Budget Debate 20131640 08 Apr, 2013
Ms. Ally: I rise to make my contribution on Budget 2013 under the theme “Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana”. This budget is crafted for the rich and the not so rich. It is crafted for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) cronies. Certainly, it is not crafted for the working class people of Guyana.
In introducing Budget 2013, the Hon. Minister of Finance in his opening remarks, at page 1, made reference to the one-seat majority in this new dispensation and alluded to parliamentary actions of the past 14 months which was occasioned by the one-seat majority. The Hon. Member cited cutting essential budgetary allocations; denying and elected Member the right to speak in the National Assembly and passing of motions and Bills to defy reasons among others. Having assimilating that, I wish to point out the following:
• The one-seat majority is a telling reality of the new dispensation the people of Guyana wanted. Prior to 2011, the PPP/C had a five-seat majority and it did whatever it had wanted to do, right or wrong, but the Guyanese nation disagreed with its approach, hence this new dispensation.
I want to advise my dear comrades that they will have to live with that for a little while more, after which we will exchange sides and fully take the reign of Government.
• Secondly, it is the temerity to speak about cutting essential budgetary allocations.
- Why would the Opposition agree to have the National Comedy Network, I mean, Sir, the National Communications Network (NCN), which is classified as the mouthpiece of the PPP/C, to spend taxpayers money for the advocacy of PPP’s propaganda?
- Why was an investigation triggered for NCN and its finances?
- Why did staffers services dispensed with?
Those are questions that must be answered by the Hon. Minister of Finance.
- How does it put an end to contract holders who are not on the job and who are receiving huge sums of money as their salaries from the Office of the President?
Those are only a few to mention.
• Thirdly, a very sensitive issue in which the Hon. Minister of Finance referred to the denying of the right of an elected Member to speak in the National Assembly. We in the Opposition do no deal with petty politics. We deal with issues and the Government side must understand the issues. We moved the motion of no confidence in that elected Member. We believe that under his watch crime escalated, murders increased rapidly and public security was dismal. We felt that if at minimum our country is depleted further of its essential human resources it is time for us to save it. If the PPP/C feels that we should not save it then it is playing petty politics.
I will now turn my attention to the education sector. I am totally disappointed. I listened to the Hon. Minister of Education and expected her to adumbrate education policies intended for the year 2013, but, no, this House was treated to the story of the dream boy. I cannot help but to say that our education system in Guyana sucks. Its focus is on the wrong ball. The Government’s thinking on education is that the more money it puts into the system, it is the most improved one. We heard from the Minister of Finance about the largest budget; we see an increase by over $2 billion in the education sector, but we are not getting value for money. I will venture to cite some examples to substantiate my statement.
One, according to the budget, some $3 billion is budgeted to be spent on infrastructure and repairs, but a big chunk of this money is to construct new schools, among other things. I believe and I recommend that the focus should be on the following:
(a) Repairing and maintaining more of the existing schools so that more of our children can benefit and be safe.
How can we have schools that have, for example, industrial art centre and no electricity to make it functional where children will get real benefit?
(b) How can we have schools where adequate text books and furniture are absent?
I have just returned from Region 9. Let me point out that there are four children sitting in one bench at the St. Ignatius Primary School. It is across all the regions. I hope that Mrs. Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett is very proud of that achievement - four children sitting in one bench.
(c) How could we have new schools when the existing ones do not have furniture to accommodate all our children?
Education is not about tinkering with people’s mind or with politicking. We must get it right. I urge the Hon. Minister of Education to get it right and to focus in the direction where our nation’s children will benefit.
I cannot help but to allude to teachers’ training. At our teachers’ training institution, here, again, the Government focus is dilated. I have been making this point over and over again, but someone is either not listening or not hearing. Government’s focus is on quantity, not quality. It must not be a matter of how many, but how good they may be. This Government gloats by going to public forums, including these hallowed halls, and speak of large numbers graduating, but if our teachers are poorly trained then our children in turn will suffer. I would like to ask the Hon. Minister whether the professionals have done an assessment or an analysis of the content of teachers’ training at regional centres as compared with that of the Cyril Potter College of Education.
I would like to bring to the Minister’s attention that the teacher trainees at the regional centres are robbed of time for lecture series, exposure, opportunities and generally the content. These factors contribute to the poor quality of teachers’ training across regional centres. I call on the Government to address the core of the problem.
I believe in giving credit to where credit is due. I believe that we have seen improvement at the National Centre for Education and Research Development (NCERD). It is good when the Minister can take on board recommendations made in this honourable House and implement them. I note, with great appreciation, the improvement of the learning channel, which I raised on the last occasion, and it programmes, and the exams operations at the examination section of NCERD. Towards this end, I would like to offer congratulations to Minister Priya Manickchand for allocating a portion of professionalism to her dicta. Thanks for accepting A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s recommendations. I want to alert her that, in case she does not know, literacy educators have not been paid through the NCERD programme from January until this month of April, and something should be done about that very quickly. [Mr. G. Persaud: It is as soon as the budget is passed.] We cannot wait on the budget to eat. You do not wait on the budget to eat.
More germane to the delivery of education would be what we do to improve our education system. Here, I will like allude to the following:
• One, recognising the fact that pass rate in English and Math, a meagre 31%, Government made an intervention and injected $80 million and invested it in photocopied text books, geometry sets, and what happened? The pass rate was reduced to 29%. That must have told us that the intervention was not the answer, but was it? There is a shortage of competent lecturers at our training facilities. We have to solve that problem and we can solve that problem by improve training and significant increase in their emoluments. Lecturers cannot give off their best because they are not properly remunerated. They will not spend quality time to deliver. They have to concentrate on sub jobs to make a dollar to be able to cope in Guyana where the cost of living is extremely high.
• Secondly, injections cannot be given at the secondary level; it has to be at the primary level. If there is, for example, a proper foundation when building a house the entire house will collapse. If we cannot fix the bottom then the top will collapse. There are several methods of teaching reading, for example.
- Are our schools implementing them?
- Are there any considered incentives for improved performance?
- What additional inputs are given to schools and teachers to address our literacy and numeracy?
I urge the Government to use some pilot schools in every region to start, as a base, with new methodologies. These are the nitty-gritties that we have to look at if we want to improve literacy and numeracy.
In our education system, how about if we try a salary injection for our teachers and see whether it will improve our children’s performance? I know you will want to argue about the union’s multi-year agreement but it is worth the try. I call on the Government to give the teachers the salary increase injection and improved working conditions. I am positive that there will be improved performance.
Preparation for industries and the world of work: Government has been touting about developmental projects and to name just two. The Members spoke of Marriott Hotel and the extension of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. I have to point out that it would appear that our education system is not geared to prepare anyone to work on those developmental projects.
(i) What then are the roles of schools with industrial arts centre?
(ii) Are not the technical institutes preparing anyone for the world of work?
(iii) Is it that Guyanese have to go to China, India, Brazil or some foreign country to learn masonry and carpentry or how to fetch a bucket of bricks?
We heard of the thousands being trained, according to Ministers Gopaul and Juan Edghill, Hon. Members.
- Where are they?
- Why do we have to have to resort to imputation of human resources to do those jobs at those developmental projects?
- Is it that our education system is only concerned with academic exam oriented people?
- Is it that the Government is losing the opportunity of preparing student to have rounded personalities?
Indeed, the Government has lost that golden opportunity to develop our nation’s children so that they can become good men and women of tomorrow who can develop Guyana. I urge you, Hon. Minister, to rethink your strategy. The writing is on the wall. Let us not create the scenario of exam oriented students only, but let us build around making our children functional in today’s society. Let us work towards making our children with rounded personalities.
Schools in the regions: If we take a look at the schools in the region, we will see how they are overwhelmed with problems – dropouts, vandalism, crime, drug abuse, children wanting to beat teachers, only to mention a few. These atrocities are growing daily. Is there a plan by the Ministry to grapple with these problems? The Budget is silent. I recall in my younger days as an educator, the People’s National Congress (PNC) introduced Guidance and Counselling as a compulsory subject. But true to form, this Government believes that they must undo everything that was implemented by the PNC Government. There is so much to learn from Guidance and Counselling. I believe it will help to mould our nation’s children.
For years, we have also been talking about dropouts at the school system. We do not want to solve those kinds of problems. Sir, I ask the Government a few questions: what has happened to the idea of welfare officers or social workers, and I mean adequate welfare officers and social workers? What has happened to security in all the schools? Is there any consideration for risk allowances for our teachers?
Finally on this topic, let us look at the schools across the regions carefully and we will see that children from level one to Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level go to lessons. The majority of children writing Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) examinations are going to some lesson or the other. Whether the students are from the great schools like Queens College, St. Stanislaus College or Bishops High School, they are no exception. Mr. Speaker, does it not bother you as to why this is happening now in the education system? These are some of the things we must seek to find out – why – and seek to grapple with them.
Technical and Vocational Education: Technical and Vocational Education has always been close to my heart and I will keep it there. The world over it is widely accepted that our children have varying abilities. Not everyone can be gifted academics. We must recognise the importance of making provisions for those who are academically challenged. I do not want to speak of Leonora or Mahaicony Technical and Vocational Training Centres. But I ask the question: what has happened to our technical institutes? What input, if at all, is necessary for their viability? And what is the output, among other things? This Government is not serious, because they are allowing these institutes and other technical and vocational facilities to fail.
I referred earlier to a centre, for example, built - and I will call the name - the Stewartville Secondary School, with no electricity. How could this Government be serious about technical and vocational education? I trust that the electricity will be put there soon. I want to urge the Hon. Minister not to be clouded by big money. He must address his mind to real growth and development for our Guyanese young people. Let us prepare those young people for employment opportunities.
Finally, for the sake of time, I wish to ask the Minster to examine the programme offered by the Leonora and Mahaicony Technical and Vocational Training Centres. Also, the Ministry must investigate the extent of the benefits of those who attend those institutions.
University of Guyana: The Hon. Minister of Finance, at page 34 of the Budget speech, indicated that $1.7 billion is being invested in the University of Guyana, including $450 million in loans for 2013. The loan scheme is still to be operationalised as a revolving loan scheme after close to 20 years of existence. Of the $500 million that the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan announced as the Government input, $450 million is now the sum poured into the scheme annually with no reference to an effort at loan recovery, while the Government brazenly refers to the loan as a subvention to the University, albeit this money only becomes available to the University when individual students take loans. Notably, less of the University’s population is opting to take the loan, hence some of the so-called subvention is never disbursed after the Government uses that sum in its propaganda to pad the amount of money supposedly allocated to the University.
The Budget, for years, has been devoid of any policy initiative on tertiary education. Even the US$10 million which will go to the University under the World Bank loan is insufficient to address the woes of the University. This sum only became available to the University as leftovers from a project which initially did not include the University in its profile.
Under capital estimates, $50 million has been allocated for distance education by the University. Although there is no project that has been developed to cater for distance education at the University, this may yet be unspent monies at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, although it will be used to enhance the sum that has been termed “the largest budget ever”.
With all the talk about the education sector and millions spent under the Henry and Baksh regimes to enact modern legislation for the education sector, the Education Bill is still to be brought to the National Assembly and may well remain where it is right now - a touted reform or a reform which would itself require reform.
I would like to refer this honourable House to a principle outlined in the Constitution of Guyana, Article 27. (1) states:
“Every citizen has the right to free education from nursery to university as well as at non-formal places where opportunities are provided for education and training.”
My understanding is that the Constitution reform has proposed a change from university to secondary. Oh, Forbes Burnham, I wish you could come back to save this nation’s education system.
Firstly, I call on the Government to use the principle in Article 27 as a guide.
Secondly, the Hon. Finance Minister alluded to a growth rate of 4.8 per cent in his Budget presentation, which illustrates that Guyana is doing well. So, Sir, if that figure is reliable then I am sure that this Government must not increase the fees for our young people to be denied tertiary education at the University of Guyana. There has been a lot of talk, in and around, about raising the fees at the University of Guyana. I call on the Government to relinquish the idea and thought of any hike in fees at the University of Guyana. Our young people need a chance for their upliftment.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) certainly is not optimistic about the 2013 National Budget. This Government’s self-centred and autocratic approach to the carving of Budget 2013 is unacceptable. It is not only what you want, but it is what we want together. I urge the Government to desist from the fluff it has been grown accustomed to for the cameras, that is the talk of working together and consultation. I give you a gentle reminder, Hon. Members, that ‘33’ is greater than ‘32’.
Having identified the misdirected focus of the Government, I would hasten to reiterate the following recommendations:
• Change your strategy of only building buildings and strive to adequately equip them for genuine use;
• Start meaningful injections for improvement at the primary level, not the secondary level;
• Increase teachers’ salaries for improved output;
• Enhance teacher training with improved methodologies via lecturers who must begin to enjoy improved working conditions.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, your time has elapsed.
Mrs. Backer: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Hon. Member be given ten minutes to conclude her presentation.
Question put, and agreed.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed please, Hon. Member.
Ms. Ally: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
• Equip technical institutes and industrial art centres with adequate equipment;
• Reintroduce the subvention for the Critchlow Labour College in order to give a second chance to our Guyanese youth;
• Establish in every Region a pilot project and experiment on new methodologies in the teaching of reading; and
• Consider establishing technical and vocational institutions in Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9.
We need to prepare our young people in our interior regions and not only those on the coastland.
Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to go on and on but, for starters, I urge Government and, in particular, the Minister of Education to not only spend money, but to work towards getting value for that money. Hence, I commend those recommendations for action in order to improve the education sector.
I thank you. [Applause]
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