Budget Debate 20133398 09 Apr, 2013
Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise to call upon Members of this Hon. House not to support the motion laid by Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, Minister of Finance, on 25th March, in which he called for the approval of the Estimates of the Public Sector in the Budget for the financial year 2013. Even as I do so, I congratulate my colleagues in A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (AFC) whose incisive and sincere presentations have shone light into the dark corners of public life which have been ignored by this Budget. They focused on the lives and livelihood of ordinary people, real people, people like Roslyn Stephen who bled to death between Parishara, the Lethem Hospital and Boa Vista; the nameless victims at Port Kaituma who died after drinking water which had been piped into their homes, the villagers of Parishara, and the villagers of Kako in the Upper Mazaruni who were trying to preserve the sanctity of their communities. Our speakers brought to light the plight of ordinary people who every day dies from preventable diseases.
This National Assembly meets again this year, April, as we did last year April to consider this National Budget. The National Assembly meets again to be presented with a budget which is being crafted and grafted by the People’s Progressive/Civic (PPP/C) Administration without meaningful consultation and the collaboration of the majority of this Assembly. The National Assembly meets again to deliberate not upon a national budget, not upon a working people’s budget, not a budget that seems to be working for the people, but on a budget that is anti-poor, anti-people and anti-progress. It is an exclusionary budget. It is not an inclusionary budget for everyone. It is a budget of the PPP, by the PPP and for the PPP.
We have been presented with a cardboard Budget which has been painted to look like concrete. It is glossed over by a few goodies, but is a thin veneer without substance. The people want a budget that goes to the heart of the everyday issues which confront them, one that does the greatest good for the greatest number. That is why last year we invited the President, a Member of this Parliament, the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Republic, to address this Hon. House not once, but every year. You yourself, Mr. Speaker are on record as inviting His Excellency to address this House. The President’s presence, we had hoped, would lend some policy direction to the Executive’s presentation of this Budget, but that was not to be. His absence was perhaps a mistake and clearly his guidance on this Budget has been missed. This Budget before the Assembly has no guiding philosophy. The Budget inspires no one; it has no imagination, no innovation. It seems the captain left the crew and the ship is adrift. The Budget did articulate some so-called medium term objectives. A Partnership For National Unity shares the common desire to improve the quality of life in Guyana. We also want a country which is modern, and which has a strong and resilient economy. We want a country that has institutions that inspire confidence and provide protection; one that is physically integrated with the neighbours in South America; one that is economically integrated with the neighbours in the Caribbean; one that has a comprehensive infrastructure network that allows easy access to harness our resources and to move our goods and our people; one that provides all citizens to access to high quality education, health care and other social services; one that has a population in which every single man, woman and child has access to competence in information and communication technology; one that attracts visitors who want to bring their business here; one that has qualified persons who want to work; one that provides every young person with the opportunity to find rewarding employment; one that allows elderly persons to retire in comfort, and so on.
The problem is that the Budget before us does not provide the resources to realise this rhetoric. What provisions are there in this Budget, for example, to rebuild institutions such as the Ombudsman which came to us at the time of Independence, but which has virtually disappeared over the years, and the Public Service Appellate Tribunal. These are institutions which we need to inspire confidence and provide protection to aggrieved citizens and civil servants. What resources does the Budget provide to build the bridges and highways from Linden to Lethem, from Bartica to Mahdia, from Annai to Surama and to develop a comprehensive infrastructure network? What resources have been allocated to give citizens access to high quality education at the University of Guyana? What resources have the Budget provided to make our hinterland safe from everyday banditry, and safe enough from piracy along our coastland so that we can attract investors who want to bring their business here? How does this Budget expect to provide every young person with the opportunity to find rewarding productive employment? How far will $12,500 go to allow every elderly person to retire in comfort? The truth is that these dreams have been on paper for the last two decades. The nation, however, wakes up every morning to the dreary reality of crumbling roads, broken schools, an underfunded university, shaky institutions and an army of jobless dropouts. One just has to go to secondary schools at Annai, or Vreed-en-hoop or Houston, look at the laboratories and look at the dormitories to realise that the dreams of the Budget are far from being accomplished. One just has to look at the classrooms at places like Annai and one will see how shallow the proposals of the Budget are. The Budget simply does not furnish the funds to make these dreams come true. The more serious challenges facing families are the unavailability of jobs, the quality of education at primary and secondary levels along the coastland and in the hinterland, the quality of education at the University of Guyana, a decrypt system which brought students, staff and workers out on strike last year which is still unsettled. They still consider the daily treats to human safety where there are three armed robberies every day, where there are two murders every week, and where there are 12 fatal accidents every month; the treats to public health where three nameless persons have died and over 500 fell ill in Barima Waini.
A minority administration must not presume it could ignore the public will forever. It cannot attempt to exclude the majority side from contributing to the preparation to such an important measure as the Budget. It has only been through the contribution of the majority side in this debate so far that the Executive has been made aware of the real situation on the ground affecting the majority of our people. Guyana under the present Budget, despite the promises of overcoming challenges together, accelerating gains for Guyana, is more likely to face the same challenges for another year as it does today. The Budget is worse than a mistake; it is a blunder. It is impossible at this time for a minority to comprehend fully the complexity of the demography, the geography, the economy, and the social and political changes taking place throughout this country. All politics is local; we are on the ground among the people. We are the ones listening to the people, learning from the people. When we speak we speak with the voice of the people and that is why we must be heard.
Just look at my visit to Kwatamang and Woweta last weekend. A paid state official travelled from Georgetown to Kwatamang simply to plaster posters on the wall attacking Honourable Hero here Mr. Sydney Allicock. Can you imagine paid state employees leaving Georgetown to go to Kwatamang to plaster posters? - A waste of money. How could we vote money to buy markers and stationery for that Ministry? We have to teach them a lesson? Instead of carrying in a few footballs for the young men of Kwatamang they are carrying in posters and crayons to mark up the walls - terrible.
Every budget is a plan; it is an economic plan, a financial plan. The Budget must be forward looking not backward looking; it must have a clear vision, a projection of what needs to be done tomorrow to solve today’s problems. It must provide the resources to achieve the objectives of the plan. A budget is not an opportunity to resort to a recapitulation of previous administrations, a temptation which few on the executive side have been unable to resist. Rather than chart a bold course the Executive has decided to go backwards in time. This Budget is meant to point the economy in the direction of transformation and to marshal the people’s efforts to draw on their entrepreneurial energy to overcome the challenges in the words of the slogan, “together”. But public confidence in the ability of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Administration to run the economy has slipped and slipped, especially among the young persons, among the workers, among the labour unions. The general aura of gloom, the gloom of poverty, the gloom of a prolonged security crisis, the gloom of rising cost of living, has seen support draining away from the powers that be.
The Budget presentation of 25th March did nothing to restore hope. It was neither ambitious nor adventurous. It failed to impress this Assembly and failed to impress the Nation. A bold budget was needed to move the country forward at a faster pace but such a budget is yet to be seen. This House is not an annual general meeting of some corporation. The Budget is not a treasurer’s report. This debate is not an exercise in accountancy. The Budget is not an exercise to look at assets and liabilities, to look at revenue and expenditure. A budget is a tool for development of the country. It needs a visionary approach, an approach to education, an approach to employment, an approach to empowerment, an approach to development. It is true that the authors of the Budget did do a cut and paste job; they clearly read all the press statements from the AFC and APNU and listened to the television broadcasts. They would have heard the APNU declare 2013 the year for youth and, therefore, they threw a few crumbs to the youth. But the underlying hope was always that the authors of this Budget should take reasonable and realistic measures to encourage job creation. This task has gone unaddressed for too long. There have been a lot of projects like the cellophane President’s Youth Choice Initiative and the President’s Youth Award Republic of Guyana with taffeta graduations. These were designed to look like they focus on jobs but, in fact, they are just another version of PPP/C pet projects.
The Budget must include real measures that provide work for young people. The basic fact that remains is that all parties acknowledge that Budget 2013 will not, cannot, and did not ever intend to change the lives of the mass of young people in this country. Jobs are scarce for young people from Moruca to Aishalton, from Kaikan to Kildonan. The story is the same all over the country. Young school leavers simply do not have the skills to equip many of them for the world of work. There is no part of the economy that provides employment opportunities for them. There has been growth but it has jobless growth. When we consider that a couple of weeks ago 17,000 of our children wrote the National Grade Six Examinations let us ask ourselves how many of them will see Caribbean Secondary Examinations Council (CSEC) and Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE).
Economic competence is about having a strategy when the economic conditions move the budget off course. A country like ours that needs to build drop-in centres for street children and night shelters for the destitute is facing a really dire social situation- a country that needs to seek foreign assistance and boast about it to build a centre for rehabilitation and reintegration at Onverwagt, really “deh bad”. A country that is cramming its prison at Georgetown with nearly 1,000 inmates costing the state $350,000 a year each in a space with a capacity for 675 means surely that we are sleep walking into a social nightmare, not waking up into an economic dream. We will be worse off if we are to ignore the impending social catastrophe which these developments foreshadow. The ranks of the destitute, the homeless, the poor, and the street dwellers, are swelling under the burden of oppressive like the one before us.
Guyana today should be a country of bright prospects, should be a country of opportunity. A sound education system is the bedrock of that opportunity. It is essential if we are to exploit the opportunities and overcome the challenges facing us. In this regard I would like to refer to the remarks I delivered albeit accidentally to the graduating class of the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) last October. I spoke of, and I quote:
“…the opportunities for engineers to build bridges and roads to open our vast hinterland and to develop schemes to exploit our hydro electric potential. The opportunity for geologist to develop our bauxite diamond, gold manganese and quarrying resources; the opportunity for biologists, botanists, zoologists, and agriculturalists to expand food production; the opportunity to improve communication and human learning; the opportunity for manufacturers, shippers, builders to drive our economy forward at a faster rate.
Where will these scientists come from? They must come from the school system. These opportunities cannot be fully exploited and this country cannot be developed by chance or conjecture. They can be achieved only if a large part of the population is not paralyzed by poverty. They can be achieved not by the ignorant and by the illiterate. They cannot be achieved while so many of our primary school children cannot quality to enter secondary school or when thousands of our children drop out of primary and secondary schools every year. They cannot be achieved while school leavers cannot find jobs. They can be achieved only by people with a first class education. They can be achieved only by the creation of an education nation that brings all our people together in a knowledge society. They can be achieved only by combining our energies, integrating our communities and working together for the common good rather than pulling apart.
Dark forces, the forces of poverty, oppression and racial hatred, still threaten to pull us apart. An educated nation ought to be one in which intelligence prevails over ignorance, cooperation over confrontation, and national integration over communal disintegration.”
End of quotation.
The people are still concerned about human safety. The Government of Guyana needs to introduce a serious security strategy to protect our citizens from criminal violence. A Partnership For National Unity accuses the People’s Progressive/Civic Administration of failing to implement root and branch reforms in the security sector. The latest statement on security sector reform was announced nearly two years after it was handed over to the director of the project, Mr. Khemraj Rai. Two years after it was handed over, it was announced. The emphasis will be on four major areas – administration, career planning (well, you must have that after all with all the banditry in the hinterland and the cocaine smuggling), integrity, probity and publications, and communications. Those are the highlights of this much vaunted plan to reform our security sector. Let us pay attention to the publications and career planning. This is what the nation waited 12 years to hear. These might be necessary, but are not sufficient to make our citizens safe. Our partnership accuses the administration in this budget debate of deliberately avoiding references to the high rate of armed robberies, the contraband smuggling, the gun running, the money laundering, the narcotics trafficking, the people trafficking, the piracy and the banditry which are plaguing the country. This, in the words of the Prime Minister a few minutes ago, is what we call historical facts. That is what the man said, historical facts.
We are still in the throes of the wave of criminal violence which plagued the first decade of this millennium and which will forever be remembered as the legacy of this administration, the legacy of drug driver murders, massacres and executions. There were 1,432 deaths arising from massacres, executions and other murders; an average of 143 murders per year during the first decade. There were over 139 more murders in 2010, and 130 in 2011 bringing the total to 1,701. Guyana is bleeding. This administration has failed to enforce laws which protect life or even to ensure the killings are investigated. In the middle of March- on the 16th March- I was in Lusignan and the mother of some of the children who were killed there is still weeping because this administration refuses to commune a commission of enquiry. In Lusignan, two weeks ago, the people are still weeping and the administration stonily refuses to convene a commission of enquiry to investigate that atrocity.
Budget 2013 has failed to promise measures which could prevent recurrences of these atrocities. The Budget must show us how it would provide financial resources that will make our country safe. It must show how these financial resources will prevent the cocaine trade from killing our children, will prevent gun running which is pumping violence in this country. These are the historical facts about the last twelve years.
This country arguably has never been wealthy but the appearance of hoards of extremely destitute and homeless persons, the appearance of scores of street children over the last two decades is a manmade catastrophe. It is not an act of God. Poverty can be reduced and, perhaps, eventually can be eradicated but only with good governance, a safe environment and sensible public policies. We do not see these as being evident in this Budget.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Human Development Index Report provides a rough guide of the people’s quality of life. Education and health are two of the major measures of human comfort. Countries which possess well-built schools which are equipped with libraries, laboratories, recreational facilities, schools which are staffed by trained teachers who manage their institutions efficiently, are likely to enjoy a high standard of education. And really, I hope that one day you can take this National Assembly on a tour of our hinterland schools to see how we are training up the next generation. Then we will get some budgets which are realistic in their focus. Go to Houston and see what is taking place there. The same goes for our hospitals which are staffed by nurses, doctors and technicians.
Little is spoken nowadays of Guyana’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. It was meant to be a mechanism through which this country, once upon a time defined as a low income country, could have crafted its own plan for poverty reduction and would have provided a guideline for the World Bank to render assistance. We need a new social contract, a contract that brings our parties together to work together to the common good, a contract that brings labour together with business, a contract that brings civil society, if we are to get out of this trough, as my colleague Mr. Carl Greenidge said, this black hole we are in.
Guyana is at a cross road. The National Assembly has an obligation, an obligation to provide leadership to unite our peoples. It has a duty to design plans and strategies to overcome the economic political and social challenges, but we must do this together. It is our duty to forestall any folly that might prolong the nightmare of insecurity and disunity which can lead us down the path of deeper distrust. Desperate diseases demand desperate remedies. These are the words of Guy Fawkes nearly 400 years ago. Desperate diseases demand desperate remedies and we do not see them in this Budget. This is a cardboard Budget and will have little impact on the poor. It must be amended if the people of this country are to see real changes in t heir lives. There is no way this country can move forward with such a budget which disregards their needs, which disregards the role of the people themselves in developing this country. It is time to wake up; it is time to stop dreaming. For these reasons A Partnership For National Unity cannot support this motion which calls on us to adopt this cardboard Budget in its present form. We urge the administration, even at this eleventh hour to sit with the majority, to construct a realistic budget which will satisfy this nation.
Thank you. [Applause]
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