Budget Debate 20131714 08 Apr, 2013
Mr. Nagamootoo: It is a truism that “man cannot live by bread alone”. When young Minister Dr. Frank Anthony spoke, he took us momentarily to a celestial plane where our Guyanese civilisation could bask in reflective glory in the finest tradition of literature and art. His was a breath of fresh air. I felt a soothing balm of hope that we could all discover our better angels, and that we could, in our lifetime, show “what Guyana sons and daughters can be”.
It is a lofty dream to enrich our civilisation with cultural and intellectual values, whilst we pursue economic security. But, in this land of cuss-down politics, our masters “watch us sleep and aim at our dreams”, to paraphrase our national poet, Martin Carter. Our dreams could soon become a nightmare if this Government does not come off the cliff of delusion and bombastic boasts that Guyana has arrived; that Guyana is the land of milk and honey. Instead, we should wake up to the opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation and rescue our Guyana from impending danger.
This budget by itself will not take us to the Promised Land, though, indeed, it is being touted as a massive go-dy budget of $208.8 billion and deceptively it paints subliminally the image of Guyana as an Asian tiger or jaguar.
Look at the top, at the far left of the cover page of the budget speech, ironically and cynically, we see, what it appears to be, two cats. I cannot say “fat cats”, Sir, because you have restrained me from saying that. They appear to be prime, plump, perhaps pretty cats, proverbially the PPP/C. But, look again, there can be seen the sad, haunting, melancholic look on the face of a schoolgirl, the yellow-sand, Fip Motilall-like, road to nowhere, a disabled rig in which its only ray of light seems to be coming from the bottom of the disabled structure and the calloused hands of our glorious rice farmer, and we know we are back in Guyana.
Indeed, this minority PPP/C Government has tailored the budget to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the parasitic and bureaucratic class. In defiance of this National Assembly, it has revised upwards and restored the cuts made for contracted employees, many of whom are the super-salaried, million and multi-million dollar cats on sinecure employment. Last year, they got an additional $100 million. This year, Government has up the lottery for contracted employees to $7.8 billion. The number of PPP/C activists on Office of the President payroll has certainly increased. Defiance is compounded with insults in this National Assembly, as cuts for the PPP/C propaganda machines, GINA and NCN, have not only been restored, but increased. A gauntlet of arrogance and defiance has been thrown into these hallowed halls of the National Assembly. This type of reckless use of our people’s money has characterised all post-Jagan PPP/C Governments. They have spent money as if it were cheap as bussie (rice husks).
In the past 13 years between 2000 and 2013, the PPP/C Government proposed budgets allocations amounting to one trillion $588 billion - over one and a half trillion dollars. Assuming we have a dollar bill measuring six inches – they have gone away with that - and given that the circumference of our earth is 1.6 billion inches, the budget sums, dollar-on-dollar, would wrap the circumference of the earth some 6,000 times.
What have we to show for this colossal amount? Today, the PPP/C comes here and boasts that we are fixing old roads and building new ones; we are breaking old bridges and making new ones; we are scrapping the new airport and building a newer one; we are fixing our broken down sugar industry; we are fixing the failed electricity system. This PPP is a Government of we bruk am; we fix am.
There is no doubt that our growth rate has been positive over the years, an averaged above 4% annually. I wish I could say the same about budgetary allocations. In the past six years, between 2007 and 2012, total budgetary allocations were $825 billion as compared with $471 billion in the previous six-year, 2001-2006 inclusive. Those allocations increased by $373 billion or by 126%. The least that could be expected was a reasonable return for the people’s moneys and a 4% cent growth could, dollar for dollar, be a very modest, if not disappointing return.
This year, it is asking for $208.8 billion, $85 billion of which would be for new projects, without addressing concerns of transparency and accountability. The Alliance For Change (AFC) is not against projects, but it needs to see the feasibility studies, and to know if these projects are the best alternative use for our money.
We have to ask the hard questions: Do we need a new airport costing $30 billion when only 12 years ago we modernised the existing airport at a cost of $6 billion? Should our Government not try to get reliable and affordable airline services before pouring billions into a new airport? With Delta going soon, air transport would be a nightmare. Price gouging has started. Even with a new airport, not having a viable aviation plan, Timehri will continue to be an airline cemetery – Universal, Travel Span, Red Jet, Easy-Jet and soon Delta.
It is evident that the post-Jagan PPP/C Governments lack vision, proper planning, and has abandoned all claims to have really sustainable development strategy. The Government has plans that are eclectic, that shift and change, to suit prevailing opportunistic needs for enrichment of a few.
The Government wants support for its spending spree but has failed to deal effectively with corruption. It has not addressed the vexed issues of putting surpluses from National Industrial & Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Lotto Fund and Wildlife Fund, and moneys from dead bank accounts, into the revenue stream.
The good Bishop, the Hon. Bishop, spoke about a code of conduct, Bishop Edghill, for Ministers. Where is this code? I call for appointment of a Chairman of the Integrity Commission, and for the secretariat to be fully staffed and equipped to conduct investigation into the assets of all office holders. Let us make public these assets. A code not enforceable in law, it cannot work. It is a recipe for a massive cover-up. We call for the composition of the public Procurement Commission, for the appointment of an Ombudsman, for confirmed appointments to the posts of Chancellor of the Judiciary, Chief Justice and Commissioner of Police.
We need also to implement the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Terrorism Act and to give teeth to the toothless poodle styled the Intelligence Unit. Not a soul has been investigated, much less prosecuted, for money laundering and Guyana is wrongly being seen as a haven for money launderers, drugs trafficker, and so on.
Minister Ali invited us to dream, but he ought to have known that the sad story of failure to realise the Guyana dream has to do with lack of accountability, lack of transparency and poor governance practices. Professor Clive Thomas in his article titled, “Uncertainty and Risk: Guyana’s Troubled Projects”, Stabroek News, March 24, 2013, had this to say. He identified as reasons for the failures:
“...lack of systematic planning, poor project selection and design; even poorer execution and implementation; as well as weak monitoring and lack of transparency”,
He added waste, corruption and mismanagement.
This PPP/C Government has stolen the thunder of achievement in the traditional private sector and re-packaged it as its own progress and development. It claimed credit for the hard-working rice farmers and it snatched the golden trophy from the hands of the miners. We, on this side of the House, salute our miners and rice farmers and assure them of our support for their investment, risk and sacrifices.
The PPP/C Government should instead bark in its own yard. The State and governmental sectors are poised on the brink of financial disaster. Instead of progress, many public corporations are a liability to the people, estimated at some US$281,794…, estimated at roughly $57.2 billion last year. I give the figure $57,204,276,395. These include the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL). The Member will see the total. The couple over the road where I work…
Ms. Teixeira: I would appreciate your assistance in asking the Hon. Member to quote the source of those very interesting figures that he produced.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, it is not the practice but the requirement that we cite the sources of our material. However, Members have, in the past, provided their sources, if not immediately but they have. Only recently Mr. Greenidge had supplied some sources to me. If the sources are available… If not immediately, it is to have an undertaking that they will be available…
Mr. Nagamootoo: I will make an undertaking to produce the source. The source is an official source. They are just trying to take away my time. I was saying that the couple…
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, even if the Hon. Member is unable, at the current time, to provide the source ,would he be kind enough, because I think he repeated and corrected the number on a few occasions, to repeat what exactly it is that he is describing and what the amount concerned is? Would he indicate when the source will be supplied?
Mr. Speaker: You are asking the Member to repeat what was being said?
Hon. Members (Government): Yes.
Mr. Speaker: That is fair
Mr. Nagamootoo: The amount is $57 billion [Mr. Nandlall: You do not even have a good track record.] Yes, I know I do not have a good track record. [Dr. Singh: What is it?] It is G$57.2 billion and that is the public corporation liability.
We have here a classical example of a liability…
Dr. Singh: I do not…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, the Member is quoting some figures. He is going to, as a Member of Parliament, provide them and that is good enough for the Chair.
Dr. Singh: May I ask, Sir, with your permission, when he will supply us with the source?
Mr. Speaker: I will undertake that. Whenever Members from both sides, but particularly from the Government side, have undertaken, sometimes they are asked within a reasonable time. If the Member is prepared to give that now he may, but I am not making it compulsory for him to give that now but within a reasonable time, I believe, to be within 48 to 72 hours.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Sir, I think I am striking the bullseye and I know they are filibustering me here.
Right over from my chambers there is a couple selling water coconuts. They bring their coconut all the way from Charity but they make a profit. On the side of the road, there is a girl who sells sweets and aerated drinks off an old fridge, she makes a profit. GPL is a State Corporation… That is what I am talking about…
Mr. Speaker: One second Mr. Nagamootoo. I think what we are contending with now is when you might be in a position to supply the sources of some of your… If not immediately, it is if you can give us an idea.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I will supply the information tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker: That is more than adequate, I believe.
Mr. Nagamootoo: They are here. These are Government’s figures. This is the only giant monopoly owned and run by the State and this State has to guarantee loans to the GPL, amounting to $23 billion for infrastructural works and equipment. [An Hon. Member (Government): Black hole.] Now this is throwing water on duck’s back. GPL is a huge - I repeat what my learned friend had said on this side - black hole. It is inefficient; it mismanages; it wastes and it squanders.
Last year, taxpayers gave GPL a bail out of $6 billion. I understand Government Members are against the words “bail out”. This year the bailout will be an additional $11.2 billion and still no one can guarantee us that there will be light at the end of the dark tunnel. The PPP/C comes here and threatens us that if we do not pay up, consumers have to pay hike in electricity tariff. This is shotgun, economic blackmail and banditry to come and try to intimidate this National Assembly that it must give or else it will penalise the people, but this is a state-run corporation. It not rice; it is not mining, but the Government claims credit for that. It should equally claim, with fervour, credit for the failures.
Workers told me, in Bath, that I should not call it GuySuCo. It is the Guyana Funded Corporation (GuyfuCo). This Government has also guaranteed loans for modernisation and cogeneration in the tune of $29 billion. This, I believe, forms part of the estimated $47 billion that it had spent in support of recapitalisation.
Last year, the Minister promised that Skeldon factory would run at full capacity by the second crop of last year - I hope the Minister does not ask me for the source for that too - yet the Skeldon factory is still limping. According to some estimates the factory was grinding 196 tons of cane an hour, instead of 350 tons. It takes Skeldon factory 16.29 tons of cane to make a ton of sugar, whilst Albion takes 10.52 tons. Instead of 100,000 tons, Skeldon factory produced 33,309 tons of sugar as compared to Albion with 54,022 tons. This is a factory into which we pour the taxpayers money, a public entity enterprise that could not even perform as well as Albion that has been there for a dog’s age. In all, 218,069 tons were produced which was the lowest in 20 years. The Government Members blame the weather and they blame the sugar workers and then when they are ready they also blame the union.
It is to take another state-run entity, the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU). Now there are all of these radio, cable and television frequencies which are going out and we find it very strange that the NFMU will be spending $1.9 million this year. In the year 2010, it spent $351 million and $604 million last year. We want to know why it is that, if the revenue stream of the NFNU is looked, it is projecting a loss in its operation. Perhaps, Government will bail it out in the tune $1.5 million.
We know that it pays rates and taxes for the use of mass, but I do not understand why this year we are spending $944 million to do subvention and rates and taxes when the private sector seems to have now taken over the entire spectrum. Last year we questioned where the money went - $500 million. Now we find that operating expenses for the NFMU went from $18 million in the year 2010 to $21 million in the year 2012. This year it will be $826 million. We want some explanation as to why we are pouring money in these state-operated and State institutions?
Guyana Geology and Mines Commission is another amazing institution that is sitting on a gold mine. Yet this gold mine, gold which accounts for one-third of our GDP, the single most precious asset about which this Government boasts, private sector asset, we find that this year GGMC is projecting a loss. We exported $716.9 million in gold, so we cannot see why an operation dealing with the gold sector, providing services for which it charges, is making a loss.
It is the same with the Guyana Gold Board, again sitting on the gold mine. This year it is expected to make revenues of $102.5 million, but it would spend nearly $100 million. If a mauby shop can make some profits, why is it that with the gold prices going up and declarations higher…? In fact, it is not even the declaration, but those that escape the net seem to give an indication of US$11.5 million gold, in Curacao, off of a boat emanating from Guyana. We seem to know that there is a preponderance of gold and the Guyana Gold Board is making $3 million profit, I was told, this year.
The Guyana Lands and Survey Commission is another state entity that should have been making much more than it is making, but what does it do? It brings in revenue, in terms of state lands, and collects rents and fees in the amount of $462 million but, sadly to say, it spends all out on expenses. Why is the State sector under this Government not performing? Is it because of bureaucratic lethargy? Or is it because of malaise? Is it because of paralysis? Yet, we talk about the rise in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
We have a similar sad story of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. We are told about all of the flights that are coming in. We are even told by Minister Ali that we are having re-migration in Guyana. I think he is confusing re-migration with the deportees. We had, last year, 705 deportees who came from North America and the Caribbean. Here is it that there is the Cheddi Jagan International Airport which is going to make, this year, $840 million but the costs of the service at the airport would be $739 million. Last year it made $241 million. Why is it projecting a $100 million this year when we are saying that more traffic is coming Guyana’s way? What is happening here? It makes a large sum of money – 15% air tax on tickets, $4,000 for each passenger going out, landing fees and even airlines charges.
The Demerara Harbour Bridge is another of these entities. It is proving a service, but that is a monopoly. There is no rival to the Demerara Harbour Bridge. Why should this bridge be making losses? That is a viable business. A man has a rig shop and he makes a profit. We have a bridge with thousands of commuters using it and still it is hardly making anything. The Government, from taxpayers’ money, has to subsidise that bridge. This year it is voted $300 million dollars for that bridge. Why, if it is so concerned about the people, it does not give $150 million for the Berbice Bridge crossing? Why does it want with one hand to give and the other hand to penalise? It has to be equitable and fair-minded and just. It you cannot have solicitation for one bridge and have penalty for the next.
The Transport and Harbours Department, we know, just had some boats, roll-on, roll-off. We know that they are new boats but yet for all when one looks at the budget there is nothing there that says the revenues profit margin but it collects fees for the boats, and so on.
I now come to the next sector, the State. These are institutions connected with the State. Most of them are staffed and the boards have selected people by the ruling party in Government.
The Central Housing and Planning Authority: The Minister has talked about all of those house lots that are being giving away and yet it gets $2.2 million from operations. It is making money but where has all of the moneys gone for the land sold. Sugar workers are paying $700 000 per lot. We say that the state sector has to be the shining example of financial rectitude, fiscal management, efficient organisation, profitability and so on. [Mr. G. Persaud: We agree.] Yes, but as the saying goes a fish rots from its head.
Apart from gold, rice and sugar remain our raw material primary producing tri-sector and keep our GDP afloat, one of our bigger is Guyanese. The Minister did not tell us that. We earn consistently, over $400 million, from this commodity which helps us with the favourable balance of payments - remittances. Remittances from Guyanese in the diaspora accounted for US$469.3 million an increase by 13.9%. [Mr. G. Persaud: It is right here in the budget speech.] It was mentioned in the budget speech but it was not mentioned that it was coming from the exportation of Guyanese, our people who go there, abroad, to send money back.
This is part of the story that when they boast about GDP and favourable balance of payments we must talk about the sources from which the revenue is coming to make this GDP floats.
All though there is gold price, there was Hugo Chavez, God bless his soul, and our diaspora, to thank for our good luck last year. We should be advised that unless we have new markets, price sustainability and job security of Guyanese in the diaspora, we cannot be guaranteed that gold, rice and remittances would remain stable indicators of our GDP.
The most dastardly example of the rot I spoke about in the year 2011 has to do with radio frequencies to cronies of the regime, dealing with assets. It is clear that the allocations were lawless and discriminatory and the process was not transparent. The Broadcasting Bill was passed in this National Assembly on the 28th of July, 2011, and assented to in September, 2011. Then there was subsequently 9/11. President Jagdeo distributed the frequencies days before the November, 2011 Elections. Did the Members figure that they were going to lose the elections, and lose the Government, and decided that they were going to grab as much as they could at the last moment? Was that the motivation?
One recipient, Telcor & Cultural Broadcasting Inc. was granted five radio frequencies in November, 2011. New Guyana Company Ltd., publishers of Mirror newspapers, got five frequencies. It is the company in which I worked for over 22 years. It never paid me a gratuity. My National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contribution was huffed. It was broken. The press was non-functional. The Mirror newspaper has been outsourced for printing by Guyana Times, by Mr. Ramroop, the former President’s friend and the printery has been given to Ed Ahmad, either sold or rented, a convicted felon in the United States of America, another friend of Mr. Jagdeo. What a shame!
The New Guyana Company Ltd. was first registered in 1959 and all the directors, I have their names, are deceased. The only two names, when I have been at the Mirror newspaper company, that are still associated with it, at that time, were one Mr. Harripersaud and the other Mr. Donald Ramotar, the secretary of that company. We will investigate more and we will see where this incestuousness has led us.
In addition, we know it is public knowledge, but I want to place in the record the multiple frequencies that have been given to other persons who, it is claimed, to be all friends of the former President, Mr. Jagdeo. Cable licences were also given out, and except for a few, all the recipients - I am going to skip the notes of calling names because I still respect some people - are connected with the PPP/C, are themselves high state officials, and are associated with Government leaders as comrades, friends and relatives.
In all these allocations, there is a serious conflict of interest. It is disgraceful and scandalous. This is naked nepotism. These frequencies ought to be withdrawn immediately. There will be no compromise on this matter - none at all.
Sir, I would not refer therefore to what you have said, “the decency, commonsense and good governance dictate the reversal of the allocations”, in the March 24, 2013, edition of Stabroek News.
I just want to say that the spectrum is our limited national resource, and this is a serious business, a public property. It could be a great money earner. It must not be abused or given away willy-nilly. In India, auction of wireless broadband brought in US$12 billion in the year 2010. Before that, in the year 2008, 2G spectrum frequency allocation for mobile telephone was handed out to friends in a massive scam. Big people went to jail. The Stabroek News on the 2nd of April, 2013 reported that the Supreme Court of India declared that the allocations were unconstitutional and arbitrary and quashed all the 122 licences issued in 2008. The court found that the Minister “had gifted away an important national asset”. The scam of India is now haunting Guyana.
Last year when I raised the debt sustainability issue in the National Assembly, albeit on the nominal Guyana dollar debt being the biggest ever in the history of post colonial Guyana, all hell broke loose. The simple point that I made was that the nominal Guyana dollar debt was bigger that it was in the PNC days.
On the 30th of September, 1992, the total debt stood at G$263,086.5 million. At 31st of December, 2011, it stood at $350.5 billion. By March 31, 2012, it jumped to $355.5 billion. Those figures were provided by the Minister of Finance himself so he cannot accuse me of mathematical default on this occasion. I feel vindicated as I stand here today. I think the man in the street would be asking really who is civilised and who is the…
This year, the debt external debt alone was placed at US$1.4 billion or more than $280 billion. No figures were given for domestic debt. I combed these, I did not see them, but I am informed that it was in June, 2012 some $93 billion which could reach as much as $100 billion. I am hoping the Minister would contradict me.
The Minister of Finance has since issued a rejoinder that the traditional measure of debt is the debt to GDP ratio and assured that our national debt is sustainable. This Government has a knee-jerk reaction to the debt issue - sorry to say that - and discounts all notion that we could face the risk of debt distress. But we must take timely warning.
David Jessop, Executive Director of the Caribbean Council, in an article, “Lessons for Caribbean from Europe Debt Crisis” wrote, Sunday Stabroek, March 31, 2013:
“The Caribbean is, of course, not Cyprus, but there are worrying signs that the indebtedness of an increasing number of Caribbean nations is now reaching crisis proportions… Government debt in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) averaged 94 % of GDP last year, putting it as Moody’s stated ‘on par with distressed Euro area sovereigns’”.
Moody is the United States of America credit rating agency. Moody’s Investor Services, that is what it is called, which has warned about Grenada’s current distress resulting in World Bank suspending disbursements to Grenada, and Taiwan has judgement against Grenada for millions of US dollars.
Alarm bells are ringing for tourist destinations, and this will be copied here. We are talking about Marriot Hotel; we are talking about the new airport and tourist destinations with blue waters, white sands such as such as St. Kitts-Nevis, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica which have resorted to emergency credit facilities from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In Guyana, external debt stood in the year 2012 at $1.2 billion, which was 16% more than in the 2011. That debt was 47% of GDP. Whilst no ratio was given in this budget, it is estimated that at over 70%, and climbing. The last report I have seen was from Dr. Clive Thomas quoting some officials statistics in 24th February, 2013 when he stated that the debt to GDP ratio fell from 97% in 2006 to a low of 61% in the year 2010 and 67% in the year 2011. However, he added that official figures on Guyana’s outstanding public debt “are an unreliable indicator of its true indebtedness”.
Whilst Government received hefty budgets amounting to $825 billion during the years 2007 to 2012, it still could not balance the budget, resulting in more borrowing. The external debt stood at US$1.2 billion at the end of the year 2012, as compared to $719 million in the year 2007. Interest on external debt increased by 30% or US$787 million. This year debt servicing could exceed G$10 billion.
When all new debts are computed, the total national debt is at par or has exceeded the 1992 level in US dollars. Literally, we are like a dog chasing its own tail. We are back to where we have started.
After our partially successful agitation last year on behalf of old age pensioners, the Government announced top up on supplements of $12,500 per month in allowances for water and electricity. Our Member of Parliament Eula Marcello already said that old people in Amerindian communities are left out and only a few pensioners, who are paying bills, would actually get the droppings.
It was most amusing how the regime tried to perk up the small perks. Minister Ali said that the top up would give pensioners a total of $18,745 per month. The Math does not add up, Mr. Ali. Some pensioners may get $20,000 per year for energy and $5,000 per year for water. At most, it is an average monthly subsidy of $2,085. Then Bishop Edghill embellished the story and added other supplements. He concluded that pensioners actually get $50,000 a month and above. Are these people for real?
We welcome the relief however for first time homeowners. We believe that the allowance, Income Tax would be paltry, but they would nonetheless we are grateful for small mercies.
This budget is meaningless for people in the public service. They are the working poor. The public sector minimum wage in the year 2012 was $37.667. They got a 5% in the year 2011, which was $1,700 more per month, or about G$60 a day.
This year, they have go-dies coming - big go-dies.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nagamootoo, I caution you that I think it is the second time it is a slip. To use Mr. Jones’s reference, the first time it might be considered…
Mr. Ramjattan: ...coincidence.
Mr. Speaker: No. The second is coincidence, but the third time will be definitely raising a matter of privilege.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Mr. Speaker, I withdraw my mispronunciation.
With another 5% they would get $63 per day, hardly enough to buy a green mango, or a bottle of water.
Government announced goodies - I have to be careful here - in reducing the income tax rate from 33 1/3% to 30%. For the person earning $60,000, he or she gets a discount of $333 or about US$1.70 per month. The person working for $80,000… [Mr. G. Persaud: What about the persons who are working for $300,000.] Those I know, the Pradovillers, will get $10,000. …gets a relief of $680 or US$3.40 per month.
This working class Government must be having fun, dangling as a carrot, allowances of between $300 and $600 per month to our Guyanese workers. The security guards, the store clerks, the salesgirls & boys, office assistants and sugar workers who earn $55,000 per month, would take home just over $160 dollars as a relief if they get it - Hallelujah indeed!
Sir, I have to come to the serious part of the contribution. Last year when he wound up the debate, I think you would be interested on this the Minister of Finance recognised the right of this National Assembly to cut budgetary allocations. He said:
“It is, indeed, the legitimate right of the Opposition to propose any change within the boundary of the Standing Orders, to any of these numbers. The PPP will always defend that right.”
The Attorney General thought otherwise and hauled the National Assembly before the courts. Now, we are in a legal and political mess, and the question to be resolved in the next few days, is whether to “approve or disapprove” the Estimates.
For the AFC, there must be protocols guiding cuts. Unless forced to disapprove the entire budget, AFC would not cut allocations that are in the national interest, say wages and salaries for the non-contracted public service and for essential services, including social sector spending for education, health, housing & water. We will cut bad project allocations, waste and extravagance. We must ask, for example, why we allocate more than $350 million dollars for presidential excursions overseas. Can we afford this? That is one of the areas we would probably look for to cut, allocations that hurt the national interest. The subsidies for the state-run propaganda machines that continue to lock out the Opposition and refuse to give fair and reasonable access to the public should not get a single cent. A demand priority must be for the opening up of the state media, and the recall of new radio and cable frequencies from cronies of this Government.
I think if the Prime Minister succeeds in cutting me, we would lose the essence of what I want to say.
This minority Government has lost its way. It seeks it own interests even when it clashes with the national interest.
As I speak, my thoughts are on Madiba, Nelson Mandela, who undertook his Long Walk to Freedom, as we know he is not well and he has said, as the Mahatma, that his service was what he did as duty, as a patriot. Something has happened here in this House. I will quickly recall this vulgar exploitation of people’s illness for glorification of the regime, and I found that to be in very bad taste.
Many of us have long shared the dream of a free, united, loving and happy Guyanese people. I dare to dream even in the dreary, dead decades of dictatorship and I still do, even under this extravagant and arrogant autocracy. Our dreams, as far back as 50 years ago, were lofty. Today, we are still dreaming. It is only that we are, as of the song, dreaming our lives away.
The clear streams of our dreams have become polluted. When we see in this very House, a challenge as to whether or not a Minister could drink water from the tap in Georgetown, our people have reason to feel unsafe. When we hear from sugar workers in Canje that they have to drink ‘blood water’, and we heard about water-borne diseases in the north-west district, our people are bound to feel insecure.
When we see the garbage pile up in the city, and we seem to be indifferent about it, we feel very insecure than agonised.
On Friday, I picked up The Parliamentarian and read a mind disturbing, revealing article by Dr. Steven Ratuva, titled, “Fiji’s illusive Democracy: Paradoxes, Dilemmas and Hopes”. It referred to the Pope praising Fiji’s in 1986, only to discover that there had been coups after coups in Fiji. Unlike Fiji, we have kept the lid on social explosion. We too have to sit down and work out practical resolutions of the Guyana ethno-national dilemma, whereas, now in Fiji, it is looking for constitutional reform and a formula for power sharing. We say today we can use our national budget to enlarge and make the elite comfortable. We can dish out social bribes, to carve out territory and make, as one Minister said, Rupununi as a PPP territory, but it would not take us away from gridlock.
I want to say something that I have bottled here for a long time.
I will say that the elections for the year 2011 was not a defeat for anyone - the people triumphed; they have emerged victorious from their ethnic cocoons and they opened wide the political door.
The Opposition has placed several issues on the table. For the AFC, we remain firm on a 10% wage increase for public servants and sugar workers, reduction in the Value Added Tax (VAT) or enlargement of the zero-rated basket and reduction of the Berbice River Bridge toll.
We need cooperation and we can do so over this budget. This is the time for real tri-partite engagement - nothing else will do.
It is for us, as leaders, to map out a new Guyana political civilisation based on negotiation, consensus and reconciliation. I say here that we need to heed to the advice of the former Speaker, Mr. Ralph Ramkarran to fix our broken political system. I will call now that fresh election is not an option before us because we have in this country cynicism, apathy, withdrawal and therefore we need to sit down and discuss the budget and the Estimates and work out a viable solution at this time.
I thank you. [Applause]
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