Budget 20122227 17 Apr, 2012
Mr. Ramjattan: I think this will be, apart from some interventions I made, my first address, and so, in a sense, it is a maiden address for the Tenth Parliament. So I will be urging no heckling and I will be asking for your support. It is almost my nineteenth year here.
Let me just, immediately, before proceeding to the more useful parts of this address, indicate that the Alliance For Change appreciates the difficulties and the international world order as it is, appreciates the difficulties and challenges that Guyana has, for the Minister of Finance, in that context, to come up with a budget as is. We, in the Alliance For Change, will support any budget, or any economic programme, that offers opportunities for all, and ensures an equitable distribution of our country’s resources, and ensures the prevalence of the rule of law, our individual rights and our collective finances. We are going to support such a budget. Understanding the international exogenous factors as some economists would put it, understanding our internal problems, I can appreciate the difficulty the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh had in coming up with a budget. It is always going to be a difficult thing. On very many occasions standing up to speak on budget debates, though I have been very passionate about certain things, which I will still be passionate about, I also would like to say that in the context of things, yes, a budget is an exercise that has difficulties about it, and so I can appreciate.
We see things, in the Alliance For Change, that we can support. But there are a lot of things which I suspected will be deemed unprincipled in the part of the Alliance For Change if we do not ask for a review, change or alterations. Before going there, however, I wish to make a couple of points, preambular, in relation to what we have heard, especially across the floor, to our economy. We have been given a tongue-lashing, indeed, on this side of the House, from that side of the House, in relation to how wonderful the economy is doing. That is not necessarily the point. The point, I think, was made by Reverend Gilbert, that indeed we are where are and is better than where we were. The point of it, however, should be: Are we where we are supposed to be with the same set of moneys and finances that we have in this budget? That is the point.
We talk about diversification of the economy, which is sustaining this growth, and, indeed, there were growth - 5.4, 5.1. Probably the numbers can be nudged around, but it is over five per cent. Was it diversification that caused it? When we check the list here, sugar, rice, bauxite and gold – that has been happening for fifty years, a century and more, as the pillars of our economy - we have had growth there, but what was not there and where we did not see it was in the other sectors. Fishing went down from 8.4 to 5.3 per cent as compared to 2010 to 2011; forestry was down from 11.8 per cent, reduced to 9 per cent, when 2010 was being used as the base year; and construction also went down from 10.78 to 2.8 per cent, information and technology 7.5 to 1.5 per cent. These are the set of sectors which did pretty badly when compared to what they used to be.
The other preambular point I wish to make has to do… because I wish to clarify it so that we have a proper perspective. We do not want to give it all glitter. There has been an inexcusable rise in our external and domestic debt. My addition is that it has been almost to a position of US$1.9 billion when the domestic debt is added on to the external debt. Whilst there has been a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rise - these are numbers of which I have to quote accurately - of US$1, 984 dollars from 2007 to US$2,867, and that is based on a rebasing. Again, I want the Members to say that that might be a qualified opinion. There is a per capita debt, however, that has risen to $1,400 to $2,500. It is important that these statistics be brought
Thirdly, as a preambular, point I wish to make is that the plan here is to have a $13 billion deficit and that deficit is also with a fifteen per cent in grants. Now, if at this stage we are saying that we are going to get those grants, $15 billion, and if by 2012, December, they do not come in we could be in a budget deficit that could be in the range of $45 billion. This assumes…, and I want to say this, because though I would want to say it is challenging times, this can be regarded as something which can be reckless. There could very well be some alarming disproportionalities in relation to our finances, come later down the year.
There is a fourth point I wish to make and it is more than merely preambular. That is the uncontrolled and obviously partisan - I know, Mr. Speaker, when I use the word partisan, I mean it - contract employing within the Ministries and Government Departments and Regions. It is an important thing to understand that when… Under the independence Constitution and during the course of the time, since then, the public service was created and we were trying, by virtue of that public service, to insulate the politicization of the our civil servants from the powers that be. What there is now is but a de-gutting of the public service through this mechanism called contracted employees. All this category of salaries that there used to be is now raven asunder by virtue of contracted employees. Some of whom are given hundreds of thousands of dollars as against others. Even those who might not be so partisan, when the fact is considered that they are only under contract, they do not have the Public Service Commission, or the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, in the case of where it makes decisions and dissents against certain Ministers, that security mechanism for their tenure is now abandoned by virtue of them having to sign up contacts.
It has created what is called the “bloated bureaucracy” which also has come by virtue of the expansion of Ministries over the years. This, we must say, is a donkey cart economy. It is getting faster - probably from a donkey we have got horses now - but it is not a Mercedes-Benz. What we are saying is that when you start having, from a time when the great Cheddi Jagan was there, thirteen Ministries to twenty-one almost now, the expenses that some…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan, one second, please. I am hearing a continuous blackberry pinging. If someone in the Chamber has his or her phone on it is coming through consistently. Please turn it off, or the volume off, or something. It is seemingly to be coming from the right or the middle by Hon. Minister Ganga Persaud, but go ahead Mr. Ramjattan.
Mr. Ramjattan: Added to the fact that there are these whole big numbers of contracted employees, and also a number of Ministries is now on board, it is creating, for our finances, obviously a difficulty. Moneys can simply be given to workers, for social assistance, for pensioners, if those Ministries are to be cut back to fourteen, fifteen. It is an important point that we wish to make in the Alliance For Change…, because not only did we indicate during the course of the campaign, but it was also something we have to learn to live with, that is, within our means. What is happening is that lots of those Ministries are doing the work of what is called constitutional authorities and then there are other agencies which have been created to do the work. There is a brand new Ministry now and there are still the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Guyana Forestry Commission, all of them coming under that Ministry, the Land Use Commission, and this and that, and all of those largely are supposed to be doing the work in effect a Ministry should be doing. So what is it? It is a duplication of expenses, and that kind of cut and scissoring is important for a country that is not a Mercedes-Benz economy.
Now, apart from all of that, I want to make mention, as I have made over the years, that it is important that we manage our finances, which are left after all these “bloated bureaucracy”, better. What we have seen over the years has largely been what I call excessive, what has been, bad management, for want of a word that is coming - it might be unparliamentary language - and we must indicate this to the opposing side that it is also inherent in our Auditor General’s Report how badly we are doing in that regard.
We in this country can only know, first of all, whether we are having all the moneys in the budget, in the Consolidated Fund, if we are honestly having them placed there. We cannot, in a budget debate, state whether indeed this is all the moneys. National Industrial Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) has moneys; Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, separate account, moneys are there in the Guyana Forestry Commission; the bank, Guyana National Cooperative Bank (GNCB), the Unit Collection or the Collection Unit, money is there. They are not brought to book in a Consolidated Fund from which we now, as parliamentarians, can have total scrutiny. That is why I fear that, yes, we have a good budget, but when we feel that the amount is only $192 billion that we have to disburse, in accordance with what the Minister proposed in its Appropriation Bill, it may not very well reflect what actually the amounts are.
It is obvious that this Minister knew that we are going to get some moneys out of a certain deal by selling off the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) Company shares for US$30 million - US$25 million now, US$5 million later on. Apart from what I feel, and this is my opinion, we are killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Five million US dollars every year will be got from GT&T shares, in six years it could have been US$30 million, but it has been sold out. Is that good for the country? It is my opinion that it is not. The Government Members will say to us that we cannot kill the goose that lays the golden egg but they are killing it. That is important too, to understand that there is, what is called, this kind of management of our finances,…What is happening is that I understand that this US$5 million or US$25 million of shares sold to this Chinese company called the Datang Telecom Technology & Industry is not reflected in any Consolidated Fund. It is going to be reflected somewhere in NICIL’s fund. Land has been sold to Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI) to build up that beautiful bank there. A lot of transactions have been done. We do not, however, know. So when the Minister of Finance comes here, to bring this budget, he should indicate that these are our revenues. It would appear - more than appear; it is obvious - that there are more moneys in bank accounts other that where they are supposed to be.
It breaches another requirement of our Constitution, that when we now are going to expend moneys, as we are here for, as of tomorrow, in the Committee of Supply, we are not going to have, what is called, any power to disapprove or approve in relation to those large sums of moneys. In this budget presentation, the Hon. Minister Dr. Ashni Singh indicated that there will be a Marriott Hotel built, but there is nowhere in it do I see that we have to approve such a major project. So there will be, in accordance with our Constitution, a violation committed, because moneys will be spent to the magnitude of so much. I do not know. It is going to be over $27 billion that the Government in going to put in to that Marriott Hotel project, one way or the other, equity or guarantee behind the scene. We will not be approving it because there is a stream of revenue that is totally outside here, the budget. We have to put a halt to that in this National Assembly, as of this new dispensation. All the streams of money must come into this budget, so we then with eagle eyes can then take the position and seek the position for ourselves.
I want to state that there are a lot of other revenue streams, that we are suspecting there might be, and it is for that reason that a couple of days ago I did ask the Minister, through a letter, that we would like to know where statements of balances are in respect of a certain institution. We would appreciate receiving from you, Mr. Minister, a statement of balances as of December 31st. This letter was written on April the 12th. I know it is short a time for a Minister to probably get all the information, but I am certain that it is gettable, and it is in respect of what are in the Government’s moneys that are not in the Consolidated Fund, as the NICIL’s money - not in the Bank of Guyana? Most specifically, what is in the NICIL’s bank accounts, if there is more than one? What is in the Guyana Forestry Commission’s bank account? What is in the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission’s bank account, the Guyana Gold Board, the GNCB’s Debt Collection Unit, the lotto fund and other significant balance, including the amount held by Ministries which should have been repaid into the Consolidated Fund?
Then is when we are going to know if there is more money, or if there is not more money to pay pensioners. You cannot take half of the money, hide it up somewhere and come here with a budget saying that the Consolidated Fund, revenue section, indicating X, Y and Z are the figure. That is wrong. That is absolutely wrong and it is a breach of the Constitution. The Attorney General must know this. If we are uncertain about it, we can ask the court for a declaration. Where are these moneys supposed to be? It is not on the opinion of a certain Mr. Charles Ramson, in relation to the lotto fund, based on some 1959 legislation, when we reformed this Constitution and when, in that same constitutional reform process, we said that all moneys must go into the Consolidated Fund. But he quoted, and I have his opinion here, the legal opinion of Mr. Charles Ramson, as indicated by the formidable Mr. Anand Goolsarran, it is totally flawed. I wish to tell this honourable House that that kind of holding of our revenues outside of the Consolidated Fund cannot give a proper picture of what moneys we have so that we can spend on our workers, our population, our old people and our young people, for the education, or on better education, at the University of Guyana. We do not. I hope that the Hon. Minister is going to find some time to ensure that these questions are answered.
We also would like…, because there is an additional revenue stream which is very important. A lot of people who get contracts in this country they get a lot of duty-free exemptions on cars - all manner of duty-free exemptions. I would ask the Minister to provide the concession on duties, particulars to all tax waivers, concessions and duties by sectors, over the period 2010/2011. We will have a fair idea of where it is going, if it is favouritism, because we have in this National Assembly noted that certain people and company were given tax exemptions when it was illegal. We had to come back into this National Assembly to legalise an illegality. This is another stream in which we do not know has arisen and we are not in the capacity to know unless freedom of information, in a sense, is given. The exercise here has to do with transparency and accountability, concepts the President, His Excellency Mr. Donald Ramotar, came here and spouted a lot about. Let us get that kind of information, so we will know.
I just want to deal with the Auditor General’s Report, a couple paragraphs emphasising the point that I am making. It has to do with the 2010 Auditor General’s Report which was delivered to us after the elections of 2011, earlier this year, I think it was. He was talking about 2010. This is what he talked about the Office of the President…, because on a previous occasion, in the last Parliament, I was quoting from one of the better economist in the world, Paul Collier, about the mismanagement of funds and Hon. Member Mr. Irfaan Ali had a lot of criticisms about that quotation, but let us quote from our own Auditor General.
“The Office continued to inappropriately meet expenditure for the Presidential Guards and Castellani House from the subhead,…”
Listen to this.
“…Subsides and Contributions to Local Organisations…”
And do you know what the amount is? It is $236,243,000. It is put under “Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organisations,” or whatever organisations, and there it is where the Castellani House and the Presidential Guard are getting their money from. He told them that the inclusion of this sum, in that wrong place, materially misrepresents subsidies and contributions. I have been trying here… and it would appear that it is a recurring decimal.
Entities which have not filed their financial statements so that we do not know their status include the National Parks Commission, since 2006, Guyana Office for Investment, since 2008, Guyana Energy Agency, since 2006. There are lots more - from 2002, the Institute of Applies Science and Technology. When we do not manage our affairs by getting the financials of these Government entities, which come under the Office of the President, we are then doing a pretty bad job. We are doing a horrible job. I want to indicate that we must do better.
The next page, as you turn, and it is not only at the Office of the President that there is that kind of thing happening, there is also the Ministry of Finance, page 25 of that report:
“Charges are not categorised…”
It is at paragraph 74.
“…and shown in the Appropriation Account in the traditional manner, and this distorts the true costs in these two areas.”
It is talking there about Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU). It was coming again under “Contributions to Local Organisations,” CANU, a department. This is a department, as it is stated here:
“It should be noted that CANU is a department within the Ministry of Finance and is not a separate legal entity.”
It goes on to state, on the next page:
“Further, although CANU was established to protect Customs revenues, this Unit was not operating under the direction of the Commissioner of Customs and Trade Administration. It is therefore clear that this arrangement does not provide for proper financial and administrative control, and is not in conformity with the applicable Customs Laws and Regulations.”
Also it is not with the Financial Management and Accountability Act.
The same Audit Office and Auditor General here talked about a number of accounts being all over the place, instead of the Consolidated Fund. I go back to page vii and it is the “Executive Summary.”
“Several transfers from other accounts to the Consolidated Fund were not effected and several accounts had overdrafts. Details of these are as follows:
(a) Transfers not effected
(i) The amount of approximately $4.416 billion representing balances held in eleven special accounts;”
This is what we were talking about, the static accounts all over the place. The Bank of Guyana has plenty. In other places there are accounts which ought to go into the Consolidated Fund account so that we can know what the state of our moneys is. There is a “General Account No.405”; it has $23 million. The Auditor General is ordering to put it in the Consolidated Fund. It is not being put.
“(iv) The balance of $13.287 billion held in other Ministries/Departments Bank Accounts.”
There is a bank account called “Other Ministries and Departments Bank Account”. Imagine that - $13.287 billion. It is not there; it has not gone in. That is as of 2010.
I understand that there may have been some transfers into the Consolidated Fund since 2010, but when this set of numbers, which are given in the volumes, is being checked I am not finding them, and I only quote some of the heads.
“Overpayments to Contractors, page viii:
“A significant amount of overpayments to contractors had occurred…”
That was in 2010.
“… on measured works or contracts undertaken by Ministries, Departments and Regions and Regions facing serious challenges in being able to recover amounts overpaid on various contracts…
Overpayment of salaries to staff also occurs; Overstatement on Appropriations Accounts, and I am only going highlight the heads because lots were said about them in each. Then there is “Procurement of Drugs – Ministry of Health”. I want to read that one.
“A sum of $1.252 billion was paid,…”
It is another favourite which we are having.
“…to New Pharmaceutical Corporation Limited on the basis of sole sourcing approved by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board and not by competitive bidding as required under the Procurement Act (2003). The transactions with the firm were for the procurement of drugs and medical supplies.”
Again, the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation also provided drugs and medical supplies at a cost of $879.91M based on awards of contracts by the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board without a system of competitive bidding.
That is not how the finances must run.
Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I want to say that what we do as a result of what we have means totally an overhaul of our financial system. We have to get those institutions in place, like the Public Procurement Commission. I notice that there is a motion on the floor by the Hon. Member on the Opposition side that we do something about that. We, in the Alliance For Change, will support that Public Procurement Commission which is going to ensure that, in relation to matters of procurement, we are going to have value for moneys. At least, if we do not have the value for money, we will know what will be wrong with those tenders, so that we will get to see them. It is important. We have to instil and reinforce an ethos of legal compliance and efficient financial practices. That is the accountability and the good governance we, in the Alliance For Change, would like to see happens all across this country - its regions, its Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs).
I want now to make an argument about how we can better spend… in view of the fact that there are, what is called, a number of projects. During the course of the campaign we had noted that, from persons who had asked us where we are going to get moneys to give businesses and people who would be entrepreneurs,… because I must say that there is a scenario where ease in doing businesses in Guyana is always, over the years, a difficult thing. The World Bank’s, in doing business in Guyana, report reflects us…, as against the 2000 report that I have quoted extensively when we were at the bottom, or last space down the line. We have moved up a bit. But do you know where we moved up? Contract awarding, could you imagine…? It is nothing strange that it had indicated a number of things doing business, the 2012 report - the business environment. Guyana, in this South America, is in a pretty bad shape. The two countries which are lower than us - surprisingly, I did not realise that Suriname is doing so badly - are Suriname and Haiti, then there is Guyana. It states that Guyana is one hundred and fourteenth. Now, there are lots more countries than in 2007 when there were only one hundred and seventeen countries and Guyana was bringing a hundred and seventeenth space in a number of these indicators. But we have here, doing very well, dealing with construction permits.
Construction is a thing that seems to have smooth passage in Guyana. As I indicated, as Mr. Paul Collier from the University of Oxford, in that very famous book, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It, has indicated, this is one of the epicentre of corruption. We are doing very well in the construction arena. It is largely not because there are fantastic engineers, as Mr. Ceres might be confirming and vindicating, but because Mr. Paul Collier, and another very good book by Vinita Yadav, out of India, indicating what is sapped out of the will of people through corruption in these countries, notwithstanding where they are going, reckon India.
Guyana has been doing badly in relation to getting credit. It has been doing very badly in a number of areas and so we have to make mention of all of that. We have to also start asking the relevant question: Why is it that we are not seeing a tendering out for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) deal? Over $200 million has been spent on GuySuCo, at that Skeldon Factory, or there about - US dollars. We are now being told that some company by the name of Bosch Engineering Compamy, which apparently did some work for Tate & Lyle, has been granted the contract to supply components to fix up that new factory. So there it is a company which is part and parcel of what we called a “bad factory” has been given an award. It is millions of US dollars. We are not hearing, however, how much it is. There, again, the argument was made by one of the Members on the Government side that in the United States of America President Obama had to bail out companies. There were two conditions about President Obama’s bail-out, that all the members of the Board of those companies had to be bailed out, but in GuySuCo, there are still Mr. Raj Singh and Mr. Paul Bhim, and whoever else. We have to bail them out. They also have to pay back the money within a certain year. President Obama made it quite clear that within ten or fifteen years the money had to be paid back, which was used to bail out the companies. That is not made a conditionality here. But we continue to have what is regarded as non-transparent deal and it is not only with GuySuCo, but with the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) which is getting $6 billion.
We understand, only a couple of years, GPL bought certain Machinery Corporation (MACORP)…, but it rented, bad again, mismanaging our finances, for US$720,000, a Wartsilla Plant. We now understand… I have gone on the internet, got it out from Florida, the MACORP there, rather than the MACORP that Mr. Brassington dealt with here, that is the one from Columbia, that it is offering the identical equipment for $800,000 with maintenance cost over the period, routine maintenance cost free. So that which is given to us here we must not simple take as if it is, indeed, the gem that it is described to be. For that reason, we have to indicate that we must do lots of things differently.
For instance, say, of having a Marriott Hotel project, knowing the occupancy rate is so low in this country, why not use the moneys from the Marriott Hotel project and GT&T, which are there, as we had indicated, in a state development bank, so that credit can be made easy for our young entrepreneurs, all the bright people, which is said, coming out of our education system now? It will be important. It would not be understood that there is a need for struggling entrepreneurs… It is not the special favourites who are going to get exemptions when they are even illegal. We want the young people who want to enter that kind of arrangement to get involve with the gold industry, fishing, whatever industry. We are saying that we have to put some more of th0se moneys, rather into those reckless projects, into the University of Guyana. We need the University of Guyana to have more money into it, and especially in those faculties which are going to create the conditions for the production of the personnel to run the country’s jobs which will be created in the future.
We have to do better in the Science and Technology faculties. Put some more moneys there-Engineering and Mathematics. We have to do all of this so that the Forestry and Gold refining, and even if we have to create a new faculty like that, then do that. That is what we are saying to do rather than put moneys into fanciful projects, all of which are going to go down the drain and then the Government will have to privatise those projects. And do you know who the Government will give? It will give its friends.
We are saying that we can then have the moneys to reduce the Value Added Tax (VAT). That is a core issue in this Budget that the Alliance For Change is talking about. We have done and we will give the notice to the Speaker and the Clerk where we can cut this Budget to ensure that we get a reduction of VAT, where we can have increase for pensioners, and also social assistance for the poor and deprived. It is important that we do that rather than have all of these fanciful projects resting not on proper feasibilities. We were given the Marriott deal, but we did not get what is called the feasibility because we were told that the feasibility is a private thing. Commercial confidentiality requires that we must not get it. But please, this is money from a government. The Hon. Prime Minister, in a discourse I had with him on the deal, indicated that that is the way. We, the public sector, will have to help and then give it over to the private sector for it to then take it on. [Mr. Hinds: Set up.] Yes. Well it is another set up that we are getting here.
I want to, finally, make the argument that Dr. Jagan had made some time ago. We have had the pontificating from over there that the Members over here do not understand Dr. Jagan and what he would have done and all of that, and the Government Members went back 28 years. I, myself, wanted to resist going back there, but when it came to pensioners and increased salaries, the same, almost identical, position had been taken then in 1979 when the Government was saying that it had to put moneys for all those fanciful projects. At that time, it was whether to pay the workers $14 or to have the hydro scheme. Then the People’s National Congress (PNC) was arguing the case – I think it was Mr. Frank Hope – “No, we cannot give you $14 a day. We cannot increase the wages and salaries because we have to do special projects. We have to build the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.” I am saying now that we have to cut the extravagance and all these bureaucracies and Ministries. We can find the money for the workers of this country. And that is what he was saying then. But we have the argument here, “No, we cannot do it.” I want to quote the great man and his portrait stands. And I must commend Dr. Frank Anthony, through the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, for producing the publication – National Assembly Speeches Volume 6. We welcome it and I am going to use it. It is a useful tool now that we have an argument coming from over there. The Members over there talked about “lost decade”. Well we have seen, from what I have just argued, a decade of losses over the past ten years with what has happened in relation to our finances. [Neendkumar: How can you compare Mr. Greenidge with Dr. Ashni Singh?] I am not comparing Mr. Greenidge with Dr. Ashni Singh. I am comparing what Dr. Cheddi Jagan’s argument was then and what Mr. Ramjattan is saying now. That is what I am arguing. It is strange how the Government is now arguing only to say that we cannot afford it; we have projects to do. But it is saying that increased wages will cause...by the way this is page 219 of Cheddi Jagan’s National Assembly Speeches (1979). Now it is saying that we cannot afford it but it is saying that increased wages will cause hardships. That is what it is saying. Ms. Shadick was asking if we know what inflation rates will be if we increased workers’ salaries - public servants. [Ms. Shadick: I did not speak about inflation.] Well you talked about the fact that it was going to be a negative and that is why the Government cannot raise salaries. This is a statement which the Government has put out and it is more or less saying that the payment of wages will cause more hardships. The Members of the Government referred to the poor pensioners, for instance, and the unemployed who will suffer increasingly added pressure. If they were so sympathetic to the pensioners, they certainly would have increased it. At that time it was $16 a month which was being given to them. Trinidad and Tobago used to have, as was said, $70 per month during those years, but Trinidad and Tobago also had food stamps, free transportation and a number of other things which make life bearable.
“It is remarkable that these politicians...”
...he was talking about the Government then.
“...are now shedding tears about pensioners. The fact of the matter is that they are constantly making propaganda.”
That was Cheddi Jagan. To continue, he indicated:
“The GAWU, in its Memorandum to the TUC at a special conference, pointed out that the Government can afford to pay the $14.”
I have noticed that quite missing from here is the GAWU President.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member Mr. Komal Chand is not in the best of health and so he is excused from sittings. His absence is in no way indicative of any disrespect in the House.
Mr. Ramjattan: I was not going to disrespect him. I was only going to say that I would have been happy had he been here to hear what Cheddi Jagan was talking about GAWU at that time.
Mr. Speaker: I just wanted the House to know why he is not here.
“GAWU, in its Memorandum to the TUC at a special conference, pointed out that the Government can afford to pay the $14 indeed to restore all the subsidies and to increase personal allowances and...”
If one examines the structure of the Budget, this is what he was talking about. If one examines the structure of the Budget, step by step, sector by sector, we can find the money for $14.
The bureaucracy grows, the privileges grow and their salaries grow. To add insult to injury, the Government, not too long ago, promoted the senior Ministers. Their salaries and allowances rose from $2,000 to $3,000. This is the extravagance I am talking about that we can cut so that we can pay workers. It is exactly the same thing here. I am saying that it is exactly the same thing here. You are making the argument that you do not want to because you have certain other hydro scheme projects and this and that and so you blank it out for the workers. Well I want to tell you – and I am coming to an end Mr. Speaker – that it is indeed important that we all do a re-evaluation as to how we manage our finances.
For us to move forward, not only must we have our economy right. I want to say that we largely have to have our politics right too. If we are going to be incensed by the fact that there is a new dispensation and we are going to do the cuss-down that the Opposition wants to be a dictator by one, it is not going to help the process. We have to now appreciate – and I am talking to Members across the floor – that indeed there is a new dispensation, and we are not going to be, in any way, trying to hog anything from the Executive Branch. We are not. We want to work with you. We want you to put your hands out so that we can have an embrace and we are trying that. We tried as of 31st December, 2011, but please we are not having the responses, rather “Oh they want to dominate the Parliament. They want the one-man majority or one-woman majority to do...” [Ms. Teixeira: Is that not the truth?] That is not going to take us anywhere. It is important that you understand that the politics is necessary to also move forward.
Our systems are not necessarily going to be built along these lines of exclusively raising certain capital projects and doing that. We need to have education. We need to have tax reforms. We need to have a number of things done so that we can see the public goods - education, infrastructure and a number of other things that we are going to make mention of that has to do with the rule of law - being distributed to the public. Those moments will come in time but we are indicating that we, in the Alliance For Change, are here to ensure that we have an embrace with the Executive branch. The legislature of any country comprises that executive branch and it is that branch I am stating that we can manage properly to the extent of having the necessary facilities for an onward motion of this Guyana vehicle.
Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. [Applause]
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