Budget Speech Brig Granger - 20122972 17 Apr, 2012
Leader of the Opposition [Brigadier (Ret’d) Granger]: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Members of this Hon. House, first I would like to acknowledge the warm words of welcome not given to me as an individual but given to all the new Members of this Tenth Parliament. I am happy to be here, although it is quite an unfamiliar environment, listening to the debates.
I rise to respond to the presentation on the 30th March, 2012 by the Hon. Minister of Finance... the presentation of the national Budget for 2012. Friday, 30th March, 2012 marked the end of an era. It perhaps is the last time that we will witness, in this House, an attempt by a minority to craft a Budget on its own to impose it on a majority. I think this would be the last time that we see an attempt to introduce a Budget that is not in consonance with the public will. It is the last time we will see an attempt at unilateralism. I welcome the question by my colleague, the Hon. Member, Volda Lawrence, and I welcome, too, the response by the Hon. Minister of Finance. Let us hope that this initiative will not be a ‘flash in the pan’ but it will lead, in coming years, to true bipartisanship between the two sides of the House in the crafting of this national Budget.
I would like to feel that in years to come, maybe as early as next year, there will be a Budget Office in the National Assembly. We would not have to wait to be invited. We would not have to wait for motions and questions because the annual cycle will be continuous in this National Assembly.
There is nothing more important than the activity in which we are engaged in presently. On the entire calendar of the National Assembly, the crafting of a national Budget, occupies most of our time. Everyone in this House will have an opportunity to speak. Every point of view will be aired. This management of public finances is our most important annual activity and it must not be left to one side or the other side. It must be a collective effort. The eyes of the nation are upon us. You go outside and the ears of the nation are open. People want to know what the Budget has for them.
What is a Budget? A Budget is a financial plan. It is not a review. It is not a retrospective. It is not a recapitulation of what happened in the 1960s, 1970s or the 1980s. It is not a game of one-upmanship; who is better at this or who is better at that. There seems to be a danger that some people can become obsessed with the past but they must realise that the Budget is a plan for the future. The people out there want to know what will happen tomorrow, next week, next year. The majority of Guyanese living today do not know who Burnham was and who Cheddi Jagan was. What they want to know is what sort of life they will have and this is the task of this Assembly. It is to craft, through the vehicle of the National Budget, the type of plan that could make sense to them. The young people want to know about tomorrow and this House must tell them about that.
The Budget is complex; it is not simple. And we appreciate the difficulty the Hon. Minister might have had when, last December, after the elections, we announced that there should be a tripartite Budget committee. Perhaps the process had gone too far and that is why I insist that from next year there will be measures introduced into this House to have a Parliamentary Budget Committee.
The Budget operates at various levels. At the personal level, every pensioner, everywhere one turns, wants to know something this week or next week. “Wha alyuh doin fo we?” It operates at the local level. And, as the Americans say, “All politics is local.” The Hon. Member, Allicock, from Surama wants to know about the roads. The Hon. Member from Upper Mazaruni wants to know about the schools and the cost of living. Everybody has an interest and those interests are local, regional and national.
We understand that a Budget is highly complex. That is why we insist on collaboration. No one knows everything. We have to sit down prior. We have to speak to each other, not because we are forced to by circumstances but because that is the way forward. We have spoken about a consensual approach. We have spoken about a collaborative approach. We have spoken about a cooperative approach. Let us get it right next time.
It is not too late now and we have not closed our ears. We do not want a collision. We do not want a car crash and we will speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime, to get this Budget right. Collaboration is not an option anymore. It is an obligation. The minority in this House has to collaborate with the majority. The days of “we will go it alone” are over. The days of “we are in this together” have started. They cannot do it by themselves and we want to work with the other side of the House.
The Budget is not an opportunity for shouting at each other. It is a time for listening. It is not a campaign rally. It is not a stage for one-upmanship. It is not an opportunity for giving out little frecks and favours to selected communities. It is not an opportunity for one party to lord over another party. It is an opportunity for us to work together – all 65 plus one of us – to stand up in front of the Guyanese people and say, “We have listened to your voices. We feel your concerns and this is the best that we can do for the Guyanese people.” But, in crafting a Budget, we are not only concerned about facts and figures. We are not only concerned about numbers. We are concerned about policies. Dr. Lawrence Peter, the man whose name was given to the Peter Principle, said, “If you do not know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.” And when we listened to what the Hon. Minister of Finance had to say, we wondered where the Budget is taking us.
The Budget is based on certain precepts. It is based on certain preferences. It is based on certain priorities. It is based on certain policies. And we must ask: what were those precepts, priorities, principles and policies? It is the view of A Partnership for National Unity that people are concerned with five basic freedoms and we want to see those five basic freedoms enshrined and embodied in the Budget.
The first freedom is freedom from fear. Every fisherman, woman, child, miner and citizen wants to live in safety and be protected by the people who have been appointed to protect them – the state, the Government, the Guyana Police Force. We need to build a country where every citizen feels safe and freedom from fear is at the top of the list. When we look at the Budget, therefore, how is that Budget going to make us free from fear? How much will be advanced to the security forces, to the law enforcement agencies, to protect us? Will the Guyana Police Force be given its correct manpower? Will it be given aircraft to patrol the 2,500 kilometres bordering our coastland? Will it be given maritime craft to protect our fishermen? If these things are absent from the national Budget, how can we guarantee to our citizens that freedom from fear when the fishermen go out and are afraid of pirates, when the miners go out and they are afraid of bandits? So, for the Budget to make sense and if it is going to guarantee this freedom, then I look to see where the money will go and how the money is going to be spent.
The second freedom people want is freedom from want, freedom from poverty. They want enough to eat. They do not want to be working at some security company for $100 an hour. They do not want to be jobless. We need to build a society in which people are free from want. And it is amazing how little attention was paid in this Budget to the alleviation of poverty. The very poor people will always end up at the bottom of the social ladder because their children cannot go to school because they have no meals, they have no footwear and they have no transport – we will come to that in a little while again.
The third freedom is freedom from ignorance. The Hon. Minister of Education was quite open and frank yesterday and I do not want to go over ground with which she is very familiar. But none of us would like our child to grow up in Region 8 when we look at the reports and the performance at the Secondary School Entrance Examination, the National Grade Six Examination. None of us would like our children to be part of that dropout rate. Almost every hour in this country a boy or girl drops out of primary or secondary school. By three o’clock tomorrow afternoon, 22, 23 or 24 students would have dropped out of our schools. And the Minister knows that. It is not a secret. We cannot build an education nation if people are dropping out at these rates.
The fourth freedom is freedom from discrimination. And when we speak of discrimination, we are not speaking of religious discrimination or, necessarily, racial discrimination. We are speaking about the way we regard this country as a holistic unit, as a single entity. And unless we build roads, unless we develop the infrastructure to enable our people to move from place to place, there will always be pockets. There will always be communities which feel left out of this nation state. Anyone who has had to travel on that boat between Kingston and Kumaka, anyone who lives in Mabaruma or Mahdia, would know what it feels like to be left out of the development of this country. That is the type of discrimination I speak about because we are still coastland and hinterland. We are still town and bush. We do not have an equal chance.
The fifth freedom is the freedom to communicate and the freedom to receive ideas. Only last weekend, Mr. Speaker, you were the recipient of a letter from me. And you received, in return, a letter from the Government Information Agency. Our freedom to receive ideas is guaranteed by the Constitution. And if an agency comes into this Hon. House and deliberately decides not to report on what the majority says, it is depriving the public of the right to information, the right to receive ideas. If the people of Linden cannot turn on their televisions at two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning and see a programme of their choice, if the people who listen to radio are forced to listen to “Radio GaGa” day-in and day-out, we are depriving them of that freedom to communicate.
These are the five freedoms that I will like to see enshrined and embodied in this Budget. The Budget must speak to those freedoms. Those are the priorities, the preferences and the policies which must be embodied in this Budget if the Budget is to make sense to us. Therefore, we come upon this unhappy necessity to craft the Budget in a way that the people of this country want it crafted. As I said, we do not want a collision, but our position on this side of the House is based on principle and we want a Budget that is based on principles and we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that those principles are embodied. I promise that we shall go through the Budget line by line, page by page and volume by volume to ensure that the public will is respected. The entire nation is watching, the entire nation is listening and the entire nation will judge this Tenth Parliament on the quality of the plan it produces by the end of this month.
There are many promises in the Budget. Very frequently in the Budget you see the words “critical”, “crucial”, “prerequisite” and “essential”, but the test is whether the money is being provided to those critical functions. For example, when we hear that university education is a ‘prerequisite’, how much money do we give to the university? When we hear that security is ‘paramount’, how much money do we provide for security? When we hear that the protection of the environment is ‘crucial’, how much money do we pay to protect that environment? Or do we do some sort of events management when we have a tourism conference or when we have an international conference, where we have a clean-up campaign and for the next 364 days we have a “dash-it-away” campaign.
I refer again to Dr. Lawrence Peter who said that going to church does not make you a Christian, just as going into a garage does not make you a car – I am sure the reverent gentlemen present will understand that – and promises do not make a good Budget. What we want to see is that the money is provided for those same priorities, prerequisites and paramount functions. There is a mismatch between the promises and the provisions and I am happy to say that we have come to an agreement, even a tentative agreement, to try to ensure that the provisions match better the principles and the promises that had been made in the Budget.
We have all grown up in our school system learning about the “six sisters”: bauxite, fish, gold, rice, sugar, diamonds and timber. We all know that our economy is large based on primary products; it is an extractive economy. We all look forward to transforming the economy. We want to see a Budget which starts that process of transformation. We want to see a Budget which puts real money into agro-processing, real money into large scale agriculture and real money into manufacturing. When we look to see the returns on manufacturing and agro-processing we realise that the money is still going to the “six sisters”; it is still going into sugar and rice. We have not made that transformation. The Budget has to start that change; it has to start that process of transformation. If we stay in the valley we will never get over the hill. We have to put money into areas and into people who can bring that transformation about. It is no point talking.
I can assure that forty years ago some of the biggest tomatoes and the biggest onions and the biggest potatoes have come out of Paramakatoi, Region 8. Unless the farmers can get their products to the market we will not be able to start that transformation. Unless we produce entrepreneurs, exporters and manufacturers we will not be able to bring about that transformation. That is why this Budget must put more emphasis on unlocking the potential of people. It must put more emphasis on education, and it must put more emphasis on employment.
Out talent is smothered in schools without appropriate facilities. I am sure that the Minister of Education itself is aware of some of the conditions in the schools in this country. Much has been done I am sure, but much more needs to be done. That is why the Budget must put money there. Right across the Demerara at the so-called Vreed-en-Hoop Secondary School the yard is flooded after every spring tide. If you go to some of these rural schools you will see big black water tanks which are empty and bone dry, and our young women have to get buckets to go across the road to dip water to flush the toilets. We are not yet at the level of putting Information Technology (IT) laboratories into the schools; we are at the level of fixing up lavatories! We have to get the schools right, because the children who come out of the schools will be leading this nation twenty and thirty years from now. The children who come out of those schools will be our future entrepreneurs, our future developers and our leaders. We have to get those things right.
If at the level of National Grade Six Examination, sixty percent of our students cannot get fifty percent of the marks then what? If at the level of our secondary schools the majority of students cannot matriculate then we have a problem. We are not here to knock the administration; we are here to sit with the administration and solve the problem.
There needs to be a new approach to governance in this country. There needs to be a new social contract. We have left the era of “cuss-down” and “buse-out”. We have now entered, because of the new dispensation in this Hon. House, an era of consultation. We must learn to sit down once again and speak with our trade unions in the sugar industry, in the bauxite industry and in the public service. We must be able to speak with civil society without calling people ‘fossils’ and ‘vultures’. We must be able to build back our institutions - an ombudsman, a public service tribunal. We must have respect for the judiciary and we must have respect for the constitutional offices. [Ms. Teixeira: inaudible] We must have respect for the media and we must have the respect to not interrupt other people when they are speaking.
Mr. Speaker: One second, Hon. Leader of the Opposition. Hon. Members if there is one Member of this House who has not uttered a heckling word against any other Member it is the Leader of the Opposition. I would ask that the same respect he accorded to others be given to him this afternoon. He never uttered a single word against anyone.
Mr. Granger: Thank you Mr. Speaker. On this side of the House we look forward to using this Budget as a tool to create the type of regulatory environment within in which national development could take place. We would like to know that when any citizen approaches a Police Officer, a Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) Officer, a Customs Officer, a Forestry Officer, a Mining Officer or a Health Officer he will not be asked for a bribe or for a raise; he will be treated with respect. We have to rebuild that regulatory environment not just to attract foreigners, but in order to give our citizens the confidence that they are operating and living in a civilised society. Our public services must be moved beyond the level of taking bribes. They must be paid better, educated better, trained better and also better supervised.
In so saying, I see that there are five basic needs which our people need. First of all, as I said before and as I would re-emphasise, is the access to education. There is nothing more fundamental than to get our children in schools. We can quote the laws. We can talk about our aims and objectives, but the Budget must provide the means to ensure that our children can get to school. It is a problem. The Hon. Minister has been at pains to point out what are the problems in the Pomeroon River where the children from the lower Pomeroon cannot get to Charity. For the entire year I have been receiving calls from the Pomeroon and from the Essequibo Coast. I even spoke to my friend Mr. Ali Baksh who was very helpful. That is the way we want to see things done. He put me on to someone who spoke to representatives on the Essequibo Coast to make sure that the children from the Lower Pomeroon could get to Charity.
The problem exists in other areas. It exists in Linden. A university student in Silver City has to spend thousands of dollars to go to the University of Guyana. Every week, he/she must spend $5,000-$7,000. A young secondary school girl at Trafalgar on the West Coast of Berbice has to spend $5,000 to get to Rosignol and to cross the Bridge to attend Berbice High School every day. Transport is a problem. Books are a problem. Meals are a problem. Let us sit down and find out what these problems are so that we can get our children to school. That is the important thing.
Access to education is not just a matter of building a secondary school. It is making sure that every child could get there. What is wrong with having yellow school busses taking our children to school? In the Pomeroon the highway is the river. If you want to move from place to place you have to go on the river. Let us have school boats in the Berbice River, in the Pomeroon River and in all of our riverine areas. When a child has to paddle a corial for two hours to get to school and two hours to get back home, how much time does he/she have to study? How much energy does he or she have to devote to studies?
The second need, and I come back to it again, is the need for human safety. Crime is hindering development in this country. Contraband is hindering manufacturing in this country. Smuggling is hindering investment. Banditry is scaring people away. Regardless of what we got, we could have gotten much more. There need to be a national drug strategy master plan reintroduced in this country. There needs to be a review of the security sector. There needs to be an upgrading of the Customs anti-narcotic unit. As one speaker pointed out, it is a misnomer to call it a “Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit” anyway.
We need to ensure that the Budget puts money into these agencies. Failure to do so has a cost. If smugglers are going to be bringing in beer and cigarettes, people who manufacture those commodities in Guyana will face unfair competition.
We need jobs for our young people. Graduates, whether they come out of secondary school or the university, must be guaranteed jobs. It is not a matter for the state, but surely the Government can sit down with private enterprise and work out some mechanism, maybe in the form of tax relief or in the form of some rebate. Every company that employs fifty university graduates or fifty students to be trained or to run an apprentice scheme, would be given some sort of tax allowance to encourage them to recruit and train more people. We can work out something.
There are too many jobless young people. Persons with Caribbean Secondary Education Certificates (CSECs) are conductors of minibuses. People are liming about without jobs. People who go on some of the training programmes would go back into their villages such as in the Moruca because there are no jobs for them. If we work out, in terms of our social contract some arrangements with these businesses then some relief for employing these people could have been made. I think we would make some headway in terms of jobs.
We need to adopt innovative approaches which bring about consultation or co-operation with the businesses. It is not just for the Government or for this Ministry or that Ministry. It is a National problem and we need to get our young people working again.
As my colleague, the Shadow Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, pointed out, the social gap is opening in this country between the “haves and have-nots”; between the rich and the poor. There is also a form of academic apartheid which is taking place, which is not by design. Some people can go to good schools – “the big six once again”, everything seems to be “the big six” – where they are reasonable sure of matriculating and maybe going to university.
Many people who are sentenced to life in the community high schools do not do so well. Many people who live in rural or hinterland areas do not do so well. What is happening is that the education system, rather than being the great equaliser, is becoming a great divider. Those who went to certain top schools can be assured of a good life, and those who went to bottom schools or were shipwrecked in certain hinterland communities do not get the same opportunities. We need to look at that again to ensure that there is equality of opportunity and that sort of apartheid does not divide our society deeper.
Finally Mr. Speaker, I come to the point of quality of life. We need to know that all of us could enjoy good health in a clean and safe environment. Whatever the problems are in our Region, we need to examine those problems critically and listen to our members of the National Assembly, Members of Parliament here, who come from that Region.
It is no point as I said, living in a community where the authorities behave like eye servants and we only get a clean up when an event takes place. We need to ensure that, in all of our Hinterland communities, the quality of life and of the environment is raised. There are regional centres - I did not want to call it a regional capital, places like Bartica, Mabaruma, Mahdia and Lethem - where life is very hard. In Mabaruma, for example, there is no bank. People have to walk about with black plastic bags of money. This is the capital of one of the largest Regions of our country, the Barima-Waini Region, which is larger than Trinidad and Tobago. Yet, to live in Mabaruma, to see that Kumaka Wharf, to face the blackouts, and to go to the Post Office gives you the impression that you are walking backwards in time.
Those are the needs of the people. When they look to this Budget they will say, “What is in it for us?” and “What is in it for my Region?” and “What is in it for me?” Will the Budget help the disadvantaged? Will it help to alleviate poverty? That is the test. When we look at the Budget provisions from tomorrow we will ask ourselves the question, what will the Budget do for the disadvantaged, the dispossessed and the depressed? Will it help those communities become more productive? Will it help those communities to become prosperous and will it help the citizens of this country to achieve a good life?
The Budget as presented on the 30th March in the view of A Partnership For National Unity has failed the test. It has failed to reduce poverty. It has failed to assure us that the measures are in place and that, over the next financial year, poverty will be significantly reduced. It has failed to reduce the cost of living. It has failed to give relief to the thousands of people who are labouring under a burdensome value added tax. It has failed to improve the quality of the University of Guyana which is the key to that virtuous cycle of education.
Giving the University of Guyana $900 million is travesty. Unless we produce a higher quality of graduates, we will not get a higher quality of lecturers going into the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE). And, unless the quality of lecturers at the Cyril Potter College of Education could be improved we will not get better teachers. And, unless the teachers are not of higher quality, we will not get better students. We have to start with the University of Guyana and we have to fix the problem. $900 million will not fix the University of Guyana. We need to give them what they need to make the University a centre of excellence, bringing it up to the level of St. Augustine Campus, bringing it up to the level of the Mona Campus and bringing it up to the level of Cave Hill Campus.
We need to improve public security. When we examine how much money is provided to re-equip the police force and the law enforcement agencies, we will see that, for the next financial year, we will not be able to experience a significant improvement in the quality of public service. There needs to be a fundamental reorganisation of the public security sector. We need to deal with the “E” and “F” division which controls three quarters of our territory. We need to make sure that the commander of that division lives in the division and not in Rabbit Walk. We need to make sure that our policemen are better paid, that they have better equipment and that they are given aircraft and boats and all-terrain vehicles in order to enable them to do their work. Starving them of funds will not improve security. We need also to ensure that our regional centres are improved so that they become magnets for graduates to go back.
The Budget this year has failed. It has failed to provide funds to reduce poverty. It has failed to provide funds for lowering the cost of living. It has failed to direct its attention to the problems at the University of Guyana. It has failed to improve public security by the provision of sufficient funds. It has failed to improve regional administration by improving the quality of life and the quality of organisational administration in those Regions.
Hinterland development has suffered terribly over the last decade. The Hinterland contains our largest and richest Regions. Infrastructure development is essential if we are to get the best out of our gold, minerals, timber and tourism. We cannot any longer go forward by talking about upgrading roads and improving airstrips. We need to put real highways between Lethem and Linden. We need to put real motor-able, all-weather, roads between Bartica and Mahdia and between Mahdia and Annai. We need to build a network of roads in the interior. We cannot continue postponing it.
The Hinterland regions which contain our wealth can only be developed quickly and efficiently if they are provided with the infrastructure. Right now people are paying nearly $3,000 a gallon for gasoline in Kamarang. You can only move about by boat or by canoes. We can get much more if we invest much more. The Budget must lead the way in investing in infrastructure. Infrastructure is not a liability, it will bring dividends and the less we put is the less we get.
As I said in the beginning, it is my hope that Budget 2012 will be the last do-it-yourself Budget coming before this House. As far as the Opposition is concerned, the door to dialogue is open; the lights are on. We are prepared to engage with the administration at any time to ensure that this Budget is one that satisfies the real development needs of our country. I repeat that we do not want a collision; we want to ensure that there is cooperation on this matter of the Budget. We will work day and night in the coming days to ensure that it is something that we could be happy about, both sides of the House. We are not going to be bullied nor are we are not going to be dominated. We want to sit down and resolve the problems of priorities, the problems of policies, the problems of emphasises in this Budget so that we can work on reshaping it into an instrument that could bring about the development of our country.
I would like to feel that all of the people of our country, at the end of this Budgetary process could feel satisfied that all of us in this Hon. House worked sincerely to bring about a financial plan for this financial year of 2012, which we can be proud of. I would like for all of the people to be able to look back. Our children must be able to look back at the Tenth Parliament and say, “The Budgetary process is one that was satisfactory to all of us. It helped to move our country forward.” We would like to give them the quality of life which they voted for on the 28th of November.
I thank you. [Applause]
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