Minister of Public Works [Mr. Benn]: Thank you Mr. Speaker for this opportunity to enjoin the debate on the 2013 Budget, the Budget which speaks essentially on realising the hopes and dreams of Guyanese. I say realising the hopes and dreams of the Guyanese people because I listened to the speaker on our side before me, the Hon. Mr. Ifraan Ali, whose presentation I would not be able to replicate; a wonderful presentation, which falls in the same vein as the Hon. Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh.
I thought momentarily to myself, oh to be young again because here it is, after many years of struggle and hard work and as we raise our kites, the Guyanese people, this Easter on the seawalls and all over the country, there is a realisation amongst all the people, in spite of our quarrels, challenges and the critiques on all sides, finally we have come to the point where we are living the dream and that we can realise the dream of the Guyanese people here and now.
There have of course been understandably, criticisms proffered by speakers on the other side of the House with respect to the budget. I am still really worried that at this day and age and from learned technical persons on the other side mostly we would still be debating the issues of Value Added Tax (VAT). That we are somehow still ignoring the fact that in instituting VAT, Consumption Taxes of up to 35% were removed in relations to establishing the VAT regime and that there is a long list which we will perhaps have to print out and share out again with respect to the items which are Zero Rated for VAT. It is surprising that today and in this day and age and in this Parliament, we are still discussing the merits of VAT and declaring that VAT should be removed. It is surprising and it is disturbing.
If there are suggestions as to the removal partially or totally of VAT, we must have an answer of what is to replace it. We must have an answer as to where the funding is going to come from to continue the important social programmes and to continue the major infrastructural works, which are required to continue the development of our country. That is the answer we need. We do not need emotive outreaches or emotive attempts to try to pull at the ideas and understanding of the poor, the youth and the unemployed. With respect to this Budget Debate, we need to have a serious discussion on the issues which are presented in the measures and a clear understanding of the measures which are already in place to ensure that we have good stable economic growth.
This stable economic growth has been achieved year and year for the last seven years. This is a remarkable achievement for any young developing country, such as Guyana, which has come out of a morass over many years of economic stagnation. This stable economic growth has been achieved in the face of great difficulties and I do not have to mention the difficulties we have had even last year and where even last year I think some of the steps we took in this House was a matter for regret on both sides of the House.
I want to say to the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh and there was some Shakespearian quote, Macbeth, which was made in this House about a tale told by an idiot. I do not want to wax Shakespearian in this House, what I would like say is that if there is any present or former Finance Minister in this House or even before who can point to seven years of year and year growth in Guyana, when the regional and international economic landscape is littered with economies which are in trouble. I can go to Europe, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece; I can go to the issues of the regional economies which were also mentioned. If I can go to those things then I want to be on the side of those idiots who presented this Budget, which has given us seven years, year and year growth in Guyana. That is the side of the idiots I want to be on in this Hon. House because any Finance Minister, any Government, any Presidency, which can deliver the average of 4.5% or 5% growth over the last seven years to this country... And this is not simply the Finance Minister delivering or the PPP/Civic delivering or President Ramotar delivering, this is what Guyana has delivered to the Regional and world economy. This is what Guyana delivers; this is Guyana’s contribution to the Regional and World Economy in a time when many economies needs support for food and for many issues, particularly food, budget support and all those issues, this is what Guyana has delivered. This is what Guyana does not have to go out to, to beg for, this is what Guyana is producing in terms of its rice, gold, wood, and the efforts of its people into the World Economy. So I believe I am on the right side of the House with respect to this issue.
We have just had and I need to mention this, the example where we celebrated one hundred years of aviation in Guyana; flying. I made a point where I suggested that despite all of our religious, ethnic, social, political and all those perspectives, in the aviation industry where we have to prepare and put the planes up to fly, everyone does their job professionally. Everyone makes sure that everything is done at every level of the industry from the ordinary worker, the sweeper, the engineer, down to the pilot and the loaders of the plane to make sure that the planes fly and that we have no tragedy nor a collapse of the industry. The fact that flying aviation is the safest form of transport in Guyana; the fact that it is an example for the Caribbean in terms of the industry; the fact that it continues to deliver the critical support to the Hinterland and indigenous communities, these facts speaks so much for our Guyanese people when we all work together in the national interest because that is a national interest.
If there is anything I would say in appealing here this afternoon, it is that in spite of the different directions or the different perspectives on our country’s development, we paid particular attention to how we fly and that when we fly, we must land safe. That is the duty of each and every Member of this House to make sure that that is realise, irrespective of all our perspectives on national development and politics and other social issues.
One other issue which I am unhappy with in the presentation on the other side is what appears to be an undisguised attack on the Private Sector. I am surprised to note that statements are being made which suggest that the Budget openly supports the business sector. That the engine of growth is the Private Sector, the way it is set. I think it has been a clear policy over all the years that the Government, through its National Development Strategy took the approach. I always was under the impression that it was supported by both sides of the House. That the resources of all Guyanese at all levels would be garnered towards the development of the country and the efforts towards public/private partnerships, the Ogle Airport Inc. the Berbice River Bridge, all of these efforts and the discussions we have even now with respect to fashioning a public/private model for the Demerara Harbour Bridge and its maintenance, that all of these issues would have the support of both sides of the House.
I would be very unhappy and I think we need a definitive statement from the Opposition benches on this matter as to whether indeed they do support a public/private partnership as one of the pillars which would move Guyana’s development forward. We need a definitive statement on this issue because the funds held, controlled and owned by private persons in their individual capacity and as corporations are necessary to help develop the country.
Yes, indeed the Private Sector is an engine of growth of Guyanese economy and we should not cast aspersions on the question of public/private partnership and on the question of garnering private resources into the effort to develop the country.
There has been said that this is a new engine of growth at the expense of the poor. I was under the impression that the investments, whether it is by a big corporation, whether it is by a private person who has gone out there after “working in the bush: for many years and he has bought an excavator to go out in the “bush” to do mining. [Mrs. Backer: Which bush?] In the interior, since you know it differently. I would have thought that if that man or person makes that investment, if he lays out that investment and he hires in excess of twenty persons, that he has a multiplier in the economy of a hundred persons and that he is earning an income and livelihood to Guyanese, to his employees and to those who are in the multiplier train that his investments refers to. This question, this undisguised attack on the Private Sector, as I said, needs a ... [Mrs. Backer: A statement] …an irrevocable statement from the other side.
There were talks about black holes, that the question of support to GuySuCo of $1 Billion would not be supported and the support to Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL), no support it was said; this bale out to GPL. Can I pose the question? In whose interest is their support to GPL going to; who benefits from a support to GPL? Which people; which segment of the population; which class of people? Does it not rebound to the benefit of the poor and working people, the old people and the pensioners, not mentioning the support in the budget with respect to direct support to pensioners? In whose interest is this support being made? Of course, it has to be in the interest of the poor and working people largely that this intervention is being made, without with electricity rates will raise. I am surprise that persons in this House would stand up and say they will not support this intervention by the budget. They will not support this budgetary measure. [Mrs. Backer: Unless.] There was no unless said about it, but I would be happy to hear the “unless”, after I am finish you can rebut with the “unless”.
There were issues about the support to CLICO, the $2 Billion that the NIS made to the Berbice Bridge Company...
I thank the Hon. Member, Dr. Ashni Singh again for giving an exemplary budget; Dr. Ashni Singh and his staff for giving another wonderful budget. For having us stay on course with respect to the prudent measures which are needed and expected by the people and are warranted with respect to Guyana staying and remaining on course, so that we overcome the challenges together and we accelerate the gains that we have made over these years.
A new generation of Guyanese will have indeed solid things to build on, solid infrastructure to build on, solid sea defences to build on and solid roads to build on. We as I have said before are building anew in Guyana, after many years we are building anew. We have gone pass the stage of repairs - running repairs - as was said by a Hon. Member the last time, we have gone pass the phase of rehabilitations; we are also building anew in Guyana. Not us alone, not the Government alone, not the Government through its efforts. If we look at any housing scheme, if we go down Regent Street or in any commercial district in the country; if we go to New Amsterdam or Corriverton; if we go to Amelia’s Ward; if we go to Bartica, the Guyanese people are building anew in an environment of hope and in an environment of realising their dreams here and now. So I say again, old to be young again.
The Government by its requirements to this Ministry by way of this budget will continue to solidify and concretise our gains and take our infrastructure to new heights and to accelerate the development that is required for our country.
Infrastructure development as we all know and expect is critical to synergising our economy to making the linkages, not only the domestic linkages, but the linkages to our neighbouring countries, to Suriname, Brazil and onwards towards Venezuela. We have been working hard to realise the effort, to make the best use, to optimise the resources which have been given to the Ministry with respect to the Ministry of Public Works programme.
In 2012, we were given $19.5 Billion with increases we have had an expenditure of 81.4% of our programme in 2012. I would say that based on interventions, some amount of confusion engendered by the budgetary exercises last year in this Parliament, there were delays and mis-scheduling to some of the activities which we intended to undertake. I want to assure you, Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members, that the best effort of the Ministry, its engineers and workers are being expended to ensure that we have the best use of the resources in respect of our budgetary allocations.
We have spent in the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation some $2,268 Million with respect to Capital Works in 2012 and we have continued the work of the fabrication of buoys, pontoons, rehabilitation of cluster piles, the fabrication of end posts, the supply of wire ropes and other issues for this amount.
We have made replacements to ropes for anchorage, one hundred and seventy eight in 2012; sheaves – eleven; connecting posts - thirty eight; buoys - twenty one; deck plates, an ongoing activity constantly - four hundred and sixty six and particularly, the retractor hydraulic raft, a major exercise for the Harbour Bridge, done in good time and at good cost last year.
The Harbour Bridge has seen an enormous increase, a 6.5% increase, over 2011 in terms of its traffic and the daily average traffic has moved from 7,553 vehicles per day to 8,010 per day.
Marine traffic has increased from a total of 1,152 transits in 2011 to 1,219 transits in 2012, a difference of 5.8%. The average retraction times have remained essentially the same with respect to our financial numbers. At 2011, there was a total expenditure of $348.5 Million in terms of expenditure. In 2012, there was an expenditure of $347 Million. The total income in 2011 was $422 Million and in 2012 there was an increase in the income of $432 Million, yielding a surplus at the end of the year of $85 Million.
There was indeed, in terms of significant disruptions, on the 23rd of July, 2012, the inability of vehicular traffic to transit the bridge for two days, while there were repair works being undertaken on span 6061 and a tremendous effort had to be put in place to refloat the pontoon sections and bring the facility back into service.
We have recently installed traffic lights at the intersection with the Demerara Harbour Bridge and are looking at making the intersection more efficient in terms of traffic disposal. At the moment, we are undertaking a prefeasibility study, with a completion in June with respect to three options for a new Demerara Harbour Bridge. The three options are the Versailles, Houston access, the Schoonord, Peter’s Hall access and the Patentia, New Hope access. $300 million have been provided in the budget for 2013 for the continued maintenance of the bridge. We anticipate that the bridge has to remain in serviceability for at least the next six years before a new crossing at the outside... six to seven years before a new bridge will come into place.
In terms of roads and bridges with our international partners, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) a number of projects are still ongoing, some are roll over projects and I will give a status on these projects. We have practically completed the East and West Canje Roads, 19.5 kilometres at a cost of US$9 million. The contract was H. Nauth and Sons, a national contractor. We have practically completed the BlackBush Polder Roads, 34 kilometres of road, practically completed at US$6.7 million. The contractor is BK International, a national contractor. We have completed the first section of the access road to the international airport, 3.5 kilometres, practically completed at US$1.62 million. The contractor is BK International, a national contractor.
The four lane expansion on the East Bank of Demerara is underway. There have been delays due to the relocation of utilities. We looked at the contract duration to May, 2013, but these delays will have some impacts. Lot 1 is under DIPCON Engineering Services Ltd. of US$8 Million. Lot 2 is under Guyco Construction and General Services for US$5.8 Million dollars and under BK International Inc. for $3.4 Million. I would point out that one of the issues in doing this road is that to assure that we have a stable embankment over the life of the road, we are installing vertical drains, which allow for or which requires a settlement time of six months before the embankment is stable enough to build on, which is why and it is built into the contract. Which is why it appears to some people that the work is progressing slowly, but that is the schedule of construction with respect to the installation of vertical drains.
We have the remedial works on the third road projects, 75% completed. Delays have been engendered due to surges or aggregates. The project cost is $2.1 Million, we believe with the completion of this work, the access into Georgetown on its southern side will be much eased and this work is being done by DIPCON Engineering Services Ltd.
Under bridges and culverts in various lots we have a 35% completion with a project cost of $5.4 Million. Kears’s Engineer Inc. and V. Dalip Enterprise are two national contractors who are engaged in this work.
Under Nationally Funded Projects, we have 2.5 kilometres of new access road to the international airport, it is 60% completed. We have had delays due to issues regarding the relocation of the Timehri market vendors and the removal of Guyana Telephone and telegraph (GT&T) infrastructure. A new market has been completed and this work is underway. The four lane upgrade on the East Coast of Demerara is 25% completed. Lot 1 was awarded to Falcon Transportation Construction Services, the contract was terminated for fundamental breach of contract in June, 2012 and the incomplete works have been awarded to DIPCON Engineering Services Ltd. under public tender for the sum of $522 Million.
The other lots, lot 2 is again under DIPCON Engineering Services Ltd.; lot 3 is awarded to Courtney Benn Constructing Services; lot 4 is under Compustruc Engineering Inc.; lot 5 is under DIPCON Engineering Services Ltd.; Lot 6 is under Colin Talbot; Bridges at Better Success is under Contractor Sukhai; bridges at Three Friends, Sophia are under Deodat Singh and Courtney Benn Constructing Services Ltd. respectively.
Mr. Speaker, our force account unit made an expenditure of 99.8% of its total allocation of $236 Million and they have maintain 359 kilometres of roads, mostly in the city of Georgetown and I may mention Irving Street, Sheriff Street, Duncan Street, UG Road, Water Street, Seawall Road, Camp Street, Barr Street, Younge Street, Thomas Road, Mandela, Soesdyke, Linden Highway, Homestretch Avenue, Carifesta Avenue, the Railway Embankment, West Coast Demerara, East Coast Demerara, West Bank Demerara and the East Bank Demerara Roads, which is hole-patching, weeding of roads, grading and shaping of shoulders, digging of drains and road markings are all the activities which was undertaken.
In addition to the expenditures directly on the roads, we have spent $9 million from the force account work with respect to clean up exercises in Georgetown in the first instance and then a second trans-effort at $3.8 million for the cleanup of garbage in Georgetown.
On the issue of road safety, we have been seeing and noting reductions in travel time and vehicle operating costs, the extension of the service life roads and the increase in driving comfort on the roads. Certainly, we are not yet ourselves satisfied that we are at the point where we ought to be with these issues, but along with the efforts of the Guyana Police Force and the Ministry of Home Affairs, we have seen a steady reduction in fatalities and accidents on the roads in our country, in spite of a dramatic increase in the number of vehicles on the roads. The number of vehicles on the roads have been increasing by almost ten thousand units annually and in spite of this great increase in the number of units on the roads and also in the miles driven, we have had a continued decrease in the number of fatalities on the roads in Guyana and I think this is a tremendous development with respect to safety on our roads. The efforts of the Guyana Police Force with their speed guns, with the issues of impaired driving and also the installation of the infrastructure with respect to traffic lights, highway lights, safety barriers, chevrons and those issues which we admit are not yet at the level where we want it to be, I think have all gone into having us achieve this result and it is a matter that we are continuing to work diligently at.
I would mention on the issue of traffic and lights and highway lighting that we have had quite a bit of damage with respect to the infrastructure. Damage both to improper use on the road or accidents on the road and also particularly with respect to vandalism on the road and it is a matter that we are still working at. Still trying to get the all round support which would result in some segments of the highway lights and traffic lights being out of service for too long a period of time, while we put in place an improved supply chain with respect to compliments which are damaged.
The Amalia Falls Road is under construction. The Hon. Members may be aware that the contract with Synergy Holdings was terminated as a result of what I term a fatal flaw which was the absence of a performance bond. There are a number of contractors, including the Ministry on section two, but section two to seven are under construction by various contractors and we look forward to the completion of the road and its requisite bridges this year. There are issues of course with the availability of materials for the most preferred servicing materials for the road, the cycle time to haul that material and the alignment and sections of the road and areas of the road, which turned out to be deep swamps and where the equipment was lost by the previous contractor.
On interior/hinterland roads, we have been working on the rehabilitation of the Santa Rosa, Kwebana, Akira to Waramuri Roads; the construction of the five miles Bartica Road; the construction of the road at Dog Point; the construction of the Karasabai Monkey Mountain Road and I may say it is now possible to travel from Karasabai to Lethem in an hour and fifteen minutes at best, if too fast, from a previous time of eight or ten hours. The Karasabai Monkey Mountain Road area which is further up the plateau is some 70% completed and the Katunarib Bridge is also 70% completed.
In discussion and critique of our budgets there was mention made of what were termed flag ship lump projects. It was said that the attention by the Government of these flag ships, so called lumpy projects, that the Government has no responsibility for the poor with respect to a focus and overwhelming focus, I believe, a bias towards these large projects.
I would suggest that the lumpy project, which we have been paying attention to, the project to build a road from Lethem to Linden is a necessary project. It is a project we have had the studies by Moth Mc Donalds and others with regards to the prefeasibility and the feasibility study and this is an important project which in the first instance would see the development and advance of Linden as a port not only for the bauxite and timber exports of the Linden area, but for northeast Brazil, in terms of soybeans, in terms of rice which is not being developed there in the Savannahs, but particularly for Northeast Brazil. Linden is the first port of effort. [Interruption]
The other lumpy project which we have been considering, is the expansion of the Cheddie Jagan International Airport and we have turned the sod; we have broken the ground and we intend to build a runway extension of 1000 metres and a new terminal building which will fit all, which will fit the best standards for international travellers to our region and realise the hopes and the intention of Guyana to exploit its dual strategic position, to be a hub for international flights, north and south over the continent and east and west to Africa and Asia and to the homelands of the Guyanese people; the ancestral homelands. The ancestral homelands are Africa, Asia, China and Siberia. Those are the ancestral homelands of the Guyanese people.
However, there has been some discussion in the press as to the quantum of money, I repeat as I have said before in this House, that there are allocations intended and made at a time and convent signed to get certain sums of money and support from the People’s Republic of China, the Xingbang of China with respect to this project. The detailed engineering analysis are now coming out with respect to the project, but this project, since we have broken grounds, is a go and within two years Guyanese can expect to travel cheaper, in greater comfort and over greater distances as a result of this airport.
There was mention made of failures of some airline operations and schedules which we had approved, low cost – low budget airlines, Ez Jet and Red Jet. There have been questions as to the sustainability of these operations and there are questions as to the competitive environment in which these low cost carriers intend to operate. We want to repeat, as the Hon. Minister Ifraan Ali identified, that we will leave no stone unturned to make it possible for low cost travel to and from the Guyanese Diaspora and to open new markets with respect to tourism and business for Guyana to take advantage of its position with respect to low cost carriage.
The discussions which have to go on with Caribbean Airlines and with other carriers with respect to issues of fuel cost, with respect to what may be termed otherwise predatory prices, are issues that we have to work with and those are issues which are challenges in the international aviation environment at the moment internationally and locally.
We have had great difficulty with respect to issues with our domestic marine transport. We have had a great growth with respect to smaller boats, twenty or thirty foot boats carrying a one hundred and fifty or two hundred horsepower engines. We have had a great growth in that sector as a result of mining as a result of forestry and other support activities related to those two. We have had unfortunately a number of accidents. I would be the first to apologise to the Hon. House that we have not gotten on top of as yet, the growth in this area and in ruling out comprehensively, which we are still working at, the safety and other interventions which needs to be in place with respect to assuring greater safety on our water ways.
We intend to continue to make sure that the Speedboat Associations comply with the safety measures. We intend to make sure that they make the necessary design changes which we have proposed to them and which are working well on various routes. We are requiring that they put in place a safety representative on each association and we are training for the first time in many years, twenty four marine cadets to become captains, pilots and surveillance assistants, surveillance cadets...
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to close in saying that we in the Ministry where we have many young engineers, average age I think is 27 years or 28 years old, young Guyanese who are working in Guyana and are not opting to go out of Guyana. They are staying here to work and our engineers, who developed these lists with us for the doing of miscellaneous roads or urban roads, do not subscribe as we do not ourselves, to issues of discrimination and all those things with respect to the doing of these roads. There is no issue about that. If I look at all of the roads that we do and I will lay in all the roads which we are doing as part of the record for my speech. If one were to map them, using GIS and GPS and all those newfangled ideas, it would be clear to any unbiased observer that the roads, that our efforts on the ground are intended to serve the people of Guyana; all the people of Guyana.
We want that the communities which formerly relies on the foot or bullock cart or heavy 4x4 to have an improvement in their infrastructural support. We continue and want to serve the people’s interest. We want to be able to make sure, to be able to do our work of course and to see continued development in our country and continued growth as the Hon. Minister Ashni Singh intends, the continuation of peace, unity, secured livelihood through our jobs and expansion of jobs and through an improvement in social support.
On closing I would like to call on all the Members of this House to continue to work at the challenge, to let our people’s progress towards prosperity continue, to let us all live the Guyanese dreams; to let our children, the generations that we create on all sides, to let them have a better life than we ourselves have had. I thank you. [Applause]