Budget Speech Mr Moses Nagamotoo 20143786 04 Sep, 2014
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I have listened very carefully to several of the speakers on the 2014 Budget. I was impressed with the presentation by the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs who spoke succinctly and attempted to project Guyana, as a foreign affairs minister ought to do, as a preferred destination for investment, for tourism and, indeed, for development funds. I was, however, taken aback by her expression that there were Members in the House – I suppose elected Members of the House – who were branding Guyana in a negative way.
When I listened to the Hon. Minister of Home Affairs taking us into an excursion or a flight of fancy into history and comparing what Guyana is today to what it was before as a police state, I was not sure if he was not, himself, attempting to brand Guyana in a negative way because today this State is a criminal State. One cannot compare the branding where a Minister was denied a visa by the world’s most powerful country – the United States of America...
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, I have heard this matter... [Ms. Ally: What is your point of order?] I did not rise on a point of order. Mr. Speaker, I have heard this matter being raised time and again in this House and outside of this House. None of the persons, including the Hon. Member, Mr. Nagamootoo, have evidence to show, and I suspect that the Minister he is speaking about is the sitting Minister of Home Affairs. Mr. Nagamootoo, if he is referring to me, must provide incontrovertible evidence that Minister Clement James Rohee, born on 16th March, 1950, was denied an American visa. [Members of the Opposition: Bring your passport.] I do not have to bring my evidence; he has to bring it! Mr. Speaker, the burden of proof is not on me. I am not saying anything. He is making the allegation.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo, you have made a statement and I would advise that you leave it alone or prove it with any evidence that you may have.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, it is a matter of public record that the two Ministers had their visas revoked.
Mr. Speaker: Those matters were reported in the press indeed, but I believe that something as strong as that being said in this House requires a higher level of evidence than just what was reported in the press. I would say that you may say that it has been reported in the press and move ahead.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Is the Minister denying the allegation?
Mr. Speaker: We are not going to have an inquisition or an exchange here. You cannot make it a statement of fact, unless you are in a position to verify that fact, because you have been challenged on it. You have been challenged on it. As you have been challenged on it, unless you have evidence, you cannot proceed on it. You may say that as has been reported, but you cannot state it has a statement of fact without more because you have been challenged on it.
Mr. Nagamootoo: It has been reported, Your Honour. There are some encounters I had on this matter at a certain level of a political party to which I was associated but I believe that because this has now been a very important disclosure – the denial. Speaking of branding...
Mr. Rohee: I respectfully insist that the Hon. Member withdraws the comment. I am insisting that he either withdraws it or provides the evidence that I was denied a visa by the United States Embassy. He must do it, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, Mr. Nagamootoo did not name any Minister. The Minister of Home Affairs believed... In fact, the same accusation had been made against another Minister of Home Affairs and so unless Mr. Nagamootoo names the sitting, extant Minister, there is another Minister of Home Affairs who the same accusation was levelled against. With respect, I cannot ask him to withdraw against you because no accusation was levelled against you particularly, even though you felt aggrieved. He said there were two and, in fact, it was reported in the press.
He said it was reported in the press and that is what, in law, we would call a notorious fact for which judges take what is known as judicial notice that it was reported in the press that, and I do not believe that I can, in any way, prevent Mr. Nagamootoo from saying this. I do not need to see what the press said. These are things that were reported in the press and it is open to a Member to state that. If the Member wants, he can rely on a date but we cannot move away from the fact that this has been reported. The Member did not name any person tonight, so there is nothing to withdraw.
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, this matter is of grave concern to me and my credibility as a Member of Parliament, as Minister of Government and as a citizen of this country. It is very important to me and my credibility. I did not hear the Hon. Member say that it was reported in the press. I did not hear him say that. I heard you suggest to him that he should say that to get over it.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nagamootoo, I invite you to withdraw your original comment and you may substitute it. I hereby strike from the record the reference to a visa being refused, if it is not being withdrawn. It is open to you to replace it with words “as reported”. For the record, it is removed that a visa was refused.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I did say, Sir, that it was reported.
Mr. Speaker: You may say it was reported and that is acceptable to the Chair.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I have an electronic copy of it and I will move on. Let me say this: the many victims of violence, banditry and brigandage in Guyana have not been comforted by anything that the Hon. Minister said. We cannot go and tell the relatives of the old women who re-migrated here, those relatives who have lost their loved ones, that things were worst off 35 years ago. We cannot tell the people in Berbice, the fishermen who were plundered and pillaged by pirates and the businessmen who were robbed and killed routinely, that their fortune depended on what happened 35 years ago. We cannot tell the world that we are in the mode of self denial and that we do not have horrible incidents of criminal acts, even alleged criminal acts of baton rape and a child’s genitalia’s being burnt with cigarettes. [Mr. Ramjattan: Not alleged; that has been proven.] The latter was proven.
Mr. Speaker left the Chair.
[Mr. Deputy Speaker in the Chair.]
I welcome the Deputy Speaker to the Chair. We cannot say that torture is a feature of our life and we cannot say that things are what they are today – that an entire police station had to be degutted, to use the Minister’s word, over several acts of banditry in which citizens in Berbice reasonably believed that policemen were involved... We cannot tell people who came out in protest at Albion and were tear-gassed and Shamshudeen, one of the protestors who were killed when they suspected that police ranks were involved in banditry and rape, that although those things happened, it could have been worse if we went back 35 years ago.
I fought the police repression – and I was a victim of it – and I fought the fair battles against rigged elections in Guyana for that long journey of 28 years, but I did not fight and place my life and limb on the line to see a warped doctrine in place by the Government I created and helped to form choose to have a policy that no elections are better than rigged elections. What comfort do we have branding ourselves as revolutionaries who fought against a police state when we hold captive our people and do not hold local government elections, grass root elections, due since 1994? What credentials do we speak of in this august House that we are better than those who ruled or misruled us in the past if we do exactly and worse than those who we claim to have defeated? What do we say when independent voices are gagged and silenced, when there is paramountcy of the party over the state media and critics are routinely silenced? What do we say that we have sacrificed and struggled in the past against? For what?
It had not been my intention to speak to this Budget in this way. I was warning my good Friend, the Hon. Christopher Jones, the other day when he spoke about the slaughter of goats in the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall. I had warned him not to do so because I had sensed that the ghost of one of those goats would have come back to haunt us. I can hear the distant bleating.
This year marks the centenary of the birth of my late father, Nagamootoo Ramsammy, known as “Bright Steel”. The eldest son of Indian immigrants, he was also a sugar worker, rice farmer, fisherman, butcher, shop keeper, village leader and, socially, a cricketer and horse racing turfite. Permit me, Your Honour, in his memory, to salute all of our hardworking people whose struggles, sacrifices and contributions have brought us this far as a Guyanese nation.
I wish also to remember Mrs. Deborah Backer, our late sister and parliamentary colleague, and I hope that we can emulate the quality of her aggressive advocacy without compromising our responsibility to fearlessly represent our constituents and to defend the integrity of this National Assembly.
The 2014 Budget debate is not unlike those of 2012 and 2013. It is, sadly, characterised by a sharp and noisy division of views and we seem to be going nowhere. The arguments always begin with charges and counter charges over consultation. In boycotting the reading of the Budget Speech on 24th March, 2014, the Alliance For Change (AFC) protested that Government did not hold timely and meaningful consultation with us on budget proposals.
We pointed out that article 13 of the Guyana Constitution provides for an inclusionary democracy and we felt that Government and Opposition consultation would be in Guyana’s national interest. But consultation seems to be a bad word because after three hours of it with the Ministry of Finance, the Guyana Tourism and Hospitality Association (THAG) of Guyana complained that its proposals to reduce Value Added Tax (VAT) for the tourism sector and concessions for our locally owned national aviation industry were not reflected in the 2014 Budget.
Our AFC parliamentarian, Hon. Cathy Hughes, articulated the needs and priorities of the tourism industry but her excellent and constructive speech was banned on the State television and radio and made a prohibited item by this Administration which is increasingly becoming intolerant of alternative views.
Even proposals from the pro-government Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUG) got shafted. FITUG wanted an increase in personal income tax allowance to $720,000, progressive tax rates to ease burden on medium earners, increase in old age pension to $15,000, unemployment benefits and wage increases for lowest paid employees. We fully support FITUG’s proposals and, at first, the Minister must have seen merit in them since he promised to examine them positively, as was reported. But the fact is that FITUG’s reasonable proposals were all ignored. The elected politicians were not consulted and labour and business bodies which took the trouble to consult got nothing. It is a case of being damned if you don’t and damned if you do.
The leading private sector body – the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) – was disappointed that the Government did not further reduce Pay As You Earn (PAYE) by three and a half per cent and bring down tariffs on imported meat like chicken, pork and beef. Past president Clinton Urling was quoted in the 29th March, 2014 edition of the Kaieteur News as saying that GCCI is still awaiting a comprehensive tax reform to enhance business and improve consumer spending.
Apart from the vital consultation, we raise, as a primary national concern, the exclusion of large revenue streams from the Consolidated Fund, as mandated by the Guyana Constitution, which makes the budget account incomplete. We specifically pointed to funds held by the National Industrial & Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL), Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU), and those in several “dead” bank accounts.
Those are some of the backdrop issues we have with this 2014 Budget. Government seems to ignore content and instead emphasise the size of the Budget - $220 billion. I wish to say that this Budget has allocations for sectors with which we identify and, indeed, support. We do not hold a negative view of the Budget as a whole, and views contrary to this are self-serving and misleading, Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs.
For us, as a patriotic and national movement, we have a vested interest in the standard of living and standard of life of all of our people, which is why we support increased allocations for the social sector, including education, health, housing, water, environment, and security. We support the allocation for water because we know this is the water that Guyanese have to live with and drink in some areas of this country. This is water from Ithaca and from the Number 3 Village, West Coast Berbice.
Mr. Nagamootoo displayed bottles of water in the House.
This is not pepper sauce. This is water, potable water. We have a vested interest in the health of our citizens and we support these sectors.
We also wish more could be done in job-creating sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. We also continue to demand more for wages, pensions, social assistance, and for organisations that promote assistance to the vulnerable in the society.
It is this principled and patriotic position – I want this to be heard carefully – that informed our support in 2012 and 2013 for the use of billions of taxpayers’ moneys to bail out the sugar industry and the electricity sector, which are gasping for survival due to the incompetence of this post-Jagan minority Government. Our stand has been that sugar workers and electricity consumers must not suffer for the failure and bungling of this Government.
As regards sugar, instead of giving us an account of what they did with the $44 billion spent on the Skeldon factory and the $11 billion in bailout money, they came here with a new, cheap, blackmail trick that the Opposition would be guilty of ethnic cleansing of Indian sugar workers if we did not dole out more billions in subsidies.
Words have power and as the world observes the 20th year after the ethnic cleansing, the genocide in Rwanda, we must not even use those words to drive fear subliminally in this ethnically divided land.
The Hon. Member, Mr. Lumumba, spoke and no matter how he tried to extricate himself from it, I believe it was one of the darkest moments in this House that we could have gone back and use language that would have sent fears because no one in this country looking at history and placing themselves physically and emotionally... Once, when we visited the Buchenwald Prison where six million Jews were exterminated in an act of genocide and ethnic cleansing... would use words loosely to intimidate this House, to blackmail this House, to give money to an ailing sugar industry that had been badly mishandled and mismanaged.
The issue here is not the sugar workers. The issue has always been the incompetence and the refusal of this Government to upturn the board and bring better leadership into the sugar industry, even to try as best to save it from demise and I will show that there were a lot of opinions that the sugar industry, in fact, is facing a bleak future.
It is regrettable that there has emerged so much friction and fraction over this Budget. We cannot deny the Government its right to praise the Budget, but we abhor condemnation of our criticisms as being negative. Ours is not the job of the loyal choir, but we have a duty as elected representatives of the House to guard the public purse. It must be the duty of this National Assembly, not the Opposition but as a whole, to lower unjustified spending, to lower our national debt and to lower our fiscal deficit.
In most countries, the watchful critics use as benchmarks of good budget and good governance when they see health and education expenditures increase and conversely when they see expenditure on security and military decrease. That is the standard in the world.
This Government deserves our unbiased commendation that it has continued to keep afloat social services expenditures, but the AFC proposes that these must be deemed mandatory expenditure and as people’s entitlements which have a fixed percentage of the National Budget.
We propose that old age pensions must be linked to the cost of living index to make it, not a wage, but a living entitlement. It is demeaning to our senior citizens to haggle every year over their needs and over what they justly deserve.
I wish to return to what I said earlier, that the duty of the National Assembly is to protect the national purse.
This is another important backdrop to this year’s Budget, as alluded to by several speakers from this side and by the Minister of Finance, himself, when he referred to the “gravely debilitating consequences of legislative stalemate” occasioned partly by certain “judicial interpretations” rendered in the now famous or infamous budget cut case.
AFC believes that Government must not be paranoid over the role of this Assembly to interrogate and reduce unnecessary or unexplained spending.
It is true that history is replete with examples where Government’s defeat on financial proposals ended in resignation or dissolution of Parliament, but AFC has indicated that this minority Government could, itself, listen to all the just criticisms and reduce the Estimates accordingly without suffering any loss of face or without forcing its own unwilling self to face the polls again. We know what the polls will determine. The polls will never determine a PPP/C victory. We know that. At most, it could be another minority Government so we would be back to square one.
We exhorted the Hon. Minister, in a statement that we have made public, to look at the specific criticisms that we have made and to look at a possibility of, without the Opposition having to use the scissors on this occasion, yielding to wiser council and reducing the Estimates if satisfactory answers are not given for particular items.
Like my father’s racehorse, our supporters are chomping at the bits to face the poll again, sooner rather than later, and I have had the unenviable task of patting the heads of the many youthful and exuberant fighters, telling them: “steady, boy; steady!” as my father would tell our racehorse, Bright Steel, whenever he smelt victory...and this is a case where all the boast and the bluster about calling elections, as the Leader of the AFC has said once, “call am” because we are not going to be intimidated by the possibility of snap elections. We are politicians and our vigour comes from the renewed confidence of the people and the only way one renews that confidence is to go back to that spring of energy that is election or else one is irrelevant if one does not go back there.
A sensible Government would always feel impelled to accept amendments to the Estimates, either because it realised that the criticism of the items concerned was well-founded or because it was anxious to avoid a defeat either of a single line item or the whole Estimates.
Frankly, I have no hope that this post-Jagan PPP/C Government would accept amendments or avoid defeat. We have seen the contours of its arrogance emerging in almost all spheres of political endeavour:
1. The Executive’s refusal to give assent to Bills approved by this National Assembly;
2. Refusal to make the Judiciary and Parliament independent constitutional agencies for the purpose of getting lump sum financial allocations;
3. Restoration of allocations cut in defiance of decisions of the National Assembly;
4. Party paramountcy over the state media and state corporations;
5. Refusal to establish the Public Procurement Commission or appoint the Chairman to the Integrity Commission or fill vacancies on Judicial and Police Service Commissions; and
6. Refusal to hold Local Government Elections last held in 1994.
This is its behaviour. This is the type of arrogance we have seen so that we have no hope almost, if I may say so... Maybe I need to be shocked into believing otherwise that the Government would, on this occasion, voluntarily and by its own promptings, amend sections of the Estimates that are deemed to be unacceptable in their present form.
This PPP/C minority Government has stultified the National Assembly, distorted the process of grassroots democracy, gifted out radio and cable spectrum to “cronies” and used the state media for partisan propaganda purposes. Daily critics are attacked and vilified and political opponents are gagged and banned on the state airwaves and newspapers and growingly libel suits are used as a weapon of political struggle and intimidation by frightened state operatives, so much so that “Dem Boys” refer to this regime as a “sue-sue” government. They could sue for everything. Anything you do, anything you say, you could be sued.
This minority Government, ‘Susie’, has replaced rational discourse with partisan propaganda, and the worst self-delusion and deception that could happened is happening: the regime believes itself.
I believe Mark Twain popularised the phrase that he attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli: “there are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies and statistics”. This Budget is a mass of statistics. The Government says that Guyana has had steady growth and it rolled out statistics. No one doubts this, but we have jobless growth. In the whole three-hour Budget Speech, the word “job” was mentioned thrice, as a reference, not as a viable reality.
Last year I asked, and I ask again, what is Guyana’s jobless statistics? This is the best kept national secret. It is better kept than what is written on the cover of the Budget.
We boast that we have the best economic growth in the Caribbean. Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Hon. Minister Irfaan Ali regaled us to the greatness of what we do in Guyana but we do not envy anyone for thinking that we are doing well. We wish that, in fact, we were doing well. What is the reality?
Allocation for education and health declined. We were told about all of this money for health and education, but it declined as a percentage of the Budget and that was what we were talking about; these social services allocations must be a percentage of the Budget. Education slumped from 15.7% in 2009 to 13.6% and health from 9.9% to 8.5% in 2013. That is the statistics. That is the truth. That is not juggling with it.
Serious crime: for all of the money that we say we are spending on anti-crime efforts and that we are better off now in terms of our security architecture, serious crimes in Guyana in just one year increased by 11%.
Wages, however, remain depressed. Only 5% was paid to public servants from the $4.4 billion allocated last year for revision of wages and salaries, which was, when we voted for it meant to be a 13% increase in the wages of public servants; but they got 5%.
Real GDP in 2013 declined from the high 7% between 1990 and 1997, and even from what it was in 2011. Look at the figures; our GDP compared to 2011 is lower but we have statistics to say that for the past eight years, we have had an unparalleled growth in economic growth. But we have to see how these statistics pan out in reality.
Overall balance of payment deficit stands at US$119.5 million. Current account deficit increased from US$366.7 million to US$425.3 million. Overall fiscal deficit of $27 billion in 2012 worsened to $29.1 billion last year and is projected to grow in 2014 to $32.4 billion.
Mr. Speaker: One second, Hon. Member. You will require an extension of 15 minutes to continue.
Mr. Ramjattan: May I ask, Mr. Speaker, for the Member to be given 15 minutes to continue his address?
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I was hoping that I will get time back, Your Honour, for the various interruptions...
Mr. Speaker: The clock is always stopped when there is an interruption. Go ahead, again.
Mr. Nagamootoo: These figures, of course, the Hon. Minister of Finance would know, are not mine. They are his figures and I will make references to the sources.
External reserves fell from US$862.3 million to US$776.9 million. These are our external reserves, the money that we have always been putting aside for bad times in case. We heard from the Government’s spokesperson about this economic and financial tsunami that may hit Guyana. We have run it down. We need explanation as to why we are worse off last year than we have been before.
State sector deficit jumped from $31 billion to $37 billion; that is the Government Business. Remittances, of course - the loss of confidence in back home from relatives in the Diaspora - even that pittance we would get from overseas, dropped from US$405 million in 2011 to US$328 million in 2013.
Exchange rate is sliding. When we got into Government in 1992, it was $125 to the US$1. Sir, I know my time is running, the clock is ticking. But when I came in Georgetown to work in 1970 or thereabout, I was working for $114 per month. Do you see this thing here?
[Mr. Nagamootoo displayed the Guyana dollar bill.]
It is a Guyana dollar. It has Black Bush Polder and rice harvesting here. This meant something then. Today, what can one do with $1? This is the kind of history we have to go back to, to compare where we were and where we are and where we ought to be today. That is the kind of comparative statistics we would like to see so that when we begin to see our dollar sliding from $125 to last year’s $203...then it went up to $205 and I am told that it is climbing and trending to $207 to US$1. We know that our fiscal management is not, as we are told, prudent and efficient.
Our external debt - I am not going into the Guyana figures this time but sticking with the United States figures - was US$1.246 billion. But where was this debt in 2007? It was US$719 million. Look where we have gone.
These, at face value, would indicate poor management of our economy, failed stewardship, not this bombast and boast that we had here about how we are the best country in the world and in the Caribbean. Simply put, for several years our leaders have failed to spend within our means, which is what a balanced budget is all about.
Not being able to balance the budget has led us deeper into the vicious debt cycle. We learned that there are three ways to get money: steal, beg or borrow. In Guyana, our prudent Government has been doing all three. By restraining wages and pensions, we virtually steal from the workers and pensioners. We beg for grants and we continue to borrow.
We could help redeem the nation’s self-esteem and integrity if we were to adopt prudent fiscal management of our limited resources. We could rake in all revenue streams, as I said before. We could demand a fair price for national assets like land, radio frequencies and mineral rights. We could combat corrupt practices that allow good moneys to be squandered in poorly executed projects or for expired drugs that we routinely dump or fritter away in private purses through bribery and graft, instead of brushing these under the table. We could cut down on sinecure employment for party faithful and plumb contracts for favourites - extravaganza, foreign trips with perks, waste and pork barrel projects. These are the hallmarks of prudent and fiscal responsibility, Your Honour.
The Government choir is, today, fond of quoting from ECLAC, World Bank and IMF. The Government behaves as if it is still locked into structural adjustment programme and assigns a supervisory role of these once maligned “imperialist agencies” over economic performance.
The Minister of Finance owes us full disclosure on the exact relationship that exists between Guyana and the IMF. Do we have a programme with the IMF, Sir? This is not to repudiate the usefulness of figures by these agencies. For example, the Country Report of the Economist Intelligence Unit generated on 31st March, 2014 shows that whilst Guyana’s GDP growth stood at 4.7% for 2013, it was below 2012 by 0.01 % and lower than 2011 when it was 5.4%. We are not even consistent with our own growth, but we rely on these foreign reports to give us acclaim, to give us applause, and we use that as validation that we are doing a good job. No, you cannot pull that one on us anymore.
I have since checked ranking of Caribbean GDP per capita as at 10th October, 2013, and I have looked at all of the reports of the Bahamas... The Caribbean rating is here - ranking the Caribbean by GDP per capita; this is the World Bank, 2014. It is the Bahamas, the country that is ranked the highest per capita with $21,280 - per capita, per person in the population. We were told that Guyana is leading and the others are following. The Bahamas is followed by Puerto Rico which has a GDP... GDP growth is not a complete picture if you do not know how the people in the country fare from that growth. What you do with GDP growth is take the growth and divide it by the population and then you have how much... [Dr. Singh: Repeat that.] Yes. I am repeating it. Do you want to be edified about it? Let me tell you. How does one calculate GDP growth? One takes one’s population and put the growth; one divides that. One has a per capita, how much each person... Your per capita - how much of the GDP goes to each person in the population. That is it. Trinidad and Tobago is next at – this will hurt a little – $14,400, followed by St. Kitts and Nevis which, despite being the smallest country in the region, has a per capita of about $13,300. Look at this. Guyana is $3,410, according to this Report that they are trying to rely on.
While we are making the boast here that we are better off in the Caribbean, we have to also look at what the quality of life is for each person in the population, not what you are giving in percentage growth. After the Hon. Minister Irfaan Ali spoke yesterday, I called my brother Abel who is a naturalised Trinidadian...
Mr. Speaker: One second. Hon. Members, there seems to be about four or five sub-debates taking place. Let us hear from Mr. Nagamootoo, please. Go ahead, Mr. Nagamootoo.
Mr. Nagamootoo: My brother in Trinidad is a naturalised Trinidadian. He is retired. He is 71 years old. I called him and he told me that he is receiving US$3,000 pension every month. This works out to over $100,000 monthly. He said that a person who is out of a job, for some reason, receives TT$1,000, which is $33,000 almost. In Trinidad and Tobago, old age pension and social assistance are far below our living wage in Guyana. That is how one measures GDP when one talks about leading the Caribbean because this... I ask the Government now to chill and shelve the “we are better off” boast as it further makes us look ridiculous in the region.
This Government must know that we may not all be auditors or accountants, good at juggling statistics, but a layman would tell us that our GDP is going up only because our population is going down.
Over recent years, our population declined by 13% - less people sharing the pie. Guyana’s GDP per capita for 2012 was, as I said, just over US$3,000 when our population was 748,000. Now I have seen new statistics that show that the population is 746,000 people so when they say that we have a bigger per capita, they are basically saying that our population is growing less all of the time.
All the reports indicate that whilst economic growth is forecast to remain in 2014 and 2015 at 4.3% and 4.2%, respectively, we face grim realities for “prospects for a recovery in the sugar industry have receded” and “the agriculture sector will remain exposed to flooding”. This is according to the, as I have said before, World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit Report.
My good Friend, Mr. Komal Chand, has spoken out against neo-liberal policies but, at the first signs of pressure on economic performance, well we know who would suffer. There would be wage freeze to check the inflation and to anchor the exchange rate. There is a real danger that higher oil prices and fall in markets for rice due to volatility of the situation in Venezuela could see use of our foreign reserves to keep the exchange rate in check. So there again we would have the possibility of us drawing down on our foreign reserves. This could have deep-seated effects on already poor status as regards social wellbeing of our people, especially vulnerable groups. Again, I refer to a report that I have seen in today’s Stabroek News:
“Guyana ranked 82 out of 132 on social index.”
These are some of the statistics that we need to look at when we deal with the quality of life.
Again, I say that we need to look at employment because it is no use we talk about growth and boast about this economic growth and consistency of growth and we cannot create jobs. The Government provides no statistics, but on 5th April, 2014, Trading Economics, at tradingeconomics.com, stated that the unemployment rate in Guyana remained unchanged at 21 percent in 2011, since 1980. If this is true, it is a damning indictment on this Government and a betrayal of our working people, especially the educated, jobless young people, and the Minster, if he disputes my statistics, should give the figures.
The AFC wishes to place on record our deepest appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our gold miners and our rice farmers. Gold miners took a knock from falling prices, but they are bouncing back.
Last year and, again, this year Essequibo paddy producers have earned our admiration for protesting for affordable fertiliser and for fair and prompt prices for their paddy. I told them and I repeat: only the squeaky wheel will get the grease. And that is why struggle pays out.
There is no doubt that the hands of rice farmers feed us all and they give life to our economy. But Government must not take the kudos and the farmers get the cus-cus, just the left over. I was hoping that the Finance Minister in his reply, would focus on issues concerning rice farmers and tell us how much per metric ton do we receive for rice or paddy sold to Venezuela; the amount paid for shipping and to whom; the amounts discounted by GRDB to process export papers and where this has gone; the amount going into a so-called social fund and who benefitted to date; the quantity of fertilisers received through and under the Petrocaribe deal and whether any proceeds have gone to RPA and in what amount?
Mr. Speaker, we agree that it would not be possible for the annual Budget to deal with every aspect of Government activities, and that we could in these general debates critically evaluate them.
The AFC feels that there could be a rational reformulation of government policies and its legislative agenda, and that even before the budget is presented, ways should be found to find agreement or consensus on this, so that it would be easier to agree on expenditures before-hand.
I cite two examples: firstly, Government laments about the garbage situation, but it has yet to lay before this House, the promised Solid Waste law that could deal comprehensively with this nuisance. It is also afraid to hold Local Government Elections. Secondly, it bemoans the fact that the fishing industry is facing challenges, but has not brought before this House, much promised regulations that would set standards for our fishing industry.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nagamootoo, slow down.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I am wrapping up, Sir. Towards this end AFC offers partnership. I will read that again; towards this end, AFC offers partnership so that we are not caught in time-wasting, interminable rancour and confrontation, but we can labour for a win-win-situation.
Mr. Speaker, over the past days of our Budget engagement, I tried to grapple with the notion of how the future would look at this Tenth Parliament of Guyana. Some jokes were traded earlier... [Interruption] Politicians have as their core concern how to make compromise and to make it possible. Some jokes were traded earlier about two ambulances on standby and I thought some people might nick-name us the “Sick Parliament”. And, as the debate raged as to whether or not we could cut the Estimates, some may see us as the “Lame Duck Parliament” not being able to do anything. Then, my good friend and brother, Hon. Minister Robeson Benn, inadvertently referred to this National Assembly as the “Star Chamber”, which transported me back to texts in English history to the period of the Plantagenets and Tudors.
The “Star Chamber” was a symbol of misuse and abuse of power – I do not think he meant this - by the English monarchy. I would not hold it against him. Proceedings in the “Star Chamber” were arbitrary and oppressive. It had resorted to criminal libel and sedition to silence dissenters. During the reign of Charles 1, who lost his head, for example, dissenters were branded on both cheeks for seditious libel.
Though parliaments were nicknamed “Short Parliament” and “Long Parliament”, because of the period over which they met, there also existed the “Mad Parliament’, “Happy Parliament” and during the reign of King James 1, the “Addled or Sabotaged Parliament”, which lasted no more than eight weeks. James had complained - that is the King - that the House:
“...encroached on many of our privileges and plagued our purses with their delays”.
I will read that again, the King complained that the Parliament had “encroached on many of our privileges and plagues our purses with their delays”, which ran counter to his motto that the King should:
“Spend and God will send”.
Mr. Speaker: You have five minutes within which to wrap up.
Mr. Nagamootoo: But in spite of our seeming, political division, the people for the first time in our history made a difference and wanted that Government should be held accountable. Not like King James or King Charles. To do this, they gave the PPP/C, which was in Government since 1992, a minority of votes in Parliament, so that it could not have an automatic control over the Nation’s purse. So they could not spend and God will send. Only the people know why. In this sense, I see this Parliament as the “Good Parliament”, charged by the people to protect the Treasury from those who would plunder it or pilfer from it, or waste it, or spend too much of it for too little results. The challenge is before us to either explore the potential of this Good Parliament, or bring it down in fresh elections.
Mr. Speaker, I conclude, we have come a long way. And though some of us may feel battle fatigued, we must not lose patience or will. We just cannot opt for the bad choices that may appear appealing. And I am looking at the Hon. Prime Minister Samuel Hinds.
We have tried all kinds of financial medicines, but Guyana is still limping. We need a new political and social profile. We must give reconciliation and political unity a chance, as hard and formidable as that may appear to be at this time.
We can re-invent ourselves and re-wind the tape to 1953 when there was racial and political unity in our land. As Antonio Gramsci has said in his Prison Notebook, the old is dying - and that is meant to be literal - but the new is yet to be born. The new is a government of national unity and this Good Parliament could be its midwife.
I thank you for listening to me Members and Hon. Speaker. [Applause]
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