Budget Speech Mr James Bond 20143501 07 Apr, 2014
Mr. Bond: Before I begin, I wish to point out that on hearing the barrage of criticisms from my learned friend, Hon. Mr. Nadir, I am reminded from my historical readings that he presided over a party that was once a force to be reckoned with in 1964 and he could not even keep his own party together. His party has disintegrated left, right and centre. This gentleman wants to criticise Mr. Carl Greenidge and the People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R). I would have none of it. You have to keep your own house together before you can criticise our house. He is presiding over a broken house.
Mr. Speaker: One second, Mr. Bond.
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I think the Hon. Member is deviating greatly from our standard practice, speaking about our Member and his party in such terms. I think it is quite a deviation.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Prime Minister, thank you. In my 16 years in this House, this has not been the worst of debates. I think that Hon. Member Ms. Shadick put it best when she said a few evenings ago, “When you come to crab dance...” This is the House and things have gone back and forth. Mr. Bond, I think your point has been made and you should move on.
Mr. Bond: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
“Judiciaries serve and hold the Executive Branch accountable and they help the contract and the corporate system work in a fair and impartial manner, providing a necessary element of predictability for investors. Judicial reforms thus should be, and are, a key component of poverty reduction and growth strategies in an increasing number of countries around the world.”
This quote was taken from the essay, “Judiciaries, Growth and Poverty Reduction: Linkages and Lessons Learned” penned by Mr. Vinay Bhargava, a former Director of International Affairs at the World Bank.
My presentation today has three core thrusts. Firstly, I believe that the allocation to the sector is minuscule. Secondly, I will challenge the Minister’s claim of access to justice by looking at the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic. And finally, I will end with a demand for the introduction of a judicial research assistant’s programme.
However, before I get into my presentation proper, I wish to say that Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh is one of our good sons. I believe that if he establishes a good working relationship with APNU’s chief spokesperson on finance, Mr. Carl Barrington Greenidge, Guyana would be all the better for it. Mr. Greenidge’s institutional memory must not be taken for granted; his intellectual prowess cannot be ignored. It is time to bring an end to one-upmanship and grandstanding, practiced by both sides.
As a Guyanese, I am happy that GDP increased by 5%. As a practicing attorney, I am unhappy that a pittance would be spent on the justice sector of which I am a member for 12 years.
Budget 2014 allocates $111,655,000 to the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions; $1.4 billion is allocated to the Supreme Court of Judicature; and $288 million is allocated to the Ministry of Legal Affairs. In total, it amounts to $1.8 billion or 0.8% of the total $220 billion national budgetary pot bake.
Paltry sums are to be spent on infrastructure and equipment. A total of $11,300,000 is allotted to the Ministry of Legal Affairs and such funds are for the rehabilitation of a driveway, purchasing of vehicle and purchasing of furniture and equipment.
The Supreme Court will be allocated $216,270,000 and it is proposed to be spent on the construction of a Land Court, rehabilitation of courtrooms and payment of retention, purchasing of a vehicle, completion and construction of Magistrates Courts and purchasing of furniture and equipment. Do expect, however, courts with sewage seeping through the floors. Do expect courts that are not soundproof. Do expect courts with no robing rooms and adequate seating.
To the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions the sum of $5 million is proposed to be spent on the purchasing of furniture and equipment.
These allocations in totality have the collective effect of strangulating the sector and pegging back little gains achieved by the Justice Improvement Programme, referred to as the Modernisation of the Justice Administration System Project or referred to as a component of the Justice Sector Reform Strategy, which has seen US$25 million pumped into the sector continuously since 2006. As a matter of fact, $418,592,000 was injected in 2013.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic, if it were progressive, would have had another phase of the Justice Sector Reform Strategy in place for 2014, to commence as soon as the 2013 phase has concluded. If we look at the Budget, there is zero budgeted under this head. Why? Simply because the improvement of the delivery of justice to the Guyanese people ought to be a priority for any caring administration and the continuity of such delivery would always be as a matter of course. It takes a long campaign and not a brief offensive to achieve this victory. The Justice Improvement Programme must be an annual diet for the justice sector. With its absence, it takes me to the logical conclusion, therefore, that the budgetary design for the judicial sector for 2014, as adumbrated by the subject Minister, is palpably flawed in effect and principle.
It is clear, therefore, that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration has little interest in curing the ills plaguing the sector, ills it has created and allowed to fester unchecked for two decades.
I am not surprised that my friend, Mr. Nadir, is disagreeing with the Members of this other side. I can remember when I was in law school he was Minister of Tourism. I recited a poem while at law school in which I painted a picture of Guyana going down the drain. Mr. Nadir came up as a guest and he objected to what I said. I was in law school at the time and I had no political ambitions. But, it has always been the style of the Government to paint a glorious picture of what Guyana is, ignoring the realities of the day. We, on this side, could admit readily that some has been done; much, has however, not been done. We refuse to be divorced from reality, Mr. Speaker.
That the Chambers of the Attorney General, headed by my Colleague, the Hon. Anil Nandlall, accepts this offering shows one of three things. First, it shows that the Chambers may not have been involved in the budgetary process. Secondly, it shows that the Chambers and, as a matter of fact, the managers of the sector cannot craft a justice sector budget. It may not be unimaginable. Or thirdly, it shows that our litigious Attorney General intends to donate to the justice sector his gains from the numerous libel lawsuits he has filed, if he wins, of course, to improving and enhancing the sector.
There is a deafening silence on the following:
1. Enhancing the quality of judicial decisions;
2. Optimisation of the use of human material and financial resources;
3. Protection of the young and vulnerable when they become enveloped by the sector;
4. Focused financial investment and management of the Legal Aid programme;
5. Expansion of Legal Aid programme to new areas;
6. Improving the quota of attorneys and capacity building within the Legal Aid programme;
7. Drastically reducing the time it takes for victims to be compensated;
8. Curbing repetition of criminality by offenders;
9. Introduction of information technology (IT) and e-protocols throughout the sector;
10. Introduction of the judicial research assistant’s programme; and
11. Absence of any incentives for performance in the sector.
These are the things that are missing, Hon. Member Mr. Nandlall. You would not understand. I will email you my brief, sir.
These are the things APNU would have spent an additional $1 billion on to ensure that the system is truly accessible and strong.
Might I remind this honourable House that in 2013 I called the Minister of Finance’s bluff and here again in 2014 I have proven him a bad poker player. He bets big with a weak hand. He comes as a bearer of false promises and sautéed phrases and I will prove it to you, Your Honour. Hear what Dr. Ashni Singh stated:
“Our Government continues to place the highest priority on ensuring that our citizens have access to the justice system and that the system is strong and effective.”
That is stated on page 52, paragraph 4.119 of his Budget Speech.
As I have mentioned above, we cannot speak of access to justice without mentioning Legal Aid in the same breath. I must say that I have had a chance to talk to the Hon. Member, Ms. Webster, and she clarified certain things with regards to the Legal Aid.
Legal Aid will receive a paltry $44,087,000 in 2014. Do you know, Hon. Members, that in 2013 the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic was forced to reduce its complement of attorneys by two? What is incredible is that the casualties of this Administration’s lack of forward thinking were Ms. Thandiwe Benn, top student at the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS) for her year, Ms. Maritha Halley, who also won multiple prizes at Hugh Wooding Law School, and Justice Burch-Smith, who is respected by Bench and Bar throughout the Caribbean, were the casualties of not planning ahead.
Legal Aid submits a budget. Do you think it gets the actual amount? No. Its budget is reduced. How could we speak about getting justice for the poor – I see that Mr. Sharma has gone – when the progress, work and expansion of Legal Aid is stymied? The Government must be a caring government.
Ladies and gentlemen, do you know why sons and daughters of this great and bountiful paradise were let go? It was because pisa na bin deh ya. Every year, the same thing happens.
Noble brothers of this Tenth Parliament, the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic is the agency that was engineered to cater for the poor, but how can it care for the poor when the People Progressive Party/Civic refuses to cater for it and it, in turn, cannot cater for itself? It is no wonder that in our poorer circles, the PPP stands for “Punish Poor People” and if we were to add the C, the C would stand for “Continually”. [Ms. Manickchand: We started the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic.] I am glad Ms. Manickchand raised the point. Indeed, the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic was started by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic. Listen to the point I am making. It makes no sense to start something and cut it off half way. They have abandoned their own child. They have abandoned the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic. There is no claim now to say, “We did this and we did that.”
In 2013, the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic in Region 2 had a clientele of 376 persons – I am awaking you to realties, Mr. Minister. These are the realities. I am not making this up. Region 2 had 376 persons of which 205 were women and 171 were men. Further, 262 persons were advised and afforded representation. In 2013, the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic in Region 4 had a clientele of 1,985 persons of which 1,325 were women. In 2013, in Region 5 the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic had a clientele of 65 persons. In 2013, in Region 6 the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic had a clientele of 216 persons of which 148 were women and 68 were men. Between 1994 and 2014, the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic has seen a clientele of 27,909 persons of which 19,599 were women and 8,310 were men. This shows that our women benefit most from this facility.
The cases covered by the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic include adoption, custody and access of minors, division of property, divorce, domestic violence, personal injury, just to name a few. It is our women who attract these services and an APNU Government would ensure greater subventions. You are giving nothing. We would ensure they get a greater subvention. We would ensure a deeper partnership to ensure that the Legal Aid clinics are countrywide and their doors are kept open to the poor and vulnerable.
With your permission, may I remind this House that the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic is the bedrock upon which the noble ideal of access to justice rests and when the APNU is elected to Government, the Clinic in Georgetown would have its own building and similar clinics would extend to the other regions, whether or not there are regular sittings of the court in those regions.
Additionally, the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic will be made an organ of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, which my Colleague, Mr. Basil Williams, will head.
I come now to the third thrust of my presentation. Your Honour and Hon. Members, how can the Minister speak of a strong and effective system when judges are left without legal support staff? He is bluffing. Let me draw a comparison. Since 1996, Trinidad and Tobago started the Judges’ Research Assistants Programme. It is now called the Judicial Research Assistants Programme. It started with six such persons in the Supreme Court. In 2004, the service was extended to the Magistracy. If I may quote extensively from the project paper for its upgrade:
“With the proliferation of new legislation, the complexity and of modern litigation, and the attention of the public to their rights and obligation, judges critically need the help of well qualified persons to assist in the delivery of services. In the same way that a Senior Counsel in private chambers or the Director of Public Prosecutions utilizes services of Junior Counsel, in like manner Judges Research Assistants are critical to the work of the Judges and Magistrates. Whether it be the organization of case files and material, the researching of key legal arguments or legislation, the drafting of opinions, the preparations of Orders, or assistance during court sittings, the Judges Research Assistants sit at the Judges right hand, rendering invaluable service.”
We cannot speak of an increase in the complement of judges to reduce backlog without equipping them with the support staff they need to churn out decisions in a timely manner. This Peoples Progressive Party/Civic Administration is forever guilty of pouring new wine in old bottles. The Government can add 20 more judges to the 20 it has added to this derelict system and the system will still be bogged down by the problems that beset it initially. As a matter of fact, it would get worse. Twenty judges cannot service a population of 750,000. That is a mere three judges for every 100,000 Guyanese. A more feasible quota would be 5 judges per 100,000 Guyanese and that is my demand. It is that the quota of judges be increased to 35 judges to efficiently serve the three counties. I demand, on behalf of our judges and magistrates, research assistants. I demand that a study be undertaken and completed within six months and its implementation immediately thereafter. I demand for these assistants comparative salaries with other Caribbean jurisdictions. In Trinidad, they are paid a salary of TT$10,000 plus TT$2,000 transportation allowance – that is TT$12,000 per month – and they are also given duty free concession. These are the steps to be taken if the Government is really interested in helping our judges and reforming our sector.
Mr. Speaker: You have five minutes within which to wrap up, Mr. Bond.
Mr. Bond: Thank you, Sir. These are the concessions which any caring administration and which the APNU, when it gets into government, will certainly make for our judges and magistrates.
I also demand that our judges and magistrates be allowed to take notes on their laptops whilst they wait, I do hope not in vain, for the day when the voice recognition system will be the order of the day, which is by far a speedier process than note taking and problems such as legibility are eradicated. I have heard complaints from judges that they were told they cannot use their laptops. They still have to write notes. They are forbidden from using their laptops. It is so backward!
Mr. Speaker: With respect though, Mr. Bond, the law is that they must write.
Mr. Bond: The law could be changed, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: I know, but I need to defend the judges because they are not here. The law mandates them to take the notes in written form.
Mr. Bond: It is a law that is archaic.
Mr. Speaker: Agreed, you have made that point, but the way it came over is as if they are not complying with some modern technology. Go ahead.
Mr. Bond: Yet, with all we have said, Hon. Member Dr. Persaud asked, “What is wrong with you?” Mr. Damon asked, “Are you out of your mind?” Dr. Ramsaran asked, “What is wrong with you people?” Nothing is wrong with us. We are not out of our minds. But if we were to leave you to your own devices and allow you to run this country like your own cake shop, a lot will go wrong with us. We would definitely go stark raving mad.
Last year, the Government overwhelmed us with their Guyana dream; now they have graduated to a vision. I tell you this much, to quote a 16th Century English Proverb, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
I consider strange the words spewed by the Junior Minister of Finance:, “I am proud that he, (Dr. Singh) is my boss.” He was rightly corrected by Dr. Singh, who said that they are colleagues. That is commendable of you, Dr. Singh, because “yes boss” and “yes massa” are for a time when Africans were slaves and oppressed. The rambunctious “Junior” would do well to reserve his pride for the day when his Ministry delivers a budget that truly delivers a better Guyana. To assist in redesigning this Member’s psyche, I propose that that his title be changed from Junior Minister of Finance to Minister within the Ministry of Finance. He would not be able to call him his boss. The Hon. Member was right to correct him. He is a good man.
I also consider flippant the oft used lines of the PPP: “we know what the problems are”. Some Members used the word “challenges” instead of “problems”. This line is a favourite of Mr. Hamilton, Dr. Webster, Dr. Westford, Dr. Ramsaran, Mrs. Sukhai, Bishop Edghill and Dr. Ramsammy. They all have said it. “We know what the problems are”; “we know what the challenges are.” What we need is not your knowledge of the problems; what we need is the truth. We do not need you to patronise the plight. What we need is a thorough investigation of the problems and challenges you say you know exist. What we also need for you to do is to fix those problems and challenges and put mechanisms and policies in place to prevent their recurrence.
This is my conclusion, Mr. Speaker. I am always slow to criticise but I will tell the Guyanese people in all honesty that Budget 2014’s vision for the justice sector is primitive. It is crustacean. Laced with ad hoc policies and goals, it deceives the naked eye but on closer inspection it is found wanting. This sector is too important to be toyed with and that is exactly what this Budget does. Last year, the Budget was $2.1 billion. This year, it is $1.8 billion. In 2012, it was $2 billion. This year, it is $1.8 billion. How could you say you love the sector and give it less money in 2014?
A good budget for the judicial service sector must be measured by one thing and that is performance. There are absolutely no incentives today for judges and magistrates to perform above and beyond the call of duty. By not addressing the output and inputs of the justice sector, the PPP/C Administration cannot address the needs of the sector. It cannot address wages and salaries. It cannot address effective delivery of a professional service at the registries and sub registries. It cannot address a penetrable system where missing files are the order of the day - 850 went missing in 2010. It cannot address speedy delivery of justice and cannot make justice more accessible.
The performance indicators listed in Volume 2 of the Estimates are vacuous and, further, I posit that some of the indicators are not compatible with strategies employed nor the overarching goal of quality efficient service delivery.
If I may conclude with the words from the English poet, historian and politician, Thomas Babington Macaulay, he states:
“Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, that you may preserve!”
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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