Budget Speech Mr Whitaker- 20123250 12 Apr, 2012
April 12, 2012
Minister in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. Whittaker]: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I offer congratulations in absentia to the Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, and his budget team for rising above the challenges of today’s political climate, to prepare and present to this National Assembly a budget that offers opportunities for a continuation of the development process in our country.
This process was started by the PPP and I have no apologies for that statement. This process begun with the PPP/C and has been sustained [Ms. Ally: What process?] I am talking about the development process. Development, my friends, is a process. It is not something that happens over night and if the Hon. Member, Ms. Jennifer Wade could only understand that, then she could appreciate why it is that one cannot always have delivered to them projects that you may want, needs that you may want satisfied, at the time when you want them.
Mr. Speaker, some from the other side are prejudiced and they hold uninformed views. It is always about what is missing. They can see nothing progressive coming out of these budgets but, my friend, somebody needs to explain to me why it is that, in keeping with economic indicators – and I am talking about universally accepted economic indicators – Guyana has been doing well. The budget, like all the other budgets we have presented to this House, takes cognizance of the fact that resources are very strictly limited and try as we may we will never be able to satisfy all of the wants of the people at the same time; we need to try to accept this.
The budget has been, for us, a tool which we have effectively and efficiently utilised over the years. We have consistently and we have persistently pursued a policy of development which offers opportunities for all of us. You have to come onboard; you cannot stay on the sideline.
We need to realise that the commitments about which I speak come out of our manifestos which come from the people; they come from our poverty reduction strategy, which came out of consultations with the people; they come out of our millennium development goals, which came out of consultations with the people. The budget is always about consultation. I know that they, on the other side of the House, believe that consultation is limited to a couple of weeks before the budget jumping around the place and meeting with people and bringing to this House whatever they hear in rum shops and on the roadside, but our budget process starts from the time one has ended – the other one begins. Our consultation is a continuous process that spreads over a long period and reaches out to the people. So, if you wanted your utopian plans that you took to the people at election time to be part of this budget “No, Sir. No, Madam”. It must come out of consultation with the people and that is what this budget is about.
The budget process is guided by the principle of equal opportunity and uplifting for all, and by our focus on continuing to work to remove poverty. My good friend, Hon. Dr. Roopnarine, who has departed but I am sure he will be back, [Ms. Ally: No, he has not departed.] described… Mr. Speaker, I hope I will get back my two minutes. He described the Budget Presentation as a performance but the only performance is coming from the economy. Dr. Ashni Singh is conducting the economy; that is what you are seeing. My friends, this is the conductor who has been conducting the economy and that is why the performance has been par excellence.
I said earlier on that I find it hard to understand that an economy which has been doing so well, people are saying that we are not moving forward; we have not been doing anything. Listen to me. Budget allocation in 2006 was $102.9 billion. I think that they know numerals. In 2012, it is $192. 8 billion – a 47 per cent increase. [Ms. Ally: What does that mean?] I will tell you that. Take time. Look at it again. Real growth in 2006 was 4.7 per cent; real growth in 2011 was 5.4 per cent, at a time when the economies of CARICOM countries were struggling to achieve even a one per cent growth. At a time when many economies in Europe and North America were experiencing difficulties, Guyana recorded growth, and yet, you are telling me that the policies and the programmes that we have are not working. You are not working; your heads are not working.
Inflation, a period of constantly rising prices: In 2006, it was 4.5 per cent; in 2011, it was 3.3 per cent and in 2012, the projection is 4.6 per cent. Is it not signs of improvement? The truth hurts. When all of this is looked at…I do not want to go into all of this. But, my friends, the point is simply this: that these indicators are showing, for those who have eyes to see, that the economy of this country has been improving. These impressive gains and successes can only be attributed to and explained by the plans, the policies, the programmes and the projects of this Government. I want to look at some of those programmes.
The modernisation of the traditional sectors of our economy…Some of our speakers dealt with it, but I think it is so important that it could not be overly emphasised. The sugar and rice industries which continue to be important mainstays of our economy…Dr. Roopnarine, while conceding that progress has been made in rice - substantial progress at that – said that it was due to factors outside of the Government. I was disappointed in that statement because we all know that the performance in rice was due to a number of factors, some of which the Hon. Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy mentioned. It was due to more cultivation; it was due to the fact that yields were been able to acquire that could withstand natural factors and it was due to the fact that a lot of resources have been put into drainage and irrigation, and so this is very important for us. In addition, my friends, in the case of rice, this sector is poised for major expansion and, therefore, our continued focus on improving drainage and irrigation is a very important and timely position.
The sugar industry…I have to touch on it. As you can see, my friends, local government is about what happens in all of the communities, in all ten of the Regions of this country. The sugar industry which employs about twenty thousand persons…Therefore Government’s continued efforts to transform this industry and ensure it achieves financial viability and profitability must be seen as critical. The sugar industry, as the rice industry, has been responsible, in large measure, for where we are today and we must not be so unkind; we must not be so ungrateful. As one economist said, sugar is too critical to fail. I support that and, therefore, I and thousands of Guyanese support the programme to help sugar. Even if it means a subsidy of $4 billion, we must support it.
The Agricultural Diversification Programme, let me speak a bit on this. Investors’ growing interest in our minerals, especially our gold, our manganese…I know that the Hon. Member Mr. Allen will support me when I say that the joy of the people, not only in Region 1, but across Guyana…That Reunion Manganese Inc., has been able to employ over three hundred persons in the manganese industry and it is anticipated that one of the largest manganese mines in the Region would be developed and the bottom line is that over one thousand persons will get jobs. [Mrs. Backer: Tell us about the elephants.] Part of what we have been doing, my dear, has to do with focusing on the social services. I want to deal a bit with that, because when we talk about local government we talk about what happens, as I said earlier on, in all ten regions. We have been, the PPP/C Government, since we came to office in October 1992, focusing, in large measure, on revitalising, reinvigorating the social services which you left run-down.
Education is one of those areas. Given the important role of an educated and a well trained population for future development and for poverty reduction, and given, also, Government’s concern that the kind of education being delivered is relevant, useful, applicable and anticipatory of the country’s future needs, the education sector remains for us a priority and that is why friends…Look at the budgetary allocations. In 2006, it was $3.1 billion. But look, in 2011, it was $23.4 billion – an eight hundred per cent increase in five years. In 2012, it is $26.5 billion. What does it mean? What does it mean for all of us? It means, in terms of improvement in the infrastructure – building more schools, extending existing schools, rehabilitating schools – a better environment is prepared for the teachers to teach and for the students to learn. That is what it means; that is what it translates into. Any investment in education is money well spent. Never mind the money spent, it is the benefits that we get - the returns on the investment, the ROI. That is what is important for us.
Do you know what? What are the indictors? That is the question often asked. We spend all of this money and what do we get in return? I would like to address one Region for now; I am coming to the others. In Region 1, for example, in 2010 the number of children attending schools – nursery, primary and secondary – was nine thousand eight hundred and fifty-four. [Mrs. Lawrence: What is the source?] I will make this document available if you need it. In 2011, it rose to ten thousand three hundred and thirteen. These are indicators.
Teaching staff: In 2010, nursery – forty-five, primary - two hundred and ninety-three, secondary - seventy-one, a total of four hundred and nine. Do you know what the figures were for 2011? It was nursery - forty-seven, primary - three hundred and twelve, secondary eighty-three, a total of four hundred and forty-two. I want to go further than that. Trained teachers: In 2010, it was one hundred and thirty-one - fifteen for the nursery level, seventy-one for primary and forty-five for secondary. [Ms. Wade: Where are they?] Do not run too fast, you will fall. In 2011, for the nursery level it was nineteen; for the primary level it was one hundred twenty and the secondary level it was forty-nine. It is a total of one hundred eighty-eight.
Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination performance: In 2010, it was 46.4 per cent and in 2011 it was 48.6 per cent. My friends, I use these figures as a sample to show you that as a result of the investment in education we have had improvements - enrolment, attendance and the quality of teachers. If we use Region 1 as an example, friends, a lot of the senior positions that were previously held by people from the urban areas are now being satisfied by people from the very Region. What has been happening in Region 1 is happening all over the Hinterland. In some Regions, it is in larger measures than in other Regions. The extent to which our people become more educated, they are able to shoulder greater responsibilities, at a higher level, and to that extent, we can entrust, as the Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine would like to see happen, more responsibilities upon them, even at the level of the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs), and we can have a greater satisfaction, no doubt.
I want to deal a bit with health and then go, specifically, to the issue of local government. In 2007, the budget allocation for the health sector was $10.6 billion. In 2011, it was $11.5 billion and in 2012, it is $16.9 billion. People expect that when these sectors are invested in, the returns will be immediate, and many of us are guilty of conveying that to the people - misleading them. When they heard that $16.9 billion is in the budget for health, they expect tomorrow to see a new hospital going up; they expect to see tomorrow two or three ambulances being bought, if that is a need; they expect all of these things to happen, but there is order. There is order in delivering these good and services. I want to say this: My focus this evening is on Regions 1, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Those of you who have worked in the Hinterland region…I am not talking about passing through; I am not talking about relying on the views of one or two persons. Those who have experienced the Hinterland would know that over the years a number of health care providers have been trained – health workers, medex, pharmacists and dentex. In fact, more than that, we have been taking a position that our approach to health care must be one which takes us to the people. Gone are the days when we sat in the hospital – I cannot even say that we sat in the health huts because there were none – and expect the sick to come to us always. That is the whole idea behind the health worker training programme; that is the whole idea behind the medex training programme; that is the whole idea behind dentex training programme - behind all of those training programmes. We believe that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. If we educate our people, the chances are that we will reduce the level of illnesses.
What do we have today? There is a reduction in child and maternal mortality. That is a fact. That is an established fact! It is not just the Hon. Member Mr. Whittaker saying that. There is the reduction in the prevalence in diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. I want to touch a bit on malaria. The Hon. Members shared with us last evening that there has been an increase in the cases of malaria and this is due, in large measure, to mining activities. My friends, what I am about to say is based on experience. [Mrs. Backer: Have you ever had malaria?] I have had it several times, my dear. The problem with malaria and its treatment is that our miners are very mobile and the result of that is very often they are not compliant. It is not for the want of available human resources; it is not for the want of available medicine to treat them, but it is due to the fact that our miners, in their quest for wealth, often put their health second to the wealth. These are considerations…but we are working to deal with that and that is why we have been working with miners in small groups, training them to do testing, helping them to do testing. We are training the miners to do that so that within the very mining areas, themselves, these things can be dealt with.
Friends, we are not saying that with all of this investment, everything is right. We are not saying that. Development is not only measured in terms of what is achieved. The depths have to be looked from where we started and when we take into account the fact that we took over from you, over there, a very much run-down economy, a state of disrepair, we can understand the situation.
I now want to look at what I call the reinvigoration of local government. Earlier on, the Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine described our regional elections as a political charade. I sincerely hope that I heard him right.
Dr. Roopnarine: Mr. Speaker, I would like to assure the Hon. Member that he did not hear me right.
Mr. Whittaker: The Hon. Member expressed the view that a lot of what is done centrally should, indeed and in fact, be handled at the level of the Region. That is exactly what he said. [Mr. Nandlall: I heard him said that.] You have heard him. My friends, we cannot act outside of the existing legislation. The legislation – Chapter 28:01, 28:02, Chapter 12 of 1980 – were developed by the PNC and it has to be that the it wanted to put a leash on the local government bodies. It has to be that the PNC which was blessed with the services of a lot of legal luminaries, such as Mr. Shahabudeen, Mr. Ramphal and others… and, therefore, I find it difficult… [Mr. B. Williams: You are talking about the past.] That is why I used the past tense. I use the word “were” – “you were” blessed… to understand and appreciate that you did not factor in the kind of changes in the legislation that you want to see happen today. We would like to see that happen and we have been taking steps to ensure that that happens. But you, all of what you are asking for today, Sir, is not covered by the existing legislation, and we have to start by understanding that. Listen to me. [Mrs. Backer: Why are you shouting?] I am not shouting. This is my normal voice. As a teacher, that is my normal voice. We view the holding of Local Government Elections as integral to improving the quality of service that we deliver in the communities. We do hold that. My friends, while we wait on you, to use a colloquial term, pallavaring… [Ms. Ally: Just as how you are pampasetting.] Pampasetting is a synonym for pallavaring. While we wait on you, we, at the level of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, have been taking steps to empower, to build capacity at the level of our Ministry, at the level of our local government bodies so that they can be able to understand and appreciate…not only them, the people who we serve must be able to understand.
Hear what happens. When we take the necessary steps, you become angry. We are of the view that many of our officers within the local government staff are not performing, or are underperforming, and when we take steps to relocate them with the expectancy that, perhaps, there would be some renewed enthusiasm, some renewed vigour…While we take steps to train them…
While we take steps to replete the number of councillors in those NDCs where those numbers have become depleted, and the legislation that you prepared does allow us to do that, and while in some instances we are forced to replace the NDCs with Interim Management Committees (IMCs) which, again, the legislation allows us to do, you are annoyed. But friends, these are merely interim measures that we are taking to bring some improvement, to bring some order, to what happens in those communities.
Over the past five years…Let me give some information. I do not want you all to go on the street corners and in the rum shops to get this.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Whittaker, address your comments to the Chair and avoid getting into discourses with other Members.
Mr. Whittaker: Mr. Speaker, I seek your protection here, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: If you would address your comments to the Chair you will proceed fine, but if you make it into a personal discourse with Members of the other side you will run into trouble.
Mr. Whittaker: Over the past five years, what has happened is that the amount of support has been increasing that is given to the RDCs. The RDCs are not legislatively rated bodies; they cannot receive wage and so we have to. If you wanted them to go that way you should have amended the legislation since you had the authority to do it. Now we are going to be doing it, but we need your support. In 2011, we made available to Regions 1, 7, 8, 9 and 10 a total of $476, 721, 000. This is capital releases. This is moneys to do new programmes. In 2012, that amount has increased, that is after one year, to $860,000,041. Why do we do this? We do this because we want to make more resources available to the RDCs, but the Hon. Members need to understand that it cannot be that all of the Regions will get the same allocations. It just cannot be! Resource allocations are dependent on a number of factors. Among these are what is available. What is available is a key factor. Two, it is your ability to utilise what is made available to you. I cannot give you ten dollars this year, you return four dollars and tomorrow you want twenty dollars. What kind of economics is that? What will I be doing with the taxpayers’ money? Many of the RDCs that you all are talking about have demonstrated incompetence in their inability to deal with these issues.
Resource allocations to the Regions are based on what is available and based, of course, on the needs as expressed in the budgets that they submit. It is the RDCs that reach out. Perhaps, it is not happening in Region 10, I do not know. Perhaps it is not happening in some of the Regions, but I can tell you that it happens in Regions 1; I can tell you it happen in Region 9, and it happens in Regions 2 and 3. You have to help make it happen. [Mrs. Backer: Oh Norman, is that you?] Yes, my dear. My name is Mr. Truth. People have a difficulty in understanding this and one of their problems is that they are not good listeners; they do not listen. Mr. Speaker, they have to be listening. We make allocations to the Regions through the RDCs; we make allocation through the Regions through the municipalities, through the NDCs and also the sector Ministries also make a substantial input in terms of programmes.
Look, for example, at Region 10. I want to deal with Region 10. In 2011, Region 10 RDC got $188.3 million. In 2012, it got $221.8 million… [Interruption from Members of the Opposition.]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, could you allow the Minister to complete his presentation? We have eight more Members to complete their presentations tonight.
Mr. Whittaker: But listen to me, quite outside of that, the Linden municipality has $10 million subvention that it is being unable to receive. Do you know why the Linden municipality has been unable to receive its $10 million subvention? Because it has been unable to prepare a simple budget to reach out to the people and present to the Ministry. Of course, there is also the Kwakwani Neighbourhood Democratic Council which received $3 million, but outside of that, there are several other things we need to know. At the level of the sector Ministry, Ministry of Public Works, a lot of the road works are going to be done through it. Solar lighting at Wiruni, at Kimbia, at Hururu, but what happens is that some people believe that Region 10 is Linden. Region 10 is not Linden. We have to reach out; we have to reach out to other communities. What happens to Wikki and Kalkuni? What happens to Ituni? What happens to Kwakwani? We have to reach out to all these areas. And so our friends, I want to come off of Linden, but before I do that I want to deal with this matter of electricity tariff. As you know, the truth hurts.
The PPP and the PPP/C have reached out over time to assist the people of Linden. This issue of electricity subsidy for Linden can be construed, in my view, as a move in favour of Linden. For while, Government was providing an electricity subsidy in Linden, Guyanese in many other parts of the country were paying a tariff that is about ten times higher than that paid by Lindeners. It was inevitable that with rising fuel prices, the low electricity tariff charged to consumers in Linden would have to be adjusted in time with the national rate. What makes them feel that they could go on all the time with this subsidy? We could not continue to perennially subsidise the cost of electricity at Linden. What is so hard at that level? They still are getting the 1.8 kWh. Let me remind the Member that when the bauxite industry…Government bailed it out for years. You know why, to keep the jobs of the Linden employees. We pumped huge subsidies into the bauxite industry to save guard jobs. Remember the PNC administration had brought the Australian group called Minproc to close the industry, but we kept it alive; we kept it alive to keep the jobs of the people of Linden and Kwakwani. We have been subsidising the electricity cost for those two communities from time in memorial. I want to make this final statement on Linden. On a per capita basis, Lindeners receive more assistance from the PPP/C Government than many other communities.
I want to bring it to conclusion. We of the PPP/C have never said that the path towards realising a modern Guyana was an easy one. We have never said that. We are aware that along the route there are some hard choices and decisions which have to be made. But indeed the PPP/C stands ready, as we have always been, to meet and to rise above the challenges along the road. Our record of achievement is there for all those who have eyes to see, but some people see only what want to see. The plans, the policies, the programmes, the projects that we have developed have worked for us. If they worked for us, why scrap those things that work? Let us improve on them, why scrap them?
I am aware of those who scheme daily, like those over there, to thwart the genuine efforts of the Government, to transform the social and economic landscape of our country into one that opens continuously windows of opportunities for all. They have little to offer and less to add. Their diatribe and criticisms are not matched by ideas and proposals of anyone. We must see their pronouncements and diatribes for what they are - mere distractions and attempts to take away from us, and the Guyanese people, our success story.
The Budget 2012 allows us as a Government, as a nation, to remain on course, on an irreversible park to more progress. This budget is about our country's future and by extension that of its people. Let us unitedly support this Budget 2012 for it allows us to remain on course towards achieving prosperity for all of us. I salute you Dr. Ashni and the PPP. [Applause]
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