Budget Debate 20132174 08 Apr, 2013
Minister of Local Government and Regional Development [Mr. G. Persaud]: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. Permit me to join with those who have express congratulations to the Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh and his team of dedicated and committed staff members, for once again producing the Budgetary Estimates for the year 2013 and continue to make all of us as Guyanese proud.
It is my understanding that the 2013 Budgetary Estimates have emerged from a process of deliberate consultations with several key and critical stakeholders across this beautiful land of ours, including, those on both sides of this Honourable House. Maybe it is because of such consultations that Budget 2013 has received the magnitude of popular support and the excellent public ratings, some of which was acknowledged and shared by Members of the opposite side of the House; such as the Hon. Member Mr. Sharma, when he boldly stated that at a quick glance, Budget 2013, as presented by the Hon. Minister, is seem by the public as a very good budget.
Various sections of our society at the individual and group levels have also publicly expressed an extremely high degree of agreement and satisfaction with the $208.8 billion Budget, as presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance on behalf of the PPP/Civic Government.
I must commend all individuals and groups who have made public, their comments on Budget 2013, including the Private Sector Commission, Chambers of Commerce across Guyana, entrepreneurs from all walks of life, Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and all representatives of Labour, as well as farmers, workers, students, senior citizens, differently able citizens, representatives of youth, as well as individual young people; members of the sporting fraternities, just to name a few. It is therefore obvious that Budget 2013 has something for everyone. Every strata of our society and hence we can therefore conclude that undoubtedly, it is a well crafted budget.
I wish to acknowledge and endorse statements made by my colleagues on this side of the House who would have spoken on Budget 2013. I also wish to acknowledge the Hon. Members of the opposite side of the House, who would have also spoken in support of key measures, as outlined in budget 2013.
I have noted concerns expressed by some Members on the opposite side of the House. I wish to reiterate that our National Budget is presented annually to this House and so it is for a specific period; the Fiscal Year.
Hence, no one should expect that this Budget 2013 can sufficiently and adequately address all the developmental and socioeconomic issues affecting our country at this point in time. While I do not think that it is necessary to remind all of us that we are still a developing country and as such we are not fortunate to have all of the resources that we would like to have to fix all of the issues and problems affecting all of us as Guyanese immediately, nonetheless the PPP/Civic Government is committed to continue offering effective leadership, stewardship, strategies, initiatives and programmes which will continue to enhance and accelerate our growth and development as a people and as a nation.
The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development is responsible for 11 Budget Agencies, that is, our Central Ministry and ten Regional Administration, and as such I am happy to state that as a collective unit we have benefited from a significant increase in the $208.8 billion Budget 2013. Overall, in 2012, the revised budget for the 11 agencies was $21,278,267,000 in comparison to what is proposed in Budget 2013, $23,425,690,000, an increase of 9.7%. I wish to commend the Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, for assisting me in doing some of the math so that I had to just copy his figures.
It must be noted that during 2012 the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, along with its ten other Budget Agencies, six municipalities and 65 National Democratic Councils (NDCs), including the 200 plus Community Development Councils stayed very closely connected to our communities across this beautiful land of ours. This allowed us the opportunity to listen to suggestions, comments and proposals as to how the different tiers of Government, through budgetary support, can bring greater joy, happiness and comfort into their lives.
Myself and my Colleague Minister, the Hon. Norman Whittaker, also listened attentively to many of our colleagues on the opposite side of this House as they would have sought to focus our attention to issues affecting citizens and communities and the various regions, municipalities and NDCs. Some of these issues remained unsolved and so they are now placed in Budget 2013 hoping that we will receive the required support so that the solutions can be brought to bear very early in this year so that we can, as a collective, resolve issues affecting the communities across the regions.
I wish to commend all Members on both sides of this honourable House for their support in bringing community issues to our Ministry’s attention and also for making suggestions and recommendations with regards to possible solutions. The working relationships with many on the opposite side of this House would have resulted in several major issues at the local level resolved; much to the satisfaction of the residents. I wish to reiterate that some additional solutions are contained in the indicative years of our budget and we are hoping that, should savings be accrued from Budget 2013 approved projects, we will be able to take some of those projects on board at a later stage in this year.
For us at the Ministry and the other tiers of regional and local governance, Budget 2013 is significantly charged with the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government’s commitment as was stated in the 2011 Manifesto and also during Government’s interactions with communities in 2012. This budget will result in many expectations being met, many promises being fulfilled, many issues being resolved; thereby enhancing the quality of life of our people.
For the 11 agencies in 2012, the revised expenditure under the current budget for administration and finance programme was $1,044,812,000. Budget 2013 proposes $1,224,030,000; an increase of 17.2%. This is extremely significant since this increase and the total allocation will allow for the 642 staff members across the 11 agencies in the 10 regions to have more financial resources expended on their welfare and wellbeing.
Under the agriculture programme in 2012 the revised allocation was $1,188,325,000 as against Budget 2013 making available $1,284,495,000; an increase of $96,170,000 or 8.1%. The number of staff members in the agriculture programmes across the ten regions would have increase too over the year 2012 and are catered for in Budget 2013; staff movement from 301 to 319. This is an indication that the fears expressed by the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan and the Hon. Member Mr. Morian that we seem to be under-resourcing agriculture at the regional level does not hold much since we have increased allocation as well as the number of staff members on the extension programme.
The current budget for the public works programme: In 2012, we expended in excess of $1 billion. In the year 2013, the allocation is $1.2 billion. Here too we have had a staff increase, moving from 240 to 254. The allocations under this programme will see us maintaining a number of our structures and infrastructure, including our roads, bridges and other infrastructure across the10 regions of Guyana.
For the education programme the revised budget for 2012 would have recognised an expenditure of $11,104,000,000 under education in comparison to a budget of $12,087,000,000 provided in Budget 2013. This, in itself, is an increase of 8.8%. It must be noted that the number of staff members under the education programme across the 10 regions would have increase from 7,908 to 8,280. Apart from the increase in numbers, the number of trained, skilled and additionally qualified persons during the year would have increased considerably too. This allocation will generally enhance the delivery of education services across the ten regions and will seek to compliment the support provided by the Central Ministry of Education in areas such as the School Feeding Programme, distribution of text and exercise books, provision of other teaching and learning materials. It is anticipated too that this allocation in 2013 will, in a very significant way, enhance our ability to effectively maintain our infrastructure – our school buildings and other infrastructure – which are part of the education assets in the 10 regions. Part of this allocation, as well, would be used to enhance our security services in the education sector; thereby offering greater protection to our facilities.
I noted the disclosure made by the Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan, in which he sought to compare and contrast the allocations given to Region No. 4 with that of Region No. 6 and at the same time sought to insinuate that there is some evidence of discrimination in the apportioning of resources. I am of the view that it was an honest error on the part of the Hon. Member and this was due to lack of knowledge with regard to the regional system, particularly Region No. 4 and with regard to how the budget allocations work in this region.
For the National Budget the entire landmass of Georgetown, including the population of the city, are excluded from the Regional Administration, Region No. 4, Budget so we cannot use the entire population of Region No. 4, including that of Georgetown, and then seek to compare and to say that one region would have benefited more or less.
As I said earlier, I am of the view that the Hon. Member made an honest mistake and so, to take the guidance provided by the Hon. Attorney General, let me use an example so that the error would not be made in the future. If we look at the education allocation for Region No. 4 all the schools and educational institutions that are within the boundaries of Georgetown, all the teachers and facilitators who operate within these institutions are catered for under the Ministry of Education’s Budget, centrally, and not in that of the Regional Administration and so it is for all of the other programmes in the regional budget.
The health programme across the 10 regions: The 2013 Budget has made provision for $3.6 billion to be expended. This is an increase of 7.6% over expenditure for 2012. In the health sector, the staff members at the regional level continues to increase not only in quantity but also at the level of quality based on deliberate exposure to a number of training programmes, seminars and workshops. The number of health workers across the regions is recorded now as 2,320 in comparison to 2,209 in 2012. This undoubtedly is a very good indicator of the effective delivery of healthcare across the 10 regions. I must remind us that the Central Ministry of Health, like the Ministry of Education, provides significant support to the health programme in the ten regions. Much of the drugs and medical supplies, as well as training for the various categories of health workers, providing of other basic healthcare materials are often undertaken by the Central Ministry of Health. As a nation we can boast of having healthcare facilities in more than 90% of the communities across the ten regions. This, no doubt, has contributed to a higher life expectancy rate of our people. It can be further argued that the quality and degree of healthcare offered to our citizens at the local level often exceed expectations. It must be noted that the number of referrals from the hinterland to the coastland region are on a steady decline which is a very empirical indicator that the quality and quantity of healthcare is improving at the regional and at the community levels.
I wish to express profound thanks and gratitude on behalf of the PPP/Civic Government to the 11,815 employees at the Central Ministry and in the 10 Regional Administrations for their dedication and commitment displayed during the year 2012 in the implementation and completion of the various projects and activities and to encourage them to display greater commitment and dedication in the execution of a larger number of projects and activities as a consequence of higher degrees of budget allocations.
Many of my colleagues have agreed and accepted that while we have done much, while many services have improved, both at the quantity and quality levels, there are still difficulties and inconveniences experienced by our citizens from time to time. I wish to join my colleagues in such acceptance and to invite the Hon. Members on the opposite side of this House to join us in minimising and removing these irritants and hindrances from the various service systems wherever they exist.
The Hon. Member, Dr. Norton, state that there is no doctor at the Mahdia Hospital. Here again I want to believe that at the time when the Hon. Member received the information it was before 28th February, 2013, and because of the Hon. Member being busy with commitments he could not have double checked because information available - and I am certain the Hon. Member representing the AFC from that region would have guided the Hon. Member, Dr. Norton, had he enquired - would state that a doctor by the name of Dr. Samaroo took up this appointment at Mahdia Hospital on the 28th February, 2013, so to say that we do not have a doctor only a couple of days ago... Here again, I think, the Hon. Member, Dr. Northon, would have trusted the information that would have been passed to him; so unfortunate but it happens at times.
Once again I must respond to a statement made by the Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan. That statement stated that RDC Councillors were not paid stipends for five months in 2012 up to today. I am in sympathy with the Hon. Member, Mr. Bulkan because it seems as if there are some persons who are bent on providing incorrect information to the Hon. Member, seeking to cause embarrassment to this Hon. Member in public space. Payments of stipends for RDC Councillors were available in 2012 at the usual RAU counter to the extent that some councillors would have been a little bit tardy in uplifting their payments. Information received as of yesterday suggested that there are only two councils who have not uplifted one month’s payment that is still at the RAU, waiting to be picked up. I think that there was some mischief in that information shared to the Hon. Member. The intention, apparently, was to discredit the Regional Administration but what has happened here, because this information is verifiable, is that it has only ended up in causing an embarrassment to a dedicated and Hon. Member of this House; very unfortunate.
Seeing that I am responding to statements that were made here, apparently Region No. 8 indeed has difficulties with persons accessing information in a timely manner – especially accurate information. The Hon. Member, Ms. Marcello, made several statements during her budget presentation. I will seek to just correct one such statement and that is one where teachers have not been paid Hard Line Allowances and Remote Area Incentive Allowance for 2012 and for 2013, thus far. Such allowances are part of the monthly payroll mechanism. Those payrolls are generated by the Ministry of Finance and a quick inspection would reveal that as of March, 2013, there are no outstanding payments for any of these allowances.
I am certain that the Hon. Member, here again, was provided with the information she shared.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, one second. I recognise Ms. Marcello; on a Point of Order, I suspect...
Ms. Marcello: On a Point of Verification, Mr. Speaker, I did not say “Remote Area Incentive”. I said “Station and Hard Line Allowances”.
Mr. G. Persaud: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. My apologies, I stick with the “Hard Line Allowance”.
Mr. Speaker: The Point of Order is upheld. Thank you.
Mr. G. Persaud: As I said, the Hon. Member can verify this on her return to the region. Just check any one of the pay sheets and that will give her the information she needs. If she has the time, however, and wants very urgent response, I am certain that the Accountant General at the Ministry of Finance would be willing to facilitate a quick inspection.
As I was saying, I am certain that the Hon. Member was provided with the information which she shared and her intension was to share this information so that if indeed a problem existed it would have been correct.
On the number of other inaccurate statements that were made I will seek to have a discourse with the Hon. Member and provide the responses so that we can move away these misconceptions and misinformation.
The revised capital budget for 2012 at the Ministry level would have revealed as recorded an expenditure of $751 million. I am extremely pleased that Budget 2013 proposes an expenditure of $1.1 billion, an increase of 42.4%. We welcome such an increase.
In 2012, the regions expended $2.3 billion and in 2013 it is expected that they will be spending $2.6 billion; an increase of 15.2%. Overall the capital allocation proposed in Budget 2013, for the Ministry and the regions, is $3.7 billion as against $3.1 billion in 2012. This is a 22% increase across the eleven programmes and, once again, we are very please.
This year the capital budget for the Ministry will provide resources to acquire an additional vehicle which will be used in our M and E Department. Budget 2013 will also allow for the enhanced staff comfort by facilitating the procurement of air condition units, fax machines, cabinets, chairs, desks, water dispensers. Budget 2013 has also continued to provide subventions to the six municipalities and 65 NDCs.
Provisions have been made in Budget 2013 for completion of the market tarmac at Mabaruma and construction of sanitary facilities at a number of the tarmacs located in various parts of the country; namely Patentia, Buxton and Enmore. These sanitary facilities are intended to maximise the use of the tarmacs since these were requests coming from the vendors, themselves.
Budget 2013 has, once again, enhanced the Ministry’s power generation programme. Solar lighting systems will be provided to several health centres across Region Nos. 1, 7, 8 and 9. The Haags Bosch Sanitary Landfill Programme, which was started several years ago, will continue to receive budgetary support this year to the tune of $732 million. The project was able to complete, thus far, full closure of the La Repentir Landfill Site, install gas vents, construct an access road from Cemetery Road to Mandela Avenue. Budget 2013’s total estimate for the solid waste programme is $732 million; $662 million from the specific and $70 million for local contribution. The programme will be carrying out a vigorous public awareness programme to sensitise the public on the ramifications of littering, both the environmental impact and legal consequences, under the proposed Solid Waste Act.
The programme will see, during the year 2013, the procurement of 841 collection bins to be placed at public institutions and places with the 15 NDCs in Region 4. These bins will be serviced by the 4 compactor collection trucks which will be procured during this year. The programme will also be purchasing several larger containers to be used in Georgetown commercial district. These containers will be serviced by a specialised truck used for those types of containers.
The Government of Guyana is currently finalising a Regional Solid Waste Management Programme, which was under consideration by our Cabinet from the year 2011, and which will be rolled out in all the regions, except Region 4. This system is as a result of lengthy, transparent and dedicated engagements with the private sector, regional and community based organisations, citizens and waste management entrepreneurs over a 19-month period. This will join the list of the other private- public partnership (PPP) initiatives taken by the PPP/C Government in recent times. The intention is to ensure that dump sites across our country no longer exist and that the management of solid waste will be done through the establishment of landfill sites across the regions.
It must be noted, too, that the PPP/C Government is at the final stage of discussion with several companies and organisations which have expressed interest in establishing waste recycle plants in our country. To this end, Cabinet has established a committee, which includes the following Ministries such as Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Tourism, Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development to bring closure to these discourses.
Across the capital programmes of the 10 regions, Region 1 the Hon. Minister Whittaker would have given insights with regards to what are some of the activities, programmes and project we will be undertaking in that region. Let me say a significant sum of money allocated in Budget 2013 would be used to procure a number of items that would seek to enhance the working conditions of our staff members and also enhance accommodation at staff quarters across the 10 regions.
We will continue to focus on our agricultural activities and programmes. We will continue to focus on enhancing our delivery of education by the construction of new schools, extensions of additional school facilities, construction of sanitary blocks, upgrading of our physical infrastructure, including our play grounds and our play parks.
We will also seek to focus on the number of roads and streets across the various regions. We will seek to look at our Drainage and Irrigation (D&I) structures. We will also, through our public works programme, seek to do major maintenance, construction and rehabilitation of our buildings under that programme.
Under our health programme what we will seek to do is to upgrade or health huts. Most of them, because of their size, cannot, at this point in time, allow for patients layover. We are hoping to focus on some of those health centres during this year to see how we can provide more space in those centres. We will also work on enhancing our outreach programmes in the health sector by providing vehicles, outboards engines and boats. The sore question of ambulance, we are ensuring that our budget, once approved, will provide additional vehicles in the ambulance service area.
I am confident that the Hon. Members in this House will have no hesitation in supporting and approving the expenditures proposed under the Ministry and the 10 regions and by extension the entire Budget 2013.
The expenditures catered for in Budget 2013 are expenditures which, as I said earlier, many of us, here in this House and the communities out there, would have identified as projects need to be undertaken, as solutions needed, so that we can enhance the comfort of the citizens.
There are some projects and activities which were brought to our attention but were not included in Budget 2013. We accept that there are some persons who are employed in the public and civil services who are not functioning with the expected dedication and commitment, thus causing undue hardship for some of our citizens. There are some officers whose actions are less than transparent. There are some, who are publicly employed, who are non supportive and non cooperative to members of the public. Yes, there is room for improvement in the enforcing of the by-laws and dealing with the issues of solid waste, but we will continue to address these issues and with all of us working together we can correct these deficiencies. I urge that we seek to forge closer working relationships between and among ourselves.
It is no secret that, as a country, we have made significant progress in our fight against poverty and our quest to secure a better life for all of our people. These achievements are as a result of many of us working together and putting our peoples and our country first.
Here, again, Budget 2013 presents another opportunity for us as statesmen and women to unconditionally demonstrate and send that positive signal to all Guyanese that their elected leaders, from all walks of the political divide, are serious about their continued growth and development as well as that of our beautiful country.
As we move closer to the point of granting our approval to Budget 2013, I urge all of us to please do so, and do so with hope and expectations that our actions will result in our peoples having a better life and so to come the end of the year 2013 we will all say that we have exercised our responsibilities in a manner that would have won the admiration of the people who have elected us to serve.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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