Budget Debate 20133648 02 Apr, 2013
Mr. Bulkan: Mr. Speaker, I rise in relation to the motion before us, the one standing in the name of Hon. Member, Dr. Ashni K. Singh, Minister of Finance and which seeks the approval of this House for the eventual spending of $194,343, billion, plus several hundred thousand dollars being the estimates of expenses for financial year 2013.
I would like to begin my contribution by making a reference to something that was said by the previous speaker, the Hon. Minister of Public Works. The Hon. Minister did say that it was not his intention to wax Shakespearian, but what he did wax on was the question of road safety and road fatalities.
Apart from the fact that I am not so sure what road safety and road fatalities have to do with today’s budget I notice that the Minister also referred to the widening of the East Bank of Demerara road into a four-lane road and touting this as part of infrastructural projects, even though they consume vast amounts of money, the benefits of which are unclear. By that, I mean, currently the four-lane expansion begins at La Penitence and it goes all the way to the Demerara Harbour Bridge, but on either side of those four lanes, and at any one time, there can be found encumbrances. Here it is we are spending lots of money and, as I said, the benefits are unclear because motorist and consumers do not have access to four lanes. There is invariably an obstruction of one kind or another going in both directions.
I believe it is this institutional weakness and lack of capacity that my colleague, the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge, spoke of earlier that is hindering development.
Mr. Speaker: Should the obstructions be removed?
Mr. Bulkan: It should have been part of a programme in the first place to see if, indeed, the expansion was sited in the proper place or if it should have been a totally different roadway.
We sat and listened to the Hon. Minister presented Budget 2013 last Monday, a presentation that lasted almost two hundred minutes - one hundred eighty-eight in fact - a budget that the Minister boasted is the largest ever in our country’s history at $208.8 billion and under a theme that surely is a misnomer, given the exclusionary nature of its formulation.
It seems to me - I am informed by experience and lessons of history - that one should not boast of size, but, if at all, of effectiveness or, in this instance, what the proposed expenditure of over US$1 billion will do to develop our country - create jobs, raise living standards, address the structural imbalance of our economy, improve access to and the level of education and health services, public safety and public security, reverse the deteriorating state of basic physical and economic infrastructure, address and arrest the spiralling cost of living as well as the plight of the poor and vulnerable, including old and young unemployed females and males, especially those without education, to inform us how this expenditure will reduce the large numbers of employed poor, and to see that there will be better pay and conditions of work for those poor as well as nurses, teachers and public servants, of how this massive expenditure will make a dent on the present prominence of crime and drugs, the prevalence of discrimination and corruption, of the widening income and wealth disparities within the society.
Sad to say, the priority and preferences that the Hon. Minister has presented to this House does not meaningfully address the above concerns in any structured manner, but these are all issues of grave concern to us in A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), leading as they do to a de facto simmering rebellion and widespread feelings of discrimination and alienation amongst the population. Under the Minister’s recipe we can expect more of the same - cronyism, corruption, and incompetence - where political loyalty trumps merit.
We are told that a few so-called flagship projects, and these include building of the Marriott Hotel, the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) which the Hon. Minister just waxed defiantly, the Amalia Falls Hydro Project, are going to solve the structural imbalances of our economy, projects that have not been the subject of independent technical appraisal.
I would have thought that the fiasco of the Skeldon Sugar Factory would have been of salutary value, but evidently it is not so.
The financial plan and management of the economy ought to be informed by a vision. In our opinion, it should be one that places people at its centre, therefore, it ought to address factors such as I have said:
• Jobs for our people.
• Improved living standards.
• Improved basic infrastructure.
• Good quality education and accessible by all.
• In short, human development as opposed to growth benefiting just a few.
A central component of this vision has to include, indeed encompass, a vision for the development of the ten regions of our country. I submit that the fashioning of such a plan can only be arrived at by way of meaningful engagement with the ten regional governments that exist.
Regrettably it is necessary that I remind the Hon. Minister, and the Government, that he is a part of, of a few truths. The first is that he holds the office that he does and derives his legitimacy from the election held on November 28, 2011. Those elections were known as General and Regional Elections and electors were required to cast two ballots. It brought into being a central Government and ten regional governments. Under our Constitution, which is the supreme law, the role of Local Democratic Organs is clearly defined. Article 12 states that:
“Local government by freely elected representatives of the people is an integral part of the democratic organisation of the State”.
Chapter VII, which is titled “Local Democracy”, containing articles, 71–78b is explicit. Article 71 (1) states that:
“Local Government is a vital aspect of democracy and shall be organised so as to involve as many people as possible in the task of managing and developing the communities in which they live”.
And most germane is article 77 which states:
“The development programme of each region shall be integrated into the national development plans, and the Government shall allocate funds to each region to enable it to implement its development programme”.
The Government, therefore, has not just a moral obligation to meaningfully engage the duly and democratically constituted Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs), but a constitutional duty to do so. The Minister, in his speech of sixty-nine pages, made no reference to any such consultations or engagement nor did he even allude to any such exercise. The table of contents of his speech lists seven headings beginning with an introduction and ending with a conclusion. In the former, even though the Hon. Minister saw it necessary to indulge in polemics directed against the majority of Members of this House, there is no mention there of engagements with the ten RDCs or of a plan or vision for regional development and or hinterland development. There is reference to “Ongoing stakeholder engagements”, but it does not identify who these stakeholders are. Later in his conclusion the Minister qualified what was the prerequisite to be considered a stakeholder, but I will get to that later. In his conclusion, though, there is a solitary reference to the hinterland and it is that ten thousand six hundred and one hinterland families now enjoy solar electricity as a result of the hinterland electrification programme.
With regard to this project, in Stabroek News, of March 31 – that was some three days ago - there is a photograph of a solar system installation at the Kako Primary School but the accompanying text informs us that whilst this installation was done in December 2012 it has never worked. I do not know if this particular solar system is one of the ten thousand six hundred and one in which the Hon. Minister referred to, but given this revelation, I would say that if one were to hyphenate the word solar one would get a totally different interpretation of the worth of this initiative. On the other side of the spectrum, the former Regional Chairman of Region 8 openly boasted of having thirteen solar installations at his home in Paramakatoi. APNU will be calling for an audit of this project and of the ten thousand six hundred and one recipients to learn of its usefulness, efficacy and its cost effectiveness.
In between those two headings – I am referring to the Table of Contents of the Minister’s budget speech - there are the following:
• Global Economic Developments.
• Domestic Macroeconomic Developments, listed from A – G.
• Sectoral Developments and the Agenda for 2013, listed as A – H, with many sub headings, totalling forty-four.
• Targets for 2013, and
In all of this, there is only one heading that specifically addresses hinterland or regional issues and it is 4.E,f, vi, paragraph 4.100 to paragraph 4.102, titled “Indigenous Communities.” In these three paragraphs the Hon. Minister informed us that the Government’s aim, and I quote:
“is to ensure that the economies of Amerindian villages are put on a more sustainable path, and that improved social services are delivered to their communities.”
In this regard the respective programmes and allocations in 2012 were the following:
• $160 million for community development interventions in the areas of ecotourism, provision of agricultural tools, provision of means of transportation and establishment of village offices.
• $4.4 million was expended to support agricultural, aquaculture and beekeeping projects under the National Hinterland Secure Livelihood Programme (NHLSP).
• Three hundred and sixty-two students benefited from the hinterland scholarship programme and sixty-two students graduated from secondary and technical institutions.
That was it for the year 2012.
For the year 2013, the following interventions are proposed to advance development of our Amerindian communities:
• $77.9 million for the Land Titling and Demarcation Programme.
• $350 million for the commencement of implementation of one hundred and eighty Community Development Plans.
• $66 million towards the Hinterland Scholarship Programme.
• $200 million to support an Amerindian youth entrepreneurship and apprenticeship scheme.
• $500 million to roll out the OLPF to Amerindian villages.
There we have it, Mr. Speaker.
What I have just outlined is all that the Hon. Minister chose to highlight in his budget speech, with regard to the Government’s plans, vision, programme and initiatives relating to hinterland and regional development. The question needs to be asked [Mr. Hinds: It is not true. It is Amerindian…] If you listen, Hon. Prime Minister, you will find out. The question that needs to be asked: Is this a suitable or an acceptable vision for the development of the regions and or hinterland? I say the answer is an emphatic no. Mr. Speaker, Poverty is widespread in hinterland communities. Sad to say the gold and other extractive resources, which are being dug out from hinterland areas, bring very little benefits to residents of the nearby communities. What accompanies much of this mining activity are various public health crises, such as the outbreak of gastro-enteritis, recently in Region 1, arising from poor regulation and sanitation, anti-social activities, such as prostitution, higher cost of living for those not involved in mining itself due to higher prices for basic necessities, increased criminal activity, unsafe waterways and there have even been deaths due to caving in of mining pits.
What is needed is a comprehensive approach to the needs of the regions and of hinterland communities but this task has to be approached from the bottom up, not top down. In other words, the regional governments have to be meaningfully engaged to identify their priorities. It is not what currently obtains, which is central Government unilaterally deciding what hinterland communities will receive such as an inadequate laptop when young people cannot even get jobs. We have to find out who are actually benefiting from these interventions. Are they the suppliers of goods and the providers of services or the hinterland residents? Seeking to place hinterland economies on a sustainable path has to be a priority of any Government if we are to do justice to the expectations of our people.
Mr. Speaker, I am by no means saying that this budget makes no provision for allocation of funding to the ten regions. It does. Let us look at same. A total of $22.054 billion is allocated to all ten regions, made up of $19.453 billion for current expenditure and $2.601 billion for capital expenditure. To this, is to be added the $1.371 billion allocated to Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development for a grand total of $23.426 billion - I see the Hon. Minister is looking intently as if he wants to correct me - to the regions and the subject Ministry. This compares with a total of $21.774 billion allocated in the year 2012, or an increase of 7.6 per cent. By and of itself, this percentage increase says nothing; we have to look within the figures to see what they tell us.
The first observation is that the total capital allocation of $2.6 billion to all ten regions represents 1.25 per cent of the total budget, same as in the year 2012. Clearly a lot more than $2.6 billion is budgeted to be spent for capital works throughout the country, with expenditure under different programme heads and via different subject Ministries. The objective clearly is twofold, that is:
To miniaturise the scope and authority of the ten regional governments; and more importantly
(i) To increase the profile of the Central Government, making it to be the sole center of authority and where all have to look toward for access to state resources.
The fountainhead: The Government makes no pretense to disguise this phenomenon, the one of miniaturising the role and authority of all other institutions, whether it is this National Assembly itself or other constitutional bodies such as RDCs, Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), and conversely presenting the executive branch of Government to be the giver of all.
Mr. Speaker, you, as well as Members of this honourable House, will be aware that I have submitted questions, numbers 105 – 113, to various Ministers dealing with the very issue. The question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, for example, seeked an explanation as to why no Member from the majority or Opposition in the National Assembly is a member of the joint Guyana-Brazil working infrastructure group which met in Guyana at the end of February this year. The one to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs similarly sought an explanation as to why when she visited communities in the North Pakaraimas in late of the year 2012 and earlier this year she had two members of the appointed element of the regional administration, namely the Regional Executive Officer (REO) and the recently appointed Deputy Regional Executive Officer (DREO) accompanying her and did not invite the RDC of Region 8 to nominate at least one of its members to be a part of her delegation. The question, to the Minister of Health, which was asked, was why was the medical team, which was deployed to several communities in Region 7 in January and February of this year, did not consult with or engage either prior to its deployment or subsequently the RDC of Region 7. These actions tell their own story, and it is that the Government sees no need to operate within the constitutional framework, rather that is has no compunction in violating the dictates of the Constitution that it is happy to operate via the back door.
When I made a similar observation last year in my response to Budget 2012 speech, the Hon. Minister of Local Government and Regional Development had this to say:
“Mr. Speaker, please permit me to assure the Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, that the PPP/C Government has not breached the Constitution of the Republic of Guyana and has no intention to do so. The systems, procedures and processes established within the present legal framework for the consultations, compilations, preparation and presentation of this budget were all followed. The programme heads, be it education, administration, public works, health or agriculture, had to present their respective proposed budget to the relevant subcommittees of the RDCs, after consultation with their various constituencies. After those presentations, from subcommittee level, the proposals were taken to the RDCs. There the debates and discussion continued and after approval those draft budgets were presented to the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and then on to the respective subject ministries. I am willing to guide the Hon. Member through the process but time does not permit.”
I am now informing this House that those were but empty words. In fact, so hollow was that statement that the budgetary submission of Region 8 was not endorsed by either the Chairman or any member of that council. It was a clandestine submission of the REO and one that was accepted by the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. The Regional Chairman made several attempts to find out from the Ministry why this unauthorised submission was accepted, but to no avail.
It is very important that these practices and actions be brought to the attention of this House and to the public as they strike at the heart of good governance. It informs the legislature and the nation of the philosophy and mindset that pervades the executive, which is, that the Members will be a law unto themselves, even to the extent of making it up as they go along.
I will provide another example to illustrate this point. It is when the Hon. Member Dr. Ramsammy, Minister of Agriculture, answered questions in this House on December 20, of last year, seeking to justify supplementary spending. The Hon. Minister’s explanation was that the Ministry was taking on more and more of the responsibilities of municipalities and NDCs. It is here in the Hansard of the 32nd Sitting, on page 7,094. The Hon. Minister went on to add that there is a danger that persons, who they are helping, would expect that to be the norm. This is why I refer to a mindset. It is one of displacing local authorities and executing a programme of central control, hijacking the process.
Last year I called on the Government to cease this invidious practice of breaching provisions of the Constitution. I do so once more. Again, as well, I call on the Government to engage local democratic organs, as mandated by the Constitution and to see that projects in the regions are not the sole responsibility of a handful of unelected Ministry officials.
Before I move off from the capital allocations and paltry as they are, I will point out that the two highest allocations are to Regions 6 and 2 at $383 million and $367 million respectively, or two regions controlled by the PPP/C, and the regions receiving the two lowest allocations are Regions 8 and 7 at $151 million and $134 million respectively, both being the Opposition dominated regions. In the case of Region 4, which has the largest population by far, its allocation is less than all the regions with the exception of the two just named and the signal is unmistakable, which is that the central Government will exercise a steel heel on the Opposition controlled RDCs, perhaps in the vain expectation that voters in these regions will someday see the error of their ways and switch allegiance to the PPP/C. It is not going to happen, Mr. Speaker.
Let us now examine the proposals for current expenditure for the ten regions. A total of $19.453 billion is allocated under this heading. As is the case with capital allocations, Region 6 once more heads the list with an allocation of $3.785 billion followed by Regions 4 and 3. Bottom of the list is Region 8, which is the only region out of the ten regions with a proposed allocation of less than $1 billion, $735 million in fact. This money is allocated under five programme heads, namely Administration and Finance, Public Works, Education, Health and Agriculture. Again, if we look within the figures, it becomes more informative. We notice the following:
• About sixty-one per cent goes to one programme head, that is, Education.
• Next is Health, which receives about twenty per cent.
• Administration and Finance receives about the same amount as Public Works and Agriculture at roughly six per cent each.
• There is no allocation for Agriculture for four regions, these being Regions 1, 7, 8 and 10.
Time constraints will allow me to make just two comments, namely, one, for the four regions in which there are no allocations for agriculture, a total of $389 million is spent only for dietary provision, meals for schoolchildren. Some of this expenditure could be tied to supporting agricultural activities in those four regions. This will result in job creation – helping to build the hinterland economies - and the provision of a healthier diet and better nutrition for our hinterland students. I would rather suspect that, right now, much of their diet consists of a lot of refined foods which will – I heard the Hon. Minister of Health speaking recently - lead to health problems later on.
My other observation relates to the stipend paid to regional councillors, which is currently $10,000 monthly. There are a total of two hundred and five councillors across the regions which would mean that the total paid to all councillors, or rather I should say supposed to – I will come to that later - is $24.6 million annually, if my math is correct. The allocation to Regional Administration and Finance Department is $1.127 billion plus a further $100 million under capital, but the councillors, who are expected to be the backbone of the system, receive a mere $25 million or two per cent of it.
What is democratic about this, Mr. Speaker? Is this the Government’s understanding of article 12 of the Constitution, which I read earlier, or article 77, which mandates that “…the Government shall allocate funds to each region to enable it to implement its development programme” by being stingy towards the elected councillors, councillors who are put there by the people to represent their interests? We are calling for this figure to be set at $30,000 monthly as from the next budget. We must not only favour the appointed element of the regional administration, we have to reward the councillors who the people have placed their trust in. Incidentally, none of the Opposition councillors for Region 8 were paid stipend for five months of last year or any for the year 2013. It defies rational explanation as an entire region is being punished, it seems, because residents there turned their backs on the PPP/C at the last elections, but those people are resilient. As my colleague, the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge, said earlier - he reminded us about his grandmother saying that the Lord does not sleep - those voters are waiting, once again, for the opportunity to demonstrate how they feel.
I do not know if the PPP/C councillors are in receipt of their stipend as the REO of this region, Mr. Harsawack, who is supposed to be the Clerk of the Council, does not volunteer any information to the RDC, particularly in relation to finance and in this he seems to have the support of his superiors.
I would now like to look at some of the interventions that receive funding in the 2012…
In Budget 2012 I will look at one region and that is Region 8. It is important for us to look at the proposed funding because when the Hon. Minister, when he spoke last year, boasted that with regard to Budget 2011 allocations 96.1 per cent was spent on the capital side and 98.1 per cent on the current side. Overall, according to the Hon. Minister, for allocations to the Ministry and the Regions, 99.1 per cent was spent, “in fulfilling the programs and projects identified in budget 2011”. The Hon. Minister was very proud of this and seemed to equate expenditure with development. The lawyers may say ipso facto, Mr. Speaker.
On the capital side, profile reference number 350, $5 million was budgeted for land and water transport. The RDC of that region is unsure if that money was spent and what it was spent on. A further $14 million was allocated for two bridges at Tumong and Ireng, profile reference number 352. It appears that to date no work has commenced. A further $40 million was allocated for five interventions under capital project, profile reference number 354. Of those, just one was partially executed, which was very minor repairs to Mahdia dorms. It was nothing that would have cost anywhere near the $9 million budgeted for that rehabilitation; $15.963 million was allocated to build a health post at Princeville and to extend one at Kurukabaru, again very minor work was done and it appears as though the contract for the one at Kurukubaru was terminated; $2.5 million was approved for installation of solar systems at the Medex quarters at Kato, again it is unclear; $8 million was voted to buy a Model M Bedford truck and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), profile reference number 358, for the Mahdia Health Services, neither was bought.
A further $56.54 million was budgeted on the current side for Maintenance of Infrastructure, public works, line items 6251 to 6255, for works on roads, bridges, drainage and irrigation, sea and river defence. Again, it appears as though none of those works were carried out. Yet when the council successfully carried a no confidence motion against the Regional Executive Office of Region 8 for non cooperation and the government did nothing.
Whilst I have provided a few examples, and it is in only one region, I am convinced that this region is not an exception. I have witnessed the behaviour of the particular Ministry ever since I entered this Parliament and I understand its Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). It has no respect for local democracy; it believes in central control.
There are many other areas in this budget that I would have liked to address but time does not permit, including the sugar industry, GPL and others. There is one I cannot allow to go unnoticed and it has to do with the national census which is dealt with in paragraphs 4.137 and 4.138 of the budget speech. We are informed by the Hon. Minister that this census started in September 15, last year and that the field enumeration exercise was concluded in December of last year. The Hon. Minister went on to tell us, and I am quoting his words:
“The first deliverable of the Census, the preliminary report which is a quick count of the population, is expected to be produced in the fourth quarter of 2013”.
By the Minister’s admission, it will take one year or possibly longer to produce a quick count of a population of less than one million. What does this say about us as a nation? I heard the Minister spoke about an image, the other Minister spoke of building a new Guyana.
Earlier I referred to what, according the Minister of Finance, is the requirement of the Government to be accepted as a stakeholder. It is given at paragraph 7.1 and it is that one needs to be “likeminded”. It will take more time than I have already spoken to try to explain the philosophy that informs such a statement, so I cannot even begin. The previous speaker said it is loser takes all.
Budget 2013 suffers from the same terminal defect as Budget 2012 which is that it arose out of an illegitimate process, given that the majority of the legislature were shut out of the process.
In conclusion, my closing remark is that this budget deserves to be declared DOA – Dead On Arrival. I do not commend it to this House. Thank you. [Applause]
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