Budget Speech - Mr Veersamy Ramaya—20143107 04 Sep, 2014
Dr. Ramayya: I was fortunate to be saved from some three hours or more of the same from the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) cabal...
Mr. Speaker: One second, Dr. Ramayya. We are in the House, so “the Hon. Members from the Government side” would substitute for the word “cabal”.
Dr. Ramayya: The Alliance For Change (AFC) made the right decision in boycotting the fantasy speech by the Minister on Monday last. After studying Budget 2014, there is one theme that is very clear to me. The needs of the majority of Guyanese would again go unmet and the aspiration of our youths would continue to go unrealised.
The Minister’s speech was nothing but an insult to the theme, A Better Guyana for All Guyanese, since the entire 2014 Budget was designed as a pre-electioneering budget to fool rural Guyana. On the cover of the Minister’s speech, which I have here, I saw half of a cup which contains bitter coffee and no sugar or milk. To describe this $220 billion Budget and the absence of the sugar and milk is the decline of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the bread and butter that has been taken away from the sugar workers.
The leakage of the cup is the decline of Dr. Jagan’s legacy which resulted in a minority government. Let me remind this House of Dr. Jagan’s legacy by quoting the daughter of the late Dr. Jagan when she spoke less than two years ago about the betrayal of Dr. Jagan’s legacy in fighting for the working people, the sugar workers being at the heart of the fight. She made this indictment:
“I think the party has moved away – not the party but certain elements in the party – from these very, very important values that held the party together. For me, when I look at some of the things that are happening, my parents would have been turning in their graves if they had been buried, but they must be churning up in the waters of the rivers in which their ashes were sprinkled.”
Let me turn my attention to the 18,000 sugar workers and their families. What does this Budget mean to them? It does nothing but save face regarding the octopus Skeldon estate no longer called the white elephant. The over US$200 million taxpayers’ money invested in it could have rehabilitated all of the estates countrywide, rather than to keep this transfusion of taxpayers’ money to operate a factory below 25% production. There is no electricity, as boasted about from the inception.
The Action Plan of the AFC could have brought a budget better than this whereby the sugar workers could have been given a decent increase in their wages so that their coffee would have been flooded with enough milk and sugar. This is a “direct impact” that we can talk about, quoting from the Hon. Minister Irfaan Ali.
The AFC’s obligation and action plan aim to satisfy the needs of the Guyanese people and their aspiration realised, but it is not so under this Government. Mismanagement, poor vision from the top levels and poor administrative conduct sunk the industry. Since 2011, the Minister advised us that he injected close to $10 billion into the sugar belt, but the industry continues to struggle. This is, again, a direct impact. He now has the audacity to come and tell the nation that after spending all of this money in the sugar belt, sugar production contracted some 15% to 186,807 tonnes, the lowest production under the PPP/C Government. Even after the great floods of 2005 that injured GuySuCo, the industry produced over 250,000 tonnes of sugar. Why, Mr. Speaker? It is because of poor cane husbandry practices leading to poor cane yields, sloth in the mechanisation process leading to a loss of control over the cost of production, and disincentive for private cane farmers to get on board when this can help to reduce the cost of production. Sugar is in a coma today because of square pegs.
The Skeldon factory remains the principal reason for the almost 40 cents per pound as the cost of production and no one is being held accountable.
I challenge them to call the local government elections so that the people of the sugar belt can speak directly to them and they would not like the message.
I feel for my fellow Berbicians. The current Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, was given a basket to fetch water by his predecessors but he cannot come here and ask for a further $6 billion without a clear and detailed plan on what this money will be used for, when this money is needed and what the clear justification is for why we should support this cause. We are willing. The AFC, in principle, stands with the sugar workers and their families and we shall vote for any funds for the sugar belt once there is a clear justification for the request.
Mr. Speaker and fellow Guyanese, the AFC always continue to stand with the sugar belt but we are not pagalee – it is a nice word, Mr. Speaker – to provide billions for the PPP/C to squander and not service the sugar workers. That is a direct impact.
Let me turn my attention briefly to the $625 given to our pensioners as an increase, which is only $21 per day. At three years old, we refused to accept that from our parents to go to school. Again, the AFC Action Plan, since 2011, called for $15,000 per month. Today, our pensioners could have been receiving $20,000 per month under an AFC government.
The Minister of Health continues to boast and brag about how good our health system is functioning but yet patients admitted at the regional hospital are asked to supply their own bed sheets and clothes. This is coupled with shortage of medicines and patients are given prescriptions to buy their own drugs. Where are our taxpayers’ dollars going? I ask that question in this honourable House.
There is no trauma team. The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) team, which is underequipped, fail to recognise the need for emergency care. Only recently, a regional councillor of Region 6 went to the New Amsterdam Hospital with serious cardiac problems and was placed in a ward without oxygen. There was no doctor or nurse to assist him in his last moment of life. This is a shame, Mr. Speaker. Even my bedroom is better equipped. Instead of building a specialty hospital costing billions, why not upgrade the prevailing health facilities to ensure better healthcare for our people?
There is one problem that has been haunting me night and day and I cannot escape but reveal myself at the mercy of what is happening in this country and that is crime. The Minister spent $17.3 billion on the security sector, yet the seriousness of the crime statistics for 2013 revealed that there were similar to the awful days when domestic terrorists were running wild all over the country after the Camp Street break out and in the days of the “fine man” gang.
In a country of 750,000 persons, some 4,204 serious crimes, which included 155 murders, were reported in 2013. What really did the PPP/C spend this $17.3 billion on? I ask this question in this honourable House: what was this money spent on?
We have no air police unit...our new helicopter to quickly detect and investigate serious crimes in this country. Only now we have high-powered boats capable of plying the high seas to fight the pirates who continue to terrorise our fishermen. The majority of Guyanese continue to live in an environment that presents deadly threats to our personal security with no respect. What really is the PPP/C spending all of these billions of dollars on? I ask the Minister this question.
The AFC’s Action Plan has outlined our commitment in detail on how we intend to confront crime and improve the personal security for all. If we want to build a viable tourism product, we have to bring down the runaway crime rate now. Enough talk; it is time to act.
It was the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that reminded the nation that a higher crime rate hinders Guyana’s development, but reality continues to evade the Hon. Minister Clement Rohee who is now asking for $19.5 billion. He continues to be very elusive on the specifics. The AFC continues to stand by its commitment to increase salaries of all law enforcement officers by 20% across the board. We believe if an officer of the law is not focused on hustling a dollar, he would have more time to solve crimes and the long-term economic impact will be positive. That is a direct impact.
The AFC also calls for the reappointment of the Police Service Commission so that all eligible officers can be promoted accordingly. This is what we do not see in our police department. People of high calibre, people who are proficient and efficient in practising their jobs to protect the society, are not given the opportunity because they are vocal with what they say and because they are honest in their jobs. They are not given the opportunity and this speaks for itself, Mr. Speaker.
The AFC, in principle, will support the establishment of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team which we see as a good, strategic method to combat the serious criminal...but we cannot understand why the PPP/C was so slothful in its establishment.
We also welcome the establishment of the Forensic Laboratory at the University of Guyana (UG) since we seriously think that Guyana has too many unsolved crimes. The AFC believes that the time has arrived for the police to have their own air unit at Ogle Airport and we would commit some $200 million to make this project a reality. We also believe that the police marine unit urgently needs at least three fast boats, especially in the Berbice area. An AFC Government would have released $120 million to start this process.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you have five minutes in which to conclude.
Dr. Ramayya: This is a clear message to the political directorate at the Office of the President (OP) that we will have no confidence in Minister Rohee at the Ministry of Home Affairs.
In conclusion, in his budget speech, the Minister reminded the nation of the gap between the rhetoric and the reality on the ground. As I illustrated in the three significant sectors, the lives of the working class have been under clear and present danger for over a decade under this Jagdeo/Ramotar Government and the 2014 Budget is more of the same and makes a marginal difference in the lives of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. This is a direct impact. I love to quote the Hon. Minister Ali. The working poor, the unemployed, the single mothers, the youths, the elderly and the disabled are under the gutter at this stage in life in this country with this type of budget.
What the Minister forgot to mention was the Value Added Tax (VAT) which is mainly paid for by the final consumer which is the working class. It went from $21 billion when it was launched in 2007 to $34 billion in 2014, an unreasonable increase of $13 billion on the back of the poor and working class. This is a direct impact. What are they doing with the extra $13 billion every year? They did not give any to the workers by way of a reasonable wage increase in 2013. They clearly are not offering it to the pensioners because all they are offering them in 2014 is an additional $20 per day. It cannot even buy a butter flap much less the butter and the cheese to put inside and they cannot even dream of the milk to put in the tea to go with it. This is a direct impact. This House sits and looks at $20 increase which cannot even buy a butter flap for a family.
They remain out of touch with the grass root people. They remain out of touch with the poor people. Only the rich people can survive today in this country with this Budget and we will have to continue to suffer. Budget 2014 failed to deliver a better Guyana for all Guyanese.
If time permits, I would like to answer the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport. Many of the cricket grounds and sports facilities in Region 6 are not equipped to promote sports. Yet, they come here and ask for a big budget because they want to see sports and better healthcare with people participating in sports. It would not become possible under this Government if we do not have the Public Procurement Commission to see where our dollars are going. The Public Procurement Commission has to be put in place, Mr. Speaker, because money is being allocated to many facilities, but the money is not being properly spent.
I want to thank this House for listening to this presentation. We can do better with our tax dollars and make a direct impact, as Minister Ali said.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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