Budget Speech - Dr Kwame Gilbert—20142806 31 Mar, 2014
Rev. Dr. Gilbert: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members. Permit me to, first of all, quickly express to the Hon. Minister of Finance and his competent team congratulations on the preparation and presentation of the 2014 National Estimates.
In adding my voice to this debate, Mr. Speaker, I am constrained by the fact that there is much that could be said and should be said about the measures that are outlined in this Budget but, as we know, time is of essence and I am aware that my very capable Colleagues, over the next few days, will elaborate extensively on the numerous measures allocated to the different sectors in this Budget. I should endeavour to contain my discourse to a few thematic areas in the social sector, but I also wish to pause briefly and say that with respect to the Budget, in totality, I would posit in one word that it is a visionary budget.
Helen Keller, a woman born blind, was asked the question: what is worse than being born blind? She responded: to have sight but no vision. A vision is the ability to not just see things as they are but as they could be. A vision is birthed in the tension between what is and what could be. This Budget takes cognisance of the present and points to the future. This Budget recognises the challenges of our present. It does not ignore the present. It recognises the inadequacies and the impairments of our present - socially, economically, politically and otherwise - but it dares to present a bold and ambitious roadmap of what must be done to move us as a nation from where we are to where we should be and we have heard, in the presentations that preceded, statements being made that, I believe, identify, from the perspective of the Hon. Members, some of those challenges as they see them.
What is of concern is that if we are to examine the Budget for what it really is - and every budget, not just this one but every budget that preceded in the years before - no budget can be or should be seen or understood in the context of itself in isolation. A budget represents a continuity of an agenda, a roadmap that moves a nation from one place to another, economically, socially and otherwise. While the Hon. Members have identified a few things that they see as our present circumstances, what is ironic is that many of the very measures in the Budget that are intended to address some of these very issues are ignored and would be voted against. For me, that does not suggest that there is any kind of rational thinking that guides the action so I want to say that anyone who dares to cut/diminish – whichever word you want to use – this Budget, both in size and significance, is saying to the Guyanese people, “You do not deserve more; you deserve less.” My question to our Colleagues on the opposite side, which I would like to be answered, is: are these measures, as presented by the Hon. Minister in this Budget, intended to make the lives of our people better or worse? For those who would say “worse” and dare to ignore the evidence, let me remind our Colleagues that there has not been one single area of budgetary reduction in this Budget.
In every sector - and my Colleagues, over the next few days, will elaborate on this - we have seen – consistent also with previous budgets, incremental increases in every sector that intended to address the immediate and future needs of our people. Why, Sir? It is because our people deserve more.
In the social sector alone, the sector which deals with direct investments in our people through the provision of services, if my Mathematics is correct, there is an allocation that exceeds over a third of the National Estimates and that is visionary. We have not even begun to talk about hydro electricity. We have not begun to talk about the whole issue of investments in Information Communication Technology (ICT) and all of the other areas that are futuristic and visionary in its trajectory. We are talking about the social sector that gets services to our people. We have heard words used like ‘bailouts’ and ‘handouts’ and such adjectives that would suggest... I am not sure if that is what the Hon. Member is trying to suggest, but if one were to take the descriptive adjectives offered about how this Budget was described by the Hon. Member, it somehow would suggest that the Government should leave any industry that requires its support to flounder and fail. I am not quite sure why a responsible government, as this Government is, would see an industry requiring its support and not provide that support. I am not sure why there are such words like ‘handouts’ and ‘bailouts’ even being suggested or used. I am not sure what message is intended to be conveyed. Because investments in our people are the most prudent of investments, I believe that our people deserve the very best and so the allotment in the social sector represents the value that we place in our people.
I have been reliably informed that in a previous administration, prior to 1992, the budgetary allocation was provided by a certain distinguished gentleman on the other side for the Foreign Ministry alone which exceeded the amalgamated allocation for health, education and agriculture. That does not sound very visionary to me. [An Hon. Member: What? Who was the Minister?] A distinguished gentleman.
The Government of Guyana, through its consistent allocations to vulnerable groups and other targeted interventions, has continued to work unrelentingly to fight to eradicate the social bane and the economic burden of interpersonal and intimate partner violence from our society. While the political will and the humanitarian compassion and commitment remain for the empowerment of our women, particularly our single parents, through the Single Parents Training Programme, Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute, Women of Worth initiative - and the Hon. Minister later, I believe, will speak and elaborate greatly on these - there is also an ‘eco’ commitment and resolve to pursue interventions and find solutions in transforming the social context of men being viewed/perceived as perpetrators of violence to becoming partners in the fight against violence.
In this respect, it is important to note the several initiatives that have been undertaken to recognise, firstly, that our approach should not be just to vilify the male section of our population, but to find ways in which we can help men to understand why it is that they find it necessary to respond violently in the context of conflicts in their relationships and to provide opportunities for men to have interventions brought to them. I am speaking here in the context of those men who are prone to violence and those men who are in relationships where they are perpetrators of violence against their children and their spouse. To this end, the Ministry Services and Social Security has embarked on a national gender-based violence initiative, involving collaboration amongst the Men’s Affairs Bureau, the Child Care and Protection Agency, the Probation and Welfare Services, just to name a few. This initiative is an outreach, I have been told, to schools, both public and private, the New Opportunity Corps (NOC), youth groups and also working with Community Based Organisations (CBOs).
There is an initiative being contemplated, currently, drawing on a model observed in Grenada, where the perpetrators of domestic violence are sent to be a part of a Perpetrator Accountability Programme, where they have to, I think, complete in excess of 160 sessions, something to that nature. I rather suspect that this is a very valuable intervention.
Additionally, the Government of Guyana, under the auspices of this Ministry, that is the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, continues to demonstrate its support for the role and the value of the family as the fundamental pillar in human society and, as such, through the work of the National Commission of the Family, the Ministry has conducted several parenting workshops across the country. Even as we speak, work is being done to design a special curriculum aimed at educating men to be more effective in their roles as fathers and husbands.
Again I must reiterate that this Budget is a budget of vision. Time would not permit me to speak in great detail of the developmental work being done by the Childcare and Development Services Regulations or the Childcare and Protection Agency or to elaborate on the over 2,000 children who were prevented from being separated from their families in 2013, or the 519 children that were removed from abusive situations. The Minister will elaborate, I believe, on many of those.
Programmes and initiatives targeting vulnerable groups and populations, including our children, being primary in that group, cannot underestimate the need for us to, as a National Assembly, recognise the importance of the allocations made to the social sector. One must conclude, in view of all of these critical interventions, which can be and which have also been for the good our nation’s children, that this Budget, in its present form, with its allocations and with its measures, is a visionary one.
Our youths, also, are beneficiaries of this Budget in very significant ways and I will not seek to take away anything from the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport as he speaks later, except to say, and I think it is useful to note, the great benefits in 2013 as it relates to training under the National Training Programme for Youth Empowerment (NTPYE), the Apprenticeship Programme and the Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training programme, but just to touch quickly on the fact that the Government’s commitment to equitability and opportunity would ensure that in 2014 we see the commencement of a Hinterland Training Programme, expected to target 150 persons in Region 9, and this is significant because, as you know, there is always the view that much of the interventions are concentrated on the coast.
The Hon. Minister will, later on, elucidate on the national pride and benefits of the athletic track at Leonora and the National Aquatic Centre at Liliendaal and some of the other things that we have done and will continue to do as deliberate interventions to impact our youth in this nation.
There is no need for me to say further, except to say that our Friends on the other side of this House will have great difficulty in miniaturising these national landmarks as symbols of the value that we place on our nation’s youths.
So we may want simply to say there is not much there. While I agree with the Hon. Mr. Scott that their responsibility is to point out areas of deficiencies, they also have a moral responsibility to recognise when there are benefits there and not seek to miniaturise them simply to be political.
This Budget does not lay claim to being the solution to all of our social and economic challenges. This Budget is in no way a panacea to our social, economic or political difficulties. But I am confident that it is a visionary road map which recognises our immediate challenges but points to a future that is pregnant with boundless potentials and possibilities for the development of our country.
Permit me, Sir, to share a little story.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member you have four minutes within which to conclude.
Dr. Rev. Gilbert: I am about to conclude, Sir. Thank you very much. Last evening I took a friend of mine for a little tour around the city. He had lived for many years in Canada. He was very, not shocked - shocked I think is a little too extreme - he could not help gushing about the level of development he had seen in his few days in returning to Guyana. I think it would be very unpatriotic for anyone who lives here to look at our development and simply say that nothing has happened, but I will tell you a little story as I conclude. There were two men standing at a window looking out. One saw stars and the other saw mud. You may ask how this is possible, it was because one was looking up and one was looking down; it is all about perspective. I wonder therefore what my colleagues on the other side are seeing.
Thank you very much, Sir. [Applause]
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