Budget Speech - Mr Allicock—20143607 02 Apr, 2014
Mr. Allicock: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to represent the view of the concerned residents of the Rupununi Region, Region 9, on the 2014 national Budget. Some citizens wish to express their growing concern in relation to the development programmes and policies of the Government, but they are afraid of vicious reprisal. Members of Parliament are duly bound to reflect the wishes and wants of their constituencies. As one of the geographical representatives of the residents of Region 9, I wish to discharge my obligation.
This year’s Budget theme is A Better Guyana for all Guyanese, with a grand sum of $220 billion. The question which looms large is whether the citizens were consulted in keeping with article 13 of the Constitution, which states:
“The principle objective of the political system of the State is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens, and their organisations in the management and decision-making processes of the State, with particular emphasis on those areas of decision-making that directly affect their well-being.”
A better Guyana is a Guyana where all of its citizens are meaningfully consulted and feel that they are participating in decisions that affect their livelihood. In spite of all of the boastings of the Government about the economic growth, I beg the question: economic growth for whom? That so called growth is not evident amount the ordinary citizens of the hinterland; it certainly is not evident among the citizens of the Rupununi. It is intimidation, victimisation and the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer, a total disrespect for the integrity of most of the residents of the Region.
The Government speaks glowingly about the wonderful things that take place in the Rupununi. I wish to mention some of them: the mega farm at Santa Fe in North Rupununi, the establishment of the Learning Channel, the fact that there are now lots of cars in the Rupununi, the construction of $77.7 million secondary school at Sand Creek in the South Central Rupununi, the recent purchase of two brand new FG-Wilson 750 generators for the Lethem Power Company Inc., housing, the recent reconstruction of some roads in the communities of Lethem and St. Ignatius, the unfinished bridge across the Rupununi River at Sand Creek, fibre optic cable, OLPF. From those projects that I have just listed, it seems like a lot is happening in Region 9, but that is an attempt to obfuscate the realities of life in these areas.
I wish to highlight some weaknesses in the area of agriculture. In the area of agriculture, the Regional Democratic Council of Region 9 has been requesting pertinent information in relation to the operation of the mega farm. The information that was sent was irrelevant and when additional information was requested, the Council was instructed to go to Go-Invest. The fact of the matter is that the residents have legitimate concerns regarding the type and levels of chemicals that are and will be used by the company.
On the question of pesticides used on the farm, the Hon. Minister of Agriculture provided the names of two chemicals used; those are Karate and Pronto. In the rainy season, that entire area is one large sea of water. Naturally, when the water starts to recede, it will flow into the nearby rivers, creeks and ponds. We have no way of knowing the effects those chemicals can have on the flora and fauna of the area, especially on aquatic live. I am, therefore, concerned about whether or not any environmental assessments were conducted and, if so, what the findings were.
There is the experience of the neighbouring Brazil in the Roraima area where there was a similar exercise to the detriment of animals and people on that end so, as a result, we have a right to be properly informed. We are not against development but it must be done right.
There is need to safeguard our markets, for example our peanuts and other crops. They need to be protected so that we could be able to be just as economically strong as those farmers on the coast. Community agriculture development would be the way to go for the creation of sustainable food production systems in keeping with the Low Carbon Development Strategy, empowering the communities with confidence that there is a role for the communities to play in regional and national development. Companies create jobs for a few yes, but this does not do the same as communities being given the opportunity to find their own strength to contribute to regional development. Is the Budget geared to support communities to develop a programme to so do?
I wish to turn my attention to education and, in particular, the Learning Channel. A survey conducted by a Councillor on the RDC, Region 9, states that less than 5% of the people in the Central Rupununi watch the Learning Channel. The main reason given for not watching is relevance to Region 9.
I wish to deal with the $77.7 million secondary school in Sand Creek. Former President Jagdeo, just before he demitted office, promised the residents of South Central Rupununi that they would get a secondary school. He also promised that the school would be built at Shulinab Village, also known as Macusi Village. The villagers cleared a plot of land in anticipation. When the contract was awarded, the residents learnt that the location had changed to Sand Creek. In their haste to find a site, they chose one that is totally unsuitable for that purpose. The school is built at the foot of a mountain that has some huge boulders on its slope that can come loose due to erosion during the rainy season. There is not enough space for recreation for the students. That proves that the Government of Guyana has no vision. I wish to direct your attention to Proverbs 29:18 where it states:
“Where there is no vision the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
The Government should be well advised to make a reality of this verse and Guyana would indeed be a better Guyana.
As to register their disapproval, some of the villagers of the area refuse to send their children to the school. The enrolment at the school, as of January, 2014, was as follows: Sand Creek – 81 children; Rukumoto – 9, Katunarib – 28, Sawariwau – 28, Shiriri – 6, Patarinau – 4, Baitun – 2, Parikaranal – 4, Shulinab – 24, Region 8 – 45; that is a grand total of 219 children.
It is interesting to know that we have children coming all the way from North Pakaraima Mountains to this school at Sand Creek. Maybe the Hon. Minister of Education and Minister of Amerindian Affairs can enlighten this august Body as to how the children fare, being so far away from their homes, inclusive of their welfare. These children were treated very shabbily last Christmas. A time when children ought to be with family, these children were taken to the Students’ Hostel at St. Ignatius and were left there for the holidays - no ‘mommy’, no ‘daddy’, no brother, no sister and no relatives. Is that how we intend to have our young people enjoy a better life?
The time is overdue for the Rupununi to have a technical institute. The courthouse which is still to be completed and operationalised could have been a technical institute; then we would not have had so many young delinquents and school dropouts.
Mr. Speaker, you may remember last year that the Hon. Minister of Education stated that a technical school for Lethem was to be constructed soon. I wish to implore upon the Hon. Member to treat this as an urgent need for the year 2014 by honouring her promise.
Amerindian Lands: the Budget has been strangely silent on the issue of land demarcation and extension of Amerindian lands in the face of many unresolved issues. There are a number of communities within the entire country that need immediate attention. We have unfinished work in the Region, for example, the South Savannahs, the North Savannahs, Chinese Amerindian Village in Region 1, the confusion at Moruka, the Santa Rosa boundary demarcation in Region 1. The Amerindians of Imbaimadai who have claim to land from Imbaimadai right up to Chi Chi foot have virtually no access to their lands. Miners are given preference over them. This has lead to untold hardships for the people whose womenfolk are forced into unsavoury activities, inclusive of prostitution, to provide for their families. Mining also has done irreparable damage to their environment, especially the main source of water at Kako, for example, and the Mazaruni River. This River is heavy polluted from Chi Chi Mountain right down past Kamarang, whose people recently complained in the press in this regard. It must be noted here that the residents have lodged numerous complaints to the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) without any redress. For all of the riches that are plundered from the interior, what do we have in return but our intellectual rights violated?
The Government boasts about the good that they have been doing for Amerindians. The Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP) has been used to manipulate and indoctrinate our people; intimidation and victimisation is the order of the day in communities. The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been made to disrespect the village councils. A monster is being created which the Government will not be able to feed, similar to that of GuySuCo - dependency. Communities are divided through this system. There was no mention of training legal minds – a key component – to deal with ever growing concerns of indigenous rights and development. This and similar issues were not addressed in this Budget. We need our lands not only for this generation, but for all of our future generations. We have been the closest to the lands for centuries and we have preserved it. We know how to do it. That is our life and if it is taken away from us and destroyed as it is in the case presently, then a whole people will be threatened into extinction. We have led the way of the LCDS and must be properly compensated with the funds that are made available for such activities by using our names without [inaudible].
Tourism is also a very useful opportunity for us and I must sort of commend the Minister for looking into that area. We have the potential and we need more funding and expertise to help our indigenous communities. We need to see, in the Budget, the opportunity for clearing some of the issues that avoid our accessing funding from banks if we would want to; at the moment, it is not possible. The foremost concern of the residents of the Rupununi is an all-weather road, linking Linden with the Rupununi.
The construction of that road began in 1989, and by 1991 it took all but three hours to travel from Kurupukari to Lethem in a Model M Bedford truck over some 200 km. Now it is up to six hours to Lethem. Between Georgetown to Lethem, it used to take 10 to 12 hours, but now it is about 20 hours or more. The company contracted to build that road, Paranapanema, a Brazilian company was rudely evicted from this country in 1993 without a chance to complete the section from Kurupukari to Linden. This was a band new road inherited by the PPP/C Government which definitely lacks the engineering skills to even maintain the same. This road was left unattended from 1993 until it deteriorated in 1998.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mr. Allicock: The road is the lifeline of the Rupununi and must be upgraded and upgraded immediately if the quality of life of the Rupununi is to improve. Money spent on the road yearly destroys its foundation and is a waste of valuable resources. What needs to be done is to use the same money with a little more and pave the road incrementally like Brazil did with its road from Boa Vista to Bom Fin or ensure that companies are equipped with engineers and proper building equipment for doing a good laterite road. Every driver, every passenger and road user is saying this trail has no more space for holes, even the holes are getting holes.
This brings me to the reconstruction of roads in Lethem and St. Ignatius. I said reconstruction because every year we are doing the same road in the same area. The method of road construction and the contractors need serious reviewing to ensure that our roads last while aiming at value for money.
The issue of power outage in Lethem and its environs continues in spite the purchase of two brand new generators.
The regional health system is in a better shape only for the dedication of the staff region wide. Were the staff not committed we would have witnessed a total collapse of the system. Mr. Speaker, please allow me to applaud the health workers of Region No. 9. They often work under some extreme conditions, often ridiculed by residents for the poor facilities they are made to work in and for which they are blamed. They have worked and are working and must be properly compensated so they can help the residents to live a better life. Last year I referred to the rate of referrals to neighbouring Boa Vista in Brazil, that situation has not changed. We still have a high rate of referrals from the much touted state-of-the-art hospital. The hospital is just not equipped to deal with such emergencies. The troubling aspect of these referrals is the high health risks; it is almost a very high risk to life for residents to be referred to Brazil notwithstanding the boasting of the Minister of Health during the Budget debate. The answer to the problem is to have a resident surgeon based at Lethem Hospital not visiting teams once or twice per year, which we are thankful for, but this is not the answer. We have a few native “Rupununians” that were and are being trained in Cuba, maybe one of them can be selected to be trained as a general surgeon.
Another measure that can be employed to provide improved healthcare is the upgrade of some health posts and health centres, and some health centres to cottage hospitals with adequate and modern equipment. The health system is plagued with multiple problems. I can go on and on.
Housing has numerous issues. Housing lots should be at least 100 x 100. The residents would like to know what is the policy for issuing lands and what is the real cost for a house lot.
I have outlined, albeit briefly, some of the issues that are affecting hinterland communities. These issues are in no way exhaustive. There are so many issues that confront us in the hinterland which we intend to address at various forums. Those highlighted today represent but a sample of those issues. I would implore the Government to sit and talk with and not to residents of these communities to see the hurt and despair they are feeling. Handouts and hand-downs are not the answer. In most cases the Government rushes to address the effects of our problems but fail to see the cause of these problems. It is sad to see daily our basic human right being violated. I see good money spent to keep our young people under political control and division and this Budget has not been designed for a better Guyana for all Guyanese. Hence, until and unless I am given firm guarantees that the issues outlined here would be taken on board, a better Guyana for all Guyanese seems dim. Your best is not good enough. How could you do the right thing when you do not know what is right? You have to go and come again. [Applause]
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