Budget Debate 20131124 09 Apr, 2013
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much. On our side, we have talked about living the Guyana dream and we have heard a number of speakers scoff at this and make fun of dreams and hopes. From time immemorial, human beings have had dreams, hopes and aspirations, always based on the greatest goals of human dignity. I guess this is what makes us different from animals; it is that we always strive for the best, for excellence, and we are driven by conscience and conscientiousness in terms of achieving the best that mankind and womankind can do.
The history of records is replete with visionaries who have been scoffed at, some burnt at the stake, some assassinated. The dreams of Leonardo Da Vinci with the flying machines of the 15th century became a reality in the 20th century. More dreams, of Martin Luther King Jnr. - “I have a dream.” Has that dream been attained that Martin Luther King talked about? Yet people still dream of its realisation. Martin Luther King said that it was 100 years since the abolition of slavery and still Afro-Americans were treated as second class citizens. Martin Luther King was a man, a wise leader, a statesman, who warned. He warned. He said, “Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” Dreams are based on the hopes and aspirations of all.
Martin Carter wrote in the University of Hunger, “O long is the march of men, and long is the life and wide is the span.” He recognised, like Martin Luther King and so many others before him, that it is a constant struggle that men and women wage to be able to achieve our dreams. If one were to talk to every single Guyanese man, woman and child about what their dreams are as individuals, they would say that they are to go to university, to be a businessman, to own a home, to find a good man, to find a good woman; these are dreams. Some are realised and some are never realised. Hopes and dreams keep our spirit alive and keep us struggling.
Before 1992 when we were dreaming and struggling for a time when there would be free and fair elections and we worked towards the restoration of democracy, those dreams were scoffed at too. I remember a journalist interviewing Dr. Cheddi Jagan on the eve of the 1992 Elections and saying to him, “Dr. Jagan, why do you want to lead Guyana now? It is a collapsed state. It has nowhere to go.” Dr. Jagan talked about it being the PPP that would bring Guyana out of the depths of inequity and depravation that it was in 1992.
I am not one of the youthful Members of this Parliament, but I do have a long memory. I have grown up in the 1960s with the dream of hydro-power. I have grown up hearing about the hydro potential of our country. This dream has been around with us from the 1950s and 1960s. Today, this dream is closer to reality than ever before with the Amaila Falls.
I am old enough to have known when there was the Atkinson Airport and when the adaptation of the present airports that we have was done. We talk now about a brand new airport. I hear the naysayers on the other side saying, “Why do you not wait on the planes to come and then build a new airport?” It is the chicken and the egg story. If there is no runway and no capacity, no aeroplanes will come. So, it is always the chicken and the egg story. Where do we start? We have to start with a leap of faith that what we are doing is in the best interest of our people and our country.
The Opposition has given arguments on hydro and the Airport and they are contradicting each other. I just want to say that I was in Grenada on the eve of the invasion of Grenada when Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was running the county. I saw the Cubans building the brand new airport in Grenada. Grenada, before, had a tiny airport that was actually quite dangerous to fly into in those days. There was this huge land being cleared, and Cubans and Grenadians and other volunteers came from all over the world to make this happen. It was the building of that new airport which would have opened Grenada for tourism and economic activity that was unimaginable, which contributed to the invasion of that country by a foreign power.
The last international hotel we had in this country was Pegasus, which is now locally owned. Yet, I have heard all sorts of comments about a new international airport. Is it not time, after all this period, that we are able to rise above nitpicking and, at least, say, “Look, here is a vision.” These are the things we need to do as a country, and let us see how to make it better. If there are problems, let us see how to make it better, not just go around and smash things down and talk about rejecting and cutting. Cut, cut, cut; scissors and axes are all we are hearing about.
What is the Guyana dream? How do we dare to dream of what we want in our country in this century and the next? Do we not dare to dream? Do we not dare to imagine what this country could be? We have talked forever. Walter Raleigh and all them came, found here and found Eldorado, and recognised in a time of a world where this was just bush and mud, that this was a country that had potential, and they exploited it.
We struggled for the dream of our people to abolish slavery, for emancipation, for freedom. In 1763 - which is the anniversary of this year - was a dream of people to be free and not be shackled anymore by slavery and racism. Then we had the indentured labourers who came here and struggled also to end Indentureship, another form of bondage. Then we struggled for independence, for our freedom as a nation to put our flag up and to be called a nation, Guyana - not British Guiana, but Guyana.
Our struggle for democracy, for free and fair elections, came to pass. All these dreams took a long time. These were not dreams that happened overnight, but what sustained people was the belief that it would happen and that they can do it. It is so today.
When, in 1992, we took over this country, the reconstruction of a collapsed country… Twenty years ago, a failed state was not talked about, but Guyana was a basket case and a failed state in 1992.
If, in 1964, when Guyana was the third highest ranking country in the Caribbean, we had been able to continue running this country as the People’s Progressive Party, we would be so far away, quantum leaps away, from what we are today. We are to start all over again and we are to build. If you think it was an easy road, it was not an easy road.
We, as a people, as a Government, as an Opposition, as civil society, as communities, have struggled and abided and have been resilient and consistent, and we have made mistakes and we have made gains, but we have learnt, as we have traversed these 21 years. It is an emerging democracy, an emerging developing country that has achieved much. The Hon. Deborah Backer said that I missed the boat, but I want to just say to my Comrade on the other side that I may have missed the boat, but the boat I am supporting knows exactly where it is going. I must parry; the canoe or ballahoo over that side seems to have too many paddlers who do not seem to be paddling in the same direction. They are going round and round. They better watch out; they are going to overturn. At least I know that my boat is on a steady course.
We are challenged in many ways, and the Budget makes it clear that we have to overcome our challenges together and we have to accelerate the gains. We have seen countries that have made great gains. When there is political instability or a political climate that is fraught with problems, how fragile that growth is, how fragile those economic gains are and how easy it can be reversed... We must take seriously this discussion and debate on the 2013 Budget. This is a do-and-die issue for all of us in this House. We are not playing children’s games; we are not playing hopscotch; we are not playing jacks. We are playing with a nation’s development and its future and we have to recognise that.
We are challenged much as a developing country. Global warming – where we are in a country which coastland is seven to nine feet below the sea... We will always have to pump money into drainage and irrigation. I heard one of the speakers yesterday talk about $7 billion going into Drainage and Irrigation (D&I) and it not being effectively used. If it is not being effectively used, let us see how we can make it do better. But we do not want to go back to the days when there was no money going into D&I and when the canals and kokers were closed in this country. During the 2005 flood, a whole set of kokers could never be opened because they were closed in the 1970s. Someone thought that being seven to nine feet below the sea meant nothing.
Mr. Speaker, we admit the global economic financial unpredictability which is around us and that will impact us a primary producing country. We recognise that internally we have our own issues, our own challenges of 788,000 people. No matter which way you cut it, we do not have enough people for the tasks and jobs we have to do today. We do not have enough bodies. Therefore, we must embrace other people, other skills, to come in and work with us to build our nation. We have always had a friendly immigration policy and we will continue to have that, because we want to take the best of the world.
I have heard speakers talk about emigration and how people are leaving here in boat loads or plane loads. The International Organization of Migration figures between 1959 and 2004, and this is the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), had put out figures for Guyana and other countries. It took immigration data from the recipient countries. Just for your own information, between 1974 and 2004, 87,993 Guyanese left this country as permanent residents to Canada, the average being 6,000 odd persons per annum. From 1997 onwards, we have had a 55 per cent decline in the average migration to Canada from Guyana.
The United States, do you have any idea of how many people – I am only talking about legal people, obviously, not illegal people – between 1959 and 2004, 45 years, we lost legally to the United States? We lost 253,895. The highest recorded years were 1982, 1986, 1987, 1990 and 1991- the highest numbers of 10,000 per year to the United States. Between 1998 and 2000, the number of persons leaving this country declined also below 50 per cent. The average between 1979 and 1988 were 8,860 people. The decline between 1990 and 2004 was 15 per cent to 20 per cent below the years in the 1970s.
I believe that when we come to the National Assembly, it is nice for the tail to wag the dog, but we must also come here with some level of information to guide the National Assembly. Is everything perfect? No. Have we conquered everything? No. Can we do things better? Yes. Can we improve? Yes. Who would come to this House, on this side of the House, and indicate that we are doing everything perfect? But, progress is visible; progress is palpable. You can see it wherever you go. You cannot be like a donkey with blinders on, with tunnel vision, that you cannot see the progress taking place in this country. Why would we, as Guyanese, belittle what we have achieved? Why do we not point to where we want to go?
Mr. Speaker, the pro-poor, pro-growth policy of this Government and its approach to national development started before the 1992 Elections when we were preparing and anticipating that under a free and fair election, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic would win. We could have chosen to go on a direct capitalist path, fund the money into the economy, fund it into the private sector and we did not. We took a human, people oriented path to development. The concept of pro-poor, pro-growth was created and the pro-poor of the social safety nets...
In 1992, 67 per cent of the people were below the poverty line in this country. Yet, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, I remember as the Minister of Health, came to tell me, as the Minister Health, that we must have cost recovery in health. They went to the then Minister of Education, God rest his name, former Minister Dale Bisnauth, and told him to cost recover in education. This Government, this party, said, “No! No! No!” We made conscientious choices.
One has to make choices and judgements. There is nothing wrong with the Opposition saying that your choice was wrong and your judgement was wrong. That is not a problem. Show us how and show us where. The choices - health, education, water... Fifty-eight per cent of the people had access to water; now, almost 90 per cent of the people have access to water in this country. Housing – low income houses were built for ten years. Dr. Cheddi Jagan sat down in 1993/1994 and said let us see what we could do about housing. When you went to the country side and when you went to Georgetown, right here in this city, you had 20 people living in the same place with one latrine and one faucet. We forget or certain people are only living in certain parts of the city and do no remember it.
The Ministry of Housing and Water has not only provided shelter for our people, which is a human right, and water, which is human right. The right to education is a human right, and the right to health is a human right. It is the impact of these things which speakers before me have referred to - millennium development goals, universal primary education, moving to universal secondary education, gender parity in the primary schools and... Unlike in other countries where girls do not go to school, girls in this country are thriving and showing how well they can do. In fact, we have another problem. We have a problem that the boys are sliding behind, not the girls. These are social issues we have to confront, and they require an entire nation to solve them, not just a Government or the Opposition badgering.
If we tell the story of housing, it is a story that is a dream that has come true for individual people, but also what it did for the economy… When we started we were very naïve in a sense; we provided shelter for people. We never envisaged in 1993 that it would have the boom in the construction industry, or that it would create shortage of skilled labour in the construction industry. We never envisaged the manufacturing that would come from it and the small businesses that would come from it outside of people having a descent place to live. We never envisaged that between 2006 to now, 50 per cent of the houses would have been given to single women or women by themselves with their own name and nobody else’s on the title. If you men over on that side do not understand what that means to women, you are going to lose the women vote. Women are empowered in this country for the first time.
The path we choose was a slower path than if we had gone the straight capitalist model, gone the Hong Kong way, the Singapore way or the Asian Tiger way. We could have chosen that path and we did not. We chose a path which has consistently, over 21 budgets, held the position of pro-poor and pro-growth. We have not deviated from that despite Dr. Cheddi Jagan died, and we have had Mrs. Jagan as President and Dr. Jagdeo as President, and we have Mr. Ramotar, now, as President. We have not deviated philosophically or ideologically from that.
I have heard that we have catered for the poor and vulnerable, not just the poor, but the vulnerable - women can be poor and they can be vulnerable - elderly, Amerindians, disabled, and children. The Budget reflects this policy. The Budget does not make policy. The Budget is the means to the end, to take the policy and breathe life into it with one of the three things - men, money and machines. That is what the Budget is about, three things: men, meaning men and women, obviously, money and machines. The policy is there, pro-poor, pro-growth.
I have heard people on the other side say that the PPP/C is a minority, but I remind this House that until the day that one of these two parties on the other side can have the single largest block of votes, the PPP/C is here and it is here to stay. The PPP/C on this side stands for all the Guyanese. You do not hear us talking on this side about ‘our constituency’, unlike what we hear on that side, where you talk about the 160,000 people who voted for the two parties. It means that the rest of the people do not count when you say that. We are saying as PPP/C that we represent all the people.
We have heard comments about the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the Guyana Power and Light Inc. (GPL). What is the alternative? I heard the Hon. Member, Mr. Nagamootoo, last night, and I heard Mr. Greenidge speak about wastage and all these things. I was wondering, when I listened to both of them, more particularly Mr. Nagamootoo, what the alternative of GPL and GuySuCo was. GPL provides an absolute, essential service to the Guyanese people.
Mr. Speaker, we tried privatising GPL and we ended up having to take it back and run it. We had to it. What is the alternative? How can we come to this House…? It may not be efficient and it may not be a number of things, but we have a master plan. There are plans and I am sure the Prime Minister will deal with this in greater detail.
GuySuCo is now, according to some of the speakers, this weight of milestone, but no one complained about GuySuCo when the sugar levy was holding up this country for the 1980s and 1990s, when the sugar workers sugar levy kept this whole country going. It was the PPP/C who gave back the sugar levy.
There are many things I would like to quote from, the World Economic Forum 2012 Report on the Global Gender Analysis, which shows that we are way ahead of many other countries: the economic participation of women is ranked 94 of 135 countries; education attainment is at 28 of 135 countries, health and education is 47 of 135 countries, and political empowerment is 132 out of 135 countries. All of these things show that we are moving.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Working Paper – WP/12/276 IMF – The Challenges of Fiscal Consolidation and Debt Reduction in the Caribbean, on page five, talks about the fiscal performance in the Caribbean during the last 15 years and talks about the fact that the debt accumulation to an average is 70 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 2008 -2011 period. This is for the Caribbean.
It goes on to state that individual countries’ experiences show that most countries had the highest debt build-up in the first period, that is the earlier period, but aided by Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), Guyana’s debt more than halved between 1997 and 2011.
It also goes on to state on page 12 that debt to GDP ratio has increased in all countries with the exception of Guyana and the magnitude ranges from as low as 3 per cent to as high as over 20 percentage points for GDP. In fact, it continues to state that in Guyana the debt decrease was strongly facilitated by high GDP growth rates. The high contribution of interest rates was not due to higher interest rates, as in other countries, as these decreased, on average, from 5.2 per cent to 4.6 per cent. This document is on a website but if the House wishes to photocopy, I have no problems with that. It is a public document.
Issues have been raised about transparency and accountability. We have to talk about this. We have signed international treaties to do with the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the six human rights treaties. We report to all of them and appear before all of them to be reviewed. We have been reviewed by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and we are up to date. For the Rights of the Child, there is one more report that has to be sent in. For the other reports, we have submitted them to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, et cetera.
On the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, which we have been a signatory to – and we sit on the MESICIC, which is the panel that reviews all countries and then we are reviewed by those countries – we are up to date in the third cycle, and, in this year, the fourth cycle will be started and that would include an on-site visit to Guyana. We are trying to abide with our international treaty obligations which, to me, are the international standards which we are trying to reach
I am not particularly wooed by what Transparency International (TI) has to talk about us. It does not impress me because I sit on an expert panel on corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean which goes through and looks at laws, framework and processes and tries to make it so that every country improves.
If you think that the paragons of virtue are the United States of America and Canada, let me tell you that in Latin America and the Caribbean are the countries that have no laws that allow facilitation payments for foreign investments in a country. In Canada and the United States of America, there are laws that if a company comes and passes a bribe to anybody, it is not against the law. It is against the law in Guyana.
By the way, I heard someone comment about the fact that the Hon. Member, Dr. Ashni Singh, talked in the beginning of his speech about a resort to the Organization of American States (OAS), et cetera. We are a signatory to the OAS and to the Inter-American Democratic Charter. There are clauses in those charters which can be invoked to protect countries, not only to protect victims of human rights violations, which are under threat in terms of democracy. We have a right. We are not only on the receiving end. We can, also, as a country, go before the UN or the OAS and appeal for help. This is our right. This is not an issue that is debatable.
There are internal issues. Out of the constitutional reform and out of the parliamentary reform, there are some of the most progressive oversight mechanisms for the entire Caribbean and CARICOM and we should be proud of that. Certainly, we have to keep improving. Certainly, we have to make it work better. When the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), under this so-called new dispensation, started working in October last year to review the 2010 and 2011 Reports... that is your problem; that is not my problem. When the Parliamentary Sectoral Committees were only appointed in February this year, whose problem was that? Whose fault was that?
The Hon. Member Dr. Rupert Roopnarine – I listened to him yesterday – raised a number of interesting issues. If he had sat on the Sectoral Committees, he would know that there was in-depth, profound discussions and the calling in of members of boards and companies and Ministers before them. This is how it worked up to September, 2011. New brooms sweep clean...
Mr. Speaker, I am really amazed. The Chief Whip on the other side believes that after all of these years in politics, she can put me in my place. I am afraid that she cannot. Whether I sit at the back, side, or in front, I am always Gail Teixeira and I am always batting. It does not matter. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for kindly allowing me to conclude.
On the issue of transparency and accountability, the Government has mechanisms. Do they work well? Can we make them work better? Yes, we can! Yes, we can! We can do these things better. There are mechanisms in place which emerged only a short period ago. I believe as a Guyanese woman that as we found the answers in constitutional reform and parliamentary reform, we can find the answers to these issues if we talk to each other instead of playing these games.
The Integrity Commission, some of the speakers talked about it but they seemed to be ill-informed. Since February, last year the new President spoke to the Hon. Leader of the Opposition about the name of a person for the Integrity Commission. We are still waiting. We, on this side, are very patient. It is the same thing with the constitutional appointments, the constitutional appointments which allow the Leader of the Opposition to have a veto vote on the President. We put it in the constitutional reform. Do you know what it has showed? I think Mr. Pollard wrote several times in the newspapers that this was a level of, at least, nativity because there should have been a saving clause which allows the President to act when tremendously long periods went on and no agreement could be reached. We built in political gridlock – we! This Parliament, in the best interest of what was a gentleman’s agreement, the behaviour of men of honour, and I underline men of honour because no woman was a part of that arrangement...
Inclusivity of political parties, civil society, non-governmental organisations and communities, if the Hon. Members on the other side believe that Dr. Ashni Singh and Ministers do not consult with their stakeholders about what has to go in the Budget and all of that is funnelled into a funnel area where we can then say what we can do and what we cannot do... If we do not look at the participation across the board with many groups... The private sector has come out and supported this.
The private sector, by the way, in the 1980s and 1990s was almost non-existent, thanks to the nationalisation that was taking place. There is now an emerging private sector that is vibrant, that wants opportunities and wants to get out there. We have investors coming in. There are 20-odd Canadian companies in this country. There has been a gentleman from Jamaica – Mr. Lumumba will remind me of his name – who has been making quite positive statements about this country. Why do we like to undress ourselves like this as Guyanese? Why do we like to pull ourselves down? Is this what the colonisers did to us? Did they make us always want to pull ourselves down?
Our greatest challenge is in the area of the political environment. Every issue is a problem; every issue is an issue. We have seen that there has been stymieing of changes, of amendments, of movement, based on the so-called new dispensation.
In concluding, we, the Government of Guyana, are being tried and tested at this time. You, in the Opposition, Alliance For Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), are also being tried and tested. The times require visionaries and wise leaders, not myopic, not nitpicking and not thin-skinned leadership. We need leadership that is clear and has the courage and strength to do what is right. It is not about the tail wagging the dog. Political leadership is about doing the best one can with the environment that one has and being able to make change, and good change, not bad change.
This Budget will be a challenge to cut, as some say, as it caters for and moves Guyana forward. It moves the development of our nation forward. It provides an opportunity for us to fix things and to do things even better. It is premised, with the numbers and areas that it has dealt with, on the improvement of the quality of life of our people – all of our people.
Whenever we start the consideration of the Estimates, to those who would want to use the scissors, knife, axe or razor blade, I wish them well because if they think they are going to cut from one area and put the money into another area, it is not going to work that way. I look forward to the consideration of the Estimates.
The Budget of $208 billion reflects the good standing of our nation, our economy, and our ability as Guyanese to improve and overcome the challenges of the last years and in the last year and to still be able to come with a Budget that is still pro-poor and pro-growth. We have been honourable and we have kept the promises we made to the Guyanese people in our Manifesto.
This is the last-ditch effort; this is the last day of the general debate to call on the Members on the other side to be wise. Wisdom is not about following the popular course. Wisdom is about judging what is right and what would be in the best interest.
I commend this Budget to the House. I thank and congratulate Minister Ashni Singh, Bishop Edghill, the Ministry of Finance staff and, most of all, our President and Cabinet who approved this Budget for us to bring it to this House.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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