Approval of Government’s Policy in President’s Address2709 15 Mar, 2012
Dr. Singh: The privilege is mine tonight to add my voice in support of the motion moved by the Hon. Prime Minister that this Hon. House thanks His Excellency the President for his inaugural address and that we endorse the policies adumbrated therein. I say it is a privilege for me, so to do, because I do not believe that there is anything, at all, in the broad policy objectives identified in His Excellency’s address, or indeed amongst the specific initiatives named by his Excellency in his address, that any rational or right-minded Guyanese person could disagree with. In fact, I would have liked to think that the objectives outlined are objectives that we could all readily embrace. Indeed, who could disagree with an objective that we work towards the continued development of our country; that we advance the progress in fighting poverty and improving the lives of all our citizens; that we continue to modernise and transform our economy, and facilitate the establishment and growth of new industries so that we have a more diversified productive base; that we promote the creation of jobs and the generation of incomes; that we work towards a more competitive Guyana; that we situate ourselves within a global context that is increasingly, by the day, challenging; that we position ourselves to survive and navigate this global environment in a manner that promotes and protects our national interest; that we work on social programmes that will improve the lives of our people.
Notwithstanding the temptation to engage in partisan politics, as one would do typically before an election, I would shudder to think that we, in this Hon. House, could not come together to embrace objectives such as these, because, surely, if we could not achieve a meeting of minds on objectives such as these, one is left only to wonder on what else we could possibly achieve a meeting of minds on.
So I waited with some anticipation as the Opposition chief spokesperson on finance and the economy commenced his address, really hoping that, as a former Minister of Finance, I would have heard at least some semblance – I hesitate to say some pretence – of magnanimity around these objectives, because, as I said, I am really struggling to comprehend that any right-minded Guyanese person would disagree with these objectives. Instead, we were regaled with irrelevancies, with innuendos, with diversions, deviations, from objectivity and truth. We were treated to a very healthy dose of biased and prejudiced analysis and accounts, and, frankly speaking, an overdose of distortions.
From the very commencement of the presentation made by the speaker, who came immediately before me, we were treated with the most immediate and blatant distortion, and I believe this, and the other distortions, must, for the public record, be corrected. The Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge commenced by making reference to an unnamed Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that spoke of the Guyanese economy stagnating. Notwithstanding that the Hon. Member demitted office some years ago, I would like to think that he was not referring to reports that dated from his tenure, although the assertion he made would certainly be applicable were he referring to his own tenure, because I could only imagine that anybody who has been following recent economic developments in Guyana, and in particular reports issued by international agencies on Guyana’s economic performance, would be aware of the manner in which Guyana has been singled out for its outstanding economic performance of recent years - whether it be the International Monetary Fund acknowledging the robustness and the resilience of the Guyanese economy; it did, and this is in the public domain; whether it be Heads of our sister CARICOM states such as the distinguished Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, who described Guyana, and in particular the Guyanese economy, as the shining star of the Caribbean; whether it be extracts from the reports of the Caribbean Development Bank’s annual reports of recent years which clearly and explicitly identified Guyana’s economy as one of the principle drivers of growth in the Caribbean; and whether it be the regional economic outlook analysis published by the International Monetary Fund that identifies Guyana amongst the resource exporting countries of the Caribbean, and, by extension, amongst the most outstanding economic performers of recent years. So to come here and to pluck out of thin air an unnamed and unattributed report and to present a conjecture that if one were to be kind it could be described as careless; if one were to be less kind one would describe it perhaps as fabricated,…
Let us be clear that if one wants to present a current picture of recent economic developments one cannot go back to a report that is now ten, fifteen, twenty years old, or, indeed, that dates back to the period from 1983 to 1992.
If I may move on, what is most astonishing is that this presentation comes from a Member of this House who, merely at the last sitting of this House, if I am not mistaken, or the last two sittings of this House, made an endeavour to correct his own track record on matters of public accountability, and conveniently made the claim that, as a champion of accountability, he has been tabling audited accounts, but conveniently omitted to tell this House that he was referring to audited accounts produced in relation to the fiscal years during which his predecessors were in office - conveniently omitted - claimed as his principal achievement, the tabling of audited accounts that dated back to Frank Hope’s tenure.
Thank you Mr. Speaker. The indisputable fact of the matter - Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge opened and belaboured the point, the issue of accountability - is that the last set of audited accounts produced and tabled in this National Assembly prior to 1992 related to 1981 which was just about one year and a half before Mr. Greenidge assumed office. Those 1981 audited accounts were tabled by Mr. Greenidge in 1987. Mr. Greenidge assumed office in 1983. No audited accounts were prepared for 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991. No audited accounts were produced for every year that coincided, rather mysteriously, with Mr. Greenidge’s tenure. The Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, has never come to this house or come to the people of Guyana to explain why he failed to produce un-tabled audited accounts… [Interruption from Government Members] He has the audacity to come to this House and lecture us on accountability.
I submit this evening, in this Hon. House, that the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge does not have the moral authority to lecture this Government on matters of accountability. If one were to examine the track record of this administration, as it relates to accountability and transparency, audited accounts every year, annual reports relating to public entities being tabled at virtually every sitting. In fact, only today I had the privilege of tabling nine sets of annual reports relating to public sector entities, and the Hon. Minister Rohee, tabled one, making it ten. If one were to peruse the records of this Hon. House, one would see vast volumes of public documents tabled - whether it be loan agreements, audited accounts, annual reports, other documentations; whether it be sector strategies; whether it be documents and testimonies presented for the Standing Sectoral Committees of the Parliament. Vast volumes of documentations have been placed before this Hon. House, have been placed in the parliamentary library, have been placed in the hands of the parliamentarians and, by extension, have been placed in the public domain because we are a Government committed to openness and transparency.
Mr. Speaker, it is easy to speak glibly about accountability when you are a former Minister of Finance who never tabled audited accounts in relation to your tenure. The fact of the matter is that if one were to catalogue the volumes of the documentation tabled by this Government, not only in the Ninth Parliament, but the predecessor Parliaments, I will say without, fear of exception, that there has never been a time in this country’s history when more information has been placed in the public domain by an incumbent Government.
In fact, even today in answer to the questions asked… Many of us had the privilege of serving in the Ninth Parliament, and I am proud to have served in a Government which at the end of the Ninth Parliament did not have a single Opposition question remaining unanswered. Every single question asked by the Opposition was answered. In fact, today we had on the Order Paper a long list of questions and there were prompt and detailed answers supplied by this Government. I see right now mountains of documentations standing in front of Members of this House, documentations tabled by this Government because we have nothing to hide. There is no question that we cannot answer; there is no information that we are unwilling to provide - vast volumes of information. I urge my colleagues on that side of the House, and in particular the Opposition’s chief spokesperson on finance, who I would expect to know better, for a closer embrace of the fact rather than a flight to reckless and fanciful distortions.
The same can be said of the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge’s account of economic performance. There is no doubt whatsoever that the period of Mr. Greenidge’s tenure from 1983 to 1992…
Let me say this, that as one peruses the address by His Excellency the President one sees an address that is grounded in the realities of our time. We live today in an external environment that is extremely challenging; that is increasingly unpredictable; that is hostile even as we operate in a world where commodity prices fluctuate sometimes randomly, or what might appear to be randomly. We see the price of primary commodities we export sometimes moving by as much as US$50, US$60 per ounce, in the case of gold, in a single day. We see the price of oil, which we import, moving sometimes by US$10, US$15, US$20 per day. This is the external environment in which we operate and, as would be expected of a responsible leader of a responsible Government, His Excellency the President situated his address within the challenging external environment.
It is to the credit of this administration, notwithstanding the increasingly challenging external environment, that the Guyanese economy has recorded uninterrupted positive growth since 2006. I hasten to add, lest we be mistaken, that is… [Interruption] I hasten to add that whilst the Government might be acknowledged as having created the policy environment and might be acknowledged as having established a framework that is conducive to growth, to private investment, to household saving, the fact of the matter is that the growth that we have achieved from 2006 to now is not only to the credit of this Government. It is also to the credit of the private sector which has responded so favourably and so strongly to the environment that we have created.
Every day there is news of large businesses and investments expanding in Guyana. Today there are four or five companies working in the natural resources sector. There are about three of them in gold, one in manganese, one in oil. In fact, I saw the distinguished Leader of the Opposition paid a visit to the manganese operation not so long ago. If one were to take just these four or five companies, there will be international investment capital totalling in excess of two billion Canadian dollars because they are all listed on the Canadian stock exchange. These four or five companies together have market capitalisation of more than two billion Canadian dollars. I hear one of my colleagues on that side of the House asking, and laughing as if it is a joke, about “what that means for the poor people?” Well I will say to him what it means. For the jobs that have been created in the Northwest, an entire community will be resuscitated and revived. For the thousands of young and not so young Guyanese who will be now be in work - for the engineers, for the laboratory technicians, for the information technology officers, for the administrators for the manuals labourers - those are the people who will be benefiting from these investments. You may find it easy to laugh and dismiss their interest, but this Government will never dismiss the interest of a Guyanese person who is going to be in work.
For the vast increase in this country’s export proceeds, for the multiplier effects that will arise, the goods and services, whether it be food, whether it be transportation services, whether it be logistics, everyday, today, stories are heard of companies which are finding new business opportunities because of these large scale investments arising and being made in Guyana today. These are international companies responding to the positive business environment created by this People Progressive Party/Civic Government. But the story of Guyana’s development under the PPP is not only about large international investors; it is also about the dozens …It is in fact the story of the hundreds of medium and thousands of small scale businesses which are being set up every day. Every day, in every community, a new business is being established. Every year the credit to the private sector is seen to grow by double digits. That is the story of persons going to the bank and borrowing to invest their own business. So, the story of growth in the Guyanese economy is not only about a policy created by Government, but it is also the story of the businesses and the entrepreneurs that are investing and saving every day and they deserve the credit too. The story of the growth in the Guyana’s economy is the story of the households which have been saving from their income.
The one hundred thousand Guyanese families that now own a plot of land, the sixty thousands of them who take their income, save a few thousand dollars every month, go to the bank or the New Building Society, borrow some money, build a home, create three or four jobs, generate millions of dollars of business opportunities, they are contributing to the growth that we have achieved in the Guyanese economy. Each and every Guyanese citizen who goes to work in the morning, each and every Guyanese citizen who saves a few dollars from his or her income to build a home or to extend his or her home, each and every one of those Guyanese persons is to be saluted for his or her contribution to the growth and resilience of the Guyanese economy. This is the story of the People Progressive Party in Government. This growth is not an accidental achievement. I see some of my friends on that side of the House are getting agitated. I understand that the truth hurts them. I see them getting agitated, and I know the more they get agitated, the more I know that I am telling them a truth that they do not like to hear.
I make this point really to say that the fact that the Guyanese economy has remained robust and resilient under the People Progressive Party/Civic is a fact that we are happy to publicly say that it has been achieved by the hard work and the efforts of the Guyanese people.
The President speech appropriately situated the policies of this Government within the framework of this global context. He argued that we are committed, as a Government, to maintaining and preserving the macro-economic stability that we have achieved. Gone are the days when the exchange rate will move from four Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to ten Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to thirty-three Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to one hundred Guyana dollars to one US dollar. I see Mr. Greenidge is smiling with recognition when I speak of four Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to ten Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to thirty-three Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to one hundred Guyana dollars to one US dollar. In fact, his is a smile of nostalgia. Gone are the days when the exchange rate will move from four Guyana dollars to one US dollars, to ten Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to thirty-three Guyana dollars to one US dollar, to one hundred Guyana dollars to one US dollar in the space of eighteen months. Gone are the days when the Guyanese people will wait on a budget presentation with fear and trepidation. [Mr. B. Williams: Dr. Singh… [inaudible] ] That is stability. Gone are the days when the annual budget presentation is awaited with fear and trepidation. Gone are the days when people would have hoarded food items and kerosene - hoarded and hid food items and kerosene oil - because they did not know what would be banned when the annual budget was read. Happily, those days are consigned to the dustbins of history. Notwithstanding that Mr. Greenidge is still around.
The commitment of President Ramotar’s Government is that the stability and strength that we have achieved will be protected and defended at all cost; and we have no apology to offer for want. More than anything else investors and householders want to know that that value of their assets and savings will not be eroded tomorrow and today they know that is the case under the People’s Progressive Party. They want to know that their money in the bank will retain its value; they want to know that their savings are intact; they want to know that if they are saving to buy an asset for their home they do not have to worry that tomorrow when they go to the shop it would not be there. So, ours is a commitment to protect and defend the macro-economic stability that we have achieved - the signal macro-economic stability and growth that we have achieved.
We outlined an agenda for transforming the Guyanese economy. We speak of new and emerging sectors. If I may identify a single sector as an example, ten years ago not a single Guyanese person was employed directly in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Ten years ago! I am not speaking about twenty years ago. Ten years ago there was no information and communications technology. Ten years ago an information and communications technology sector did not exist in Guyana and no person was employed directly in that sector. Today there are more than five companies which are creating jobs directly in the ICT sector, employing more than three thousand Guyanese persons. I have had the privilege of visiting - these are companies that provide what is called business process outsourcing; some people call them call centres - operations on the East Coast of Demerara, at Beterverwagting. I have had the privilege of visiting their operations in Diamond. I have had the privilege of visiting one company’s operation in Linden. If I may speak of my visit in Linden, just about two or three months ago, I was extremely pleased to go into a room and to see one hundred and twenty-five young Lindeners working in a highly computerised environment, using high technology to communicate with clients at the other side of the world. That is the story of new and emerging sectors; that is the story of jobs being created and there are three thousand such jobs which have been created in this country just over the last few years.
What is more is that this is a sector that is poised to create another fifteen thousand such jobs in the space of the next five years. One heard question asked about wage levels. The fact of the matter, in 1990 the minimum wage of Guyana, the public sector minimum wage in Guyana, was US$18 per month, today, Mr. Speaker, it is in excess of US$180 per month, more than tenfold in US dollars terms. That is not to say that we believe that our work is done. In fact, we are committed to ensuring that this progress continues. We are committed to ensuring that all these things, which have been moving in the right direction, will continue to move in the right direction. We are committed to ensuring that this progress will continue. We are committed to ensuring that jobs will be created; that incomes will be generated; that access to social services will be improved. Our intention is that each and every Guyanese family must ultimately be able to own their own homes. They must have access to productive employment. They must have access to good social services.
They must be able to enter the modern world. We have spoken about universal access to Information and Communications Technology – the One Laptop Per Family Programme – bringing a laptop into every home. This is our commitment: to ensure that progress continues at a macro level- at the individual household level and at the individual citizen level.
Today, more Guyanese citizens have access to hospitals and schools. Today, new hospitals have been constructed in every county of our country. Today, more Guyanese own their own homes than ever before. Today, 10,000 motor cars are registered every year. That is progress and development! It is progress that 10,000 Guyanese families own a new motor car every year. There was a time when the licence series used to take about ten years to be completed. Mr. Greenidge would recall the days of series PAA and PBB. They used to take about ten years to be completed. Today, we complete a ten thousand car series in one year. I know that the People’s Progressive Party is immensely populous and that the PPP numbers are going quickly. In the space of mere two or three months, over 4,000 cars are driving around with PPP number plates.
Mr. Speaker I note your admonition in relation to time and I assure you that it is my intention to confine myself to brevity.
President Ramotar... [Mrs. Backer: By next week you will drop down.] I can see that the facts are getting to you. [Interruption] May I urge some on that side of the House to take a page out of the book of their distinguished Leader of the Opposition and demonstrate some decorum? I know that the truth hurts and so I can see the agitation, commotion and excitement that I am causing.
His Excellency the President was clear. He said:
“Given the context in which we have to manage our economy, it calls for prudence and good management.”
It is easy to make light of some of these gains, but the fact of the matter is - and I said this at another forum just about two weeks ago - many Guyanese families, twenty years ago, were struggling to put food on their tables. [Member: They are still struggling.] They are struggling but I will tell you what they are struggling for. Today, they are struggling to pay the mortgage on their homes. Today, they are struggling to pay the instalment on their motor cars. Today, they are struggling to pay the instalment on their motor bikes. Today, they are struggling to pay the instalment for the fridge, television and microwave they have bought for their homes. Today, they are struggling to make sure that all of their children get a university education. So the fact of the matter is that the struggle for human betterment will never be over. Today we struggle to own a home; tomorrow we will struggle to own a better home. Today we struggle to own a motor car; tomorrow we will struggle to own a second motor car for our children to drive. Today we will struggle to pay our hire purchase payments for a refrigerator in our home; tomorrow we will struggle to pay the hire purchase payments on a dishwasher or a washing machine. So the struggle for human betterment is one that is continuous. The fact of the matter though is that many of the Guyanese families that were struggling to put food on their tables when Mr. Greenidge was the Minister of Finance, today their struggle is very different. Today they own their own homes. Today they own their motor cars or motor cycles. Today they own television sets. Today they have two cellular phones. In those days, if one wanted to make a telephone call, he or she had to book it and wait for two weeks before the telephone call. Many of us are old enough to remember the days when one had to book a telephone call and wait for it to come true. Many of us remember the days when we used to have to line up outside at the Bank of Guyana in the rain, waiting for a window to be available to make a telephone call. Today, the average Guyanese low-income family has two cellular phones. Today, they do not want an ordinary cell phone; they want a Blackberry. They want a smart phone that can read the internet. That is progress! That is development! That is access to services! That is the People’s Progressive Party in Government for you! Today, 400,000 Guyanese families and subscribers own a cellular phone. That is access to services. So it is easy for those on that side of the House to be dismissive, but everywhere that we look there are clear and stark indicators of progress made in this country. And so the commitment of President Donald Ramotar and the People’s Progressive Party is to continue the striking progress that has been made in this country over the recent years. And we will do so based on a disciplined policy stance. We will do so based on prudent and responsible management – the President said it in his speech. We will do this on the basis of sound management. We will do this on the basis of maintaining an environment... [Interruption]
We will do this by maintaining an environment that is attractive to investors. And I will say this: investor optimism in Guyana... [Member: Crooked investors.] I hear a Member on that side speak of crooked investors. I am glad that he has disclosed the attitude of the People’s National Congress and their partners in A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) towards investors. Let me say that investors are watching and listening to you. They know which administration they can trust and which one they cannot.
It is no accident that under the People’s National Congress no investors wanted to come to Guyana. It is no accident that today investors are lining up to come to the shores of Guyana. It is no accident that some of the largest companies of the world want to enter the Guyanese market, whether it is in infrastructure, natural resources, or technology. Some of the largest firms, many medium sized firms, firms from Asia, North America, and Europe are coming to Guyana. Such is the confidence in the People’s Progressive Party. Some of the largest conglomerates of the Caribbean are saying that Guyana holds the brightest promise in the Region. And I am not surprised, but I am disappointed that a party that brands itself as A Partnership for National Unity finds it so easy to say, “Crooked investors.” The investors are watching and listening. Investor optimism is higher in Guyana today than it has ever been in our country’s history! More investors are confident in Guyana and more than they have ever been before, not by accident but because they see in the People’s progressive Party/Civic Government, a responsible government; a government that can be trusted; a government whose policies are predictable; a government whose stewardship of the economy has been commendable and, indeed, even if I say so myself, has been exemplary. Such is the confidence in Guyana today.
Mr. Speaker, I would happily continue for the rest of this evening but for my deference to your earlier admonition, despite the political posturing of those on the other side of the House, the inescapable fact is that Guyana has been moving in the right direction under the People’s Progressive Party. The inescapable fact is that much has been achieved. The inescapable fact is that the policy framework that has been outlined by President Ramotar is a vision and framework that will take this country to even greater and previously unseen heights. As I conclude, I am pleased to stand here this evening and say that the policies, objectives and initiatives outlined in President Ramotar’s speech are most worthy and commendable. They merit endorsement and is embraced by all Guyanese. I would like to think that those on the other side of the House, despite the fact that they might feel that they have to be critical because they think that it is there job and despite the fact that they feel they have to oppose because they are called the Opposition, I would hope that they would see the good sense in standing up and being bold to say that there is much in President Ramotar’s speech that we agree with, and that we are happy to endorse it. I urge my colleagues on that side of the House this evening to ensure that the motion moved by the Hon. Prime Minister is passed by this House, unanimously, when it is put.
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