Approval of Government’s Policy in President’s Address2488 15 Mar, 2012
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I rise to address the presentation by His Excellency Mr. Donald Ramotar. Unfortunately, in spite of the preceding contributions that we have been privileged to have listen to tonight I cannot bring myself to embrace the invocation of Prime Minister Hinds to express thanks and appreciation for the speech and its contents. Minister Benn informed us a little while ago that the President is the first complete Guyanese; well, if that is true, I can certainly commend him for that. I do believe him to be a very personable politician who has a sense of decorum; a sense of decorum which his predecessor lacked but I do not think that it would be prudent for us to dwell on that aspect of the debate too seriously.
The characteristic of niceness does not prevent the President from demonstrating, what I call, the “PPP disease” – namely, rewriting history to show that nothing of value occurred before the PPP came into office and we see that at the beginning of the statement in terms of reference to single-handedly bring Guyana to the point where it is poised for rapid takeoff. Whilst we are talking about being poised for rapid takeoff, if one looks at recent reports by the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) – one of our major financiers – and by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) one will see that many of them focus upon trying to define why growth in Guyana has stalled after 1998. I one had a look at the works one would see all of them address that problem. I am not going to waste time by mentioning the reason. The point I want to make is to some extent, in this presentation, something of a flight from reality. It also is significant that in the presentation of this report one finds that the last section is devoted to the history of Guyana. Normally one begins with that part and then gives a vision of the future and I think we had hoped that that is what the presentation would have perhaps offered to us. So if there have been criticisms as the Hon. Member on the other side has mentioned pertaining to a lack of vision there is good reason for coming to that conclusion.
We are in this 10th session of Parliament faced with new imperatives. I think that that has been said so many times that it is perhaps unnecessary to repeat it but I think it is perhaps important for me to try to say a little bit about what it should mean for this House, especially as regards these programmes. I heard a lot of things said about the programmes that the President mentioned, but there is a difference in the way that those programmes can be treated and viewed in the light of the configuration of this House.
The powers of the Government have, in effect, been circumscribed by the arithmetic of this House as far as legislation is concerned and in the context of the frequent complaining by the PPP that the Government is being prevented from doing its job it is laughable. In effect what is being said is that they are being prevented from doing what they wish which is a different point. There can be no more politics as usual. I think that should be obvious and it is not evident that the statement by the President captures fully an understanding in that regard.
In the past, for example, the recommendations of the Auditor General, the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee have simply been ignored by a majority configured on the other side. There is a new situation now and that has to change; they have been routinely ignored, decisions of the courts have even been ignored similarly and a number of abuses of this kind have been perpetrated on the Guyanese public and that behaviour – and it is apt that the distinguished AG has just entered… I am reminded of this particular issue when we looked at a certain argument he put forward in a note to us talking about convention of this House. A convention is crafted in a certain context; precedence is crafted in a certain context. The fact that something has been done in the past does not make it justifiable, defensible or acceptable and that is what I think needs to be understood.
You cannot argue for convention if the convention has been that the Government routinely breaks its own laws, and we have seen that. Therefore this the ideology underlying the complaint which was captured in the President’s statement, in which there is this underlying undercurrent that the Government is being prevented from doing its job really needs to be understood in the context of patterns of behaviour that have been perpetrated in the past and that can no longer be acceptable if a government itself does not have a majority.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will agree with me that trying to bring such patterns of behaviour to an end is not an indictment on the Opposition, neither is it an acceptable basis for an attack intended for this side of the House.
It has been said that, in his presentation, the President was trying to set out some map of where it is we are going. It is true; it was admitted, and I again refer to the distinguished Minister of Home Affairs, that it did not offer us a list of legislation to be enacted in the coming period. The concern is not the absence of legislation; it is the absence of integrated policies - policies related to one another that enable us to understand where the Government is going; what it will do and what it would not do. I am reminded, again, of an exchange we had during your absence, Mr. Speaker, when one of the Ministers – I need not embarrass him by mentioning it - was asked to explain a certain line that was being pursued in terms of the acquisition of communication equipment and the content was “well, you know, the business of the Minister is not to deal with policy.” Unfortunately, I think the understanding of every Member in this House is that the responsibility of the Minister is to formulate policy, whether it is in the purchase of equipment, in policies of discrimination, policies of promotion, or what have you. [Interruption] I am sorry. I can understand, Mr. Speaker, that some of our colleagues would not have heard because at times, I think, they probably fell asleep or were speaking to themselves. Consequently, they could not have heard and I have no doubt that we may yet return to that situation. [Ms. Manickchand: Why are you looking at me?] Am I not supposed to look at you? [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether I need your protection at this point in time, but let me just point to something that I missed the last time.
Perhaps, I should tell you something else since we are into the issue of stories arising from the President’s presentation and reflected in the exchanges that we had the other day. I am saying to you that from what I see of the President’s statement there are lots of things that are missing. I think many of us had expected that the statement would outline changes that would be reflected in new lines of policies. I am suggesting that not much has changed. We were presented, at the last sitting, with a Financial Paper, and that Financial Paper had an item. The item arose during a discussion a short while ago. I am just trying to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker. At least one area which the President did not touch on and, in which, the policy, clearly, has not changed from what was going on before.
We were presented with a Paper proposing an additional amount of thirty million dollars, rounded, more or less, for a certain project - I will come back to the project in the end - and moneys had already been provided for that project under a specific label. I am making this point, Mr. Speaker, because I gather from our colleague Minister of Finance that it is proposed that this matter come back here, and I am trying to show to you the practice of abusing office by virtue of having a majority does not seem to have changed although the majority does not lie with the Government. We are able, in the exchanges, to establish that the moneys were there for a specific purpose. One hundred and fifty million dollars was spent for the design and a study associated with the design - it was all spent - and yet we had a request for supplementary. The supplementary was for, according to the note, which is a one-word note, simply “mobilisation.” When we asked, the explanation that was given was that it was for mobilisation, not for the design or for the study. Yet, it is going to be brought back.
Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasise to you a couple of other points arising out of this side of the House, listening to the explanation and refusing to approve that project. A former distinguished Member of this House put an article in the newspaper suggesting that the attack on this item – and I was named – probably arose because Mr. Hamilton Green had mentioned that the hospital was to, in his words, “colonise Guyana.” I am not going to take it any further than that. The important thing is that the explanation that he offered in coming to the Minister’s defence was that this item was for the purchase of land, not mobilisation. It was for the purchase of land. On the one hand, in the House, we were told that it was for one purpose, which purpose actually was not in keeping with the rules and in another breath we were told that it was for the acquisition of land. The only problem with the acquisition of the land story is that the land was compulsorily acquired. Mr. Speaker, I am saying to you that… [Ms. Manickchand: How is this relevant?] It is relevant because the President has addressed the problem of corruption and I regard this as an item pertaining to corruption.
I believe that in one instance, in the President’s statement, he made reference to corruption. I have also made reference in my statement to the fact that he does not seem to be on any path that is any different from that of his predecessor, and I am continuing along that line. That is the context in which I made the comment.
I can acknowledge that in one sense the President has acknowledged or accepted the change in circumstance and he, in that sense, had spoken at some length to the tripartite process which, I believe, refers to a consultative arrangement which many of us try to sell those things as being a useful path for taking us forward. That consultative process, however, is one that has yet to be exploited. A number of processes have been put in train, but the truth is that it is a typical case of whether “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”, because we have yet to see evidence that there is… [Mr. Benn: …inaudible] I was party to one of the discussions. That is why I can speak authoritatively on this issue. Thank you very much. What I am saying is that the point to note is that it is cheap and easy to speak to principles. The test is one of putting in place the measures that actually lead to decisions and we have yet to arrive at that point on any of the issues in that regard. In this regard, I would have thought that the President might have looked at, with a view to committing himself, to the communiqué that had been signed by his predecessor and Mr. Corbin in 2003 which sought to pull together a number of the issues and principles that most of us believe are germane to the smooth unfolding of decision making within this House and in achieving the goals that I think many of us felt that the electorate cast their votes for.
As regards the specifics of the statement itself, I would add that the most distinctive feature was what was omitted, rather than what was said. The President did not say whether and how his approach would differ from that of his predecessor, I have said that already, especially in relation to areas that loomed large in the election period – areas of discrimination, corruption, lack of decorum and decency in the conduct of public affairs. The election was fought on these issues but we now have to divine from the statement what exactly will be done in relation to achieving these things.
The President omitted to explain, for example, what he was going to do about the scandalous level of vacancies in key constitutional and public offices. There are over a hundred vacancies at the highest level of the public service. They range from the Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Registrar of the Deeds Registry Office, who has been acting since 2000, the Auditor General; there is no Ombudsman, and all of the officials in the Auditor General’s Chambers have been in acting, it appears, since 2004. There are also issues pertaining to the Appellate Tribunal.
The persistent absence of any reference to the Regional Executive Officer in the budget…I hope that would be remedied this year, but there was no reference to it. What I am saying is that for some of these positions, such as the last one I mentioned – the Regional Executive Officer – they are very important because these are posts upon which the Government policies, at the regional level, are to be implemented and we are unable to identify the information informing the recruitment process, the status of the incumbency and of their contract arrangements.
Indeed, I would say that for the public service, in general, we have seen, in the regime of President Jagdeo, an exponential increase – if I may borrow the term from our colleague who seems to have been falling in love with it – in the contract employment and it is cause for worry because it is used as a basis for doing other things which are undesirable.
Judging from the actions, in relation to areas that I mentioned in the context of the communiqué of 2003, nothing much has changed. We still have a situation in which Mr. C.N Sharma is in the courts in a bid to protect his rights as a broadcaster; where Mr. Freddie Kissoon has been fired by a politically appointed and professionally incompetent University of Guyana (UG) Board. In Georgetown and on the Corentyne, although we speak of being a House which is a House of elites, and some say that there is a Government which is a Government of the working class, we find the working class are being shot at for exercising their rights to protest. Those were people who were not rioting; they were protesting and they were shot at, both in Georgetown and on the Corentyne. The instructions given to shoot, when we checked we found out, were given by people who were not part of the Guyana Police Force. We can come to that if the House wants. There has been no inquiry into those shootings as there has been none in relation to the death of Mr. Satyadeow Sawh. That is the reflection of an approach that has not changed from what has been going on before. I am saying that we are in new times and we would have expected and would like to see those changes. The failure to initiate these sorts of inquiries has left us unable to see the full extent of links between the Government, its associates and the criminals, such as Mr. Roger Khan - what links they had with the security apparatus and with the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C). But it has allowed other so-called businessmen to ply their trade by buying into sport. So you can see now the issue that is facing us which the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport is embroiled in, at the moment, is an area that reflects how the trappings that we fail to investigate and curb, in terms of trading, people trafficking, drug trafficking and violence, all now find themselves in an area that we regard as critical to our national standing and our pride and self-confidence. That is the consequence of failing to do these inquiries in the past and of now embracing a system that does not commit us to doing any work in that regard in the future.
As regards the future economic policies, Mr. Speaker, the studies, which I made reference to you, in relation to earlier, identified some of the major causes of the lack of growth post-1998 at the same rate. They speak to issues of inadequate levels of investment. They speak to issues of the flight of skill at all levels out of the country which it seems, in our presentations, we try to ignore; they speak to infrastructural inadequacies, and also to political and social problems in this country.
As regards the President’s statement, the President, himself, only referred to a few of these; and where he referred to them, such as in the case of infrastructure and transport, the studies have identified clearly that one of those bottlenecks, marine infrastructure, remains inadequate and could continue to be an area that we need to pay attention to. The important point I want to make, Mr. Speaker, is not so much whether he covered all of the areas because, in fact, if you look at the investment projects that he identified, whether it is clean energy or whatever, I think, on both sides of the House, you will find that there are support for such projects, in principle. The difficulty that we have, and where we did not know from him, is that in all of the projects that he has embraced, all the ones he mentioned, were projects inherited from his predecessor. All of those projects, every single one of them, Mr. Speaker, I am sure you are aware, is associated with some cloud or irregularity - every single one of them. So much so that today we had to be offered yet another explanation as for why the head of the One Laptop Per Family project has been removed. Another head has been removed. So, it is the airport project, one laptop, desktop projects, Marriot Hotel project and Amalia Falls project - all of these are associated with corrupt and other acts. There needs to be a commitment…The President, himself, has publicly committed himself to looking at some of these. Nothing has been done since. He has admitted. So if you seem to be alarmed to know that some people regard him as corrupt, I am sorry to inform you that the President himself has…
Mr. Speaker, as a matter of routine, although it may appear otherwise, I try to use my words carefully. I am not aware that anyone in here is a project, and therefore what I am saying has nothing to do with whether the individuals in here feel that by association they are smeared. I am not the one who is making that association. I am speaking to the issue of a cloud and queries hanging over every project - every single one of the projects; and that is in the public domain. I am not speaking of allegations; I am speaking of a range of projects in which, in the public domain, there is extensive debates. If the colleagues find that uncomfortable, it is unfortunate; but that is the reality. The problem of infrastructure… [Mr. Nandlall: The Speaker said you have to produce the evidence.] I did not hear that. The problem of infrastructure, as I was saying, is not only one of insufficiency… [Mr. Nandlall: Like you want to be the Leader of the Opposition.] And you want to be Senior Counsel, but it does not stop you from pompazetting and making a lot of noise over there. The problem of infrastructure is not only one of insufficiency but one of inadequacy of the regulatory regimes which have given rise to the lawlessness and caprice that we find in many of the economic areas that we have to live with. Those problems can also be found by way of uneven distribution of services among communities and the absence of acceptable methods for the choice of projects. We seem to be committed to methods of choosing projects that are determined primarily by the cronies of those who are close, or were close, to the former President.
In relation to the public service, there are major systematic challenges that face us throughout the region and as we live through the second decade of this second millennium we find that the level of vacancies is at an all-time high and I made mention of this before, but it is true that the President has, in fact, taken steps to fill some of the top posts, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example. That move has, I think, been welcomed all around, but the point is: What are his intentions?
Today we are overwhelmed by crime in our cities and in our countryside, and Hinterland. At the same time, those who are appointed to defend us are part of what I might call a theatre. I say “theatre”, because, almost in all instances, the senior officials are acting. The Police Chief is acting, as is his deputy. The Commissioner has been acting for over five years and, to crown it all, he has already reached the age of retirement. There is no change in policy where it needs a change. In this specific case, there are other clouds hanging over the officer. The Chief Justice has been acting for an equally long time; the Chancellor of the Judiciary has been acting.
In the presentation by the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, recently, I was heartened to see him announced zero tolerance of corruption, but he is doing this even at a time, as I have contended elsewhere, the instructions he has given, as regards expenditure, seem to be at variance with the law. We find ourselves also in a situation in which there is the Elamadam Enterprises, for example, still seem to be operating and are apparently the beneficiaries of fiscal concessions. What has changed? There are situations in which Ministers are being accused of employing trunkers, apparently to catch other criminals. What is really happening? The Government seems to be in a process of breaking its own law for all sorts of other reasons. There has been, in this presentation, no…
I think the expression is: “I throw my corn, I ain’t call no fowl.”
Mr. Speaker, as you are fully aware, I said that Ministers have been accused of these things and this has been in the public domain. I am not saying something that has not been in the newspapers.
Anyhow, Mr. Speaker, in the presentation…[Interruption]
…I can say that, in turning to the question of foreign policy, the President’s statement did not address this in any meaningful fashion, although he ranged widely over international affairs, developments on the international front, and so forth. I think the challenge of attracting foreign investment, or foreign investment that is deemed desirable and the lamentable state of CARICOM, and of the integration movement, is something that warrants attention by the President himself in a presentation as this one. Right now, before the Heads of CARICOM Government, is a report on the reform of CARICOM. There is a report on the reform of CARICOM which states a lot about the failure of the governments to implement the integration movement. It states a great deal about the need to restructure the secretariat which is based here in Georgetown. Given the President’s statement which made mention of the importance of the traditional partners, and of CARICOM, it is a pity that he did not give us the benefit of his views in relation to this area.
The President also made reference to national achievements in relation to health and education. We have seen, again, in the debate in the public domain, not only concerns about what is happening in these sectors, and what seems to be confusion between infrastructure and policy within these sectors. So, there is a situation in which we seem to be confusing, for example, in relation to the figure sighted for CXC results, the top results with average performance. Is it the average performance that we need to pay attention to than those at the bottom?
It is also the case in relation to health, that in January the Ministry of Health and the Guyana Nurses’ Association seemed to have very radically different views on what is happening in the health sector. In fact, a Mrs. Barkoy called for the Government to halt the nursing programme. That was on 9th January. So these areas need attention, notwithstanding the fact that they are being sold to us by the President as areas of outstanding achievements compared to the rest of the region, and compared to our historical performance.
A recent report, even by the Ministry of Health, in the newspapers, on 9th January, I think, cited the fact that the Ministry had no database of nurses, complained that there was no coordination between the university, the Ministry of Health or the training institutions, and stated that there was little or no manpower planning, which was the reason why the sector was both demoralised and experiencing the exceedingly high rates of migration. This is what I mean when I was speaking about flights to fancy. In other words, we are turning upon what we wish rather that what is the reality. Colleagues need to be aware that if they do not recognise the existence of a problem they are not going to be in a position to fashion policies which will treat with that problem. So the first instance is to recognise its existence and then fashion policies. If they just walk around here, into Hadfield Street and beyond, they will see the difficulties that people face on a daily basis.
One of the most important scourges facing Guyana today is the problem of child abuse. As we meet today, not only does it embroil a prominent member of the Muslim community, but the Government’s behaviour in the event… [Ms. Manickchand: It embroils one of your supporters – a strong supporter.] It does not matter. I am making a point. The Government’s behaviour in the event highlights one of the undercurrents of our time. One, or more key officials, responsible for prosecution is associated with a sleuth of questionable decisions and it is widely believed that these decisions and recommendations are influenced by factors other than the merits of the complaints. I am saying that that needs to be attended to. If the President wants to attend to them, part of the way to attend to them is to deal with the agreement that the former President and the former Leader of the Opposition had agreed to in 2003.
The address, and the complaints about the address, has yet to come to grips with the political realities. We are facing a reality which means we are done with absolute PPP goverance. The last word lies with this Assembly, not elsewhere. The President’s address is silent on too many fronts, but, in the interim, the abuses by his predecessor that led to the loss of the PPP majority continue. The Government still employs ministers, ambassadors and senior police officers – to name but a few – who also have clouds hanging over their performance, and hanging over them. It still… [Mr. Neendkumar:…inaudible] I assume that he knows something about his own colleagues. It still employs, at the taxpayers’ expense, relatives and friends of Ministers with no particular competence and, as part of their arrangements for jobs for the boys, Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) recently paid to Foley and Hoag and Company and Cameron & Shepherd some US$2 million for their work on a copyright infringement against a certain Mr. Bedessee. The important point here is that we have been told that those decisions, those payments, were part of the company’s private business.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you are aware that GuySuCo, itself, is a wholly owned public company, and, judging from the Minister of Finance’s statement in January, its subsidies from which those payments were made came from taxpayers’ money. Therefore the way that the taxpayers’ money is spent we need to know. It cannot be that it is business as usual and one is not being given the information because it is private. What therefore has changed?
Whilst the President is silent on too many issues I am saying too many things remain the same. We would ask, to the extend the President proposes to address us in future, that he tries to capture in that address more of the key issues, however difficult they may turn out to be, because in the absence of well-defined policy on this part we cannot, in good conscience, support the set of policies that a speech as this carries, however affable is the President.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I listened with great attention to the presentation which, first of all, related to the question of the audited accounts. What I want to say to you is that I took office in 1983. In 1983, the last set of audited accounts laid was 1975. The audited accounts were in arrears for a specific reason and that is problems of trying to bring the balance of the external treasuries to establish a balance. So what was done was that the audits were done in batches. In other words, in 1984, the audited accounts for 1975 to 1977 were brought at one time. What I am trying to explain is that the audited accounts were done in batches because one needed to use a starting balance in order to get them done. The point is that by the time I demitted office, the last audit accounts presented were done in 1991 for the year 1985. The first point is that I was in office in 1983. It is, therefore, not accurate to say no accounts were presented during my period in office.
The second thing is because the audited accounts were done in batches. I have the correspondence with me form Mr. Goolsarran himself in which it was recommended that the last batch for the remaining period be done up to 1991. And, as I explained to you, Mr. Speaker, the accounts for that period have subsequently not been processed, but it is not by them not being audited. That is the point.
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