Budget Debate 20133014 02 Apr, 2013
Rev. Dr. Gilbert: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I too would like to commend the Hon. Dr. Singh, the Minister of Finance, and his team for maintaining the tradition of what has become a common expectation of the Guyanese people, which is a carefully thought-out, responsive and visionary budget. I believe also that it would be prudent for me to also express gratitude and thanksgiving to God publicly for his help and his guidance over our nation. We are reminded in scripture that except the Lord builds the house, they that build labour in vain. While I do not believe that Dr. Singh and his team have not put in the work necessary, I believe that their efforts would have been in vain as well if it had not been for the help of the Almighty God. So, I must say thanks as well.
Today, we begin, again, in this National Assembly, our annual Budget battle. I do believe and expect that it is going to be a battle. It is going to be a battle of ideas, a battle of points of views, and a battle of facts and fiction. I will like to quickly share my expectations for the benefit of those who may be interested in what they might be: I expect that we, on this side, will present and re-present the facts and evidence to support what we are confident of, and that is that this Budget, as presented by the Minister, is a pro-poor, pro-working class, pro-youth, pro-development, pro-Guyanese Budget. I expect that the Members on the opposite side of this Assembly will vociferously object and will seek to counter the arguments that will be advanced in the hope of convincing themselves and the nation at large that something is terribly wrong with this Budget, but that is fine. It is okay because I understand the nature of our politics as a nation. People expect the Opposition to do exactly that. They expect the Opposition to hold the Government accountable. They expect the Opposition to rake the Government over the coals and to hold their feet to the fire. People, and that includes us on this side, also expect the Opposition to be reasonable and responsible. People expect the Opposition to know when political posturing should end and when working in the national interest should begin.
I would like to ask also that you forgive my presumption, but I do not believe that the consideration of the National Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure is an occasion for politicking. This activity that we engage in every year – and this is my sixth Budget, I believe – is a deliberate determination of the destiny of our people. This is literally a life and death deliberation. There is no accommodation for political posturing or pontification on matters that have to do with people’s lives. So, this is why I am so optimistic in my expectations. I am confident that our colleagues in the Opposition will, in the interest of continued national development, give their wholehearted support to the passage of this National Budget; I am very optimistic about that.
I am also optimistic because of what we have as the antecedents to this Budget. This Budget of 2013 comes on the shoulders of previous budgets which have laid the foundation for the consistent and sustained growth and development that we have experienced as a nation. When we, on this side of the House, talk about growth and development, it always sounds as though we are attempting to blow our own horn. It is improper, but it is also necessary.
There is the culture also in our country for the purpose of political posturing and to make political points that sometimes we deliberately ignore the strides that we have made, undervalue the developments that we have accomplished as a nation in order to make a political point, and that can be harmful to our country.
We have heard, consistently, calls being made for the Government to be responsive to not just the local, but the international climate and create the kind of legal and political environment to attract foreign direct investments. On one hand, that call can be made and Government can be responsive to that, and has been responsive to that, but one has to be careful that in the attempt to make a political point that a country is not growing, that we can, in effect, create a sense of panic and fear in the minds of the international community regarding Guyana’s viability as an investment destination. So, even in our politicking, we can harm ourselves.
When we speak of economic development, it is important also to hear, and the Hon. Minister Irfaan Ali, in his presentation, alluded, in a very detailed way, to some of the expressions by external sources and individuals regarding Guyana’s current economic health. I would want to just allude, briefly, to maybe one or two. I will go back to 2007, not in an attempt to regurgitate, but simply to establish the premise of what I am saying. In an online report by USAID on an assessment of Guyana’s economic performance, in 2007, it shows that Guyana has had increased growth rates which were anticipated to be sustained in the ensuing years, 2007, 2008, going forward. The report stated, and that is in 2007, that in order to raise the standard of living and to reduce poverty, this new growth momentum must be sustained and even accelerated. This was the pronouncement made in 2007. I put emphasis on the word “accelerate”.
Just a few days ago, an article appeared on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Fact Book, reporting that Guyana’s economic profile for 2013... It states:
“Guyana has experienced positive growth almost every year over the past decade.”
This recognition, in 2007, of the need to sustain and even accelerate our developmental and growth momentum is the very theme of this year’s Budget, which is, Overcoming Challenges Together and Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
We are committed to the acceleration of Guyana’s development as is evidenced by the many significant and welcomed provisions outlined in this Budget. We desire that our development, as a nation, not necessarily be the end product of a PPP/C Government. Rather, it is our desire that our development be as a result or rather be the glorious manifestation of the dedication, service and faithful cooperation of Guyanese, particularly those of us who share this hallowed Chamber. In essence, to quote the words of Henry Ford, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” Jesus said it another way. He said, “A House divided against itself shall not stand.” The essence, therefore, is that we have a stake collectively in the development of our country. I believe the sooner we recognise that what holds us together is greater and stronger than what divides us, we would carve for ourselves and our generation a path which, when many of us in this House would have gone on, the wellbeing of our nation would be secured.
The Sittings and their outcomes of the past year in this august Assembly have been painful reminders to all of us that noting fruitful and beneficial to this nation would be accomplished unless we work together. I believe I speak for all Guyanese when I say that the pettiness must end; we must grow up and do the nation’s business. I am not suggesting that we should not fight. I am not suggesting that we not put our life, spirit and energy into our debates.
Those of us who stand in this House, I believe, are here because the people have reposed in us a confidence, not necessarily because we are skilled debaters, or that we are the most eloquent amongst our peers, but because, in some way, I believe, they believe that we, from our various backgrounds of socialisation and experiences, will represent them well in this House. I do expect our debates would have spirit, but, at the end of the day, they must always be guided by what is in the interest of the nation.
The records do speak for themselves with respect to the robustness of our economy, a testimony to the adroitness of the fiscal management by this administration, whether it is in the 4.8 per cent GDP growth; the 5 per cent growth in the rice industry; the 2.4 per cent growth in manufacturing output; the 5.3 per cent growth in non-traditional, agricultural production; the 14.8 per cent growth in the mining and quarrying industry; or the 12.5% growth in the value added in the bauxite industry. The evidence of growth and development is everywhere. I can almost hear persons saying, “Well, what does that have to do with the ordinary people? Those are a whole lot of numbers and figures.” It may appear to be insignificant if one were to just look at these figures in isolation of the broader context, because development occurs within a certain context.
Development is a process; growth is a process. If we were to really understand what these figures really mean to the ordinary person, we must appreciate the context from which these figures are drawn. It is drawn from a context of where we came from. I do not have specific interest tonight in going back to where we have come from, except to say that if we were to examine our economy in the context of the global economy and all that has occurred over the past seven to ten years, one has to appreciate that it is not by accident that our economy was preserved from the impact of the global financial contagion that affected the world, when economies that were strong tottered at the edge of collapse. It is not by accident that our economy was insulated. These numbers, therefore, tell a story. If we ware to appreciate the broader context in which our country has come or from whence our country came, what we, as a nation, have inherited.
These are not conjectures; they are facts. It is a fact that more Guyanese have become homeowners in the past six years than at other times in the history of our nation. More young people have access to loans, educational and developmental opportunities. More young people are owning their own vehicles. I recall in the early 1970s, as a young boy, the community in which I lived with my grandmother, there were two persons who owned motors vehicles. It was a man who was an overseer with the Ministry of Works, I believe it was, and another gentleman who was a pharmacist or something like that. He owned the drugstore in the community. Those were the only two cars I remember as a young boy. It took hours for you to see a car passing through the community. In fact, back then, as a little boy, you did not necessarily see a lot of young people driving cars.
One understands, therefore, the process of development. We must, as a nation, be appreciative for where we have come from as a nation.
It is a fact also that the National Health Care Programme, over the past six years, is the best it has ever been in the history of our country. It is a fact that we have more qualified and competent doctors than we have had, and many of them are Guyanese. This Government has continued to invest both in human and the infrastructural development of the health sector. With the speciality hospital in sight, I think the best is yet to come.
It is also a fact that the needs of the elderly as well as women and children have never been more central and critical on the national agenda like it is over the past years of this Administration. I believe that is a fact.
We recognise the fundamental role of the family and the value of strong, stable families in a nation’s development. It is for this reason that the National Commission for the Family, under the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, has been reconfigured and resuscitated. This Commission has aggressively pursued interventions for the support and relief of families, particularly vulnerable families.
We have begun nationwide campaign of conducting parenting workshops in several communities. Thus far, the testimonies have been very heartening. The Family Commission has also been working on building strategic alliances to engage men and boys with the intent of producing sustained behavioural change. The establishment and the work of the Men’s Affair Bureau is another effort to arrest the epidemic of male underachievement and underperformance in our society. More of our boys are not completing. These are things that I believe Government strategic, deliberate, interventions are being brought to address and to arrest - these issues.
Over the past year, there have been several collaborative initiatives geared at involving and empowering men to play a greater role in parenting, and the child rearing and child caring process. There should be no doubt, therefore, that the raison d’être of these interventions is the holistic development of the Guyanese people and the Guyanese nation as a whole.
We continue to hear about the importance of job creation and the blame is laid at the Government’s feet regarding not creating jobs. I am not an economist and I would not attempt to speak on issues that I am unfamiliar with. In my sojourn through the University of Guyana, I did do a course in economics. I recall, I think it was Mr. Norton who was the lecturer at the time, talking about the shift from a big government to governance and identifying, in that particular lecture – I think there was a paper that was also published on that – that the new and emerging role of Government is that of service creation, creating a political and legal environment to attract foreign direct investment, not necessarily engaging in the creation of jobs, but creating the environment in which the private sector can indeed function as the engine of growth and to create the legal and political environment to attract foreign direct investments.
One has to, therefore, appreciate that there is a function in which Government can create the environment, but the other corporate responsibilities that must be consummated by those who have the means and those who have the responsibility to ensure that a nation grows... There is such a thing as corporate responsibility and the private sector, I believe, knows that very well.
I am confident that the subject Minister for education will enlighten us, when she speaks, on the tremendous work being done in her sector, but permit me, Sir, to point out, just briefly, the findings of a simple analysis which I did on education. It is not an academic analysis; it is just a simple pulling together of some figures. The Federal Government of the United States of America allocates for education and the delivery of educational service 9 per cent of the Federal Budget. It might be constructive to note that that is in comparison to 55 per cent that it spends on defence. Nine per cent is spent on education and 55 per cent on defence. Canada allocates 12.7 per cent of its Budget on education. Jamaica spends just about 11.4 per cent. Trinidad and Tobago spends about 15 per cent on education.
In 2013, the Government of Guyana allocates almost 14 per cent of its National Budget to educational development. In fact, I believe that this is the largest sector allocation, if my memory serves me right, made in this Budget. I believe that we would all agree, Sir, that the surest way to end poverty is to invest in a nation’s education. So, the focus and the priorities of this Budget is on sustaining and accelerating the gains for all of Guyana and its people.
The question, therefore, which begs to be answered, as I conclude, is: what is at stake? We have been presented, in this National Assembly, with a financial roadmap; that is what the Budget is. There were interventions made earlier in the evening, addressing what I believe to be administrative and procedural matters regarding what the Government should and should not do. I rather suspect, Sir, that those things cannot be addressed in the context of a national budget. Again, forgive my ignorance if that is inaccurate, but that is my own humble submission.
This Budget is a roadmap that the Minister and his team have presented that will navigate our country towards achieving its optimum potential over the next year. It is a roadmap which will create greater personal development and entrepreneurial opportunities for young people in Guyana.
Our friends on the other side of this House have developed quite a proclivity for cutting things. I would like to caution that if the intent is to cut a limb from a tree, hoping that it will fall on their neighbour’s head, it would be wise to ensure that they are not sitting on the limb they intend to cut. In essence, cutting the Budget will not just affect 32 persons in this House; it will affect the entire nation. That is what is at stake.
As I said when I began, I am hopeful and I am optimistic that when this process is completed, we would have gone at each other in the most aggressive of ways but the end result would be that the Guyanese people and their best interests are served, that Budget 2013 is passed with the full support of all parties in this House and together we accelerate the gains for Guyana.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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