Budget Debate 20133613 09 Apr, 2013
Dr. Singh (replying): Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. Permit me, in particular, to thank Mr. Nagamootoo for offering on this occasion to correct erroneous, as he described the numbers he tendered last evening. Permit me also to thank him for choosing this fortuitous opportunity to offer that correction. He must know that I have a particular preference for speaking immediately after he has spoken.
Let me say that it was in fact my intention to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the Hon. Mr. Nagamootoo has once again presented before this House, numbers that, well by his own admission today, were erroneous. That had they not been corrected - and I thank him for making the correction today - would have created an incorrect impression.
If I may pause for a few minutes to address a few other matters that Mr. Nagamootoo spoke of, in particular, as they relate to numbers. Mr. Nagamootoo alluded yesterday to the matter of the Public Debt of Guyana, a matter for which he appears to have acquired a particular affinity, even if not competence. He in particular drew attention, once again, to an observation that in nominal Guyana dollar terms, the total public debt of Guyana in 2012 was greater than it was in nominal Guyana dollar terms in 1992. He, in particular, made reference to an answer I tendered to a question he so kindly asked. The answers to which were, in fact, already in the public domain in various documents. I had no difficulty answering the question in the finite defined space offered, by the opportunity of his question. It said, “Guyana dollar Public Debt increased from $263 billion in 1992 to $355 billion in 2012,” numbers which Mr. Nagamootoo correctly said I supplied to this House and numbers by which I firmly stand.
He draws from those numbers the conclusion that Guyana is therefore more indebted now than it was in 1992. It goes without saying that the extent of one’s indebtedness could scarcely be measured solely by the nominal amount that one owes in isolation from the nominal amount that one owns as distinct from owes, that is one’s assets base and the amounts that one earns. In other words, you could not possibly compare two entities, one of which has total debts of $1 billion and the other that has debts of $1.1 billion. If the former has assets of $100 million - so the one that owes $1 billion has assets of $100 billion, whereas the one that owes $1.1 billion has assets of $1 trillion - then you could scarcely say that the one that owes total debts of $1.1 billion is more indebted than the one that is much poorer and has an almost equivalent total indebtedness.
This is something that we face in day to day life, if you are comparing two persons or yourself at two points in time. I may have had total debts of $100,000 when I was a teenager at a time when I had no income. I may now owe $200,000 at a time when I have an income that quite comfortably can service this indebtedness and I may have an asset base that might more than adequately cover my indebtedness. In which case, you could closely look solely at my nominal indebtedness and conclude that I am more indebted today, than I was when I was a teenager.
The facts of the matter are that during the period 1992-2012 - and I will go straight to the summary, rather than dilate on the details - while Guyana’s Public Debt, denominated in Guyana dollars, increase by 35% - nominal debt in Guyana dollars increased by 35%. Our revenue increased by 666% and our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increase by 1,147%. In other words, we are merely 35% more indebted than we were 20 years ago, [Mr. Nadir: We are 600 times richer.] We are 600 times or whatever the numbers might be, richer, both in terms of our assets. In fact, if you were to convert these numbers into United States dollars, which because most of these debts are denominated in United States dollars is perhaps a more relevant currency. Guyana’s external debt from the period 1992-2012 declined by 19% in US dollars nominal terms, not adjusting for inflation and so on. We owe 19% less in US dollars than we did in 1992. The percentage change in our Government revenue is 368% increase and our GDP has increased by 664% over the same period. Whilst, in US dollars nominal terms, our indebtedness has declined, our revenues have increased by 368% and our Gross Domestic Product has increased by 664%.
This, I do not believe, is an overly complicated presentation on this matter. Whilst I understand that the matter has obvious political appeal to Mr. Nagamootoo, I would call on him to assimilate these facts in the most objective manner possible and put this matter to rest. It is simply misleading to say Guyana is more indebted now than we were 20 years ago. Through you Sir, I urge Mr. Nagamootoo to take these facts before him, I would have happy to share these numbers with him and indeed to spend some time going through them with him, so that this misinterpretation on his part can be retired and put to rest once and for all. Like I said I do not believe that this is a particularly complex matter to grasp.
Mr. Nagamootoo also made reference to a table provided in the National Estimates yesterday - well he cited a number and he has since circulated the table and for this I thank him too, he said identifying the total liabilities of Public Corporations, but the specific detail or the specific legion is “Outstanding loans and credits contracted by the Government of Guyana and utilised by Public Corporations”. Those total US$264 million, giving us a total, when you take into account loans and credits contracted by Public Corporations you get the US$282 million equivalent to the $57 billion Mr. Nagamootoo spoke of.
Let me say first of all and again I will be happy to spend some time with Mr. Nagamootoo or indeed any other Member of Parliament, to go through the details. This does not represent total liabilities of Public Corporations. In fact, the accompanying table, there is an Appendix NA attached to the Estimates, on page 496 of volume 1 of the National Estimates lists what these liabilities are. They are predominately in relations to two entities, which should come as no surprise to this House. In fact, this is public information and not another discovery on the part of Mr. Nagamootoo. They comprise essentially loans contracted by the Government of Guyana and utilised by or un-lent to either the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. or the Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL). The overwhelming majority of that amount, of which the details are in the table, again I will not detain this House unduly on the details, but Appendix NA, which has been presented to this House as part of these Estimates, in keeping with our Government’s commitment to openness and transparency, these details are all abundantly provided in the Estimates. That amount to which Mr. Nagamootoo referred, in fact is not a new discovery or new loans contracted, but are old loans contracted, particularly in relations to sugar and electricity, in particularly as it relates to sugar, the Skeldon Sugar Factory.
If I might, very briefly, digress also to a comment made and it is not my intention to spend too long on these matters. Much was made about reference to animals and who has called whom which animals. Examples were cited about our four legged friends, I do not what to repeat it, but I do not think it is un-parliamentary to say donkey or any of its synonyms. But much was made about who called whom donkey or like I said one or another of that animal’s synonyms. When the fuss and hullabaloo first emerged on this matter, my memory wondered immediately to an article that I had read in the November, 29th, 2012 Kaieteur News, one of Mr. Nagamootoo’s preferred newspapers, headlined, “Standoff between Opposition and Government; we want to break the gridlock – says Moses Nagamootoo.” In that article, Mr. Nagamootoo is quoted as referring to the PPP/C foisting its paramountcy over the State media, etc, in his opinion. He then goes on to speak of what is seen in Guyana as the “Donald Duck Doctrine”.
If Mr. Nagamootoo believes that he enjoys the latitude to refer to someone, I am not sure who he was referring to as “Donald Duck”, but one can make a reasonably good speculation on he might be referring to as the “Donald Duck Doctrine”. I rather suspect that the inevitable conclusion, setting aside ducks, donkeys, et cetera the inevitable conclusion is, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander” and if you want to enter the mud you must be prepared to get you feet and at least you fingers dirty. Mr. Nagamootoo does not enjoy a monopoly right on calling people names or attributing animal names to them.
I thought that I will digress very momentarily on that matter; moving swiftly on. I will return in due course to some of the other observations made by Mr. Nagamootoo in his most recent presentation and in indeed those made by the Leader of the Opposition. Permit me to thank all of my colleagues on this side of the House who spoke during the course of the debate on the Budget 2013 and who so abundantly and eloquently made the already compelling case in favour of this very important exposition of Government policy and Government projects and programmes.
I recall with pride and satisfaction, the many presentations made, like I said by my Colleagues on this side of the House. While I am loath to single out any particular presentation, I recall Ministerial Colleagues, like Ms. Priya Manickchand speaking so passionately and energetically about the hard work that she and her technical staff are doing, in particular, in relations to such matters as the eminent achievement of Universal Secondary Education. I remember her speaking about the huge difference that a single boat going into a riverine community would make in aiding the accomplishment of this lofty, but eminently attainable goal of Universal Secondary Education that we set ourselves.
I recall her speaking passionately about technical and vocational education as an alternative path way, particularly for our young people and of our efforts to increase access and improve relevance of the training that we offer. I recall my regional Members of Parliament (MP] Colleagues, particularly those from the Regions. Like MP, Damon from Region No.2, who was a former National Democratic Council (NDC) chairman and is now a distinguish Member of Parliament. He spoke so excitedly about the phenomenal changes which are taking place under the People’s Progressive Party Civic Government in his Region. He spoke excitedly about the transformation that is taking place in rice industry; he spoke of the Government’s investment in drainage and irrigation; he spoke of how Government’s investment in transport infrastructure have in fact transformed and dramatically reduced travel times. In fact, I saw the personal satisfaction in his face and in his eyes, as he spoke of the reduction of the travel time from Parika to Supenaam, from five hours, I believe it was he said, to a mere two hours.
Only to name a few examples and like I said I recognise the perils of selecting one or two examples when there was such an abundance of outstanding contributions, as it relates to elaborating both what was happening and what is happening. The exciting changes that are taking place in our country and also the relevance and importance of the policies and intervention contained in Budget 2013.
To my Colleagues on the opposite side of the House, I thank you also for enriching the debate on budget 2013. I will say that many of you made productive suggestions and as have been said by some who have spoken before me, we saw this in particular as it related to regional MP’s who evidently had intimate familiarity with what was happening in their regions, brought very specific concerns, many of which we relate to and all of which, in the case of the concerns, we are committed to addressing.
Once again, I recognise the peril of singling out a particular contribution. In the wee hours, I suppose one says wee hours when one speaks of the morning, in the closing hours of last night, in fact in the last hours, in the last minutes of our proceeding last evening, we had what I would consider one of the most refreshing contributions to this debate from Region No.3 Member of Parliament, Mr. John Adams. Who spoke with such frankness and candour about the positive things that are happening in his region that I feared when I saw his Chief Whip turned and looked at him with the scowl that she had on her face; a scowl of disapproval, as if he was not permitted to acknowledge that positive things were happening in Guyana. I really do hope that he does not pay the price for his frankness last night.
His was a refreshing contribution and I must confess that I would have been pleased. I believe that this debate would have been considerably enriched if there was more of that coming from that side of the House. Indeed, just as there is the call that those of us on this side of the House must not say that all is good and perfect in Guyana, equally, if we are to have a frank and honest exchange, then my friends on that side of the House have an equal responsibility not to paint the patently false picture that all is dismal and bad in Guyana. That in fact is equally in fact perhaps even more so an inaccurate picture of what the state of our country is.
I found it particularly interesting that throughout the course of the presentations made by my friends on that side of the House, apart from the well trodden topics all of which are known to us, there was very little said about what was specifically contained in the Budget. In particular, rare was the occasion of any acknowledgement whatsoever; of any agreement of the slightest shred of agreement with anything at all contained in Budget 2013. In fact, one could not help getting the inescapable conclusion listening to my friends on that side of the House that they saw nothing in the Budget that they considered of relevance, of use or of benefit to Guyana. Indeed, in no place or at no point in this Budget Debate was this better illustrated by the two lead presentations from the Opposite side of the House, during the course of today. Mr. Ramjattan perhaps inadvertently alluded to what the real root of the problem is, when he said and I hope not prophetically, that this Budget is going to have troubles because our politics have troubles. I took notes; I was careful enough to write those words down as he said them.
Surely, we should be able in this House, particularly, as we “pat” ourselves on the back for being on the verge of what is or perhaps even beyond the verge of what is often described as the New Dispensation. Surely we must be able to set politics aside and agree on some things even if partisans politics; even if the competition for political space beholds us not to agree or praise overtly. Surely we must, as I invited my Colleagues in the Budget Speech, be able to be guided ultimately by that which is good for Guyana.
Even if we are in a political contest for space, surely we must be able to set that aside and exercise our expressed views and our vote, guided, like I said in the Budget Speech, by that which is good for Guyana.
I was particularly disappointed when I heard the Leader of the Opposition use language, which I would say was uncharacteristically caustic coming from him. Coming from some Members on his side, I might now have been surprised, but coming from the distinguished Leader of the Opposition, such extreme and caustic language, frankly speaking, disappointed me and took me by surprise.
I will say that I would not have expected the distinguished Leader of the Opposition to have used language such as, “A cardboard budget painted over”. I would return to this matter, but just to mention, “A cardboard budget painted over to look like concrete; as having no philosophy, no imagination, and no creativity. Worst yet, as worst as a mistake, a blunder and as oppressive...” Once again, the Leader of the Opposition, a distinguished Guyanese, a man with vast experience, even as a Member who is new to this House, a person for whom I have great respect , is indeed a person from whom I would have expected a little bit more balance. Not least because, if one peruses the very manifesto with which he and his partnership went to the people of Guyana in November, 2011, one finds - it was a little bit difficult to find substantive polices in the Manifesto, but I found a few. In particular, I found a few initiatives, even if you want to set aside the grand polices. I found, in fact, a number of interesting references to a number of initiatives and objective statements in his Manifesto. I will mention some of them. We read your Manifesto, we are guided by what you think is important. That is a form of listening. We listen to what you say publicly. We read your written submissions. We listen to your pronouncements in meetings and at all other public forums. If we were to be guided by this undertaking that you gave to the people of Guyana in November, 2011, one would see a number of very interesting references.
If we take for example, economic transformation, there is reference to enlarging the size and scope of education and training institutions to prepare young people with the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for individual and collective development. There is reference to improving the efficiency of Government and reducing the bureaucratic red tape. There is reference to specialise training programmes and a separate and dedicated training institution for the Tourism and Hospitality Industry. There is reference to expansion and diversification of the agricultural based, to ensure a greater degree of food security and realising the long standing goal of becoming the food basket of the Caribbean. There is reference to facilitating affordable access to credit for individuals and groups. There is a large section on information and communications technology and I thought, perhaps for a minute I should pause and read some of this section.
“APNU is convinced that only via an all pervasive and ultra high speed broadband network will Guyana be ready to embrace and fully exploit the boundless opportunities that an ICT enabled future presents.”
It seems to me that in writing this manifesto, APNU had a prelude of the PPP/C’s 2013 Budget, except that they seem to have abandoned the promises they made to the people of Guyana. If one continues:
“Major infrastructural investment is a critical necessity to spur the development of a new knowledge based sector. This will act as a catalyst in developing and deploying innovative interactive digital services to homes, schools and businesses.”
On Information and Communications Technology (ICT) furthermore, they speak of legal and regulatory frameworks, human resources development, and industrial use of ICT to create an enabling and conducive environment.
Government is an active participant and user of ICT. Does it sound familiar, Mr. Speaker? Perhaps I should turn to the relevant section in Budget 2013, the “PPP Budget” that is cardboard and empty and has no vision and has no philosophy, but so closely resembles, in so many elements, the very promises that you made to the people of Guyana and that you have now shamelessly abandoned.
I have been, on previous occasions, accused of being less than magnanimous at the close of a budget debate. Even if the last speaker on the Opposition side wanted to be critical and did not see it fit to be magnanimous and did not think that we were deserving of any magnanimity at all, at the very least, I would have expected some honesty and acknowledgement that there are some initiatives that the APNU, themselves, promised to the people of Guyana and that the PPP is now delivering to the people of Guyana, at the very least. To do otherwise is nothing less than an attempt to hoodwink the people of Guyana; to say, “We do not agree with any of this. Forget the fact that these were the very things that we were promising you in 2011”.
Much the same... [Interruption] Yes, I have it here. In fact, much the same is to be said of the AFC Manifesto and, for completeness, notwithstanding your own most recent political affiliations, permit me, Sir, to make a few references to the AFC Manifesto; I think that it was called an Action Plan: Upgrading of technical schools for vocational training and creating job placement programmes. These are things that we heard you say that you believe that these things are important. We listen to you and we are doing them and, at the very least, there should be a willingness to acknowledge that instead of saying, “you do not ever listen to us”, “you do not ever accept any ideas or suggestions”, “you only do your own thing’”, “you do not consult”. What better example is there than the abundant examples of things that these very parties promised the people of Guyana and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, of course, we did not agree with all that was said in the manifestos and to the extent that there were overlaps we have delivered them. Let us take for example, of course, that which is good we will do. When it is good for Guyana the PPP will do it and we have no apology to offer for that. We would not refuse to do it simply because you suggested it. Unlike the Opposition who would cut the budget simply because the PPP suggested it. We would not refuse the people of Guyana the benefits of ICT simply because the idea came from other there; unlike the Opposition who would cut the budget simply because the budget came from the PPP. We would not obstruct a piece of legislation simply because the Minister happens to be Mr. Clement James Rohee and then go outside and say, “We believe this bill is good for Guyana but we will bring it back. The problem is the messenger”. This PPP/C Government says to the people of Guyana, “Wherever the idea comes from, if it is good for Guyana, we will do it for Guyana.” We have absolutely no apology to offer for that.
Much the same is to be said about the AFC Manifesto – grants to eligible youths for micro credit, apprenticeship schemes for graduates from technical institutes, free lunches. During the course of the budget debate our school feeding programme was disparaged. Do you know what? On page 12 of the AFC’s Action Plan, bullet No.8 says “free lunch for all children in primary school” but yet I did not hear the AFC say, “We are glad that you took this idea onboard and even if we do not agree with anything else, we agree with the free lunches because we promised a free lunch”. I do not want to get into whether there exists a free chowmein and a free lunch and so on. I know that there has been a lot of public commentary, speculation and satire on whether there exists a free chowmein and a free lunch and so on; with no intension of ethnic preference or profiling in any way.
Mr. Speaker, permit me to say that even if the AFC said that they did not like anything else in the Budget, if they wanted to be honest about Budget 2013, they should have said, “The $1 billion there for school feeding programme, we are glad that you took that idea and you listened to us and you have implemented a school feeding programme”. That would have augured well for a frank and honest debate but they did not do that because their philosophy is to oppose for opposing sake because it comes from the PPP even if two years ago it was something that they, themselves, said that they would do. I shudder to think whether that is a reflection of how quickly they would abandon their promises and commitments to the people of Guyana.
If one were to look at taxation policy... [Mr. Nagamootoo: You will win the debate but you will lose the war.] Of course, because we do not have the numbers so this is not about merit. Mr. Nagamootoo says that we will win the debate but we will lose the... [Government side in unison: ...war.] I am glad first of all, Sir, that you acknowledge that we are wining the debate. I do not think that that was in doubt. Long before I started speaking we won the debate, but put that aside for a moment. Mr. Nagamootoo is acknowledging that we might win the debate on the merits of our arguments but we will lose the war because of our one-seat majority. What a confession. Let us examine taxation policy. Let us examine page 13. You may say, “I do not agree with the PPP’s taxation policy”. You may say, “I do not understand the PPP’s taxation policy”. You may say that I would do the following differently, but for you to either completely ignore taxation policy and ignore, in particular, your own bullets five and six under what you describe as taxation policy. Let me just read bullets five and six on page 13 of the AFC Action Plan. Let me just take bullet six first:
“Increase the PAYE tax free threshold from$40,000 to $50,000”
Sounds familiar? It was done by the PPP. Whether it was suggested by the AFC or the APNU or the PPP the PPP did it for Guyana. We did not refuse to do it last year because the suggestion came from the AFC. We did it because we believe that it is good for Guyana. Let us read bullet five:
“Reduce income tax from 33.3% to 25% by the end of our first term”
The terms are usually five years, the last time I checked – a reduction from 33.3% to 25% over a five-year period. We reduced in one year, from 33.3% to 30% but not a word of acknowledgement from the AFC. At the very least, if the AFC was interested in an honest and frank and candid debate, then at the very least, they should have said, “This represents a first step...” admittedly, they might have said that it represents a giant leap because it was almost half of what they were asking for but at the very least they would have acknowledged the phenomenal step taken by the PPP in Government to deliver a promise that they are incapable of delivering to the people of Guyana.
We heard references to flagship projects. I believed that they were described as lumpy projects and I understand what Mr. Greenidge means by those things; they are relatively large capital projects and I think that he also called them prestige projects. I suspect here that he is probably referring to the Amaila Falls Project. He is probably referring to the Marriot Hotel. He is perhaps referring to the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. Let me say that it is recognised throughout the world that the surest way to catalyse transformative change in an economies such as ours is investment in infrastructure. In fact there exists an abundance of references from the development literature that I can quote and I will only select a few. I will quote here from a World Bank press release but again, like I said, I have several publications from which I can quote but I do not want to detain the House unduly. If I were to quote, for example, from the World Bank press release dated 14th January, 2013, the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim said as follows, the press release is headed up:
“World Bank urges developing countries to safeguard economic growth as the road ahead remains bumpy.”
The World bank President is quoted as saying the following:
“The economic recovery remains fragile and uncertain, clouding the prospect for rapid improvement and return to more robust economic growth. Developing countries have remained remarkably resilient thus far but we cannot wait for a return to high growth in high-income countries so we have to continue to support developing countries...”
I should probably pause and read that more slowly.
“...so we have to continue to support developing countries in making investments in infrastructure, in particular, in health and education. This will set the stage for the stronger growth that we know they can achieve in the future.”
In the entire article there is a succession of quotations there that speak of the role that social and physical infrastructure can play in catalysing economic growth and improving social conditions.
If I were to read from the 2006 OECD publication promoting pro-poor growth, this publication speaks of the merits of investment and infrastructure as a catalyst of pro-poor growth and interestingly enough, on page 13, it identifies or describes what it called application of the principles by sector having outlined a series of principles for investment and infrastructure with the aim of achieving pro-poor growth and under the section entitled Applying The Principle by Sector I will just highlight a few of the main chapeaux, firstly and I quote:
“Transport facilitates access to economic and social services and enhances the production and trade potential of local, national and regional economies.”
Does that sound familiar, Sir? This is not the PPP. This is not the Government. This is the OECD.
“Reliable, modern energy services are essential for raising growth and productivity and improving the livelihoods of poor people.”
Does that sound familiar, Sir, reliable energy?
“Information and communication technology increases the efficiency of a wide range of efforts...”
Does that sound familiar, Sir?
“Despite the importance of water resources, including for drinking water...”
Does that sound familiar, Sir?
Once again the remarkable alignment, it has several bullets. I am not going to read the whole of the book. A brief reference, even the most cursory of references to this OECD seminal publication would identify the very glaring and striking alignment between some of the infrastructural priorities that are identified as promoting pro-poor growth and the priorities identified by this Government of Guyana. The list, like I said, goes on.
Much ado has been made of the Marriot project and this project has engaged the attention of this House on so many occasions. Suffice it to say that I do not believe that any objective, right-minded Guyanese person could argue with the objective of reliable, more affordable and more environmentally friendly electric energy being harnessed for our country and this is, in essence, what Amaila does. I think Minister Ramsammy it was who said it so well when he spoke of the many examples – I think that he was referring to the crony comment – and he was speaking of the thousands of Guyanese who stand to benefit from these investments; the thousands of Guyanese businesses that would benefit from more affordable electricity, the thousand of Guyanese companies that will no longer have to invest in redundant backup power because the electricity supply on the grid would be reliable, the tens of thousands of jobs that will be created for young Guyanese throughout the length and breadth of our country, the hundreds of thousands of Guyanese homes that would benefit now from a more reliable supply of electricity and from a more affordable supply of electricity. These are the people that will benefit from Amaila. It is easy. We can argue, debate and scrutinise the details of the project and we have absolutely no detail with that. No less a person than the President has invited the Leader of the Opposition and a delegation and, to his credit, the Leader of the Opposition attended, I believe, the first meeting himself and sent a delegation to the second meeting and the President said – he attended both meetings, both the one that the Leader of the Opposition was able to attend and the other one which the Opposition Leader was not able to attend – on both of those occasions, “We are willing to answer any question on this project. We are willing to supply and share with you any level of detail. If there is a document that is subject to confidentiality clauses...” In fact, I think that that was even said in a written answer that I tabled in this House. “If there is a document or an agreement that is subject to confidentiality clauses we are willing to share with your team in camera, the details of those agreements subject to their agreeing to the protection of the confidential information [which I do not anticipate would be a problem on your side.]”
We have said that we are willing to subject... We want a good project to be implemented in Guyana and we have submitted the project for the ultimate degree of scrutiny by the Opposition. The President at the first presentation said, “take the presentations away”. In fact, I believe, at the second presentation Mr. Harmon asked ‘Will we get copies of the presentation?’ He said, “We brought copies to give to you. Take the presentations away, study them...” The President actually said, “We know that you may not have all of your technical experts here, consult with them. Get back to us with any questions you have. We are willing to answer them”. Such is our commitment to openness and transparency and subjecting ourselves to scrutiny but to simply say “the project is not good, abandon it” when there is no obvious alternative in our country... Let me say clearly that the stymieing of this project could very well lead to Guyana having to wait another generation. We have waited long enough for hydropower to be harnessed for the benefit of our country and stymieing this project and frustrating it to abandonment will only serve the result of another generation of Guyanese being denied the benefit of hydropower. I would say to the Opposition, “Subject the project to scrutiny”. Work with us to make it a better project but do not frustrate the project and try to derail it. That is not a position that is consistent with nationalism, patriotism. That is not a position that is consistent with a party or parties that are supposed to be working in the national interests. We maintain that we are willing to subject this project to scrutiny. I see that they are getting a little bit agitated which means that the point is driving home.
Let us take the Marriot project. [Interruption by Mr. Nagamootoo] Much is being made. I hear Mr. Nagamootoo hurling all manner of insults. I hear that he is calling me traitor. [Mr. Nagamootoo: No, you [inaudible]] I am sorry. I did not realise. I did not realise that that was what you are referring to. [Interruption by Mr. Nagamootoo]
My final word on that matter for the time being would be to thank Mr. Nagamootoo for the unequivocal statement that the Alliance For Change – I do not know if he was speaking for the entire Opposition – and hopefully the APNU too are supportive of the Amaila Falls, I am happy and appreciative. I am happy for and appreciative of that clarification and I reiterate our availability and wiliness to subject the project to any degree of scrutiny or even greater scrutiny as I am corrected by my colleague, the Attorney General.
If we were to take the Marriot project, the same applies here. We have time and time again said that we have no difficulty, as we have done with the Amaila Falls project, subjecting the Marriot project to scrutiny. The fact of the matter is that for too long our country has been a country touted for its remarkable tourism potential but a potential that has remained unrealised, un-materialised and if we are indeed to realise that potential certain critical pieces of infrastructure are necessary to be in place. It is not unusual for countries, for Governments, to invest in infrastructure to catalyse growth in particularly important sectors. In fact we do not have to look particularly far. Look only to Trinidad and Tobago, our sister CARICOM country, where if I were to quote from the Trinidad and Tobago Export Directory: “The Trinidad and Tobago Government speaks of its billion-dollar investment in the Waterfront Redevelopment Project which includes a world-class hotel and conference centre...” Here of course I refer to the Hyatt Regency which is such an impressive tourism and conference facility that is so familiar to so many of us in Guyana; indeed a flagship piece of infrastructure throughout the Caribbean. For those who do not know, the Hyatt Regency in Trinidad is a government investment in tourism infrastructure.
Indeed if one goes to the Bahamas – the Bahamas, itself, many years ago recognised the lacuna that existed for infrastructure – invested, government investment, in hotels that included, I am advised, the Ambassador Beach Hotel, the Royal Bahamian Hotel, the Winding Bay Resort, the Lucaya Bay Hotel, the Lucaya Beach Resort, the Grand Bahama Beach Hotel; all, at one point or another were government-owned hotels; infrastructure built by the government of Bahamas in order to launch, to give birth to, to catalyse a tourism industry that today has become world renowned. The Bahamas did it. Trinidad and Tobago did it. Barbados did it and so many other countries in the Caribbean. To use those famous words, words first uttered in this House by my distinguished colleague the Attorney General, “What is wrong with that, Sir?” What is wrong with the Government of Guyana investing in an important catalytic piece of infrastructure such as the Marriot Hotel which inevitably, as has been said umpteen times, will raise the bar of the hospitality industry many times over and will serve as an extremely valuable addition to the critical infrastructure stock that is required for a tourism industry to be given birth to. [Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Is the Government building the Marriot?] We have already said that we are developing the Marriot under a public/private partnership. A public/private partnership involves Government investment.
I listened from the first day of the debate to contributions made by my colleagues on that side of the House and, speaker after speaker, I waited for a substantial departure from the overworked themes – the Amaila, the Marriot, corruption – which are themes that we have heard many time over. In fact, if anybody were to be accused of cut and paste I would suggest that some of those presentations where the themes were exactly the same and the arguments in fact were the same I think... If anybody were to be accused of cut and paste it would be some of my colleagues on that side of the House.
I think that this was unfortunate because I really do believe that with the benefit of experience in this House, and I really do believe that with the contents of Budget 2013, I really do believe that with the facts before us – the fact that there was so much in Budget 2013 that was actually recommended by the other side of the House – a really golden opportunity was lost. Instead we heard such extreme statements. I spoke of the Oppositions remarks today. I did not speak of his reference on the first day of the presentation of the budget when he spoke of the budget being blank and vacant – I suppose similar to the cardboard theme – and when Mr. Ramjattan spoke of the budget as a joke and Mr. Nagamootoo spoke of a bleak budget that has been spliced up. I suspect that he might have meant “spiced up”; the journalist may have misquoted him there but the article says “spliced up a little bit like a kite with some frills”.
A budget that brings tax relief to more than 100,000 tax payers, a budget that brings a school feeding meal to tens of thousands of school children, a budget that will bring ICT into almost every home in Guyana, even if you do not agree with everything, Sir. Frankly, I would have been rather surprised if my friends on that side of the House expressed agreement with everything. I think I would have been ambitious to expect agreement with everything, but “bland and vacant joke and bleak budget.”
Nobody in Guyana believes what was said by the Opposition. Nobody in Guyana shares those views. The distinguished Attorney General said it. He said the only people who opposed Budget 2013 are the 33 Members sitting on that side of the House. [Mr. R. Persaud: It is 32 today] Is it 32? It is 32 today. The fact of the matter is that even if the Opposition felt constrained not to say it agrees with everything and we would have been willing and unsurprised at the very least an acknowledgement that there were some things in the budget. Our colleagues, on that side of the House, are not only at variance with us, on this side of the House, on the matter of Budge 2013. The fact of the matter is that they are standing in a very lonely place far removed from the views of the people of Guyana. Let us look at what the organised stakeholders had to say. [Interruption]
The Private Sector Commission (PSC), the organised private sector body in Guyana, legitimately and properly elected to represent all of the private sector, placed on the public record its appreciation of the recognition given to the PSC submissions in relation to Budget 2013. In fact the headlines states, “Private Sector Commission and Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) pleased with budget”.
Another headline states, “Private Sector gives 2013 Budget thumbs up, includes measures to stem brain drain”.
Another state, “PSC happy with 2013 Budget”.
The private sector does not exist for them. The only opinions that matters to the Opposition are its own. The Private Sector Commission and FITUG are not stakeholders to be listened to. In fact you can hear the dismissive comments, right now, as I quote from the Private Sector Commission and the FITUG, which represents hundreds of thousands of Guyanese workers, and all the Opposition can do is to be dismissive of these stakeholders. These are the investors that are expanding and growing their business and creating jobs. These are the workers who, everyday, go to work in the fields and farms and in the mines and in the offices - growing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
I can hear much rabble emerging from that side of the House.
Once again, I would say this that we in the PPP do not expect the Opposition to agree with everything we say. I will say that to dismiss out of hand the views expressed by legitimate stakeholders, such as the PSC and FITUG, is designed to ignore an important stakeholder. In fact, the public commentary and response were overwhelming, not only from the Private Sector Commission, not only from FITUG, but from every stakeholder group. The Office of the President, in fact, organised a large stakeholder forum at which more than 100 stakeholder, in civil society, representatives attended and a number of those stakeholders publicly said, and are on public record saying, that “We welcome Budget 2013”.
In much the same manner the Opposition, throughout the course of this debate, painted a picture of doom and gloom. The Hon. Leader of the Opposition said that Guyana is bleeding. I would say this: We would be the last to say that all is perfect in Guyana and there are not things that needs to be fixed. Every day we, in the Cabinet under President Ramotar’s directions, wrestle with the reality that there are challenges to be overcome; there are to be fixed. There are things that we would like to see done better and quickly, and more efficiently. Some of them we succeed with and others we are still struggling with. We would be the last to say that all is well and perfect. In fact, we have always said that our work is not complete. When the Opposition paints a picture of uninterrupted doom and gloom the people of Guyana know that that is not the Guyana the Members live in. If they look at the commentary by the business community… If they do not want to listen… Let us say that they do not want to listen to the Private Sector Commission, they do not want to FITUG, let them listen to what individual companies have been saying about Guyana.
Santa Fe, an investment by one of the Caribbean’s largest and most successful entrepreneurs based in Barbados…. [Mr. B Williams: What is his name?] The principal of Santa Fe is a gentleman by the name of Sir Kyffin Simpson. [Mr. B. Williams: Were you there?] I know that you are excited by your recent escapade in Lethem. I can understand, because you have not stopped speaking about it since. If I did not believe better I would have thought it was the first time you have ever been to Region 9.
Santé Fe, a mega farm project undertaken by the Simpson Group of Companies in Barbados, is a project, which is currently under cultivation, that will catalyse a phenomenal revolution in agricultural technology in Guyana. We have not seen anything such as it in Guyana. This is a part of the transformation of which we speak. If I might move the story is replicated in every sector. [Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: So he agreed with your budget?] This is an investor responding to the investment and environment created by the PPP/C Government. This is a large international investor responding to a favourable policy environment established by the PPP/C in Government. It represents private sector led growth in Guyana under the PPP/C. That is what it represents, Mr. Harmon. You may not be able to recognise it because it is a private sector led growth and it might comes as an alien to you. It does not have to be in my budget. Do you know what is in our budget? Our budget is about creating conducive environment to which the private sector will respond. Our budget is not about nationalising the Berbice Bridge such as what one of your Members advocated last year.
Citizens Bank’s loan portfolio increases by $2.5 billion recording a 14.5% increase in profit after taxation.
Mr. David Dulal-Whiteway, Chairman of Republic Bank, Guyana, in his annual report for the year 2013 reported that his bank recorded a 4.4% growth over prior year results, in its Guyana’s operation, recording a profit of $2 billion.
Home advances up by 24.54%. Those things are not achieved by accidents. My colleague, Minister Rohee, said it. No company invests and grows and prospers in an environment that is not favourable and conducive, and in an environment that does not enjoy the confidence of the investor. That is the reality.
Bank DIH in its annual report for the year 2013… [Mr. Greenidge: That is not to be cited.] We will cite every company in Guyana. Every company in Guyana is our friend. We are not selective like you, Mr. Greenidge. We do not pick and choose our friends like you, Mr. Greenidge. We do not pick and choose our friends by saying they are your problem. Every company and every citizen of Guyana is a friend of the PPP, including Banks DIH, every worker. We do not say that that group of workers is not our problems.
We do not choose. Every company, and worker in Guyana, is a friend of the PPP. Banks DIH, Sir, achieved for the first time profit before tax in excess of $3.5 billion. [Mr. Nagamootoo: Talk about the public corporation.] It is private sector dynamism under the PPP, Mr. Nagamootoo. Banks DIH recorded 31% in growth in profit before tax.
Citizens Bank is increasing its revenue by 17%. Demerara Bank is achieving an increase… [Mr. B. Williams: Is that your own too?] They are all ours. Every company, every business, every worker in Guyana, as I said, is a friend of the PPP. Demerara Bank, Mr. Yesu Persaud,… [Mr. Nagamootoo: Do you want the directory? I will give you the yellow pages.] You bring the yellow pages. They are all prospering under the PPP, Mr. Nagamootoo.
Again, Sir, the decibel level on that side assures me that I am on the right track. When Mr. Nagamootoo gets agitated like that I know that I am pressing the right buttons.
Demerara Bank breaks the $1 billion profit barrier and Dr. Yesu Persaud, Chairman, said, about the performance by the bank, “I am pleased to report that the bank had an exceedingly good year hitting the billion dollar mark, $1.043 billion, for the first time in 20 years a record for the banking industry”. Those things do not happen in isolation, or by magic, or by accidents.
Digicel investment in Guyana tops US$70 million over 5 years, said the CEO. So much so, it is employing people and giving them time off to attend this National Assembly, and all manner of things, such as my good friend on that side of the House.
Just a week ago, a brand new investment in Hadfield Street, a $160 million hotel opened. My colleague and friend Minister Irfaan Ali had the honour of opening that investment to a small to medium size investor. Guyanese entrepreneurs are bringing their savings back, harnessing their savings, recognising how favourable and conducive the environment is under the PPP in Guyana and opening a new hotel, the Millennium Manner Hotel.
“JR Burgers opens new headquarters.” [Interruption from the Opposition Members.] Mr. Speaker, I hear some cries over there that this is not our money. Of course, it is not Government’s money. We never said that the Government will drive all of the economic growth. We said we create the environment for the private sector to respond. This is the evidence. This is more than just evidence of investment and growth in Guyana. It is evident that that the Opposition is woefully removed from the reality in Guyana. While the Opposition is busy crying wolf and running around lamenting and beating its chest businesses in Guyana are busy investing, expanding, growing, making profits and employing people because they recognise the attractiveness of Guyana and the PPP/C Government. That is the reality. That is correct, like all of the companies in Guyana.
“Sod turns for new Honda dealership”. “New Marics’ headquarters”, I think the Prime Minister had the honour of turning the sod there. “New DSL outlet opened in Diamond,” “Courts opens new branch in Diamond,” “US$30 million Giftland Office Max on track for 2013 opening”. This I believe is in Liliendaal. “Wings Aviation commissions new hangar at Ogle.” Guyanese entrepreneurs, again, in fact, are now co-owners of a licensed international airline. Today, a Guyanese entrepreneur owns an airline that runs an international route between Jamaica and New York. We must celebrate those successes and not pretend that they do not exist. “ASL invests in new fuel facilities”. That is Air Services Ltd. “Roraima unveils US$12 million investment.”
If we are to be honest and frank in this House we must be prepared to celebrate these successes. These are hard-working Guyanese entrepreneurs. Their success are driven by employees who go to work every day and contribute to prosperity and growth of their companies and ultimately of their country.
The story of Guyana under the PPP is not only told by those remarkable manifestations of private sector growth and expansion. Every day in homes and villages, throughout the length and breadth of our country, lives are being transformed for the better. Let us take, for example, our Women Of Worth (WOW) programme. Sometimes we feel that the Women Of Worth programme is just a slogan or a title. WOW - an exclamation perhaps, an abbreviation, a number. Let us take the story of Ms. Gem Hall from Castello Housing Scheme, 41 years old, a second time borrower under the Women Of Worth programme. Incidentally, she has a son and two nieces whom she takes care of. Both of her nieces benefited from the school uniforms programme administers so effectively by the Ministry of Education. She accessed the WOW facility and was able to use the facility to finance inventory in a small grocery shop that she established. Today, in the short space of a couple of years, her total inventory in her grocery shop has increased fourfold and she has accessed her second loan. Today her income has tripled and she herself testified to the fact that her standards of living has improved; she is able to live more comfortably; the profitability of her business has increased dramatically and she is now planning to purchase her own motor car.
A modest story, but a story replicated thousands of times over, throughout the length and breadth of Guyana - whether it is a young professional accessing a new home; whether it is a single mother accessing a WOW loan and whether it is an individual accessing the One Lap Top Per Family (OLPF). Mr. Abdul Hack Halim of Huis t’Dieren, Essequibo, expressing his sincere gratitude for the fact that he now owns a laptop, which he could not have dared to imagine. At 79 years of age he has now discovered the vastest of the world through information and communications technology. [Mr. Nagamootoo: He is a crony.] We have no problem saying that every citizen of Guyana is crony of the PPP. He is no more or less a crony of the PPP than any citizen of Guyana, and so many others.
Twenty–two years old, stay-at-home mother, Amanda Spelling, is planning to pursue a new career having learned to use Microsoft Office and acquired other computer skills on her OLPF laptop. These stories are replicated, as I said, throughout the length and breadth of our country. This is the story of the PPP/C in Government.
We committed ourselves to ensuring the creation of a policy environment that will attract private business, that will attract investment, that will be facilitative of growth and expansion, that will facilitate job creation, that will facilitate increases in real income and that will facilitate improvements in quality of life. Literally every initiative in Budget 2013 serves one or all of those objectives, whether it is investment in transport infrastructure – the ferry, reducing crossing times. It is not only about a ferry or a boat. It is about farmers being able to transport their produce. It is about students being able to get to school. It is about elderly persons being able to access health care
Whether it is investment in information and communications technology, which will see the creation of thousands of jobs, and which our friends on that side of the House, as I said earlier, had promised the people of Guyana, but a promise that they have now abandoned, or whether it is the billions of dollars of additional disposable income placed on the pockets of our most vulnerable through the increases in old age pensions, the reduction in income taxes and the other interventions offered by Budget 2013, every dollar of additional disposable income placed in the hands of a Guyanese citizen, it is a dollar that will be spent buying goods and services; it is a dollar that will increase the turnover of a Guyanese business; it is a dollar that will improve the profitability and potentially competitiveness of that Guyanese business and it is dollar that will contribute to the creation of a job.
I believe, and we on this side of the House believe, that we would not have been surprised if the Opposition said that in the budget it saw a number of thing with which it agreed; it saw the following this which we would have done differently… [Mr. B. Williams: Why did you not work with them from the outset?] We did work with them from the outset. What you had - I will conclude on this note - was a vehement, blanket, unsubstantiated set of objections that can best be described as objecting for the sake of objecting; saying no for the sake of saying no; disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing, even when the initiatives were things that they themselves, on that side of the House, had promised. That is unfortunate. There might yet be time, because whilst the first half of the budget debate might have been the opportunity for political rhetoric - the Opposition Members availed themselves at that opportunity clearly to its fullest; something that I consider unfortunate, - be that as it may, the critical time, Mr. Speaker, is when you, Sir, will put the vote. I hope, Sir, that the time, which will elapse now and your putting the successive votes before this House, the Opposition will use that time for reflection and introspection, because the fact of the matter is every single initiative in Budget 2013 is good for Guyana. I urge my friends on that side of the House, having reflected and having engaged in introspection, that when you will put the question to the House, over the coming days, I trust that we will hear resounding unanimous “ayes” emerging from all.
My last words would be to say that just as how Mr. Nagamootoo does not enjoy a monopoly on the right to call people names so does he not enjoy the right to cuss people down.
Thank you very much Sir. [Applause]
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