Budget Debate 20133182 05 Apr, 2013
Ms. Kissoon: Thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker.
I rise to speak on the Budget as it relates to the people of Region 10 whom I am honoured to represent.
First, let it be recorded that I am not in agreement with thinking that the role of the Legislature is to rubberstamp the decisions of the Executive and the non-executive Members of this House have to accept a budget without question or input. This is not the Middle Ages of feudalism where the rigid structure of government consisted of kings, lords, and peasants, and the upper nobility class maintained control over the lower classes – no; this is the 21st Century. The nation is called the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, governed by a Constitution that says that all are equal and should be so treated, and efforts to make such real are in our representative political system. Ipso facto, the elections and allocation of seats in this House, which are based on a universal process, must see us giving voice and representation to the innate desire for equality by those who have sent us to this House. The power we have is not ours; it belongs to the people, and we must use it in the interest of the people.
Since the Legislature is tasked with oversight responsibility of the State’s business, it is a responsibility we must carry with due diligence and purpose and go through this Budget, section by section, line by line, and make amendments as necessary. When this process is over, the Budget must be a national budget, representing the developmental desires of every Guyanese, in every Region, be they supporters of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C), A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Alliance For Change (AFC) or non-aligned. This Budget must see an end to feudalism. It must starve the cats of fat – fat is bad for one’s health – and restore some sanity to the economic planning of this country.
No Region, regardless of which party controls the Regional Democratic Council (RDC), must be made to feel that the ballots cast in November, 2011, meant nothing or that it meant a few will be the beneficiaries at the exclusion of others.
We must deliver a Budget that strives for justice and equity, one that creates the enabling environment to give the poor opportunity out of poverty; one that respects the constitutional rights of all; one that rewards the labour of the honest and hard-working; one that closes the gap between the haves and have-nots. This is our moment and our time, and we, the Members of this honourable House, must seize this opportunity.
A nation comprising diverse interest and identity must be prepared to equally share the responsibilities, benefits and sacrifices of this beautiful land. Only then can we truly make claim to our national motto, One People, One Nation, One Destiny.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Said:
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?”
The positions we take on this Budget will answer the questions Dr. King posed.
My colleagues have ably dissected the figures and exposed the discriminatory economic policies of this administration and its hodgepodge approach to governance. The task is mine to put perspective to how these feudal policies will affect the vulnerable in our midst – our women, our children, our youth, our elderly and our working poor – for whom a budget can only have meaning when it respects their innate desire for equal opportunities. It is said, the true measure of a government is the way it treats the vulnerable, and while we sat here and heard outpourings of statistics from Members on the opposite side of the House, purporting to address the needs of the vulnerable, such is a farce.
This is a Budget that has no regard for social and economic justice for all Guyanese. This is a Budget that widens the doors for corruption and exclusion and deepens divisions, distrust, dispossession and dislocation among ordinary citizens who are being used as pawns in the game of the self-serving. We must knock out the koker gate that has allowed for two classes of people. There must be no upper nobility class or peasant class. There is a Guyanese class and we must make sure this Budget reflects it.
I am compelled to inform this House, more specifically the Members of the opposite side, that the true measurement of a people’s Government would see it addressing the thriving business of workforce gender abuse, which is having direct impact on the family structure and, more importantly, children, and the employment of women as security guards, janitors, drainage and irrigation workers, where they are expected to protect or maintain the property of another and the environs. They work under abominable conditions and earn meagre pay. This is evident of a dual society and an uncaring government. This matter was raised in this honourable House on the 14th March, 2013. It would be interesting to hear what efforts, if any, the Minister of Human Services and Social Security has taken or is prepared to take to correct this injustice.
Region 10’s economic dislocation is having two major immediate impact on the family structure: one, it has forced the men folk to migrate to other areas in search of work to provide for the family; and, two, the absence of our men folk has placed greater responsibility on our women to take any job to supplement the family’s income or keep the family together until the father can find work or send money. The family structure is under great stress and flux as extended members are also forced to leave the community for work and this is placing a strain on the traditionally held value of a village raising a child. A vacuum is being created in the lives of our children who are missing out on the comfort and guidance of a stable family structure.
Within the school system, there are some pressing issues that need immediate attention, including the lack of furniture and crowded classes. The student/teacher ratio of 40:1 is a recipe for compromised quality delivery in education. There is also need for in-house students’ welfare counsellors to help children with needed life skills and to foster productive relationships with their teachers, fellow students and wider society.
In the delivery of education, we all have rights, but with those rights come responsibilities, so all must play their part. In order for us to produce well-rounded students and productive citizens, we must be able to meaningfully and structurally invest in them. Proper play grounds are needed for recreation and training, which are necessary components in the learning process and for healthy lives.
It is my belief that every school should have a state-of-the-art library that would properly channel the inquisitive nature of childhood, even as it offers students the needed grounding in research, homework and assignments. Library time should also be on the curriculum. We also need a curriculum that addresses local history, from the formation of this land, the struggles and achievements of its peoples, to recent, and this must be done in an honest and forthright manner which brings elucidation to past events and makes known the contributions of all, which is critical to forging a national identity of pride and oneness.
There is need for better pay packages for teachers also.
Region 10 has a branch of the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) and calls on the Executive to restore the subvention in order for Linden to create more ‘Robert Persauds’ – I see the Hon. Minister is not here. When I say more “Robert Persauds”, I mean more persons having the opportunity he had to a Critchlow Labour College education which he used as a base for further educational pursuits and to climb the professional ladder. I appeal to the conscience of this Hon. Minister, even in his absence, to do the right thing and join us in ensuring that this subvention is included in this year’s Budget. Will you join me, Hon. Member? There is no better advocate than a beneficiary.
Workers employed in the Region continue to fight against those who are denying them the security that comes with employment and, I say, the Executive is a leading player in these unjust practices.
As such, it is incumbent upon me to address the statement – in his absence - of the Hon. Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, which was made yesterday, Thursday, 4th April, 2013, on the industrial dispute between the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI). This company is situated in Region 10 and I would like to inform the Hon. Member that the comment he made that the Union should have gone to court on the matter of the company refusing to engage them exposes his inability to stand up and do what is right.
May I remind this House that the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated took the matter of arbitration to the High Court, disputing the inconsistency in the Minister’s use of the name Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated and RUSAL? It was this Minister, through our State attorneys, who gave the judge the commitment that the inconsistency will be fixed and new letters will be dispatched to start the arbitration process.
The Hon. Member is asked: where is the honour in carrying out his duties under the law for all workers, and not only for the unions who are considered friends of the PPP/C? Where is his demonstration of equality that the Constitution also guarantees the workers in Region 10? Mr. Minister, the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated is owned by RUSAL, a Russian-based company and the people of Guyana. As a citizen of this land, which makes me part-owner of this company, I expect that on this position your conscience would ask the question: is my action right? Surely, the answer will be a resounding no. In like manner, you must act in accordance with the law and your responsibility under the law because it would be the right thing to do. In this moment of question, stand up and be counted as one possessing the strength of character to do what is right.
The Hon. Minister of Housing, who is absent, boasted that 5,869 house lots were allocated in 2012. But the Hon. Minister has withheld critical information such as the exploitation of the people of Linden and Region 10 who are being asked to pay extraordinarily large sums for plots. [Mr. Seeraj: How much is large?] Large is $500,000, $300,000, $150,000. This Minister visits the region in the One Stop Shop outfit, having people practically scrambling at each other and sitting in the hot sun for extended periods before they are attended to. Here is another classic example of feudal thinking and management. These so-called housing schemes do not have light, water, roads or drainage, and, where such exist, there are substandard works.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I pause at this moment to show you a sample of roads, in Region 10, which I have in this bag.
[Ms. Kissoon displayed the sample.]
It has two millimetres of thickness. You can walk and kick this. I brought this because roads are being boasted about. The problem, I keep saying, is not the work that is being done. We are not getting value for money and we need substandard works to be stopped in our Region. Mdm. Deputy Speaker, if you need a closer look, I can have this sent to you.
Oftentimes prospective owners are left at their wits’ end to source financing and the poor has little or no chance of owning a home. [An. Hon. Member: Why did you not bring a picture?] It is better to see the real thing.
It is unfortunate that this has become the new standard of housing development as against a time when prospective homeowners were not only guaranteed financing through cooperatives or national banking institutions to build their homes, but such were done through self-help, creating community environments, and the owner given time off from work to build. When the development was completed, these new homeowners walked or drove down paved roads, with proper drainage and irrigation, turned keys and opened their doors; raised their hands and, by the flick of a switch, turned on their lights; turned on the tap and water flowed; sent their children to play with other children on developed recreational grounds; and held activities in their community buildings.
Our elderly, another vulnerable group, is still to see the deserving dignity that should come with aging and having served this nation in their younger days. An uncaring government plans to increase their pension to $12,500 which is a measly income when compared to the millions the young so-called Champion of the Earth will receive as monthly pension and benefits.
To the $2.9 billion budgeted for Linden electricity, it needs to be recorded that this sum forms part of the investment Region 10 made in this country’s economy. It came as a result of the sweat, tears and bloodshed by forbearers, us, and those who fell on 18th July, 2012.
The people of Linden and Region 10 would like to remind this honourable House of their desire for the honouring of the 21st August, 2012 agreement with the Government. We want to go ahead with our programmes for economic and social determination, as equally guaranteed to us under the Constitution.
The residents also requested a message be delivered to this House in response to the comments of the Hon. Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, on the recommended compensation by the Linden Commission of Inquiry to the injured and the families of the deceased. This Hon. Member is on record as saying this compensation is a diversion of taxpayers’ money.
The people, whom I represent, require that I remind him that they too are taxpayers, so any money being paid to them is theirs and not his. They ask that this House pause and look around this majestic structure, the ornate designs, elegant columns and tasteful craftsmanship and remember that it was built by their ancestors. They ask that as you walk into this compound, take note of the statue and the majestic presence of a man who led the 20th century fight for one man, one vote and internal self-government which made it possible for you to sit within these hallowed halls. They ask that I inform you that when this building was built and Mr. Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow fought for voting rights and self-government, these actions were taken for the benefit of all.
And while they detest the Executive’s actions of treating them like second class citizens, they asked that you be told these actions are not the reflection of them, but speak to your character flaw; and the insults you think you are hurling at them, such insults speak to the defilement of those whose mouths they are flowing from.
My constituents asked me to remind you that 300 plus years of slavery, indentureship and colonialism did not kill their spirit, stop their fight or prevented them from pursuing self-development. They have asked me to let you know that you, Members of the opposite side of the House, cannot crush their indomitable spirit. They say that they will not stop until the equality guaranteed them in the Constitution is respected by you, because just as the sun is sure to rise in the east, they know that good is sure to overcome evil.
It would be remiss of me not to address the Hon. Minister of Health, in his absence, who boasted that Linden has one of the best managed hospitals. Today, the nurses went on strike because 76 workers did not receive their gratuity for the month of March. Of this 76, fifty-three are nurses and 23 of them are auxiliary staff. There are about 30 plus single mothers. Among them, the males are the breadwinners of their homes.
I was reliably informed that at the Kwakwani Hospital, there is only $3,000 in petty cash and at the Linden Hospital Complex (LHC), it is $30,000. This is grossly inadequate.
The Board of the Linden Hospital Complex needs to be reconfigured. The people of Linden would like the Linden Hospital Complex to be corporatised. Both hospitals must come under the Regional Democratic Council. This process was to be done since in 1997 but the reason it was not corporatised is the Government continues to practice what my Hon. Colleague term as “control freakism”.
At the Wismar Hospital, there is need for a restroom, two double bunks, a refrigerator to store insulin, and three ambulances. What one finds is that when one ambulance leaves to come to Georgetown for emergencies, there is no ambulance left in the area and so one could imagine what happens.
The Hospital needs fogging. This should be supplied with urgency if the Hospital is to give the kind of service which is required by the people of Region 10.
I thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. [Applause]
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