Budget Debate 20141579 07 Apr, 2014
Ms. Ally: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members of this House I rise to make my contribution on this highly politicised document referred to as the Budget. I see that this document is crafted under the theme “A Better Guyana for All Guyanese”. For a moment I was considering what action the APNU might take for acute plagiarism but we allow it to pass. Listening, reading and assessing Budget Speech of 2014 by Hon. Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh one cannot help but describe it as a repair and maintenance schedule for it is not a developmental plan nor is it something to aid solving problems for the masses but some. You see Mr. Speaker the Government comes to this House and shouts about largest budget ever, over $200 billion, but the greatest worry is despite the larger input we are not getting value for money. In some cases we cannot see where the money is going and the sufferers are only the nation’s children.
Budget 2014 is a spend-and-hope Budget. There is no certainty about the effectiveness of the education programme. This is evident having looked at what was supposed to have been done in 2013 and its preceding years. We hope the Government can get serious. I shall elaborate on the various aspects as I proceed with my presentation. A lot of money is spent on infrastructure in this Ministry, yet the outcome and outlook is dismal. I will come to that later on. If we were to do an assessment of what we got from the large sum that was budgeted in the 2013 Budget we will see that the real beneficiaries are not the Nation’s children. [Interruption] You are talking about a few I am talking about the masses.
The Education Sector
Page 38 paragraph 4.70 of the Budget Speech speaks to the new Education Strategic Plan for 2014-2018. Strategic plans are nothing new, so do not let it sound like an innovation Mdm. Minister. It is the outcome from what you put in. Let me ask two questions on enriching our young people. One, with the establishment of technical schools in Regions 3 and 5, for example, why have they not been adequately staffed and programmes worked out. Development in education is not to provide buildings alone. Your programmes and resources must complement each other so that you can measure your input. To come to this Hon. House and speak of a few achievements is not good enough Mdm. Minister. Second, of what benefit is graduating from the Tech Voc schools in the world of work? The students of Leonora School for example are getting the royal run round to get their certificates after they graduate. When we look at the programme performance statements for education delivery on page 208 of Volume 2 under Impacts it says, I quote:
“Ensure that the education system within the region produce human resources with the appropriate knowledge skills and attitudes to meet their own personal development and the social, economic and technological needs.”
Oh, Mr. Speaker, words with no reality. How appropriate has that training been to the graduates? Did it actually satisfy our hospitality industries? A careful look must be taken, an analysis done and corrective action must be taken.
Infrastructure of Schools
Today in this Hon. House there can be no vacillation by any Minister. Today no Minister can say I am dealing with policy and it is somebody else’s job to deal with infrastructure. Again, on page 38 paragraph 4.71, the Hon. Minister of Finance wrote and I quote:
“A sum of $2.7 billion was spent on the infrastructure of schools and other facilities.”
In 2014, $2.9 billion is allocated for this purpose. Sir, what did we get in 2013? In 2013 we had the pupils of Santa Rosa Primary, for example, fetching water for daily use, cleaning school and spending a lot of time out of the formal learning situation. We had fetching wood in Kato and spending a lot of time out of the formal learning situation.
In Region 8 over $438 million was budgeted for education for 2013 and Chenapau, Tuseneng among other schools do not have proper furniture. The teachers’ quarters have two VSOs from the United Kingdom but who do not have any furniture; the toilet and bathroom are not working. We are dealing with infrastructure of these schools. There is no light because they do not have batteries; the solar is dysfunctional. Can somebody tell me what has happened to the $438 million for education in Region 8? Sir, Ministers Manickchand, Whittaker and former Minister Ganga Persaud must tell us where the money has gone. Can this PPP/C Government tell me whether discrimination is at work? Can this Government tell this National Assembly whether it is because Region 8 is under the political leadership of the AFC that they are stifling the people of that Region? Well, I have news for the PPP/C they will not get back the leadership of Region 8, rather they have more to lose than to gain. We have the children of the North West Secondary School all over the place for extended periods as their secondary school should have been completed within a given timeframe. Hence children are spending a lot of time outside of the formal education system. A few days ago an officer of the Central Ministry was rushed in from Georgetown to Mabaruma to settle issues of electricity before the Budget, to get the school board of the school and to get the children to go into the building. But I hope than an accurate report has come back because the board has rejected it. They are demanding proper completion before the children can occupy the school. We had protest action in Port Kaituma for non-functional toilet facilities, and hence children were out of their classrooms for long periods.
There is total neglect of the Liberty Primary School in the Pomeroon River causing non-delivery of education for long periods. Education in the Lower Pomeroon is totally neglected. Why should this be so? How do we expect the children in those communities to perform well in the education sector when their school time is utilised doing chores? I do not wish on to chronicle more examples from other regions but to tell the Government that the $2.7 billion you took to do the very projects you named in 2013, some of which I named a few moments ago, the moneys apparently went into thin air, or further I say not. As the lawyers would say, I rest my case.
In 2014 you asked for more. We do not know if it will suffer the same faith, but I believe so. But the underlying fact is how does the Government intent to ensure equal access to quality education? Equal access, I repeat, to quality education for all children and young people of the region when it is normal for this Government to neglect and not monitor certain communities. I listened to the Hon. Minister a short while ago outlining projects in Region 5. I come from Region 5, from a village called D’Edward, next door to Cotton Tree Hon. Minister, and if you hear yourself naming those areas in which the developmental works will be taken care of, it is a ratio of ten to one. I believe that the Hon. Minister should examine those areas and see how well this Government is doing with discrimination.
Universal Secondary Education
The initiative of achieving universal secondary education is a welcoming one. Giving a political commentary on universal secondary education is not achieving it. The programme must be minutely worked out and monitored. This is not only about buildings, Mdm. Minister, but also about what we put in the buildings. What resources do we make for these secondary schools to be functional? Mr. Speaker, Hon. Juan Edghill, my good friend, says this Government has achieved 100% universal secondary education. Well if that is not laughable what is. Take IT labs, for example, being spoken about. How useful will it be to have these labs and no teachers? When I speak I like to give references. Who will not welcome IT labs? The Opposition certainly welcomes IT labs. Who will not welcome being computer literate?
Who would not welcome advanced technology? But we of the APNU cannot sit idly by and allow the incompetencies of this Government to prevail.
Right across in Region 3, at the Parika Salem Secondary School, the IT Lab is not functional. I would only give a few examples, right across in Region 3 and here we are not going far in the interior you know, at Patentia, the computers for the IT Lab have been declared obsolete. There is defective electricity. How could the obsolete computers and defective electricity make the IT labs functional? A Partnership for National Unity demands functional computers... [Ms. Teixeira: A solution?] You are in Government, you find it. ...and the services therewith, to be useful, especially when hard earned cash is involved.
The Budget says that in 2014 they will train 2,500 teachers. I ask the questions, where and what are the numbers for each entity? Sir, this is not about plucking figures out of thin air, but one must work towards achieving their objectives. The end results matter. We spend and we must achieve, and the beneficiaries must be the Nation's children.
I now turn to Tertiary Education. At page 40, paragraph 4.76, the Hon. Minister wrote that $1.4 billion is allocated towards the operation of both university campuses. Mr. Speaker, is that not ridiculous? The University of Guyana cannot pay their electricity bills; they do not have proper chalk boards, they have poor toilet facilities and inadequate furniture. [Ms. Teixeira: Amaila.] You will open a university at Amaila. What a shame, in our only major tertiary facility in the capital, the Government cannot provide proper facilities, but finds the money to spend on unimportant projects Mdm. Teixeira, Hon. Member.
The 2013 Budget gave an allocation of $1.7 billion for the University of Guyana and a river of woes flooded that institution. Sir, now the 2014 Budget further reduced it to $1.4 billion. It behoves me to question; why this Government wants to stifle our young people? We saw a glaring example of what happened to the Critchlow Labour College. As a matter of fact, what this Government is doing to the Critchlow Labour College is only for political gains. But let me warn that there can be no gain when the desperate effort is made to stifle our young people, an asset which we should be proud of to invest in. [Mr. Benn: Mr. B. Williams bring some water please.] I do not need it Mr. Benn. It is because this Government is unwilling to make valuable investment in young people and that caused us not to have the kind of human resources necessary to cope with our education system. I call on this PPP/C minority Government to value the worth of our young people and step up to the plate.
Starving the University of Guyana of funds is so evident. Could you imagine the announcement that applications for the University of Guyana will have to be made online? But those of us, who keep our feet on the ground, Bishop Edghill, Hon. Member, can tell you better. One senior lecturer, for example, who has to monitor applications from applicants from five schools in Region No.6, has found it very impracticable on the Corentyne, since four out of the five schools do not have internet facilities or access to the internet.
I would like to propose to the Government that things of this nature are done in phases. While you introduce online applications – and that is a good thing - and programmes, the original facilities must still prevail, so that those who do not have internet access will not be deprived of that opportunity.
I cry shame on the Education Sector of this Government, for if that situation is so dismal in the Coastal Regions, what would it be in the hinterland, riverine and other remote communities?
Following on from the Government's neglect for our young people, I wish to now turn my attention to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). [Mr. Neendkumar: Do you know those officers are listening to you?] That is a good thing. Mr. Speaker, at page 39 paragraph 4.75, referred to TVET skills linked with entrepreneurship, training is an assured option for enabling their ability.
Sir, on this score, I wish to point out the following:
Right here in this honourable House I spoke of preparing our young people on the TVET programme to deliver in the hospitability and manufacturing industries. I would think that this call is falling on deaf ears or that this Government has no care for the applicability of the type of training for our young people.
Take for example the technical school, again, at Leonora - this school offers only one year programmes, but the Ministry has not taken time off to do an assessment of the programme content. It has not considered whether or not the skills of the young people of that institution are marketable and can subscribe to the industries established in the country. This Government likes to say they have put buildings up and oh they gloat about that, but never works out the purpose, suitability and how they can aid development of this country.
Let me take you again right across to Region 3, where Minister Irfaan Ali lives and Member of Parliament (MP) Ganga Persaud – Well boy you know you lose the wuk as Minister. Whey he deh? So you aint got minister before ya name, how sad. At Den Amstel, where there is a plot of land earmarked for Agricultural Science, a building is on that land... [Ms. Teixeira: You forgot Kumar....] I only want to name a few I cannot call all of their names you know. Someone is paid as head of that centre and seconded to the Stewartville Secondary School, but nothing goes on at that Agricultural Practical Instruction Centre. Is it wasting money or lack of the necessary managerial skills? Tell me.
Secondly, earlier I alluded to what has been referred to in the Budget Speech about Universal Secondary Education. This is a clear case of “monkey see monkey do” by this Government. We have people with varying abilities; we hear announcements of no more Primary tops; we hear no more Community high schools; we hear of all schools being made Secondary or High Schools to achieve this Universal Secondary Education. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham was a classic politician, educated... [Mr. Neendkumar: Bring him back.] Not like you you know....
Ms. Teixeira: I really find the inference to a Member of the House as being uneducated really unacceptable. Please can it be withdrawn?
Mr. Speaker: I heard the statement, “Not like you”, but I did not hear a name following it.
Ms. Teixeira: We saw where she looked.
Mr. Speaker: I must confess that I thought it might have been referring to me because the debate is addressed to the Speaker - so I thought that she was referring to me. But I did not feel slighted actually. I do not think I could have stood in Mr. Burnham’s shoes. I am alright.
Ms. Teixeira: Oh well, if she is referring to you it is alright.
Ms. Ally: Thank you Mr. Speaker, but you know if the Hon. Member Ms. Teixeira does not get up maybe she wanted a little bit of relaxation. But I repeat Sir, that Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham was a classic politician; educated, innovative and had his ears to the ground. He had the ability to fulfil the needs of his people. During the PNC era we did not have Community High Schools because we wanted show - we knew that it was necessary because of the varying abilities and attitudes and we took that into consideration. I call on this PPP/C Government to shake off the disease and put on clean clothes.
Finally, on TVET, there are only TVET facilities in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10. What is wrong with youths of regions 1, 7, 8 and 9?
Mr. Speaker: Technical Vocational I think is what TVET is.
Ms. Ally: Yes.
Mr. Speaker: On that note Hon. Member your time is up. You will need an extension of 15 minutes please to continue.
Mr. B. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I ask that the Hon. Member be given 15 minutes to continue.
Question put and carried
Ms. Ally: Thank you Mr. Speaker. APNU has called for the establishment of technical schools in those regions, but it is not happening. Only last Sunday I was in Region 7 and the people there are calling for technical schools in their region. They believe that their young people too must be given equal opportunities and rightly so. I again call on this Government to recognise the importance of the development of our treasured resources - the young people of Guyana.
I now turn my attention to the $10,000 Per Child Programme. Mr. Speaker, I was entertained when the Hon. Minister of Education referred to the gross in Guyana. But, she asked a very pertinent question; is your life better than before? Well Mr. Speaker, the people living in this country stands as testimony... [Mr. Hinds: Of the better life.] Better life because you have more homeless people, the beneficiaries, our farmers who cannot be paid for their paddy in a timely fashion, the inability of this Government to adequately provide the hot meal for our children, particularly for schools in the interior location. My Colleague, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams, since the 2013 Budget, made reference to it – it continues, providing the uniforms and payments to those women who prepared those uniforms. Those are testimonies of the better life that the Guyanese people are enjoying in this country.
As one writer puts it – that is the $10,000 Per Child Grant - “This is an attempt to hoodwink the general population.” – Ludicrous, Mr. Speaker.
We all like money and the PPP knows that liking money story more than us. Surely the parents of our children would welcome this money. But Sir, let me point out the following:
1. This Government has gotten this country into such a depressing situation that any little pittance parents will use to fill a hole for survival.
2. The budget says under Education Grants at page 75 paragraph 6.21 that this money will be provided for this year. A child travelling from West Coast Berbice to a school in New Amsterdam via the Berbice River Bridge must pay no less than $1,000 per child. So this $10,000 is for two weeks. What happens to the other 50 weeks in the year and how does it in aid raising attendance rates? We want continuity.
3. APNU considers this a blatant example of electioneering, as opposed to sustainable development and worse yet in the education sector.
Does this Government not consider the disposable income of teachers and parents or workers generally? Sir, the Government has been trumpeting the record of economic growth and sound fiscal management. Then I ask, why is it the disposable income of teachers cannot be significantly upgraded and why is it VAT cannot be reduced to ease the economic squeeze of the very parents of school age children? Our parents of the school-aged children need more than the $10,000 per year. It cannot suffice.
Finally on this matter, a one-off input cannot work. I urge the Government to not only embrace the C word, as in corruption, but to do so as in continuity. Finally, on this Sir, we of APNU believe that providing boats for our riverine children and buses for the coastlanders would be more helpful to the children of our community.
Sir, I now turn to Access to Education – the Learning Channel, at page 74, paragraph 6.20, “Education Grants”.
“Government has already made significant investments in the education sector, seeking to ensure universal access, and to raise both quality delivery and attainment rates.”
Of concern to APNU is the access to education and education for all Guyanese. Sir, this House is aware that exorbitant sums of moneys are spent on the Learning Channel. Did somebody say $3 million per month? When money is invested we expect to get the returns from it. But here is what the practical situation is for the Learning Channel regarding some regions and this is a report from the regions:
Region 1 – Only Mabaruma gets the channel and it is not seen clearly.
Region 7 – The Learning Channel has been available for over the year. When it was functional, only one community received the channel.
Region 8 – No access to the Learning Channel and where there might be, it is really not accessible because there is no electricity in the days, only in the nights. Shame Cde. Prime Minister.
Region 9 – Annai, Aranaputa and Quatamang are the only receivers but Annai receives for only pre-school or early childhood ones. Eleven areas in the North Savannahs do not receive because of some reason or the other, television antennas, electricity, et cetera.
The Lethem Station is the same as in the North and Central Savannahs. I am sure that my Colleague, Mr. Sydney Allicock, who made reference to the Learning Channel, will attest to it.
What access is there therefore for the so-called delivery of education via the Learning Channel? Are we not entitled to be the beneficiaries of Taxpayers’ dollars? Or is it that friends and families of the Government are entitled to construct their pants with long pockets. Mr. Speaker, this Government must answer for this.
Mr. Speaker, via Notice Paper 203, I recall the Opposition Chief Whip Amna Ally asking the Minister of Education some questions on the Learning Channel, that is, areas in Region Nos. 1, 7, 8 and 9 that are reached by the Learning Channel, as well as the programme guide. I did not want to question the Minister's ability to monitor, but I want to let this National Assembly know that by your own actions you demonstrate your capabilities. Sir, the answer tendered for the programme guide was turbulently rude. I asked for the guide to be furnished to the National Assembly and the Minister told me that it is on the channel 35 - 50 times per day. Mr. Speaker, I am sorry you cannot blame me if the Minister is deeply challenged in her Ministry and cannot give proper answers which this House is entitled to get.
Finally, on the question of this Learning Channel, the Minister must also tell the National Assembly why a transmitter is in Karasabai, but the materials for the construction of the tower are still at Annai for a year and over, since the 2013 Budget. I wish to urge the Government to embrace the C word as in Commitment and discard the C word as in Corruption.
Improving Literacy Rates - Teacher Training. Improving literacy rates is hinged to a crucial factor on investments in our people. To invest in our people there is need to have a direct input in our school system. Opportunities must be created so that our teachers can be upgraded. Our teachers must be exposed to the upgraded measures in our school system; careful thought is not exercised in the programme content and the time allotment to implement the programme. In my last budget presentation, I forewarned about numbers or how many were trained, but the quality of training, the exposure to learning resources and constant upgrading, they are vital components of investment in our people for enhanced production.
In terms of improving literacy rates which has a link to the quality of our teachers. I wish to posit the following:
1. For teachers training the academic requirements for the intake of teachers for training should not be reduced. If there is a shortage, relevant upgrading courses must precede the actual training programme.
2. In many of our schools and the general improvement in Maths and Science programme, a heavy financial input was made in 2013. Compact Discs (CDs) were provided as aids to work along, but these CDs have incorrect answers. Hence, it can be of no help to the students. Sir, I have an example right here and if the Hon. Minister is savvy in Maths, she can listen to them or ask Ms. Shadick for help. As a result, both the teachers and students are rejecting them. I charge that the Education Sector has falling standards and careless monitoring. Managing and management is crucial.
I, being always a teacher wish to advise the Hon. Minister that pumping moneys in a fifth (5th) Form cannot work. Repeatedly, I advise fix the foundation or the top will collapse and that is what is happening. Spend the money in the Primary Section improving our teacher's skills, programme content, provide materials and human resources and make the education system worth the investment that is being put in.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, you have five minutes within which to wrap up.
Ms. Ally: Yes, thank you Mr. Speaker. Feel the impact.
Finally, the Education Strategic Plan 2008- 2013. In 2013, $28.5 million was expended towards the final year of the 2008- 2013 Strategic Plan. Now $32.3 billion has been allocated towards the implementation of the first year of our new Education Strategic Plan. [Mr. Neendkumar: [Inaudible] I will explain to you what a Strategic Plan is Mr. Neendkumar.
The paper of the 2008 - 2013 Framework and intent of this Strategic Plan has been well put theoretically. I wish to posit that on examining the mission statements of this plan - eliminating illiteracy, modernising education and strengthening tolerance, we have to question the implementation of that plan.
Yes, we have a printed document called the Strategic Plan 2008- 2013, but how do we expect that this National Assembly can properly do an assessment of what is achieved and the extent of its successes. An important document called the Education Digest, which should consist of reports and evaluation; its latest edition, to my knowledge, was 2011. How could you? Or what could be used, to justify the amount of money spent for the final year of 2013 of the Strategic Plan? How often is this digest expected to be produced and why has it not been produced up to date, to 2013? The last edition was produced in 2011, two years ago, including 2013, nothing.
Let us take a look at what should have been achieved in the National Strategic Plan, and because of time I will earmark a few examples. I have already mentioned some of the areas earlier.
Where is the link between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports when continuously it is reported about 30 sports ground in a whole country with over 1,000 schools? Some schools do not even have yard space for the children to play. What is the quality of the remediation programme...? [Mr. Neendkumar: Who tell you that there are only 30 grounds?] You think that sports ground means killing goats at the stadium. ...to improve the literacy rate in the education sector and what is the outcome of the resources ploughed in for this programme.
The Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) outlined in this plan speaks of enhancing literacy, but where are the libraries and librarians? Why is it that there are not adequate workbooks yet? Well, the latest thing is a text book was recently redone and it was not clear to the Ministry if it was new or revised.
Sir, the 2014-2018 strategic plan is hibernating. Months ago, Opposition Members Ms. Amna Ally and Mrs. Cathy Hughes were promised it but the budget came and will go and that strategic plan, which money is budgeted for in this Budget 2014, is still hibernating.
As I said in my earlier remarks, we want value for our money. We support any meaningful project; we support development and we want our nation's children to have a better life, hence, this Government must utilise the requisite resources, human and material to let the people enjoy a better life. I trust that my colleagues on the other side of the House can recognise the importance of consultation and advice and work towards making Guyana a better place for all.
I thank you. [Applause]
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