Budget Debate 20133608 08 Apr, 2013
Dr. Roopnarine: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I rise to make my contribution to the debate on Budget 2013, I wish to register my solidarity with those Members on both sides of the House who sincerely made the case for constructive engagement and togetherness - not rhetorically and opportunistically, but sincerely.
I must confess that it was with a sense of some disappointment and even foreboding that I listened to the introductory observations with which the Hon. Minister of Finance prefaced this year’s Budget presentation; disappointment that his interpretation of last year’s performance of this Tenth Parliament was so one-sided that it evinced the very intransigence and want of flexibility in the national interest that it sought to berate in others; disappointment, too, that his understanding of what transpired over the early months in the life of the Tenth Parliament has led to such a contraction of his vision of the transformative potential of united action. I choose to believe, perhaps in an excess of generosity, that it has been his own disappointment in the dashing of his higher hopes that has led to the reduced expectations we find in this year’s prefatory reflections. Let us remind ourselves of the larger, more hopeful expression of the idea of united action in last year’s Budget speech:
“The political configuration that emerged from the 2011 elections, whereby the Party in Government does not hold a clear legislative majority, is a domestic novelty even if similar situations have been experienced by other democracies the world over. This arrangement beckons our country into a new political epoch and heralds an opportunity for the nurturing of a new political culture. The prevailing dispensation will test and hopefully prove our resolve as a People, and within this House our respective will to serve as responsible representatives of a deserving People, to work together in service to the cause of national development.”
Not surprisingly, these words drew much comment in last year’s debate from Members on both sides of the House. To appreciate what I have called the Hon. Minister’s contraction of vision, set these words alongside those that seek to speak to this idea in this year’s presentation. The vituperative, tendentious paragraph condemning the “veritable plethora of examples of Parliamentary action, occasioned at the behest of the Opposition’s one-seat majority,” has already drawn comment from my colleagues on this side. I say only that the Hon. Minister should not have expected so much so soon. In answer to the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana, and listening to the unfolding debate, I am strengthened in the belief that the most crucial challenge we face in this House and in the nation is the challenge to forge the togetherness required to confront the challenges of development. We will not overcome challenges together until we confront and overcome the challenge of togetherness itself. It is the prior challenge.
Before I attempt to address some of the policy and operational issues surrounding the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) and then the mining and agricultural sectors, it would be useful to look briefly at the fundamental principles relating to land use policy and the management of natural resources.
Budget 2013 gives primacy of place to the multidimensional Low Carbon Development Strategy. In Section B, paragraph 4.2 it is referred to as “the paradigm overarching our policy framework”. Intended as it is to serve as that overarching policy frame-work, the Strategy must be informed by and predicated on an integrated approach to land use management with the following objectives:
• to ensure avoided deforestation and degradation;
• to guarantee the provision of ecosystem services;
• to promote the responsible exploitation of natural resources;
• to invest in the creation and promotion of enterprises which have a low carbon footprint;
• to ensure the conservation of biodiversity; and
• to ensure inclusive and sustained development for the benefit of all citizens and future generations.
For such an integrated approach to land use planning and the effective implementation of the Low Carbon Development Strategy, absolute prerequisites are transparent dialogue and ongoing discussions at all levels so that communities, regions, and public and private sectors are informed and have their perspectives and expectations taken on board. The Parliamentary Opposition must be engaged in an ongoing way by the Government in free and frank dialogue and discussions on the evolution and implementation of the Strategy. This should be done through the Sectoral Committees of this National Assembly and, I would suggest, given the centrality of the Strategy, a Special Select Committee on the Low Carbon Development Strategy. The outcome of such dialogue and negotiation must reflect the nation’s interests and the will of the people. After all, land, including maritime assets and air space, is the national patrimony, and use of these resources must, of necessity, generate confidence among citizens rather than promote fear, well grounded or not, that Guyana is being taken over by foreigners or that corrupt and discriminatory practices dictate how land is allocated and resources managed.
Before I leave the issue of land use, allow me to quote from the December, 2012 Summary of the Report of the Development of Land Use Planning Project, entitled “Guyana National Land Use Plan”. It is a document being circulated by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission. On page 5 of the Report under the head, “Legal and Institutional Issues”, it states this:
“A legislative review of laws and regulations related to land use planning found that: Land Use Planning is the subject of obsolete legislation that neither reflects contemporary planning practice nor meets the needs of Guyana...”
“Guyana is in dire need of comprehensive new Land Use Planning legislation. The development of a national inter-sectoral land use planning system is an obligation under the MoU with the Government of Norway as part of the REDD+ process in pursuing the LCDS. An institutional review concluded that the institutional framework is dysfunctional largely due to ad hoc sectoral legislation rather than legislation to policy. The regulatory and institutional framework is inadequate with missing policies and coordination as well as duplicated regulatory responsibilities. Control over land use is highly centralized and politicized. GLSC is empowered rather than required to do things. It is not guided by strategic level performance measures. It has struggled to achieve financial sustainability and has weak enforcement, giving scope for institutional strengthening and performance improvement. Coordination and communication between Government agencies is not formalised or effective and the existence of special interest agencies such as the MMA further complicate matters. All stakeholders seem dissatisfied with the current arrangements but there is no existing model from elsewhere that fits Guyana’s needs.”
The Budget 2013 speech is replete with the arithmetical wizardry – not to say legerdemain – for which the gifted Hon. Minister of Finance has earned a well deserved reputation. What is missing is a strategic exposition of the increasing problems in key areas such as the chronically underperforming sugar and electricity sectors. Instead, there is an impression of trying to plug holes rather than developing and implementing rationalised route maps to provide long-term development. There is no overall sense of the Ministry of Finance developing and rationalising options, selecting best options according to clearly articulated criteria, and then proposing priorities. If we were following an agreed strategic plan and especially one that was reflective of an integrated approach to development, the Minister should have been reporting on deliverables that ought to have been the targets for 2012, the actual performance against these targets, explanations for surpluses or shortfalls, and the rationale for adjustments that would have to be made in 2013, thus providing justification for the 2013 Estimates of Expenditure.
In the absence of such a systematic approach, there is a danger of incoherence, in the sense that proposals in some sectors operate directly against other sectors or intentions. This is nowhere more evident than in the competing interests for land required by investors for mega-agricultural projects in the intermediate Savannahs, the Canje Basin and the Rupununi.
The Ministry of Agriculture currently assesses the feasibility of a project but land allocation is the preserve of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, creating an impasse that is frustrating to local and overseas investors. The inherent conflict in the forestry and mining sectors is a legacy of not having a land use policy – it is now being tidied up, I understand – so that logging concessions were awarded without recognising that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) had already given out mining permits in the same concessions. In the absence of baseline data related to biodiversity, endemism and ecosystem services, the impacts of logging and mining on the environment cannot be accurately determined since there is little or no generic data against which to analyse data now being collected, albeit inadequately and irregularly because of the limited number of field personnel deployed by the GGMC, the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The other complication is that there are a number of instances where mining concessions had been awarded prior to the issuance of titled lands to Amerindian communities. This resulted from lack of sharing of information that would have excised such concessions from titled land or, alternatively, through free prior and informed consent and transparently conducted negotiations, a way forward could have been found to allow mining with safeguards and penalties that are enforceable.
While I have some ideological sympathy with the rhetorical insistence that the funds from Norway are payment for services and not development aid, it has to be said that in the absence of a commercial contract, the current arrangement is vulnerable to changing politics in Oslo, and the Hon. Minister of Finance should exercise caution in treating the Norwegian money as if it flows under his control. Because payments are based on the extent to which Guyana has managed the avoidance of or reduction of deforestation and degradation, we need to examine the extent to which policies and practices have been implemented to reduce forest-based carbon emissions.
I wish to make the point that we need information on what the actual acreage is that will be flooded to form the reservoir of the Amaila Falls Hydropower Plant. Will the area be de-bushed and the trees taken out of the reservoir area? If not, is there an estimate of the greenhouse gases which the proposed reservoir will generate and emit? The public needs to know that the Amaila Falls Hydropower Plant will generate and emit significant greenhouse gases, and will permanently convert areas of tropical rainforest into a lake. This is scheduled to occur at a time when significant de-bushing will also be done for the development of the five new large scale mines. We need to know: what is the acreage which will be disturbed by the five new large scale mines which may be developed between 2014 and 2018? The possible developments are: manganese at Matthews Ridge; bauxite at Bonasika; gold at Toroparu, Puruni, at Kaburi, Potaro, and at Aurora, Cuyuni. What is the value per acre cleared, and how does that value compare with the projections in the LCDS documents? This, I believe, is really vital information which we, in the National Assembly, need and which the public needs to understand exactly what is taking place with the Low Carbon Development Strategy.
While much remains to be done, we do recognise that controls have been put in place to ensure forest concessions are managed based on annual allowable cuts, low impact logging, traceability of forest products, and measures to plug leakages such as tagging and inspections in the field, along routes and the wharves. GGMC’s controls are also much tighter in monitoring deforestation and degradation. Notwithstanding these steps in the right direction, there have been reluctance and a lack of political will to increase environmental bonds and penalties which, at the moment, are at laughable levels. Similarly, Guyana has made only very limited progress on improving forest governance. The Rainforest Alliance Verification Report of December, 2012 is instructive in this regard. So, I say that the Minister, in section 4.3 of the Budget speech, was over-speaking somewhat.
In section 4.4, we see that US$7 million was approved for disbursement by the Guyana REDD + Investment Fund (GRIF) Steering Committee in November 2011 – just prior to the elections I might add – for institutional strengthening, including US$3.1 million for the Office of Climate Change and the Project Management Office in the Office of the President. As far as I am aware - and can be corrected if I am in error – no accounts have been audited and publicised about how this money has been spent. Contrary to the Norway-Guyana MoU, full disclosure about these expenditures is not available on the LCDS website. Only US$625,000 to US$650,000 of the Amerindian Development Fund segment has been approved for GRIF spending – for 25 to 27 villages at US$25,000 each. The full project cost of US$6 million depends on preparation of the as-yet-unwritten full proposal by the Office of Climate Change and the delivery partner the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Credit should be given to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for aiding the development of the Community Development Plans (CDPs) in almost all the Amerindian villages and communities, apparently by using moneys from the Consolidated Fund rather than donor funding. Unfortunately, the CDPs are not in the public domain so their quality cannot be independently checked. But this is a step in the right direction.
Weaknesses in integrated planning aside, there is little or no correlation between outputs from enterprises and availability of markets, logistics and quality assurance, nor is account being taken of the capacity of target communities to absorb the volume of funding available from the Amerindian Development Fund, the one per cent of the five per cent royalty received by GGMC and paid over to the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for allocation to non-mining Amerindian communities, and for projects in Amerindian communities funded by the public sector - Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Public Works, and Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development - and these are based on allocation from the Budget.
There needs to be a degree of devolution and decentralisation with adequate governance systems to ensure transparency, equitable access and accountability. The State Planning Secretariat needs to be re-energised and adequately staffed and capacity needs to be built at the local levels to ensure, as far as possible, seamless integration of local, regional and national strategic plans.
Mining: The unprecedented growth of the mining sector, led by the surge in gold production, brings with it new challenges. The websites of some of the exploration companies operating in Guyana set out information on resources and reserves of gold within their respective licence areas. Between 10 and 20 million ounces of gold reserves are estimated to be located collectively on licence areas in Guyana. Between 2014 and 2016, there is hope for the development of large scale gold mines at Aurora on the Cuyuni River, Toroparu on the upper Puruni River, and in the Potaro area near Kaburi. At the same time, there is hope of the development of a manganese mine at Matthews Ridge, and a new bauxite mine at Bonasika on the lower Essequibo River. There is also advanced exploration on a uranium property in the mid Mazaruni. Each of these developments is estimated to be as large as the Omai gold mine was. What are the implications? Along with the revenue windfall, five new large mines will also demand commensurate responsibilities of monitoring. A risk management approach to monitoring would need to be utilised in order to decide on the number and type of mine inspectors to be added to the GGMC and other relevant agencies.
Then there is the challenge of positioning Guyanese to benefit from the varied business opportunities. I see no evidence that the Government is as alert to the challenges as it needs to be and appears to have limited hope of overcoming them. The University of Guyana, the Technical Institutes, and the Trade Schools would need to be given the resources so as to produce the skills that these new mines will demand.
What is required, above all, is the development of a strategic plan for small and medium scale gold and diamond mining. An update of Professor Clive Thomas’s study entitled “Too Big To Fail” would provide a good basis from which to begin.
The production of over 400,000 ounces of gold annually, by the small and medium scale miners raises the question of the exhaustion of these finite resources. Will the resources last for 10 or 20 more years.
We should ensure titling of selected hinterland mining communities. Many interior mining settlements are still classified as unorganized. Miners have settled in areas like Kurupung, Imbaimadai, Mahdia and Issano, and they should be granted long term residential and business titles.
The orderly development of the small and medium scale gold and diamond mining sector must proceed on the basis of economic, scientific, and technical facts. We are prepared to hand over the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) manifesto that details with the types of studies that are necessary.
There needs to be a review of the outcomes of Government policy of allowing Amerindian village lands to be extended to cover lands currently held by miners. When policies lead to confusion, lawsuits, picketing, blockades, and pits one citizen against another, we must not be afraid to rethink and review the policies.
The present windfall described so fulsomely in Budget 2013 means that the coffers of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) are sufficiently bloated to release funds for the training for women miners to promote and advance gender equity. Providing funds to the largely self-financing and very active Guyana Women Miners Organisation would assist in providing solutions to some of the most grievous social problems in the interior based mining sector. I notice in a report of the Stabroek News, 24th March, 2013 that the Women Miners are hoping to establish a home to deal with people trafficked. They are hoping to build such a home in Bartica. A piece of land has been identified and they seem to intend to approach Minister Irfaan Ali about the granting of this piece of land.
I want to urge from this side of the House that Minister Ali recognise the invaluable work being done by the Women Miners Association and assist them in this noble effort to construct a home in Bartica for the young sisters who have been trafficked in the mining areas.
There should on the whole be better provision, better facilities for women working in, or visiting the interior. This includes toilets as well as transportation. Roads should be good enough to allow mini bus passenger services to be in operation. Mine workers and citizens working or doing business in the hinterland riding to the interior sitting atop of fuel drums or ration boxes must be discontinued, for safety and for human dignity. Only Sunday we got news of a ghastly accident where four people died in the interior when a truck on which they were travelling with crates and boxes overturned. From this side of the House and I am sure from all sides of the House we want to send our sympathy to the relatives of those who perished in that accident. But we must take steps to ensure that we put an end to this mode of travel.
It would be mean-spirited not to commend my friend of long standing, the Hon. Prime Minister and the GGMC for the performance improvements over the last five years, and for winning the award of ISO certification to the Land Management Department of the GGMC. I also wish to commend the GGMC for winning the Public Sector Award for Excellence issued by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce in 2011.We encourage the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources to continue the performance improvements won by the Hon. Prime Minister.
We should work to ensure that all miners are treated fairly whether they are Brazilians, Canadians, Russians, Chinese, Americans or Guyanese. When Guyanese, notoriously hospitable as we are known to be, seem antagonistic to strangers in our midst is when we are made to feel like second class citizens in our own country, deprived of fair and equitable access to our own resources, even of the right to work. Blunders such as discriminating against Guyanese workers by agreement cannot be answered by accusations of xenophobia and even racism.
GGMC and the relevant agencies must continue and improve technical assistance programme to miners to help local miners improve recovery systems, environment management, and exploration methods. Given the expanding needs in the sector, these programmes should be stronger than the Ministry of Agriculture extension programme. Consideration must be given to determining the right time for the miners to use improved recovery methods on every operation using excavators. The current sluice box systems cannot give greater than 40% recovery for the grain size of gold being mined by these operators. Improved systems would give above 85% recovery and such systems cost the same as an excavator. Incentives must be put in place to ensure that the equipment is as readily available to the miner as the excavator is.
I turn now specifically to the gold sector, Sections 4.18 and 4.19 of the Budget. Unlike Norway with its gas and petroleum reserves, Guyana has taken no steps to use the windfall of high prices for gold to create a natural resources wealth fund. Why not? The income from the gold declared to the Gold Board in 2012 must have exceeded 416,000 ounces which at US$ 1,500 per ounce amounts to US$624 million; of this, the Gold Board revenue is 7%. Of this income 1% is to be returned by law to the Amerindians. What has the US$624 million been spent on which is durable for the development of Guyana? I am perfectly happy to be corrected where I have erred. Should some of this windfall not be used to develop the infrastructure necessary to provide for settled and viable communities in the mining districts, as well as for development of alternative economic enterprises based on food self sufficiency, competitive market access for agricultural products, tourism, mineral processing and availability of sustainable means of power generation - hydro, wind and photo-voltaics?
I want to quote from a document that came out of the conference of ParlAmericas held in Bogota, Columbia on Parliaments and Extractive Industries. They have some recommendations for parliaments in countries with natural resources. They say this:
“All parliaments should seek to update legislation governing extractive industries, based on environmental impacts, the return of the expected benefits, and sustainable development criteria.
Parliaments should seek to ensure the transparency of all processes associated with extractive industries, in conformity with national interests and social welfare.
Parliaments should strengthen mechanisms used to disseminate information and report on regulations governing extractive industries, especially on concessions and contracts involving the national wealth.
Parliaments should strive to standardise control and legislative criteria applicable to extractive industries.
Parliaments should assess procedures so that control and oversight functions make a significant contribution to the fight against corruption. In so doing, they should demand full cooperation from the Executive and other government agencies.”
On the issue of wealth garnered from natural resources, from extractive activities the group recommends:
“1. Using a portion of the revenues raised from extractive activities to diversify the production matrix with a view to consolidating sustainable economic sectors.
2. Advancing the processes of decentralisation, autonomy and territorial organisation, all of which are essential for improving public administration.
3. Further strengthening participatory processes for budget formulation, transparency and accountability, at all levels of government.
4. Discussing income distribution formulas, considering equity criteria that will ensure equal opportunity.
5. Considering the creation of a stabilisation fund using revenues raised from extractive industries, to overcome contingencies.”
Those are some of the recommendations coming out of the Bogota workshop that our own Parliament can, I think, pay keen attention to. The polarization between the medium scale miners, represented by the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA), and the small-scale miners has exacerbated a fundamental contradiction in the sector. Attempts to organise the small scale miners into syndicates for training, access to credit and use of technologically and environmentally friendly technologies, have been half-hearted and subject to political direction rather than being driven by the sustained efforts of the GGMC, its Board, and in collaboration with the GGDMA, syndicates, commercial Banks and equipment suppliers.
I say briefly on the question of Bauxite, because I am running out of time, that questions need to be raised about the beneficial occupation of the bauxite resources and reserves by Bosai and by Rusal. Are they paying all royalties and taxes on time? Are they hogging land for which they are not licensed? Are they satisfying all the terms and conditions of their respective licences? More particularly, are they meeting obligations with respect to re-vegetation of mine sites?
I turn now to agriculture. These pronouncements are remarkable more for what they conceal than what they reveal. I am referring to paragraphs 4.8 to 4.12. The fact is indisputable and admitted on all side: low labour turnout has plagued all the estates. My friend, the former Shadow Minister of Agriculture in the Ninth Parliament and the keenest of students of the industry into which he was born, Mr. Anthony Vieira, is on record as stating that in 2012 the industry showed the factories standing idle, out of cane and not grinding, during the first and second crops, a total of 10,527 hours. He went on to state that the actual time the factories worked during the year was 21,623 hours. In other words, the desertion of the cane fields by the workers meant that the factories were standing idle 50% of the time during the crops, waiting for the cane that never came. This must also have meant that during a substantial part of the time the factory workers had to be paid for idling as the factory idled. This migration away from the industry is not a new phenomenon. It has been continuing steadily since 2000 and has now reached crisis proportions.
The chronic state of the financial condition of GuySuCo has become an annual lament. Different time, same song! It remains something of a mystery why the compensation funds from the European Union are not being dedicated to the sugar industry, including the cane-farmers. Were these funds not intended to make the industry more competitive and more efficient, for instance, by helping to finance the costly process of converting the land for mechanical harvesting, on all estates, to offset the loss of workers? Between 2006 when the compensation payments from the European Union (EU) began and 2012, Guyana took possession of $24.7 billion dollars.
Why should GuySuCo be in such a near terminal condition? Whatever the policy is that disperses these funds away from the industry and spreads them around it needs to be re-thought. The situation is described in the 2008 GuySuCo document Revised Commentary on Capital Budget 2008 where we read:
“The limited availability of funds in 2007 saw the factory investments limited to less than $350 million instead of the $1.35 billion requested; and in 2008 the factories asked for $5.6 billion to do their capital works, but were only given $2.34 billion, less than half what they needed. The Board of GuySuCo noted in their summary of the 2008 capital cuts that “this starvation of funds will significantly restrict management’s ability to achieve their objectives outlined in the GuySuCo strategy plans”.
I ask, is this the time, with GuySuCo mired in these financial doldrums, for the Government to be actively considering the appointment of the absentee Mr. Raj Singh to head the Corporation at a princely salary of US$25,000 a month, plus two houses and apparently uncapped perks? How does the Minister expect this largesse to be greeted by the already demoralised managers and restive workers across the Corporation?
Speaking on the issue of sugar in last year’s Budget, I said this: “All verifiable indications in the industry point not to recovery, but to continuing decline.” I said then and I say again that the sugar industry, “for all the well known reasons, remains of properly enduring importance to this Nation.” In the face of this seemingly unstoppable decline, I call again, as I did in my Budget presentation last year, for the establishment of a special select committee to conduct public hearings into GuySuCo. Subsidy of a vital industry can become necessary for a period. It must however be subject to the oversight of the body that votes the funds. All plans must be reviewed and defended. Failure to meet targets must be explained. Let us draw on all our domestic expertise bar none.
While it is undeniable that rice has shown an improved and welcome production level in 2012, it stretches the truth to breaking point to say that Government’s efforts facilitated the process. As we know in the first part of the year there was high rainfall which exposed the numerous flaws in the infrastructure of the coastal plain to grow any crop, even rice which requires much water and very little drainage. There was widespread flooding in numerous areas including the MMA, Mahaica and Black Bush Polder, exposing the neglect of the drainage system. Add to this the impassable backdam roads, the weed blocked irrigation canals, and the porous sea defenses everywhere. To say that the farmers achieved these high levels of production through the Government’s diligent care of the infrastructure is to take credit where credit is not due. It would be more accurate to say that the farmers were able to achieve these levels of production through their drive to cash in on the high rice prices currently being paid on account of the oil for rice arrangement with Venezuela. Now that the Venezuela Agreement is awaiting renewal, a wave of uncertainty is sweeping through the industry from the Corentyne to the Essequibo.
The Hon. Minister would have received reports that as of yesterday, long lines of trucks loaded with paddy have been parked outside the mills and combines are backing up in the fields. The price the millers across the country are offering to the farmers has plummeted from $4000 to $3000 a bag. All of which makes a nonsense of the measures outlined in paragraph 4.14 of the Budget Speech:
“The favourable business climate put in place by Government also resulted in the milling operations of one of the larger but chronic defaulting millers being acquired by a foreign investor…”
And so on. It seems that the new “favourable business climate” is about to condemn our hard-working rice farmers to a new season of blackmail and bullying at the hands of the millers: $3000 a bag, take it or leave it!
The Minister spoke of work to advance efforts on livestock diversification to enhance meat for the international markets. Presently Guyana does not export meat and is unlikely to do so in the immediate future as the infrastructure is needed to satisfy international standards for meat preparation for the export market have to be built and certified in the first instance.
The sorry fact is that there is no recognisable coherent livestock policy guiding the work of the National Livestock Development Authority (NDLA), which is heavy on authority and light on development. It all well and good to have an artificial insemination and now an embryo implant transfer programme. However, after the calves are born, what then? Cattle farmers complain of the woeful lack of follow-up. The NDLA needs to follow the process through to the end. We cannot have these expensive calves wandering around the pastures. The artificial insemination and embryo implant programmes, even if it were efficiently implemented and monitored, will not, by themselves, lift the cattle industry out of the present slump. What the cattle farmers all over the country need is pasturage, not just a gene pool. With the boom in the rice industry and the high prices there has been an invasion of pastures by rice-farmers, for instances in the pastures aback of the Black Bush Polder scheme. The Hon. Minister knows the number of representations I have made to him on this issue. Cattle farmers on the Corentyne, West Coast Berbice, the East and West Coast of Demerara, at Turkeyen, have no pastures and are burdened by the $8000 a head impounding fees as their cattle are left to roam the streets. Urgent consideration must be given to the establishment of communal pastures across the country if we are to come to the rescue of this ailing industry.
On drainage and irrigation I have to say very briefly that the Minister stated that in 2012 Government expended $7.1 billion on drainage and irrigation systems across Guyana to continue development of drainage and irrigation structures at Hope/Dochfour, purchase of pumps, excavation equipment et cetera.
A breakdown of how the $7.1 billion was allocated in 2012 should be given for scrutiny before future funding is approved. Such a breakdown will reveal to what extent past funding in the sectors impacted on the development of drainage and irrigation. For example, the farmers in the Hope/Dochfour area had their cultivations disrupted as a result of the construction of the Northern Relief Channel Project, the Hope Canal. Under an EPA approved Management Plan, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) should have ensured that all D&I structures which were disrupted as a result of the Hope Canal be replaced to allow for continuous service. In fact, very little has been done in this respect by the NDIA, and the farmers continue to suffer because of lack of irrigation water or flooding, and very little or no work is being done in this respect.
The Minister stated that in 2013 a total of $6.5 billion is budgeted for final payments towards the completion of the Hope Canal and the associated drainage structures as well as on pumps and pump stations in Regions 3, 4, 5 and 6. The National Assembly needs to know, one; how much has been spent thus far on the Hope Canal Project and on what? Two; we need to know the final cost for completing the Canal and ancillary works to make the system operational. And three; we need to know when the project will be completed and flood waters could be discharged from the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC) into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Hope Canal Project is being executed under three contracts comprising the head regulator, a road bridge, a sluice across the sea defence and excavation of a 10 km long canal under force account by the NDIA. The total cost of the entire project was expected to be under US$20 million, but at this point no one knows for sure what the final cost will be and that is perhaps why we are being asked for yearly supplements to keep the project going. Before the project can function as expected, the NDIA has to dig an outfall channel to relieve waters into the ocean. A contract has to be awarded for this work which will be costly but so far no progress has been made to get this work started which must be completed simultaneously with the other works if the project is to be functional. The project is behind schedule and Minister Ramsammy has given the contractors until the end of August 2013 to complete contract works, a tall order.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, allow me to thank my friend, the Hon. Minister of Housing and Water, with responsibility for Tourism, for providing me with the image on which I wish to end my contribution. No, not his invitation to dream, but something altogether less exalted: his brandishing of an empty glass for which he was duly rebuked by the Hon. Deputy Speaker. Thinking of the debate these past days and nights, my mind has gone to that empty glass. Think of Budget 2013 as a half full glass of water. Its defenders on the other side have outdone one another in ingenuity and eloquence to argue that the half full glass is full to the brim, even to overflowing. A few of our Members on this side, in understandable repudiation, have argued that, no, the half full glass is empty, bone dry. And as the argument raged, the half full glass that is Budget 2013 remains stubbornly half full. It seems to me that if we are to combine our energies to filling the glass, we should begin by accepting all round that the glass is half full – not full to overflowing, not empty and bone dry, just a half full glass. This would be for me a beginning of togetherness, an essential togetherness of perception. If we cannot agree on what there is, how can we expect to agree on what will be and what ought to be? And as we argue, full of passionate conviction on all sides, the most crucial and necessary task of constructing an architecture of national unity disappears over the horizon, a task for tomorrow, if tomorrow ever comes.
I conclude today with the words I concluded with a year ago and, perhaps, I would have to conclude with them again a year from now.
“It is for us in this Hon. House, Mr. Speaker, to decide whether we move forward together in conditions of mutual respect and united in our love of country, or whether we continue to make our people the victims of our own failure to bring an end to political hostilities.
In this new dispensation, there must be no place for the white flag of surrender. As we go forward let the spirit of compromise prevail. Let each side of this Honourable House treat respectfully with the convictions and aspirations of the other side, especially when we most disagree. Let us find accommodations where they can be found.”
Once more, I so urge. It is a modest enough beginning, but a small and necessary step on a long journey. Thank you. [Applause]
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