Budget Speech - Mr Shadick—20143037 01 Apr, 2014
Ms. Shadick: I rise this evening to make my small contribution to this debate on the budget for the year 2014, a budget which was presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh to this honourable House on Monday March 24 of this year. The theme under which the budget was presented is A Better Guyana for All Guyanese. Here I would like to pause to assure the Hon. Members Mr. Scott and Mrs. Lawrence that any resemblance between this theme and the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) manifesto title is purely coincidental.
I have heard comments attributed to the Opposition that this is an election budget, and I wholeheartedly agree, but, I must point out that all People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C)’s budgets, from the time the PPP/C assumed office as Government in 1992, have been elections budgets. This is because they all seek to fulfil our manifesto programmes and policies as promised to the electorate at every successive election.
There is a definite path which this Government is travelling upon, a path which is designed to place this country firmly in the 21st century, while ensuring that every citizen, including my friends on the opposite side, benefits from improved infrastructure, social services, and all those other amenities which are considered absolutely necessary for a happy and productive life.
Before I continue, since my colleague, the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, has already made his presentation and there are certain issues that seem to have the Hon. Member Mr. Trevor Williams in some amount of difficulty, may I try to enlighten this House, lest people go away with false ideas. First of all the rental fees for the National Cultural Centre has been fixed since 2008 and it has not been changed since then. The rents for the National Cultural Centre are subsidised by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. At present the recital hall that has… [Mrs. Chandarpal: It was Christopher Jones.] It was Christopher Jones. I am sorry Mr. Trevor Williams. It was my fault and I apologise. These were issues raised, so let me just address them.
The recital hall has 500 seats and has a rental of $30,000 plus 15% of ticket sales; the auditorium, with 1, 086 seats, has a rental of $60,000 and 20% of ticket sales and the entire theatre of 1,975 seats attracts a rental of $80,000 plus 20% of ticket sales.
The Theatre Guild on other hand, which is run by a board and which receives a subvention from the Ministry, has a smaller space, less seats and charges higher rental so people naturally chooses the National Cultural Centre, it is not used that much.
With regard to the national youth policy, there is an existing national youth policy which is currently in the process of being upgraded. The upgrading process is far advanced and may I remind the Member that a Guyanese saying “soon” means in the shortest possible time, unlike a Jamaican saying soon - when that Jamaican says “ ah soon come” - it can mean next year or the other year.
There have been numerous consultations. A draft document is in the hands of the consultant for finalisation. That is soon.
A youth officer for Bartica, yes, there is none but the position was advertised. There were no responses to the advertisement, so nobody could have been appointed and the position will be re-advertised.
The national synthetic track. This is a project which is not a year or a couple of months, it is a multiyear project. Those of us who sit on the Public Accounts Committee understand that. Several components of this project have been awarded to different contractors because of the skills, and so on, that they have. The different contractors have different but specific deadlines. They do not all have the same deadlines. To say that a completion deadline for this project was 2013 would be misleading. In fact, the Minister, I think, said that the north stand, the club house, the synthetic surface and the football field are to be completed in 2014. The south stand is still to be built so there is no completion date yet.
The culture creative industries. There is a claim made that there were no critics of the Government present at a workshop which was organised by Mr. Burchmore Simon. Nobody in Guyana will think that Mr. Ruel Johnson is a friend of the Minister or this Government and I assure that he was present at the workshop. To say “no critic of the Government was present” is not entirely true.
There is another issue that I have been hearing from several speakers and that is that the budget makes no provision of wages and salaries. Now, for all of the PPP/C budgets, which have been presented in this House since we came into office in 1992, they have never ever made an announcement for the increase in wages and salaries. There is always an allocation in the Ministry of Finance’s budget for wages and salaries revision. To say something such as that is trying to interject something new which has never happened and I have heard many speakers say this.
This Government likes people who bargains. National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NACCIE) bargains for workers in Guyana Power & Light (GPL). Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) bargains with the sugar industry for its workers. Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has a retired public servant as its president so it does not bargain anymore.
Mr. Speaker, last evening, the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo very disparagingly referred to the residents of Leguan as grass cutters. While grass cutting is honest…
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Minister Irfaan Ali was giving what he considered to be a projection or an assumption if certain moneys were spent in the island of Leguan it would create so many jobs. I asked what the specifics were. What would they be doing with the money in Leguan? The people there, would you be asking them to cut grass? I think that it is a gross distortion and misrepresentation of what I had said and the Hon. Member Ms. Shadick should withdraw that comment. It is aimed at mischief and politicising what I had said for chief propaganda purposes.
Mr. Speaker: We cannot have two Members addressing the House at the same time. Hon. Members, as has happened in the past, I will simply request the Clerk to have the Hansard Department pull up the Hansard record…
Ms. Shadick: It was off the cuff remark, Sir. It was not made when he was standing on the floor.
Mr. Speaker: It may be caught. Well, should it be given official…? I do not know.
Ms. Shadick: Mr. Speaker…
Mr. Speaker: Go ahead. I am not stopping you.
Ms. Shadick: Thank you Sir. I continue. While grass cutting is honest dignified labour, I wish to say to this House that grass cutting was for a time when a family had one cow and grass knives were used to cut grass and rice. Today, on the proud island of Leguan rice is reaped with combine harvesters and cattle farmers have substantial herds which graze in designated pastures.
The people of Leguan heard this exchange on television. They texted and sent messages and in today’s Guyana Chronicle, on page 6, there is a letter which refers to the Member’s unfortunate utterance…
Mr. Speaker: You are saying, Ms. Shadick, that from the time that statement may be made last evening, by Mr. Nagamootoo, that a resident of Leguan was able to get a letter into the today’s papers.
Ms. Shadick: Email, yes, Sir.
Ms. Shadick: That is amazing.
Ms. Shadick: I will tell you why…
Mr. Speaker: I compliment the editors.
Ms. Shadick: I will tell you why, Sir. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Could we hear Ms. Shadick, please? She is entitled to be heard. Hon. Members, I need to hear Ms. Shadick. Ms. Shadick, please proceed.
Ms. Shadick: The letter refers to the Member’s unfortunate utterance and it was written by a person born and bred in Leguan. Lest it be said that she does not exist, I invite the Hon Member Nagamootoo, and all those who can use an internet search engine, to discover that she is a published writer and one of her novels, which is four or more times long as Hendrik’s Cure, is being considered for a television series. Hon. Member, the descendants of grass cutters have moved on to bigger and better things, but they never forget from whence they came. [Interruption by Mr. Nagamootoo]
While I am on the subject of Leguan…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Nagamootoo, Ms. Shadick is entitled to make a presentation with the minimum of interruption. I am unable to hear her. Please let us settle down and finish our business for today. Settle down please.
Go ahead, please, Ms. Shadick.
Ms. Shadick: While I am on the subject of Leguan and its residents, grass cutters though they may have been, enough income is generated to allow for the payment of electricity rates applicable to Georgetown and other parts of this country, except Linden and Kwakwani, for which the sum of $3.2 billion is included as electricity subsidy for this year as against the sum of $3.7 billion for the whole of the rest of Guyana.
In Linden and its environs there are 10,500 customers of electricity and they pay a residential rate of $5 per kilowatt hour and a business rate of $12 per kilowatt hour, this encourages an average household there to use 300 kilowatts per month as against an average of 150 kilowatts per household in the rest of Guyana. While this wastage of electricity goes on unabated, an attempt to incrementally increase tariffs last year served as an excuse for mass protests resulting in three unfortunate deaths, but, Mr. Speaker, Leguan residents do not resort to such protest actions, as they have the good sense to know that if you go a crab dance you bound to get mud. They work hard and live well, and this Government is committed to help them as well as all other Guyanese, to continue to do just that.
By the way, I have not yet heard mention, if the Opposition is finally prepared to acknowledge, that the annual Linden electricity subsidy is in fact a handout, more so than the subsidy being proposed for GuySuCo which is meant to help fix an industry vital to Guyana’s economic well-being, and which benefits directly or indirectly, over almost 200,000 Guyanese. I invite the Opposition to call a spade a spade, but then I am not sure that the Members recognise the difference between a spade and shovel in which Members such as the Hon. Member Mr. Ronald Bulkan may insist are the same, in the same manner, that he lumped the Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) with local authorities.
There really is a huge difference, Hon. Member, not that I think you will ever appreciate that, even though Mr. Bulkan seems to be the best that APNU can offer as a shadow local government minister.
According to the Hon. Member, Mr. Ramayya, the sum being allocated for the Specialty Hospital should be used to fix the ills of the New Amsterdam Hospital. Well, Mr. Ramayya, you yourself seem to admit that those ills such as no oxygen in a ward and so on are not due to poor infrastructure, but instead to workers’ inefficiency. To improve that, training and/or disciplinary action may be needed.
The Specialty Hospital, on the other hand, will be at the top of a pyramid of health care facilities in Guyana, beginning with health huts, and moving upwards to health centres, health clinics, polyclinics, district hospitals, regional hospitals, diagnostic hospitals and, finally, the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC), which presently houses the Caribbean Heart Institute (CHI) in a private/public partnership. More than one member of the Opposition, I am sure, is acquainted with the CHI. [Ms. Ally: Inaudible] Mr. Speaker, if Ms. Ally would stop making noises like someone other than herself, we can benefit from what I am saying.
The Specialty Hospital will obviate the need for ordinary Guyanese to have to publicly beg for funding to travel to India or Trinidad or other overseas destinations in order to access medical interventions for their sick relatives or themselves. Such interventions will be available at nominal costs right here in Guyana, benefitting from family support, which is so necessary, but lacking when patients have to go overseas. Persons will never again have to sell or mortgage property or beg for funds to meet airfares and other expenditure.
Who, except, of course, a few misguided Members of the Opposition, can reasonably and rationally question, refute, deny or ignore the many benefits brought to Guyanese by the establishment of the Ophthalmology Centre at Port Mourant, or the diagnostic hospitals at Diamond, Suddie, Leonora and Mahaicony, or the new hospitals built at New Amsterdam, Lethem and Linden, coupled with upgrades of hospitals, polyclinics, health centres and other health facilities in every region of Guyana, all of which are staffed with doctors trained in Guyana as well as young Guyanese doctors who have returned to serve after successfully completing studies in Cuba? This is testimony to this Government’s commitment to provide free health services to all Guyanese.
Why should Guyanese not benefit from cheaper electricity generated by hydropower? Or why should they not benefit from the revenues which will accrue from a better tourism product which will result from a hospitality institute, an up-to-date international airport where large aircraft can land and passengers can deplane safely, then travel in comfort along a smooth four lane highway to be accommodated in a comfortable five star hotel built with a view of the Atlantic?
I turn briefly to Agriculture. The Hon. Member Mr. Scott questioned why there is need for the allocation of $500 million for the rice sector if the rice industry is doing so well. Well, sir, this industry, which contributes about 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for more than US$240 million in export earnings, is doing so well due in no small measure to the hard work of the rice farmers who do not need, ask for or get handouts. However, this Government will continue to provide funds to cushion the high cost of acquisition of fertilisers, maintaining and expanding research, seed and storage facilities all of which serve to enhance and increase yields.
On the subject of agriculture, last evening I listened to the Hon. Member, Vanessa Kissoon, as she listed all the financial support Linden needs for the betterment of that community. It sounded to me like the Member was advocating for more handouts for Region 10, but, perhaps, I can be convinced otherwise. However, it struck me as strange that if the Hon. Member really lives in that community and does really advocate for its betterment, how could she not know about the very recent forum with the RDC to develop agricultural plans for the region or that there is a full complement of extension staff, some resident at Kwakwani, providing technical support and working on bean and shaded cultivation with farmers groups or that shadehouses were built at Kwakwani and Sand Hills to promote vegetable cultivation and that farmers in the Berbice River area have been provided with seeds such as corn, red peas and peanut from Ebini because the agriculture building and nursery in Linden were burnt down?
How could the Hon. Member have missed the visit of the Hon. Minister Ramsammy and team, headed by Retired Major General Joe Singh, who are presently working in the region to increase agricultural production there? She must have been on leave away from the region.
I must address the issue of the old age pension and the increase for this year that is being called “paltry”. It has been criticised as merely an increase of $625. But strangely, no one mentioned the increase of the electricity subsidy for pensioners from $20,000 to $30,000. That has not been mentioned at all. No one has mentioned the continuing water subsidy to pensioners. Why not? That is my question.
Why stop there? What about the provision of $10,000 per child attending public nursery, primary and secondary schools? I just heard that tonight but it was not mentioned before. I ask the Hon. Members on the other side to read the document. Read this thing! It tells that everybody is catered for. Just read the document, please, before you speak.
Mr. Speaker, I am aware of my limited time allocation, which you have generously said can be waived, but I must make mention of the clamour of the Opposition to try to impose the National Assembly as an agent of the Executive or, in fact, take over the functions of the Executive.
This National Assembly has many Committees and since the 2011 Elections, after which the Opposition has been talking boastfully about its one-seat majority in the House, it has insisted that it has a one vote majority in every single Committee of this Parliament.
There is the Committee on Appointments and that Committee is chaired by the Hon. Member, Dr. George Norton, and that Committee is responsible for the selection of the members of many constitutional commissions to be appointed by the President. I refer to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Police Service Commission (PSC), the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and the Rights Commissions of Women and Gender, Indigenous Peoples, and the Child. Added to that, the Local Government Commission is a new one. I do not know when that will be touched.
Since the Elections of 2011, over two years, as somebody said, halfway in the term, this Committee, chaired by the Hon. Member George Norton and with a majority of Opposition Members, has not completed consideration of even one of those Commissions. Requests to extend the life of the Rights Commissions have been refused. The Rights Commissions are operating without any legal authority.
Mr. Bulkan: Mr. Speaker, I heard the Hon. Member refer to the Local Government Commission. To the best of my knowledge, that Commission is awaiting a Commencement Order from the subject Minister, which has not been given.
Ms. Shadick: Mr. Speaker, I am referring to the fact that one member of that Commission has to be nominated by the National Assembly.
Mr. Speaker: What Mr. Bulkan is referring to is that the Commission is not yet extant; it does not exist.
Ms. Shadick: It has been added to the list.
Mr. Speaker: The Commencement Order has not been issued for the Commission to work.
Ms. Shadick: I concede. Thank you. No request for the extension of life of the Rights Commissions has been granted. They have all been refused. Therefore, no policeman or public servant, except if he or she is employed on a contract, or judicial officer can be appointed because these Commissions do not exist. All are forced to act in positions. We are calling for Local Government Elections and the Order, even if it is made, and it must be made before the Local Government elections are held, at this rate, will the Local Government Commission ever be appointed during this Parliament? I have my doubts.
Now, the National Assembly is being touted to be responsible for even more work – for appointing the Anti-Money Laundering Authority, The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) as well as its governing board, while at the same time being responsible for the functioning of the Authority and exercising oversight. If I heard right, last night, the Hon. Member, Mr. Scott, seemed to be suggesting that, perhaps, the National Assembly should also craft the national budget. Need I remind the Hon. Members of the Opposition that the Members of the National Assembly do not serve full time?
Allegations of corruption in the award of contracts abound. The list of instances of shoddy work by contractors keeps growing, yet, the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by the Hon. Carl Greenidge, cannot complete examination of the Auditor General’s Reports for 2010 and 2011, much less begin examination of the 2012 Report. This is in the context that long before the 2010 Report was presented on 30th September, 2011, the Auditor General’s Report for 2009 had been examined and the PAC’s Report to this Assembly had also been completed. Of course, the chairperson at that time was a woman. It was the Hon. Member, Ms. Volda Lawrence. Why am I surprised, after having lived through the Hon. Member’s tenure as Minister of Finance of this country?
Region 3, for which I am responsible, is one of the better run Regions in this country. There are not too many complaints. I await the outcome of the consideration of the Estimates to see whether the Opposition will rob Region 3 of the only two large capital projects listed – new buildings to house the Zeeburg and St John’s Secondary Schools.
I am not unaware of the Hon. Member Carl Greenidge’s promise in Linden of a nasty bloody war. I hope no blood will be shed on the Region which I have the honour of representing.
Opposition speaker after speaker talk the talk of putting Guyana first. Now it is time to walk the walk. With that, I commend this all inclusive 2014 Budget for unanimous passage by this House. [Applause]
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