Budget Debate 20131795 05 Apr, 2013
Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport [Dr. Anthony]: Thank you very much, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members I join with my colleagues in commending Dr. Ashni Singh and his team for this budget. I want to praise him and his team for their stewardship of our economy. His tenure of prudent management has ushered in a period of steady growth in our real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and while the economy expanded, inflation was contained to a tolerable single digit.
When these achievements are put into the harsh world context, where we are constantly bombarded with bad economic news, and as the headlines around the globe screamed of a European economic crisis, first exemplified by the Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain (PIGS), now by the banking crisis in Cyprus. There might be more to come. These are the realities of our world.
Professor Nouriel Roubini, a leading commentator on the global economy, predicted in an article titled, The Economic fundamentals of 2013, stated:
"Global growth will average about 3%, but with a multi-speed recovery, a sub-par, below- trend annual rate of 1% in the advanced economies and close-to-trend rates of 5% in emerging economies.”
He went on to say:
“Painful deleveraging - less spending and more saving to reduce debt and leverage - remains ongoing in the most advanced economies, which implies slow economic growth. Fiscal austerity will envelop the most advanced economies this year. Another year of mediocre growth could give way to outright contraction in some countries.”
It is against this harsh global backdrop that our budget is being presented, but instead of scaling back on our people’s oriented programme, we have increased the allocation. Foreign-funded programmes, whose life came to an end, are now continued with Government’s funding. As if this was not enough, the measures, which were announced, are going to bring a significant ease on our hard-working people.
This is a most people-friendly budget; it is providing tangible benefit to every Guyanese man, every Guyanese woman and ever Guyanese child.
This budget is not just a people-friendly budget, but also a youth-friendly budget. Rightly so, Guyana is literally a young nation, with a large percentage of its people are below the age of 25 years. With such a bulging youth demographic it is important that we invest in our young people.
The PPP/C Government has never shied away from this responsibility. We have embraced a true multi-sectorial approach to youth investment, because youth is too big to fit in any one ministry.
The $28.7 billion investments in education is a real investment in our youth. It is maintaining universal primary education that we all spoke about. It is expanding secondary education to bring us closer to universal secondary education. It would also expand technical vocational Education and it would continue the subsidy on tertiary education.
The $19.2 billion investment in health is an investment in our young people. Reducing neonatal, infant and under five mortality and morbidity is ensuring that our children get the right start; reducing adolescent morbidity and mortality by preventing infectious diseases, such as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is giving our young people the right start; reducing the incidence of behavioural disorders, such as substance abuse, is giving our young people the right start; and reducing the risk factors for chronic non-communicable diseases is also a major investment in our young people.
The $3.1 billion investment in housing is an investment in our young people. Through the young professionals housing programme many of them will own their own homes. Mortgage interest relief, where interest payment for mortgage to up to $30 million to be treated as a tax-deductible expense, is an investment for first time homeowners, many of who have young families.
The $2.7 billion investment in water is also an investment in our young people. Children are most susceptible to waterborne diseases. By providing access to clean water, it is helping to reduce morbidity and mortality.
The $234 million investment in human services is a direct investment to protect our young people from child abuse and child neglect.
The estimated $1.8 billion worth of personal income tax reduction to 184,000 working people is also a substantial investment in our young people. Many of them will benefit directly as young workers or indirectly as the family income increases.
Reduction of property tax on individuals: The first $40 million net property at zero tax, thereafter 0.75. If the current regime was applied to a $40 million net property, the person would have to pay $231, 250. With this new measure the property owners will now keep $231, 250. This is certainly more moneys in the pockets of young homeowners.
Of course, the $2.5 billion investment in the culture, youth and sport is a direct investment in our young people.
On behalf of the young people of this country we welcome these measures.
The Ministry will continue to maintain its regular youth programmes, which
include the training programmes at Kuru Kuru Training Centre, Sophia Training Centre and Smyithfield Drop-in Centre. These have, over the years, provided both residential and non-residential training in various skill areas, allowing young people to get a second chance at an education. We give them an employable skill with which they can go out and get a job. We will continue to do this.
At the New Opportunity Corps (NOC), the Ministry continues to work with young people to give the skills to make a better a life. When the President’s Youth Award Programme is looked at, which got a Medal of Service for working with young people,…This year the Ministry will train another 2,000 young people in the areas of leadership, capacity building and community development. Over the last 14 years this programme benefited close to 20,000 young people directly and even many more indirectly.
Another innovative programme is the National Volunteer Platform. The National Volunteer Platform brings together several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to volunteer on various projects. Through this initiative many persons volunteer their time at national events and some have taken on special community projects. This year the Volunteer Platform would be channelled into schools and more communities. In schools, we want to create volunteer clubs to encourage young people to do voluntary work and to recognise their efforts. The volunteer programme, which is currently ongoing in five city schools, will be expanded.
At the community level, we will continue to work with the 450 registered youth groups across Guyana. This year the Ministry will be working more closely with these groups to implement various community initiatives, such as the National Camping Programme in which about 4,000 young people participate annually. It has also been working with them and helping communities to fix and upkeep their playgrounds.
Another innovative programme is the After-school-activities Programme. This year the Ministry, in partnership with other stakeholders, will start an After-school-activities Programme. This community-based programme is primarily aimed at providing to young people an opportunity to learn a sport, to get involved in the arts or both. For this programme to work there will be the need for many adult volunteers at the community level. I would therefore urge all persons who have an interest in helping young people to enrol with us at the Ministry. By doing so, the Ministry will be able to assign you to be coaches or mentors to our young people in the various communities. The more volunteers that can be got, the bigger would be the impact on the young people across this country.
The Ministry has concluded its discussions with the Ms. Katherine Ellis, the Director of Youth Affairs, Commonwealth Youth Programme, and that organisation has agreed to fund a consultant to update the national youth policy. Very shortly, the consultations on this document will start. It is my hope that through these consultations we will address issues such as male underperformance in the education system, youth health, youth violence, youth employment and giving youth a voice in decision making, teenage mothers and young families among others. We anticipate, when the consultations starts, that youth groups and other stakeholders will play an active role in making submissions for inclusion in this policy.
Again, this year the Ministry will finalise the structure on national youth award scheme, which would be implemented in the year 2014. This scheme is intended to recognise leadership, excellence, and innovation by young people. We would also recognise the coaches and mentors who have volunteered their time to working with those young people. Let us not just talk the talk, but let us do the talk.
We have placed a lot of emphasis on our young people. Yet, I feel that the best investment in our youth is yet to be made. If we truly believe in our young people, and want to bequeath them with a precious investment for the future, then let us come together and end the divisiveness, this pettiness, that has blighted our interactions. Let us rise above the fray to inspire the youth and empowered them with a common vision, with that patriotic fervour, so that they can come together and build our beautiful Guyana. This is an investment that this House is yet to make. I remain optimistic that the concern manifested by the Opposition will become a commitment to work with us for the common good of the Guyanese youth.
When we look at culture, our country’s culture is one of its most important assets. We are often defined and identified by our culture. Guyana, by the circumstance of our history, is endowed with a rich and diverse cultural heritage, comprising of our Amerindian, European, African and Asian traditions, each with its own unique characteristics. These traditions have encountered and commingled, have crossover to produce some uniqueness that gives us this distinct Guyanese flavour.
When we look from our prehistory to now there are several historic milestones, as a nation, that we can remember. I just want to single out a few that we can highlight this year:
The 250th Anniversary of the Berbice Slave Uprising. This is one of the most important uprising in the western hemisphere,
The 190th Anniversary of the Demerara Slave Uprising,
The 179th Anniversary of the Essequibo Slave Uprising.
The 175th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery.
To highlight the 250th Anniversary of the Berbice Slave Uprising, the Ministry held several events, including the distinguished lecture series, in which three eminent scholars were invited, Professors Hillary Beckles, Alvin Thompson and Verene Shepherd, to speak to us on this period. There were two exhibitions at the National Museum and a commemorative coin will be made. Also for the year, Anna Benjamin's book on the 1763 Berbice Slave Uprising will be published. I would like to recommend it as good reading for every Guyanese.
For the 190th Anniversary of the Demerara Slave Uprising, the Ministry would unveil the 1823 Monument. As it is customary, it will be working with and funding a number of national and community stakeholders for the emancipation celebrations.
This year, on the 5th of May, Arrival Day, we will be remembering all the ancestors who arrived as indentured immigrants. This year marks 178th Anniversary of the Portuguese who came to British Guiana. It marks the 175th year since the first Indian indentured immigrant came to British Guiana and, of course, it also marks the 172th year since the arrival of the first indentured African immigrant to Guyana. We also, earlier in the year, mark 160th year since the arrival of the indentured Chinese immigrant, and to highlight that the Ministry joined with the Chinese Association and other stakeholders at a special ceremony at Winsdor Forest. In addition, it is our hoped that during the year Guyana can establish a Confucius Institute.
The Ministry is working with all stakeholders to mark Arrival Day and, in particular, it will join several groups in marking the 175th Anniversary since the arrival of the Indian indentured immigrants and it wants to make it a memorable occasion. For that occasion, the Ministry will host a distinguished lecture series with another set of eminent scholars - Professors Brinsley Samaroo, Kusha Haraksingh, from Trinidad and Tobago, and, of course, would be inviting a young Guyanese woman, Gaiutra Bahadur, who would be talking to us in May. A final calendar of activities is currently being finalised.
I am also happy to report that in the area of music there is a new vibrancy. The National Music School, in its second year, has already recorded 100% passes at the Royal School of Music Examinations. With this success rate, the Ministry has seen an increase in enrolment at the school. This year, to cater for this expansion it would be buying more musical instruments with our capital vote.
For a second year the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport sponsored Dr. Ray Luck's international piano workshop in performance and pedagogy master classes. This workshop is providing valuable guidance to our music teachers and students, and we should see an excellent cadre of musicians emerging from this programme.
This Ministry has several ongoing music outreach programmes. The Youth Marching Band is being developed at the West Demerara Secondary School. It also trained 500 children in Regions 4, 5, 6, 10 and in Georgetown. They were all taught how to play the steel pan. In preparation for this year’s Guyana Music Festival, the Ministry hosted a series of training sessions, where more than 400 hundred persons participated, including 28 teachers from the rural districts. This, of course, we hope will get more young people to participate in the Guyana Music Festival. During this year the National Music School will offer courses on traditional African and Indian musical instruments because we feel that that will help us to keep our tradition alive.
The first ever national song festival for choral groups was successfully completed. It included groups from Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. The competition was held at the National Cultural Centre and this competition will continue in the year 2014. During this year we will be doing a different type of music competition. We want to start an indigenous song competition. This is a competition where the songs would be written and sung in the various Amerindian languages. This, we feel will help us to keep these languages alive.
There was a major breakthrough, in terms of visual art, with the start of the Guyana Visual Arts competition and exhibition under the patronage of His Excellency President Donald Ramotar. This competition attracted 204 entries, after prejudging there were 164 pieces that were selected for competition and exhibition. The competition was in six categories. There were 60 pieces in paintings, 52 pieces in exhibits and photography, 25 pieces in drawings, 33 pieces in sculptures, 8 in pieces textiles and 16 pieces in ceramics. There was Mr. Stanley Greaves, one of Guyana's foremost artists, as the chief judge and was ably supported by the Hon. Member Dr. Rupert Roopnarine as a member of the judging panel. By all accounts it was quite a successful exhibition and competition. I am happy to report that the management committee, under the capable leadership of Mr. Alim Hussain, has already started to work on the 2014 edition.
We have also started discussions with the private sector on the development of the art fund which would be used for the acquisition of Guyanese art that would then go into a public collection. These are very important developments and our artists laud these developments.
Drama is alive and well, not only in this House, but in Guyana. The National Drama Festival is making a significant contribution to the development of drama and theatre arts in Guyana. In 2012 this festival attracted 51 entries, of those 40 new plays were specially written for this festival. Before this festival the National Cultural Centre would have had about 15 plays per annum. Last year it had 66 plays. This is the impact of the festival. With more theatre groups being formed we expect even more plays will come to the National Cultural Centre.
On the 4th February 2013 the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport launched the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama. Formal classes began with 25 students in two programmes. There is a beginners’ programme and there is an intermediate programme. This school, which is based at the National Cultural Centre, will also be doing quarterly productions of plays in which schoolchildren would normally do for Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) so that they can get a better understanding of the material. Because of the upsurge of dramatic activities at the National Cultural Centre, this year the Ministry has budgeted for a new lighting system and that is in the capital budget.
The Government supported the University of Guyana CineGuyana project with an allocation of $20 million dollars to train 188 young persons in filmmaking. Through this project it supported 11 short films, namely: Hope, Backyard, Three Cards, Tradition, Beached, Luck beat Handsome, the Encounter, the Bottle, Ruth, To the Night and Choices. Those films were made in Guyana and shown right here but they were also taken to various film festivals around the world. They were shown in the UK, in the USA, in Barbados, in Belize, in the Bahamas and in Trinidad and Tobago.
There have also been some noteworthy private initiatives. I want to single out Mr. Mahadeo Shivraj who has made four full-length movies - Till I find a Place, A Jasmine for a Gardener, Brown Sugar too Bitter for Me and 83 Million Gees. These are encouraging signs and we must support the growth of this industry.
The National Dance School and the National Dance Company continue to entertain Guyanese audiences. There is a growing demand for similar schools across Guyana. During the last year a number of satellite schools were piloted. A school was started at Mainstay in Region 2, another one at Uitvlugt in Region 3, in Vryman's Erven and on the Tain Campus in Region 6, also at Kuru Kuru in Region 4, and this expansion effort will continue this year.
While we continue to expand many of its existing programmes, we want to improve them both quantitatively and qualitatively. As I said last year, when I spoke in the debate, our ultimate aim is to establish an Institute of the Creative Arts. To this end we have a group of experts headed by Professor Dr. Cambridge and we are working right now to set up this institute. We have also seen vibrancy in our literature.
Last year, there was the good fortune of hosting a literary giant of Guyana, Mr. E.R. Braithwaite, CCH, who was also the patron of the inter-Guiana Cultural Festival. I am sure that the young people, who have had an opportunity to interact with him, would have been inspired by his many presentations during the period.
Government has also over the last year allocated $19 million to fund the Guyana Prize for Literature. As a lead-up to the prize, several workshops were for young writers and this year the prize will be awarded. This has also been managed by the University of Guyana.
I also would like to say that in the literary arts we have seen a lot of new writings coming out from both our local writers and from our diasporic writers. This shows that there is a remarkable vibrancy in our literature. Through the Caribbean Press alone there was the completion of the Guyana Classics Series, which comprises 36 books. Another 24 more books have been done, which include the parliamentary speeches of various presidents. During the year, as I had promised, one will see the first volume of President Burnham’s speeches being made available.
In total there are 60 books that have been completed by the press, which include 27 dealing with history, one on Guyanese folk songs, 20 novels and 12 on poetry. A full list, of course, can be seen on the website: www.caribbeanpress.org. While those books are made available to our libraries and public libraries, there is also a limited amount that is on sale at Austin’s Bookstore.
This year another set of publications will be done and another 10 books were earmarked to do. But we also want to start another series on Amerindian language dictionaries. The seven existing dictionaries will be updated and an additional two will be developed. The seven to be updated are the Arawak, Karina, Wapishana, Macusi, Warrus, Akawaio and Arecunas. While we will have to study and compile the other two, Patamona and the Wai-Wai, we have already been talking to several persons to help us in this endeavour. It is important to preserve our linguistic heritage, and publishing these dictionaries is one way of doing so.
When the Walter Rodney National Archives is looked we have started a strong collaboration with the Dutch, which would have seen us get more experts coming to Guyana, and this year we are able to get copies of the letters that Cuffy wrote to the then Dutch Governor, Van Hoogenheim. Those letters are now at the National Archives. Later in the year, we will receive another 2,000 digital documents relating to the Dutch period and those will be handed over to the Guyana National Archives because of the collaboration that is there. There will also be the digitising the National Archives. The first phase has already started. We want Guyanese to be able to go online and go to the National Archives web portal and there they can search the records, which would be there. This, we hope will be completed later in the year, and by doing so the archives will be brought into the modern era. The moneys for this have been budgeted in our capital budget for this year.
When we look at museums, there have been some fantastic things happening at our museums. Over the last year more than 70,000 people would have come to the museums. During last year we hosted an exhibition from the Ministry of Culture, from India, and that exhibition was called “India: A Culture of Science.” During that exhibition, an interactive exhibition, there were more than 35,000 people who were coming to the exhibition, and most of them being children. We were also able to train more than 100 science teachers to make teaching science into fun. I think most Guyanese who went to that exhibition were in a way treated to what they saw.
Right now, at the National Museum there is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) exhibition that deals with the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We know of course, this is one of the most horrible trade happened in our history - human history. It has the dubious distinction of being the largest forced migration in human history where more than 20 million people were displaced. It has another dubious distinction of being the greatest maritime tragedy, in which 7 to 9 million persons lost their lives during this voyage. I encourage all the Hon. Members to go the National Museum and view this exhibition that tells the story of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
We continue to do these types of work. At the Walter Roth Museum we continue to do research into our prehistory. Some more work was done in the Pomeroon, at Siriki, where a shell mound was unearthed that date to about 7,000 thousand years ago. This has given an insight into Guyana’s prehistory.
Last year I told the House about our findings in the Berbice River. We have been able, during the year, to demarcate these important areas, and later on we will be working to develop a document so that we can bring to preserve these archeological sites which should be not only for ourselves but to protect all Guyanese. As we dig into our past, I am confident that the knowledge that would be unearthed will not only give us the insight into our heritage, but it will also contribute to humanity’s knowledge of our collective prehistory. I talked a bit on that last year.
As a nation, we have made significant cultural advances over the years. There is a new hope; a new sense of vibrancy among many of our cultural practitioners, and with their creativity they are living the moment, painting, writing, singing, dramatising, filming the new Guyana story. By these expressions we will be known, and by them we will be defined and this is the power of our culture. This is how we will shape that better Guyana.
Just briefly I want to turn to sport, because sport is very important to our nation. We want every Guyanese to embrace this vision of being involved in sports, not just for recreation but those who want to take it up as a career. We want this National Assembly to send a strong message to embrace a sport lifestyle as against a sporting lifestyle. This is very important because it is the cheapest way that we can get rid of the chronic non-communicable diseases. There is a disease, which is spreading around the world, that is caused by too much sitting and we can easily get rid of it if we do more sports, and that is the prescription for every Guyanese person.
This year we will also renew our emphasis in our communities. While, over the last two years $200 million was spent on community grounds, this year $300 million will be spending in our communities. That is here in our budget for sports.
We will also be developing the warm-up pool at the National Aquatic Centre and Ministry has been allocated $52 million to do this. The synthetic track is at the stage now where the stands have to be developed and $360 million has been allocated to complete these stands by the year 2014. These and other facilities are what we are developing because by putting the sports infrastructure in place we know that we will create the champions for today and in the future. We are also looking at getting coaches to come to Guyana. We have already employed two Cuban coaches who are working in swimming and in boxing and we intend to get more coaches to come and to work here in Guyana.
Later in the year the resource centre at Woolford Avenue will be opened and our intention is that, from this resource centre, it would also grow to become a national sports institute because if we are serious about sports we have to teach sports and this institute would serve that purpose.
In Berbice, of course, by now it would be known that we are doing the lights at Albion and, yes, there are many community grounds that would be done. I will be looking more closely at the ground in Whim.
In this long march of our history, there have been many ups and down, bright spots and, as we have heard during this debate, we have had black holes, but throughout these tough times we have been held together by our people's resilience, by our common aspirations, and by our common dreams.
We must not squander this goodwill with tough talk and mean acts. We must close this sad chapter and collectively and collaboratively write a new one where we will work together to help every Guyanese, man, woman and child, not just to dream, but to live the Guyana dream of prosperity. This budget is the ticket to that better life; it is the way to more prosperity for all. Let us embrace it; let us support; let us work for this better Guyana.
I thank you. [Applause]
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