Budget 20122321 10 Apr, 2012
Mr. Nagamootoo: If it pleases Your Honour, when I listened to the harangue of the last speaker, I would have thought that he had given all the reasons why this country should not be fooling the working people anymore. [Mr. Neendkumar: Last year you did not talk. You were dumb last year] The last speaker painted a picture of Guyana as a paradise on earth. He said that we have GDP greater than the Caribbean countries. Then he painted a rosy pie in the sky of where we will go in the next five years and beyond. He tried to corral us into supporting this budget by saying that we will be judged if we did otherwise. Well, the good book says, “judge not lest ye be judged”. For us, the judge who is the best in Guyana is the people, and the people have judged them. The people have condemned them. The people were not satisfied with their explanations of growth, development and prosperity, and the people have said, “stand down, become a minority and repent”.
My friend, your Honour, has said - for fooling the Guyanese people and the electorate - that if we in fact have achieved the benchmark of development we are ahead of our neighbours including Trinidad which has oil. I have seen recently that President Chavez of Venezuela has announced a 20% increase in salaries per month - but we still have our pensioners on US$37 per month. For all the statistics, all the juggling in figures, all the reports of where we are in the millennium goals and our projections, we have now boasted that it is a great thing that Guyana has longevity. It must be a great pleasure for all of us to live long but the greatest tragedy is for us to arrive at the age when we would receive an old age pension and be given a pittance and an insult for our contribution to this nation. I say this Government, the Post-Jagan Government, should hang its head in shame, in utter shame for trying to come to this National Assembly with all the fancy talks, all the foot works and mouth works to tell us that the Opposition should be judged. [Mr. Neendkumar: You should be shame because you were in the Post-Jagan Government. You should be shame. Sit down.]
My friend has said the Hon Minister seems to be the glorious “pot salt” in everything, “Minister of everything”. He tried to essay into the Value Added Tax, the vampire tax, which we were told when I was over on that side and in good faith I believed… [Government Member: You too were fooled.] Of course, of course; the “charlatans” could fool anyone… that it was a revenue neutral tax. And yet for all in 2010 it raked in $27 billion; in 2011, last year, it raked in $28.5 billion, and this year the neutral base tax, the revenue neutral tax, will rake in $31.1 billion. A function of growth is development and the core of development is social development – take the money that you have increase from VAT and give it to the pensioners, give it to the workers, and give it to the people who deserve social assistance. That is the proof of growth. It must be people centered.
If all that was said today from that side were to be believed and we stretch credibility to its zenith, if we could stretch credibility to its zenith, we would have said then we did not need to be perhaps the heaviest taxed people in the world. This country in 2010 collected, according the Government’s own estimates, $107.8 billion dollars in taxes. This year we are going to collect $146.8 billion in taxes. We are earning more from the people; we are taking more from the pockets of the people, from the food from their tables and yet you cannot come here with a good conscience and tell the working people that you owe them something in return. That is where we find the fundamentals of this budget are wrong. It has turned economics on its head, it has turned the people on their heads and it has turned logic into an abuse.
I asked the Minister twice in this National Assembly… [Government Member: Which one?] The Hon. Minister of Water, for all the money he boasted that we have spent on the water sector – they love that sector; it is a favourite sector for them – to tell us in the National Assembly, to assure us, to assure the Guyanese people from whom they raked in $146 billion, that they can drink the water from the taps. I want them to make a pronouncement that is open, that is public, that is a guarantee to this Nation. I have gone to Linden and I have seen the water that is as red as blood. I have gone to Ithaca on the West Coast of Berbice and the people came with bottles and jars of water and apart from contamination there are worms in the water. You tell the people in Ithaca they can drink that water; you tell them here in Georgetown. The water when it is put to settle it is like paint. The sediment at the bottom of the water, red sediment, is like paint. And we talk here so glibly about development, so glibly about the money we spend on the people of Guyana but we still have people in this country fearful of opening their taps for a glass of water. They resort to spending billions of dollars every year on bottled water. We need this Minister to tell us why people in this country are forced to buy water from bottles to drink and how much it costs the people to do so.
This 2012 budget was presented in a backdrop of a distressing challenge to the independence and sovereignty of this Tenth Parliament. I fear that the futility of that challenge will play out here in this debate and in the conclusion of it, and that the majority, in true libertarian style and fashion, will and must prevail. This is not intended as a warning but as an advice to the Government benches that we should engage in this debate not by the gestures and the pomp and the theatrics that we are seeing. We must engage constructively and wisely, and thread cautiously and make sure that in the end Guyana becomes the winner.
Your Honour, no one, in his or her right mind, would doubt that this 2012 Budget was also presented under the shadows of endemic corruption, mismanagement and lack of accountability.
Decent Guyanese are burdened with a heavy heart as they are unwillingly and unwittingly saddled with the cross of corruption. I try to look at the budget here, I was looking at it, and I saw a cross there. It appears superficially as two coffins, but on a more penetrating glance it may be two bars of gold. Certainly it is a cross that this nation has to carry - this cross of corruption that we all have to carry. We see every single day in the daily newspapers which reads like x-rated crime thrillers; with each they bring a new narrative of sleaze and cronyism.
I do not have to go back to the past, we here have no baggage. I did my duty, I discharged my responsibility, I contributed to what was called the dawn of a new era and so I cannot go back there. [Interruption]
This, of course, places doubt - the corruption that I talked about places doubt over the creditability of this budget. The $193 Billion for this year could be in jeopardy of being washed away in the torrent of waste, mismanagement and bureaucratic and political inertia. [Interruption] You should name him also; the Minister of the Essequibo River – ‘broad at the mouth, very narrow at the source, lots of water’.
The central issue before us, therefore, is whether, in good conscience, on a balance of probability that things could not possibly get worst, that we should vote to approve this budget.
For many years I have been in self-denial that we could come to this sad state, where the gains of an entire generation of fighters, for what were the good cause and the values of public life could be eroded irreversibly and that we could plunge in the abyss.
I share the anguish and disappointment of Nadira Jagan-Brancier, as reported in the Kaieteur News on Thursday, April 5, 2012, under the banner headline,
“Cheddi, Janet Jagan must be turning in their graves –...
...they didn’t have big ostentatious homes that you see nowadays that government officials and party officials have.”
The daughter of our late Presidents, Cheddi and Janet Jagan, lamented,
“My parents were probably the most incorruptible people you would ever find; their honesty and integrity were of very high standards, but unfortunately do not exist or I do not see it in many of the leaders of the party and government.”
She said these leaders lack the high moral standards of the Jagan’s and though they are using the Jagan names, they are not living up to these standards.
Not Moses, Cheddi and Janet Jagan’s daughter spoke about the betrayal of the Jagan’s legacy of fighting for the working class, Ma and Pa, the sugar workers being at the heart of the fight. She made this indictment,
“I think the party has moved away – not the party, but certain elements in the party - from these very, very important values that held the party together... and so for me, when I look at some of the things happening, my parents must be turning in their graves - but they must be churning up in the waters of the rivers (in which their ashes were sprinkled)”.
These words, “...my parents must be turning in their graves”, will forever haunt those who have betrayed the Jagan legacy, and will shame them forever.
Like some of us, Ms. Jagan-Brancier has a compassionate heart, and would rather the renegades restore the non-corruptible party, and return to the humble example of Cheddi and Janet Jagan. She reminded us that, “...they lived a very simple life; they didn’t have big ostentatious homes that you see nowadays that Government officials and party officials have, which is a very, very, sad thing, personally.” She did not speak to Prado Ville 2.
The self-denial I spoke about extended in the daily ritual of accusations that all is not well; because I still have a few friends over there, I have been tempted to wish away many actual and perceived sins. But the accusations will not go away and they would come back, like a nightmare, in the daily headlines about one scandal after the other – over contracts for drugs, the Amaila Road Project, computer and books scams, secret deals, etc.
I did not go back over 20 years. I looked over this last weekend’s newspapers, a sample of recent headlines. I had been tempted to go back to history, because we are told that he who does not remember the past is condemned to repeat it, except for those who resort to the past do not remember it carefully because they are repeating it every day. History we were told is like a prophet that looks back at what was, analyse what was and what caused what was, then it foretells the future. These have not been able to learn from history and so they cannot see the future, all they can see is the magical slogan in the next five years. We have finished four of those five years, but we are promised the next five years. It is like a child – in the vehicle when we travel from my home, my grandson would say, “Are we there yet?” and I would tell him, ‘shut your so and so mouth’, because it goes on from the beginning of the journey to the end of the journey. That is what they remind us of; Are we there yet? The next five years... [Interruptions: child abuse, child abuser] I am tempted to tell them that, but I will leave that for the next few days when we go back to the hustlings; I will leave that for...
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, allow Mr. Nagamootoo to complete his presentation, please.
Mr. Nagamootoo: ...when I go back to the street corner and when I talk to the Guyanese people... [Interruptions]
Mr. Speaker: Allow the Hon. Member to do his presentation, please.
Mr. Nagamootoo: A sample of the recent headlines was suffice to tell the story graphically, $300M Hydroclave (waste disposal) system...huge difference in cost” – Kaieteur News, Sunday April 8, 2012, which states that a unit of the system commissioned at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation was quoted by the Canadian suppliers at a price of one-half what it was said to cost. We should be worried that the funds used were from the World Bank, which would add to donor suspicions and eventually, donor fatigue, over perception of waste and corruption, even if the allegations were proved untrue.
Rental instead of purchase of generators, in which we were told that the state-run Guyana Power & Light Company (GPL) paid $1.6 billion last year alone to rent two sets, when they could have purchased each set for $400 million. Here again even if proved untrue, it is damaging because we are using donor’s money in most cases to do these things.
Marriot Hotel/Casino fiasco had several headlines, in which our people’s money, estimated at US$20 Million, being held in non-accessible accounts by NICIL, was going to partially fund the project.
IDB still has Amaila Falls -doubts about GPL, says another headline. Even a project as clean as hydro-power, and likely to cost more than US$850 million, has been contaminated, firstly by the Fip Motilall road scandal, and secondly a credibility issue as to whether GPL could control efficient distribution and manage technical losses for hydro-power, as its present record is so dismal in managing the system.
Then the last among the weekend’s x-rated news, “Government sells GT&T shares”. This reports the sale of Guyana’s 20% shares in the giant GT&T to a Chinese – but we do not know, they say in bracket – (Hong Kong) company for US$30 billion, I read that they said, no mention was made of this sale in the Budget though our coffers have been getting some $500 million annually from our GT&T shares. We are told today in the newspapers, I just perused it very quickly, that really this is something in the pipelines. This is a work in progress and that before, because of confidentially issues, the company could not have come on board to do the deal. We heard after the budget that there is in fact a deal and, of course, we are learning this from almost the shadow presidency. Dr. Luncheon at a press conference – it slipped out of him and he mentioned this.
We are waiting for the papers to be tabled here, because we want to ask some questions. Was this a good deal? Why it was not mentioned or even hinted in the budget or in the President’s address to this August Assembly? Was there an offer of US$35 million and would the Parliament see the original MOU? We need to see the genesis of this deal and we also need to see whether or not there has been adequate advertisements and whether or not an offer of any type has been made to the Guyanese people and business community to invest in these shares. Charity begins at home.
The Hon. Finance Minister was intimately involved as the Chairman of NICIL’s Board. He could assure this Parliament that the purchased sum estimated at G$6 billion would eventually, whenever it comes to fruition, be paid into the Consolidated Fund. We want that assurance and all other sums held in NICIL accounts, estimated conservatively at G$35 billion, handed over to the Consolidated Fund, because the Guyanese people deserves to access that money.
It is in the interest of all the working people why we are talking about the NICIL funds; it is in the interest of all the working people, which I performed with dispatch and competence; it is in the interest of all the working people that all funds held in special accounts like NICIL and the Lottery, be paid into the Consolidated Fund. Since, the reasons I know have been advanced year after year for the restraint, was that there was a lack of affordability. We could not afford if we hide some of the money. We cannot afford to give our parents more money for pension if we hide it under the bed. Bring it out to the daylight, let us see the whole purse, and let us see the whole piee, as the people in Berbice would say it.
During 1996, it has not always been this vulgar excuse of lack of affordability, there has also been attempts at trying to gain credibility in budgeting what we budget for workers. In 1996, we all remembered when the Public Servants demanded wages, the then President, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, made a advance I believe in that year, of 9% and invited the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to meet with him. I was there and several others were there as well. He invited the TUC to sit with him and the question he asked was, “Will you join us in the Government to look in the budget where we can find money to pay more to the workers?” That is what a politician who has the people in the centre of his heart will always do. They will consult with the workers’ representative and then the Government sets up what is recounted afterwards.
I will read from a speech from May Day of 1999, by the then President, Mrs Janet Jagan. She recounted this episode of a caring and compassionate leader.
... she said:
“During January 1997, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) had threatened to call a 40-day strike, just two weeks before he was to fall, fatally ill. The then President, our late Dr. Cheddi Jagan met with TUC leaders. He made the unprecedented decision that a joint labour government technical team should examine the Government’s book...”
Listen to this Dr. Singh.
“...to determine whether money could be found to meet further increases in salaries... It concretized government-labour partnership, which Dr. Jagan had fought for, and always wanted.”
That moment died with Cheddi Jagan. Today, we deserve no less and demand the inclusion of labour on a team to find out where moneys are stashed away and examine whether workers could be given a living wage.
We must not only bring in the NICIL, wild life, lotto funds, etc. We also need to be frugal if we want to sing this song about affordability. We have to comb the budget for waste and to eliminate inexplicable bloc votes, such as that for the Office of the President, because this is finally the President’s budget and we have to lead by example. Where all manner of people are recruited as advisors and consultants at super salaries, sinecures are doled out to old faithfuls, who enjoy double salaries along with fat perks and privileges, and propagandist-manipulators and phantom letter writers are kept well fed by their masters.
Pruning the budget would help to get the pennies needed for workers, pensioners and the critically disadvantaged. We have to use the cutting knife on salaries for the over-bloated Ministerial bureaucracy, on travel on first-class tickets and allowances to stay at 5-stars hotels. We must end the travesty of producing champions in globe-trotting, whilst our pensioners go without bread.
Allow me once again to quote, I had referred to this in an earlier speech to be addressed to this Assembly by Cheddi Jagan, the then President, on December 17th, 1992, he said... [Interruptions] You no longer hold the Jagan standards. Do not lament, do not cry, we have it over here, the Alliance for Change, the high ground. We are on the mountain top, the high mountain top that we can uphold these values. “The first time I entered the Legislative Council,” Dr. Jagan said, “I spoke on the issue of pension.” this was Cheddi Jagan I am quoting from. [Interruptions] “It grieves me to know that there are so many Guyanese, who as senior citizens get so small a pension. I think they deserve more for the contributions they had made to the society.”
Today, I say in this House, ‘speak Cheddi, speak’. Speak to these undeserving disciples who are unwilling to remove pensioners from extreme poverty and ensure that they enjoy their last flicker of life in some type of comfort.
The last speaker, the Hon. Irfaan Ali, spoke to the issue of poverty and one would have thought that this country is enjoying manors from heaven. We are all happy, we are all content and no one goes to bed hungry. At the heart of any budget must be poverty reduction. That is the social responsibility of those who govern and of this Parliament. The Finance Minister boasts, “The Guyanese economy is at its strongest and we are showing resilience and dynamism”. Yes, I agree that our economy has grown, due to many factors - You know them best Ms. Teixeira, you used to call to boycott their business – that there is energy in construction and movement for the better in social services – Do you remember that? But notwithstanding the boast of achievements, there is still acute poverty in Guyana. The question is, was it addressed adequately or at all by this Government and in this budget?
On page 7of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, a copy of which I have here, it states that, “the extreme poverty line is based on the normative food basket... The average cost of the food basket across the ten regions for 2006 was $7550 per month, male adult, approximately US$1.25 per day. The average cost of the normative food basket quantifies the extreme poverty line.” [Ms. Teixeira: That was in 2006, it is now 2012.] Yes. That extreme poverty line at $7550 was for 2006. Yet six years later, in 2012, the old age pension remains at $7500. Six years after, six years ago, the extreme poverty line was put in this report at $7500, and today, six years after you are giving them that. This is a criminal neglect of dynamism. This is a national disgrace.
To add insult to poverty, the Finance Minister promised that from May 1st, 2012 old age pension will be increased by the princely sum of $600 per month, or G$20 a day. Give a beggar on the streets $20 and he will tell you “haul you”. He will tell you “haul you” – give them $20 on the streets. [Interruptions]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members could you allow Mr. Nagamootoo to make his presentation... What is happening? Continue please Mr. Nagamootoo.
Mr. Nagamootoo: Yes Sir. Social assistance is below the extreme poverty line at $5500, but the Hon. Finance Minister, in one of his acts reflecting dynamism, has promised G$400 more per month. US$2 will be paid from May 1st. So miserly have we become in this rich country they boast about, with the highest growth rate in the Caribbean, the highest credibility/credit worthiness in the world and the greatest attraction for investors, my God that we could not give them from the 1st January, we had to pay them from the 1st May, 2012. There is something called retroactivity, it is not a big word. It look like this pension package and social assistance package is not a lifeline, it is like a suicide belt that you hand to these poor people and ask them to do what you will.
By their own admission, when you look at the 2006 extreme poverty line you will find their admission. 42000 persons in Guyana are on the extreme poverty line. Mr. Irfaan Ali reminded us about that, that they are giving social assistance to 42000 of them, this miserly pension. It is bad enough.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for 2011, showed that overall – this is their figures, the Government’s figures, whoever prepared this... – 19% of the people in Guyana lived in extreme poverty in 2006 and 36% in moderate poverty. [Member: Is it 90%?] ...19% and 36%. This is stated in the report, so you have to learn to read your own report. The more serious impact of poverty is in the rural and hinterland communities. They must come to this Parliament to say what have they done to impact on the poverty base to bring it down. That was five years ago, they have an obligation to come to this Parliament to say where is the poverty line, both extreme and moderate poverty. They have an obligation to come to this Parliament to say what are the unemployment statistics. What is the number? I said the last time it was a State secret. They have a responsibility to do that, otherwise, we could draw reasonable influence that they have done nothing to reduce poverty and they have done nothing to reduce joblessness in Guyana. If nothing else, this is an indictment of the failure of the Government. It is a failure of policy; a failure of sound budgetary planning; a failure in retributive justice.
Today, I submit with pain that the numbers in extreme poverty have increased. You have to just look at the destitute in the streets based on that; based on the hordes of beggars sleeping on the pave –just outside this very Parliament, the market places and elsewhere. Look at the children who cannot go to school because their parents cannot afford to pay bus fares. Look at the figures of desperate youths forced to petty crimes of house-breaking and “choke-and-rob”.
I have here, in my heart, a photo of a young woman, who is afflicted with filaria and is mentally challenged. She is from Hopetown, West Berbice. She is a single mother of a six year-old child.
She told me that she used to get $5,000 per month from the Region 5 Administration. They stopped it. She was told that too many people are on social assistance. This budget does not speak to her misery nor to the depth of the dreams of a young child who cannot go to school. This story replicates itself in almost every village, yet our economy is at its strongest and we have dynamism – what a shame.
This Budget speaks not to the poverty of the people but to the poverty of conscience, the poverty of vision and the lack of heart. There is no better appeal than the dreams of this child to make us re-examine budgetary allocation. We need to get back to the drawing board, cut the fat and rework the figures.
Real progress in any country is measured by the level of human development. On the human development index, according to the UN Human Development Report 2011, Guyana ranks 117 out of 187 countries as a medium developed country.
Guyana falls below tiny Grenada (67), St Kitts (72) Dominica (81) and nearby Suriname (104).
The Finance Minister said that the Caribbean economy, estimated to contract by 2.2%, much of what the Hon. Member Irfaan Ali said in 2009, grew by 0.2% in 2010; 0.7% in 2011 and projected to grow by 1.7% in 2012. Guyana by comparison has economic growth higher than all of our partners, they boast, yet all these countries show human development indices that are higher than Guyana, and all of them continue to be migration havens for Guyanese who have been and continue to escape from “Paradise”!
No doubt there has been growth over the years but this has not been balanced or proportionate. Whilst hundreds of billions have been spent on infrastructure, agro-industrial development has been neglected. Coldingen and Lethem have stagnated. The Industrial Sites at Diamond, Ruimveldt, the pioneer private sector “colony”, is neglected and run-down.
Our growth must be linked to job creation. Even our much vaunted new housing projects, whilst commendable, are not linked to production centres or agricultural schemes.
This budget has failed to provide any innovation in new agricultural schemes and industrial zones that would alleviate the problems of joblessness and lack of sustainable livelihood, and guard against the “housing revolution” becoming a bubble.
Instead, we continue to pour large sums into capital infrastructural projects, mostly with borrowed moneys. The latest is for a new international airport for air buses and jumbo jets, when we do not even have a national carrier or even a domestic plane; they do not even have a fleet of jackass carts.
I said that I am afraid. I speak about the new airport that they are talking about which is like a “Panday-like”, “Piarco project”, the likes of which got him into all kinds of troubles, Mr. Irfaan Ali, that have attracted criminal charges. The mantra seems to be: “bigger, the better!” But for whom?
The Finance Minister said that “we are less indebted as a nation than we were twenty years” ago. Is that true, Mr. Finance Minister? Is that true?
I am not a brilliant economist neither am I an economist by any standard but I have read the figures. In 1992, when there was a change of Government, the dawn of a new era, the debt stood at US$2.1 billion. In pure Guyana dollars terms, without looking at percentage of GDP or other factors, at the then prevailing rate of G$125 to US$1, the 1992 debt was $252,500,000,000(Two hundred and fifty two billion, five hundred million). Today, 20 years later, and in spite of write-offs, cancellation and rescheduling, our national debt stands at US$1.2 billion which, at the current buying rate of G$207 to US$1, amounts to G$253,400,000,000(Two hundred and fifty three billion, four hundred million) –nearly $1 billion more than what it was in 1992. You do not like that. You come here to tell us about the debt that we have being the lowest debt. Go back to your figures and in Guyana dollar terms our debt is more than what it was in 1992. If I were you I would resign right now for lying to this Assembly, for misleading this House. [Interruption: lots of noise and shouting]
Mr. Speaker, no amount of statistical juggling would hide the reality that in fiscal terms, we are like a dog chasing our own tail. We are once again in the middle of the vicious debt circle.
There is no comparison between the effects, impact and miseries caused by the old debt and the new debt, amortization of which has not started to kick in. But there is no pride in boasting about our debt stock, and with borrowing expected to exceed $26 billion this year alone, we will set a new record high national debt ceiling ever!
A sad caricature of our debt tragedy, with our population standing some at 750,000 people, Guyana has one of the highest per capita debts in the world at roughly $333,333 – the unholy trinity. Each child born in the Jagdeo-Ramotar era would henceforth carry a debt tag at birth of $333,333! As soon as a child says “Whaaaa!” it is slapped with a debt tag forever. That is the record of fiscal management and fiscal prudence.
The Hon. Minister likes to make comparisons, but one can also look at the deficit in the Consolidated Fund in 1987 it was $6.5 billion. Now, before grants, our deficit in the Consolidated Fund $42 billion and after grant, when we scratch out the begging bowl, it will be $26.4 billion. What a shame. What is the comparison? You come here with all this big boast and bluster of presenting a good Budget and trying to hoodwink the people of this nation.
Let me say this, Mr. Speaker, this same impetus that drove those who mismanaged the economy in the past is driving us again today, that is, “a little borrowing is not bad”. So, again, this year, like the addict hooked on morphine, we continue to ease the pain of deficit financing with external borrowing in the sum of $26 Billion, and domestic borrowing, at almost $1.5 Billion. This could be more, if we cannot draw down the so-called “Norway Funds”.
Debt servicing in 2012 will be $6.7 billion. In 2010 and 2011, it was in excess of $7 Billion and $8 Billion respectively – over $20 billion we are paying to service our debt in three years and you cannot find money for pensioners and you cannot find money for workers and you are paying $20 billion in debt servicing alone and you call that fiscal management!
Mr. Speaker, I want to skip some parts but if you will indulge me, I have to speak to the issue of mismanagement, and nowhere else is the mismanagement more evident that in the sugar industry.
GAWU appeared before the “Gobin Tribunal” in 2009, it pointed out since then to “poor management of the Corporation” which was the main factor responsible for fall in production. Production fell from 325,317 tonnes in 2004 to 226,267 tonnes in 2008, and it tipped up a little bit to 233,736 tonnes in 2009. This year in the Budget I tried to find out what the exact production figures where. I have seen that we of course export just over 211,000 tonnes of sugar.
GUYSUCO, since then, was running at a loss of $4 billion; it started to generate the loss from years before. GAWU had argued that had it achieved production target in 2008 of 315,000 tons, it could have netted $10.2 billion more from the sale of sugar but they did not get it that year because of low production due to mismanagement and the bubbling of the sugar industry and you come here now with your begging bowl, with your pagri in your hand asking us to give you money. What a shame. GUYSUCO has not achieved that target since then.
GUYSUCO had continued to blame rising fuel and fertilizer price, but every year it has been spending billions of dollars and yet we have here the report from GAWU saying that the yield per hectare fell from 72 tons in 2007 to 58 tons in 2008. Under its very nose, the Demerara estates produced 50.7% less in 2008 as compared to 2004. Right here the Union asked the Tribunal why the workers should be the scapegoat for this mismanagement and this fall in production that is due to GUYSUCO’s management. If they wanted to solve the problem, it was easy – just sack the board; but the Chairman of the Board was promoted by the Minister of Labour and awarded – member of the board made President. So we do not have a solution in sight.
Mr. Vic Oditt, who was the Chairman of a Commission of Inquiry in that year, said, and I quote him:
“There is complete disconnect between management and workers. Responsibility for the decline of this estate rests entirely with management…” he must have been speaking about Ogle “…whose members have lost their way over the last five years. Leadership seems non-existent, morale is low and the culture is to find other persons/departments to blame.” – The blame game.
Now they have the audacity and worst of all, because you come here to ask for money to prop up the bailout, they were not kind to the sugar workers. Mr. Komal Chand, who is a Hon. Member of this House, had to talk last year on May Day and he put the workers on guard because he warned about the anti-working class champions in the Government and he said:
“GAWU urges this vigilance based on our experience in recent times. Mainly, I refer to the threat last December to derecognis0.e GAWU. We will recall that the blood of the Enmore Martyrs was spilled in their quest for the recognition of GAWU’s forerunner…”
“On 16th December, 2010, in an unprecedented and outrageous act…”
GAWU was sent a letter and it said this:
“The Corporation wishes to inform you that it is considering to terminate the Recognition and Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes (Agreement) dated 27th February, 1976 that currently subsists between your Union and the Corporation”.
That letter was signed by Mr. Jairam Pitam, Human Resources Director. Of course Mr. Gopaul then was Chairman; he described it as a tactic. The Hon. Robert Persaud, Minister of Agriculture, that goodly gentleman, I believe him; he had nothing to do with the letter. President Jagdeo distanced himself from GUYSUCO’s decision and, Mr. Speaker, if ever there was a classical case of the classical proverb, “I see not, I hear not, I speak not”, this is the case of the proverbial monkey. They threatened GAWU to de-recognise it then they washed their hands like Pontius Pilot
Mr. Donald Ramotar, our President now, he was then General Secretary and a member of the Board… [Mr. Neendkumar: Jealous!] I could not be jealous of him with this kind of behaviour. He threatened me with discipline when I wrote an article “Light a Candle for Sugar Workers” and the Stalinist wolf-pack over there, some of them, called for my dismissal, expulsion from the PPP for coming to the rescue of the Sugar workers.
Mr. Speaker, I crave your indulgence very quickly, there is no easy fix. The time for a new governance mechanism is now, not tomorrow, not in the future, not in the next 5 years. It must not depend on whether we discover oil or harness hydro-energy.
There is need for urgency as new dangers lurk where the economy is bolstered by illicit funds via money laundering, narco-and-gun trade, fuel smuggling, piracy, and the criminalization of political processes.
The disclosures last year by Wikileaks of complicity in narco-criminal activities have hurt Guyana and its economy.
I echo the conviction of President Ramotar in his address, and I sincerely do so, in this Parliament on 10th February, 2012, that “our people deserve better” and that “workers in Guyana are not left on the sidelines of development”.
With political courage, we could re-work this Budget to find, for now modest relief for the Guyanese people, and we can resolve and find answers for some of the more pressing problems.
Can we reform the Value Added Tax? Yes we can, if we have political will. Can we reform personal taxes as was promised and introduce a progressive taxation system where those who could afford pay more and those who cannot pay less or none at all.
Can we reduce the toll on the Berbice Bridge to bring ease to school children, farmers and business people? Yes, we can!
Can we enhance public transport for school children? Yes, we can!
Can we create a Flood Compensation Fund for farmers in affected areas as MMA, Black Bush Polder and the Canal Polders? Yes, we can!
Can we reduce the Travel Tax and abolish the Airport Voucher Tax to make travel less expensive, and help Guyanese access goodies from the diaspora while giving the airlines breathing space to avoid the periodic shutdown from not having capacity passenger loads? Yes, we certainly can!
Can we reduce bloated state and government emoluments and find moneys to give public servants a double-digit minimum wage? Yes, we can!
And certainly, can we increase old age pensions and public assistance, I am saying modestly, to $10,000 per month? I want you to say “Yes, we can!”
We can do these. And, yes, we can do more. We can hasten appointment of the Procurement Commission, we can bring the DEA to Guyana to help us fight narco-crime and money-laundering and enforce forfeiture laws that could strengthen our revenue base. We can rigidly enforce our laws, including our Integrity legislation, to police the assets of public officials, as well as prosecute those implicated in corrupt dealings for misfeasance in public office, and surcharge them for public moneys stolen or misspent. Of course we can!
Nothing is wrong to quote from one of the best and finest minds and intellect and honest leaders of the world, the first black President we have of the United States of America, President Obama. He is a worthy example to quote from.
Mr. Speaker, in all of this we need partnership; partnership with the political parties, with Labour, Business and Civil Society.
We certainty need in our relations, not opportunism and vacillation. This Government that says it is Marxist-Leninist, but insists that the private sector (capitalism) is our engine of growth. This is confusion, which is played out when Government bails out public corporations and degrades, for example, genuine patriotic capitalist ventures like Pegasus; and promotes with state funds local cronies and foreign capitalists to build Marriot in competition with local business. This is a shame. This is a contradiction. It is a contradiction in term and abandonment of ideology.
We are, sadly, ideologically, neither fish nor fowl. This confusion affects budget planning, and sadly it is reflected in this Budget.
Mr. Speaker, I repeat, this is indeed a Big Bang Budget but in spite of the staggering figures, the Guyanese people are still asking: “What is there in it for me?”
In conclusion I want to say this… [Mr. Neendkumar: He is a child abuser, in conclusion.] The common question being asked: “Why support this budget?” [Ms. Teixeira: Promise that you will never curse a child again] And the easiest thing to do is to vote it down. But, Mr. Speaker, the Alliance For Change does not subscribe to nihilistic politics, and does not wish to practice political blackmail or see a dead-end that would send us back to the polls. Fresh elections now would require about $2 billion for the Elections Commission, perhaps $2 billion from contesting parties, and loss from business activities in another $2 billion. Snap elections would be a costly thing we can ill afford at a time when workers need wage not waste. [Dr. Westford: No, vote it down!]
For us, Mr Speaker, the job of Government… We can. You keep saying “vote it down”. Say in a chorus “vote it down”. …is to govern, even a minority government as this cannot govern without money, without approved budgetary allocations. However, the power to allocate money resides with this Parliament, and we have to ensure that moneys are allocated judiciously, within our means, and in a balanced and proportionate way.
This for us is a superior political message that we can together correct the wrongs and do better for our people. Our first interest in to ensure that the people’s gains made over many years are not eroded and that we maintain the allocations for the social sectors.
The AFC comes to this Parliament with an objective mind and calls for partnership for Guyana. This is a Government budget, but this is people’s money. The partnership is that of using fiscal prudence to make our money work for Guyana.
Outside of health, education, housing/water, we need to make cuts. We will use the scissors and not the sledgehammer. We will prune excesses and extravagance, and we will avoid waste on projects that we cannot undertake at this time. How well all of us do this, will test whether we are nationalists or just petty hustlers, unmindful of the needs of our people, and unresponsive to them.
This reality requires us to recognize that we need each other and that we should work together. Remember that, Mr. Samuel Hinds. No more platitudes, no more arrogance, no more politics of disdain and “cuss-down” modes.
We are in this thing together and invite this Government to get the numbers right. If we have to fix this country the job begins now with making this a people’s budget. Our support is assured once the Budget meets the threshold of distributive justice, balance and equity.
Long Live Guyana! Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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