Budget Debate 20133214 08 Apr, 2013
Mr. Lumumba: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I stand here tonight to make this presentation with the intention to convince my colleagues on the opposite side to support the budget that has been proposed by the Government of Guyana, specifically by our formidable Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh. Before I get into the details of my presentation, I must compliment Dr. Singh and his staff and I say this because the burden of justification carries a lot of weight. In essence, credit must go to this unit of the Ministry of Finance, also the President of Guyana, the private sector, citizens and well-wishers.
It is apparent in the presentation, that Dr. Singh could not have pulled this budget out of a “magic bag”. He had to assess the nature of our economy. He had to look at the past. He had to assess the future. He had to observe the conditions of the world. He had to get a fair idea of the resources that are available for the development of Guyana. Preparing a budget and its justification must be based on science, logic and deliveries. On the other side, we have the Hon. Member of Parliament, Mr. Carl Greenidge, an experienced crafter of past budgets and an experienced economist who should understand economic reality.
Mr. Greenidge does not need a pair of binoculars to compare the past budgets and economies with the present. Mr. Greenidge is an intelligent man and from my observation, he is not blind and he has feelings. He is clearly in a position to guide his brothers and sisters on the other side so that they can identify the obvious.
Let us go back to Dr. Singh, the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Budget is a long road, it represents the highway to prosperity and the construction of this highway began over 20 years ago and every year, specific things are done to ensure that at the end of the day, everything that we propose connects with the previous activities so that eventually, the result would be prosperity for all.
It is imperative, in particular, for our younger generation that we must spend a few moments to listen to the observation of two brothers who came from the United States of America (USA). This is about visitors who have not been home to Guyana in 20 years. It is a clear attempt to understand the changes in this society. This presentation is not to attack the Opposition, specifically the APNU coalition. The past is the past and we cannot run away from it.
This person who came to Guyana after 20 years is Mr. Joseph Narine, and he said:
“I am 68 years old; I am from Corentyne, Berbice. My mother is Afro-Guyanese and my father is Indo-Guyanese. I migrated from Guyana 22 years ago and I have not been home since. I have just arrived and I am pleasantly surprised as I descend the stairs of the Caribbean Airlines aircraft and enter Immigration, I immediately felt at home. I notice the well-dressed immigration officers, all handsome and beautiful young men and women situated in these lovely booths that I have never seen before. The young woman who received my passport smiled at me and said, ‘welcome home, Sir’.”
Mr. Speaker he continued:
“I was pleasantly surprised and immediately began to love my country again - the poverty stricken country that I ran from 22 years ago. On my way to collect my bags, I shuddered at the thought of the eight bags that I would have to lift, only to be surprised that the bags were on a rotating ramp and then there were uniformed porters waiting to take my bags via the use of a trolley. This was not before they were sent through a piece of equipment to ensure that there were no bombs in my bag. Now I exit immigration, only to see smartly dressed uniformed taxi drivers standing in an orderly manner. After 20 years I felt as if I was now entering a society that has positively evolved greatly and has now become disciplined.
I then boarded a taxi and off we went. As we turned the corner from the airport, the mannerly taxi driver said to me, ‘Did you know we are getting a new airport?’ The airport is going to look like La Guardia with a new large terminal and six gates so that you would no longer have to walk through the rain anymore. Plus, we will have big planes from China, India and Africa and they all will be able to land here because of the larger runway that will be put in place. I was again pleasantly surprised. He went on to murmur that his neighbour who is a customs officer told him that there are more than 1000 cars being sold in Guyana per month. The taxi driver then said, ‘We are now constructing a four-lane road so there will be no congestion.’ I smiled and I said to the driver, ‘Head to Georgetown immediately’.
As we headed to Georgetown, I looked at the scenes before me; I saw painted houses, new zinc sheets, fat goats, fat sheep and fat cows”.
[Mr. Ramjattan: You looked in the mirror and saw yourself.] One looked like Khemraj; a cow named Khemraj, not a goat.
“What amazed me was that immediately I knew something was missing; I saw no one carrying water in buckets on their heads. I did not see families bathing in the canals, unlike the past. I saw no trucks with drums of potable water. I asked the driver in amazement, ‘Boy, are you sure this is Guyana?’ He laughed and responded, ‘You haven’t seen anything yet.’ He said, ‘Every house has water pipes’. No bathing in the blacka anymore.”
I am sorry the Deputy Speaker is not here, because she would not have to bathe in the blacker anymore. [Dr. Singh: Mrs. Backer used to bathe in the Blacka?] Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance is trying to put me in trouble.
“We were now at a place where it was the fishing village, I saw trawlers, so I asked the driver again, ‘What is happening here?’ He said: ‘We have mostly big boats now, some small boats, but we are into exporting more fish, shrimp and prawns.’ I said: ‘It’s no wonder that I have been purchasing this fish in the United States and have been saying to my wife, ‘This fish tastes like Guyanese fish’.
I then said to him, ‘Hurry, keep driving, I need to see what Georgetown looks like now’. Suddenly, there is traffic congestion; I asked him, ‘What is going on here?’ He said, ‘We are at Diamond, it is a housing scheme’. The driver said, ‘I will take you and show you’. As he turned right into Diamond, the houses I viewed were totally different from the wooden buildings that I was accustomed to in the pass, plus, I remember this area as being cow pastures and cane-fields 22 years ago.”
The houses he saw, hundreds of houses; he emphasised that they were mostly huge, some one-storey, two-storey, even three- storey and some with one or even two cars parked in some of the yards.
“I noted that so many cars could only mean that Guyana was getting like the Unite States. The amount of cars I saw represented economic growth. I said to the taxi driver, ‘Ok, let us continue to Georgetown, I need to get some money out of my account so we have to go to the bank’. The driver responded and said, ‘Sir, look to the right at those two big buildings that we are approaching’. As I looked, I saw that they were actually two banks with ATM machines. He said, ‘That was long time you do not have to go to town to get money anymore’. I thought that was weird I never thought that they would have put banks in the country side. There is now greater distribution of wealth.
At that moment my head began to hurt and I said to the driver, ‘Hurry, I need to get to the Georgetown Public Hospital; my hypertension may be acting up’. He said, ‘No need to go all the way to Georgetown, we have a hospital just a few feet away from here - the Diamond Diagnostic Hospital’. I asked about cost to do the necessary testing and was flabbergasted to learn that it was also free, just as it was at the Georgetown Public Hospital. He even went on to inform me that there were doctors present who were trained in Cuba. I instantly thought about moving back home because of the free health care and other developments.
As I travelled along the road to Georgetown, I noticed once again, congestion. I asked what was being done about this and why were the materials at the side of the road and was told that the road is being expanded to a four-lane highway from Diamond to Georgetown, and that all the new home-owners in that area would have an easier time to get to and from work. All I could have said at that moment was: ‘Oh my God, Guyana is definitely moving and improving’.
The taxi driver seemed to be very knowledgeable in this area, he said, ‘We have approximately 4000 – 5000 house lots for a housing scheme to accommodate re-migrants like you’. I said, ‘I am going to get mine immediately’.
I was overwhelmed. I have seen so much progress I am now confused. I am here with my brothers, Walter and John. Walter had heard so much about the new developments in Guyana, but was convinced by the Alliance for Change (AFC) representatives in the US to write them a cheque to donate to their political party because they had heard so many bad things about Guyana. He was actually bringing a cheque for Member of Parliament, Mr. Ramjattan, but because he heard the story
At Providence, I saw the houses, the house lots and a new road being re-built towards Mocha Arcadia. I asked myself, ‘How is it people cannot see Guyana’s development? How can politicians be so vicious? Why they, especially, cannot and will not tell the truth when things are so evident’?
I last saw cricket at Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC), now I am passing a place called the “Stadium”. I asked the driver...”
This was what he asked the driver:
“Is this the Yankee Stadium they brought to Guyana?’ The driver said, ‘No this is our Stadium.’ He went on to explain the different sports and activities carried out there. He spoke about the various international artistes like Akon, Beres Hammond et cetera.”
[Mr. Ali: Akon?] Yes. We have entertained the Guyanese population at this very stadium.
“I then saw the large sign marked “Casino” and asked the driver about it, he said, ‘This is the Princess Hotel and Casino, it has a large pool, poolside restaurant and bar, ATM machines, casino, hundreds of rooms, a gym, a spa, et cetera.’ I started wondering and said, ‘I do not need to go to Las Vegas anymore’. I then decided that it would be best that I come to my own country and go to that casino.
My brother Walter then shouted at me saying that he was heading across the river to the West Bank of Demerara because he wanted to see more to decide whether he was making the donation to the AFC or the PPP/C, but was afraid of the floating bridge. The driver then showed him a heading in the newspaper stating that Mr. Robeson Benn said that there would soon be a concrete bridge like those in the United States of America (USA) and England. Walter called me two hours later with excitement in his voice as he said, ‘Brother, I have been all over the West Demerara area. I have seen so many positive changes in the villages, but I have two specific places in my mind - Tuschen and Parfaite Harmony - both are completely developed. They have paved roads, potable water, painted houses, schools, health centres with nurses and drugs for distribution, lots of houses are now being constructed with ladders and carpenters on their premises.’ He turned to the driver and said, ‘Before I left Guyana, these villages were undeveloped; there was no water and no electricity’. I immediately thought about the fact that even the great United States does not have so many new housing schemes, recently. He then said that after his visit across the river, he would head to Corentyne, but not before he stopped at Freedom House with the donation for the PPP/C instead of the AFC. He said that he was now convinced that the PPP/C Government has brought Guyana from darkness to light and that the AFC wanted to join PNC/R/APNU to carry Guyana back to the days of Burnham.
As I journeyed to Georgetown, I smelled a stench. I noticed garbage high over my head and was rewarded by burning eyes. I thought I would die. I then turned to the driver and asked him why was Georgetown so filthy. He said that most of the out of town areas are under the PPP/C Government; the people who manage the city are members of the PNC/R/APNU, the garbage and cleaning is their responsibility, however the PPP/C helps them as a necessity.
I asked to go to the hospital to check on my eyes, he suggested the Guyana Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). I asked him, ‘Are you crazy? Why would I want to go where I know 22 years ago there were no doctors? That the same hospital which sent an ambulance to Buxton to pick up Lumumba’s grandfather two weeks after he died? Is it the same hospital where a rat bit a baby while she was in her bed?’ He said, ‘No, things have changed, we have Dr. Bheri Ramsaran who is the current Minister of Health, highly trained doctors from Cuba, we have Dr. Norton who will take care of the eyes and we also have a dispensary that is well stocked with drugs. When I arrived at that hospital I was appalled, I thought I was at the Bellevue Hospital in the U.S., the doctor’s shirt was lily white, his disposition welcoming and I was seen by the doctor ten minutes after my arrival and given some eye drops to help my burning eyes.
I then called Walter and told him that I was headed to New Thriving for lunch. The driver told me they had peking duck, chowmein, lowmein and even lobster. I said to Walter, Guyana has really changed, but for the better, as I see it. I decided that after lunch, I would go to the market and buy some fruits after my meal. Walter called and said that he was headed to the Corentyne now, but was afraid to travel the distance at night due to an experience with robbers 24 years ago. The taxi driver then said that it was safe to travel the distance since we now have good roads and highway lights. Then Walter asked, ‘What about the ferry that used to take four hours?’ The taxi driver said that it can now be substituted by another means of crossing the river. Walter then mentioned the new market being built at Mahaica, a big concrete structure, which he stated he was taking a few photos of to show off to the Guyanese-Americans, because APNU/AFC told them that there were no markets in Guyana and that people sell fruits on the roadside.
Walter boasted about the big beautifully, painted houses that he was seeing East, West, North and South as the car sped towards West Berbice. He spoke of the spanking new health centres, large newly built schools. One hour later, Walter told me that he was in the middle of the Berbice River. I instantly asked him if he was crazy and asked him what boat he was on and what time he would reach the Corentyne. He said, ‘I will be there in a few minutes; I am on the bridge like the Manhattan Bridge’. Walter said, ‘Brother, it takes 3 minutes to cross the Berbice River now as opposed to four hours, 22 years ago.’ He suggested that this was cause for us to take a drink to former president Bharat Jagdeo and the PPP/C Government.”
Mr. Speaker, Guyana has indeed changed, the roads are better, there is potable water, new schools, hospitals equipped with doctors, nurses and drugs.
“At this point, my journey became very tiresome and I decided to get a hotel and get some rest. I asked the driver to take me to the Pegasus Hotel, but before that, I would stop at the market for my fruits. The driver drove down Robb Street and I saw the dozens of cars along the street doing their shopping. The stalls and shelves were fully packed with fruits and greens. Before I migrated, it took a few minutes to walk through the market to encounter only dried up greens and rotten fruits. Now, it is an entirely different experience.
Upon my arrival at the Pegasus Hotel, the front desk staff advised that there were no rooms available; I was surprised because I had to had to ask the question, ‘How can a country with a bad economy have hotels that are fully booked?’ I asked the driver to take me to another hotel. The driver turned left and jokingly said, ‘Let us go to the Marriott.’ There I saw a huge building with dozens of workers doing their carpentry and asked the driver, ‘What is this?’ He said, ‘This is the Marriott International Hotel & Casino, it will be completed in August 2014. My immediate response was, ‘Book me a room for next year now.”
Mr. Speaker what Walter and his brother have seen is a new Guyana, a democratic Guyana and a Guyana with hope. A Guyana, that guarantees that Member of Parliament, Mrs. Volda Lawrence, is much healthier now, than 22 years ago. A Guyana with an army that the Hon. Opposition Leader, Major General, Granger was part of; an army that now has guns with sufficient bullets for them, an army that is now professional; an army that does not allow their young officers to sell the New Nation newspaper in front of Guyana Stores; a Government that would not order a public servant to attend a political party’s general council meeting. It is a different Guyana that would not allow Major General Granger to be unceremoniously jumped by Mr. Joe Singh. Guyana now has democracy. With this Government, no public servant can be ordered by the Hon. Minister Westford to carry the Mirror newspaper and sell it anywhere. We now have a country that is blessed; a country that is for all of Guyana, regardless of race, colour and creed.
The growth that Walter and his brother witnessed can only continue if the proposed budget is accepted. This Government is open to discussions and debates, we have not closed the door and we have never closed the doors. The discussions, however, must be about economic growth, must be about truism about what is good for the country; it must be practical; it must be about the creation of employment, construction of more buildings on Sheriff Street, Robb Street and all the streets of Guyana. A 5% growth rate in this world today is a phenomena, controlling inflation is a phenomena. This Government has done well.
My brothers and sisters on the other side argue that Value Added Tax (VAT) should be lowered; VAT is too high. If VAT were to be lowered to 15%, old age pension could not have been increased. The money has to come from somewhere. Unlike the PNC/APNU, this Government does not believe in Obeah. Because VAT is 16%, the sugar industry was able to receive $1 Billion; $2.9 Billion was given to Linden in electricity. The money has to come from somewhere; unlike the PNC/APNU, this Government does not believe in Obeah. Guyana Power Light (GPL) was given $5.8 Billion, if VAT was lowered, we would not have been able to cushion the 1% increase in NIS, it is because VAT is 16% that the income tax threshold is eased. The money has to come from somewhere; unlike the PNC/APNU, this Government does not believe in Obeah. If VAT was lowered, we could not have provided that $20, 000 per annum for senior citizens in electricity. If VAT at 16% is lowered then the property tax that has been lowered could not have been dealt with and the young professionals, who now have tax relief through the interest of mortgages, would not have been able to receive that.
I have known Member of Parliament (MP) Greenidge for a number of years and I have known him not to be racial man; I have known him to be a good person. For MP Greenidge to say that giving $1 billion to GuySuCo is a “black hole”, can make those that do not know him, believe that his position is ethnic based. Furthermore, is he saying that Linden deserves $2.9 billion, but GuySuCo does not? He needs to pronounce and clarify the difference between the two. The Hon. Member, Mr. Carl Greenidge, must have a comprehensive position on this issue through more debates and discussions; he must not get away with this lightly. This country needs clarity. I am personally uncomfortable with Mr. Greenidge’s statement because anything that looks racist or smells racist can be interpreted as racist.
Why is it ok for one set of people or one community to get $2.9 billion and another cannot get $1 billion? As a matter of fact, both sets of communities can only be sustained with these interventions. Furthermore, MP Moses Nagamootoo and MP Khemraj Ramjattan, who incidentally and this is not necessarily indigenous or have nothing to do with ethnicity, the fact that they are East Indians does not mean that they are not nice guys, I think they are great guys I think they are fair-minded and good men. They have been very silent when Member of Parliament, Greenidge attacked the sugar belt. They are very silent on the matter; they did not refute him on the matter or did not ask him to clarify the matter. It seems that the AFC and APNU are working together at any cost, even if it means dismantling the economic growth of the people of the sugar belt of Berbice. This confounded nonsense must stop.
In conclusion, I suggest that we, as political leaders continue to talk; we must continue to find ways of working together. This budget is not about the PPP/C, it is about Guyana. I close by congratulating the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh and his staff on their outstanding job with the proposed budget and I encourage my brothers and sisters on the opposite side to support and accept the 2013 Budget as laid. [Applause]
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