Budget Debate 20131855 03 Apr, 2013
Mr. B. Williams: Thank you. If it pleases you, Mr. Speaker, in an honest attempt to characterise this Budget, the immortal words of Sir Walter Scott pervades my mind. I quote: “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
It has become a fait accompli. This is yet another, and I quote, “biggest budget” by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government. The question is: Biggest for whom, the masses or the people or a cabal of friends? Has the life of the ordinary Guyanese undergone a qualitative change or is it still attended by shortages?
There is a frightening arrogance, a callous disregard on the part of those in the minority government for the best practices in government. Nepotism and corruption have become the signature of this Government. What kind of mind in the full glare of an ever pressing call for equity in the broadcast media would give its family and close friends most of the frequencies allotted for radio and television well-knowing that it would be revealed to the world sooner than later? What kind of mind would seek to covet the Plaisance Community Centre Ground to its own purpose without a care for the villagers, especially the youths who have, for generations, meaningfully used it?
Is this what the Hon. Minister of Finance has in mind at page three of his Budget speech when he was, and I quote, “calling on all others to join us in the steady march to further develop our country”? The truth is; life is a continuous struggle for a large segment of this population who has been marginalised and discriminated against since 1992. The Hon. Member Irfaan Ali regaled us about a dreamy Guyana and that our per capital income was, in 2012, over US$3,000; that is income per each Guyanese. This is yet another deception. The learned authors of Hunt and Sherman showed that per capita income to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was an erroneous measure of the prosperity of the masses and that what was important was the distribution of income among the people. It is an incontrovertible fact that most of the wealth of Guyana is distributed amongst a small 20% cabal, while the other 80% of our people have to scramble for the crumbs, thus the well earned aphorism, I quote: “Prosperity for whom?”
The Hon. Member, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, appeared very organised over the power of one seat as to suggest, if not for, the PPP/C would have been trampling on us as in the last 20 years. Factor in this, a simple constitutional change before the last elections would have crystallized the PPP/C’s position. Had our Constitution a provision for post election collations to yield up a President and, thus, for a Government that one seat would have given the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) the President and the Government and the PPP/C as the Opposition. That is the power of one seat and I dare say that we will have to look at amending our Constitution to ensure that we could have collations after the results of the elections are declared.
The Hon. Minister of Finance presents this Budget under the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together Accelerating Gains for Guyana. Is the Hon. Member…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams, excuse me. Is there an electronic device near to your microphone?
Mr. Williams: I do not know if I am being bugged; I will have to check.
Mr. Speaker: Given that it is you, Mr. Williams, anything is possible. You seem to attract these… but if there is any electronic device nearby, or that of any other Member, please, it is affecting Mr. Williams’ delivery.
Mr. Williams: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, the budget is under the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together Accelerating Gains for Guyana. Is the Hon. Member serious? For consecutive years the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, Mr. David Granger, wrote the President requesting a tripartite approach to developing a budget in which all Guyanese would benefit. Having rejected this sensible proposition, could one not argue that this, I quote, “togetherness” call is yet another deception? The fact of the matter is that this budget reiterates the Government’s preference for brick and mortar over flesh and blood.
Enough, it is time for me to look to my laurels. I begin:
It is apparent that the Government believes that the delivery of justice lies in more infrastructure. Billions have been spent on constructing new courts and refurbishing existing ones. Another $2 billion is allocation this year to continue the splurge; never mind that the Leonora Magistrates’ Court, for years now, and the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court are not yet operable. What of the quality of delivery? Why can we not be impacted on the mere visual apprehension after the spending of all of that money? Why not modernise courtrooms, make them fully air conditioned, microphones and a digital recording system? Surely this will speed up trials. The Deeds Registry is still afflicted by lost transports and surely the developing of standard forms will speed up transactions there in.
The Judicial Service Commission, we again reiterate, must be fully constituted. There must be a fast track mechanism to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the CCJ, and the division of the functions and distribution of the responsibilities for the administration of the courts, between the Chancellor and Chief Justice, must be restored.
The Criminal Law Procedure Amendment Act, No. 17 of 2008, introduced into our jurisprudence paper committals to avoid unreasonable delay in affording a Guyanese charged with an indictable offence a fair trial. The question is: Is it being applied by our magistrates countrywide or only by a few enlightened ones? The Hon. Attorney General, I hope, could answer this question. The jury must remain sacrosanct in our jurisprudence. It is an outrage to empower the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to appeal a jury’s verdict of acquittal and this should be repealed.
During the last year our justice system, the court in particular, was confronted with a quartet of cases, five, by the learned Attorney General against the Parliament of Guyana seeking to overturn decisions taken by the latter in its internal proceedings. Traumatised by each defeat in the National Assembly the Hon. Attorney General sought refuge in the court in every occasion. He was unsuccessful in the completed ones but sought to obfuscate the truth by propaganda through the Government’s monopoly control of the media. In the first action, No. 19 (12) of 2012, dealing with the composition of Parliamentary Committees, at page 29 of his judgment Chief Justice Chang said this, and I quote:
“The facts as alleged by the Attorney General in affidavit in support of the motion are legally incapable of supporting this claim to a constitutional breach.”
The second action, No. 2 (16) W of 2012, dealing with the budget cuts, is still pending. I have written Chief Justice Chang seeking to have that matter completed by letter dated 11th February, 2013, but the learned Chief Justice has been unable to do so and therefore the provisional decision obviously is that the jury is still out on that question.
The third action, No. 69 CM of 2012, the Hon. Attorney General contended that it was unconstitutional for the National Assembly to pass a no-confidence motion in Mr. Rohee. This was the case the learned Attorney General fled from, if you recall, when he withdrew and wholly discontinued it, recognising his folly. I believe that he was reminded that there was a no-confidence motion against the then Minister of Labour, Mr. Manzoor Nadir, which was not successful because, of course, the majority was on that side of the House.
The fourth action, No. 94 CM of 2012, the Attorney General also lost. His question to the court was whether the National Assembly could prohibit Minister Rohee from speaking. The learned Chief Justice said, “Yes, Rohee had no right to speak as Minister”. He then gave him a consolation point, Mr. Rohee has a right to speak as an elected member, whatever that means since we have no constituencies where persons could identify an Member of Parliament (MP) as their MP, but we have a Proportional Representation (PR) system which is a list system.
Those cases invoked high constitutional questions about the independence of the National Assembly to go about its business, undisturbed and not interfered with and those matters that are still pending we trust that at the completion thereof the Government and the Members on the other side of the House would recognise that the National Assembly must proceed with its business without such interference in the future.
The Hon. Minister of Finance omits, as is his want, any reference to the Ministry of Labour in his budget speech, but do not be misled. The PPP/C has never forgotten nor forgiven Trade Unions which they blame for unseating them from government and keeping them in the wilderness for upwards of three decades.
The Government had implemented a policy of ‘divide and rule’ in the Trade Union Movement and, in fact, had engineered the split there in using Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), an umbrella organisation for Trade Unions loyal to the PPP/C, against the Guyana Trade Unions Congress, which it perceived to be hostile towards it.
The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) has historically been singled out for harsh treatment, thus efforts to frustrate Public Servants by keeping them on the breadline with starvation wages and relentless attacks on their unions which involve breaking up its bargaining unit into semiautonomous agencies or entities, brining into focus the question of continued representation by the GPSU of the workers in these new bodies.
No doubt you are aware that I have shown over the last 12 years that Public Servants have had no real increase in wages and salaries because of the annually imposed 5% increase by the Government in breach of the collective bargaining agreement. The new Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, has been talking about a new minimum wage. For years the Guyana Public Service Union has advocated increases ranging from 15%-20% in wages and salaries for Public Servants. I respectfully submit that the Government could doubly afford to increase wages and salaries and the minimum wage; the reason being that they use only part of the earnings of this country to determine the earnings of public servants. What about National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL)’s funds, Lotto funds and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) funds? These are not factored in the amount available for Public Servants’ wages and salaries. The latter amounts are used to benefit supporters of the Government with those capital projects. In this year’s Budget the sum of $661,872,000 is budgeted for revision of wages and salaries, yet the employment costs are projected to increase by $4.6 billion.
The APNU calls on the Government to stop fooling around with the lives and wellbeing of the Public Servants in Guyana and to pay them a living wage.
We know that job creation is a function is a function of investment. Following direct investment I hardly hear anything about them, local investment and investment by the Government. The Marriott issue shows that the question of job creation is not taken seriously by the Government. [Mr. Nandlall: Mislead you all again?] The Government… what is wrong with my junior, Mr. Harmon? The Marriott issue shows that the question of job creation is not taken seriously by the Government. The Government never publishes the unemployment rate. What is its employment policy? It does not publish any manpower survey or, indeed, whether it conducts any.
It is conventional wisdom that big construction projects are job spinners and ought to employ many Guyanese. Unlike the People’s National Congress (PNC), when in Government, the PPP/C does not guarantee employment to Guyanese in big international projects in Guyana. The Chinese workers, for example, were preferred over the Guyanese workers in the Marriott case. The APNU recommends to this Government that in all such contracts they must in clued what we called, in our day, a “Guyanisation Clause”. That clause not only guaranteed work for the Guyanese workers but ensures that whatever project or entity it is would be taken over gradually, over time, by Guyanese labour, talent and skill.
Mr. Speaker, you would recall that in the last presentation last year I greeted Dr. Nanda Gopaul well. I greeted him well. I informed him about the intromissions of his predecessor and I trusted that he would escape the type of treatment the then Hon. Minister of Labour had meted out to the Guyanese workers in the bauxite industry. I pointed out to the Hon. Member that we had to seek recourse in a no-confidence motion against the Minister to get him to do his work and to do well by the Guyanese workers in that industry. I thought that he had taken my word seriously. It is evident that he has not.
The PPP Administration has been deliberately lax in ensuring that the bauxite company of Guyana, RUSAL for short, observes and respects the laws of Guyana; particularly in the area of the adherence to occupational health and safety regulations. This is evident by the following developments:
1. RUSAL workers at Arorima worksite were recently injured as a consequence of gross violations of the regulations and procedures for the disposal of explosives. As a result many were injured and some severely.
2. RUSAL suspended 67 workers who protested unsafe working conditions at its operations during May 2009, shortly afterwards RUSAL dismissed five workers who were protesting about the unsanitary conditions for the storage of food materials in areas infested by rodents and roaches in the kitchen where meals were usually prepared for the staff at the Arorima location.
As a consequence of those above stated developments, these said same matters were listed as differences for resolution by way of arbitration to be conducted by the Ministry of Labour, however, having inherited the problem, Dr. Nanda Gopaul false started a purported invocation of compulsory arbitration by his failure to sign the notice himself, as was required, instead of the Chief Labour Officer and the result was RUSAL took advantage of this and took the Minister to court.
Years ago we had requested that we introduce an industrial court in Guyana so that matters of labour would not be bogged down in the general malaise in the wider justice system. The President, who was in fact seated over there at that time, was very favourable to the idea but thought that we will look at it down the line. That was nearly five years ago and I trust that we would look at it now again, now that the Hon. Member is President of Guyana.
The point is that the Guyana Bauxite Union obviously would have been shut out from this arrangement where they went to court and so they had to intervene in that matter and they go leave from the Chief Justice to do so and recognising, my junior, that if the matter was left like that it would be for another 20 years, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the General Workers Union (GWU) lawyers suggest that the matter be resolved and that the Minister restart the proceedings and sign again. The Minister agreed to that and so the matter was withdrawn. That was over a year ago and the Hon. Minister of Labour has not seen it fit to restart, in the correct way, the compulsory arbitration for the workers of the bauxite industry and the company, RUSAL. They cannot do that but a month ago Guyana Power and Light Incorporated (GPL) had a strike and GPL, in that bargaining unit, had to deal with National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE). Many of you might not know that but the Hon. Minister, Mr. Nanda Gopaul was the Secretary General of NAACIE. He is very experienced. That is why one has to wonder why he did not sign the invocation documents himself, instead of giving it to the Public Servant to sign. What we noted was after about a week the Minister, himself, intervened in that strike and, on this occasion, signed the relevant documents for the arbitration proceedings. [Mr. Nandlall: What is wrong with that?] What is wrong with that? You came late. You would have learned about nepotism and corruption. Now, I am not saying that you are involved in that. I want you to get me clear.
Question must have to be asked as to how this Minister of Labour, the Hon. Member, could move so swiftly to resolve this matter involving NAACIE and after all these years they still have the bauxite workers at the mercy of RUSAL. The General Manager of RUSAL even attempted to whip them with a spade. That is what they brought our Guyanese workers to. They have no respect for the Guyanese workers and we are calling on this Minister to use his powers and intervene in the same manner in which he intervened in the GPL/NAACIE strike. Start the arbitration or face another no-confidence motion and this time, we assure you, we will win this no-confidence motion.
This Government likes to say that it is a working class Government; it has the interest of the workers at heart, but does it, Mr. Speaker? When the honourable late President Dr. Cheddi Jagan was in power the attitude that he displayed to the workers of Guyana was so substantially different from his successors. He ensured that he had increases that were above rate of inflation and if there was even a slight increase in the GDP he wanted to share part of that increase with the workers of Guyana. But alas! Since his demise, I do not believe that he would have liked to come and sit amongst the Members on that other side. I do not believe that he would have liked to see what is occurring right now.
This Government has a duty to take care of our workers and it has neglected this duty. We are saying that we are holding the Government to account and we believe that it must act presently and it must act now. The Government must do it now.
Therefore I leave with you, Mr. Speaker, and this honourable House this little verse titled, Styled: the lament of a Guyanese worker, and I quote:
“Do not cry for me PPP/C, the truth is you never really loved me. All through my hungry days, my poverty stricken existence you kept your silence and you kept your distance.”
Thank you Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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