Budget Debate 20134244 08 Apr, 2013
Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I would like to dedicate this presentation of mine today to the memory of colleagues of mine, friends of mine and former Members of our Parliament, Rev. Dr. Dale Bisnauth and Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud.
I would like to also congratulate the Minister of Finance and his team for being so consistent in presenting a budget which I believe, will accomplish the targets that has been set for 2013 in the same way as it did in 2012.
The Hon. Colleague of mine, Minister Irfaan Ali described the Hon. Member, Carl Greenidge’s contribution as rambling and what appeared to be feeling his way around in the course of his response to the Hon. Minister of Finance. Soon after Mr. Greenidge’s intervention, I had cause to travel into the countryside where I met with some senior citizens, one whose name was Mr. Rampersaud; who in his own style drew a parallel with Mr. Greenidge’s presentation, having regard to what he saw on the television. I was amused with the way in which he drew the parallel or made the analogy. He said that it appears as though Mr. Greenidge was feeling fowl batty for eggs; consistent with feeling his way around for an answer to the Minister of Finance. I also met an elderly woman whose name is Kowsilla and who give me her view on Mr. Greenidge’s presentation. She said it reminded her of Nat King Cole’s famous song, Rambling Rose - so much for the opening batsman from the Opposition’s benches.
The world in which we live, as I listen to the contributions, it occurred to me that all the political parties in this House are committed to market economy. I have not heard one single statement that departs from the orthodoxy of market economics. We have little or no differences in respect to market economy being the path for the economic development for Guyana. It seems that from all that have been said, we are also all committed to the role and place of the private sector as the engine of growth for the national economy.
We all appear to welcome foreign direct investments, as well as local investments, as well as foreign and local investments in partnerships in our economy. I must confess that it appears to me that we are all committed to the diversification of the agricultural sector. We are all committed to sustainable development of the forestry, mining and of the natural resources of this country. At the international level, there is little that separates the parties in this House, having regards to the end of the cold war; the virtual disappearance of the non-align movement and the emergence of a global village that is driven by the dynamics of globalisation and the emergence of the Brazil, Russia, India, China (BRICS) countries.
If there is any difference between the Government and the Opposition benches, it is obviously at the political level. Politics it is said is a concentrated form of economics. It is to be noted that this is where the crux of the matter is. The question of mutual trust is at the knot of the issue and at the political level. Our differences seem to be more of a tactical and methodological, rather than a strategic approach. We differ here and there on issues of methodology and tactics in respect to the perspectives for the future of Guyana. It is not uncommon that in an emerging democracy, the most democracies that is, this is the norm.
In addition, in most democracies charges about corruption, lack of inclusivity is quite common place and Guyana is no exception. The point however, is that both Government and Opposition need to fight these social maladies, whether they are real or imagined.
From a class perspective, the classes and social strata, which the Opposition represent, are not dissimilar from the classes and social strata represented by the PPP/C. The strata stratification of our country is quite easily discernable and does not require any deep or profound analysis. The nature of the State that currently exists is one that defends and represents the interest of all classes and social strata in our society. That is why we have in the PPP/C patiently and persistently work to establish a national democratic state. This national democratic state that I speak of is reflected in our country’s consistent struggle for economic independence against the pitfall of globalisation and marginalisation, existence of the broad democratic rights and freedom of the people and participation in policy making.
The PPP/C, as a political party, represents all social strata and classes in our society: the workers, farmers, progressive business men, progressive intellectual, military and police men and women. The middle strata that we have spoken so much about has a place in this national democratic state and this budget is a good example that demonstrates that this is indeed the popular acclaim by many, that there is something in this budget for everyone. A true reflection of the national democratic pathway the PPP/C started out since 1992.
Mr. Speaker, let me have your attention on the question of public safety and security. Public safety and security is a very broad and all embracing concept. It has many components. It has a component to deal with policy at the level of Cabinet, administrative and executive levels, the legislative parliamentary, the criminal justice system, law enforcement, popular support or the support of the people, international cooperation; all of these make up the various components of what is known as public safety and security. It seems to me that if we are to pluck one of the components out of the concept of public safety and security and dwell dedicatedly and primarily on that, we would have a total misguided picture of the concept and the practice of public safety and security.
The question therefore would be asked, if we are to approach public safety and security from this perspective, is it correct to say we have a break down in law and order in Guyana? Is it correct to conclude that crime is out of control? These questions may seem rhetorical, but it is important that we delve deeply into these questions in order to find the correct perspective.
If the situation is so bad as is made out by some, then there is a total breakdown in law and order and as the crime situation has spiral out of control the question must therefore be asked, how is there consist growth in the economy? Mr. Speaker, I want to submit respectfully that you should not have economic growth in the sectors where we have seen growth taking place, if there is a total breakdown in law and order.
Moreover, how come the Government was able to provide so much additional resources to the security sector, placing it as number three in order of priority, if the country is doing so badly? For a country’s economy to be performing, it must mean that the workers, the farmers and all those who are in the various productive sectors are producing, notwithstanding, the industrial situation in sugar and bad weather. Sugar workers nevertheless delivered a total of 218,000 tonnes of sugar. Rice farmers came out and produced 5% increase in the production of rice. Cattle, pig and sheep rearers produced 14% increase in livestock production. Fishermen produced 15.5% increase in fish. The workers in the mining and quarry industry produced 14.8% more than they did last year. The pork knockers, the small and medium scale miners produced a record 20.8% production in gold, higher than 2012. The workers in the factories, particular in the manufacturing sector produced 2.4% more of manufactured goods. Finally, buyers and sellers in commerce and in the consumer industry, the wholesale and retail trade, grew by 6.7%.
What do these things mean? In a country where there is no law and order; in a country where crime has spiral out of control, there is no way that the workers, the farmers, the fishermen, the miners and the pork knockers would have come out in such numbers to produce. It shows that they have a tremendous sense of safety and security of their presence. I would argue that if the worker, the farmers and the fishermen were living in fear of their lives; were living in fear in respect to their property, we would never have had such significant increases in these productive sectors because for these sectors to grow it means that the people are coming out and producing in their numbers.
I used that argument to show that even in respect of investments, when persons invest in this country, whether local or foreign, it is a sign of confidence in the economy. I believe therefore that it is from that perspective we must place our analysis or we must make our analysis as regards the public safety and security. Whether by extricating just one aspect of the many components and dwelling only on crime, we can make the true analysis and draw the true picture.
I believe that we have to be careful and draw the right balance between law enforcement and human rights. This critical balance is to be found first and foremost in our Constitutional arrangements, in the Laws of Guyana and in the expressions of governance by the Executive on a day to day basis, as regards the lives of our people. I would like to submit that any radical shift in this balance between law enforcements and the fundamental rights of the people can result in on the one hand, the trampling on the rights of the people and on the other, abuses by law enforcement against the people. This is indeed a delicate balance which those who holds the reins of power have to ensure. Sometimes I fear, in the limited experiences I have had in the security sector, that if we were to disrupt this delicate balance between enforcing the law and upholding the democratic and human rights of the people, which I glean is what I am hearing from the Opposition benches, that we may well return to a situation where the National Security Act and many other similar draconian legislation that was passed in this House, to put greater emphasis on law enforcement rather than greater emphasis on observing the human, democratic, civil and political rights of the people.
The PPP/C has always vigorously sought to maintain this delicate balance between these two fundamental, but critical governance issues. Fighting crime is but one expression of public safety and security.
This is just but one component of a much larger holistic framework in which we must operate. When the crime fighting component is plucked, for whatever reason, from the total picture we will obviously end up with a distorted picture of the true state of affairs in our country. Crime fighting cannot stand alone. It cannot be the only factor to determine whether public safety and security is in good hands. We need to address the totality of the Government’s effectiveness in maintaining public safety and security.
When I listen or read Opposition spokesmen and women on the crime situation, I have to wonder which country they are talking about, which country they are referring to, but I also worry, as I said. Why? Because while I accept that there must always be room for improvement, and there will always be room for improvement in the public safety and the security situation. While there is room for improvement we need to be careful that in seeking to improve the public safety and security architecture in our country we do not adopt measures that are reminiscent of the 1977 to 1982 period in our country where we saw certain measures being implemented such as the National Security Act, the Preventative Detention Act and where persons are kept for three months without trial, tried by a tribunal and the continued detention of persons being extended for another three months.
That is why I warned that we need to be careful when – someone said “tinkering” – trying to do better than others in the area of public safety and security. Bringing crime under control is not an easy task. I had asked for all of the Hansard to be sent to my office over a period of time, but regrettably, as you would recall, there were certain Hansard over a period of time that could not be found and so if I am accused of leaving out a particular chapter in our history it is because the records are not available. I have with me here a record of the Parliamentary debates of 1981. The Minister of Home Affairs at that time was the Hon. Mr. Stanley Moore. In the course of that debate our parliamentary spokes person for Home Affairs at the time, Mr. Clinton Collymore, had this to say:
“I will like to bring to the Minister’s attention that robberies appear to be very prevalent and according to last year’s report, which was submitted to this Assembly, it seems as though the vast majority of robberies are committed in urban areas. It means that the Police Force should be more equipped and more alert in urban areas. The figures show that 88.4% of robberies are committed in these urban areas. We also note and we acknowledge that the police have been doing something because we note that the bandits their base of operation to rural areas.”
Now Mr. Moore, in his capacity as the Minister of Home Affairs had this to say:
“It would be puerile, [I am quoting here] it would be simplistic, it would be naive to assume that even with the most vigilant and resourceful Police Force in the world we would eliminate crime, as my friend on the other side is attempting to suggest. In the wealthiest countries in the world, the most powerful nations on earth, there is crime and the police can do no more than to contain crime to acceptable limits. Some of the rascals will always slip through.”
He went on to say, I quote:
“Crime prevention committees do exist. There was one which the Commissioner and I met on the West Coast of Demerara...”
He went on, I paraphrase what he said. He wanted to invite the people and in this presentation he invited the people, at that time, to form themselves into Crime Prevention Committees to help the police fight crime. The police, obviously, since those days could not do it alone and there is not going to be any time when they can do it alone. It was in that epoch and so it will be in any other epoch.
I brought with me some newspapers and in order to try to be objective I brought not only the state-owned Chronicle Newspaper. I believe that the people of our country feel safe and secure because they did not have a feeling of safety and security in what I would refer to now; it would hardly be the case. I refer to the Kaieteur News of Sunday, 24th February, where it reads:
“2013, another successful year for Mashramani in Guyana.”
Thousands of people were out on the streets. Guyana Times says:
“Thousands celebrate Guyana’s rich cultural diversity.”
“Essequibians celebrate Mash in grand style.”
Then we come to the Phagwah celebrations:
“Thousands celebrate Phagwah.”
Including the President and the Opposition Leader. All the newspapers are screaming headlines of the thousands who came out on the streets to celebrate Phagwah.
Then we come to the Easter celebrations:
“Thousands at No. 63 Beach on Easter Monday.”
“Thousands at East and West Coast Demerara.”
“Bartica Regatta 2013 rocked.”
“Thousands celebrate Easter...”
The point that I am making here, that which I am respectfully submitting, is if this beloved country of ours had a situation that is constantly being described by the Opposition and some sections of the media that law and order has totally disintegrated and that crime has spiralled out of control, I respectfully submit that we would not have seen thousands of people leaving their homes, leaving the comfort of their homes, travelling far distances, leaving their homes for days and nights...
I am talking about people. I am not talking about people who sit in their offices and formulate policies and issue press releases. I am talking about people coming out in their numbers and feeling safe; so much for that.
I have heard a lot about this Government not involving others from an inclusive point of view in consultations. I have a long list here but in view of the time being limited i would only refer to a few. Consultation for us is not only around the time when the budget is being prepared. Consultation for us is not only at a time when we are having elections. Consultation goes on 365 days per year for the PPP/C Administration and our Party.
The Ministry of health initiated public consultations on a number of matters relative to that Ministry – national consultations on national health and consultations on the strategy as well. The Prime Minister initiated consultations also on the workers of the Trade Unions and the Marriot Hotel, also on the electricity sector. Minister Pauline Campbell-Sukhai initiated consultations in a number of areas as well. Minister Irfaan Ali initiated consultations on the number of strategic plans on standards and the housing policy and so the list goes on. Our colleague, Minister in the Ministry of Finance, initiated a consultation in Plaisance the other day and, notwithstanding the difficulties, the fact of the matter is he went there to consult with the people.
We have no difficulty in taking our “licks”. We have no difficulty in facing the wrath of the people. We have no difficulty in correcting errors that we make from time to time but the fact of the matter is that we consult.
I hear constantly reference being made to the performance in the Home Affair Sector but let me quickly refer to what we have done between 2006 and the current. Never in the history of this country has the security sector undergone such transformative processes; never.
The institutional modernisation of the Ministry of Home Affairs: When I went to the Ministry of Home Affairs, at the Ministry, itself, there were 12 staff members, those were who were put there for me to work with. The membership of the staff rose from 12 to 127; 118 additional staff members to the Ministry of Home Affairs. These are not people that are sitting down and drinking scotch. These are people who are working.
We have established the Task Force on Narcotics and Illegal Fire Arms, a Task Force on Smuggling and Contraband. We have established a security arrangement for the Cheddi Jagan and Ogle Airports. We have established a crime observatory. We have even gone so far as to establish a stray catchers’ programme, where so far we have impounded over 2,817 animals at police pounds so for those who think that this is a joke it is not. It is very effective. We are moving to computerise to General Register Office and in the not too distant future we will be producing birth certificates electronically. We have established in the Ministry a task force on the trafficking of persons. We have adopted an anti-piracy policy. We are now training traffic wardens. We have expanded neighbourhood police we have expanded the ranks of community policing. We have established a Firearms License Approval Board. We have provided skills training for 1,377 young people with 24 skills. We have introduced the Electronic Crime Reporting System where persons using Black Berry Messenger (BBM), Facebook and the internet can report crimes. We have introduced a hotline. We have launched a campaign against noise nuisance and, so far, between 2008 and 2013, 465 cases have been prosecuted in the courts. We will soon launch an innovative website called I Paid a Bribe where persons who paid a bribe would be able, on the basis of anonymity, to report this on the website. We have begun the formulation of another drug strategy master plan. We are soon to complete the state of the art forensic laboratory and we will soon establish 10 House of Justices across the country. Soon we will establish the National Computer Incident Response team at the Ministry. The list goes on, simply to say that never in the history of the Ministry of Home Affairs...
Talk about incompetence. Call this “incompetence” and I will call “competence’” by something else. Never in the history of the Ministry of Home Affairs, never in the history of the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Prison Service, not the Guyana Fire Service...
Let me quickly say to Mr. Felix, the Hon. Member, who spoke about the Guyana Fire Service. The Guyana Fire Service, when the PPP/C came to office in 1992, had four fire tenders, two pickup trucks. There were only four fire stations and there were 184 men out of an establishment of 368. What do we have now, Mr. Felix, Hon. Member? We have 15 fire stations. We have, instead of four tenders we have 44 fire tenders. We now have Guyana Fire Service Outstations at Mahdia, Lethem, Kwakwani and Port Kaituma. The fixed establishment of the Guyana Fire Service is now 411.
These are significant achievement that cannot be ignored or cannot be wished away. Over the last eight years of the PNC, from 1985 to 1992, they spent $2.2 billion on the security sector. The first eight years of the PPP/C we spent $14.8 billion on the security sector; from $2.2 billion to $14.8 billion. Now there are some who say that we must not talk about big numbers and that this is fluff but I want to say that, fluff or no fluff, this is real money. Were we to spend, were we not to spend, it would still be “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.
Mr. Felix made mention and I think that this was a very divisive statement that was made and I have to correct it for the record... The Hon. Member sought to insert or create division between the Guyana Police Force and community policing when he said that we are purchasing more and more vehicles for community policing to the disadvantage of the Guyana Police Force. This is a blatant untruth. We have indeed been procuring vehicles and equipment for the community policing but by no stretch of imagination, unless we want to make political propaganda, but the political propaganda would fall on its face because the facts attest differently because when one looks at the money spent for the procurement of police vehicles over the years, one will find that these allocations have been increasing significantly over the years. One pickup truck and a bus for the Police Force cost $12 million and for the entire community policing we would traditionally allocate between $18 million to $19 million.
The Opposition Leader, the Hon. Member, has now shifted his position from casting me as the rogue in four one-act plays. The first play had to do with the allegation that $10 million could not be accounted for at the Ministry of Home Affairs for moneys spent by the police for elections. The Auditor General carried out a report and was able to show that all of the moneys were accounted for. That was the first salvo that was fired at the credibility of the sitting Minister of Home Affairs; accusing him of misappropriating $10 million. The next salvo that was fired had to do with the events at Linden, alleging that I was directly involved in this matter. In the same way when the Hon. Member, Mr. Neendkumar, made a statement about the involvement and I think the year before the Hon. Member from Berbice made a statement, of either the People’s National Congress (PNC) or Mr. Granger in the events that led to the shooting of three persons in Berbice the Hon. Member, Mr. Granger got up and distanced himself from it by referring to a report that was published having investigated the matter. I think that it is fair game for me to refer to the report that was published by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) exonerating me from that matter. If the Hon. Member, Mr. Granger, could seek refuge in that report, exonerating himself and his Party from that matter, i believe that in all fairness and honesty, I should refer to the COI report exonerating me from that incident.
Then came the allegation or the attempt to stop me from speaking in this National Assembly. The court pronounced on the matter and the Speaker of the National Assembly pronounced on the matter. This is the first budget debate that is taking place since those sordid occasions. I wish to rest my case and simply to say as I quote from I think it was in an Indian movie called Sholay which is associated with the celebration of Phagwah where one friend tells the other that if he wants to be an honourable man he has to pay a price. That price, I am prepared to pay. Thank you very much. [Applause]
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