Budget Speech - Mr IrNorman Whitaker—20142988 02 Apr, 2014
Minister of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Before I get into the meat of my presentation, I just wish to draw to the attention of the Hon. Member Mrs. Wade that she ought to recheck her records and she would find contrary to what she just said that using funds made available from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports a total of thirty grounds have either been rehabilitated or upgraded in the Region No. 5 area; ten of these grounds were done in 2012 and 20 in 2013. I invite you to check with the regional officials and you will be able to confirm the information I just provided.
I wish firstly to congratulate in absentia the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh and his team for once again putting together a Budget for those who have eyes to see, and those who can understand; for putting together a budget that focuses on the poor, that focuses on working class, that focuses on the young and the elderly; and indeed, as most Guyanese have grown perennially to expect, a Budget that has something in it for everybody. One just has to look and one will see.
The Peoples Progressive Party has always viewed the Budget as an important planning tool which must set out a vision for development of our communities and our country, with clearly set out goals; and this must emanate out of a process of consultation; yes, consultation. Because there is a view on that side that consultation for the purpose of budget preparation is a one-off exercise that happens weeks before the statutory budget date. For us consultation takes place 365 days in a year. When we reach out to people in the communities, in the churches, in the schools, wherever people are gathered together, we discuss developmental issues, we provide people with an opportunity to air their concerns, to offer their views, to offer their recommendations on developmental issues. That for us is consultation and if we accept that, and we should, then yours truly along with all on our side have been having consultation every day of the year. And I invite you to do similarly. So I can confidently say that Budget 2014 was developed out of a process of consultation, and I use this opportunity to thank all who have offered their support at the level of the private sector, at the level of the union Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), youth groups and church groups. We say thanks for seeing development as something that we should all be involved in.
We of the PPP and the People's Progressive Party/Civic have always committed to consultation for it is only then that we are able to appreciate the needs of our people, the developmental challenges they face in their communities. We see consultation with the people as providing a platform for the strengthening of the relation between them and Government and that is why we have such a strong relation that they have been continuously electing this PPP/Civic Government since 1992.
It has become predictable for the Opposition to posit that the Budget is empty, that it has nothing in it. For me it is probably their way of reminiscing on the Budgets of the 70s and 80s. The Budgets to which Guyanese listened only to ascertain what additional hardships were being heaped on them at that point in time.
But I am happy and proud to stand in this National Assembly and to say that PPP/C Budgets, which represent the work plan of the Government, have been working for all of us; PPP/Civic Budgets have brought positive results for us. And that is why a significant majority of the Guyanese people always look forward to our annual Budget presentation and what it has to offer.
Indeed, they will tell you that Guyana has moved from the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere to the status of a developing country whose social and physical infrastructure, and whose economy has become vibrant and has transformed our country to one whose respectability has been restored, and whose people enjoy a far, far better standard of living than they did in the 70s and 80s.
For eight straight years Guyana’s economy has registered positive growth even as many of our Caribbean and South American neighbours have been recording sluggish growth. Does this not paint a picture to you? Does this not tell you a story that some things have to be working? And the improvements to which I am about to allude are in spite of the challenges in the sugar industry, and the determined and continuous efforts of the Opposition to make our country ungovernable; to make sizeable cuts to the Budget and to disturb the momentum of our development. That is their strategy; that is what they set out to do. These improvements my friend have to be attributed to sound, wise decisions with respect to the allocation and use of resources.
How else can we explain the consistency? How else can we explain the continual growth of our economy? The continual rise in our external reserves is it magic? I am advised it is now equivalent to3.9 months of imports. There is the continual reduction in our external debts. How do you reduce external debts? Do you not ask yourself that question? Our control of the inflation rate - we should stand with the PPP as proud Guyanese - 0.9% is the present inflation rate and the stability of our exchange rate. There an improving manufacturing sector, construction sector, information sector and our increasing ability to own our own homes. For the average Guyanese living in the 70s and 80s that was a dream they died and left. Today, look at the number of young people who own their own homes; a lot of public servants. How is that possible?
It is possible because confidence was restored in the economy, the banking system was back on its feet; it was possible also because of interest rates dropping making it affordable for people to borrow money so they can have their own homes. And you sit here and say the Budget has nothing. Where did the resources come from to transfer this economy? A few days ago I stood for about five minutes in a section of this city, and for not more than about two minutes I counted about 25 cars that passed with young people driving. In the 70s and 80s, they could not even afford a bicycle, and you tell us that the Budget has nothing. By what authority do you say these things my friends?
We are able under the PPP/Civic Government, with the budgets you condemn, to have a better quality education, education across 83,000 square miles of this country; building schools where there were none; extending schools where the yearning for learning, and the increase in the enrolment, caused people to turn out in larger numbers. Those on that side who live in the hinterland must rise up and tell them; open their minds. They are accessing a better quality of education. My Friends, I want to say to you better quality healthcare, better infrastructure including roads, bridges, potable water, how else are we able to pay the increased pensions we talk about?
How else are we able to pay the increased emoluments we pay annually? How else are we able to provide uniforms, to provide meals, to provide textbooks, to pay teachers a reasonable salary? How else are we able to do these things if the economy was not doing well and if the proposals set out in the Budget were not working? How else are we able to provide transportation assistance to parents? In the first instance I heard many of you condemning the amount; $10,000 is what you say. You do not do the multiplication. I do not know if you know how to do it. If you did you will see it is a heavy investment. I forgive you because you did not have the schools in those days.
When we look at what is happening in the health sector... The Hon. Minister of Health just spoke and I was happy to read this documentation that records the drop in maternal deaths. So quite apart from what you alluded to earlier on... [Interruption]... that is the word, the impact. My friends we have the education results of the past 10 years. Not only does this reflect an increase in enrolment in the hinterland areas, it reflects improvement in performance. At the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE) level in 2003 for example the percentage of candidates gaining 50% or more in mathematics was 28.3% and in 2013 it was 43.9%. The percentage of children gaining passes science... [Interruption] ...my friends you might feel offended with my referring to these data but the quality of life of a people is a function not only of the material things we possess but the quality of our education, the access to that education; the quality of our healthcare and the access to that healthcare, all those are indicators that tell us whether we are doing well or we are doing badly.
Budget 2014 aims to ensure that the benefits of this growth, this improvement are multiplied. [Interruption] Mr. Speaker, can I ask that they pay rapt attention.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Minister, how can I deny such a request? Hon. Members you are required to pay rapt attention and let us have some order. Let us hear from Mr. Whittaker.
Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, Budget 2014 aims to ensure that the benefits of the growth and development to which I just referred are multiplied and reach across the ten administrative regions of our country so we can all enjoy it. More than this Budget 2014 aims to create more economic benefits, more economic opportunities for all Guyanese, from the young to the middle aged to the elderly, more growth and more jobs as we continue to invest in the expansion. If you look at all the regional budgets and the sector budgets, you will see very much evidence that we continue to invest in the expansion of our social services and physical infrastructure, because we believe in so doing we are able to realize, among other things, the commitments this Government made and that is reflected in our Manifesto, that is reflected in the Millennium Development Goals.
I wish to draw attention to the fact that, quite recently, UNICEF Representative for Guyana and Suriname, Marianne Flach, commented at the launch of a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey – Dr. Ramcharran was there - that Guyana had achieved several of the Millennium Development Goals and is well on its way to achieving several more. She noted – not Whittaker - that Guyana had achieved the Millennium Development Goals relating to hunger, to primary education, and she noted our movement in the direction of universal secondary education, gender equality and environmental sustainability. If the Hon. Member so wishes, this information from the UNICEF representative for Guyana and Suriname can be made available. In fact, I can make several copies for that side.
I ask the Opposition to do nothing to derail the plans for development that we have. Do not do that. Something that works do not try to fix it; you are not good at that. This 2014 Budget will bring positive benefits for all and that includes you Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge; you also will benefit. This Budget contains a menu of measures to create a “Better Guyana for all Guyanese.” Do nothing to impede the progress of this Nation. The Guyanese people will not forgive you; history will never absolve you - Fidel Castro.
I wish to examine the role, the responsibility and the work of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development as we support the work of our sector ministries in the areas of social sector development and infrastructure development to which I just alluded. But just before I do that, I wish to draw attention and bring correction to the several inaccurate comments offered by Mr. Keith Scott and Mr. Ronald Bulkan, as they ill-advisedly ventured comments on several matter without the benefit of an authentication and verification of those comments.
Mr. Scott questions the adequacy of the $1 billion provided in the Budget for the city clean up. He questions the adequacy and the way the funds are being channelled. It is obvious that the Hon. Member feels that the responsibility of the Municipality to keep the city clean has been taken away from the Municipality as a result of this monetary intervention. No my friends it is not. The responsibility still remains with the Municipality. This must be seen as support for the Guyanese people and that is why we do it.
May I say that we have already started to discuss at the level of the Ministers and very shortly, we shall also involve the technical people, even at the level of the Council, in discussing and agreeing on the menu of measures and the nature of those measures.
Further than that, Mr. Scott accuses the Government of starving the Council of funds and micro-managing the city; incredible. I have information here that alludes to the kind of revenue that the Council has been collecting. I did not worry to go too far back. I was beginning to get a feeling of nausea.
In 2012, I am going to the nearest million ladies and gentlemen; the Council should have collected $1.7 billion, the Council collected $1.3 billion; that is about $400 million less. Is it that we should take this money that we have earmarked to make the city a cleaner place and give them to fill this void or should they get out there and try to collect what is owed to them.
More than this, out of this $1.3 billion that they collected, do you know what? The Council spent a total of $429 million on Solid waste... [Mr. B. Williams: Who? It was not the Mayor and City Council.] It is the Council. The Council is the corporate body. I am talking about the Council. This is 2012. They did worst than this in 2013. The point is they are not collecting what they should be collecting.
Secondly, whatever they collect, it is not being used to provide the core services that the citizens of this country asked for. [Interruption] And you want us to put $1 billion in the hands of the Council. Sorry, that will not happen.
The Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan saunter into a tirade of what can only be described as reckless comments. He firstly questioned the role of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development in local democracy. Quotes repetitively from the Constitution of Guyana, Articles 75 and 77 and the deduces that our Constitution provides full autonomy to all Councils and Government is suffocated and subvert the authority of these Councils to exercise this autonomy, and we do that through the Town Clerks, the Overseers and Regional Executive Officers (REOs). These are the Chief Administrative Officers of these bodies. [Mr. Nandlall: The Chief Executive Officers.] These are the Chief Executive Officers of these Councils. Who must we deal with when we are talking about administrative issues? Who must we deal with? [Interruption]
The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, has responsibility for monitoring, providing guidance and oversight and we do this. We work, utilising the resources made available by Government. These are public funds, whether they get it by way of annual subvention or they get it by way rates and taxes, market fees, et cetera, these are public funds for which there must be accountability.
May I say to this body that very early in this year, the staff of Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, at a retreat, examined the way we delivered services; examined the work of the various Local Government bodies across Guyana, whether they be Municipalities or Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs). We identified some areas of weaknesses and we determined that it was in the interest of the Guyanese populace they served that these weaknesses be addressed. Foremost among them had to do with the issue of accountability and we needed to address that. Included also, was the need for further training; included also was the need for more aggressive oversight. So if when we are going all these things you see it as interference, so be it.
It is not expected that the Ministry or the Minister can provide the oversight, guidance, etcetera. It is not expected that this will be a passive move, it has to be something active and that is what we do.
I want now to let us look at what these Local Government bodies have been doing in 2013 and what is planned for 2014, so that we can have a better picture of what it is... [Interruption]
The existing legislation provides that the Municipalities will consult in the preparation of its annual estimates, all except the City Council, and will make these submissions available for scrutiny. The legislation also provides that in respect of our subventions that we provide, this has the approval of the Minister. That is reason why we examine these. Our focus is to see that an increasing amount of resources that they take from the public, goes not into travelling, stipend and snacks, but goes into providing core services to the people. They have a problem with that. They have a problem with putting more resources into drainage, into Solid Waste, rehabilitation and servicing of kokers, pumps, etcetera. A significant amount of the resources goes into meeting the employment costs of people, many of whom do very little or nothing.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you will need an extension of 15 minutes to continue.
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I propose that the Hon. Minister be granted 15 minutes to continue his presentation.
Mr. Speaker: Minister Whittaker I will urge you not to allow yourself to get into a dialogue and Mr. B. Williams please refrain from trying to engage the Minister in a dialogue.
Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, you and I are communicating and they are just getting in between. The six Municipalities received a total of $65 million during 2013 – this is subvention. This is quite apart from the estimates, the rates and taxes and other revenues that they receive from the public. The Municipality of Rose Hall received $8 million. This is quite apart from what they get from the rate payers. Eight million dollars, most of which was spent on roads, drains, back filling and replacing tubes. I say these things so we can see the effectives of what the resources are used for. Anna Regina, $9 million and they used most of it for the construction of concrete box culverts and again also for doing roads and desilting of drains.
Corriverton, $8 million, most of it used for the maintenance of streets and the streets are identified here; the maintenance of their landfill site; the maintenance of their culverts; and the rehabilitation of drains. New Amsterdam, which got $10, used most of it for the cleaning and clearing of drains, the rehabilitation of roads. What was important is that they were also able to acquire a tractor with some of that. Linden got $10 million; they spent most of it patching roads, cleaning filling and compacting, rehabilitation of equipment drains and culverts. They acquired a fogging machine, motor blowing and they purchased lights. Georgetown, they acquired two used 10 tonnes trucks... [Mr. B. Williams: How much did you give Georgetown?] Twenty million dollars; twice what anybody else got and they are spending that.
The proposed works to be completed for 2014; for 2014 what is expected to happen is that additional resources will be made available in 2014, providing that you do not trim it. In respect to the NDCs, 65 of them, $195 million: They spent $101 on roads; $15.5 million on bridges; $8.2 million on culverts; $4 million on machinery; one of them spent $1.5 billion on a bus shed and the excavation of trenches took $27.7 million.
I am trying to talk about the range of activities; this is the Ministry of Local Government, making available $195... [Mr. B. Williams: Could we have that list?] Yes, Sir, you can get that; the list of all 65 NDCs, to which this was made available. That is why we have oversight; that is why we guide; that is why our people are very active there.
For 2014, the NDCs that have prepared their own budget estimates have determined that they want to spend over $125 million on roads; they want to spend approximately $17 million on bridges; they want to spend $7 million on four community centres within their neighbourhood; they want to spend $31 million on excavation of trenches. This is resources that we make available to them, but I say again that the NDCs and the Municipalities also have access to other resources and they do additional work using those resources.
Mr. Speaker, there is a view among some that the work we do at the level of the Ministry is restricted or limited to the areas that I just mentioned... [An Hon. Member: [Inaudible] No, it is more than that. Indeed the Ministry is involved in a number of projects, for example, we are involved in a project called the Caribbean Local Economic Development Programme (CARILEP). This is a six years programme and it is funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development. It focuses on promoting local economic development through partnership with Local Government Authorities, Regional and Municipal. The programme is being implemented in four regions; regions 2, 3, 4, and 6 – that is in Phase One. In the next phase we expect to embrace the six other regions of this country. The Mara Agriculture Enhancement Programme (MAEP) on the East Bank of Berbice in Region No. 6, that is one of the project that has been approved and is being implemented, US$94,000. Other areas identified for demonstration project includes, Tapakuma Women Agricultural Diversification Project, that is in Region 2 and it costs US$42,000. We have the Canal’s Polder Green Initiative Project - that has not been approved yet. It is awaiting approval, but it is envisaged to cost about US$40,000. There is the Friendship Swine Development Project in Friendship in the East Bank of Demerara in Region 4 and that is estimated to cost approximately US$42,000.
The three approved demonstration projects and the regions have already benefited from training in the areas of Local Economic Development. Various institutional strengthening activities, increased capacity, traditional staffing and local area economic profiles for effective planning. This is one of the economic activities. The focus is not only on infrastructure. Though that is the core of our activities, and supporting the work of the sector Ministry in developing and improving social services, the focus is also issues to do with livelihoods.
We have also benefitted from the Community Roads Improvement Programme (CRIP), which had two components and our Ministry was responsible for the institutional development and capacity building aspect of that project. A number of senior staff were trained and coached in areas such as management development and community education in the areas such as road maintenance training and monitoring and evaluation because we consider, in our traverse across the various communities across this countries, that the NDCs do road, they rehabilitate and maintain roads, but we recognise very early the need for training in that particular area.
So the NDCs identify the persons who should access this training and we are happy to say that among persons who have benefitted during 2013, 35 staff from our ministry and the RDC, 58 staff from the NDC, 83 councillors and we have 12 small scale contractors who have also benefited. All programmes of NDCs were provided with computer systems and accessories, including all in one printers, external back-ups stores devices and digital cameras. This was the first time many of these NDCs own such equipment. This will definitely enhance their record keeping. Not to mention also community education and awareness, which ensured that other persons from the community benefited also.
Another area in which the Ministry has participated with good results is the Youth Empowerment Inclusion and Reconciliation Project (YEIRP). That is the project that had started in May, 2012 and came to an end a few days ago. The main objective of that project was to work to improve the capacity of youth leaders. These are people identified by the NDCs in the respective communities. This project aimed to work with them to improve their capacity as youth leaders.
The project had several components, but I want to mention four of them.
- There was the use of social media.
- An ICT platform to facilitate youth interaction with policy makers.
- Insertion of participants in institutions and local structure. That is on the job training.
- Development of community projects.
These young people went back into their communities and they were able to work with the people and identify projects. The total budget for this project the YEIRP, is US$150,000. As of December, 2013, a total of US$83,500 had already been spent.
The projects that they have identified: Region No. 2 – A waiting area the Supenaam Stelling; this is the young people, that the NDCs chose that benefited from this training. Rehabilitation of the children’s ward at the Lenora Cottage Hospital; Development of a Learning Resource Centre and Information Communication Technology (ICT) Hub at Triumph; a learning Resource Centre at Bushlot, that is in Region No. 5; Voluntary Counselling and Testing Site at the New Amsterdam Market, that is six and in Region No. 10, rehabilitation of the Kara Kara Playfield. These are young people in these specific regions, who interacted with their peers and came up with these projects that were accepted and will be implemented, using the funds available under this project.
There was also the literacy enhancement awareness aspect of the project – the RDC building Triumph, on the East Coast. That is where that project was concluded. Bushlot Community Centre, the RDC building at Whim, the RDC Annex, rehabilitation of the Kara Kara Playfield off the streets and into the playfield, etcetera.
I want to mention one more project because I want to get across clearly that what we do at Local Government goes beyond merely looking at infrastructure. This is a Georgetown Solid Waste Management Programme. During 2013, we acquired 825 collection containers of varying sizes – 240 litres, 660 litres, 1100 litres. These bins, 458 of them, were distributed to NDCs in Region No. 4 and in public spaces, which include health centres, schools and community centres. Three hundred and sixty seven, we are in the process of distributing those in public spaces in the Georgetown Municipality. We have asked the Ministry of Public Works to help us to identify those spaces and the City Council and those will be distributed there. We also have some collection trucks that were purchased; 221 cubic metres, rare compactor and 28 cubic metre rare compactor. These trucks are intended to surface the collection bins, which were distributed to the NDCs.
Also, some clean up was done on the East Coast and the East Bank; that is in respect of several satellite dumpsites within NDC areas. Public awareness – that is part of the project. During 2014, we will procure a landfill procure laboratory equipment to perform environmental testing. That is Haags Bosch Landfill site. We procure a hook lift truck. There will be the closure of lower Le Repentir Landfill site; the partial closure of the Lusignan Dumpsite; the closure of the Groove Dumpsite, a lot of work. My friends, at the Ministry of Local Georgetown and Regional Development, we keep reaching out.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mr. Whittaker: I want to use those five minutes to deal with two things. I want to say and this has to do with the Local Government Elections to which several speakers have alluded. I do not think anyone wants Local Georgetown Elections more that the People’s Progressive Party.
Talks about free and fair elections would be empty, unless adequate preparations, including the statutory requirements of the law, relative to these elections are met. That is the first statement.
Demarcation of boundaries for some constituencies is still a work in progress; acquisition of election material; advertising, training which have been ongoing; only a few days ago I was part of another training; Hiring elections day workers, public education, claims, objection. Due to housing expansion in many communities established boundaries have to be revisited. Boundaries are not static. That ever keep shifting, education awareness. How many of us know that the 71 districts now have 585 constituencies whose boundaries must be demarcated. Each of these constituencies must be targeted for voters’ education. This is not merely about election, but about what happens after elections. It is about all of that. Therefore, I thought that I should use this opportunity to tell you also that there is no ... [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Go ahead.
Mr. Whittaker: There could be no Commencement Order for a Local Government Commission when there is no such commission. There is no such commission in place. I call on the Opposition to examine the statement that I just made. [Ms. Ally: You took the man’s work?] Yes I did. You were not listening.
I want to close by offering these comments: our citizens look forward to the annual budget presentation and the goodies it brings for them.
We must be reminded that there was a time when the thought of the budget, being eminent, was a nightmare for most of us. The Opposition appears to want to take us back there but we refuse to go back there.
Our resources of land, labour and capital are strictly limited but we work to optimise the use of these resources and in so doing to bring improvement in the living standards of our people by providing opportunities for them to enjoy more goods and services. There can be no denying that we have been able to successfully rise above many of the challenges of development and in so doing to accelerate our gains.
The Guyanese people are wondering what the Opposition will cut; it is not why. The Opposition political parties do not have to have an audible reason or a laudable reason. Indeed, they have none. I challenge the Opposition to put Guyana first. Progress and development must not be stymied by personal vendetta. The PPP/C Government has created the conditions for more rapid social and economic development of our country. Did you read it? The projected growth rate of 5.6 % is the highest for our country for over a decade. I ask myself the question - I will frankly tell you that this is my view - is it that the combined AFC and APNU are embarrassed by the pace of development of our country? Envy, jealousness, embarrassment, and that is why they seek to downplay this development but I say to you, my friends, Budget 2014 will positively impact the economy of Guyana and by extension the well-being of every Guyanese and that includes you. You will get a bite.
This budget represents an investment in our people. Vote “yes” for Budget 2014. It is the best thing that you would ever do for your country. It you cut you might cut yourself.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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