Budget Speech - Ms Gariddo Lowe—20143179 04 Apr, 2014
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise to make my contribution, once again, to the 2014 Budget.
The job of every member of this Parliament is to help shape a better Guyana for all Guyanese. It is to listen carefully to the Guyanese people, do our honest best to make people’s lives easier, not harder, and honour the commitments we make to those who vote for us. If that is how we discharge our duties as Members of Parliament, we in this August House, will earn the genuine respect of our people.
I agree with the Government that it is their duty to prepare the budget and I would like to thank the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh and his team, for preparing the 2014 Budget under the theme, “A better Guyana for all Guyanese.” Your hard work is appreciated and I do not doubt that you have tried to put a little in it for everyone.
However, I would like to remind all my Colleagues on the Government side, that the Opposition, also, has a role to play in this honourable House, and the role of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, is to question the Government of the day and hold them accountable to the public. That is the reason we are here. The people of Guyana, who voted for us, expect no less from us. Ours is the responsibility to challenge the policies of the Government and in so doing, produce more enhanced ones that will benefit all Guyanese. This is how a true democracy operates.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) has the interest of our children, our youths, our women and men and our elderly at heart. We have the interest of all our Guyanese brothers and sisters at heart, in all 10 regions of Guyana. Upon examination of this budget, we will support allocations for projects and programmes that will benefit the majority of Guyanese, rather than a few. We will identify wasteful allocations and do the right thing, by obeying the court’s orders and “not approve” them.
In my presentation I am going to highlight some concerns and also humbly make some recommendations, which I hope the Hon. Ministers will pay keen attention to and take heed.
I would like to start with pension. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a pension as:
“An amount of money that a company or Government pays to a person who is old or sick and can no longer work.”
For the majority of our senior citizens who are old or sick and can no longer work, an increase of $625 in pension for them is quite shocking to me and is quite shocking and disappointing to our senior citizens, who have each contributed to the building of this nation for fifty years and over. With prices for basic household commodities constantly rising, how can any of us here in this Hon. House bring ourselves to offer our senior citizens a paltry pension of $13,125 per month?
The Minister of Human Services, the Hon. Jennifer Webster, tells us:
“The pension was never meant to be a living wage.”
Hon. Minister, I agree, but at least half the amount of the minimum wage would have been acceptable for now.
The $20,000 per year electricity concession now available only to those who have metres in their names, I recommend that the Minister start lobbying her Colleagues to expand this amount to senior citizens who do not have metres in their names. We, in the AFC, believe that the pie must be shared equally.
We also recommend that after consultation with all stakeholders, the Government place the building of a retirement village as priority on their list of things to do. This village should be offering lifetime housing, social activities and levels of care as needs change for our elderly. This facility should be made available to senior citizens whose families have to work to upkeep their own families and, as such, cannot stay at home to care for their elderly. The facilities should also be available for senior citizens whose families cannot afford to care for them at home.
Our elderly are our mothers and fathers who brought us into this world and cared for us until we could do so for ourselves; they are our uncles and aunts who have helped to care for us while we were growing, making sure that we were safe. The right thing to do now is to return the favour by taking good care of them, when they need it.
Women - The Hon. Minister Jennifer Webster gave us a list of all the programmes our Government has implemented for women. Most geared at empowering them and enabling them to become financially independent. These are good programmes, but the problem is, many women do not know about these programmes, or, if they do hear about them, they do not have an idea how to access them. The Minister and her staff need to go out more often into the fields, into the depressed areas, and sensitise women about these programmes and how they can access them. The net has to spread wide in order to capture the women who need the benefits of these programmes the most, Hon. Minister.
Violence Against Women - What is happening to our women and girls today is great cause for concern. Violence against women has risen to frightening proportions. In the Stabroek News published on 6th January, 2013, the headline reads, “2013 saw 29 domestic violence-related murders” and according to the survey done by this newspaper, six of the victims were children with the youngest being just 8 years old; 25 of them were women.
Since the Hon. Priya Manickchand led the vigorous “Stamp it Out” campaign against violence, in all its forms, against women and the Act was passed, there seems to be an upsurge of domestic violence cases. Did we try to find out why this is so? If this was done, the results of the findings are a secret because I have heard nothing about it. Is there a comprehensive plan mapped out to stem this situation which is growing out of control?
We are only in the 4th month and already the headlines in our daily newspapers are screaming bloody murder and rape. In Kaieteur News, 29th March, publication, the headline reads, “Port Kaituma killer succumbs” with the subheading, “14 days after burning wife and 4 children to death.” On page 8, of the same newspaper, tells of the young depressed mother who fed her children carbon tablets because she feared her reputed husband was coming to take the children away from her.
In 27th February publication of the Stabroek News the headline on the front page reads, “Paradise girl found in shallow grave.” Patricia Younge was only 19 years old and the police suspected that she was raped before she was killed.
For the first quarter of this year alone the amount of murders and rapes of our girls and women are astounding. The Hon. Minister of Human Services needs to share whatever plans and programmes her Ministry has come up with to keep our women safe. She needs to share this with the shadow ministers of both the AFC and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), so that, we too, can assist in the implementation of these programmes. We are all women, Hon. Minister, and murder and rape do not have political persuasion or colour. The way things are right now, no woman is safe and statistics reveal that more cases of HIV and other Sexual Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in our elderly are on the rise. Why? Because these elderly widows live alone and many of them are repeatedly raped by young men in the area.
Women making waves - the time has come for us to have a Ministry of Women’s Affairs like many other countries do. The issues of women, including health are wide and varied and cannot be lumped in the cook-up pot. A Ministry of Women’s Affairs will be able to research and fashion better policies to reduce violence against women and increase their safety; research and implement more workable programmes, which will increase the economic independence of our women, bringing benefits to themselves and their families. Long gone are the days when women stayed at home with the children, while their men worked to provide for the home. In today’s economy, the world over, the job of providing for the home cannot be left only to the men. This would be grossly unfair. The global economy demands that both men and women work to successfully support their families.
Women are the strength and stability of any home and since we are greater in number than our men, it is only fitting that those of us who have leadership qualities and wish to develop our own governance career be encouraged to do so and be able to access the relevant institutions and programmes that specialise in women in leadership. I guarantee that more women in leadership positions augur well for a country and its people and we stand a better chance of achieving our full potential with a fully focused Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Women are powerful creatures and most of us do not realise this, sad to say. We do not realise how powerful we are. But, sadly too, somewhere along the road while fighting for our equal rights, we have allowed our men to outsmart us and hijack our power from us. I believe, that for the continuance of our species, we have to take back that power and so ensure our survival and restoration of our dignity.
Our men - Equally important are our men. I am happy that there is a functioning Men’s Bureau within the Ministry of Human Services, to deal with the many issues that adversely affect our men today.
We heard the Hon. Bheri Ramsarran, Minister of Health, yesterday that prostate cancer is the number one killer in Guyana and statistics show that men, more than women, suffer from prostate cancer. I recommend that more awareness programmes...
Mr. Speaker: One second please, could you repeat what you just said? I think there is something inaccurate. There is an error.
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Yes, a woman had prostate cancer.
Mr. Speaker: Did you say, “... more men have prostate cancer than women.”?
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Can I speak Mr. Speaker? I was of the belief that only men suffer from prostate cancer, but a woman told me she had it too. So I was wondering... [Interruption] Alright, I take that back.
Statistics show then that many of our men suffer from prostate cancer and I repeat, it is the number one killer in Guyana. [Interruption] I recommend that more awareness programmes about this disease be stepped up so that our men can be encouraged to have regular check-ups.
I have also heard the Hon. Jennifer Webster, mention that her Ministry will be addressing anger management programmes for men. Many of our men are out of control judging by the violent crimes they commit against their loved ones and to strangers as well. One can safely conclude that they are mentally and emotionally unstable. But what is the root cause of such beastly behaviour? Was a survey done to identify the reason or reasons behind such behaviour? The emotional and mental state of our men in Guyana is a case that demands urgent measures and I would recommend a national conversation, to begin with. Clearly, our men are severely stressed in the home and most of it has to do with finances..
In most cases, in our vulnerable families, there is not enough money to last through the month, causing our men to suffer from helplessness and depression. Our women also suffer from the same stress and depression; they fail to recognise the same in their partners and proceed to react out of fear for the welfare of their families. Much more has to be done for our men. Anger management programmes are not enough. Our men need to be able to earn a minimum of at least $70,000 per month, tax free.
The little for everyone in this budget is still too little for our vulnerable families and it is taking a toll on our men.
The people of the hinterland…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Okay. According to Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Guyana has recorded the highest ever gold declaration of 481,102 ounces as at December, 2013, surpassing the previous highest level of 455,000 ounces in 2001, which included the declarations of both Omai and small mining operators. Out of the six mining districts in Guyana, the statistics clearly illustrates that mining district 3, Mazaruni mining district, declared the highest production of 79,394 ounces followed by mining district 2, Potaro mining district, with 77,903 ounces while mining district 4, Cuyuni Mining District, declared its production of 71,070 ounces of gold. Today, gold is the leading main contributor to Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the leading export of our country in terms of its value, contributing approximately 78.2 % of the total value of the mining sector’s output.
These mining districts, which I have identified, are located in the hinterland regions and the statistical data from GGMC clearly indicates that our hinterland regions contribute the highest revenue towards our country’s development. However, it is very sad to know that these administrative regions, in which the mining districts are located, have been receiving a small portion of budget allocation for their development.
Every year, Region 8 receives the lowest portion of budget allocation although it is the second highest contributor of gold production in Guyana. It is my firm belief that a good portion of this revenue earned from mining should be given back to these regions for their infrastructural development. Our roads and bridges should be some of the best in this country.
The road to Mahdia, for example, is in a deplorable condition and no one seems to be bothered about it. These bad roads take their toll on minibuses that daily traverse this road. The Mahdia road to Princeville is also in terrible condition. In February, when I visited, potholes were as large as 20ft x 20ft and one member of my team counted over 60 of them. The bridges and the culverts, which were done only last year, have already begun to deteriorate and in the case of a culvert, it was never completed; it was never covered. The repairs to the S bend are not being used because it was badly done so vehicles go around the repaired part of that road.
The problem is an old and ongoing, and that is, one of delinquent contractors got paid for incomplete and badly done jobs. This should not be and by now the regional tender boards must know who these delinquent contractors are and should begin to consider other contractors for these jobs instead of wasting our people’s money by continuing to give the same contractors these contracts.
Education. Every year the Ministry of Education budgets millions of dollars for education delivery but from my hinterland visits to these vulnerable communities I have observed that not much attention is given to our hinterland children. For example, the pupils of Paramakatoi Primary School are still housed in the multi-purpose building and the Church of Christ which do not have adequate space. Construction, after two years, is only now being done. As stated by my colleague, the Hon. Member Mrs. Eula Marcello, “…these children are accommodated in the multi-purpose hall and the Church of Christ.”
The regional budget estimates also show the allocation of moneys for furniture for schools in the respective administrative regions but schools in very remote areas do not benefit from it. For example, Chenapau Primary School in Region 8 has a shortage of furniture. The teachers’ quarters, in which Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) teachers are staying, do not have electricity and the plumbing system is bad. Some schools in Region 8 are also not adequately staffed. For example, Princeville Primary has one teacher who does multi grade teaching and, at the same time, performs administrative duties.
Our youths in the hinterland. It is nothing but the truth that our Indigenous youth suffer…
Mr. Speaker: Please begin to wrap up Hon. Member.
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: … from the lack of opportunities more readily available to the rest of our Guyanese youth and this is mainly so because of the remoteness of the communities in the hinterland, but, as any other youth in Guyana, our hinterland youths deserve equal opportunities
I understand when the Hon. Minister of Amerindian Affairs embarked on a programme to benefit hinterland youths, the Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship Programme (YEAP). I think the thought behind this programme was a good one but I do not think it was a well thought out one. The Minister should have commenced this pilot project with at least three sectors, health, education and forestry, where it applies, because from every community, which has these Community Support Officers (CSOs), complaints are coming out that many of them have nothing to do most of the time. Although this programme is a good one it should have been thought out better. It should have stated with, at least, the three sectors, education, health and forestry and then to expand to others.
Right now, instead of receiving $30 000 per month for doing nothing or working two days per week, they could have been training… I see an allocation for over $700 million and I hope that the Ministry has budgeted for taking up training in the communities, training for joinery, masonry and plumbing. It is to take these things up there to teach them, and then they will deserve their stipend.
We want our indigenous youths to have value for things - for money and whatever they acquire. Nothing is free because whatever they get it is hard earned taxpayers money that is giving to them. When it is spent on our youths the Ministry has to make sure that it is used properly.
We are not against this programme; we just want it to be used properly so that our youths can really learn from it. Training programmes are the best thing, then they can deserve their stipend. If this is what the Ministry is going to do then there is no problem.
I conclude my presentation. [Applause]
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