Budget Speech - Mr Seeraj—20143123 04 Apr, 2014
Mr. Seeraj: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I am not too uncomfortable with your pronouncement because I know since you are my very good Friend I would not want to ask you for an extension to put you in a difficult spot, to exploit that friendship, but I am certain I can do that with the Hon. Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Speaker, along with my colleagues I wish to commend Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh and his able staff for once again producing a budget, Budget 2014, paving a better life for all Guyanese which is a Continuation of similar budgets in the past. The philosophy of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration has always been one that is people centred. And the title of this budget adequately captures the thinking of the People's Progressive Party.
In the past, I have had the pleasure of serving my party in Region 9, in the Rupununi Savannahs. I traversed that area on bicycle, on horseback and later on motor cycles. I never had the pleasure of traversing with ATVs or four wheel vehicles which are the norm now. And I can safely say the first time I attempted to come out of Region 9 by land was in 1991. It took me three days from Lethem to Georgetown. Parts of the trail were in such difficult condition that utilising a Model M Bedford truck that has the capacity to use the winches one could not climb up some of those hills or even stop the truck to reel in the winch. Five or six of us had to be walking ahead of that truck with the winches on our shoulders so that the truck continues moving. I suspect the Hon. Member Mr. Joe. Harmon, Retired Lieutenant Colonel, would know about some of these conditions given his experience in the Army. So I found it strange that Mr. Allicock, Hon. Member, would have made reference now when one could easily do the Georgetown to Lethem route in 10 or 12 hours. I found it very strange he could say that things are worse off now when we have mini buses traversing into the area.
The Community Support Officers is from an agreement between the Ministry of Health and the Regional Democratic Councils of Regions 1, 7, 8, and 9 for 161 Community Support Officers to be placed in the administrative sectors of these regions. One hundred and ninety eight of these officers received training in the management of the photovoltaic system, the solar panels, and management of basic computer hardware. This is to supplement the Government’s initiative to make available the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) to communities and also to provide the basic power supply needs in those areas that are not connected by the national grid.
One hundred and two received training in the development of business plans; 37 received training in various areas of aquaculture, sustainable logging, cash crop management, bee keeping, basic book keeping etcetera. One hundred and ninety-four of these CSOs received training in governance. They are adequately serving these regions in which they have been placed. In relation to Region 9, especially within the Annai area which the Hon. Member Sydney Allicock is familiar with, the Toshaos Mark Jord stated clearly that most of the CSOs are females and very helpful to the village councils. They are engaged in a lot of different institutions and activities in the villages including tourism, agriculture in the schools and also the village council office itself and, based on Toshaous Mark Jord, these CSOs report to the office every day.
During the course of the Budget debate, Hon. Member Volda Lawrence would have made mention of a subject which I think touches all of us. It is painful to read of occurrences of child rape, to read of occurrences of rape of mature women by of course men, some of them ordinary labourers as is the recent case in Region 1 involving a six-year old child. I remember my six-year-old daughter and I shudder to think if something like that should happen to her. Frankly speaking, I do not know what is sexual about a six year old child. There are really some sick people in society; not only labourers. I think the Hon. Member Valarie Garrido-Lowe also spoke about this matter. I think all of us in this Assembly need to take a conscious effort, a renewed pledge, to address this matter. It is one that can consume all of us. Whilst the Guyana Police Force is taking steps to bring justice to some of these cases there is need also for continuation, not only the arrest of these perpetrators, or alleged criminals, but also the continuation of that process to bring a close by virtue of the trials, because both parties can suffer from the long time before these matters are concluded.
I am not too familiar with the legal terminology, but I suspect everyone in this Assembly gets the gist of what I am saying. There is a case of a prominent public figure arrested in 2010. The case is still pending for multiple charges of child molestation. So we need as the National Assembly to give whatever support we can to the Guyana Police Force, to do whatever we can in terms of the judiciary, the legislative framework, to bring these matters to speedy conclusions, Because I also shudder to think to about an innocent man or woman being held on a charge and not being able to prove their innocence. And I shudder to think of the victims who are awaiting justice for those who are guilty. So I really want to add my voice to support the call for the renewed fight against this kind of criminal activity, this inhumane kind of activity that is prevalent in our society today.
Various speakers over the last four days and today would have spoken at length on the presentation by Dr. A.K, Hon. Minister. Sometimes it is very advantageous to speak later in the debate, but it also has it disadvantages in the sense that some of the big points one wants to make would have been already mentioned by ones colleagues. Suffice it to say one has the advantage of also responding to some of the issues that would have been raised not only on this side of the House but also on the other side.
The Hon. Carl Barrington Greenidge - I think he has left the Chamber - spoke about Value Added Tax (VAT). I recalled last year that this matter was raised. I said the Value Added Tax in Guyana, whilst it is 16%, also replaces a number of other taxes. The burden is less on our community. The Consumption Tax alone used to be 35% and the Value Added Tax has been proven in all jurisdictions where it was tested and tried, including developed jurisdictions, to be an effective means of collecting taxes. But the Government did not just implement the VAT in Guyana. The Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge spoke about items for zero rating and so on. I do not know whether he is familiar with the list of items that have been zero rated by this Government; there are hundreds of items. Mr. Speaker, I will need an hour to go through this booklet – essential food items, essential consumer items, essential domestic services, food, education material, medical supplies and all of that. It you want rice it is zero rated; bread, zero rated; milk, is zero rated. But some items we must pay VAT on. I am afraid we cannot zero rate Porsche and similar type vehicles. We need to tax also to provide for the education, health, sea defences, roads, and so on for our communities.
The issue of the NIS was raised and we are calling on the NIS to provide additional pension for our aging population simply because we have an expanding aging population. Because of the healthcare and the better quality of lives that Guyanese are enjoying more people are joining the ranks of the elderly, the pensioners, and we have to provide for them. I am certain that we as a collective body have to make sure that the NIS is managed in a proper way so that it can continue to provide for our elderly. And as mentioned by our previous speaker, we provide for everyone. This Budget provides for everyone even the unborn babies; and we continue to provide for our elderly way beyond the retirement age.
In 2011, the election campaign by some of the parties especially in the sugar, belt and especially by some leading members of the AFC, those senior campaigners/members of the AFC, would have been going around in a targeted way in mainly areas supportive of the PPP. I did not see that kind of target and attention being placed in the areas that traditionally have been giving support to the PNC. It would appear there seemed some kind of agreement of which Mr. Williams is not aware of. There seemed to be some kind of agreement at another level to provide for the AFC to concentrate primarily in the PPP support areas and allow the PNC to regain that which they have lost in those areas. A lot of promises were made. Sugar workers were promised the mood and the stars and everything, “if we get into office.” Less than one month ago you would have seen a recanting of those promises when the call was made to shut down sugar; “let us go and dig some ponds and rear tilapia.” So out there when campaigning for the votes it is one thing, and then later down there seems to be a betrayal of those promises in dealing with the sugar sector. Sugar is in difficulty. The Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Finance and other Ministers would have stated clearly the plans to bring sugar out of the difficulties that it is in currently.
Hon. Member Catherine Hughes spoke very passionately and eloquently about her sector, the tourism sector, and compared our VAT collection system with a number of Caribbean countries including the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados and so on. She was saying they have a tiered approach to tax in this sector. I do not think we are ruling that out on this of the House. The President has clearly made his intention known. He has commissioned a committee to examine these taxes to make recommendation as to how we deal with it. But we also have to examine our country’s core economic activities. What is it that this country can do with distinct advantages over other countries? We do not have sun, sand, sea and beaches. A lot of people say we have rain, rivers and the Eldorado. But there is a different tourism that we can promote but as a nation we are relatively young in this line of business, and we can examine the recommendation.
That is why I am saying that the Hon. Member made a number of recommendations which I am certain can be taken on board. But in order for us to give more to the tourism sector prudent financial management tells clearly that you cannot spend more whilst you are collecting less. So we need to maintain a revenue system that can fund our core activities and provide for economic development so we can generate more funds to target our core activities. The sector is an emerging sector but not withstanding Bahamas and Barbados the investment in this sector is significant, over $800 million. Rice is a core sector and the Minister gave us $500 million and we are thankful and will make good use of it. But for an emerging sector we have to recognise that $800 million has been providing in this budget for the sector of tourism to put in place the hospitality institute. This is significant. Visitors in 2013 numbered over 200,000 which is a 13.3% over the visitors in 2012. Clearly we are going places.
I am not opposed to the lobby for a reduction in taxes for the 4 x 4. I have been asking for that for the rice farmers. We have had a reduction for the single cab and we are looking for the double cab also because the farmer would want to take his family into the back dam too. Similarly eco-tourism operators will want the luxury vehicles to provide not only comfort for themselves but for their visitors in this area. But whilst we are keeping them comfortable in the 4 x 4 we also need to keep them comfortable in the places that they will be staying, the hotel rooms. We need to also support the Marriot so we can provide comfort for them in their hotel rooms. The issue of our tourist comfort, our visitor’s comfort, goes beyond their travelling, goes beyond their rooms. We do not want our visitors to go to bed and wake up in the middle of the night hot and sweaty because there is a blackout and the AC is off. We need our visitors to be comfortable, so we need a reliable power supply to keep our hotels well energised.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mr. Seeraj: Mr. Speaker, you will have to give me a top-up. Mr. R. K. Sharma at GT&T gives 10 after 2 and he is just a CEO. Mr. Speaker, you are the third most powerful man.
Mr. Speaker: You will get three after six.
Mr. Seeraj: Okay. Mr. Speaker, this issue of cheap renewable energy we have to address that. So I will encourage Ms. Cathy Hughes to join us on that road to Amaila Falls to make the Amaila Falls a reality. It all goes towards addressing in a sustainable way renewable energy, not only for our visitors but also for our people, cheap, renewable energy. But these transformative projects will make people happy, they will bring comfort. The Opposition does not want that. A happy contented people will ensure they go back to the ballot and vote again for the PPP. So the major objective of the Opposition, the APNU, is to ensure that the Guyanese people are not happy with the PPP. Do whatever it takes, they are there to ensure that the people of Guyana develop discomfort with the administration by stymieing projects that are intended to enhance the services we bring to our people. But the PPP/Civic will not stop, will not be stopped. They will continue on this way forward, producing more for our Guyanese brothers and sisters. The radio station will also ensure that they have access to more than one channel so they can listen to different news.
Hon. Member Jennifer Wade, my colleague in rice, and also the Hon. Member from Region 3 Mr. Adams, spoke about the need for us to give support to rice. Obviously the Hon. Member Mr. Scott was not aware of what the Member’s intentions are and obviously did not listen to the Leader of the Opposition when he made a pronouncement, I think on 25th March, to give whatever support his Party can to the rice industry. Mr. Keith Scott you should also join hands in ensuring that we not only concentrate on improving services for the urban dwellers, but the rural farmers, in Essequibo and in Black Bush Polder also need support. For the $500 million Hon. Minister Ashni Singh, I want to join in the call by Hon. Member Damon for us to establish this rice milling facility in Region 2. For years now I have spoken to farmers about the Rice Producers Association (RPA)’s intention to establish such a facility in Essequibo. We are prepared to work with you in a private/public partnership to ensure this becomes a reality. We cannot say the rice sector is short of policy. Look at productivity.
Productivity moved from three tonnes per hectare in 1990, to 5.2 tonnes last season. Areas under cultivation for both crops in 1990, moved from 93,000 hectares for both crops to 535,000, last season. That is the production.
Areas under cultivation in 1990, 51,368 hectares, by the time we reached 2013, 170,833 hectares. How can we say we are short on policy? This shows clearly that rice is on the upward movement. Since 2010 we have been breaking records. I want to join with Minister Leslie Ramsammy in telling Dr. Ashni Singh that its projection in the budget of 540,000 tonnes is very conservative. We are going to lick it up Mr. Minister with the farmers because the industry is on sound footing Minister. The $500 million will go directly towards supporting our competitiveness and our resilience. The farmers have been involved in this.
Five farmers’ exchange programmes were held recently; 157 farmers field school activities in 2013 alone; 1161 farmers were trained in these farmers’ field school activities. We are bringing them along with us. Three hundred and four soil analysis were done to inform us about what kind of fertilisers to use. That was in 2013 alone, a continuation of our programme going back since 2009. One and fifty four paddy bug control demonstration programmes were held involving the famers. And these are not schools in any building; these are schools under a mango or a katahar tree down in the backdam.
Only last Wednesday I was in the Hague backdam, where we addressed over 80 farmers, from all five rice growing regions on the Coast, about exchange programmes, better practices and all of that. Fourteen thousand five hundred acres of farmers’ fields were certified. The area of seed production is an area of concern. The Rice Research Station can only produce 12,000 bags per season. This country needs 230,000 bags of seed paddy. The RPA, with its multiplication programme is adding another 28,000 bags per year. The investment in the Number 56 seeds facility is going to ensure that we provide more high quality seeds for the farmers. I agree with the Hon. Member Jennifer Wade that we need more seeds, but because of the huge amount that is needed, we have taken the programme forward to ensure that farmers themselves are trained in the art of seed production. This will continue.
Mr. Speaker, I too visited Barkara and I am very impress with what the farmers are doing there. They have a medium barley type grain that a single panicle – I have checked it - had 237 grains, one single panicle. But it is a short grain; it is a barley type grain. I brought down samples for us to do further tests at the research station with our Plant Breeding Department there.
I promised the farmers of Barakara that we will go back there with a technical team to address the issues of enhancing productivity in those fields, so that we can continue not only to develop our farmers in the easily accessible areas, but also to address the concerns of farmers in the not so easily accessible areas, like we did in the Moco Moco area in Region 9, there is also the mega farm at Santa Fe’.
For the information of the Hon. Member Sydney Allicock, the use of the chemicals mentioned Karate and Pronto, we have been using those on the Coastland areas here. After seven days, the Karate, which is produced by a very reputable company name Sygenta, it is totally broken down. These two chemicals are used primarily for the control of the dreaded paddy bug, which can pose the biggest economic damage to the crop. These two chemicals are used at the time of harvesting.
We plant rice in Guyana based on the seasons. We sow in the wet; we harvest in the dry. Once it is applied during harvesting time, which is the dry season, there is no way that it could reach into the water ways. Most of these chemicals break down on touching soil because Guyana has signed on too for the eradication of POPs that is Persistent Organic Pollutant. We are no longer, as a country, using chemicals that can remain long in the environment and pose a danger to flora and fauna. Long gone are the days where we are using chemicals that can pose a danger. These chemicals are tested before they are released into the industry.
Mr. Speaker, I am on page three of seven pages, but I am testing you patience. I do not want you to...
Mr. Speaker: Your good Friend is not in the Chair and believe me you have been given an indulgence, so I would ask that you wrap up thank you.
Mr. Seeraj: Mr. Speaker I am going to wrap up now very quickly, thank you.
Mr. Speaker: As interesting as it is actually.
Mr. Seeraj: Do you want me to continue along those lines Mr. Speaker? I am certain that [Inaudible]
Mr. Speaker: We will have a gaff when we take the next suspension.
Mr. Seeraj: Mr. Speaker, I think there is a serious issue and the Hon. Member Robert Montgomery Persaud mentioned it. I think it was a spill off from the comment raised by Dr. Rupert Roopnarine. The Hon. Member is a veteran politician in the local landscape and further afield and I by no way can even attempt to put myself in a position to criticise his remarks. Having said that, I will try to lend to it; this issue of shared governance also have to engage all of our attention.
In the campaign leading up to the elections we also have to address this issue as to what is happening here in the National Assembly. If we are touting share governance outside, we also have to tout it here in this National Assembly. The party with 32 seats, as against 26 and 7... [An Hon. Member: [Inaudible]] There is nothing shared with the party with the majority seats. We do not have the Speaker’s position. Mr. Speaker, if it was not for the PPP/C’s principled position you might not be sitting there, but we held to our principle position and the party with the 32 seats did not even get the Deputy Speaker’s position. If we are talking about shared governance... [Interruption] It is easy to share what you do not have. It becomes more difficult to share what you have and if we have the majority in the Parliament, we also must share that. We must share that with the minority party that is in Government.
The PPP when it was in the majority it shared; as a minority Government it is also continuing that programme of sharing – sharing in here and sharing out there. Budget 2014 is no different - “A better Guyana for all Guyanese”. Mr. Speaker, like Mr. Damon, I rest my case. [Applause]
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