Approval of Government’s Policy in President’s Address2091 15 Mar, 2012
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, I rise to support the motion, endorsing the President’s speech at the opening of the 10th Parliament. I do so by first of all referring to page 11 of his speech, which states, “My entire political career was shaped within a political party that have always been grounded within the working class and I would do all that is possible to enhance the skills and capacity of the working people so that they would be able to enhance their earning power. I intend to ensure that workers in Guyana are not left on the sidelines of development. Herein lies the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of the Ramotar’s administration. As if this was not sufficient, if we turn to page 16 of the speech, he said, “Today we are on an open path. I believe that we are at the threshold of a rapid development that can take us to great heights.” If you are looking for vision, I humbly submit that this is the vision we should seek after as a nation, taking our country on a trajectory, the rapid take off and developments that can take us to great heights. It reminds me of one of our national songs, “Onwards upwards may we ever go, day by day in strength and beauty grows.”
I believe that these two paragraphs in the President’s speech are what underpin the direction in which our country must go. I was somewhat pained when I read subsequent to the President’s speech, reported in the Stabroek News, Sunday February 12th, 2012, in an interview given by Dr. Rupert Roopnarine where he said that the speech was disappointing and that it did not provide a vision. He went on to say that he did not hear a legislative programme or a vision for the future in the President’s speech and that are some evidence that the PPP does not seem ready to accept the new reality. It may be late to respond to a dated statement as of today, but since we are debating the President’s speech, the relevance of these remarks by Dr. Roopnarine is relevant in the context of this speech. I disagree with what was said, because I would show later on in this presentation where the legislative agenda or the legislative programme as well as the vision for the future manifest itself in the President’s speech.
There is much talk about a new reality. One of the buzz words around the country now is this question of a new dispensation. I think a lot of persons talk about a new dispensation, a new reality, without fully understanding the profoundness of this statement. I wish to submit that the history of the People’s Progressive Party and subsequently the People’s Progressive Party Civic, is a history of interpreting and grappling with new realities. Ever since the foundation of the People’s Progressive Party with new challenges that were thrown up, the party with its ascension to Government 1957-1964 was able to grapple with these new challenges and still remain a party that has the largest number of seats in this National Assembly since its formation in 1957.
Many have sought to destroy this party. Many have sought to destabilise Governments of the PPP ever since its formation, but the bedrock of the People’s Progressive Party, as the President said, is the working class and the working people of this country. They have never, and I seek to emphasise, they have never abandoned or let go of the People’s Progressive Party.
When we speak about comprise and new realities, you have to look at the history of the PPP; we have to look at Governments formed by the PPP and you have to look at the PPP today as we speak. When we speak about consensus and compromise, the history of the PPP is one of consensus and compromise. There is no way that any objective historian could speak about compromise and consensus, could speak about new realities and new dispensations without making reference to the party which has the majority of seats on this side of the House.
The President in his speech made the link between development and security and in making that link he struck a familiar cord in respect of improving constantly the well-being of the working people of this country. He recognised the importance of maintaining the peace and good order in society and that of development. The President in his speech recognised and demonstrated the inextricable link between development and security; between peace and development. If a nation is not at peace with itself, if a nation is not characterised by peace and good order, development will be a challenge or will be so illusionary that it will be difficult to accomplish.
When we look at other countries of the world and we need from time to time to cast our minds beyond the shores of Guyana and to make the challenges, which so many developing countries such as ours are facing. In Africa, Asia, even in Europe, the emerging economies and the more developed countries are facing challenges that they never imagined they would ever face, but the fact of the matter is that in Guyana we continue to grow. The President did recognise that growth and development must go hand in hand and not to the disadvantage of the security of our nation.
Moreover, we were told to guard against having growth without development. This is a lesson which many developing countries have learnt over the years. I think it was Mr. Wilfred David, a famous economist, who worked many years ago in Guyana, who warned against growth without development. Even though everyone in the Opposition in those days took heed of that warning, so that when we drew up our developmental plan while in the Opposition, it was reflected in so many of our manifestos and our programmatic platforms as well. We were careful to ensure that growth and development took place with people at the centre of development.
For us development... and when we speak of development we did not speak about bridle, capitalist development, we spoke of development in the human phase; development that is characterised by people being at the centre of this developmental model. A development that might appear to be difficult to achieve, but we all know that development is not an overnight process and for it to be accomplish a nation must be at work, there must be common objectives and perspectives. Many persons will ask: why is it that Guyana is lagging so far behind compared to Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and some of these other countries in the Region? The answer is quite simple, because those countries did not go through the experimentations that Guyana went through, in its search for true economic and social development. Those countries were consistent with the philosophical approach to development. All the political parties in those countries were united in respect to the path for development of the country, there was no flip flopping; there was no wide divergence of peace in respect to what should be the trust of the developmental policy of those countries. Regrettably we have experiments in this country, political, social and economic experiments, which put us many years backwards. We are now seeking to remove those factors and those impediments that held us back. I believe that the speech of the President makes a contribution to moving in that direction.
Fortunately for us today there is no ideological debate about the direction in which the country must go. There is no philosophical debate with respect to the political economy of the country; there is no debate with respect to the model of economic development. I think notwithstanding the differences among the political parties in the country by many of the stakeholders in respect of the approaches, the overarching consideration to my mind, is one of unanimity and the speech of the President must be seen as contributing to trodding that pathway so that at the end, the achievement must be improving the well-being of our people.
It is our people, by any stretch of the imagination; it is the people of Guyana that must drive development for our country. That is why a forum as the stakeholder’s forum, which was recently convened by the President in order to share with these stakeholders, who do not have a seat in the National Assembly; who do not have a voice in this National Assembly, but has influence in the society. The President saw it as important to convene this meeting of these stakeholders and to share with them his vision for the future development of our country. This developmental path that runs as a common thread in the speeches or the speech of the President seems to me must also take place at the grassroots level. It is not simply an academic exercise; it is not an exercise of whose is the brightest and who knows best. This is not a question of who is going to win the debate tonight. This is a question of life and death of our people, this a question of development taking root at the grassroots level so that every Guyanese, every man, woman and child and student whether they are at the waterfront, in the cane fields, the rice fields, in the universities or where ever, we recognise in the speech of the President that they are making a contribution to the development of this country’s future. We must recognise them for that, “there is no harlot high or no harlot low”, as Balzac would say in his novel.
The social and economic development of our country must without exception bring benefits to every single Guyanese. Critical to this pathway of development is encouragement of foreign and local investments. The partnership with the private sector, the captains of industry is very critical to the development of this country. The active and aggressive pursuit of foreign investors to participate in the new economy, the new sector - the growing sectors – which has been so often adumbrated by Ministers of Government, outside the Parliament and inside the Parliament, it is in these sectors that we are seeking to attract investors. The Government of Mr. Ramotar, the President, had the vision to see the need to harmonise the natural resources and environmental sectors by creating a new Ministry of the environment of natural resources.
This, Mr. Speaker, is a strategic move. We must see it not just as the creation of another Ministry or the creation of another bureaucracy. We must see it as a strategic move on the pathway leading to a more rapid and coherent development of our country.
The foreign and local investments which the President touched upon in his speech must be consummated in the overall developmental policies of the Government of President Ramotar. We recognise, as has been done in the speech, that there has to be a comfort level for the foreign and local investors. That comfort level must be a secure and safe environment for them to come and invest their resources, to bring expatriate labour and that is precisely why we took the decision to liberalise our immigration policy to allow foreign labour which we so badly need given the accelerated development of some sectors such as the construction sector, the mining sector. We have opened new vistas in order to accelerate the development of our country.
This is not a time for walking around this country and complaining that, this or that is not happening. Gone are the days when we should be complainers; it is one of the most freely traded commodity that has no v.a.t. We are not going to get anywhere by complaining. The nations abroad, foreign investors abroad, are not interested in complaints. What they are interested in is what you are prepared to provide to them to encourage them to come to invest. In other words they want you to, rather than sitting, doing nothing but complaining, do something. What is this something? The something you must do is: “When the going gets tough the tough get going.”
That is the comfort level that is required by investors foreign and local in our country, and to achieve this comfort level the fight against crime must be fought on all fronts. In the President’s speech he gave certain directions as to how this fight must be conducted. Whether it takes the form of piracy, gang-related crimes, domestic violence, drug related or white-collar crimes, money laundering activities, we have to maintain a consistent, no-nonsense approach to these matters. As a matter of policy I think the law enforcement agencies are very clear to what the policies of the Government are, generally speaking with respect to the fight against crime or any one of the manifestations of crime.
The President pointed out in his speech that Guyana cannot do this alone. Transnational organised crime affects Guyana. The global fight against narcotics affects Guyana. There is a market of approximately $80 billion with respect to drugs worldwide. I think that it is recognised by any 5th form student that we need to have and to promote international cooperation to fight these scourges in the world and in our society and we have to begin, first and foremost, in our own homes – meaning Guyana. We have to begin, and in circumstances where we have started we have to continue aggressively down this road. When it comes to cooperation on these matters we have to being with our immediate neighbours – countries within the CARICOM, Brazil, Venezuela, Suriname, not forgetting the Atlantic Ocean which some people think is not a neighbour but which is used by the narco-traffickers, by the gun smugglers, by the pirates…
Mr. Speaker, the President made reference in his speech that in the conduct of this struggle we need to work with our traditional partners and the donor community. As I stand here I can say and report to this Hon. House that the President has already taken a number of initiatives in this direction with the British, the United States and, soon to come, with the Canadians. I think that Guyana stands to benefit from those engagements and what was decided as a result of those engagements.
The President in his speech made reference to projects which were started by his predecessor in the context of continuity. At a subsequent speech not so long ago at Babu John, I think he made his position clearer on these matters. As a Guyanese and as someone who has been in the vineyard for some time it seems to me that nowadays reference is made to the Jagdeo Administration and projects that we consummated during that administration; some people get the jitters. It seems to them as though it is anathema to speak about the Jagdeo Administration and projects that were started in those days but we have no reason, none what so ever, to distance ourselves from the Jagdeo Administration. We have no reason whatsoever to distance ourselves because it is the same PPP/Civic that is sitting over here. We have no reason to distance ourselves from the projects initiated by the Jagdeo Administration. Why should we, to please whom? The people of Guyana, having been aware and are more conscious of these projects, I think have an appreciation of what hydro-electricity, exploration of hydrocarbons, a new airport, expansion of the tourisms sector infrastructure and the four-lane highways on the East Coast and the East Bank mean for this country. Let us not with due respect, fool ourselves and bury our heads in the sand believing that because we follow a particular political persuasion the people, when they sit by themselves and with their families and begin to, as they say in local jargon, “suss tings out” they do not recognise that when hydro-electricity comes to this nation that they are going to be the beneficiaries; when hydro-carbon development and exploration come to this country the people are going to be the beneficiaries of these projects.
Irrespective of who is PPP, APNU or WPA, if people are guided by their economic interests it does not matter. That only surfaces at political party rallies at election time when we seek to stir them up to make them vote for us according to party political lines but I am telling you that when the elections are over “yuh got to start tinking ‘bout the people belly”! You have to start thinking about the stomachs! Economic and social development projects are what will make people react in a positive direction because they know that they will eventually benefit from these projects.
I want to conclude by saying to this House, Mr. Speaker, if there is one person on this side of the House… If there is one individual on this side of the House who knows about the Hon. Member Moses Nagamootoo I believe it is yours truly – chapter and verse.
Mr Speaker, I do not want, to end up in a slugging competition between individuals in this House. But as the Hon. Member spoke I asked myself “What manner of man is this?” I do not want to sound personal but if you want to find someone whose ego is bigger than Manhattan, he was in your camp.
I want to give some free advice to my AFC friends over there. Do you know Francisco Slinger? Slinger Francisco sang a song called “Snake in the Balisier”. He did not end there; he did not only say “Snake in the Balisier” – balisier is a flower that is the emblem of the PNM (People’s National Movement). He went further. He did not only sing “snake in the balisier”. He said: “snake in the balisier and they bightin’ haaad…” He went further, “snake in the balisier and they bightin’ haaad, a sorry fu’ Trinidad.” Let us put that in the context of the “Nagamootoo Phenomena” and the AFC. Thank God it is not with the APNU. I congratulate you for dumping him and not giving him the Speakership. You consider that a blessing in disguise. Mr. Granger is a very strategic thinker and he knows something called “psyops”…
Mr. Speaker, we were virtually entertained about some of the issues that bother the AFC with respect to this speech. I do not want to carry this House through memory lane we can do that at some other forum, but when one talks about corruption – because I heard the Member speak ad nauseam about corruption – the first act of corruption that was committed was when the Hon. Member sought to dupe the leadership and the followers of the PPP into believing that he was the chosen one after Dr. Jagan died.
I respect your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I simply want to say… [Ms. Ally: Withdraw] There is nothing to withdraw here. I sought to put my argument on my view of corruption in a context. I sought to contextualise it and I started out by saying that I did not want this to end up in a slugging competition in this House nor to personalise something, but to accuse the Government of being corrupt, as many have sought to do… I think it is only just for those of us who speak on this side of the House to defend the Government policies, to see the Government as engaging in best practices and to say that the Government is open for scrutiny. I made the promise the last sitting when the Hon. Member Mrs. Backer, who was seated there at the time, said that we on this side of the House make a lot of promises that we will provide information that we said we will provide. I provided some information and I want to say in the end, when we speak about transparency and accountability… We can also speak about transparency and accountability. We are not afraid of transparency and accountability. We are never afraid of transparency and accountability. We have nothing to hide but people are free to make accusations of any nature at any level because, after all, this is a democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to conclude by stating that… [Ms. Ally: Why did you say that about Ramnarine?] Mr. Ramnarine signed a cheque that is going to appear in the papers tomorrow. In the same way, Mr. Speaker, I think, an honourable gentleman from Linden came and did not sign a cheque for a house lot and then eventually the cheque was revealed.
I wish to thank you for your indulgence and I would like to say that the speech of the President, I believe, provides us with a pathway, makes a contribution to the general debate. I do not considerate a thrown speech. I consider it a speech that makes a contribution to a debate that will continue for a very long time in our country about the direction in which this country must go. Each political party would have its own vision for Guyana; the President shared his vision, his Government’s vision, his party’s vision with this National Assembly and I believe that the Hon. House should do the honour of endorsing the President’s speech as the speech for the day to take Guyana forward. Thank you very much.
Mr. Rohee: I will be very brief on this.
Mr. Speaker, the justification the Hon. Member used to associate a Minister or a Ministry with trunkers is that it is out there in the public domain. So anything that is out there in the public domain could migrate to the National Assembly and be elevated to a truth, and a fact. But what is also out there in the public domain, which I think, for the sake of balance which the Member seems to be attracted to quite a lot, is a statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs disassociating itself … [Interruption from Opposition Members] You know about that and that is why you are referring to it … from an inference by a letter writer that the Ministry of Home Affairs hired trunkers to engage in activities of an illegal nature. We issued a statement disassociating the Ministry from that position.
So I think for the purpose of balance, Mr. Speaker, apart from saying that it is outside in the public domain, it is also necessary for you to say, which you know, that a statement was issued disassociating the Ministry from that position. [Mrs. Backer: How you know he knows that?] I know he knows that.
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