Budget Speech - Mr Ganga Persaud—20143686 04 Sep, 2014
Mr. G. Persaud: I rise to make my contributions to Budget 2014. I wish to offer my commendation to the Hon… [Interruption from the Opposition Members.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, could you allow Mr. Persaud to make his presentation, please?
Mr. G. Persaud: ...Minister of Finance, all in the PPP and PPP/C Government, those stakeholders in the public and private sectors who accepted the invitations and participated in the budget consultation processes, as well as the competent and efficient officials at the Ministry of Finance for:
1. Presenting another budget within the constitutional deadline;
2. Presenting the largest budget ever in the history of our country; and
3. Presenting a budget which speaks to the well being of every category of Guyanese in this beautiful country of ours, thereby continuing with the PPP/C Government's mission and vision to ensure greater joy, happiness and comfort being a part of the living experience of each resident in this beautiful country of ours.
Just before I continue, let me correct a bit of information shared by the Hon. Member Ms. Ferguson, who just spoke, with regard to expenditure on the San José bridge. I think she said that the expenditure was in the sum of $90 million. If the Hon. Member was careful she would have researched the response given to that very question when asked in this honourable House a couple of months ago by the Hon. Member Mrs. Garrido-Lowe. That response was given n writing. The total expenditure on the San José bridge, revetment and renovation repairs work, amounted to $40 million.
Over the past two days, and some of today, I listened to the Hon. Members of this House making their contributions to the debate on Budget 2014. I must admit that I have learnt quite a lot. Having said that, I cannot avoid pondering on the question of whether the Hon. Members, on the opposite side of this House, were actually referring to, and discussing and debating, Budget 2014, because the discourse seemed to be empty and far removed from the contents of Budget 2014. [Ms. Ally: Are you negotiating to come back?] Maybe.
I think that the Hon. Members, on the opposite side of this House, who would have spoken thus far, in all fairness to them, time may have eluded them and they did not get to go into the meat of Budget 2014 and so they could not have contributed to the budget in itself. I am hopeful that those who will come after this will certainly deal with the issues in Budget 2014. If my good friends on the opposite side of this House had accepted the many invitations issues by the Hon. Minister of Finance to have dialogue, to sit and talk through the preparation stages of Budget 2014, I think, we could have avoided this pitfall coming from the other side of the House, because there were so many competent and qualified persons who would have contributed towards fixing, making and presenting Budget 2014.
Another issue, which has emerged, is whether the Hon. Members on the Opposition side of this House have kept in tune with the reality on the ground. Many statements would have been made here and a quick check on the ground would a show that statements made here conflicts seriously with the reality that is there, presently existing in many of our communities and regions. A bit later I will focus on some of these statements which were made.
Budget 2014 has, without any shadow of a doubt, responded to the needs, requests and demands of every section of our society. Giving our financial space and developmental thrust, it is inconceivable to contemplate a budget different from this one at this juncture in our country’s history.
I believe that it is the desire of every country to have all the financial and other resources needed to fix, resolve and solve every problem, every issue affecting the citizens in that country. Guyana and the PPP/C Government is no exception to this desire but the reality has consistently caused such a desire to remain permanently elusive. Certainly, the Hon. Members of the opposite side of this House are fully aware of this reality.
Sir, if the PPP/C Government had all the financial resources and other resources required to fix and resolve all of Guyana’s problems then certainly it would have been a pleasure to so do. That has been said, in such a scenario, I am doubtful whether we would have needed the Members who are seated on the opposite side of this House because it seems as if all that we are getting are nit-picking and searching for problems - no problems then no need.
Development is a never-ending process. [Mrs. Baveghems: That is why you had to resign.] This is a dress down world and we have all have to do some day. I am happy that I did mine now. [Ms: Ally: You had to.] Whatever it is, it has happened. I have no regrets.
Building society, however, and development is a never-ending process. We have to continue building, maintaining, expanding, renovating, repairing, fixing, servicing, all as a continuous part of man's infrastructural environment or now described by modern management theorists as man’s physical environment.
The PPP/C is always conscious of this reality and so Budget 2014 has made provision for several billions of dollars to be expended in enhancing and maintain our infrastructure environment, be it buildings, roads, sea and river defences, drainage and irrigation structures, airports, just name it and it is reflected in Budget 2014. Yet, if the question is asked as to whether all the difficulties, problems and issues affecting us as a people, as a nation, as a country, will be resolved by inputs from Budget 2014, obviously, the answer would be a resounding “no” because life’s problems and issues will continue.
We must recall the $14 per day or hydro – that was a take or leave position that was put to us. Certainly, the Hon. Member, Mr. Scott, my Colleague, is not oblivious to that early 1980s position and what the nation’s workers got in return for the wage freeze and, as some would have said, “Yea, we got hydro but what kind of hydro.”
The Hon. Member, Mr. Scott, stated that the Government should cease investing in infrastructure and that it should use the financial resources to increase wages and salaries. We recall that when the PNC was in Government, it took us down that road and we all know the result. We ended up with a crumbling, dilapidated, unsafe infrastructure environment which inflicted untold sufferings and embarrassment on all of us as Guyanese. A lack of road networks cut off so many communities and forced them to operate in isolation. Fairy bulb settings as part of our existence in those days were as a result of that kind of policy advocated by the Hon. Member, Mr. Scott.
A quick look at our financial resources from 1992 to present would reflect sound, effective and efficient management practices. Obviously, I can understand the embarrassment this has caused persons, in and out of the House, who were or are part of the PNC and or PNC Government since that period was the worst in financial management. Moreover, it was the worst type of management our country and citizens would have experienced, so much so that our country was declared as not credit worthy.
Eight years of continuous growth at a time during a period when there are serious economic difficulties and economies are contracting all over the world is an achievement which all of us, as patriotic Guyanese, should beat our drums and be proud of. While I know that this kind of success sounds like some miracle coming from those who are managing our financial resources in this country, it is also a known fact that it is a situation that has been verified by many persons. So, it is mind-boggling to comprehend why some of the Hon. Members on the opposite side of this House are seeking to deny this reality and are insinuating that the figures are manipulated. If learnt, experienced, qualified and certified economists, financial analysts, both at the local and international levels, have found every evidence to support and no evidence to dispute these figures submitted by the Hon. Minister of Finance on behalf of the PPP/C Government, then I am certain this nation will request evidence from the opposite side of this House as they continue to banter that statement that the figures were manipulated.
I heard one Hon. Member state that the AFC government will invest large sums of money into various sectors. Certainly, the Hon. Member, Mr. Ramayya, sounded very good but what he did not say to us was where the money will come from, how such expenditures would be sustained and what his government would remove or cut – their famous styling – so as to redirect the resources. Having said that, I am hesitant to dismiss the Hon. Member’s statements as wishful thinking but I cannot find a better way in describing such subjective statements which are not construed in today’s reality or in the future reality - an AFC government.
After a glance at Budget 2014 and how it responds to human resource growth and development, it is abundantly clear that Budget 2014 has maintained the pro- poor approach of the PPP/C Government. As is customary, the Budget has made adequate provisions for all other categories of citizens in our country - and I must repeat all category of human resource in our country - including our senior citizens, differently-abled, single parents, workers, children, the poor, not so poor, well-to-do as well as the rich, those who are in the public sector and private sector, those who are in urban as well as those who are in rural and hinterland communities.
The PPP/C Government has consistently, over the years, provided annual wages and salaries increases to officials in the public, teaching as well as the disciplined services. Scholarships, both local and international, are made available to our public officers across the country. Duty free concessions, house lots and soft loans are all part of the benefits which are made available by the PPP/C Government to certain categories of public officials in the employ of the various branches of the State. Deliberate programmes aimed at training, retraining and retooling our human resources are all measures evident in Budget 2014. Separation and periodic benefits such as gratuity, severance and pensions are all honoured by this Government.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Persaud, you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mr. G. Persaud: I will ask for your concession, Mr. Speaker. We have listened to much talk about the elderly and senior citizens in our country, but what are the facts, Sir? First, this category of Guyanese has constantly engaged the attention of the PPP/C Government. Apart from the old age pension, which is increased annually, a significant number of our elderly also receive an employment pension which is paid from age 65 in the public service and a National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pension if they had contributed to the Scheme and this is paid at age 60. Hence, there are a significant number of our senior citizens who are benefiting from financial support from these three sources. In addition, every elderly citizen who has a meter with Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) gets their water grant annual subsidy from that entity. Similarly, elderly citizens who have a meter with the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) Company for electricity charges are granted an annual subsidy of $20,000, which Budget 2014 has increased by 50%, taking that to $30,000 for this year. This must be viewed, too, in conjunction with free medical care and an additional 5% increase in old age pension with effect from 1st May, 2014.
There are some of us in this honourable House who take umbrage when reference is made to periods before 1992 but, Sir, our memories cannot be that bad to cause us to forget what benefits were available to our senior citizens and the rigid conditions, such as means test, which surrounded accessing the limited and insignificant benefits then when compared to what the PPP/C Government has and is offering our elderly.
Our children continue to benefit from several support systems by the PPP/C Government from 1992 to present. They include: free text and exercise books, school uniforms, school feeding including hot meal programmes, subsidies for Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) students and scholarships for hinterland students, to name a few.
Budget 2014 has brought on board additional measures to enhance the teaching/learning environment across all levels in the education sector as well as providing direct financial support of' $10,000 per child who is registered in the public education system. Yet, we have heard from the other side of the honourable House statements which seek to suggest that Budget 2014 has nothing of substance for our people. The beneficiaries across this country will certainly rebut such baseless statements when they will turn up in their numbers and smile when they receive the subsidy for their children.
I now move to the final resource and that is informational. Budget 2014 has made a significant sum of money – $1.1 billion – available to enhance Information and Communication Technology (ICT) across Guyana, the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF), the ICT towers and installation of the fibre optic cable are all measures in the final stages of implementation, thereby moving our Government’s vision of e-governance closer to realisation. Right here in the National Assembly, we are seeking to use ICT services now available through the deliberate vision and focus of the PPP/C Government to reduce our dependency on paper – hard copies – communication in sharing and transferring information.
The Hinterland Electrification Programme as well as the Solar Panels Project was successfully completed in many communities by the PPP/C Government. This Programme has lent support to the Government’s ICT programme by providing much needed electricity in the hinterland communities. Many communities are now benefitting and are part of the national and international communication network for the first time in the history of our country, while others continue to benefit from the improved and enhanced communication network. More of our citizens are participating and using the social media to stay in touch with their relatives and friends, to do business, to conduct research and to enhance their studies, among other things.
The Hon. Member, Mr. Desmond Trotman, shared with us some statistical data on the percentage of investments made by local governments in several countries. However, the Hon. Member fell short of telling this honourable House what percentage of projected revenue those local government bodies collected in their respective countries and what kinds of services those local government bodies are responsible for providing in those countries. The attempted comparison, to say the least, was a complete misfit but, like everything else, we have had and I am certain we will have to listen to many more examples which are irrelevant and not in sync with our special circumstance as a nation.
The Hon. Members, Mr. Bulkan and Mr. Trotman, sought to lament that Region 8 is starved for financial resources by the PPP/C Government because it is controlled by the AFC. I wish to categorically state that such statements are baseless, mischievous and gross misrepresentation of the facts. Rather, they are just rhetoric seeking to garner political sympathy for a council which, at its best, is incapable of understanding and executing its roles and functions as prescribed in law. The council is being led and misled into taking on tasks which are purely administrative and, in the process, neglecting its duties and responsibilities to the citizens of that Region.
The regional administration must be commended, in my humble judgment, for maintaining and enhancing its provision of services to the citizens of that Region and not being distracted by the antics and the immature behaviour of the RDC led by no other than its Chairman. It may be for this and other reasons best known to both the Hon. Members that in seeking to make comparisons, they failed to highlight several key variables, which will guide anyone in resources allocation, such as population density, geographic mass, projects and justifications, among others, placed in the draft budget by the RDC.
The Hon. Member, Mrs. Volda Lawrence, sought to highlight certain social ills such as domestic violence, suicide, substance abuse, et cetera. In her presentation, she sought to lay the blame at the feet of the Government for the state of affairs. In no country of the world would such blame be justified and I want to believe that the Hon. Member is conscious of that, but is constrained by the politics in the environment. The issues are real and need more than Government’s attention. All faith-based organisations, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which are in receipt of constant financial and other support from local as well as international organisations, youth organisations, other clubs and associations, political parties, schools, homes and communities must all play their respective roles in seeking to be part of the solution to these issues. Maybe the time has come when all funding to treat with such issues, as identified by the Hon. Member, must be properly and adequately scrutinised and a result-based mechanism should be sought to determine future finding and support for some of the benefitting organisations and institutions. The importance of effective parenting cannot be de-emphasised.
In conclusion, I wish to urge all of us in this honourable House to move ourselves from being on the side of the problem and position ourselves on the side of the solution. Guyana’s continued development requires positive contributions from all of us and so I wish to be with the optimists and embrace the thought that Budget 2014, as presented, will receive this House’s full support. I, therefore, wish to join with the Hon. Minister of Finance in urging my Colleagues to let us see Budget 2014 as the Assembly’s Budget and let us all give our support.
I thank you very much. [Applause]
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