Budget Speech Mr Clement Rohee 20143710 07 Apr, 2014
Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to express the deepest and sincerest appreciation to my colleague, Minister Ashni Singh, for presenting once again, a budget that I believe will bring tremendous benefits to all the Guyanese people.
In fact, just a few minutes after the Minister’s Budge Presentation, as I was proceeding to party headquarters, I stopped by the traffic lights at the corners of Avenue of the Republic and Robb Streets. A gentleman flagged me down; he wanted to say something. I stopped to listen to what he had to say. It was amazing how a common citizen on the streets, in a matter of minutes, was able to understand what this budget meant for him. He told me that he was pleased that the Government was allocating an increase in the sum of money granted to pensioners. He was pleased about that and further more he was pleased about the fact that he had three grandchildren who were going to benefit from the money that has been allocated to our school children.
As I listen to the Members on the opposite side of the House, or on that side of the House, make their presentations, I was trying to figure out what the common line was that the party, the APNU, had adopted in relations to this budget. It must have been a gathering of the Members of Parliament (MPs) to determine a common approach to this Budget Presentation. In seeking to understand this psychological phenomenon, I recall just a few years after the tragic events with the attack on 9/11, on the Twin Towers in the United States. On the first anniversary of that attack, a sculptor unveiled a piece of sculpture, which showed a woman falling in the air, so to speak, with her hands and feet flailing in such a way to demonstrate the extent to which she was fall and the height from which she was falling. At the bottom of that piece of art were the words, “We watch, disbelieving and helpless on that savage day, people we loved began falling.” That piece of art gave rise to a big controversy in the United States.
Within a matter of days the sculpture had to be covered and then it was cleaned off and then eventually removed. When the artist was asked about his reaction to this action, he said that all he was trying to do was to demonstrate to humanity the extent to which the attack on 9/11 was reflective of how humanity felt about so many hundreds of people dying.
So the morale behind this story was what I would describe as the phenomenon of repression, motivated forgetting. That is how I would like to capture the collective presentation by the Opposition on this budget of one in which there was motivated, forgetting of the realties in which they live; the repressing of realities in this country, in all the sectors of social, political and economic life.
What did they say? They said, for example: the Hon. Member Dr. Ramayya said that this is a pre-elections budget and cannot be accepted in its present form. The Hon. Member, the Leader of the Opposition Brigadier (Ret`d) David Granger, said in the media that the budget was not forward looking, nor developmental oriented and cannot be accepted in its present form. He went on further to say that the budget has no plan for poverty reduction, employment or social protection, etcetera and it was divorced from reality. Then Mr. Jones, the Hon. Member, spoke about a “Series of unfortunate events” that cannot be accepted in its present form. Dr. Cummings, the new Member in this House, described the budget as a lacklustre budget and cannot be accepted in its present form. The common lines in these statements and I suppose in others to come, is that the budget is unacceptable, in its present form and the Minister must go and come again.
Sometime earlier this year, on 3rd Friday, the APNU issued a press statement in which they proposed what they described as a new social contract. In that new social contract they articulated certain philosophical views. Common among which was that this must be a vehicle to bring together persons from various constituents to work together for the common good of Guyana. It must promote national unity, ensure human safety and foster economic development. That statement struck a positive note at the beginning of the year, but lo and behold, in or on 5th September, Brigadier (Ret`d) David Granger, the Hon. Member, made another statement where he said that he was tired of the political stalemate in the country and that he is interested in the “New political culture” that would encourage cordial relations and civilised dialogues among parties, meaning the parties in the Parliament. He said when he spoke of a new political culture he speaks about creating a relationship among the three parties in the National Assembly. Mr. Speaker, we were surprised however, on 1st September, the Opposition Leader stated on another occasion and this is what he said, quoting from the Stabroek News of Sunday, 1st September:
“We feel that the Government is taking a big political risk if it continues to defy the will of the majority. We cannot go on like this for the next five years. They will have to accept the consequences. Sooner or later people will reach their breaking point.”
What surprised me is the quantum leap from talk about reconciliation and a consensus building mechanism, vis-a-vis the social contract, to what appeared to be confrontational talk.
As though this was not enough, as time went on in the middle of March, Mr. Greenidge in an interview with the Kaieteur News said, speaking about the budget:
“If not, then it may have very well be a nasty or a bloody war when it is presented in the Parliament.”
Mr. Greenidge threatens nasty and bloody war. Sounded as though we were in for a process and period of bloodletting in this Parliament; a radical shift from the talk about dialogue and cooperation to a season characterised by bloodletting in the Parliament and in this country.
Another quotation from the Opposition Leader, in the Kaieteur News of the 18th March, as though not to be left out from the rhetoric, spoke about: “Jump high or jump low, we are going to exercise our right to approve and disapprove of the budget.”
In the course of the debate in this House, I sat puzzled to the extent of some Members on both sides of the Opposition benches referring to Dr. Jagan; Government’s neglect of Region 10 is a betrayal of Jagan’s principles. Mr. Speaker, I do not want to sound disrespectful to anyone, but I believe that apart from doing research on people, historical figures in this country, one must also have a personal relationship with that person. When the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) came to Government in 1992 the Hon. Member Ms. Vanessa Kissoon was 14 years of age. She was born on the 26th February, 1978 – 14 years of age. It is quite possible and I do not want to underestimate her ability to do research, but to speak about Dr. Jagan in this manner, when the PPP came to Government in 1992, not even knowing the history of the individual, I believe is paying a great disservice to a man, an icon, in our history in this country. [Interruption] You can say what you want to say. [Interruption]
Instead of pontificating and criticising, the Opposition should tell us, in very clear and uncertain terms, what concrete and specific contribution they are prepared to make to the national development in this country. All of the Ministers who spoke on this side of the House have invited you to be part of the exciting journey of nation building, but you prefer to sit and pontificate, make a whole host of criticisms, not even of a constructive nature and a host of proposals that have no water whatsoever.
What has happened with the Opposition? Not only in the context of this Budget Debate, but even historical antecedents in respect of other issues, it is that they have pursued a policy of isolationism; they have found themselves isolated. The Private Sector Commission, many of the stakeholders who have a stake in this budget have come out supporting it, save and except the Opposition. The same experience has been demonstrated in respect of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Bill. They end up on the side of isolation. They have dug themselves into holes so often it is now difficult for them to extricate themselves from these holes.
Dr. Roopnarine, the Hon. Member, when he spoke engaged in a whole host of what to do and what not to do – dos and don’ts - in the agriculture or environmental sector. I want to quote from a letter that was written by one Mrs. Whitman, in a correspondence sent to Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. This is what was said:
“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in pursuit of pleasure that I have peril, life, reputation and reason. It has been into desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, the memories of wrongs and injustice and imputed dishonour from a sense of unsupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.”
What was the situation that existed in those days when the PPP/Civic was in the Opposition, together with the Working People’s Alliance, who now sits in close embrace and harmony with the PNC called the APNU? We have to make comparative analysis if we want to understand how we are today and where we came from.
I want to quote from a booklet entitled, “Try new ways –economic moves for a people in crisis” published by the Working People’s Alliance in 1982. This is what it says,
My friend Mr. Felix spoke about a deadening hand well let me give you another deadening hand. He says:
“Nowhere has deadening hand of the regime and its incompetence been so keenly felt as in the area of public transport and other public utilities. Many authoritarian regimes have seen it fit and seen to it that these things at least function. It our case the utilities are seen and treated by the regime, not as a service to the people, but as a public nuisance.
For these reasons, and because of the deep-seated chronic corruption, no major investment, such as reconstruction of a railway system, has been attempted in Guyana. It goes on to state:
“Corruption has been encouraged so that it has become routine. The gains of corruption have become part of the normal expectations of office holders and part of the cost of the majority of projects.”
This is what transpired in those days. Many Members on that side of the House quoted from Mr. Burnham, the virtues of former President Burnham, but I would like to refer to another publication put out by the then Working People’s Alliance (WPA) because it is not the same WPA today. This is what Mr. Burnham had to say about democracy:
“But democracy is a concept which depends on where you put your emphasis, whether you prefer the formality of periodic elections, which means nothing or produces nothing, or you prefer the reality of social democracy which needs an approval of the society and greater participation given to the masses.”
What a description of democracy! The economic crisis that obtained at that time in Guyana as compared to what it is now... I have heard many of the persons on that side, the Hon. Members, spoke about a crisis in our country today in almost every sector. They spoke about crisis obtaining in health, education, transport and where ever they may want to cast their imagination... [Mr. Bond: Security.] It is security also. It is quite easy to talk about public safety and security, but in talking about public safety and security today we must cast our minds back and recall, for those of you who do not know, you were too young to know, what transpired in those days.
We have releases from the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) which spoke about Joshua Ramsammy being denied the freedom to leave the country; Eusi Kwayana not being allowed to leave the country, a constitutional right which all of the Members enjoy today and in those days we could not have left the country.
This is a quotation from a letter to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretary General in March of 1980. This is what it states, and it was signed by the WPA:
“Minutes after Bonita Bourne, or Harris, boarded the plane, policemen entered the BWIA aircraft, took her bodily off of the plane, dragged her across the tarmac, in a manner usually associated with countries like South Africa and Chile. Eventually, after much communication between the airport and Georgetown, and after protest by the Leader of the Opposition,...”
It is not this Leader of the Opposition; it was the then Leader of the Opposition - Dr. Jagan.
“...who was travelling on the same flight, she was allowed to leave the country.”
This was the type of police state we had in this country. When you come to talk about public safety and security now talk also about what existed then. There are many, which I can quote from, but I will leave them for another occasion which is coming.
There is an interesting piece of information which, I believe, is important for the public to know about. There is information which reveals that firearms were sent from the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) in June 1979 to the People’s National Congress (PNC) – 19 G3 rifles, 19 G3 Bayonet sniper rifles, 15,000 rounds of 7.62 ammunitions, 10 Browning pistols, 500 9mm lens. The transference of firearms from the GDF armoury then to Congress Place... [Ms. Ally: Your eyes pass Congress Place. Provide the evidence.] Look, the evidence is here. Do you want it? I can give it to you. As if that was not enough, after the party congress of the then ruling People’s National Congress, orders were issued for the military to participate in civilian uniforms or civilian clothing...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Rohee, I want some clarifications. Are you reading from documents that are publicly available or from classified information?
Mr. Rohee: It is publicly available.
Mr. Speaker: To which?
Mr. Rohee: This is a press release issued by the WPA on August 28, 1981, signed by Andiaye, to which this document is attached. This is what it states; it is a restricted document:
“Year of Energy, Part 1. Orders by Colonel D. A. Granger, M.S.M, Commander of the Guyana Defence Force, from Camp Ayanganna, general and training in administration and manning.”
The order was issued for ranks of the Guyana Defence Force to join a march, after the rally or to join in the march after the Fourth Biennial Congress of the PNC, ending at the 1763 Monument.
Mr. B. Williams: I rise on a Point of Order. I am standing on Standing Order 40 (a).
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister Rohee, you may be seated please, it is a Point of Order.
Mr. Williams: I am referring to a breach of Standing Order 41 (1). I have risen on Standing Order 40 (a) and that is in relation to the breach of Standing Order 41 (1).
Mr. Speaker: Go ahead, read it.
Mr. B. Williams: Standing Order 41 (1) reads, “Subject to these Standing Orders, debate upon any motion, Bill or amendment shall be relevant...” I am enquiring about the relevance of this excursion that the Hon. Member has proceeded on.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, let me quote Standing Order 71 which deals with financial procedures. This Standing Order 71(2) and it states:
“The debate, when resumed, shall be confined to the financial and economic state of the country and the general principles of Government policy and administration as indicated by the Budget Speech and the Estimate.”
We have, all of us, taken latitudes but we must at least confine ourselves, or cribbed and confined - to use one of Mr. Ramjattan’s favourite terms - within Standing Order 71(2). I would urge you Hon. Member not to make your budget speech about the Leader of the Opposition. I do understand and appreciate the context of national security but Standing Order 71 (2) is quite clear about the nature of the budget speech. I will monitor you as you proceed.
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, I fully accept your ruling.
Mr. Speaker: I have not ruled. I am saying that you may proceed but I will monitor you, giving you guidance. Standing Order 71 (2) is what guides all of us.
Mr. Rohee: I think the nation is fully aware that the Opposition, in budget debates and out of budget debates, in the National Assembly and out of National Assembly, has always placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on the security sector, particularly the Leader of the Opposition. My contribution Mr. Speaker, with due respect to your guidance, is to make the comparative analysis between what obtains today and what obtained then.
Never in the history of our country has the security sector gone through so many reforms that it is going through now. It was not under the previous Government prior to 1992. The previous Commissioners of Police, including the Hon. Member Mr. Felix, must tell us the nature of the reforms they initiated in the security sector when they were there, save and except,...The fact of the matter is that in a police state, which existed in those days, the entire question of public safety and security was greatly emphasised in respect of the Opposition parties. That is where the emphasis lied, in maintaining total control and decapitation of the Opposition parties with respect to their leaders.
When we talk about public safety and security today we must recognise that it is taking place in the context of a democracy and that it did not take place in those days in that context - freedom of the press, freedom of the movement. Context is what is important here, the socio-economic context in which this debate is taking place. In those days, as it is now, the degree, and scale, of issues, such as money laundering, was virtually nonexistent; drug trafficking was virtually nonexistent. Gun running, piracy, human trafficking and domestic violence, if existed in those days, were minuscule and did not warrant the attention... That is why we have to be careful when we are speaking about public safety and security we do not only focus on crime because it is only one aspect of public safety and security. There is the question of interpersonal violence and we need to take a holistic approach to it. Fighting drug trafficking, fighting human trafficking, fighting money laundering, fighting gun running, fighting all those issues together is what constitutes the entire and the holistic approach to public safety and security. Those who wish only to focus on crime, because that is where their strength is, may be missing boat.
Mr. Speaker: Minister, you will require 15 minutes for the extension.
Mr. Hinds: I move that the Hon. Minister be given 15 minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. Rohee: The challenges, which exist today, are not similar to the challenges that existed in those days. If the Members want to talk, in order to embarrass the administration for the sake of embarrassing the administration politically, it is easy to do. That is nothing difficult to do but we have to look at public safety and security in the present day context and realities and address it from that perspective.
To hear Members from the Opposition benches opposing the establishment of a Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) team. People who came from the very security sector opposing the establishment of a SWAT team. I think they are upset about the fact that it did not happen under them. That is why they are upset, that in hindsight they realised that they are the ones that should have done that. We cannot help people who have failed in their responsibilities. They have failed in their responsibilities and they must accept failure because when one accepts failure one can learn from what one has failed on.
The Opposition takes pride in painting a bad picture of our country, and the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke about that, but notwithstanding the fact that it might be painting the country in a bad light, thousands of people are still arriving in our country. It was pointed out that in 2013, 200,022 persons arrived in our country, either as visitors, tourists or so forth.
Turning to the security sector, this sector is going through tremendous changes. While it might not be possible to elaborate on all of the changes that are taking place in the security sector, the fact is that the Guyana Police Force, being the foremost law enforcement agency in this country, notwithstanding all of the unnecessary and uncalled for bashing, which takes place in respect of the Guyana Police Force - this force, which is a Guyanese force, which was nurtured and built up since 1966 when we achieved independence to today - is free from political control as it used to be in the past. We did not call on the police to march after and behind PPP rallies after congress. We do not do that, but the changes that are taking place are manifest.
As we come to the end, in a few days time, of the Citizens Security Programme, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), we are now preparing to enter into negotiations with the IDB for a successor programme of the Citizens Security Programme. We are soon, this year, to engage the Capita Symonds group from England in the formulation...In fact, we have already settled on the plan for implementing four aspects that are very much needed in the police force – successor planning, probity and integrity, recruitment and detention and public relations and communications. These are reforms that are vitally needed within the police force and the fact of the matter is that the force has accepted these reforms.
Today, more than 47 police stations are linked through a wide area network where data collected at police stations are sent to force headquarters for immediate action on an operational basis. This has never happened in the past. There is an integrated crime information system which helps to advance the investigative capacity of the Guyana Police Force.
We are now working to upgrade the passport security systems and in this respect within a few months time we are going to be releasing a new machine readable passport with increased security features. This is important because already we have noticed that the extant machine readable passport is being tampered with by people who wish to steal the identity of persons in order to use it for criminal intent. We are improving the marine wing of the Guyana Police Force.
The Guyana Prison Service is also going through changes, notwithstanding the fact that the Opposition opposed the name change of the Guyana Prison Service to the Guyana Prison and Correctional Service.
There are changes that are taking place also in the Guyana Fire Service. Incidentally the Hon. Member Mr. Felix spoke about the Guyana Fire Service. Let me inform Mr. Felix, in case he does not know, that when we came into Government in 1992 there was one fire tender and a half of a land rover pickup and three functioning fire stations. Look at what we have now, and then he should ask himself how far we have got with the firefighting capacity of the Guyana Fire Service.
At General Register Office, we are moving speedily to eventually issue birth certificates that are computerised. We will eventually, in the not too distant future, issue such type of birth certificates that are electronically generated.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, compared to what it was before, where it was degutted by the previous administration, all it had were five members of staff, check and see what it has now. When you come to discuss the estimates and we will see the tremendous capacity which the Ministry has built up year after year owing to the appropriations made by the Ministry of Finance.
We are moving to expand neighbourhood police and community policing. It was said by Mr. Felix that we ought not to give so much to community policing, that $413 million is too much for community policing. How could a Member, who was once a Commissioner of Police, argued against increased allocation to community policing groups when it is the community that has to work hand in hand with the police? You, yourself, know that Mr. Speaker. It is an established fact that without the cooperation of the community the police will not succeed to the extent that we would like for them to succeed. We know that, but yet for the sake of politicking the Hon. Member Mr. Felix opposes $413 million for community policing. I want that word to get out so that the community members would know that the once Commissioner of Police is opposing the increase in allocation to community policing. The Hon. Member must know that we have 282 community policing groups across the country with a membership of 4,542, and growing. Mr. Speaker, I believe that we must respect these people, and do you know why? It is because they are giving voluntary time to their communities and they are in the community. If there is not enough regular ranks to police the community, which the Hon. Member knows, then obviously we have to tap into the communities to assist us with that respect.
I would like to make reference to resources. We hear talk about lack of resources and vehicles, but let me refer to these figures. The year 2006 is the year I went to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Between 2006 and 2013, 374 new and additional land and water transport means were provided to the Guyana Police Force. Those included 31 motor cars, 24 trucks, 56 double cap pickups, 101 motorcycles, 21 boats and ballahoos. Five hundred and seventy-four pieces of equipment were provided to the Guyana Police Force.
When we got into Government in 1992 the salary of a commissioner was $43,374. Do you know what the salary is now, Mr. Speaker? Under the PPP/C, the salary of a commissioner is now $470, 625. This is where we have moved from $43,000 for a commissioner to $472,000. A constable under the PNC Government received $6,518. Today a constable receives $38,479. I believe we must give recognition to this vast improvement that has taken place, $4,600 under the PNC administration to $38,479.
I want to say that in a few days time we will be commissioning the forensic laboratory that has taken quiet some time to be completed. It is true that it was supposed to be commissioned late last year but owing to a number of technical snafu we are now set to commission this forensic laboratory by the end of this month.
Increasing the capacity of the police and other law enforcement agencies with respect to polygraph testing, which is aimed at enhancing the integrity of the Police Force. Two weeks ago, 62 ranks of the Joint Services were given polygraph tests and we are now awaiting the results of those examinations. Polygraph examination, fortunately, did not begin under Mr. Felix’s time because apart from having the infamous tape of the conversation, which is called “hook-up time”, I am sure that if this polygraph test was administered during the time he was Commissioner of Police (CoP), much more would have been revealed.
Reference was made to the interdiction of drugs. There is a headline in the 31st March newspaper which states, “More money for GINA than for war against illicit drugs”. I have a publication here. Dr. Roopnarine, Hon. Member, do you remember this? I would like to read what this publication states about the media under the previous dispensation.
Mr. Speaker: What document is it? It seems that Dr. Roopnarine knows it, but we do not know what it is.
Mr. Rohee: It is called, “Redemption, Reconstruction and Rebirth”.
Mr. Speaker: Authored by whom?
Mr. Rohee: It is authored by the Working People’s Alliance (WPA).
Mr. Speaker: What year?
Mr. Rohee: It was in the year 1985. This is what is said about the media in those days.
“Another area which requires reform is the media...”
[Mr. Felix: [inaudible] special branch.] This is not special branch; this is the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) branch. [An Hon. Member: Where did that come from?] It came from the WPA.
“Another area which requires reform is the media. The state-owned media are devoted almost entirely to the service of the ruling party on the argument that it represents the nation and, therefore, are not simply a party, but the nation in politics.”
Pinochet, Duvalier and Zia Ul-Haq have used this argument to justify their paramountcy.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, you have to begin to wrap up.
Mr. Rohee: I am beginning to wrap up.
Mr. Speaker, I have with me the latest Report, the 2013 Report of the United Nation’s Organisation on Drug Control. This is the Organisation that speaks authoritatively on the question of drugs and interdiction of drugs in all countries of the world. Mr. Speaker, if you read this document carefully, the section dealing with Latin America and the Caribbean, you will see that it states nothing negative about Guyana. In fact, it speaks positively about the country in respect of fighting drugs.
Both Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) and the police narcotics branch have recently been detecting and interdicting persons caught at CJIA with drugs. I will say this: rather than referring mockingly to CANU and the narcotics branch of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), we should give credit to the fact that they continue to detect and interdict persons in respect of drug trafficking.
I continue to say: wherever they hide it, we will find it. That is the mantra that I have given to both CANU and the police narcotics branch. Wherever they hide it, we will find it. In the same way, wherever they hide the guns, we will find the guns.
I want to conclude by saying that we would soon be engaging in some new initiatives and I will speak about them more expansively on another occasion. But just to give a sneak preview, law enforcement and public safety and security continue to be and will always be a work in progress. If there is anyone on that side of the House who believes he or she has a silver bullet and can revert to the days when there was a police state to deal with public safety and security, then he or she is sleep/walking in his or her dreams. I am saying that public safety and security is a work in progress. The criminals will always try to be a step ahead of law enforcement. That is why we always have to be more than a step ahead of them and that is precisely why, under the PPP/C Administration, we are dedicated to ensuring that the citizens of this country can sleep, live, work and have leisure in an atmosphere of peace, security and good order in this country.
Mr. Speaker, thank you. [Applause]
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