1 - Essequibo Coast/Berbice - 2200
2 – WCD. WBD, East Bank Essequibo - 3159
3 – Georgetown - 4529
3 – Linden - 1232
3 – East Coast Demerara - 3544
3 – East Bank Demerara - 1432
4 – Upper Demerara/West Coast Berbice 2207
5 – East Berbice - 3677
Eye care assistance - In addition, our pensioners access assistance for the acquisition of spectacles through the Eye Care Assistance Programme. Through this programme, our pensioners receive a grant in the sum of ten thousand ($10 000.00). In fact, the sum of $5.349 million was expended in this regard in 2011.
In 2011 also, 2271 pensioners who travelled on our ferries were issued with free travel passes by the Transport and Harbours Department. Our Government remains committed to continuing a process to provide more benefits for the senior citizens of this country.
In the not too distant future, the National Commission on the Elderly will recommence its work and will be tasked to review matters relating to the care, housing, nutrition, health, psychological, medical and recreational needs of the elderly. As Minister, I have also initiated discussions with my colleague Minister of Health to partner and derive solutions, which will address special health care needs of the elderly, which include dementia, Alzheimer and Parkinson disease. Every hospital that is built in this country provides services which cater for the elderly.
In 2012, the Ministry will undertake a review of the a administrative mechanism currently in place as it relates to the processing of pension application and the payment of old age pensions, with a view to ensuring that the system is more efficient and one which the integrity of the database is secure.
In 2012, the Ministry will focus its attention on improved quality care provided to the residents at the Palms Geriatric Institution. Very shortly, an administrator will be appointed to manage that institution. In addition, emphasis will be placed on institutional care and new internal control mechanisms will be put in place to monitor all donations received for use at that facility. In addition, the Ministry intends to ensure that the staffs of that institution are properly trained to provide the nursing care required by residents.
There are many other vulnerable groups in our society, including the differently abled and more recently the Autism and the Deaf Association. The Ministry intends to collaborate and work closely with these groups, to provide support services to these organisations.
The Guyana’s Women Leadership Institute empowered over 230 women through several capacity building training programmes offered at the institute, including life skills and for the first time Information Technology. In 2012, greater emphasis will be placed to provide training opportunities for approximately 2 000 women in areas such as small business management, basic accounting, project management and life skills development.
This Government recognises the importance of legal aid services being provided throughout the length and breadth of our country and is supportive of the provision of legal aid services being provided in Region 10. From 1993 to 2008, the sole legal aid provider in this country was the Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, which provided resident services in Georgetown and the immediate environs and non-resident service in Region 10. These were the only two regions benefiting from legal aid services offered by the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic. The PPP/C, in our 2006 manifesto, promised to expand legal aid services, that promise was honoured by my colleague, the then Minister of Human Services and Social Security, the Hon. Ms. Priya Manickchand, who launched legal aid services in Essequibo in June, 2008 and in Region 5, in October, 2008.
We have always been supportive of Legal Aid Services and you will see in the 2012 budget the sum of $32.338 million being provided.
Additionally, Government has been supportive of the efforts made by another NGO, the Linden Legal Aid Centre (LLAC). The attorneys who provided these services in Region 10 must be recognised for their contributions. It was this Government who advocated at the level of UNICEF and recommended that funding be provided, from country funds, to support the operations of the Linden Legal Aid Centre. Funding was provided from August 2008 to August 2009 to the tune of $6.7 million and from December 2009 to December 2010 to the tune of $6 million. During the period of April 2011 to December 2011, the sum of $9.060 million was provided to meet operating costs. Those facts are indisputable, had the Government not advocated for and approved the expenditure on behalf of LLAC by UNICEF, funds would never have been disburse to the LLAC. A lot has been said about the adequacy of funding to meet the operations there, but I will say that there is no discrimination here. In the joint Government of Guyana/UNICEF Work Plan, resources have been identified in 2012 for the continued operations of LLAC so that the children in Region 10, who require Legal Aid Services, will not be denied access to that service. This I have advocated for.
It is unfair to say that taxpayers’ money is not good for Region 10. No one in Region 10 or any other region, who cannot afford legal services, will ever be denied access to those services. These are the facts. Many have said that resources provided for legal aid services in Linden, is inadequate and it is true, that the finances provided for legal aid services in every Region is inadequate. That is true. Even the great United States of America, with an economy larger than ours, has never been able to provide adequate financial resources for legal aid services. However, we will continue to try to do our best to ensure that no one is denied access to justice and we will continue to pursue that objective until it is realised.
As I conclude my presentation today, let me say that our work will never be done until every woman, man, child, senior citizens and those vulnerable persons in need, have access to the best possible social services that we, as a Government, are able to provide. I conclude by saying that His Excellency, President Ramotar, in his address to this National Assembly, articulated a vision for the continued progress and development of our country, a vision that is reflected and has been cemented into the concrete polices, plans and programmes that this Government has presented to this House in the 2012 Budget. I, therefore, add my endorsement to Budget 2012 and charges all to remain on course, united in purpose and achieving prosperity for all.
I thank you. [Applause]
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