Budget Debate 20133769 02 Apr, 2013
Mr. Seeraj: Thank you Mr. Speaker. [Shouts of radio] Mr. Speaker, do I take it that I have until 10.00 p.m.?
Mr. Speaker: Please allow the Member to make his presentation.
Mr. Seeraj: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, again, can I enquire how much time I have.
Mr. Speaker: You have 25 minutes and an additional five minutes if needed.
Mr. Seeraj: Is that per station or per all the stations.
Mr. Speaker: Touché; you may proceed. I was smiling because I was thinking about 99,102 but then that is too much. So it is 25 minutes and there are some extras if needed.
Mr. Seeraj: Mr. Speaker, I assure you I will not need more than that because Budget 2013 as presented by the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh should see us winding up this debate within record time.
I want to join my other colleagues in congratulating the Hon. Minister of Finance and, of course, his staff who worked long beyond the call of duty in compiling this remarkable document. I doubt whether the Opposition, the joint Opposition, will have much substance, much foundation to stand on in terms of criticising and cutting. I also looked at the same television that my colleague mentioned. The only thing that stayed with me was the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan saying they are bringing a bigger budget so I am coming with a bigger scissors. Then Hon. Moses Nagamootoo saying we might not use the axe but we might use a knife this time. And Mr. Carl Greenidge, of course, talking about pension. I can see with the Hon. Gentleman, pension is, of course, close to all of our hearts and I think that is why we catered for a 25 percent increase in the pension for our old people.
We noted that based on the presentation by the Opposition chief spokesman on financial matters that indeed it lacks substance. There was a lot of rambling. For the want of a better word I can safely say that Mr. Carl Greenidge has agreed based on his presentation with most of what is contained in Budget 2013. There was some mention by the Honourable Member about VAT not having an impact on the poor. The Hon. Member quoted chowmein as being one of the items that attracts VAT. I sought to do some research on issues of VAT itself and what the Government had done to reduce the impact of VAT bearing in mind that VAT would have replaced I think 7 taxes among which was the consumption tax of 35 percent. I think it is 35 percent and not 30 percent. In recognising that there might be some impact on the poor the Government according to this list has zero rated more than 126 items including services of which essential food items are just about thirty-six. This is not chowmein, this is about real bread and butter, essential food items that comprise of wheat, bread, brown rice, white rice, cooking oil, baby formula, milk, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, chickpeas, kidney beans, pigeon peas, black eye, barley flour, and I can go on and on. There are 36 or more of the items here. There are essential consumable items locally produced – bed sheets, pillow cases, all the things that can be considered essential for livelihood as we know it. Also in the area of education there is a list that has no less than 30 items including text books, children’s story books, novels, dividers, compasses and all of the other accessories that go along with education; added to that there is electricity supply, machinery, equipment.
In Agriculture there are 16 items listed here that are either zero-rated or exempted from VAT including fertilizer, pesticide, fungicide, vegetable seeds, ice for fishing, netting or twine for the fisher folk, fish hooks, machinery, equipment, components, hatching of eggs, animal medication, all-terrain vehicles and so on. I would, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, make a copy of this available to the Hon. Member, Mr. Carl Greenidge.
Of course, there are some items that are not captured under this list of items zero-rated or items that are exempted but suffice it to say that that has been a targeted response by the Government in the implementation of the Value Added Tax to ensure that its impact on the poor and the vulnerable will not be that harsh and the result, as we have seen it, budget after budget, has been continuous growth in all of the sectors and as my colleague, the Reverend, so eloquently put it, when one crafts a budget as a small developing country in the context of what is happening globally and one is able to achieve positive growth year after year when developed countries, number one economies of the world are either in the low, single digit or they are even making losses. Take, for example, as the Minister noted here, global growth is projected at 3.5%; we are projecting 5.3% for Guyana. They are talking about 1.4% in advanced economies and the Minister is even talking about a contraction in the Euro Zone, the United Kingdom, the growth rate is going to be in the zero point something percent so for Guyana to achieve a growth rate of 4.8% and to project a growth rate in 2013 of 5.3% against this global background is indeed, I would consider, remarkable. We as a country and the Minister of Finance need to be congratulated for providing the macroeconomic framework to ensure that our country and our people continue to benefit from prudent management of the economy itself.
Of particular note in our budget is also the emphasis being placed on Information and Communication Technology (ICT). We all know that even in the farming sector information and communication technology are essential for agriculture, essential for fishing, essential for all aspects of learning and development. Indeed in some remote parts of India, for example, I have seen fishermen with the basic essentials for fishing gathering around the town square listening to a loud hailer and what was coming over that loud hailer was prediction about the weather and based on the weather prediction one has information about where fish are likely to be, what kind of fish would be moving and so on. This goes to show that even in remote areas what impact information and communication technology can have on the development of our people. Here in Guyana itself we are even talking about information and communication technology with technology transfer to our farmers and our farmer field school programme has been very successful with the use of information and communication technology. Indeed so successful has it been, especially in the rice sector, that we have seen year after year, for the past four years, this industry breaking records and I noticed that in his budget presentation the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh is targeting, I think, just over 440,000 tonnes of rice which will be a new record over the record of 2012 but I dare say, given the pace that we are going and the yields that we are recording currently, that that 440,000 tonnes we might very well surpass.
Along this line we have seen the Government of Guyana in 2012 allocate $1.9 billion that went towards the development of ICT infrastructure, by and large, in the laying of 580 kilometers of the fiber optic cable. In 2013 provision is being made for $2 billion to be spent to advance the work started in 2012 and also to construct what is called long term evolution advance towers so these will act as repeaters for the information and communication technology area.
Added to that, we all know about the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) programme in 2012. $1.6 billion was spent to procure a total of 56,000 laptops and already 26,832 has been distributed and just over 18,000 persons have been trained. In 2013 $2.5 billion is targeted to continue this programme and we looked in the Minister’s presentation and we can see increases in critical areas of education, of health, housing, even allocation to the University of Guyana and water.
Here I want to speak briefly about the measures identified in the budget for the improvement of our water sector. We all know how critical this can be. I, based on personal experience, consider access to water even more crucial than that of energy and electricity having grown up in a home where this was foreign, that is electricity, but of course during those days one had to drag water from half a kilometer away. Maybe that is why I am left a little bit stunted, dragging tonnes and tonnes of water over the course of my young days.
The Hon. Minister of Finance in his speech noted that the Government will continue to make significant investment in the water sector. Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI) has a five-year strategic plan, 2012-2016, and over this period of time their main focus will be on reducing what is called ‘nonrevenue water’. That is water that one does not get any revenue from, either through theft or through leaks or so on. That entity plans to bring down the nonrevenue water from 65% to 35%, to increase treated water coverage from the 49% that obtains currently, to increase access to potable water in the hinterland from 71% to 80%, the development of an integrated water resources management strategy, the improvement in energy efficiency, improvement of sewerage disposal efficiency, improvement of water quality and to increase the collection efficiency from 70% to more than 90%. Indeed what is need is just about $32 billion over this five-year period and GWI has made remarkable progress in terms of getting their financials in place as much so that they have been able to lay their audited financial statement, current and up to date, to the Public Accounts Committee through, mostly, the implementation of the new Oracle Financial Software that has enhanced the integrity of the financial reporting system at GWI itself.
The investments that are required over the five-year period will be mostly in the area of water meter installation, pump station upgrades, drilling of new boreholes, rehabilitation of sewerage infrastructure, replacement and installation of transmission mains, distribution and mains replacement, construction of new water treatment plants over the course, as I said, which started in 2012 and to be concluded with the spending of just over $32 billion in 2016.
The capital programme for 2013 will see a per capita investment of around $15,000 per person. It is intended to have an impact on nearly 45,000 people who will benefit from the new service on the coast, Linden and hinterland communities. In excess of 170,000 persons will benefit from improved service in water quality and reliability. There will be the creation of 16,000 jobs and there will also be the demand for local and imported construction material; things like sand cement, timber, pipe, pipe fittings, couplings and all of that.
For the coastal programme, there is a budgeted allocation for $1.1 billion and this will see a per capita investment of around $16,000. For the outputs there is expected to be four new wells, 2,400 service connections upgrade, 15 kilometers of transmission and distribution mains installed, new service being available for in excess of 45,000 persons across the country. The impact will be on a 85,000 persons who will benefit from improved level of service, improvement in water quality, improvement in reliability or new services and 45,000 persons will be provided with new service.
The Linden programme has a budgeted allocation of $107 million, local and $812 million, specific. The per capita investment for this area will be in excess of $30,000 per person. The outputs will be the upgrade of 1,500 service connections, continuation of construction of two new water treatment plants, installation of in excess of 30 kilometers of transmission and distribution mains, continuation of the nonrevenue water programme to reduce loss of water. Again, the impacts will be very positive; reduction of nonrevenue water, improvement in water quality improved level of service, improvement of system reliability, which is so important for our overall maintenance programme.
In the hinterland community there is a budgeted allocation of $160 million which will see a per capita investment of just about $10,600 per person. There will be an improvement or new service for an excess of 15,000 persons, water supply systems in four small town areas – Port Kaituma, Matthews Ridge, Mabaruma and Ituni; these areas will be significantly improved and it is targeted on reducing the dependency on surface water at Port Kaituma by use of medium depth boreholes or the supply of potable water; thereby reducing the risk of the population contracting any kind of disease that is related to contaminated water supply.
In Georgetown, the sanitation improvement programme is an allocation of $600 million that will see the continuation of the rehabilitation of the sewage system in Georgetown. All of these measures and budgetary allocations will contribute significantly towards the overall wellbeing of our people and also will contribute significantly towards our gross domestic product.
In this area the local manufacturing sector will benefit because a lot of products will be sourced locally for use in the different areas. There will be the creation of 16,000 jobs, nearly 200,000 persons will benefit from these interventions in the improvement of levels of service, reliability and water quality, itself. In the areas of infrastructure we will see the utilisation of materials – PVC pipes, the HDPE pipes and fittings and so on. The impact of the investment on the Guyanese economy will see the importation of over 7,000 sacks of cement and, again, local items like sand, stone, greenheart timber and pipes will be procured and thus give impetus to the economy, locally.
Similarly, in the housing area, the Minister of Finance has proposed in the budget, for the Ministry of Housing, an allocation for a number of key and critical sectors. In the area of infrastructural development and building there is a budgeted allocation of just about $1.9 billion. Here again we will see a per capita investment of around $54,000. The outputs will be 2,500 new lots developed, 1,430 existing lots serviced with upgraded roads and drains, 4,650 lots served with electricity, 15,574 kilometers of new roads constructed, 15,574 kilometers of transmission and distribution mains installed, 31,194 kilometers of roadside drains excavated. Again the impact will be on just about 10,476 persons who will benefit from the new lots that will be developed and there will also be 24,928 persons benefiting from the upgraded infrastructure.
In the second low income settlement programme there is a budgeted allocation of $850 million. Again, one will have about 37,580 persons benefitting from improved infrastructure. 22,414 persons will be benefitting directly from four septic tank and home improvement subsidies and we are targeting also, in this area, young professionals; 100 police, teachers and nurses will have access to low cost homes. In the area right across the river, the Parfait Harmony Housing Scheme, which is a new housing scheme, there is currently being experienced some traffic congestion and having to go some distance and then coming back this way to come over the Demerara Harbour Bridge so in the budget we have put aside $602 million which will see the construction of 5.2 kilometers of asphaltic concrete road constructed, creating a more direct link with this huge Parfait Harmony Housing Scheme so that will cut down on a lot of traveling time and the stress of people coming over to Georgetown.
About the East Coast/East Bank Highway, mention was made earlier about some congestion although not along the four-lane highway going up the East Bank; it goes way past the Demerara Harbour Bridge. I think that it ends just about Providence. We will see here a new link being created and the project is described as a major new highway that will link the two main corridors, that is the East Coast of Demerara with the East Bank of Demerara and there is a lot of justification for this because a lot of traffic coming along the east bank is really targeting the East Coast but as it is now the existing infrastructure directs one to come into Georgetown itself and when one gets into Georgetown given the problem with traffic in these days, especially since we have seen the registration of over 10,000 vehicles within 11 months which give an indication of the amount of vehicles that are currently traversing our roadways. This new link will also increase the lifespan of our city roads since there will be a reduction of traffic that is targeting the East Coast and will not need to come through here. Approximately 15 kilometers of new road from Providence will be constructed to Ogle. This will comprise of two lanes of asphaltic concrete surface and there will be five connecting roads between the existing highway and the proposed highway. This will change the road network and the road landscape tremendously, as we see it. It is estimated to cost just about $4.5 billion in the preliminary sense.
For the East Bank of Demerara development, the East Bank of Demerara development extends from Eccles to Great Diamond. It is more than 4,000 acres of cane lands for cane cultivation that are currently being transferred for residential, commercial and industrial development. So far more than $15 billion has been extended towards the acquisition of this area and for the provision of infrastructure. To date, 144 kilometers of new road has been constructed, 121 kilometers of transmission and distribution mains have been installed and over 8,000 new lots developed. In 2013, $2.1 billion is planned for the continued development of this area. Overall this sector will also contribute tremendously towards the gross domestic product and that is why Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, is so optimistic that we will achieve a growth rate in excess of 5% for the year 2013.
I am just winding up, Mr. Speaker. Along with my other colleagues I want to take this opportunity in commending this remarkable document that is titled “Overcoming Challenges Together Accelerating Gains for Guyana” for the overall approval of all Members of this Hon. House. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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