Budget Speech - Ms Vanessa Kissoon—20143292 31 Mar, 2014
Ms. Kissoon: Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, all, good night. It is difficult to ignore the pain and grief this House is going through, but characteristic of our late Hon. Member, Mrs. Deborah Backer, could we hear her voice, she would utter words akin to Constance Jenkins:
“Weep not for me though I am gone;
Into that gentle night.
Grieve if you will but not for long,
Upon my soul’s sweet flight.
I am at peace,
My soul’s at rest.
There is no need for tears.
For with your love I was blessed;
For all those many there.
There is no pain,
I suffer not,
The fear now all is gone.
Put now these things out of your thoughts.
In your memory I live on.
Remember not my fight for breath;
Remember not the strife.
Please do not dwell upon my death,
But celebrate my life.
On behalf of the people of Region No.10, and on my own behalf, we remain grateful to have known and worked with this phenomenal woman. May “Debbie’s” soul rest in eternal peace. Having said this, I know the Hon. Member would be nudging me to get on with my presentation, and thus I begin.
It is Budget time again. And while the Executive boasts it is the biggest budget ever, many do not see the budget as having corresponding impact on their lives, from the pensioners who got a measly top-up of $625, which is equivalent to $20 a day, to the public servant whose wages and salaries were not budgeted for on some flimsy excuse, to the ordinary sugar workers who know the majority of GuySuCo’s subventions will go into the pockets of the new mimic men.
You see, Mr. Speaker, rising inequalities is affecting all. Those who voted for the party on the opposite side of the House also view the talks of big spending, promises of building and improving infrastructures, as more opportunities for corruption. This must be of concern to all in this Hon. House and collectively we must work to stamp it out.
On 3rd August, 2013 during the presentation of six workshops Members thought that an integrity committee or the establishment of an integrity code would help to counter corruption allegations. Those Members acknowledged corruption in the party and Government and made known it has a negative image on the party and needs to be addressed. One of the other issues that was raised was directly tied to corruption allegations, and that was the loss of respect and lack of humility of party members. For those who may not recall this event it was the 30th Congress of the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). The workshops rapporteur was Mr. Nigel Dharamlall. Should Hon. Members need further reading on this rendering, it can be found in the Stabroek News article of 4th August, 2013 entitled “People's Progressive Party/Civic Workshop Acknowledges Corruption.” So, having made known this party’s internal findings and admission, I yield to the adage, “honesty is the best policy”, and will present none of the preponderance of external souring on corruption.
Page 72, paragraph 6.14 in this year’s Budget, the Hon. Minister of Finance boasted that $3.2 billion is allocated for electricity subsidy to Linden and Kwakwani. This issue has to be placed in its proper prospective. The people of Region No.10, whom I humbly represent, do not see this subvention as a favour or one borne out of compassion, but a responsibility of the Government who had dismantled their electricity infrastructure without regards for its history, their input, and investments made through deferred wages and salaries.
May this House be reminded that this continuity has not been without the shedding of innocent blood; sweat and tears; loss of three innocent lives, namely Ron Somerset, Shemroy Bouyea and Allan Lewis – may their souls rest in peace; injuries; destruction of properties; the young labelled criminals in the 2nd July, 2012 state-owned Guyana Chronicle Editorial; and the disruption of decades of peace. Let it not be forgotten this allocation is also a result of unity and months of protests by a steadfast people to secure their right to equality and self-determination. Let it be written in this nation’s history, our struggle continues, the cause endures, the hope lives on, and the dreams shall never die.
To date the 21st August, 2012 Agreement between Central Government and Region 10’s Regional Democratic Council is yet to see full implementation even though this House on 27th June, 2013 approved a motion in support of it. On instruction of the Regional Democratic Council, I am advised to inform this House the Agreement shall be realised, with or without the Central Government’s support, because what is due to a person it shall be received. Attention is drawn to the Region’s determination of an Economic Plan which would have factored it into Terms of Reference (c) to which I quote:
“Review Linden and Region 10 facilities and capacity for food self sufficiency, and to the extent feasible develop a plan for self-sufficiency as part of the Regional Development Plan.”
Region No.10 borders six regions with access to over 80% of Guyana’s agricultural market. The geographic location of this region presents opportunities for exploring and exploiting the country’s agricultural potential. However, this is being ignored by the Government raising valid questions as to why and for what ends. The Region’s potential for massive production of crops and livestock production exists and is validated by Go-Invest and other companies which have noted that vast untapped opportunities exist in the intermediate savannahs of the Region for production of beef, milk, mutton, citrus, corn, cashew nuts, legumes, peanut, soy beans, dairy products and orchard crops. [Interruption] No goats.
Also in support of the Region’s agricultural potential Go-Invest has recognised the ideal farming conditions including soil... [Interruption] If you will be quiet Mr. Carberry will bring your grass.
Mr. Speaker: Okay, let us proceed.
Ms. Kissoon: ...drainage, fertilisation, creation of an ideal environment for the application of high technology and the establishment of medium or large scale agricultural operations. [Interruption] You are a slaughterer.
Mr. Speaker: One second. Hon. Members, at the beginning of the debate we agreed that we will not get personal. Mr. Neendkumar I am hearing you; it started with you about money received as a Member of Parliament. If so you may bring a motion against the Member. Let us avoid getting personal.
Mr. Neendkumar: She talks about goat.
Mr. Speaker: Did you feel offended by that statement? Did you feel offended by the goat reference, Sir?
Mr. Neendkumar: There were allegations, but you were not here when the matter was dealt with in the National Assembly.
Mr. Speaker: No, there was an allegation made that people were slaughtering goats at the Sports Hall. Unless you were directly involved I do not see how you can be offended when she said they are not farming goats. In fact I personally thought that another Member of the House...
Mr. Neendkumar: Mr. Speaker, I know for example there is a big problem in Linden where money was collected for the One Mile School.
Mr. Speaker: You can bring that up on a particular motion but you cannot... if you have such information you know what you have to do with it. If there is any Member of this House who could be slighted by a goat reference it is not you. And the Member is not seated here now.
Minister within the Ministry of Finance [Bishop Edghill]: Mr. Speaker, just a Point of Clarification. I have noticed that you sought to bring correction to Mr. Neendkumar’s reference while he is sitting, but I am sitting here and heard the Hon. Member refer to him as a slaughterer and that was not attended to, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: Very well. In fact, Ms. Kissoon, I intervened when I heard the retort so we will refrain from any references please. Make your presentation; I think many people are depending on you to represent them tonight Ms. Kissoon. You know that a lot rests on your shoulders; see it through and let us get it over with.
Ms. Kissoon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Farmers can unleash their potential, creating wealth for themselves and the nation through cooperative ventures, of which pilot projects have begun in Region No.10. It must be noted that much more can be achieved were out farmers receiving support from the Central Government in areas such as land titling, better drainage and irrigation systems, logistical support, agriculture inputs and sustained extensive support.
And this brings me to the point of acknowledging this Nations tri-sector economy – private, government and cooperative. It is no accident this country is named the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, even though it is noticed that emphasis is placed on de-emphasising it in public documents such as the Guyana Passport, and the name can only be changed through referendum. We must learn from the past. The economy of the former enslaved indentured servants and colonised was based on cooperatives. And since these groups represent the masses in our society, cooperatives have a major role in the acquisition of assets and self determination.
The responsible Hon. Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, is reminded as the Guyana Chronicle of 23rd December, 2013 carried his views, and I quote:
“We cannot just wish away cooperatives.
He said that the assets of the cooperative movement at the moment amount to nearly $15 billion. When considered against other financial institutions it is the fourth or fifth largest financial system in the country.”
This is unfortunate, however, when in an interview with the Guyana Times, 17th February, 2014, the Hon. Minister said the Government is moving to dissolve, and I quote:
“Approximately 220 of the more than 1,800 cooperative societies in Guyana.”
This is a travesty and will not only cause loss of income, assets and increased poverty, but a blow to a major sector of this nation’s economy. And while it is noted the Hon. Member attributed shuttering these coops due to the violation of the Cooperative Society Act, it would have been better had Government invested in this sector through increased allocation of resources towards capacity building such as skills set training.
I call on the Hon. Member to revisit his position and remember that the strength of the country lies in the respect for the diverse sector where participation and wealth is advanced, with the only caveat being that some be done consistent with the law.
Note is taken that the Hon. Minister of finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, in his presentation addressed Government’s desire to expand bauxite output. It was the late President Dr. Cheddi Jagan who reminded this Nation that development must carry a human face and as stated in the New Global Order, I quote:
“Human rights must embrace the civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.”
As we are now witnessing, the party of Dr. Jagan is drifting further and further away from the principles he espoused.
Bauxite expansion or rather the exploitation of our renewable resource to the enrichment of foreign oligarchs and their few local counterparts, creaming the wealth of this Nation and violating the rights of workers by disregarding the laws of the land would be condemned by Dr. Jagan as much as these are condemned by our regional government, where companies like RUSAL/BCGI continue to transgress the rights of workers to a trade union of choice, working in a safe and healthy environment. Bai Shan Lin continues to engage in bad cooperate practices and the destruction of our roads.
Mr. Speaker: One second, Ms. Kissoon. What I would say is continue to allegedly engage. I suggest to you that you say allegedly engaging in. That is all; proceed.
Ms. Kissoon: ...allegedly transgressed the rights of workers to a trade union of choice working in a safe and healthy environment. Bai Shan Lin continues to allegedly engage in bad corporate practices and destruction of our roads posing threat to lives, limbs and the economic wellbeing of those living in the community. Dr. Jagan would have put his foot down on it and today so are the people of Region No.10.
The BOSAI company continues it alleged poor environmental management resulting in public health hazards such as pollution of the Kara Kara Creek, the clogging of the – and this is not alleged Mr. Speaker, this is fact, so I take back the word alleged – Hymara Creek and the dust in Linden would not have been tolerated by the late Dr. Jagan.
Expansions in our Amerindian communities such as Hurururu without regards to human rights is not development, it is encroachment, and Dr. Jagan would not have tolerated this based on his belief, and I quote:
“The necessity for new global human order in which the needs hopes and aspirations of each citizen will assume primary importance.”
As such, the Region insists that these expansions must be built on mutual benefits.
I turn my attention to Linden Enterprise Network (LEN). Outside of involvement of a comprehensive economic programme which forms part of the 21st August, 2012 Agreement this illustrates the vision that this Government is promoting for the people of Region No.10 which is piecemeal for we would know from the recommendations of the evaluation report of the role to ensure the involvement of the people whose lives this project is intended to impact on. However, the consultation process used demonstrates Government’s unwillingness to adhere to these recommendations outlined in the evaluation of the European Commission’s support to the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, September, 2008.
So from the fundamental of its composition, for the Government to have adapted the mechanism to have an impartial board that has to date not had their first meeting and without its Terms of References (TORs) for functioning, is only a recipe for failure.
President Ramotar in February and March made some unfortunate statements in reaction to the Opposition’s just demands for justice and passage of an effective Anti-Money Laundering...
Mr. Speaker: I caution you Ms. Kissoon. The rule says that you may not invoke the President’s name in a debate. You may mention the fact that some statements were made, but I think you should move on after that.
Ms. Kissoon: We on this side of the House have been called unreasonable and unpatriotic. For the record, it is not unreasonable or unpatriotic to ask that existing laws and agreements be enforced.
Mr. Speaker: Ms. Kissoon you will require five minutes to conclude your presentation.
Ms. Ally: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Member be given five minutes to conclude her presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Ms. Kissoon: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It was not unpatriotic or unreasonable for the People's Progressive Party/Civics’ party comrades in August, 2013 to call for the stamping out of corruption and the creation of a system to ensure integrity. It is a coming together of diverse forces in the most reasonable and highest form of patriotism to call on the PPP/C to stamp out the regressive management of the Nation’s affairs.
In deference to protocol, an appeal is being made to fellow Lindener, the Hon. Samuel Hinds, Leader of the Government’s Business in this House, to relay to His Excellency our concerns. Though the Honourable Colleague and I are on opposite sides of this House, I am sure he will agree with me that when Lindeners believe in something we put our all into it. Not even police brutality or an uncaring government can douse the spark in our spirit or slow the stride in our steps in the march for decency, justice and fair play.
The people of Region No.10 witness daily in almost every infrastructure the Government’s touches. For instance there continues to be substandard works in there Phase 3 Amelia’s Ward area where so far 80% of recently done roads, have already shown signs of deterioration and in some cases, collapsed.
Ms. Kissoon: Sixty nine million dollars was misused through sloppy patch works done on the Linden Soesdyke, Highway, which sees an approximate daily traffic of 25,000 persons and hundreds of vehicles, resulting in same being brought to the responsible Minister’s attention by the Regional Democratic Council of Region No.10.
And so, this side of the House shall go through this Budget, section by section, line by line, exercising judgement on behalf of the people who sent us here to keep watch over our Colleagues on that side of the House and work with them to bring back sobriety to governance. We shall cut the fat and ensure the health of the cats. It is a duty we hold sacred.
It would be remiss of me to ignore the Kaieteur News’s letter of 14th February, 2014 under the audacious pen of the Hon. Member Mr. Anil Nandlall in response to Mr. Eusi...
Mr. Speaker: Be careful. Just make your comments without the adjectives about the other Member, thanks.
Ms. Kissoon: Oh okay, Sir. ...in response to Mr. Eusi Kawyana, a former Member of this House. The Member had this to say:
“I do not usually engage in exchanges in the press with non-lawyers on matters of law. I extend this rule to some lawyers as well, when the content of what they espouse is devoid of legal scholarship... To the extent that the Constitution, the voice of the people, expressly or by implication, inhibits these representatives, they are restrained from acting. This is precisely why the Constitution is supreme and not the National Assembly.”
The equaliser here is that we are all lawmakers, lawyers and non-lawyers alike. If the Constitution, written, perused and approved by fellow former lawmakers tell us at Article 13 that the principle objective of the political system requires involvement in decision-making on matters that directly affect our well-being; Article 165 (1) says the National Assembly may make rules to govern its behaviour consistent with the Constitution and Article 171 (2) (a) (ii) says we can reduce any charge on the Consolidated Fund, then so shall it be.
This House must not shirk from its responsibility to ensure fiscal discipline, accountability and equitable national development by utilising the tools at our disposal. As an experienced teacher, I can attest that failure to institute discipline results in delinquency and can be detrimental. In children it leads to all sorts of anti-social and unproductive behaviours; in adults it is worse. As Chair of this National Assembly, Mr. Speaker, yours is the task to preside over the administration of discipline. Acknowledgement is taken of your desire not to relinquish it with the move to the Court of Appeal to challenge the ruling by Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in the 2012 budget cuts.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you. [Applause]
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