Budget Speech Ms Selman- 20123243 12 Apr, 2012
April 12, 2012
Ms. Selman: I rise to make my contribution to the 2012 Budget debate under the theme “Remaining on Course, United in Purpose, Prosperity for All”. This theme is consistent with most of the previous budget presentations by the Hon. Dr Ashni Singh, the PPP/C’s 2011 Elections Manifesto, and the President’s inaugural address to the Parliament. But the theme of the budget means nothing when one examines the actual performance after the budget presentation.
For example, let us look at the recurring theme “Remaining on Course”. What course is the Minister speaking about? The thesaurus dictionary defines “remaining on course” as preserving or enduring to completion. In effect it means that the PPP/C Government has no intention of providing any relief to the impoverished and rising army of the poor in Guyana. Hence, we see no reduction in the value-added tax, no increase in wages and salaries, no reinstatement of the subvention at the Critchlow Labour College, no equity in the awarding of contracts, and no substantial increase in old age pension and public assistance. “Remaining on Course” clearly suggests that we continue as before, changing nothing. It also suggests the continued violation of both the spirit and letter of several constitutional provisions including Article 13 of our Constitution which addresses the issue of consultation.
The theme also refers to “United in Purpose”. Again I ask the question united in what purpose? [Interruption] I am not a pig. “United in Purpose” suggests a readiness on the part of the Government to engage the stakeholders, including political parties, in meaningful consultation, but the Government’s record in terms engaging in of meaningful and consultative discourse is dismal. The Government has missed so many opportunities of having a united approach. This could be cited in the negotiations for the speakership for this Tenth Parliament, and the tripartite discussions that should have seen the preparation of a national budget that reflected the involvement of all three parliamentary parties. Sadly, consensus was never achieved.
What does the Minister mean by “Prosperity for All”? “Prosperity for All” suggests the equitable distribution of our nation’s resources among all Guyanese. Indeed, page 3 of the budget states, and I quote:
“Our vision is one of a Guyana that is a land of opportunity and prosperity, where every citizen can realise their personal and professional aspirations…”
Regrettably any sane Guyanese would know that what we have seen in Guyana is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Unfortunately, to be in the former category one has to be somehow associated with the PPP/C Party.
The Minister throughout his budget speech referred to the PPP/C’s vision of developments. A careful analysis shows that this budget failed to outline any vision. Projects in themselves are not a reflection of developments they have to be a part of a coherent national development strategy which produces a better life for people. The people must see themselves as the beneficiaries of those projects and are therefore motivated to work in the interest of the developments of Guyana. One would have expected that a concomitant of such pronouncements would have been the inclusion of measures in the budget that will contribute to the holistic development of Guyana, including the efficiency of companies, increased productivity of workers, incentive to workers, included but not exclusive, the reduction of the rates of the value added tax and the complete reform of the tax system.
The Minister of Finance boasts of this being the biggest budget ever. On page 64 of the budget speech the Minister states:
“…the size of the Budget 2012 is $192 billion, Guyana’s largest budget ever, and it is fully financed without the introduction of any new taxes.”
Despite this announcement, however, our pensioners certainly fail to see the opportunity and prosperity that they would enjoy as a result of the increase on their pensions. The single parents are disappointed with the $400 added on to the public assistance, and residents are still upset that there is no reduction of the value added tax.
Against this grandiose announcement, I wish to urge the Minister to increase the pension to at least $10,000 per month, and the public assistance to $6,000 per month.
On page 3 paragraph 1.8 of the budget speech the Minister of Finance painted a picture of Guyana as a place where more of our people choose to remain to make a rewarding living, where more of our Diaspora find it worthwhile to return whether for gainful employment or restful retirement, where investors prefer to do business. Indeed, he paints Guyana as a beautiful place, and I quote:
“…where productive activity continues to grow and where productivity and competitiveness improve steadily…”
However, the Minister must be aware that the World Economic Forum’s Global Competiveness Report 2007-2008 sites crime and theft as top complaints by businesses operating in these countries, especially the latter. The glaring process carries across the many Caribbean states reflecting the lack of standardisation of custom practices and making it costly and time consuming for carriers to upload and offload at regional ports. If the Minister is really serious in having productive activity and competiveness improve, as he states, these issues have to be addressed but we have heard nothing of it in the budget.
The Minister in his speech also referred us to the President’s inaugural address. According to that address reported in the Hansard of 10th February, 2012 page 92, the President states:
“This Tenth Parliament could go down in history as being the one that can see us firmly on the highway to peace, prosperity and progress.”
I wish to endorse those sentiments and to say that we can only be on such a highway if we, in this Parliament, are prepared to review the impact of policies and projects outlined in this budget, and through meaningful consultation make the necessary adjustments that will result in the policies and projects being endorsed by all. In this context I, therefore, call on the PPP/C Government to review the impact of the value added tax with the aim of reducing it to at least 10%, to review some of the programmes outlined in Budget 2012, especially those that speak to the equitable distribution of resources, the vulnerable within our society, the poor and the elderly, so that all of us can live in a Guyana that is characterised by peace, progress, and prosperity, and one that sees the realisation of local democracy.
I wish to turn my attention to infrastructural development with specific emphasis on Region 4-East Bank Demerara.
[Ms. Shadick in the Chair at 9.43 p.m.]
In the areas of infrastructural development Government has been “Remaining on Course” but it surely has not resulted in prosperity for the communities. Additionally, they have remained on course by failing to consult with regional democratic officials. Such consultations, if they had taken place, would have enabled a more coherent approach to the development of projects on the East Bank of Demerara. A Partnership for National Unity supports the construction and rehabilitation of roads. We believe, however, that these must be premised on consultation and recommendations of the Region. Most of all there must be proper planning to ensure that roads take account of present and future development within the area. The Government in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank proposes to spend US$139.729 million to construct roads. The Government, however, failed to consult with the officials of Region 4 to identify the roads that should be constructed. The officials were merely informed of the roads to be constructed. The Government has identify twelve roads to be constructed in the Grove area but no allocation has been provided for any roads in Caneville or Samantha Point areas where the roads are in a more deplorable state than any other section in Grove. There is obvious need for a consultative approach to determine where roads are to be built so that the residents can understand why some roads are done and others ignored.
Page 32 of the budget speaks about modernising and transforming our economy to meet the challenges. It states:
“Mr. Speaker… our physical infrastructure plays an extremely pivotal role.”
In addition it says:
“…preliminary works on the widening of the East Bank Demerara Four Lane Highway from Providence to Diamond and the upgrade of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport access road are ongoing.
While the residents of the East Bank Demerara welcome the construction of such a highway many are complaining about the hardships they experience daily as they travel to and from work. The issue I would like to raise is whether productivity in the country would not be increased by engaging in night construction. In view of the increasing population, the number of registered vehicles on the roads, and the establishment of new housing scheme at Eccles, Diamond, Herstelling and Providence, if there was consultation and proper forward planning the Government may have conceptualised the construction of the East Bank of Demerara Four-Lane Highway before the establishment of the Diamond Housing Scheme. It should also be noted that the East Bank of Demerara Highway is the only access to our hinterland, including the road to Brazil. The impact, therefore, on economic activity, if they are bottlenecks during the construction or repair of this highway, should be obvious. There is clearly a need for new and more innovative and forward thinking road construction programmes. Night time road works will minimise the impact on the travelling public and community since the traffic congestion results in a reduction in the productivity of workers and schoolchildren since many arrive late for work and school. Taxi drivers and mini bus drivers are operating at a loss since they have to spend more time caught in traffic and burn excessive fuel. I wish to recommend therefore that the need for night work should be assessed for all such projects. I am strongly recommending night work for the East Bank Demerara Four Lane Highway.
I am aware of the cost implication of such works. But there would be need for additional allocations in those contracts so as to cover workers’ allowances and other costs associated with night works.
In connection with health on page 42 paragraph 4.79 it states:
“In pursuit of the National Health Strategy 2008-2012 Government’s attention is focused on further decentralization…”
This is commendable since decentralisation is important, as alluded to by many speakers. Unfortunately, this does not reflect the actual situation since the health centres throughout the East Bank of Demerara are badly neglected. For example, at the Health Centre at Herstelling there are six rooms, probably smaller than the size of a 15-seater mini bus; there is also inadequate staffing; there is no patient care assistant, no nursing assistant; one midwife; one doctor; one pharmacy assistant no medic; no clinic attendant; members of staff are forced to work through their lunch hour as babies are vaccinated, weighed and measured; the midwife has to do the work of the assistant pharmacist since there is no assistance at the health centre.
The question is whether four persons can run a health centre efficiently and provide the necessary services in light of the number of patients that frequent that health centre; approximately 76 -80 persons on a daily basis.
[Mr. Speaker resumed seat at 9.56 p.m.]
The issue of drugs shortages prevails, there is the unavailability of an ambulance or easy access to one, nurses are forced to take their patients to the Diamond Diagnostic Centre in crisis situations, at the own expense sometimes and they are not reimbursed. Promises which were made by the Minister of Health have not been fulfilled, for example, two years ago the staff at the Herstelling Health Centre requested that a patients’ waiting area be constructed, to date this has not materialised. The result is that persons awaiting treatment have to stand in the compound and they are drenched when it rains, that is true. The Minister of Health is aware of this, yet nothing has been done.
A dressing room was constructed in 2011, but to date the staff is unable to use the room since they are still awaiting an autoclave and sterilisers. What is worst is that the roof of the dressing room is leaking and this has destroyed the ceiling. This is yet another demonstration of the substandard work that is so prevalent all over Guyana. I hope therefore that with billions the Minister said will be spent in the health sector, the residents of the East Bank of Demerara will have these and other problems they experience addressed.
I wish to turn my attention to foreign affairs. Foreign policy is directly related to the realisation of our domestic goals. APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) recognises that participation in international and regional organisations such as the UN, OAS, UNASUR, the Commonwealth, and Caricom plays a pivotal role with regard to small states in Guyana. We believe that the Government must have policies and programmes in place at the domestic level that will ensure that Guyana derives the maximum benefits from such association. Page 55, paragraph 1.428 states that,
“Under Guyana’s Chairmanship of UNASUR, which ended in October 2011 key accomplishments included the formal application to the United Nations for observer status and the signature of the additional protocol to the Constitutive Treaty on the commitment to democracy as well as the establishment or working groups on food security, the fight against hunger and malnutrition...”
This indeed laudable, but we in Guyana know that the mere signing of conventions and protocols have had no effect on the Government observing the convention that they subscribe to. In fact, we have seen the Government failing to subscribe to the rule of law and failure to even observe Guyana’s Constitutional provisions. A notable example is the feature to establish the public procurement commission. The above treaty I just referred to speaks of commitment to democracy. Where have the Government shown this commitment to democracy? We have recently seen the arbitrary transfer of NDCs overseers by the Minister of Local Government without consultation with the democratic elected bodies. This is the kind of commitment where the Government feels comfortable signing treaties and observing them in the breach.
A Partnership for National Unity recommends that the Government commits itself to democracy as the Government has committed itself to the above Treaty. This commitment should be reflected in the manner in which the Local Government Legislation is amended to reflect the recommendations of the task force on Local Government Reform.
An issue that the Minister of Foreign Affairs should address is the future of the establishment of many regional bodies in South America, Latin America and the Caribbean. How will the relationship evolve? The Minister of Foreign Affairs in a recent address to plenary recession of the 41st OAS General Secretary – El Salvador, said that,- no regional strategy to boost citizens’ safety could succeed unless it has the reduction of trafficking in illicit drugs as its principle elements.
APNU recognises the destabilising impact that such activity can have on the nation or region and proposes that the Government, if they are serious about the Minister of Foreign Affairs speech they should seek to acquire adequate insured patrol vessels to suppress illegal fishing, gun running and funds for long range maritime surveillance patrol. In the absence of such domestic actions, speeches to these international bodies appear as mere sounding of brass and twinkling of symbols.
Guyanese diaspora and the importance of remittances – at page 55 of the budget presentation, the Minister refers to our diaspora as vast source of expertise and inward investments, a natural market for our indigenous products and an important vehicle through which to influence international opinion,
“...an integral contributor to the achievement of our national development goals. Efforts will be strengthened through a more structured approach in maintaining a suitable engagement with our diaspora communities around the world.”
If the Minister is serious about this objective, then he needs to create the enabling environments in Guyana to maximise...
If the Minister is serious about this objective, then he needs to create the enabling environments in Guyana to maximise on such source of investments. Perhaps the Minister needs to review and discuss with the financial institutions of Guyana on how they can provide a better service for the remitters and their beneficiaries. It is essential for there to be a remittances and diaspora unit in Guyana, as is done in many Latin American and some Caribbean countries. This unit should be responsible for engaging the diaspora in discussions on viable development reform strategy, along with monitoring assurance in migration and re-migrating activities.
The authorities should also implement some of the policies adopted in other developing countries, for example in Egypt, the Government provided matching funds for remittance back projects, while the Government of Mexico matched every dollar sent by migrant groups with $3 of local Government funds to pay for infrastructure projects.
In concluding, it should be obvious that the laudable theme of the budget itself gives no hope to Guyana since it promises them a continuation of the same old approach. I therefore wish to recommend to the Hon. Minister that he should resolve, not to remain on course, but to change the course and adopt an approach that will see all Guyanese on board and in support of this budget. Change the course from arrogance and non-consultation to meaningful consultation. Change the course by ensuring higher pay for workers including old age pension, public assistance and the reduction of the Value Added Tax. Change the course to ensure that what we say in speeches at international organisations is put into practice in Guyana.
Finally, since I am from the East Bank Demerara, I want the Minister to change course to ensure that we have a more intelligent approach to the rehabilitation and construction of the East Bank Demerara four lane highway, to ensure that we have greater productivity. Thank you very much. [Applause]
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