Budget Speech Ms Vanessa Kissoon - 20123481 10 Apr, 2012
Ms. Kissoon: It is with tremendous anger that I make my contribution to this Budget 2012. I must say, however, I am more than grateful to be a part of this Tenth Parliament under a new, yet challenging, dispensation which begins a historic era in Guyana’s politics.
The residents of Region 10, the constituency of which I represent, are calling on the Government and the combined Opposition to re-examine and reconsider this Budget 2012 that is being debated before this honourable House. It was the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan who said, and I quote: “Development must carry a human face”. For the past decade, under the Jagdeo’s regime, there has been none, absolutely no development in Region 10, and this Budget 2012, which is before this honourable House offers nothing - absolutely nothing to the residents of Region 10. In actual fact it will cause added hardship and according to some residents stress and more stress. The residents are feeling victimised as the budget which they thought would have brought some sense of hope and scope for major developments in Region 10…, especially since President Donald Ramotar, during his 2011 Election campaign promised the residents, particularly those young people and single mothers, that he would provide one thousand jobs for the development of the Region and for their own individual upliftment. Instead he continues the Jagdeo’s abusing and unacceptable behaviour as he accused the campaign team for the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) in Region 10 for using racial slurs during the 2011 campaign and so suggested that the residents of Region 10 voted race at the 2011 polls. So this budget is a reflection of pure aggression and vengeance on the part of the Government towards the residents of Region 10, who would have simply exercised their franchise. I would like this honorable House to know that it was hard work and consciousness on the part of the residents who were and still are fed up of being treated like the stepchild by its cruel stepmother; in this case it would be the Government. However, I wish to place on record that residents of Region 10 are demanding an apology from President Donald Ramotar and also to state categorically that we, the residents of Region 10, will not rest until we get what we deserve, and we deserve nothing but the best.
The PPP/C Government fails to promote economic growth for the past decade in Region 10. VAT remains the same. No subsidy for Region 10 means a dark future for our residents and more so no hope for our children; there is no significant increase for our pensioners and single mothers through public assistance. Shame on you, Ashni! I know many…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Ms. Kissoon, this is the Minister of Finance. If you want to say shame, you can say “Hon. Member”, but it is not by first name. It is not full-mouthed as we like to say.
Ms. Kissoon: Hon. Member of Finance, shame on you. I know many would say that if the rest of Guyana is paying $64 per kilowatt for electricity then Region 10 should have no problem with doing the same. I challenge any one who dares to say such, as Region 10 still has a very high unemployment rate and there is no new growth and investment in development there, especially since it is this same Government which has caused us to be where we are today when it made a bad investment in the Texas-Ohio deal. All this so-called caring Government, according to Hon. Member Manzoor Nadir, is doing is taking away from the residents of Region 10, instead of giving and building.
I would also like to bring to your attention, Mr. Speaker, that the Government of Guyana refused to grant the Linden Utility Services Cooperative Society Limited (LUSCSL) an electricity distributor’s licence after no less than three applications were made to Hon. Prime Minister who holds the portfolio for the electricity sector. The residents of Region 10 view this continued denial, of what is now being legislated to be a requirement, with grave trepidation, especially in light of the various moves being made in the electricity sector with regards to supply and distribution.
I now come to health. Over the last years we were told of the substantial allocations of the health sector. From 2009 to 2011, we heard about billions which were going to be spent. This year, we were also told that $16.9 billion was allocated to the health sector. The Minister must tell this nation what value we are getting for these large allocations. Let me inform you, Mr. Speaker, that the $2.2 billion hospital this Government claimed to have built, and called it the state-of–the-art hospital, is nothing but a disaster.
Sometime in 2002, the then Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, after workers took industrial actions for various grievances, promised that instead of corporatising the hospital he would create a health authority. A draft was done, the matter was discussed at Cabinet and taken to the National Assembly, to create a health authority for Region 10. When the Bill was presented in the National Assembly it was named the Berbice Health Authority, since then the hospital was then made a department of the Ministry of Health and the nightmare of the workers continues. There is no capital budget for the hospital, which hampers the ability of it to purchase important and sensitive equipment and to provide important services instead of sending patients all the way to Georgetown.
The first thing the Government did was to change the contractual arrangement and conditions of services. With these new changes, employees proceeding on the maternity or extended sick leave would lose their whole six-month gratuity. If they proceed on a one-month sick leave or no pay leave they will lose three months of gratuity, yet the workers were told that gratuity is in lieu of pension. Unlike what we are told, by a choice of workers to choose which category they prefer, contractual or the public service fixed pension plan, those workers were never given this choice.
It is also discovered that on many occasions drugs with short shelf life are dumped at the hospital. Doctors are complaining that, the essential drug list which is created by the Ministry, many of the drugs are outdated. Reagents and the equipment to carry out needed test in the laboratory are many times not available or in short supply. Those impact on the services which the hard-working doctors, nurses and medical staff would like to provide.
Challenges in the provision of health care by medical staff in Region 10 are urgently needed. There should be the increase in uniform and other allowances, housing schemes for nurses, reduction of cost for house lots, since many are single parents, retroactive payment and salaries increases must be applied to overtime, continuous availability of resources for the performance of nursing care, such as blood pressure sets, thermometers, special type of maternity gloves, modern delivery beds, scissors and simple medical tools. [Mrs. Lawrence: We do not have that.] We do not.
Mr. Speaker, the $2.2 billion so-called state-of –the-art hospital has other issues that would cause you to raise your eyebrows. I am simply pointing out the fact that it is not always about the big figures, but it is about quality of work and services provided. At the end of the day, are we getting value for our hard earned money? I say no.
On December 24th, 2011, an employee very nearly suffered cranial injury from a fallen block. The maintenance officer stated that the incident was as a result of design the flaw - the state-of-the-art hospital we are talking about - and there is evidence of cracks in the walls of the building. The hospital has no administration block, psychiatric ward, mortuary or cafeteria [Mr. Neendkumar: You have to go to the psychiatric ward.] No. It is to put you. There is a non-functional Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room, as it is not equipped so as to function properly. Instead, there is a high-dependency unit where critical cases receive crucial care. There is also the need for functioning ventilators, monitors and a refrigerator.
Mr. Speaker, you and I know that everyday babies are born, and procreation is a major function of the family. It is a blessing that those innocent creatures are not aware of the conditions they are born under, or into, as the maternity ward is oftentimes so crowded that patients are cramped together in the room which comfortably holds only ten beds, or some patients are housed in the non-functional ICU room. It such a shame that a state-of- the-art hospital only has one ultra sound machine and, to add insult to injury, this machine has not worked since the commissioning of the hospital over two years ago.
Remember I alluded to the fact that this Government likes to call big numbers. Well, I will join it in letting this Hon. House know that the $5 million dollars furnished for the destruction of sharps has been non-functional for eight months. Sharps are currently being stored in a shed. A garbage pile is situated next to the furnace which is located a few yards from the river. Residents who are across from the furnace complain about nauseated odours emanating from the furnace. Because of sewage backup, which was owing to plumbing problems, the X-ray room was non- operational for three days. In addition, the pump has been problematic, resulting in no provision of hot water to the patients, particularly those in the maternity ward.
Language barrier is also another issue at the hospital. There is continuous communication problem with the Chinese doctors, especially the gynaecologist - no wonder we are losing our babies - and so the paediatrician, who is also Chinese, often acts as the interpreter. Nurses expressed the need for a twenty-four-hour day care for their children and insisted that such a service will greatly stem the problem of absenteeism. There is also needs for lights to illuminate areas leading to the hospital and proper roads at the entrance of it. These issues highlighted here are not worker-friendly nor are we getting value for our money.
As the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo said water, the Government’s favourite topic,… Similarly, as for the allocations made for the health sector, that for water is the same. There are large increases over the period 2009 to 2011, and as we heard from the Minister, the same is for this year. Would the Hon. Minister tell the people of Region 10 how many additional households receive potable water? Sir, I am not asking about any kind of water; I am asking about potable water. The Minister spoke about some ten kilometres of transmission mains which were rehabilitated in areas such as Amelias Ward, Richmond Hill and Wisroc, benefiting over seven thousand residents, yet these same residents, including those at West Watooka, Retrieve and other areas, are still receiving mauby water through their taps. The main reason for this is simply because this Government refuses to pay attention to proper advice and it also refuses to train persons who will be able to properly mix the alum and lime which would cause the chlorination process to be effective so that the residents will receive pure drinking water.
Another contributing factor is the fact that of the six water plants, there is, only five are working. Very recently, as of last week, the West Watooka plant was, and still is, not working. The strainers have holes, and so the residents are complaining bitterly of receiving discoloured water, and the water also has elements. None of the water treatment plants have filtration in Region 10. All the plants need new pumps, so Mr. Minister, you need to seek advice from the right qualified persons and stop running around the place saying that “We spent billions.” We know that there is a plan to spend $12 million on two new plants, one at Wisroc and one at Amelias Ward. It must be noted that new plants will ease the problem but a proper plant takes about a year to build. So the question is: What are your intentions with the existing plant during the time or period of building new ones?
I would like to bring closure and to also suggest the way forward to the much debated topic in the media, and that is funding for legal aid in Region 10. Let me start by saying that legal aid in Region 10 has helped approximately over one thousand residents. I would refer to a most recent case, where two children, a thirteen–year-old girl and her fifteen-year-old brother, had it not been for legal aid, would have been in a place where they do not deserve to be. The police entered the home and found marijuana. The male, who was present, owned the stuff and he was sentenced to five years in prison, but the children were remanded, and so was the mother. They slept on the cold floor in a cell at the Wismar Police Outpost. It was horrible. The children were placed on $50 000 each bail and their mother, who was pregnant, on $100 000 bail. Surprisingly, I am no lawyer, but I do not understand why, those children have to return to court on the 18th of April, pending the Direction of Public Prosecution (DPP)’s position, especially since the stuff was owned and the accused sentenced. I hope that the Hon. Minister Jennifer Webster will look into this matter. I said all of this to state the importance of legal aid in Region 10. This is only one of them any cases.
I would like to place on record that the directors of legal aid in Linden do not receive a salary and they are serving the company and residents of Region 10 entirely pro bono. It is obvious that the Government does not intend to give any of the taxpayers’ money to Region 10, as with the electricity tariffs. As far as the Government is concerned the company will have to be satisfied with what the aid agencies give to it since it has to approve it. But apparently taxpayers’ money is too good for Region 10. This Government does not care that without continuous funding the continuation of legal aid in Region 10 can only be guaranteed with taxpayers, as you and I, Mr. Speaker, moneys. If this is not done, the centre will have to close; the clients will be abandoned and the staff sent home. In the best interest of the people of Region 10, I would like to propose, or suggest, that the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, Government and the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic, as they seem to be working together, to take over the legal aid centre with immediate effect, so that the people of Region 10 can also benefit from taxpayers’ money which is allocated in this Hon. House.
It is the only way forward to remove all concerns of accounting practices. Though I am a bit reserve and taken aback, as I know for a fact that the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic is also audited by Ram and McRae Chartered Accountants. I only hope that it is not a deliberate act to discriminate against the residents of Region 10. As we read in an article by Mrs. Joan Mars, the former Minister said, and I quote: “I ent givin you all nothing, and is nothing you all gon get.” We, the residents of Region 10, really do not care about all the ego and shameless self promotions. We do not care who provides the service. Do not get me wrong. We do think that we are entitled to receive or benefit from taxpayers’ money - our hard earned money - once it is approved and a legal aid centre is maintained in Region 10. So let us work together to remove all those obstacles which were identified by the former Minister of Human Services and Social Security, in her letters, so that the Region would, at last, be able to emerge from under the table and to take its rightful place at the table with respect to access to justice.
The Regional Democratic Council must be given the scope to execute its mandate to seek developmental initiatives on behalf of the residents of Region 10 by the various boards and organisers empowered to address those issues. These boards include, but are not limited to, the land selection committee, BOSAI, RUSAL, Linden Enterprise Network, Linden Salvation Council, forestry, housing, the Linden Hospital Complex, Linden Electricity Company Inc, Kwakwani Utilities Inc., the Board of Guardians and National Procurement and Tender Administration Board. A regional housing authority, which allows for the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) to have an input, or be responsible for the issuance of house lots, should also be established. Also some mechanisms for the inclusion of RDC’s representation on the work of the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI) in this Region must be pursued.
The constitution of the Tender Board and the Procurement Board is a sore issue. With the Government naming all, but one, of the five members of this Board, resulting in an extremely lopsided adjudication of these important matters. Note should be taken that, especially in the instance of the Board of the Guardians, but existent on all of the other Boards, we find political appointees from the Government doling out public assistance or other favours under the purview of the various Boards to perceived sympathisers to the discrimination of other residents who have given the APNU a majority mandate to govern their affairs with the expectation of the correction of these types of occurrences. This practice must be stopped expediently.
The National Communications Network (NCN) must have representation on its local board of management in Region 10 from the RDC. Indeed, the Government had recognised, during the course of the 2003 Mackenzie bridge protest, the position taken by residents that one of the television channels operated by NCN, at Linden, is actually the property of the people of Region 10. Originating, as it did, as a gift from the Green Construction Company to the people of Linden and providing the origin for television broadcasting in Linden. This channel must be returned to a committee of management comprised local stakeholders, and we the residents need more television stations, which will open views and create jobs especially for our young people.
I thank you. [Applause]
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