Budget Debate 20132712 05 Apr, 2013
Dr. Ramayya: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Kindly allow me to say thank you to you and all the Members of this National Assembly, especially my AFC colleagues, who have given me comfort during my recent bereavement.
I have read the budget presentation and followed the debate in the media. I say that as a Parliamentarian from Berbice, we are disappointed with this 2013 National Budget.
We note that Government is giving $300 million subsidy to the Demerara Harbour Bridge in keeping it afloat and to keep the toll as low as $100, which we support, but Berbicians and others using the Bridge continue to pay a minimum of $2,200 as not a cent was set aside for a subsidy to bring down the toll.
Sugar workers, most of who work or live in Berbice, have been offered no relief. They are expecting ten per cent wage increase but they have to wait longer. Old age pensioners also have to wait, perhaps for the next five years, for the expected $15,000 monthly.
I share the views of Member of Parliament (MP) Jennifer Wade, from West Berbice, Region 5, that our regions are important for the agricultural progress of Guyana, yet they get substandard treatment. In Adelphi, Canje, just February gone, sugar workers brought me two bottles of water which were as red as blood. They have to drink this water, whilst the Minister boasts of safe, potable water in Guyana.
It is clear that the Budget is rendered meaningless as Guyanese do not get worth for money. For this reason, I cannot see how this House can pass the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure in its current form without adjustments to ensure better use of taxpayers’ moneys.
Berbice is the Ancient County, but it is also an agonised County. We face blackouts, high unemployment, mass exodus of our best minds, drug and alcohol abuse, high crime rates, et cetera.
With regards to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the greatest failure in the Ministry of Home Affairs is that our people continue to feel fear and suffer violence as part of the general insecurity in Guyana. This Government pumped over GUY$16 billion into the security sector in 2012 and, yet, 137 people were murdered.
In addition, there were 3,777 reports of serious crimes. That is a serious crime every two days. The Police reported that in 2012, there was a 21 per cent increase in robbery under arms. The source from which I quote is the Kaieteur News.
The more money that is put into the Ministry, the worse the crime record is. Criminals have taken law abiding citizens as hostages but we continue to throw good money after a malfunctioning security system with a discredited Ministry of Home Affairs. Does this make sense? I ask this honourable House.
No wonder the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) is without many friends among the working class in Berbice and elsewhere. Sugar workers at Bath on 4th March, 2013, came out on the road to block the entourage of President Ramotar as he was heading from Babu John. They called for the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) to go.
Less than a year ago, a robbery happened on Bengal Farm in Berbice and all of the phones for several Corentyne police stations remained engaged throughout the robbery, which lasted for over half an hour. When the family which was robbed finally got through to the Number 62 Toll Station police outpost, they were referred to Springlands Police Station. The Springlands Police Station then referred them to Whim Police Station. The Whim Police Station then referred them to New Amsterdam Police Station. This is a shame. This is only one example of the “royal push around” even whilst GUY$16 billion was spent on the security sector in 2012. Long after the robbers were gone – some 45 minutes after the incident – the police arrived.
The Minister of Home Affairs has not offered any kind of effective leadership to the men and women in uniform but wants to come here year after year and collect more billions of dollars.
In layman’s terms, for us to make progress with this National Budget on this allocation for security, the Minister must go.
This National Security Strategy must be crafted not only by experts, but with the experiences of the ordinary people like that family from Bengal Farm. No security strategy can work until and unless those people are served.
Once Mr. Rohee remains on top of this structure, the Security Strategy will fail, our $I7 billion will be squandered and wasted and we will no longer be better off. What was Mr. Rohee doing five years ago that distracted him from the National Security Strategy? Did he just wake up? Why only today?
From the first day he became the Minister of Home Affairs Minister, he should have been strategising, working to improve professionalism in the security forces, working to enhance the safety of our communities and, generally, should have been in the forefront of ensuring we have better public safety in the land of Guyana.
We, in the Alliance For Change (AFC), stand prepared to work constructively with a capable Minister of Home Affairs to reform and execute a five-year Strategic Plan for the security sector of this country. We, in the AFC, stand ready to work with a capable Minister of Home Affairs to operationalise an Integrated Crime Information System. We, in the AFC, stand ready to work with a capable Minister of Home Affairs to operationalise the Forensic Laboratory. We, in the AFC, stand ready to work with a capable Minister of Home Affairs to provide air and sea capacity to fight the pirates who continue to terrorise our fishermen, especially those in the Corentyne. We, in the AFC, stand ready to work with a capable Minister of Home Affairs to professionalise the Police Force and empower the Community Policing Groups (CPGs) to combat the criminals. But, we cannot, with a clear conscience, be aware of the failings of this Minister and still put $17 billion in his disposal.
The Police Commissioner and the Police: We, in the AFC, want a substantive Commissioner of Police: not another Amitabh Bachchan or Clint Eastwood. This Government continues to micromanage and disrespect the Police Force by keeping “actors” in place for so long. This disrespect for our men and women in uniform must end.
Leadership is needed to stamp out the ‘fried rice tax’ that is extracted from drivers by some rank. Leadership is needed to stamp out rogue cops who rob miners and beat the wives and children of hand-working porknockers. Leadership is needed to fight criminal practices in the security Forces themselves, like the destruction of firearms issuance book to hide fraud and collusion in armed crimes.
More importantly, security ranks should be freed from starvation wage which this PPP/C Government gives them year after year. We are only condemning our ranks to a life of beggary, extortion, crime and uncertainty.
We could have made a good investment in our national security by giving, in the 2013 Budget, an across-the-board wage increase of ten per cent. This should be our offer, also, to others in the public service.
At the same time, we must reform the Police Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to weed out torture as a method of police work. Have we already forgotten the 16 year-old boy whose testicles were burnt? Have we forgotten police rebels in uniform who were caught on tape beating a child and his mother in the Marudi Mountains?
Region 6: In 2010, when Mr. Maxwell Semple, the President of the East Bank Berbice Hire Car Drivers Association, held a protest against the condition of the East Bank Berbice main road, the Government of Guyana became fully aware of the need for urgent action to bring relief to the 15,000 plus people who needed this vital road link as a transportation lifeline. Since then, it has been one excuse after another. Still, three years after, there is no relief for the people in Berbice.
Is this the action of a caring and fit Government which has billions for a banana republic project like the Marriott Hotel, Kingston, in the middle of the garbage city, but no money for the vital road link?
In 2012, Mr. Peter Ramos and his wife, Rose, appealed to President Ramotar, whilst he was on his way to Plantation Highbury, for help. A promise was made, but never kept.
This Government has billions to support a Ponzi scheme like the Marriott Hotel using 100 per cent Chinese labor, but it has very little money for Guyanese like the Ramos family.
Also, one of the Parliamentarians indicated that I have broken the fence of the Whim Community Centre Ground. That was something that I saw as malicious and stating a lie in this honourable House. It was something that the Regional Chairman had given permission for.
I want to say that the evidence will unfold itself in this House to show that this Government, because I am living in Whim, used this as a vote getting method. I will tell you, Mr. Speaker, and this House that the work started at my expense. The Government only provided the hymac to start the work and to do the digging. For three years, I want this House to know, no cricket was played and there is no cricket pitch as the Parliamentarian indicated.
This is the result of my hard work. I will tell you that that is what brought this Government to a minority Government. It was because of my effort in Berbice. We have a new dispensation in this country because I am an honest citizen of Berbice, I have done my homework and I have proven to those very people that the truth will prevail and the truth has prevailed today because the Government is the minority in this House.
Skeldon Factory: The state of the Skeldon Sugar Factory is quite distressing to me as a Berbician. After spending more than GUY$40 billion on a factory rated to process 350 tonnes of cane per hour, this factory is only producing at 56 per cent of its capacity. Did we pay the Chinese contractor 56 per cent of the money? We should ask ourselves this question. Apparently not, since the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Ramsammy, clearly stated in a Stabroek News article that the Chinese “have delivered what was in the contract”. Well, apparently, we paid too much money – the other 44 per cent. How much more delusional can we get? I ask this honourable House.
The Chinese contractor delivered what was in the contract. We paid over GUY$40 billion for $25 billion or 56 per cent of the factory. I want to repeat that: we paid over GUY$40 billion for $25 billion or 56 per cent of the factory; we did not pay for 100 per cent. So, the factory is producing at 56 per cent today. Where has the $15 billion gone? We can ask that question. This is the reality in this country since, from all appearances and the Minister’s own confession in the press, the Chinese contractor got paid 100 per cent of the money to give us 56 per cent of a white elephant. And this Government has the audacity to come here in this House and ask for how much - $208 billion. How about if we give them 56 per cent of this sum? This is the question. We must pay for what we are getting and this House...
Today, we have to pay more billions, finally, to the real professionals from South Africa to correct the flaws of the apprentice company that built the Skeldon Sugar Factory.
Berbice River Bridge: I come back to this matter. The AFC noted that in this budget, some $300 million is provided as a subsidy to the Demerara Harbour Bridge to repair the pontoons and so on. While we fully support this subsidy to the Demerara Harbour Bridge to keep the toll down, we, in the AFC, must object to the high tolls to travel on the Berbice River Bridge.
We demand that $150 million be voted in this Budget for the Berbice Bridge, thus reducing the toll for public minibuses and hire cars. This Government continues to give billions of dollars in contracts to its business friends, many of whom get billions of dollars without any competition in sole sourced contracts, but this uncaring and heartless PPP/C Government has no money to help the poorer class of people who have to cross the Berbice Bridge. Utterly merciless is this political gang which controls the PPP/C these days. We, in the AFC, demand a subvention to be paid to the operators of the Bridge to bring relief to the people, especially Berbicians.
The AFC rejects this tendency of the Minister of Finance to continually blame the workers on the sugar belt for the state of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). He must get his facts right. It is the politically appointed directorates and those who saddled the industry with the apprentice Chinese builders who are responsible for the state of the industry today.
It is time to call them out. It was the Jagdeo regime and the GuySuCo Board, on which President Ramotar sat, which chose the apprentice Chinese contractor who built a white elephant that is the biggest threat to the industry today in Guyana.
Sugar workers are demotivated by the mass mentality of the top executive in the industry and the failure of the recognised Union to bring greater fairness and equity to their labour relations plight.
We call on GAWU to understand whom it serves. It is the workers and not the Office of the President (OP). Sugar workers have been calling for a new union, but the AFC advised them to struggle in their own Union and to demand better representation. We hope GAWU is taking note of the mood in the sugar belt, currently, where workers have to cut four beds of cane for one punt of sugarcane. Slavery has come back to this country in the sugar industry.
Cane-cutters are returning to slavery. They are asked to cut more beds to make a day’s wage. They are asked to cut young canes and short canes. They are asked to work not 5, but 6 days a week. What has happened to the gains of 40 hours per week?
In the sugar belt, there are groups of young, jobless people. Yet, this Government finds work for people from other countries to work on projects such as the Marriott Hotel where 100 per cent of the workforce is from China. This is an anti-working class strategic move. It is an anti human development strategic move. It is anti-Guyanese. It discriminates against our own people.
Let me be clear. We welcome people of all nations into Guyana to work on any project but they must compete with Guyanese for the job and only if there is no Guyanese qualified for the role, then it can be offered to a foreigner. We have people in this country who can turn spades, fetch bricks and who can work. Why is it that our people are jobless? The old people say that charity begins at home.
In truth, this 2013 Budget has little for the working poor, the unemployed and the vulnerable.
This 2013 Budget has little for the mothers of Guyana, those at the bottom of the feeding chain in the sugar belt, and very little for Berbicians. In fact, this 2013 Budget, in its current form, does not deserve support from me as a Guyanese first and politician after.
The real danger if we, in the AFC, support this 2013 Budget in the current form, as presented by the Minister, is that more billions will have to be borrowed in the name of the children of Guyana to fund many ill-conceived projects.
By the end of this Tenth Parliament, we are confident that the Guyanese people will pay back this PPP/C Government the favour it has done to them in leaving them jobless and exposed to oppression. They will be out but it would take many, many years to settle the unjustifiable new debts in the name of the future generation, and to rebuild this beautiful Guyana. We need to dream and to dream big. We must see that those who plunder the Treasury, give away contracts, sell out our airwaves, take bribes, forfeit the best lands, and are otherwise corrupt, are given justice.
For a start, we should not feed the appetite of this regime. We have to trim this Budget of excesses, and channel more money to the workers and pensioners. Therefore, we have to put the checks and balance in place today.
This Budget lacks vision. It is heavy on words and weak on delivery. This Budget lacks a conscience. This Budget does not address the main issues of job creation and a better life for our people.
As the last speaker said, “If you do not tell the truth, somebody will tell it for you.” For my Berbician Parliamentarians, who came to this honourable House and gave a misrepresentation of the reality of the situation, I want to repeat what the last speaker said. “If you do not tell the truth, somebody will tell it for you.” And that is a burden on that individual.
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