Budget Speech Mr Baksh- 20122709 10 Apr, 2012
Mr. Baksh: Let me join my colleagues, on this side of the house, to congratulate Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, for a well presented budget. There is an old saying that “When you are with the people, the people are with you”. I think that is the message I want to send to an old friend of mine, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo. I think, in this House, we are not here for political rhetoric; we are not here for half-truths, because that is what the oath of office we took stated in a very clear term.
Just now, we were told that there are no subsidies for Linden. I have, in front of me, that Kwakwani and Linmine would be receiving $1.8 billion and $23 billion in subsidies. I think we should really and truly study first and be honest when we are presenting our case to this honourable House. Also I want to say that the completion of distribution and transmission set, Christiansburg, Watooka, and the upgrading of services, in connection to metering, and supervision work, of $105 million, all of these will be done simultaneously and ongoing in the Linden area.
I have heard also, many of us were speaking, about the question of old-age pension, but it must be seen from a different perspective. I see old-age pension as something that revolves from one point to another, and that is: How do they get other benefits, and their families get other benefits, outside of the pension they get? I have seen children of pensioners being benefited from school uniforms, in a form of assistance. I have seen also children in the Hinterland area - these are poor children I am talking about, poor people’s children, in the riverine areas and in the Amerindian communities - receiving one hot meal per day. I have seen poor people’s children in the most extreme remote areas of this country receiving free health services – those are of an extremely high cost. When we come to this House and speak about people having baggage we should assess ourselves on who are having the worst political baggage. I think, in history, since I know my friend Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, it is the worst political history for him, with the worst set of baggage. I see this, Comrades, and I am sad to say that I have been close to the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo for forty-odd years and I am sorry to know… [Interruption from Members of the Opposition]
Mr. Speaker: Allow the Hon. Member to speak please.
Mr. Baksh: …how Hon. Member has deteriorated to such an extent. My dear friends and Hon. Speaker, permit me…, because sometimes we are very much isolated, in terms of what is happening all over Guyana, and that is because we are limited. A lot of our people in this House are limited in information. They do not have information because they are not on the ground; they are not really and truly seeing what is going on in other parts of this country, so they are limited with knowledge - they are very limited.
I want the Hon. Members to recognise that when we took office in 1992 this country was like a man living in a broken house - the old house without even a perah to sit on, no chair, no bench, nothing. It was a big old house. Today we have made and renewed that house. That house we have renewed has very good furniture, very good infrastructure, better hospitals and better teaching facilities. That is the new house we are talking about; and if we are talking about the question of having a huge debt, it can be compensated for what we have achieved. We have achieved a lot. Therefore, my dear friends, I want to also give mention about some of the things which are going on at the moment, and I wish to ask every Hon. Member here, when we would have left here, completing this session, to visit those areas and if any one of you finds me to be lying, come back to this House and say “Mr. Alli Baksh, you are lying.”
I want to say that there is an ongoing process of spending $500 million to develop 5.5 thousand acres of land in the Aurora, Huist’Dieren and Good Hope areas. That, in itself, would give thousands of young people an opportunity, for the first time in their life, to own a parcel of land and they can be helping their families, and future families, and make them more economical viable.
We have recently constructed a road leading to one of the Amerindian communities - I am speaking as a Member of Parliament representing Region 2 - which cost $30 million and a timber eight-pile bridge for $8 million. Excavation of drainage canals in the Pomeroon to the tune of $50 million and that is ongoing on, both on the northern and the southern sides of the Pomeroon which are called the upper Pomeroon and the lower Pomeroon.
We are also in Region 3, constructing sluice in Leguan $54,732,000, at that Noitgedacht, that is at Wakenaam, $16 million - these areas were neglected for a number of years - Palmyra/Ridge in Wakenaam, Bush Lot another $21 million, eastern Hog Island $15, 171,000.
In Region 4, $45,360,000,325, this is for the construction of sluice Grove/Diamond, East Bank Demerara and an ongoing project at Williamsfield pumping station, $202 million. Construction of a sluice at Profit/Abary, ongoing, of $131 million, sluice at Cottage/Mahaicony $104 million, construction of sluice at Mahaicony, again, $166 million, at Mara, ongoing, $31 million, Black Bush Polder, $349 million, that is a new pump sluice in that area; rehabilitation of Lonsdale Sluice, construction, $42 million, construction of a soak away structure drainage system in Linden, Block 22, $12,830,000. These are all ongoing works at the moment, some of which have already been completed.
I could recall two decades ago, when I was a very young man, in Region 2, what was the plight of the majority of people in that Region, and this I am telling you, Members, is about ordinary farmers. There were approximately twenty-six thousand acres under cultivation and because of the negligence of the structures, such as roads, waterways, drainage system, we were only producing our crop around six hundred thousand bags or less sometimes. Today, there has been a change in the face of that Region. At one time it was called the Cinderella Region. I can tell you Cinderella has now become the princess. The thirty-two thousand acres, today, under cultivation produce an amount of 1.2 million bags of paddy, that is every crop, as compare to six hundred thousand bags prior to the PPP/C Government in office.
During the days of the Opposition there were only five rice mills in Region 2. Today we can safely say that that situation have been improved because paddy was found to be growing on the roadside. There were no opportunity for quick intake and as a result the paddy used to be destroyed; farmers were getting very cheap price for their paddy. Today there are seventeen mills, apart from the twelve mills which were there before. Five, the Opposition, when it was in Government, had before.
In the Pomeroon, because of the work which was done in excavation of new canals and trenches and drainage/irrigation system improved, eighteen thousand acres are now under cultivation for coconut production; fourteen thousand acres are under cultivation with non-traditional crops such as citrus, ground provision and coffee.
Mr. Speaker, I should tell you also, I could recall, when the late Mr. Satyadeow Sawh was Minister of Agriculture I paid a visit with him in the Pomeroon River when we just took office and coffee was bartered for food stuff. It appears to be a dream, but that was the situation then. In other words, there was no money exchange for commodities produced in the Pomeroon. People used to give their coffee and they would have collected food stuff for their family. Today coffee price has moved up to about $360 to $380 per pound.
Coconut never used to be sold before. I am talking about copra used to be bartered, then, also for foodstuff, but I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, also today, because of the Government intervention to look for markets outside, we are now having water coconuts being bottled with a six-month lifespan and exported to not only communities in Essequibo or in Guyana, but in our schools, which has a better nutritious value than the things that we are using, bought from these companies, and so on. It is being exported also to Europe and the Caribbean, in hotels, and so on, and directly exported from the Pomeroon.
We have seen also, Comrades, that water coconut is being sold now because there is a market for it on the spot. Thirty dollars is for one water coconut and there is nothing which could be talked about as a commodity in the far-flung Region of our country where there is no market for it. At this moment, while I am speaking here, the information that I have gathered is that there are eighteen countries in which ninety-three different commodities are exported, including Europe, the Caribbean and Central America. This would clearly show that we are improving, we are exporting more. Gone are the days when we were importing bread in this country. We all can remember that. Today we are sending bread to people outside of this country, bread in terms of food and different commodity. I can name some of the countries we are exporting to, such as Barbados, Canada, Dominica Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, United States of America, Dominica, England, Lebanon, Mozambique, Grenada, St. Maarten, Jamaica, Antigua, Suriname and France. These are countries to which we are exporting commodities.
We have a great opportunity in Guyana - a golden opportunity in Guyana. While we are sometimes saying things in the same breath, sometime for political purposes and political reasons, what we are doing is that we are trying to win out there. I notice some of the speakers, I do not want to mention names, were speaking not for this House, or they are not speaking for Guyana, they appear to speak for Guyana, but what they are speaking for…,because the television is there they are trying to have an audience out there and that is political trickery. My dear, Mr. Speaker, I think really and truly the oath that we took in office we should clearly understand that the populace outside there are not fools. The populace outside there are rich political thinkers and whatever we do in this House, whatever we say in this honourable House, they would take. The people would judge us outside there and certainly the rhetoric that we may be posing in the minds of those people they will come to the realisation that sometime… as they did in the past. The political history has proved in this country, where political rhetoric has never ever stayed for a long period of time. What stood the time was the question of clarity, honesty, dedication, principles and policies.
This Government has established policies from 1992 on. This PPP Government had a history of the 50s and the 60s when Guyana was called the breadbasket of the Caribbean. That was the time when we had a rich history where the people were united at one period of time and then the division came about because of race - racial intrigues. We have seen the division and the division today sometimes raises its ugly head and I want to ask those of us who are involved…because it would never ever lead to really golden future of this nation, and we should avoid… If anyone of us in this House has a vale in our eyes which see things in different colours we must not… We are taking oath by reading and holding up the Koran or the Bible or the Ramayan and we are seeing things and having a value in our eyes because of our special political reason. We must take that vale out of our eyes. Those of you who believe that there is a god should also believe that if you take that oath and you are speaking lies here those lies would one day… [Mrs. Lawrence: That is an unparliamentary word.] I do not think it is unparliamentary, Comrade. Mr. Speaker, if it is unparliamentary…
Mr. Speaker: Just a clarification. If the Member is accusing another Member of lying then he is being unparliamentary, but if he is saying something is a lie, it is a noun. If you are accusing another Member, that is unparliamentary. Go ahead. You are not out of order.
Mr. Baksh: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I did not mention the name of any individual. What I was saying, very honestly, was from my heart and my mind. That was the oath I was talking about - how we take the oath.
My dears friends, my dear Comrades, I think that this budget really and truly, presented to us by the Hon. Minister of Finance, gives us an opportunity to look ahead in the area where every aspect of it gives us many food for thought. In terms of the question of how the economy would prevail in the future, it gives us guidance. It tells us where the education policy would go in this new dimension, in the next period. It takes also into consideration of how our agriculture sector will grow more and more, in this budget. It also gives us very clearly where we are going, in terms of the future for our children. My dear brothers and sisters, colleagues of both sides of the House, I think when we have gone back and look at the budget in-depth we will see that there are merits in it.
I understand clearly from my former colleague and friend Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, when he was saying from his heart, at one point in time, that indeed this budget, in some aspect of it, has great merit, but as far as I am concerned every aspect of it has very great merit. I think what we need to do, instead of attacking and creating some level of fear and misguidance to the populace outside there, is that we should also take into consideration the serious nature and, from this House, send the right message, and when we go out there too we should go out with a unanimity, in terms of understanding what the budget really and truly means and how much it could benefit Guyana, and how much it can benefit our country as a whole.
I just want to, again, touch on one very important point which I want to raise here today and that is the question of the transportation system in our country. Not very long from now we will be having two roll-on roll-off ferries plying between Good Hope and Parika. I have heard many people saying many things, but as far as I am concerned I think that is a great asset for us, in Guyana. It is a great asset for the people in Essequibo.
For many a years, and you know since in the 60s, Mr. Speaker, MV Malali, MV Torani and Makoura were boats which were bought by the previous PPP Government and it is only now, by a gift from the Chinese Government, that there has been two new ferries. I want to say it has to do with a lot of touches, and the minds and hearts of the people who are living in Essequibo and who went through a lot of trial for a long period of time. I say this because sometime there is twenty - because of the increase of production, and productivity, in that Region - full loads, canter loads, or truck loads, of perishable produce waiting for sometimes two or three days to reach to Parika or to reach to North America, because sometime those produce go out of Guyana, and therefore that would have advanced very importantly…, and the livelihood. It would have an impact on the Region in terms of more exportation and also to give more finance in the pockets of the ordinary poor people.
This also would give a lot of people the opportunity to expand and extend their crops. We have had some great difficulties not only in the Pomeroon area but we have had some difficulties in other areas. We went as much as possible to ensure that we were on the spot, whether it would have been be in the day, whether it would been in the night. We have always been there, because we have the people at our heart. We went up to two days in the Leguan/Wakenaam area where there were some minor breaches. I can assure this House that we went there within twelve hours and within twenty four hours both breaches were sealed. That is the kind of Government of the PPP/C. We are very proactive; we have been moving all over this country.
Permit me…, because of the first time here, sometimes I need to know more about the procedures, and so on, but I think I have been learning very quickly.
I was saying just now that there is an opportunity which is being given for farmers in different parts of the Region. We went when there were difficulties in the Mahaica, Mahaicony and Abary areas - those were difficult areas - as a team and the teamwork that we went with was to see on the spot what we could have done to help the farmers in those areas. We did it diligently. We think the people were satisfied. The same thing occurred at the East Berbice. When there were difficulties in the East Berbice we went there. We did not go only when there were petty problems in the sugar industry. People go there to have political mileage and all those things. We go there when we could find resolution and solution to simple problems that people face with on a day to day basis.
Mr. Speaker, I can tell you also when we went on the West Coast of Demerara, a Black Bush Polder area, it is not in East Berbice area, and on the West Bank of Demerara, that is at Canals No.1 and No. 2 areas... I will tell you the reason why, Mr. Speaker. Some people were flooded and that is because Guyana is a very low-lying country. Guyana is a country six feet below sea level, and because there are markets for actually every single commodity, when the weather pattern is favourable… It is difficult to predict the weather condition. Mr. Speaker, why I can tell you this is when farmers find the conditions favourable, and once they know there are ready markets there, what they do is to extend their farms. Sometimes they took risk, as risk farming, and sometimes when there is a change of weather pattern they tend to lose. But that does not mean that we do not have a responsibility.
We have been responding very favourable. We have been assisting in whatever way we could have, and we will continue to do that because Guyana needs that tremendously. Guyanese need that tremendously, because of the vase amount of development we are seeing today taking place. We do not want that progress to stop. We will want to ensure that that progress continues because what is at stake is not what those of us in this House…, the majority of us who are now reaching the pensionable age and maybe that is why we are quarrelling for an increase too. But I think what we have to look for are those children who are the future generation of this country, which is a very high percentage, and they depend on much of what we in this House, the great planners of this House, have in mind and in store for them.
Guyana is moving apace in development. I remember many of my companies coming into Guyana, came through Timehri, going all over Guyana, being it in Essequibo, Berbice or going around Demerara, said that there is a serious transformation in this country as compare to many advanced countries. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that because of the turnaround of this economy in this country a lot of Guyanese are coming back from the Caribbean, North America, Europe. What we, in this honourable House, can do from this budget that we have got, a very realistic budget, if we put these things in place, is to encourage more of them to get here. We are a very underpopulated nation with a vast eighty-three thousand square miles. I can assure that two-third of our rich fertile land has not been touched as yet and our population is very small. I am sure that if we move together, as a collective body, to ensure that this budget is passed, to ensure that this budget really and truly reaches down to the ordinary people, we can assure you that people will be coming back in droves - a lot of people will be coming back. Many of whom want to come back because they felt that when they went to the United States of America, or Canada, it was a bed a roses, but some of them who left here, probably, at that time, there was something to offer to them, because Guyana had nothing to offer at that time. But today Guyana has so many things to offer and that is why they are coming back; that is why they want to come back; and this budget would even make it much better for more people to come back and to ensure that we would have a population that would be able to move Guyana forward.
I thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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