Minister in the Ministry of Finance [Bishop Edghill]: Budget 2013, which this honourable. House is presently considering, is situated is a particular context, a context of continuity. Government’s policy must be predictable as it relates to financing and financial environment in order to ensure that investors have confidence, in order to ensure that programmes are developed in a sustainable manner over a long-term period. This budget comes hard on the heels of Budget 2012 and a series of other installments that would have come to this honourable House for consideration and approval, which obviously would have indicated that something is being done right, because for seven successive years, based upon these presentations and policies and interventions that have been made by this PPP/C Government, we would have seen the economy maintaining sustainable growth of an average of almost five per cent. We must recognise that this budget comes within that particular context.
I have my own views about how I would describe this budget but I prefer to subject my own views to the views of the one hundred and six stakeholders who gathered yesterday at the Office of the President for a stakeholders’ meeting that discussed Budget 2013. One hundred and six persons attended from forty organisations. By no means could it be said that all of those people are, what is being described from the other side of the House, cronies of the Government. Listen to the views expressed by these stakeholders - “excellent,” “a peoples’ budget”, “a consumers’ budget”, “something for everyone”, “the best budget I have ever experienced.” These were the views of the one hundred and six stakeholders that were gathered at the Office of the President.
It would appear to me, Sir… because I have been across this country carrying out my ministerial functions, meeting with stakeholders, interacting with communities and over the last week I have been around this country attending several meetings interacting with hundreds of Guyanese at a time. I have not heard one Guyanese who spoke negatively of Budget 2013. The first time I heard a negative word about Budget 2013 would have been in speeches and television comments coming from the thirty-three Members who sit on the other side of the House. That is the reality of what we are talking about.
I shared the views of these stakeholders from private sector, from labour, from indigenous communities, the youth representative from the University of Guyana Students Society. I share the views of the people of the Amerindian communities. It would be helpful for me to tell the Hon. Member Ms. Dawn Hastings, who spoke before me, when she spoke about roads and bridges, that the head of the National Toshaos Council said, just yesterday, Sir, “I am grateful for the intervention for roads and bridges in the hinterlands because we have vehicles.” He was speaking about the kind of prosperity that would have come to the villages and communities. They want bridges and roads in their communities because they have their vehicles to park.
I think that this is the right and appropriate time for me to publicly salute my colleague the Minister of Finance for crafting and producing such an excellent budget that would have brought hope to the people of Guyana. Minister Singh, I salute you in this honourable House, Sir.
Budget 2013Sir, inspires hope; it encourages the building of dreams; it ensures future for our young people.
I will like to turn to what the Hon. Minister of Finance described to this honourable House in his budget speech at paragraph 4.90.
“…as with our children, Government remain (sic) committed to ensuring that all our youth are prepared to take the rightful place in society and are equipped to take meaningful and fulfilling contributions to society.”
We have a view, Sir, on this side of the House, that development is not based just on doling out aids, it is about providing opportunities. When we say that there is something in the budget for every Guyanese, it is not just about who is getting a few thousand dollars and who is getting this and who is getting that. It is the enabling environment that is being created to ensure that every category, every class, every Guyanese, whether rural, urban or hinterland, is now receiving opportunities to ensure his or her development, and the youth of this country is ensuring development.
When I read Budget 2013 and listened to the debates, which are going on here, it reminds me, Sir, of a time in Guyana when our young people were not getting married. Why? It was because they did not have their own homes. Family life is being encouraged because young professionals are coming back after studying overseas and they are going to get marry, Sir. They are not only going to be married and living in their parents’ home, but they will be living in their own homes. That is one of the things that the young people of this country are excited about. No amount of ostracising, no amount of crime to clout the realities of Budget 2013 will dim the hopes. I see the brightness in the eyes of the young people of this country. I see the smiles on their faces when they realise that they could take a mortgage and they can be able to repay that mortgage and they will be able to have rebate from the interest on that loan that they will be paying. It gives them a reality of staying at home in Guyana, and not only staying at home, but staying at home in their own homes. That is what is very important about Budget 2013.
At the stakeholders meeting yesterday, I also listened at the representative of the small business community. This is a very important segment of society. Sometimes we hear about the big businesses and we have some of our colleagues who particularly think that only the big names are the people who really matter in business, but they are thousands of small businesses in this country which employed two, three, five and six persons who run a cottage industry and they are very excited about Budget 2013.
Listen to what is in Budget 2013 for small businesses, Mr. Speaker.
The Small Business Development Fund will be fully operationalised through the Collateral Guarantee, the Interest Subsidy and Low Carbon Grant Schemes at a cost $370 million, thereby increasing small business access to financing. Over 100 training sessions on business management, agro processing, food handling, packaging, labeling, marketing and information technology are scheduled for this year targeting 1,000 business owners.
It is wealth creation, the enabling environment - not just only doling aid, but providing opportunities.
When we were a Highly Poor Indebt Country (HPIC), aid was on the minds of the people, but this PPP/C Government has created the financial architecture to give people hope for the realising of their dreams and what people are asking for is not more aid but it is opportunities and that is what this administration has responded to when it crafted and produced Budget 2013.
The Amerindians, our indigenous people, welcome Budget 2013. I sat in the stakeholders meeting and I listened to the elected representatives of the Amerindian communities coming through the National Toshaos Councils. It is not assumed representatives; it is the elected representatives of the people. I listened to their views. Five hundred million dollar is being made available to Amerindian communities to have access to Information Communications Technology (ICT) in every Amerindian village in this country. We are doling out that. I am sure that the Hon. Minister of Amerindian Affairs will be speaking about this in her presentation, Sir, but let tell you why this is important. I have had the opportunity of going wide and far across this country, not only since I am a Minister, but in my previous live, both as a Minister of Religion and as Chairman of the Ethic Relations Commission, and I heard and saw the dreams and the desires of our children in the interior. They wanted to do their School Based Assessment (SBAs), just as my daughter and my son in Georgetown. They wanted to be able to have access to the internet so that they could get grade ones and distinctions at Caribbean Secondary Examination Council (CSEC) and be able to do Caribbean Advance Proficiency Examination (CAPE). It is because they did not have access to that world of possibility of research and studies many of them could not really do what they wanted to do.
This ICT programme, an e-Governance, which the Government is talking about and it has started to finance since Budget 2012 and there is provision again in Budget 2013 to ensure that there is connectivity from Crabwood Creek to Charity with the various stations, which are being installed, to give internet access to the ninety thousand families that will receive laptops through the Government One Laptop Per Family programme, is to ensure equal opportunity and equal access to all of our children, whether they live on the coast, whether they live in the city or they live in the hinterland. Budget 2013 assures such work.
Guyana is going somewhere; it is going in the right direction. Guyana is moving forward; Guyana is being transformed. Last year, in my budget presentation, I indicated that we are not where we want to be, but certainly we are not where we used to be. Guyana has advanced. I understand my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. In politics, as it is, they have to be able to criticise. Politics, as it is, they have to be able to oppose and seek to provide alternatives and present themselves as the people who could form the alternative government. But I think, at the bottom of the heart of all of my colleagues on the other side, they have to admit that Guyana has moved on. We are moving forward and Budget 2013 provides another opportunity to accelerate Guyana’s growth and development.
Those transformational projects, which we are talking about, in this country, are not just things that are wishful thoughts and dreams. The Amaila Falls Hydroelectric programme is coming closer to becoming a reality, Sir, where this country will be provided with cheaper, reliable and renewal forms of electricity. We are working towards that. Provision is made in Budget 2013 to realise that dream. Every Guyanese… It is not just what I heard that caused some concern, because, maybe, I have to respond to this and describe for the nation who are the cronies that the Members of the Opposition are talking about. When the Amaila Falls Hydroelectric programme is in place, the cronies, who will benefit, are all seven hundred and fifty thousand plus Guyanese who live in Guyana. They will have reliable, renewable and cheaper forms of electricity. That means, manufacturing. The manufacturing sector of this country will get a boost - a shot in the arm. Things will be able to be manufactured in this country at a cheaper rate. Mr. Speaker, because of the cost of electricity, right now, it is cheaper for the imported soft drink, which is manufactured in another country, to come into Guyana and compete with local soft drinks. [Mr. Nagamootoo: Amaila will change that.] Amaila will change that, and that is why we are supporting it.
The expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, the extension of the runaway, yesterday at the stakeholders’ meeting they commended this project. I am pleased to say that one of the things they raised yesterday…, and these are the views of the people of Guyana. They said these projects are very important projects but they have a concern, and perhaps we on this side of the House must take responsibility for that. We have not done enough in giving out the necessary information to get the buying of all Guyanese, because these programmes are not just for cronies and friends. these are things that will benefit every single Guyanese. The PPP/C Government has provided visionary leadership. We have engineered through strategic action, I would call it, a self-fuelling blaze. A fire that is not quenched and it is evident in every community.
When roads are built and electricity are put in, look at what happens after - little cottages turn into mansions. That is what happens [Mr. Nagamootoo: Pradoville.] That is one example, but you can go through the length and breadth of Guyana, it is happening. Mr. Speaker, when schools are built, what do you see happening? The private sector is coming on board and it is opening businesses in the same areas where schools are built. When the infrastructures are provided, and the enabling environment, people get hope and they start investing. They invest, first of all, in themselves; they take on a sense of pride; national dignity is showed forth and people are moving in a direction of a progressive Guyana. That is what we are seeing here Budget 2013.
I heard a term. It is not mine and I will not take glory for something that is not mine. The term that is being coined is “negaholics”. People who spent time focusing on negative things - prophets of doom! Mr. Speaker, I am sure that it is quite gratifying to the Minister of Finance, my colleague, that even with all of the negaholics, who are bounded in the society, not one of them has been able to come out and find an objective criticism of Budget 2013 because it is something that provides hopes for the Guyanese people. Mr. Speaker, our public sector…[Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: I googled it. I found it. One minute Bishop. Could we settle down please so that I could hear?
Bishop Edghill: Thank you for your protection, Mr. Speaker. I started my career as a young evangelist on the streets preaching in very hostile environments, so I am accustomed to speaking in hostile environment. When we talk about our public sector investment programme… I heard Members of this honourable House saying that this budget is big on projects and on infrastructure and short on people. I want to remind us that when schools are built it is who they are built for. It is not for sheep and goats. There are people who attended those schools. When roads and bridges are built, they are for the people. When drugs are procured and put in our health centres, they are for the people. When we ensure that we open up five thousand more acres of land at Aurora in Region 2, who we are thinking about? It is the people. It is three hundred families. When the process is gone through of ensuring those young, bright, intelligent young people get their house lots in the properly process and they walked away from the one-stop-shop smiling with their titles in their hands. Do you know what we are talking about, Mr. Speaker? It is people. When $1.9 billion is spent to improve waste disposal in the city and to ensure that our sanitation is taken care of, when over $1billion is provided to Linden to ensure pure water supply and proper maintenance and distribution, we are not doing this for contractors; we are doing this for people. That is what the PPP/C presents, Sir. We are dealing here with people. I want to assure this nation, through you, Mr. Speaker, that the PPP/C Government, every day, works for the betterment of the people of Guyana. That is what it does.
I do not want to bore this honourable House but the public sector investment…
When we talk about revamping the Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency it is because we recognise that… Whilst we are hearing about people not having jobs, we are hearing from the private sector that it is not finding people to work so we want to be able have a central clearing house. Just yesterday, the private sector indicated, when it applauded Budget 2013 about Government’s skills training programme, that it needs many skilled and semi-skilled workers in which it is not getting. As a matter of fact, a leading light from the private sector said, Sir, that Caterpillar, which is sold a lot, of the heavy- duty equipment in Guyana, that it is prepared to train people free in the use of that equipment and it is not getting people to come forward.
I have before me today’s newspaper, Thursday, the 4th of April, and I choose Stabroek News, because it is in other editions as well, Bai Shan Lin is advertising for one hundred and sixty-two persons. There are jobs for the people. This is what we are doing, creating the environment. Listen to the jobs - bulldozer operators. The Hon. Member, is from Regions 7 and 8, I am sure, can tell this House that bulldozer and excavator operators are now making up to a half of a million dollars in the gold mining industry per month. The contractors on the coast, who I interact with for from my desk, because it is my responsibility, said that many of their projects are falling behind because they cannot find operators for heavy-duty equipment. We are hearing “No jobs, no jobs”. Do you know what we have done, Mr. Speaker? Government is moving from training one thousand seven hundred at the Board of Industrial Training to two thousand five hundred this year. We have it in Budget 2013. That is what we are talking about.
When the Government made provision to the University of Guyana with an initial sum of $50 million to create online education, it is a start of ensuring that our children who are from the far- flung areas, who cannot come to Georgetown, rent an apartment in Cummings Lodge or Industry, who cannot give up their lives where they are to come to Georgetown to study, from the Essequibo and our people who travel from Linden every day and go back home to attend the University, could have the same education available to them in their own home. It is the people we are talking about.
Life is not just about education. Life also encounters entertainment, sports and recreation and this Government recognises that. That is why this year there is an allotment of $1 billion to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport to ensure that our young people have access to sports of all kinds and descriptions. The day in Guyana when certain sports were for the middle class is long gone. There is a public squash court now, Sir. That is what the PPP/C Government does. Sir, we break down walls and we build bridges, giving people equal access and equal opportunity.
I have heard a lot being said in this House about corruption - Corruption! Corruption! Corruption! Corruption! It seems to be the mantra of some Members…[Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, is it we are discussing squash or finance and people? There is a debate as to where the squash courts are. You better settle it before…
Bishop Edghill: Mr. Speaker, I have since moved on.
Mr. Speaker: Move on please. Thank you.
Bishop Edghill: I have started to speak about public accountability and transparency.
Mr. Speaker: Well, try and take the others with you as you move on.
Bishop Edghill: Public accountability and transparency: I would like the nation of Guyana to know that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government views corruption as something that must be abhorred. For us, it is repugnant. It is something that must be vehemently resisted. It is within that context that we have put measures in place. One, among our Members of Parliament and Cabinet, we have a code of conduct and a code of ethics.
At the Ministry of Finance, we have moved forward and we have now established what is called an Internal Audit Division. There have been significant legislative reforms over the past years, aimed at strengthening Guyana’s public financial management system processes and institutions.
During 2003 and 2004, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, the Procurement Act and the Audit Act along with their accompanying regulations were passed. Accordingly, Section 29 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) of 2003 provides for the establishment of an internal audit function, which is a key aspect of good governance by ensuring accountability, transparency in public institutions, and checking on the adequacy and reliability of accounting and managerial control systems within Ministries, departments and so on. At the Ministry of Finance, we have established that internal audit division which is staffed by an audit manager with four audit supervisors and nine auditors. It would be interesting to know that there is a permanent presence of the Auditor General’s Office at the Ministry of Finance. The Auditor General is not just checking after the fact; while the transaction is taking place, the Auditor General is present along with an internal audit section.
Procurement: Transparency, efficiency, economy, accountability and fairness are important elements. Every day we hear about these things in the public spaces. The National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) insists on the use of open tendering. As a matter of fact, I can stand and report to this National Assembly that 80 per cent of all funding that comes from the public treasury for projects, open tendering is the method that is used for procurement – 80 per cent! The country needs to know that.
We are strengthening this. Last year, 2012, we hosted a forum to strengthen public procurement. We invited all the Permanent Secretaries, the Regional Executive Officers, the Ministerial Tender Board representatives, the district Tender Board representatives, the Tender Board officers from the NDCs and the evaluators, and we worked with them to ensure strict compliance to ensure that systems are followed. Right on the heels of that, Sir, do you know what we did? We invited almost 450 contractors, consultants, engineers, and people who bid for public projects, who provide goods and services, and educated them on the public procurement system and of their rights as it relates to the law. We believe that when people are properly informed, it helps the system to be more open. They will know that if they are not treated fairly, they can make appeals. They have been provided with standard bidding documents. They have been assured of objective criteria when projects are being evaluated. It is not subject to subjectivity; it is objective evaluation to be carried out in this nation.
I am not going to stand here and paint a picture that everything is 100 per cent perfect but what I want to assure this National Assembly is that the Administration is providing the architecture, the framework to ensure that the systems work in keeping with the law. People work the systems. If every time a contractor or a bidder does not get a contract, we have politicians and lobbyists splashing the front pages of the newspapers saying ‘corruption’ without providing the evidence, then we have a problem in Guyana because that is a form of corruption! That is a form of corruption! Mr. Speaker, I use this debate tonight to cry out to this nation to let fairness, objectivity, transparency and public accountability be the order of the day in all of our dealings. That is the assurance that the PPP/Civic brings to this debate.
Proverbs 18:13 inspires us by saying, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” How could you answer a matter before you hear it? How could you judge before you have all the facts? How could you pronounce on a budget before it is read? How could you indicate your actions before you know what the measures are? This is a matter for consideration according to Proverbs 18:13, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”
While some of my colleagues are interested in the Proverbs, I will probably offer another one. Proverbs 26:27 says, “He that diggeth a pit shall fall therein and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.” Be careful with the pits that you are digging and be careful with the stones that you are pushing at other people. It is something that you might want to consider.
We are hearing a lot about the issue of old age pension. I have addressed this matter before. I would like to put on public record that the old age pension is a non-contributory pension. It is something that all Guyanese get. Out of the 42,000 Guyanese that will benefit from the $12,500 that is proposed in Budget 2013, about one per cent of that amount would probably not need the pension. They would be the people like the Hon. Members who sit on that side who are of pensionable age, some of our more influential people in society.
We have noticed that since we would have raised the pension to now $10,000, the list of persons enlisted for pension is expanding. Even the man who is making $1 million is still collecting his pension now.
The pension is not the only thing that somebody who would have achieved the age of 65 would live on. If that pensioner was a school teacher, a military officer, a police officer or somebody who worked in the public service, he or she would have already been getting a Government pension. The minimum Government pension today is $18,883 per month. If the pensioner would have contributed to the NIS, which I hope that every responsible Guyanese would do, he or she will get, even if it is the minimum pension from NIS, $18,829. When one adds the Government pension with the NIS pension and the old age pension plus the subsidies that the pensioners are getting in finances, cash in their hands at the end of every month, it is a minimum of $50,162. That is what one of our young people is working for in Guyana today. It might not be all that they should be getting, but a young man at 22 years or 23 years is probably earning $50,000 and making a living, applying for his house lot and quarrelling with the Ministry of Housing and Water that it is taking too long. He wants it quicker. People are impatient when it comes to development; they want development to happen all the time.
Do not let us paint this issue that the old age pension has old people bad after all. May I say this, Mr. Speaker, and we all in this honourable House know it, many of the people who are getting pension are even still employed. They are employed and earning while they are getting this pension. Do you know what? They deserve that and they deserve more.
What we, at the Ministry of Finance, are seeking to do is, when we are finished analysing the performance of the country and we look at the fiscal space that is available to us, implement measures to ensure that they are sustainable. We must be responsible, and that is what we are doing. We are not going out there just trying to capture the imagination of the people. We are doing what is right, what is rational and what is responsible. That is what this PPP/C Government is doing.
Guyana Revenue Authority: We are continuing to work with the Guyana Revenue Authority to ensure that it performs to its maximum. A number of serious interventions have been made. I would like to speak about one. Just yesterday the members of the Shipping Association of Guyana made a passionate appeal to the Minister of Finance and the President for us to be able to dredge the Demerara River because they indicated that containerised shipping is on an increase. Over 85 per cent of all the exports that leave Guyana leave through that port. We have put in place the container scanner where thousands of containers are being scanned, and we are now moving to a mobile container scanner to ensure greater efficiency.
Monitoring and Evaluation: While we make investment in the public sector and while we spend moneys in various areas, it is not just about spending; it is about impact, and it is about outcomes. It is about ensuring that objectives are met. We have trained over 250 public officials of the highest levels across the Ministries and departments in the art; we have provided them with the tool for effective monitoring and evaluation and we are continuing to do that.
The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, which you will discover from the Budget, attracts the largest allocations. Those two Ministries are being used as pilots to ensure that we institutionalise, in our Government system, monitoring and evaluation. We are ensuring that the people of Guyana get value for money.
I would like to close my presentation by indicating to this honourable House that this Budget that is presented before us, Budget 2013, which I now hold, entitled, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana... We are better together. We might be doing well as a country. We might be growing at an average of five per cent but I would like to challenge every Member of this House that if we had done it together, we would have seen growth in this country that would have been over five per cent. We must do it together. We must ensure that the image of Guyana is preserved across the world by the way we behave and by the things we say, and we must inspire our young people.
I would like to make an appeal that, while we seek to find reasons to cloud the minds of the Guyanese people, we still have a conscience to live with; we still have a heart and a soul. I am sure every one of us who held in our hands...and who have listened to the three hours plus presentation of the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, was shivering in our boots, thinking what we will tell our people when we get out there. This is not a Budget that you can appose. This is a Budget that you have to support! The only people that would not support Budget 2013 are the people who, for political purposes, cannot come out publicly and say, ‘Dr. Ashni Singh, you have done a good job.’
Mr. Speaker, I commend Budget 2013 to this House and call upon all the Hon. Members to be magnanimous, to rise above the pettiness, to rise above petty politics, to rise above self-interest and to rise above whatever would have affected them last year and ensure that we pass Budget 2013.
Thank you very much. [Applause]