Budget Debate 20143523 07 Apr, 2014
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I know the hour is very late and people are tired. I would not be as long as earlier speakers, as I am not allowed to speak too long in this place. This is the third budget of the PPP/C Government in the Tenth Parliament. It marks the midterm of this Parliament and despite the enormous challenges and hindrances and delays that have come to be the hallmark of what is the definition of this new dispensation in the Tenth Parliament, the PPP/Civic can proudly say that despite of all of this, the Government recorded its eighth consecutive year of positive economic growth.
The doubting Thomases amongst us find the 5.2% growth rate unfathomable for them. This parliamentary debate has been replete with doubting Thomases who believe that somehow the figures are not right, but they do not have a clue whether the figures are right or not and they do not know how to even calculate GDP. But we, in this House, are made to suffer in this way by people who refuse to, even at a level of trust, accept that some of the figures might be right.
The IMF and other bodies have recognised Guyana for making prudent fiscal and financial management in relation to the economy of our country. This third Budget has, again, delivered on a series of transformative programmes and projects for A Better Guyana for All Guyanese. I have heard people talking about this being somehow a plagiarised theme from the PNC, A Good Live for All. English is English. “A Better Guyana for all Guyanese”, the emphasis is on Guyana and that is where the whole thrust of this Budget is on.
I have heard speakers on the other side refer to the Budget as having no vision, that it is a repair and maintenance budget. I have seen some Members bring some recommendations, but regrettably most of these have no vision. I will give examples of those. I wonder if Members on the other side have any idea of what an achievement it is that Guyana has been able to reach positive economic growth for over eight years, consecutive eight years, especially in a period where world prices were falling for rice and gold. The global economy is still trying to recover, in a number of parts of the world, from the crisis of seven years ago where many of our sister countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have recorded low levels of economic growth and some actually beginning to show some minus growth. How is this possible that Guyana could do this? Brining examples of other countries is useful but, nevertheless, this is an achievement that we, as Guyanese, should be proud of because it was done under adverse conditions and adverse times. It was not given to us on a platter. It is also a time when we were coming out of the worst violent crime wave that this country had, which ended in 2008. It was at that time we had the global fuel and food crisis and the global financial and economic crisis which have impacted on our countries.
It is the expansion and diversification of the economic base; the restoration and expansion of rice and bauxite and mining and new investments, both local and foreign; the growth of micro and small businesses, including the integration of an untapped source of expansion through the transformative economies in the Amerindian villages...
I would like to refer to two observations in this Budget debate. One is the struggle that is going on in the House between what is a small world vision and what is a big world view. The small world view seems to be able to concentrate on the immediate needs and what are figured as what is immediately around them, hence the provision of goods and services, roads and so forth.
Certainly, we could forever complain about electricity, roads, air services in and out of Guyana, et cetera, but unless we have a big world view, we cannot solve these problems, hence Amaila Hydropower Project, the Mazaruni Hydropower Development Project, the CJIA, the Linden/Lethem Road, and other new roads and highways. Some of these take five years in preparation and negation before anything is built so one has to be looking beyond, at least, ten years up the road. The conflict within governments and the tension within any government is the issue of delivering the immediate needs of the people and, at the same time, looking in the horizon and seeing how one can solve problems while one keeps the society going and developing. But our Friends on the other side seem to not want the big projects. My colleague on the other side, Ms. Amna Ally, says, “Why is it always about projects? We do not want projects.
Just put things in the schools. Fix the schools.” That is what I am calling ‘classical small world vision’. In fact, not one speaker, I believe, as I have listened to every speaker, including my Friend, the last speaker... I truly believe that the Opposition wants a repair and maintenance budget and not a vision for a better Guyana, not a vision for a future Guyana, because we have not one speaker refer to how we solve the ever growing demand for energy as we become more modern and people are able to afford more fridges, televisions, microwaves, household appliances, including more construction, mechanic shops, air conditioning, elevators, escalators, even car washes than before. These are crucial ingredients for our expansion and diversification of our economy. Not one speaker referred to how we can use IT and connectivity to make Government be more efficient and to be able to make sure that we have equitable access to the delivery of services. All we got was a litany of woes - again, tunnel vision, small world vision.
The problem with the Opposition... They may have a new name, the APNU and the AFC, but both parties are trapped in a time warp of the 1980s, the same old mantra of provision of jobs instead of calling for job creation, new investments, self employment, small business opportunities with no recognition of how we can, as a primary producing country, expand further, diversify further and be able to find new markets and so on.
I waited with bated breath for my Friend across the aisle, the Hon. Mr. Greenidge, as a lead speaker, as I felt that he, having been exposed to overseas and also being an older politician, would have a vision for Guyana... Again, hearing the Hon. Member, as with other speakers, come with the same mantra - reduce that, reduce the Berbice Bridge fees, increase salaries, increase universal old age pension, with no idea of sustainability... There was not one comment in relation to impact of these proposals on inflation, not one idea of expanding a new sector. There was not one new idea of a new venture for this country and its people. There was nothing on LCDS and the amount of moneys earned through trade in our carbon credit as a brand new area of international trade agenda. Is US$115 million of no consequence to the Opposition? Is it of no importance that we are earning this amount of money with a brand new area of trading?
The debate has been about the small world view versus the big world view and I will just use a classical anecdote. My Friend is not here sitting in his seat, but the classical example of how absurd we could get in this House is when we were regaled by a certain Member in the Opposition about how there were only 20 rolls of toilet paper in a ward in the psychiatric hospital on a monthly basis. This is a budget to do with the future of our country. The 20 rolls of toilet paper could be put in a question to a Minister during normal times of the Sitting.
This small world view, this tunnel vision... The medical definition of tunnel vision is very clear and, in fact, is almost the same as the definition of the small world view. Tunnel vision is a medical condition in which one can only see what is directly in front of him or her. One has no peripheral vision and can only see exactly what is in front of him or her. In general parlance, it refers to the tendency to concentrate on one goal or one aspect without considering anything else.
I submit that the Opposition speakers seem to have suffered from some level of tunnel vision and maybe need a good ophthalmologist.
The Opposition cannot ignore that life has changed in Guyana. Yes, we still have poverty, but it has been reduced and will continue to be reduced under the PPP/Civic Government. We can deliver more goods and services more efficiently and better. Are there any ideas from the Opposition on how to do that? Again, not one Member on that side... How do we, as a people... You talk about partnership but it is all a bunch of fluff. It is all a bunch of fluff because you do not come to us. You do not sit with us and talk about partnership. What is our interest as a Government and an Opposition? We want the betterment of our people, that a child in Waramadong, a child in Sophia and a child in Corentyne can all have the same access to the same things. How do we do that? Do you think that it is done by waving a magic wand and because you say it has to be done?
The profile of poverty has changed. The abject poverty of squatting housing areas and slums made with zinc and cardboard that one could have found in every Region of Guyana with no water, no sanitation, no roads are gone; from 30 years ago, they are gone. The days of children pushing carts with drums of water for miles up the road and skipping school are over. The days of 54% of our children under the age of five having malnutrition and swollen bellies, with kwashiorkor, are over. The days of 71% of our pregnant mothers being anaemic are over. The days of Amerindian children not accessing secondary education and primary education are over. It may return if they come back into office because we have gone through that before.
The challenge that even the former President, Mr. Burnham, had: He wanted to create, under Marcus Garveyism, a new middle class and he was right; we were independent and we needed to create a new middle class. However, the problem was that this conflicted with his other view of the state controlling 80% of the economy and, therefore, the middle class in Guyana could not have emerged. The opening up of the society... He could not develop a business class, as he would have liked, and instead created a professional class which were party members and the space at the top was only for those who held the card with the palm tree. There was no other space for anybody else.
Our children today can talk about wanting to be pilots, nurses, doctors, teachers and so on, but 20 years ago or 30 years, if one went to the sugar working areas, a child in the sugar working areas was told to go cut cane when he or she finished primary school. On parts of the East Coast, they were told to go and work in the farms. Life has changed and we say that there is poverty, but the abject grinding poverty that we saw...and there is photographic evidence and medical evidence that you will have difficulties believing anyway because you do not believe anything that we say.
When 13,000 solar units are given out to Amerindian households in the interior, it changes, radically, the lives. Children can do their homework, not by “juck-juck” lamp, as it was on the coast 30 years ago or 20 years ago, but children are able to read by light to be able to study and to do their homework. It has radically changed their way of live.
I just thought I would share some statistics with you. I thought that you, in particular, would like these, Mr. Speaker. The number of landlines that we had in Guyana in 1992 was 20,000. In December, 2013, there were 156,805 land lines. The number of cellular phones: in 2000, there were only 10,000 cellular services active. Do you know what it was at the end of December?
It was 555,035; two-thirds of the population in Guyana has cellular phone. The number of persons with electrical connections has grown from 108,000 to 174,000. [Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Paid for by the people’s money. Did you buy it?] It is a provision of service, Mr. Harmon. You are missing the boat, as usual.
We made comments about vehicles and so on, but social capital, when one assesses poverty levels and the upward mobility and the change of the profile in society, it is measured in a series of things, including cellular phones, televisions, fridges, stoves, cars and so on. [Mr. Nadir: Access to latrine...] When last have I seen a latrine? Right here in Georgetown there were many of them. I would not go through the data from 1992.
In 2013, there were 15,694 new vehicles registered in Guyana. A third of these were private vehicles - 5,850. The percentage of private cars as of a percentage of new vehicles was 37.3% so we see too that people are being able to acquire property, goods and services on their own, in their own merit. We moved away from the Burnham era of the padroni culture, of the state taking care of everything. People are growing and being able to stand on their own two feet and the Government is urged to stand with them and help them to get there, whereas, before, under the Burnham mentality, it was that persons would only do what the state told them to do and the state will take care of everything and the state could not take care of anything.
The old age pension: Mrs. Rodrigues-Birkett spoke very well about the importance of this pension and non-contributory pension schemes in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is something relatively new. But Guyana has been doing it for quite a while. Our old age pension as a percentage – this is our old age pension, which is universal – of GDP is 1.19%, which is higher than most of the other Latin American countries. If we add on other pensions, such as statutory pensions, GDF pensions and so forth, and NIS, the total percentage of the GDP for pension, contributory and non-contributory, has risen to 4.05% of the GDP. Therefore, when one starts tinkering with some of these issues, it is important to recognise the impact of all of this. The old age pension is an example of what is called, in the Latin American context... They are now introducing non-contributory pension schemes to reduce poverty and since their introduction over the last ten years or so, they have reduced poverty by over 11 million persons over the age of 65. Therefore, this is a major issue which we have been doing for quite a long time and these non-contributory schemes are not meant to be living wages. They are there to be able to lend support.
Before I move on, I cannot, as a woman, leave out women. More women in Guyana own land and property than ever before in our history and property is one of the key ingredients for empowering women, the poor and the vulnerable, and improving their economic independence. Not only do women own government house lots, but they own land as farmers, including rice, micro and small businesses, vehicles, buses, and mining companies. We see women in charge of mining companies - their own mining companies. They have their own miners’ association now. This is a major change. Women have hair salons, pharmacies, medical and dental clinics, catering services and taxis. Ten years ago, one did not have that level of women’s participation in the economy, not only as salaried workers but now as movers and drivers of the economy, and that is something important. When a woman owns a piece of land or a motorbike or something, she has collateral; she can use it then to be able to make money and to expand herself.
The comment about drug money is offensive. It is offensive to the people, the ordinary people – women and men – who build, borrow, scrimp and save to build their houses, buy motor cycles and cars and minibuses or tractors and who contribute to the development of our country. It is not to say that they are no drug people in our country, but when there is the sweeping generalisation... When the Hon. Member gets up and talks about an entire sector or even earlier comments which I would not go into as I would probably get in trouble with the Speaker about... Anyway, the issue is that the Opposition has gotten entrapped in opposition politics and they cannot emerge from the time warp and trap of their own making. They are victims of their own making. You cannot get out of being opposition for opposition sake and, therefore, and regrettably, Sirs and Ladies, you are making Guyana the victim too. It is okay if you want to be victims, but you are making Guyana the victim too.
My second observation - and I am coming closer down to the end - is to do with the fundamental debate that is going on in this House, from the beginning of 2012 when Parliament was launched to now, and more so in this debate, and that is a fundamental philosophical and ideological difference between the Government and the Opposition and, in fact, this Opposition and the entire history of Parliaments throughout the world. That is the separation of powers of the three branches of Government – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Each of these three branches has its respective roles, functions, responsibilities and, of course, powers. The Tenth Parliament, thus far, would be characterised in the future on a fundamental flaw of the Opposition with a new dispensation on its understanding of the separation of powers between the three branches in what is a constitutional democracy.
Mr. Speaker, you passed around these magazines during the debate and I do not want to quote because it will take time, but I would like to refer Members to look at The Parliamentarian you circulated and the chapters or articles that have to do with the separation of the powers of the three branches of Government and, in particular, one of the recommendations on page 281:
“The concepts of the separation of powers and good governance must take into account the need for rapid political, social and economic development.”
I do not want to read more than that because of my time.
The Guyana Parliament is being observed with some disbelief by other countries’ Parliaments and international and regional bodies; it is that the legislature believes that it can run roughshod over a democratically elected Government which has a plurality of votes and can stymie the movement of critical matters before the National Assembly, such as with the budget and the allocation of funds, amending bills to remove Ministers’ roles and replacing with nothing, in some cases, or new parliamentary appointments which are even more lengthy than the Government’s also tardy path of decision making, all with the intention of running the Executive from the Legislature. And where they cannot achieve that, they work to ensure that nothing can be done. The most glaring example, rather than read all of them, is the experience with the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill which has been held hostage in the Parliamentary Select Committee.
I would like to read from the Inter-American Dialogue. This is a news letter that comes out - www.thedialogue.org, the Inter-American Dialogue, Latin American Advisor, Financial Services, 6th - 19th March, 2014. They quote from different people writing on Guyana and the non-passage of the bill in Guyana. I would like to quote the General Manager of the Jamaican National Building Society, Mr. Jarrett. He has a preamble.
“The fight against the use of the global financial network for criminal activity is as effective as the weakest link in this chain of effort. It is therefore important for every nation state, no matter how small, to participate fully by passing the appropriate legislation to allow financial institutions to monitor and report on transactions, as part of their efforts to combat a global scourge. From public reports it would seem that lawmakers in Guyana are being frustrated as passage of the AML/CFT law is being leveraged as a negotiating tool by opposition political parties. I submit that of all the laws, the AML/CFT law is not a law to be used for political maneuvering.”
He goes on to say:
“The implications for Guyana are grave as it could find itself locked out of the global financial network and unable to perform routine international financial transactions. Guyana has the third largest inflow of remittances in the Caribbean, and a consequence of the country's failure to pass the law could disrupt this important lifeline for citizens, as international banks may be obliged to cease corresponding and remittance relationships with entities in Guyana.”
I will use that as an example and I refer the Members of the House who talked about the remittances to please look at page 10, paragraph 3.13, where it refers to the decline in the remittances that have been received, and it is quite a sizable decline.
Mr. Speaker: Five minutes to wrap up, please, Hon. Member.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, this is for the year 2013 and I remind the House that the first deadline we missed was in May, 2013, when Guyana went up on all the lists of the financial services institutions in the region.
There is a lot more to be said, obviously, but one comment in the debate was quite amusing. I found it quite amusing and it was just a minor point which was a number of Members pointed out about the state of the airstrips in the interior, apparently forgetting that they had removed the allocation for interior airstrips in 2013 so there is amnesia again. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, please. What is happening?
Ms. Teixeira: No one is opposed to the Government’s performance and policies being scrutinised and that there has been oversight of public expenses. That is what the role is and the function of the Legislature is and, in particular, the Opposition. It plays a watchdog role while, theoretically, it is waiting for its day in Government, but it cannot attempt to run the Executive from the benches of the Opposition; it is a role the Opposition parties seem to have difficulty understanding. Somehow in their minds they think they are the Government. Unfortunately, according to my Mathematics, and I did pass Mathematics, by the way, 32 is more than 26 and 32 is more than 7 and the arrangement of convenience and expediency we see in this House between the two Opposition parities were never put to the ultimate test, and the ultimate test is that the electorates of this nation will judge. Until then, you are 26 against 32 and 7 against 32. Go and face the electorates. The public is waiting for you. They are waiting for the Opposition Members to see if you will pass this Budget. Will you once again try the same mantras you did in 2012 and 2013 or will you concoct some new concoction to create greater problems [inaudible]? Or is it going to be another level of delays and so on and uncertainties that will cause all sorts of concerns among the people, businessmen and investors?
We are at the crossroads but the onus right now is on the Members on the other side and their judgement and how we treat next week, as we go into the Estimates, will determine, not your fate, not my fate, not the fate of this side of the House, but Guyana’s fate and that is more important. Whatever you do, when we come to the Estimates, is at your peril. It is at your peril. The electorates are watching you. The men, women and children who can benefit from this Budget are watching you and they will judge you. Stand by Guyana; put Guyana first.
In conclusion, I lend my unreserved support to the Budget presented by the PPP/Civic Government. Thank you. [Applause]
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