Budget Speech - Ms Wade—20142841 02 Apr, 2014
Ms. Wade: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Tabled before this National Assembly is the 2014 Budget, presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance on the 24th March, under the theme, A Better Guyana for All Guyanese. The budgeted amount for 2014 is $220 billion and it is once again the largest ever.
Every year, hundreds of millions are spent through poor Government policies, waste, bad planning and poor execution and, to date, there has not been any significant improvement in the standard of living of Guyanese.
A country's budget must be a financial plan of what is to be done to point the economy in the right direction of transformation that will overcome the challenges and bring comfort and happiness to all Guyanese.
Prior to this Budget, the APNU embarked on a series of consultations with several stakeholders and we visited various communities in the Regions to solicit their views on issues that they see as important in their lives, what their needs and concerns are and what they feel should be done to address these.
I can recall that during the 2013 Budget Debate, I spoke about some critical problems affecting the people of Region 5. To date, the situation remains the same, although persons are being paid large sums of money by this Government to do a house-to-house campaign to find out people’s problems. Mr. Speaker, the problems are before us. So what is the purpose of this exercise?
I will again remind the Government of a few of these problems that still exist and are of great concern to the people of the Region: the exorbitant toll to cross the Berbice Bridge; unavailability of jobs; drainage and irrigation, daily threats to human safety such as robberies, murders, abuse, suicides; lack of proper health care facilities; irregular supply of potable water in some areas; lack of electricity; bad or nonexistent roads; flooding; lack of access roads to farmlands and poverty. Unemployment has created an army of beggars, drug addicts, destitute people, wandering boys and girls and street children. University graduates, talented teachers, nurses, and thousands of ordinary citizens race to migrate from their homeland. I can go on and on with the problems, but these are some of the problems that need urgent attention. Yet the Government ignores the needs of the people and place people house-to-house to seek problems.
The words of the National Assembly's Prayer speak of dealing justly with the many causes that come before us, laying aside all private interests, and it is my sincere hope that in 2014 the words of the prayer are remembered.
I now turn to Rice. In section 4.16 of the Budget, the Minister made mention of Government’s excellent performance in the rice industry in recent years, the investments in improved drainage and irrigation, infrastructure and the improved access to affordable fertilizer, but all is not well in the rice industry; there is a crisis. Rice farmers across Guyana are suffering. It is time, therefore, for Government to recognise the plight of the farmers. There is need for the implementation of a programme to aggressively market Guyana’s rice. Guyana has, presently on hand, approximately 100,000 tonnes of rice yet to be sold. Why is Government not looking to increase rice export? We are having a backlog of rice at the mills that are yet to be shipped and this is causing the slowdown in the process. Millers do not want to get into problems of buying paddy that they cannot pay for. This is causing a strain on millers too. Rice farmers are owed in excess of $300 million by millers for 2013. Where is the payment plan? The Government cannot be saying to farmers, crop after crop, that payments will be made and then there is none forthcoming. The Government has heard this before. Rice farmers need a timely plan. They must be paid in a timely manner. It is all about timing once one is a farmer.
The rice market is flooded with rice and the price is less this year. There is no proper controlled rice price. How can this be? There are some farmers who are paid as low as $3,000 per bag and the cost of production is very high. The farmer has to buy seed paddy, chemicals, fertiliser and fuel. There is also the high cost of transportation, labour and harvesting. How will these farmers survive, especially the small farmers who see farming at this time as digging one hole to fill another hole right now?
The Government needs to engage all stakeholders in the rice industry. They need to engage farmers, millers, exporters and providers of support services to formulate strategies to ensure long term profitability and growth. Constructive discourse is urgently needed to take the rice industry forward.
Despite claims of higher paddy yield and increase in production, the rice industry is on shaky ground. The Government has an obligation to assist, to stabilise the process, to benefit farmers and to ensure that the necessary systems are put in place to protect their livelihoods from loss due to floods, diseases and infestations.
Farmers need protection and this should be a priority. Floods are a horrible manifestation of the Government’s management style and supposed commitment to the improvement of drainage and irrigation in this country. There must be a flood prevention plan suitable for every area for no two areas are the same. Maintenance procedures and management have caused most of the problems that farmers face today and this is affecting all farmers in Guyana.
In the area of research, the Burma Rice Research Station has been realising new lines of new varieties and farmers are being encouraged to make full use of this because these new varieties will ensure that they harvest more bags per acre and they can withstand any harsh climate conditions. This encouragement to farmers for a number of years is not only words, but farmers are saying that they are unable to access these new varieties at the Burma Rice Research Station. Hon. Minister, they are often told that they do not have enough. Even the common seed plant is difficult for the farmers to access through the Rice Research Station. Yet some groups, special group of farmers, are benefitting from this service. The Hon. Minister needs to correct the situation immediately.
Agriculture is our business in Region 5 and we are looking forward to achieving an appropriate level of food security through a sustainable approach in addressing the key obstacles faced by farmers and stakeholders. No amount of relief from Government can compensate the farmers when they lose millions of dollars.
The Government needs to tell the farmers why they are not considering the establishment of an agricultural development bank. In light of this requests, several farmers have been pleading, year after year, crop after crop. The small farmers are challenged because rice is all about timings and they cannot afford the land preparation service.
There is constant flooding in Region 5, especially south of the main canal, Hon. Minister. There are quite a number of small farmers who are indebted to the Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) and the only choice for them to survive is to sublet their lands because they do not have the means to work the land. The current trend of repossession that the scheme has adopted is not the solution. These farmers have to put food on their families’ tables and agriculture is their only means of survival. That is what they have been doing all their lives. I trust that in 2014, we will see farmers overcoming the various barriers that are currently existing, management having more consultations with the farmers.
The farmers of Strath Campbell and Wash Clothes, in the Mahaicony area, are still awaiting the continuation of the Perth/Baiabu Canal to link to the Butenabu Creek to ease their drainage problems in the area. The mouth of the Abary River needs to be desilted urgently to assist farmers south of the main canal. The season is right. It is dry right now and I am saying to the Hon. Minister that this is the appropriate time for such an exercise.
Marketing: we visited Regions, as I said earlier. The Leader and I went to Barakara, which is up the Berbice River, and there are farmers there who are planting all kinds of crops - corn, pumpkin, bora, ochro and I can go on and on. It is amazing that these farmers down that River have nothing to market their crops. They are cutting their pumpkins by the hundreds, laying them in the fields and after then, they have to dump all down the River because there is no way they could market them. The Hon. Member, Mr. Hamilton, is saying that we need solutions and I am saying to the honourable House that we need means of marketing. Each Region should have a Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) so that one can take one’s produce there and the Government will take it from there and do what they have to do and make sure that farmers live comfortably.
I now turn my attention to housing and water. It grieves me to speak about things over and over. Nobody is listening. It is time the Government Ministers come from a hearing place to a listening place, so I will continue to do so until these concerns are addressed. The residents of Number 22, Bel Air, on the West Coast Berbice, who are squatting there, have been clamouring for years to be regularised in order to access electricity and potable water in their homes. These are concerns of the people. These are the problems that we are speaking about so I do not know why the Government is paying people to go and solicit concerns. I am bringing the concerns here into this National Assembly.
The deplorable state of Government houses in the MMA/ADA Compound and the police houses in the Fort Wellington Compound are an eyesores - waste of taxpayers’ money. People need homes. Why can these buildings not be repaired so that people could get them to live in? Let the Government listen to the problems and the concerns of the people of Region 5. There is need for Government to put in place a system where persons, who have lands and do not have documentation to access potable water, can go to the various ministries or agencies and say, “This land is my land.’ And the Government needs to say, “Yes, I can see that this land is your land but you do not have the source documents so I could assist to give consideration to this important source of live.” Residents of Burma have serious problems accessing potable water. Most cross streets in Region 5 have problems accessing potable water.
On page 42, paragraph 4.85 of the Budget, it mentioned a vision for better living conditions for Guyanese. I hope that I do not have to repeat this come next budget debate.
Youth, Sports & Culture
The unresponsiveness in which issues are being handled indicates that Government is not ready to work constructively for the good of all Guyanese. Guyana needs a business competitive environment to create jobs for our jobless young people; and sports and culture must be Government's concern as part of the effort to create a healthy and happy lifestyle for all; that we give them the opportunities to keep them fit, focused and active in an organised way and this will help us to regain our national pride. The Government needs to take sports off the streets; every region must have adequate recreational facilities. The Villages of Perth, Strath Campbell, Lichfield, Yeovil and No.28 in Region 5 are without such facilities. There is also the need to develop and upgrade existing facilities. The youths of Region 5 need a platform for Music, for Drama and for Arts. Our special needs children need proper care and designed facilities to assist them in their growth. I hope that Region 5 will benefit from the $300 million that has been mentioned on page 47, paragraphs 4.101 for the enhancement of grounds countrywide.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member you have five minutes within which to wrap up.
Ms. Wade: Energy - Power Generation & Supply - this is getting nowhere in Region 5. This Government has included the allocation of $3.7 billion to support the company and that amount is to benefit 170,000 of Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL)'s customers and their families. Sir, 18,000 laptops are also to be distributed in 2014. I will like to know of the families of Ithaca, the 40 homes of No. 30 Cross Street, No.9, No.8, No.22, Bel Air, Catherine and Calcutta, all these cross streets which are without electricity, how will they benefit from the One Laptop per Family? Is our Government saying to the people you are not qualified? It is disappointing that in this information and technology age some of our citizens are still using lamps; they cannot view and enjoy a simple television programme. The amount is $238,000to request a pole for electricity for one person in a cross street. How will the poor people access such?
You can recall I spoke about road lights. We need these lights from the Villages of Chester to my village Yeovil; Rising Sun, Perth, Abary and other areas are still without lights. The Hon. Member Mr. Robeson Benn promised me the last time that ‘he is going to light me up.’ Sir, I am still waiting; I am still waiting. Is this a better way of dealing with Government?
Mr. Speaker, there are young girls in Region 5 who are leaving their homes in search of jobs in the interior. They are often promised by dredge owners that they are going to become cooks who are referred to as BUY-AIRS, but instead they fall victims to the Trafficking In Persons syndrome. The Government is saying this does not exist. This is a clear indication of authority's unwillingness to seriously address trafficking in persons but this needs urgent attention. The Child Protection Division in the region needs a complete overhaul. I said it before and I am saying it again, the Region needs help. The Officers are not working in the interest of the region's children; they are not responding positively to reports. Very often we have to depend on the Probation and Welfare Services Officers to rescue children in distress. Urgent attention need to be given to the Child Protection Division in Region 5 so that we can get what is best for our children. Let us not forget that a Government that governs best is a government that respects the people and takes on board their legitimate interests and desires.
The Hugo Chavez centre was commissioned in 2013 and was supposed to accommodate 100 males and 80 females. However, there is nothing happening and there are so many homeless round and about, even in front of the Parliament Building. Will this be another 'White Elephant' is the concern of the people in Region 5. This issue is long outstanding and Government needs to address this issue immediately so the poor people can get what they are due.
Health is another problem. I have pleaded for a Malaria Centre in Region 5 and it is not forthcoming. For sanitation we had three land filling sites identified, but the residents objected because there was no proper consultation with them. I hope the Hon. Minister will revisit the situation and find a solution.
Sea & River Defence continues to be a very alarming situation in Region 5, especially from Profit/Foulis going right onto the No. 37 area where the Atlantic Ocean is coming in. I am saying this year the Minister needs to spend more money and undertake these kinds of solutions.
Roads & Bridges
While the Government boasts about their accomplishment of roads and bridges, I want to highlight the poor quality of work for large sums of money. In some areas, the quality of work is highly questionable. If Chip Seal or Bitumen is being used in Village A then the same must be used in Village B. Let there be a level playing field. There are some areas that need urgent attention like Burma, No. 28 Carmichael Street, the cross streets in No. 30, North and South of the Public Road, Calcutta Cross Streets, Rosignol and the list goes on and on. Here again the budgetary allocation for Region 5 continues to be in adequate hence the affairs of the region are not properly administered and is hindering development in all sectors.
In concluding, the National Budget of 2014 is before the House and the debate is ongoing while the Nation follows with keen interest. The APNU will ensure that the Government is put on the path where it governs in the interest of the people of Guyana. Guyana cannot continue in its present state of poverty, conflict and stagnation. If we allow this to happen none of us, or the generation to come will enjoy a good life. The majority of us will remain poor, dissatisfied and deprived. Sir, no one will be able to realise and fulfil their hopes. Guyanese have a right to know how their monies are being spent. The APNU's aim is to make this Parliament meaningful. An area to take note is that during 2013 we denied spending in some areas and the Government went ahead and withdrew from the Consolidated Fund, a deliberate violation of the laws and contempt for the National Assembly. Nowhere in this universe have these things happened. Where are we going? If this will be a ‘Better Guyana’ I would not want to be around for the worse. I always believe in getting my roses while I am alive so that I can smell the fragrance.
This is the main forum to make inputs and shape decisions especially those that affect us directly. Therefore, in closing, I say Region 5 awaits a 'Better Guyana for all Guyanese.’
I am a religious person and I want to close by saying this, Proverbs Chapter 3 Verses 27-28 reminds us, “do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act; do not say to your neighbour come back later, I will give you tomorrow when you can give them today".
I hope the Government will give to Region 5 today what is due.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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