Budget 20123450 10 Apr, 2012
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I take the opportunity to express my appreciation to colleagues for the warm welcome.
I rise to respond to the budget speech of the Hon. Minister in this Budget 2012 debate. Before I do so, however, please allow me to extend to my colleagues in the House my sincere and warm wishes for the season. I hope that we have been sufficiently rejuvenated and inspired by the spirit of the resurrection and the spirit of the season to work together in this House to overcome the challenges identified by the Hon. Minister.
The key to the resolution we seek is choice and sacrifice. Just out of abundant caution, let me say that I state the obvious because some among us may obviously think that the key is sin rather than choice and sacrifice. We therefore need to ensure that the spirit of sacrifice is not similarly misapplied in the sense that our policies require sacrifices to be borne by those of our citizens least able to bear them.
Before I turn to that matter, I would like to first extend unto the Hon. Minister congratulations on the presentation of his annual budget. An annual budget is today an instrument of economic planning and financial management. That said, it is supposed to identify measures for achieving agreed goals and targets of the country. When the Hon. Minister rose to move the motion for the approval of the Estimates of the Public Sector and the budget for 2012, on Thursday, they were no prizes to be had for predicting that it was going to be largely self-congratulatory and backslapping. Few would have been brave enough, at that time, to bet on the balance that would have struck on the distribution of the benefits of recent growth which the Government has been signalling for so long. Many of us hoped, however, that he would have taken the opportunity of a relatively soft financial constraint to address some of the more glaring needs of the country.
The economic and financial goals and targets pursued by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, under Mr. Jagdeo, have increasingly been the object of criticism because they have been characterised by growth without employment, growing income disparities and the related and contentious issues of corruption and abusive power.
The allegations carried in the last Sunday’s Kaieteur News newspaper about Georgetown Public Hospital is part of a long history, not only within the Ministry, but even within previous PPP/C Governments. In that sense, at least, the greater part of the theme chosen for the Budget 2012 is at, Remaining on Course, United in Purpose, Prosperity for All, as we would say, nothing has changed. Of course, the “Prosperity for All” has to be a tongue-in-cheek afterthought, for the worsening of income distribution at the personal and community level in this country is very plain for all to see. At the last count, the top twenty per cent of income earners in Guyana accounted for forty-seven to sixty per cent of incomes, whilst the bottom twenty per cent accounted for less than seven per cent.
The Hon. Minister prefaced his budget proper with some observation of philosophical nature. He offered seven pillars that he asserted are the foundations of the PPP/C economic policies and those pillars were strong democratic credentials - if you do not mind me paraphrasing - building faith in institutions responsible for safety, security and justice, a stable macroeconomic framework, which was to be the basis for growth and foreign confidence, diversification of the economic structure, investment in infrastructure, continued high quality social services and environmental sustainability. However much these might be the intended foundations of PPP policies, they do not, for the most part, confirm to reality. That is why the PPP/C Government policies were subject to such criticism by the electorate during the 2011 General and Regional Elections.
I fear, Sir, that my colleague Dr. Rupert Roopnarine may have been closer to the mark than he realised when he reacted to the budget presentation being delivered by describing it as “Ashni in Wonderland” because many of the items, on that list of seven, and, if I might just highlight this one, “High Quality Social Services”, for example, can currently only exist in the minds of colleagues on the other side.
Whilst acknowledging that the political dispensation has changed, the Minister made great play of the Government’s commitment to tripartite consultations initiated last December. In fact, the five months of meetings have yielded very little, except committees which conveniently diverted urgent matters to bodies. Two such bodies are the budget committee and the tax reform commission. In the case of the latter, the President appointed, without consultations, a distinguished industrialist and that industrialist’s accountant as two of the commission’s three members. Apparently, that commission has yet to meet, and we have been informed that it was never intended to report prior to the laying of the Budget 2012. I do not intend to, again, relate the saga of the budget committee and the frustration of the announced decision by President Ramotar. All I will say is so much for consultation and democracy.
Having said that, let me confess that I was rather pleased to receive, last Thursday, I think it was, a copy of The Official Gazette, numbered 20/2012, which has been made unto the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. I am rather pleased to see this here, Mr. Speaker, because you may have noticed that I, myself, and Minister Robert Persaud had been engaged in a public exchange over the relevance of the Act and the necessity to have his new agency named a budget agency specifically, other than simply being gazetted. I am delighted that at least that consultation, which was not official, has yielded fruit, even though, I am sure, it was not the intention to give us credit for it, but we can give the credit to Accountant General (AG). It is no problem.
If I may touch on another point on the list seven beatitudes, on the environment there are many questions. The failure to announce the signing of agreements with the number of Canadian firms, or to make arrangements to undertake, or to have made available the results of impact studies, for example the uranium and rare earth ventures, is bad enough. The report that one Minister has even said that there are costs to development which presumably mean that we should bear those without giving them a thought fuels the suspicion as to how tightly the Government is actually committed to these goals that are set out as pillars, or as foundations, of its policy. It also fuels the suspicion, which has been aired publicly, that the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) policy, itself, is not really being seriously pursued and is likely to be dropped as soon as petroleum exploration yields positive results. All of this is taking place in a context where the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), itself, is so weak that… As you know, Mr. Speaker, an officer was executed in effect, over what might have well been something quite trivial, and to date there has been no attempt to arrest anyone.
In that sort of lawless circumstance, the idea that we have to have faith in the institutions, which have proved to be highly politicised and inefficient, where they are not corrupted, needs to be reviewed. Those who have studied Guyana and its workings seem clear about the situations and what is needed and, might I add, so are we on this side of the House.
The question of law and its importance - the rule of law, the terminology here - and the institutions responsible for justice is also an issue that clearly affects our economic prospects. I do not have to refer you to the details of the current saga taking place within our courts embroiling the Chief Justice, Commissioner of Police, Director of Public Prosecutions and implications they have for the morale and efficiency of the justice system. At the moment, as you are probably aware, Mr. Speaker, that the Chief Justice seems to be asking himself aloud whether he should hang on to his post. This is just to indicate to you, Mr. Speaker, that whilst we speak very eloquently at one level about institutions, at another, the workings are such as to be close to chaotic. What I would add is that if the Government of President Ramotar is serious about these pillars cited by the Minister, then I would have expected it to do something about it in the course of this current budget. The Minister could, for example, have started the process of removing the constitutional offices from the schedule of budgetary agencies under the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
There is another dimension to which I would like to draw the attention of the House. This Act, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, has set out quite clearly, section 15, for example, a number of obligations which, as far as I am concerned, the Minister and his Ministry in particular are obliged to adhere to respect. Unless I am missing something, not all of the elements of section 15 have been met. I am thinking in terms of the…, if I might turn to the wording itself. Section 15 requires that the budget submission should be approved by the concerned Minister for each budget agency prior to be forwarded to the Minister, but the annual budget proposal is supposed to include a number of things and amongst them are six-year projections, and also the assumptions underlying the submissions associated with the estimates. You will find that, Mr. Speaker, at section 15 which runs from pages 19-20 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act. I am not, myself, clear that all the obligations and requirements there have been fully satisfied. So we may well have some difficulties there.
Assessing a budget should involve more than reciting the positive figures which emerge from year to year comparisons, or are the results of cherry-picking due to the choice of dates so as to show favour of the performance. I note, for example, the continued choice of 1991 for many comparisons made by the Hon. Minister, and by his President, and, as far as I am aware, the year 1992 carried twelve months and I find it passing strange that the PPP/C would take the credit for performances in 1992, a year during which it was in office only for the last two months. But there it is; that is how things go. In his obvious enthusiasm to impress, by citing large numbers, the Minister has overlooked the fact that there is growing concern over the economic data being produced by and on Guyana.
At home, Professor Clive Thomas has pointed to the unacceptable quality and the paucity of relevant economic data, and, indeed, the studies of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), World Bank and the University of Eurasia all point to the fact that although the Government has signed obligations for putting in place institutions which can monitor financial management and that they would deliver and analyse the financial figures, in most instances, one finds that the relevant economic data is not available or it is not properly analysed. In relation even to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister and one of the international institutions, which specialises in international economic profiles, were in some rather heated exchanges in 2009 over those figures for Guyana. We have heard the Minister spoke at length on the rapid rates of growth experienced, especially after the modification of the base in 2006, the base on which GDP is computed, but the disputes continue, even in the post-2006 period, as to the accuracy of GDP figures which we are provided with. This is a dimension which needs to be borne in mind when reviewing performance.
As we saw from the Financial Papers 7 and 8 – if we need to be reminded - significant volumes of current and capital expenditures are routinely omitted from the estimates. Transfers to public corporations are also not always shown and cannot always be found. Some of the exchanges we had, on those two papers, pertained to transfers to Linden and elsewhere. Well, you would have noted, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister would have announced two additional transfers; but whether that is the sum totalled of the transfers to the entities in 2012 is another matter. So what I am saying is that in reviewing our performance part of the challenge we have is the inadequacy of the data available to us and the absence of an independent arbiter, in looking at some of these figures.
Might I add, that the matter of misleading accounting has been attracting the attention of the relevant international agencies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently published a working document on the growing incidence of what it calls questionable government accounting practices. [Mr. Nandlall: Is it Guyana? Did it speak about Guyana?] You want to know the source again. It is from Timothy. C. Urwin. Many of the findings, since it has been asked, applied equally to Guyana. I trust that, under the new dispensation, the Government can…
I see our colleague is getting very excited over the mention of accounting. We recognise that he has a professional interest in that area. I am merely referring to the findings of an international agency. I do not know why it should make my colleague so excited, but I trust, and I mentioned it for this reason, that, under the new dispensation, the Government can, with the support of this House, see its way toward pursuing a more conventional approach to this aspect of financial management. After all, it was with this in mind that Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded the work behind the passage of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act in 2003.
Data aside, in the light of the Hon. Minister’s claims about larger and more beneficial budgets, one has to look at question of value for money, even if his figures are right – all his figures are right - and in that chasm between higher levels of expenditure and greater benefits to the populace lies the phenomena of corruption, incompetence, inefficiency and waste. They are not peculiar to Guyana, but what I am saying is that before a conclusion can be drawn to the effect that higher expenditures are constant with higher benefits there must be a check to make sure that, apart from inflation, the efficiencies, waste, incompetence, corruption, and so forth, are taken in account, and as it is known, we have more than our fair share of those items.
Recent revelations about the Guyana Power and Light (GPL)’s annual rental, for example, of a $900 million generator for, I think, $700 million a year is about one case and another for which, judging by past performance, the President’s expression of concern will end with his promise to enquire into it. As this phenomenon becomes more widespread, the cost to the taxpayers and the citizens grows more burdensome day by day. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you, as well as the Minister of Finance, will agree that that is the case. We need to ensure that resources are properly used in order to be sure that the benefits that he has planned, when he is putting his budget together, can be enjoyed by citizens and the services associated with those expenditures can be available to our citizens. All of this makes more urgent the need to strengthen many of our local institutions. I am thinking specifically of the Audit Department, for example, where the situation currently stands in a very lamentable state, with the bulk of the staff being not qualified to undertake the duties which are required of the office, under the Constitution. These difficulties also point to the need for what might be called an office of the budget which could service and lend support to the parliamentarians in their own efforts to try and ensure that they play a role in this exercise of getting value for money out of the resources made available by the taxpayers and also by the international partners with whom we work.
I did say it, Mr. Speaker, I do not have to remind you, that again the reports reviewing the PRSP in the past have, themselves, urged that we put in place mechanisms that ensure that the legislature can play its part in ensuring that resources are properly and fully used in Guyana. The challenge facing us, therefore, is what is being done to make these unprecedented levels, I am sure that the Minister is not going to challenge that, of spending cost-effective and to ensure that the benefits enjoyed by those in whose names taxes are raised and moneys borrowed are materialised.
I submit that to the extent that the figure of $192 billion, as a budget, is the highest, what matters in not that it is the largest ever, but that the implied increase in the Government of Guyana share of the GDP cake, an increase which has implications that may be costly for us, is fully understood. Let me put it another way: Underlying that increase is also an increasing share that the state takes of the national cake. That is, the bundle of goods and services produced in any one year, and to the extent that the Government takes from us resources which we would either use more efficiently or simply use to benefit ourselves, to the extent that it takes that additional dollar from us and then either misuses it, loses it or uses it inefficiently, then we are all the worst off for it. That process also contributes to inequalities in our country and in incomes and wealth amongst our citizens. I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, would agree that that is not desirable, so as the state is taking a larger share of this cake we need to be especially vigilant to ensure that capital output ratios and its own uses of these resources are at the levels that we would deem desirable.
The Minister informed us that two corporations alone accounted for a significant proportion, some twenty per cent of the Value Added Tax (VAT) revenues, and, in turning to VAT, I just want to remind Members that the Government had promised that in levying this impost it would not been seeking to garner additional taxes from us. In fact, that is exactly what is happening and I mention this because it is related to the issue of the larger share it is taking. I am saying sometimes that share is taken by stealth even when we are promised that is not the intention, and I will refer you to the budget debate of 2008 in which, the then Member of Parliament, the late Mr. Winston Murray dilated a great length on this particular matter.
There is, in other words, a cost of larger Government, especially when it is inefficient, and that I would like to emphasise is why the international community ranks Guyana so unfavourably under the indices of economic freedom. Let me just refer you to the 2011 Indices of Economic Freedom, subtitled, The Link Between Economic Opportunity & Prosperity, a product of The Heritage Foundation & The Wall Street Journal. So these are not fly-by-night institutions. Those institutions ranked Guyana, in relation to the rest of the world, within the region, twenty-six out of twenty-nine. That is not very high. In other words, it performed poorly by that particular index. This is in Latin America. Its rank in the world of one hundred and eighty-one, or so, countries is one hundred and fifty-one. So the point I am making is not simple a theoretical one about the use of resources and the need to be concerned about how resources are used when the state takes a larger chunks of resources. It is an issue recognised and monitored by the international community and an issue that we need to be cognizant of, an issue in which the index was revised as recently as 2011. That is the figures for 2011.
In terms of the value for money, I would also like to draw the attention of the House to the respect for the rules under which the Ministry operates. In 2010, our own Auditor General wrote that the Contingencies Fund continues to be abused with amounts totalling $500 billion drawn from the fund and utilised to meet expenditure that did not meet the legality criteria as defined by the Act. Of course, we know from the Financial Papers 7 and 8 that this is not something that is ended in 2010. So, again, it is something that we need to pay attention to. Speaking of this Fiscal Management and Accountability Act which was passed in 2007, an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) report noted the introduction of multi-year budgeting and programme performance statements, including performance indicators, and also referred, I quote, “…to the heavy reliance on contingency and other supplemental funds and increased reliance on income generated by agencies.” Clearly, it was thinking about agencies such as National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd. (NICIL), here, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), and the like.
On page 15, the report goes on, “This often…”, I am speaking now about the tendency to have so much dependence on the Contingencies Fund, “…results in large deviations of actual from budgeted expenditure, which can be a symptom of poor budgeting or of deliberately inaccurate budgeting”. This is from the World Bank and I go on to say, despite the policy,… [Dr. Singh: What is the date of the Report? He cannot say the date. ] It is the PRSP. I do not know why I cannot say the date. The attention being paid to budgeting in practice also was highlighted by a study undertaken by De Jong et al in 2010 from which the previous figure was also taken. [Dr. Singh: That is not the report you are quoting from.] I will be happy to send you anything, Mr. Minister of Finance.
In putting together the economic measures, the Minister is only likely to solve an economic problem if he caters explicitly for it. In the absence of a set of goals, which includes unemployment, then it is not surprising that we find that the budget measures really do not deal with this area satisfactorily. It is interesting that last year the Minister made, before this House, I believe in August, a revised PRSP which was the basis on which Guyana had, based on its predecessor, attracted funds in the past and under which much of its debt relief was received by the last administration. It is interesting that there seems to be…, and I can find no significant mentioned of the document and its import in the budget statement.
In the review presented by the Minister, in which he looked at the circumstances in which we operate - the international arena, the asymmetry between the Caribbean region’s contribution to the crisis, the global economic crisis and its impact on our economies, between the benefits we enjoy from the system and the amount of adjustment we are called on to undertake - I have no difficulty with his patrol of that.
Equally, I accept that the future, as we stand, is one that is characterised by uncertainty, particularly given the ongoing Euro crisis and possibly the displacement of that crisis by the oil price rise crisis. The movement of commodity prices, therefore, is something that we will have to keep our eyes on in the coming year, and that has implications for our analysis. I would think that it makes it imperative, not only for the Government to look at alternative and renewable sources of energy more energetically that as was done in the past, but to increase the efficiency in the arena of production, because part of the weakness of our export sector is attributable to administrative cost and red tape - what the economist calls “transaction cost”. The cost for importing, for example, and of doing business in general has also been the subject of international studies, and regional studies, in which Guyana has not fare that well. There are a number of recommendations from these agencies and their associates as well as from independent studies for attenuating the deadweight burden of administration. It would have been helpful to hear from the Minister what he proposed to do about the uncertainty in that context, as well as the productivity issue. Perhaps the Members on the other benches will address this when they come to speak, as part of the debate.
I am going to eschew the opportunity to review the sectoral analysis which the Minister has presented. I want to go straight to an area that I mentioned just now and the implications. As part of the difficulty that we encountered, in relation to production, inefficiencies and lack of competitiveness internationally, is the quality of our administration. At the heart of that lies the public service and it is, I think, rather unfortunate that in undertaking the review, the sectoral review of the real economy and of other international arena, we have not been provided with any analysis of how the Government intends to improve morale and the quality of the public service on which so much of our development thrusts depend.
An efficient public service is the bedrock of any administration and what we required in Guyana to safeguard and to stimulate growth is a non-politicised professional public service, which this Government has gone a long way to destroy. Even if, Mr. Speaker, you had not recognised this problem you will notice of late there have been a number of debates which have reached the press. I refer you to two articles produced last week referring to the capacity of the engineers retained and working in the public service and the consequences of inefficiency, inexperience, political bullying and political interference, in terms of the quality of the facilities that we have constructed or ordered to be constructed.
May I also say that the very report of 2012, which I referred you just now, written by the De Jong and company, referred to the poverty related programmes that the Government had been pursuing and identified this weakness in administration having consequences for our ability to monitor and implement programmes. There is, therefore, a crying urge for us to pay attention to the public service. May I just say to you, Mr. Speaker, that when you look at the estimates and the numbers in the public service you will see very many disturbing things: you see the rise of contracted employees. Often it would appear thought that the logic seems only to be that they are recruited to displace properly qualified public servants and to be able to be paid more than the specification for the job justifies. This is a major problem which needs attention. If you look, Mr. Speaker, there is a total absence of advertised jobs and qualifications in the system for those persons.
The Public Service Commission is allocated more money at a towering… because of the contract offices. The Public Service Commission is becoming redundant. In other words, money is put into the Commission, but the work that it would normally do has been diverted and undermined simply by the process of appointing a whole set of consultants, contracted employees, many of whom are not qualified to take on the work that they are paid for. If you look also, Mr. Speaker, when we come to look at the estimates, you will see that the scales of pay for these employees stand in mark contrast to the members in the public service itself. May I say so, that in one of the worse cases of this applies in the Regions where regional employment, Regional Executive Officers, appears to require no qualifications that are not political qualifications, except adherence to the PPP, and also are paid by a schedule known to no one. It certainly is not reflected in the estimates.
If you have a look at the estimates, Mr. Speaker, you will find that there is a schedule of persons and the salaries that they are paid. That schedule excludes all of those contracted workers. So we do not know on what basis they are paid; we do not know how much they are paid; we do not know whether they have any qualifications other than political qualifications.
I see in the estimates, which clearly the Minister has not read, that there are ranges of employees going from zero to fourteen, and increasingly a large number of those employees are designated zero - not defined. So let the Minister engage in all the astronomic she wants, the estimates tell their own story. So if you leave those current estimates, Mr. Speaker, and you look at the capital estimates… [Dr. Singh: That is ridiculous.] I agree. It is ridiculous and you should be ashamed. Just as I am saying, Mr. Speaker, we find difficulty with the criteria upon which persons are employed, other than their political allegiance in this quasi public service, in the capital programme we also find that there also difficulties pertaining to the criteria for the selection of projects. When we deal with these, at the levels of economics, it is normal to ask, “Well, why one project is chosen as opposed to another? Why one is early in the sequence as opposed to another?” This, in economics, pertains to the question of opportunity cost. One example is why the Government should be undertaking the building of a new hotel instead of a new road, or a bypass, or looking at the resources needed by the University of Guyana, or dealing with what is required at Ogle airport? There needs to be criteria used for these. The hydro project also a falls in this category.
Let me make some points about three of the major projects which the Minister identified as being so very important. In relation to the Atlantic Hotel Inc., it is a short time place for which the Government has signed a contract and the Minister sitting in front of me…
Just quickly on the three capital projects. What I am saying in the case of the Atlantic Hotel Inc., we find a situation in which there is no feasibility study, in which the finance and contractual arrangements are obscure, and there is also a situation in which, although other documents were circulated, we did not have the privilege of the management contract and the operating arrangements under which the hotel is to be run. There is the question of an incentive fee, and finally, the establishment agreement between the Government of Guyana and the Atlantic Hotel Inc. is not sufficiently emphatic in relation to the transfer of technology and the creation of value added.
If the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project is looked, which has also been the subject of extensive debate in public, a whole list of questions arose, even apart from the difficulties that arose in relation to the road and the contract awarded to a friend of someone in the administration. There is a considerable amount of uncertainty associated with the financing of this project arising in part from the link to the Chinese currency and a number of factors pertaining to the implications that this would have for the generating costs that the hydro is likely to be able to provide. We have also the question why this project has been chosen ahead of one announced by the Government as part of the discussions with the Brazilians, Tortruba.
There is also the Cheddi Jagan International Airport which is mentioned in the context of the capital projects and a number of questions arise here as opposed to why one would give this priority to the extension of the runway. Yes, I know that this may be partly as a result of the accident which occurred there, but there might be other ways to deal with this particular problem rather than the specific proposals which are before us here.
When one looks at the measures that the Minister offered, I think those are so few, they are so mean in many ways, that is it, I think, not really worth the time for us to spend too much time here. Let me simply say that I think that the income tax threshold which has moved is a most welcome one; it is not, however, sufficient. The question of VAT and its reduction in stages is one that I would commend to the Government. It is just to remind it that not only had this Government committed itself, as I indicated earlier, to implementing a rate that was not a net increase intake but it also is a burden on taxpayers - it is a heavy burden - and we need therefore to ensure that a reduction in this rate is effected.
The other observation I would like to make pertains to the need for tax relief measures. In addition to the nominal relief provide to pensioners and the recipients of the public assistance, there is the question of special tax exemption for elders. This is something that could quite easily taken on by the Government, given the figures that the Minister cites of twenty-five to thirty per cent increase in the overall budget from one year to the next, sixteen and ten per cent increase in revenue over the years 2010, 2011, and so forth. It seems rather unfortunate that the Government could not find a way to deal with those persons who have served their country long and well and are vulnerable in the context of the difficulties which we faced today.
The same may be said of the toll on the Berbice bridge. The toll on the Berbice bridge currently is twenty times that of the Demerara Harbour Bridge. It carries particularly a heavy burden for the students of the University of Guyana and the businesses of Berbice, and attention should be made to that.
The expenditure measures that I would commend to the Minister also pertain to the public service - that the public service wages need to be increased, and at least as sensible across the board increase should be effected. In conjunction with that across the board increase, there should be a set of measures to reform the public service in line with recommendations submitted by consultants who have been retained by the Government itself. We seem to have a situation in which routinely the Government contracts consultants to undertake studies and then ignores their findings.
I would urge, also, that the Government reinstates acceptable training and recruitment standards in all branches of the service, that we adopt internationally accepted standards of customer service to be provided by the public sector and that we restore collective bargaining for all relevant public service categories. In addition to that, there should be a 20% increase in the minimum wage in the first instance. I urge the Minister to revisit these matters and I would urge him to undertake, in relation to the pensioners, at least a doubling of the old age pension, which is what APNU would have done in his place.
On the question of employment and growth, which I touched on earlier, there is a need to ensure that there is an intense and detailed programme that would enhance employment in the short and long term and that investment and programme of employment be associated with projects under these programmes. The functions would be two-fold: to restore infrastructure and enhance the environment and, at the same time, to provide wage and self employment for residents of depressed communities. Such projects can assist local authorities in removing solid waste and other garbage which can be found in great volumes in the city within indoors and outer doors. There should also be a training programme associated with this.
There is also the need for something to be done in relation to the house renting initiative. In relation to house rentals, APNU is arguing that there should be some innovative financial measures, mortgage interest support and incentives for aided self help in that regard.
The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is another element that is important in this regard. There is a situation in which, first of all, the Chairman of the Scheme denied that a financial crisis was looming and now admits that such a crisis is looming. The recommendations made by a number of Commissions, including one in 2007, also by the actuaries, seem to have been ignored. What I am saying is that the Minister needs to show, beforehand, what it is that he is going to do about the National Insurance Scheme, not turn up at this House some time in the middle of 2012 to demand contingencies in order to fund the rescue of the NIS. It is obvious that NIS is experiencing financial difficulties. Recommendations have been made and they should be implemented. In the long term, we believe that the Scheme itself needs to be more comprehensive. It needs to be widened so that it can be a social security and insurance scheme.
These programmes obviously cost money and I hear, on the other side, questions as to how they will be financed. I would like to say that it is very simple. Our biggest challenge in this country has to do with the abuse of power in respect of revenues. We have Ministers sitting here who know very well that whilst the law... [Member: Minister who knows...] Ministers who know, my dear... I know this language. The point here is that the revenues that the Government currently eschews by the gifts it makes to associates like the former President, for example, who enjoys duty free importation of a variety of things and some who are in prison and still receive duty free access of spare parts and so forth in Guyana. Also the abuse of funds, the lotto funds, for example, for which the Minister is yet to organise an investigation and the funds associated with extra-budgetary agencies which do not report on their use of funds, are areas for which, if the Minister does his work properly, resources can be used to fund pensioners and sorely needed projects and initiatives for the poor. I think that if the Minister has looked at his programmes and thought that he could not have found the money, it would not have taken a great deal of effort to look beyond the normal plane to find those resources in order to ensure that he can fund what is an urgently needed programme.
The absence of criteria for determining expenditure increases is a glaring one in relation to the Budget. As one looks at the Budget and the Estimates of Expenditure, it is not clear what has informed the differences in expenditures, whether it is capital or current, within those categories. They seem, on the capital side, to be largely driven, as indeed in one case, the agreement is saying that the Chinese contractor submitted a proposal. If it is sufficient to submit a proposal in order for one to choose a project as a priority, there will be a lot of difficulties.
There are priorities which should include stimulating productivity, attracting foreign investment, reducing poverty and inequality, and providing basic needs and the macro-economic conditions for basic health. I am suggesting that in fashioning these budgets, the Minister pays more careful attention and includes these, specifically, in the criteria that informed his expenditure increase, in future. It is not clear that that is what is happening at the moment. But in order to ensure that he makes the best of it, we need to do some specific things, some of which have been approved by this House already: better procurement and a procurement commission, for start, is major and primary; fewer white elephants, including those that may emanate from the Ministry of Natural Resources; less expenditure wasting; more careful prioritising; strict monitoring of expenditure, which is widely accepted, is not done well enough; regular reviews of the Public Sector Investment Programme; and ethnic and location impact assessments.
I would say that these are amongst the key areas which I would have liked to see in the Minister’s submission. In APNU’s proposal, one will find a variety of those principles captured and in both terms may I say that we respect the right to earn a decent living wage for legitimate work, the right to a consistent and appropriate policy framework towards youths and we do not see elements of that in the proposals, the right to enjoy...
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and might I thank my colleagues. I am saying that amongst those things, if one tries to follow the principles I set out, APNU would ensure that the citizens have a right to enjoy the services of a professional, non-political and cost effective public service, including a diplomatic service; the right to have an equitable tax burden, restoring the institutions and mechanisms that can represent workers’ rights because this is an area that is much abused; it is also the case that within that, one would seek to restore government subvention to the Critchlow Labour College which the Minister should have ensured happened a long time ago.
The communities in our country have a right not to be left behind and we would establish a Hinterland and Depressed Areas Development fund to be controlled by the leaders of the relevant communities.
In addition, we would wish to maximise the sustainable utilisation of the nation’s resources for the benefit of all Guyanese. In that regard, it would be appropriate to appoint a commission to investigate and propose solutions to the problem plaguing GuySuCo. I am speaking about transfers to two major corporations and making subsidies to these corporations that the Minister suggested, as happened when we looked at the financial paper that no thought had been given to how we would ensure that having received the subsidies that the agencies will not continue to suffer from the haemorrhage they are currently suffering. And I would recommend that the Government takes account of the complaint by the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) about the way GuySuCo is managed, and that it looks also at the Board of GuySuCo, depoliticise it and find means of increasing the efficiency of the Corporation.
Might I also take the opportunity to say that the same problem arises in relation to the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL) but in the GPL case, there is a most interesting, and I will be interested to know how the Government will explain the fact that it is proposing to give a $6 billion subsidy to GPL with no particular instructions, without trying to ensure that the GPL subsidy benefits the poor as opposed to those who are better off enjoying the subsidy.
There are possibilities for looking at the tariffs and ensuring that the tariff structures are modified so that those who bare the heavy burden can enjoy a greater relief than others. At the same time, I draw the House’s attention to the fact that the subsidy is to be withdrawn, in the case of GPL, for Linden. According to the Minister’s figures, it may lead to tariffs moving from anywhere between $5 and $15 per kilowatt hour to $64. I think that needs to be reconsidered because it is unacceptable to have this asymmetrical treatment of different communities, especially when one is a depressed community in the first place.
The other area is the need for a long-term plan for the mineral sector. The mineral sector has been subject, as you know, to a lot of complaints about what appears to be the lack of priorities, arbitrariness in the allocation of licences, taking away of licences and so forth, and it does appear that a high level team would be a useful initiative to oversee plans, to revitalise and redevelop the sector, including the bauxite sector, notwithstanding the proposal that the Minister mentioned in the Budget document.
Finally, I would like to make reference to the right to live in a city free from unreasonable and unavoidable public health hazards. This, we know, remains an urgent need for those of us who live in Georgetown.
Mr. Speaker, this is where I would like to bring my presentation to an end and I wish to thank you and my colleagues for your patience. [Applause]
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