Budget Debate 20133305 04 Apr, 2013
Mr. Bond: Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to lend my voice to the debate on the presentation, by the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, on Budget 2013.
Mr. Speaker, I recoiled when I heard Members of the other side speak of dreams, more so what they term the “Guyana Dream”. For my own part, my favourite poet is William Butler Yeats who wrote a poem that is the foreword for my manuscript, My Father’s Shadows, My Mother’s Self. His poem, He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, is very short and I will read it in its entirety:
“HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.”
Those immortal words, “But I, being poor, have only my dreams” are a testament to the life and times of our heroes, Cheddi Jagan and Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, who, from poor and humble beginnings in Port Mourant and Kitty respectively, sprang forth and became Caribbean giants with an indescribable and indomitable will to better the lot of the poor and to alleviate their plight and suffering in a cruel and uneven world.
When the Hon. Minister of Finance regales us with strides made in the judicial sector, he neglects, whether deliberately or capriciously, to provide a barometer as to how far we have come based on the Justice Sector Reform Strategy which was for 2006-2010. Indeed, the key indicators are:
• Adequate road safety statistics;
• A report of the number of police fatal shootings;
• Number of serious crimes reported;
• Percentage of serious crimes against women;
• Number of cases prosecuted as a proportion of case reported;
• Case clear-up rate;
• Proportion of successful Police and Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) prosecutions;
• Proportion of prisoners on remand;
• Proportion of High Court and Magistrates Court cases, including preliminary inquires;
• Backlog of Court of Appeal cases;
• Average number of adjournments for more than one day of Magistrates and High court cases;
• Proportion of High Court and Magistrates Court cases referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR);
• Time taken for cost assessments in civil cases;
• Level of prison overcrowding;
• Prisoners’ deaths and illness rates; and
• Level of client satisfaction with performance of AG’s chambers in respect of legal advice and representation provided.
I must also posit that the aims of the Strategy are five-fold, encompassing:
Community safety which deals with the safety and security of people and property; criminal justice which deals with reporting, investigation, prosecution, court processing and sentencing of criminal justice cases; civil justice; administrative justice which is ensuring lawful exercise of their powers by public bodies; penal system which provides punishment, deterrent and rehabilitation. The aim is to provide a more humane and cost effective penal system. Government legal services for which the aim is to provide legal advice and representation to Government departments. The aim is to provide timely high quality advice, representation and legal services by the Attorney General’s Chambers to other Government departments.
These are the aims and strategies that the Budget, in totality, when speaking of our justice sector, should have focused on.
If we slide out of the PPP/C’s rabbit hole, the majority of goals set have not been achieved and we have had seven years already to implement a five-year plan.
The Justice Improvement Programme has failed to deliver, in key areas, holistic improvements. These include:
• Upgrade and Capacity building of Staff;
• Juvenile Justice Programmes;
• Comparative remuneration, training and the provision of legal aids to members of both Bench and Bar;
• Access to records and data in registries and sub-registries and judgments of judges magistrates;
• Intertwining non-profit and non-governmental organisations with our criminal justice programmes;
• Citizen participation and transparency in the Judiciary;
• This Administration has failed to promote public oversight and awareness of the little reforms taking place;
• There is a marked absence of an infrastructure that protects the victims of crime; and
• There is a marked absence of a second chance policy that caters for the post release employability of adults and juveniles.
I want to call a spade a spade and say that the Hon. Minister of Finance was bluffing when he stated on page 48 of his Budget speech:
“More judges, better trained police prosecutors, increased capacity and expansion of the office of the DPP into the administrative regions and better sourced magisterial districts all have the potential of significantly improving the functioning of the criminal justice system in 2013.”
This statement is all hype but no substance. I dare the Hon. Minister to deny that it is the aim of the Justice Sector Reform Strategy and the Modernisation of Justice Administration Project to phase out police prosecutions, among other things, to improve efficiency and competence in the criminal justice system, clearly showing that the Hon. Minister recognises some of the potentialities. But has he put adequate measures in place to realise those potentialities? I dare say that he has not.
Judges and magistrates are still writing their fingers off. They are still without research assistants. Yet, we expect our judges and magistrates to dream. The equipment needed for voice compilation…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, Mr. Bond, one minute please. May I firstly recognise in our midst the presence of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Professor Jacob Opadeyi. We have guests and I…welcome, Sir. All of us have trained at the University of Guyana. Sometimes you may not know it, but we welcome you.
Mrs. Backer: Sir, I am just trying to caution Mr. Nandlall not to proceed in the way he was beginning to proceed...of the same issue that was raised against Mr. Basil Williams. I am just cautioning him very early. [Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs [Mr. Nandlall]: I do not want any caution.] Well then continue.
Mr. Speaker: I do not know either, but whatever it is let us settle it outside of the Chamber and allow Mr. Bond to proceed unhindered. Mr. Bond, please, I hate to have to interrupt your flow.
Mr. Bond: It is okay, Sir, I am accustomed to rabble rousing in other areas. Judges and magistrates are still writing their fingers off, are still without research assistants, yet we expect our judges and magistrates to dream. The equipment needed for voice compilation rests in a dusty room, but the judges and magistrates must dream. We are a long way off from the full and desired complement of judges and magistrates to service the sector, yet we expect the Guyanese population to dream. Dreams would not fix our problems; executing a vision will. Where does this administration find the gall to dare the young people of the judicial sector to dream? Where does this administration find the gumption to foist upon us in 2013 what it calls a “Guyana dream” when out of 302 staff in the judiciary, only one person is a trained attorney-at–law?
Further, in response to the question I posed to the Hon. Attorney General on the appointment of a registrar of the Supreme Court, Acting, he stated that the Deputy Registrar, Acting, was promoted to the post of Registrar of the Supreme Court Acting. He stated that the Deputy Registrar, Acting, satisfied the requirements of the job description, but she was then demoted to the post of Deputy Registrar then transferred to the Berbice Registry. The Hon. Minister states that the person who superseded her does not met the standards required by the job description prepared and produced by the Public Service Ministry. Additionally, not only is he not a qualified Attorney, but at the time prior to her demotion, he was reporting to her. Is this how we treat our women? Is this how we treat our young people; our young professionals?
I must make this point less I be misconstrued. I have absolutely no objections to persons who are retired being brought out of retirement to train, equip, work and pass on their knowledge to the next generation. I have, however, every objection when instead of training and equipping the next generation, we stifle and frustrate them. The current Registrar, in my estimation, is as competent as they come and a gem of an individual. However, he should have been used to guide and nurture the young professionals in the sector to take over the reins.
That our men and women are locked away for 72 hours pending investigations for which no allegation is made against them is no dream. That most of our courts are crammed, stale and suffer noise nuisances, is no dream. There is a high incidence of police brutality, inclusive of shooting deaths of Damion Belgrave and Shakeel Grant among others; the beating of miners at Marudi and the residents of Melanie; the raids of Tiger Bay, Agricola, Sophia, and Buxton, that is no dream. That we have no Ombudsman to check the excesses of administrative bodies, even though last year we went through this, is no dream.
What has escaped the “Alice in Wonderland” on the other side is the fact that the greatest proportion of our Guyanese population live in squalor and poverty. It has escaped some “fly by night” dreamers that Guyana ranks only above Haiti in every erstwhile single category. The net migration for Guyana in 2012 was 12.7 migrations per 1,000 persons, the net migration for Suriname in 2012 was 0.96 migrations per 1,000 persons and the net migration for Trinidad and Tobago in 2012 was 6.76 migrations per 1,000 persons.
The unemployment rate for Guyana in 2012 was 11%; in Suriname it was 9.5%; in Trinidad and Tobago it was 5.5%.
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita in 2012 for Guyana was US$3,000 per year, in Suriname US$7,100 per year and in Trinidad and Tobago US$18,000 per year. How do we expect our young people to resist the lure of the better life and good wages in greener pastures? I dare say this is the Guyana dream to the Hon Minister Irfaan Ali: the Guyana dream is to get the education you need then leave. That is the Guyana dream.
I may offer the Minister of Home Affairs some free Sunday school lessons being the son of a pastor. The prophet Joel at Chapter 2 verse 28 says, “Old men shall dream dreams, young men shall see visions.” That this young Hon. Minister is still dreaming is testament to the backwardness that is symbolic of this People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/Civic) administration. We do not need wishy-washy, watered down pipe dreams; we need comprehensive visions for our country that engages and benefits every single woman, man, girl and boy. There can be greater indictment on this administration than the visible widening, the dividing between the haves and have not. We have moved from a decade of politics of socialism to politics of democratic socialism, to politics of functional democracy, to politics of dysfunctional democracy, now to the politics of impoverishment. Access to information, health, education and justice is easy to some but impossible for others. We are not painting a dim and gloomy picture. These are the realities we hear and face in our constituencies. Maybe they are not in your constituencies but are in ours. Guyana appears more divided now than ever and Budget 2013 contributes little to bridge this gaping tear in our socio-economic fabric of our society.
I do applaud, by the way, the measures to bring relief to the middle class, but we must never forget the poor. I agree we can overcome whatever challenges we face only by togetherness, and in so doing we will accelerate the gains for our country. For this, I do commend the Minister of Finance and the staff for the Budget and the work they are doing.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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