Budget Speech Dr Roopnarine- 20121403 12 Apr, 2012
April 12, 2012
Dr. Roopnarine: Allow me, Mr. Speaker, before I begin my contribution to the Budget 2012 debate, to join with my honourable friend, Mrs. Indranie Chandarpal, in extending congratulations to the young women Members of Parliament, in particular Hon. Member Dr. Persaud, Hon. Member Ms. Ferguson and Hon. Member Ms. Marcello, who have enriched this honourable House with their fluency, grace and feeling. [An Hon. Member: What about the men? Why are you discriminating?] I am discriminating.
As I listened to the Hon. Minister that Friday afternoon, at the end of March, it occurred to me that he was not at his most energetic. I missed the flamboyance and the sheer physicality, not to mention the histrionics, of previous performances, as we saw most recently in his spirited, creative defence of Financial Papers Nos. 7 and 8. When I saw the Hon. Minister a few days later, more recently, in the course of a televised press conference with three of his colleague Ministers, it was in a kind of preemptive, anticipatory defence of Budget 2012, and I thought that he was more of himself – upbeat, exuberant, argumentative and combat-ready. He even set up some straw men whom he proceeded to knock over with relish. Of course, he was, no doubt, that Friday, constrained, somewhat, by the podium from which, traditionally, the Minister of Finance delivers his budget. There could, of course, be any number of explanations for the subdued, almost mechanical manner of the Hon. Minister’s delivery that day. It was only when I read and studied the budget speech in print, and set it alongside the 2011 budget speech, that I found what seemed, to me, to be the source of the unease. The answer is to be found in the ten paragraphs of the introduction that stands at the threshold of the document, paragraphs 1.2 to 1.11.
The first of the ten paragraphs, 1.2, after the ritual words of the opening sentence, opens with what is perhaps the most awkward sentence in the entire document and I quote:
“That this Budget comes to this Honourable House at an important juncture in our country’s still youthful history must surely be an understatement of itself significant proportions.”
I had to read that several times to understand, not what it was saying, but why it was saying such a simple thing in such a convoluted way. Put more simply: The Tenth Parliament has come out of a historical conjuncture of great importance. This has been duly noted by His Excellency in his address to this honourable House and has attracted a small acreage of newsprint in the media. The assertions, however, of the two final sentences in the paragraph are not as incontestable. This is what he said:
“We sit in a Parliament that was elected just four months ago, by a process that reaffirmed our country’s strong and rapidly maturing democracy and that displayed the continuing resolve of the Guyanese People to embrace democratic norms.”
Maturing, yes, but I do not know about rapidly. Swept forward by the rhetorical surge, he went on to say:
“We would all be justified in feeling pride and satisfaction at the smooth conduct of the 2011 general and regional elections, as yet another manifestation of the strength of our democratic institutions and the entrenchment of our democratic traditions.”
My honourable friend, it seems to me, was carried away, and over speaking. Besides, he must also know that he was making an assertion that was out of step with expressed opinion emanating from the highest office in the land. I assume that the text of the budget speech has had Cabinet clearance. Are there two opposing views of the conduct of the 2011 Elections and the Cabinet? If this is so, and it is a sign of a new pluralism in that notoriously disciplined environment, it would be a healthy thing. The new political configuration is a “domestic novelty”, he told us. This most interesting paragraph has already attracted the attention of a number of Hon. Members, among them my honourable friend, Mr. Keith Scott and the Hon. Member Dr. Rev. Gilbert, who even managed to give it a scriptural cadence. It is worth rereading:
“The political configuration that emerged from the 2011 elections, whereby the Party in Government does not hold a clear legislative majority, is a domestic novelty even if similar situations have been experienced by other democracies the world over. This arrangement beckons our country into a new political epoch and heralds an opportunity for the nurturing of a new political culture. The prevailing dispensation will test and hopefully prove our resolve as a People, and within this House our respective will to serve as responsible representatives of a deserving People, to work together in service to the cause of national development.”
Let us admit at once that it has become something of a ritual over the years – a hollow ritual – this call for togetherness and partnership. In ten short paragraphs enjoining us to work together is repeated no less than three times, not that this is anything so new. Last year, it was even elevated to the grand guiding theme of the budget speech – Together Building Guyana’s Tomorrow, Today. Not unexpectedly, this drew several expressions of skepticism and suck teeth - I do not believe this is on the list of prohibited words, Mr. Speaker - from Hon. Members on this side of the House. The comment from the Hon. Member Mrs. Volda Lawrence was typical, and I quote:
“The truth is...”
Said the Hon. Member Mrs. Lawrence.
“…that together has never been a part of the PPP/C’s Government in action. We have a society that shows clear signs of division.”
The Hon. Member is reported in the Hansard as stating her party’s belief:
“Guyana’s economic viability can only be realised if every group, representative of all the segments of our Guyanese society, is involved in the decision making process and are beneficiaries of the economic gains. It is the only way that all Guyanese can claim ownership and, thereby, “Together”, truly Build Tomorrow’s Guyana Today.”
In the ensuing debate, my friend, the Hon. Minister Robert Persaud, dutifully intoned the mantra that Budget 2011:
“…offered an opportunity for all Guyanese, notwithstanding our political and other affiliations and allegiances, to work together…”
But it was the Hon. Minister Priya Manickchand - I am sorry that she is not here - in her own exhortation who spelt out clearly what the Government really meant by togetherness. The Hon. Member is recorded in the Hansard as follows:
“We do not want to leave anyone back in this process and we believe that with the collaboration of the best in Guyana, better can be done for all of our people. We invite most of the Members to come with us in this House, join our hands and help us to deliver service to our people, the Guyanese people; the people who voted for the PPP/C and the people who voted for the PNC/R – 1G, as well as the small number of persons who voted for the AFC. We are saying come with us and work with us so that we can secure Guyana’s tomorrow. We are also saying that if persons come to this House with rhetoric and they do not really want to work, the PPP/C will go it alone and deliver the services to the people of Guyana.”
I hope not. Nothing could be clearer. Working together was to be understood as endorsing the policies and programmes of the Government that were presumably written in stone, and dutifully falling in line, to work along with it to execute those policies and programmes. We are in the Hon. Minister’s debt for such a frank and guileless interpretation of togetherness. Of course, going it alone had been the option from October 1992 to October 2011 – the 19 years when the PPP/C enjoyed and exercised majority control of this honourable House. Togetherness then, as the Hon. Minister Manickchand made clear, was a take it or leave it invitation to the Opposition parties in this House. The Hon. Minister of Finance is canny enough to understand that the domestic novelty has ushered in a new dispensation where going it alone is no longer an easy or even achievable option. Working together is no longer a ritual gesture of condescension and hospitality to well behaved guests. Instead, it heralds a new political epoch and an opportunity for nurturing a new political culture.
Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to assure my honourable friend that in the work of building a new political culture over the days, weeks, months and years to come, we, on this side of the House, will not be found wanting. It is a patriotic project that has been too long delayed and I daresay would have been even longer deferred were it not for the new configuration of this honourable House. What was once an aspiration, a desirable objective for which some of us have argued and pleaded in vain for many decades, is now a practical imperative. The Hon. Minister and party and Government, on whose behalf he speaks, understand this very well even if they continue to display, in too many instances, a stubborn refusal or inability to break with the old habits that were acquired over nineteen years of one-party rule. But break with them they must, if the talk of a new political culture is to be more than talk.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Hon. Minister when he speaks of the new dispensation testing and hopefully proving our resolve as a people. I trust that he will wholeheartedly agree with me when I say that it will test and prove the resolve of both sides of this honourable House. He is right to alert us all – those of us on this side and, no less, his colleagues on the other side – that as much as the current dispensation provides opportunities so it is fraught with formidable challenges. I give him and all of my honourable friends on the Government benches the fullest assurance that we, on this side, will seize the opportunities and rise to the challenges, however formidable.
As it is well known to all and sundry, near and far, APNU campaigned long and hard throughout the length and breadth of Guyana on a platform of a government of national unity. We are the last people, who need to be persuaded that there is no higher duty than combining our energies to heal the divisions that have plagued our people since the derailing by the colonial powers of our national democratic revolution in October of 1953.
The Hon. Minister, in fairness, did not go that far and I do not want to put words in his mouth, but I choose to believe that what he may be urging for the immediate and short-term, namely the attitude towards Budget 2012, has a resonance for the long-term and the future of the national movement.
“…for lasting solutions would have to be dominated not by partisan agendas but by rational and meritocratic considerations, driven less by our impulsive instinct and more by our careful and deliberate judgment...”
For this commendable exhortation to have the effect, the Hon. Minister intended, there must be no deaf ears on either side of this House. The Hon. Minister must take the lead over the next few days and weeks to ensure that as he enjoins all of his “colleagues in this honourable House never to lose sight of the need for good sense and practical answers, guided always by that which is fair and just and with but one aim constantly in mind and that is to ensure the uninterrupted daily advancement of our beloved country.”
I am confident that we, on this side, intend to be so guided. Should our colleagues on the other side be similarly guided, we are in for the most constructive of budget debates that will not only ease your own burdens, Mr. Speaker, but, more importantly, will demonstrate the good sense and maturity of our political leadership and in the words of the Hon. Minister:
“The clearest signal of all must come from those of us in this honourable House whose legislative agenda will chart the course for our country, whose cohesiveness will set the tone for all else in our nation, and whose every decision must be consistent with and never deviate from keeping our country and the path to a brighter tomorrow for all.”
I have chosen to begin where I began, with my thoughts on the implications of the introduction to budget speech, because it sets out, at times tentatively, at times less reservedly, the political conditions necessary for the achievement of its aims. I regret to say that from all that we have been hearing these past two days, with one or two exceptions, those political conditions are yet to come into being. I am nevertheless hopeful, and I encourage my honourable friend, Mr. Nanda Gopaul, not to lose hope so soon, that all is not lost and that when we come to the consideration of the Estimates, in the Committee of Supply, we will all be guided by the thing that matters most and should matter most – the well being of our young people, our young men and women, of our hard pressed working people, of our public sector workers, of our sugar and bauxite workers, of our farmers, of our teachers, of our nurses, of our office workers and of the most vulnerable among us.
I now wish to turn to some of the areas in the budget speech where I intend to share some of my observations with this honourable House. Let me begin with Chapter 4, “Other Institutional Reforms”, section H (e) – “Governance”, paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 on page 59. In the organisation of the document this section immediately precedes Chapter 5 - “Targets for 2012.” Implicit in this strategic textual location is the implicit recognition that the targets that are being aimed at require, as a condition of their realisation, a particular governance environment. This makes it all the more disappointing to find, instead of a frank appraisal of the plethora of defects and deficiencies in our governance systems, appraisal of the Government’s success in:
“Enhancing the democratic governance of our society at all levels, political, economic and administrative.”
In the face of constant and consistent complaints from citizens and organisations that find themselves excluded and marginalised, we are told that:
“Inclusivity and participatory democracy remain entrenched in Guyana’s governance model.”
Tell that to the workers in trade unions who have lost the right to free collective bargaining; tell it to the bauxite workers who are being denied the right to belong to the trade union of their choice by an employer who is openly contemptuous of the laws of Guyana; tell it to the student, workers and staff of the University of Guyana who are clamouring for a council that will be representative of more than one political interest; tell it to the citizens of Linden who are objectively marginalised when they are excluded from the national community by being deprived of the right to freely chose a television channel other than the Government-controlled National Communications Network (NCN).
What is clear is that the Hon. Minister set great store by the model. In the final paragraph the word occurs three times in one sentence:
“As Guyanese, we should continue to be proud of the governance model which is a truly unique model in the Caribbean region and the government continues its commitment in 2012 to place emphasis on the consolidation of these gains, the evolving process of transformation and the sustainability of this model.”
The model is one thing. Truth to live and living experience is another. Last night I received a note from a brother that drew my attention to a line from Thomas Paine’s pamphlet of 1776, Common Sense. Thomas Paine was writing in the strife ridden period that ended the long night of monarchical tyranny and resonated far and wide, laying the foundation of the modern democratic state. Thomas Paine noted that:
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives a superficial appearance of being right.”
The fact is that we, in this honorable House, since 1994, have acknowledged that all is not right with our governmental system. It was in 1994 when the first Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform was established under the very able chairmanship of former Attorney General, the honourable Bernard DeSantos. It was a misfortune that the work of this first Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform was over taken by the 1997 Elections. [Ms. Teixeira: The People’s National Congress (PNC) did not want to be a part of it. You know that. The PNC did not want to be a part of it. It did not agree to the constitutional reform.] All I can remember, Mr. Speaker, is that, I, myself, serve very diligently on it. It was a misfortune that the work of the Parliamentary Standing Committee was overtaken by the 1997 Elections, although the party I represented on the Committee, the Working People’s Alliance, cautioned, at the time, against entering the 1997 Elections without putting in place what we called reconciliation mechanisms. I would be very happy to provide my honourable friend, Member of Parliament, Hon. Ms. Gail Teixeira with the documents of this period, although I know that she is very sorrowing in her own archiving. It was not for the first or the last time our warnings went unheeded.
The 1997 Elections came and went and the rest, as it is said, is history. In the course of the convulsions that followed the elections, the Hermanston Accord came into being, in January of 1998. By the middle of the year, the measures of the accord had not achieved the political calm that its architects intended. The ongoing tensions and confrontations led to direct discussions between the leaders of the major political parties facilitated by the CARICOM Heads of Government at their meeting in St. Lucia, in July of that year. This encounter yielded the St. Lucia Agreement and it was not until February of 1999, one year later, that the central measure of the Hermanston Accord was put into operation, the Constitutional Reform Commission. I recall this part of our recent history for the benefit, especially, of the younger Members of this House. The Hon. Minister is right to say…, as he did in paragraph 1.5 of his introduction, that his use of the words, “uncharted waters,” to describe our present situation as one “uncontemplated by the architects of our extant Constitutional and legislative framework.” This is all the more reason why I find his description of our governance model as unique, somewhat complacent, although I am consoled by the Government’s commitment to the evolving process of transformation and the sustainability of this model. Although it is difficult to reconcile this commitment, to what the Minister called an “evolving process of transformation”, with the woeful inactivity of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Constitutional Reform, throughout the Eighth and Ninth Parliaments, given the defects of the aberrations in our systems of governance, this should have been the busiest of Parliamentary Standing Committees, established on the recommendation of the Constitutional Reform Commission. In fact, it was the least active. We must ready ourselves, in this Tenth Parliament, to identify and remedy these defects. We are of the view, in APNU, that this House should move urgently to establish a new Constitutional Review Commission to democratise, widen and deepen the work of the Standing Committee.
Let us face it, in terms of our governing systems, what is truly unique in the Caribbean region, is that our Service Commissions - the Public Service Judicial, Police and Teaching Services - are less than the sturdily, constitutionally, protected and independent bodies that they were designed to be. To this list I would add the Audit Office, the Judiciary and the Guyana Elections Commission. How can these institutions enjoy full independence when they are reduced to budget agencies in violation of the explicit intent of the Constitution? Where prey is the Integrity Commission, the Ethnic Relations Commission, and the beggaring belief: Are we ever to establish the long sought after Procurement Commission? What of the Appellate Tribunals demanded by the Constitution? Nor is there a single word in this section on governance or is there a single word of mention of the bedrock on which our representative democracy rests - the Local Government system? Let no more time be lost in the enactment of the legislation to complete the reform of the system, so that we can ensure that the citizens of Guyana, in the villages and the towns, once more enjoy the right to elect their local representatives. I believe on this we have unanimous agreement in this House.
Nor should we fail to obey article 122 of the Constitution that states: “There shall be an Ombudsman for Guyana.” The Ombudsman, Mr. Speaker, is charged, as you know, with defending citizens against what the Constitution calls “sustained injustice in consequence of a fault of administration.” No Governmental authority has exempt - not the President, not the Ministers, no department or authority. No model can be satisfactory if it fails and fails to provide such a safeguard. Where else in the Caribbean region there is an acting Chief Justice, an acting Chancellor, and acting Auditor General? Where else in the Caribbean there is a Deeds Registry that has been without a confirmed Registrar of Deeds since 1992? This appointment was over looked by four successive Ministers of Legal Affairs and I trust that my friend, the honourable Attorney General, is going to pay attention to the Deeds Registry. I should leave it to my colleague, the Hon. shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, to dilate further on the slum to which the Registrar of Deeds has been reduced.
I have not spoken of the domination of the state television and radio by the governing party, surely an anachronism in any modern society, a vestige of party paramount and control that belongs to a long discredited motto that endures and is still being justified by some of the very the people who fought long and hard against these things in the past.
There is no mentioned, within the section of governance, of another crucial institution that is crying out for reform - the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). The matter of the reform of GECOM, including the secretariat, is on the agenda of the Inter-parliamentary Party Dialogue of which the Hon. Minister makes hopeful reference in paragraph 1.6 of the introduction. I also hope that all the parties in this House will honour the commitment they made by unanimously adopting the final report of the oversight committee of 2000 to complete the electoral system reform that was overtaken by the “Hermanston Elections” of March 2001, but which has languished in its ad hoc improvised form since then, governing the elections of 2006 and 2011.
For how long are we going to keep up the charade that the ten administrative regions are electoral constituencies? The citizens of Guyana, unlike the citizens anywhere else in the anglophone Caribbean, do not enjoy close connectedness to a Member of Parliament that only constituency elections can bring. The Constitution permits us to demarcate and establish that most…..
The Constitution permits us to demarcate and establish, at most, thirty-two geographic constituencies. In my own view it should have allowed many more, since no more than ten seats need to be reserved as top up seats to correct these proportionalities that do arise from the first- past-the-post systems, but that is an argument for another place. In concluding these observations on our governance model, allow me to plead, as the Hon. Minister had pleaded in relation to Budget 2012, that all sides of this House will commit to the search for more perfect model, one which would point the way forward to the quality of governance that would provide the most enabling environment for our social and economic advancement.
I turn now to some of the specifics of the budget presentation. I turn first to agriculture. In Hon. Minister’s Budget 2012 speech he told us that the “Guyana’s sugar industry has the potential to achieve and sustain an annual production of 400,000 tons in the medium term.” I do not know what my honourable friend’s concept of the medium term is. Is it twenty-five years or thirty years? He also referred to value added products such as extra processed, refined and bagged sugars, which he forecast will achieve a profitable and competitive industry in the long run. I would return to this subject if I have the time later.
Only five lines lower, however, he said, “we are now in the position now to remain cautiously optimistic with respect to the industry.” Optimism, cautious or incautiousness should be founded on reality, and the reality of the sugar industry, as we all agree, is harsh. Where are the indications, past or present, which can justify the optimism of any variety? In his 2011 presentation he told this honourable House, and the nation, that Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) would produce two hundred and ninety-eight thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine tons. In fact the industry produced two hundred and thirty-seven thousand tons, twenty-six per cent short of his estimate. He told us that at Skeldon it would have achieved its full potential by the second crop of 2011; it did not, and, in fact, produced less sugar than the Albion, Blairmount and Rose Hall estates. The Minister must know that as recently, as 2004, the industry produced three hundred and twenty-five thousand one hundred and fifty-nine tons of sugar.
In fact the industry produced not two hundred and ninety-eight thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine tons, but roughly two hundred and thirty-seven thousand tons, twenty-six per cent short of the estimate. He told us that Skeldon would achieve its full potential by the second crop of 2011; it did not. The Minister must know that as recently as of 2004 the industry produced three hundred and twenty-five thousand one hundred and twenty-five tons of sugar and it has been on a downward spiral since then, producing in 2011 two hundred and thirty-seven thousand tons, which is thirty-seven per cent less than 2004. So to be told in 2012 that the industry would produce 5.7 per cent more in 2012 than in 2011 is not compelling or is impressive, as it was designed to sound. All verifiable indications in the industry point not to recovery, but to continuing decline. Now that the ailing industry comes under the purview of the former Minister of Health, perhaps we will get the most scientific diagnosis of the ailment and the explanation of why the past and current prescriptions are not having the effect of restoring the patient to full and good health. No one wants the industry to fail, and the least that can be said is that the GuySuCo’s Board of Director has shown no particular creativity in managing this ailing company that, for all the well known reasons, remains of properly enduring importance to this nation.
Given everything that we have heard on the crisis of the sugar industry and fully accepting that there is a matter of vital national interest, I wish to recommend that this House considers the establishment of a special select committee dedicated to a careful examination of the industry.
On rice, the Hon. Minister was extravagant in his praise of the Government for the wonderful job it is doing to assist the rice producers. It is a happy and welcomed fact that rice is faring well. The reasons may have less to do with the Government’s efforts and more to do with the fact that demands for the commodity are rising due to rises in the price. We need to face up to the fact that there are huge gaps between the agricultural practices of the Guyana rice farmer and his counterpart in other countries. We need to acknowledge the yield of the Guyana farmers is not on the middle scale much less the high scale production of fifty bags an acre. [Ms Ally: Is it fifty bags?] That is the high scale.
The other point I want to make is that there is little support, it seems, from the Ministry of Agriculture regarding new varieties or booklets updating the farmers on the result of fresh research on what is the best fertiliser regimes to use in different locales, since it is now established that certain areas along the coast require different fertiliser regimes. For example, certain areas may not require potassium or phosphate, while others do and in some areas there may be a need to apply more nitrogen. But this information has not apparently been trickling down to the farmers who are fertilising at the same level in Berbice as in Essequibo. National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) is conspicuously silent on advising them on newer and better rice farming practices. I want to skip what I have to say on other crops for the moment. I will be very happy to pass the information to the Minister of Agriculture.
I want to go on to the mining because I think that there are particular dangers, but before I do let me touch on the environment. The budget does not provide a proper picture of the needs for effective management of the environment and our natural resources, which is supposedly the grand design of the new Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. There are no provisions identified for the management of waste generated by Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDC) and municipalities. How could the Hon. Minister, Mr. Irfaan Ali, speak on the development of tourism when no sums have been allocated for environmental improvement? Considerations should be given to having the funds generated by the taxes on plastic bottles be allocated by the municipalities and NDCs to manage the significant waste generation problem across the country. This can be a source of job creations in these areas.
Where are the funds for upgrading the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? The Minister claimed the EPA can respond in the event, God forbid, of an oil spill. The EPA cannot effectively manage the dust generation problem by BOSAI in Linden, yet the Minister claimed it has the capacity to manage and respond to an oil spill. The EPA must be upgraded to reflect the realities of the proposed development in the natural resources sector. The EPA should be reconstituted based on the identification of the skills appropriate to its effective functioning. These should include experts in hydrodynamics and air quality assessments. In the events of an oil spill, where would the Government of Guyana obtain the data to conduct assessment of the spilt impacts? Does the Government of Guyana have the hydrologic and atmospheric data to do so?
The reorganisation of the EPA should extend to include the Environmental Assessment Board. This Board has no concept to the mineral resources sector and has created significant delays in countless projects. The Minister should identify persons capable of effectively serving on the environmental board to ensure that they can surely comply with the Act of 1996. The absence of effective oversight in the mining sector is evidence by the collapse of a mine high wall at RUSAL operations. There are daily reports of ground collapse in small and medium scale mining operations. Where in this budget is the money to ensure the health and safety of the individuals working in the mining sector?
The Government of Guyana has committed itself energetically to the Amalia Falls Hydropower Project. Has an assessment been conducted of the generation of green house gases, including methane, from the reservoir during its operations? It will be useful for Members of this House to be informed how that will compare with the current green house gas emissions in Guyana .This project includes clearing significant forested areas for the facility service road, transmission line and reservoir. It is important to understand by how much this would reduce the CO2 sequestrations ability of Guyana, and more importantly how this would impact on fund, supposedly to come from Norway, as part of the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) programme.
In addressing the mining sector, our manifesto, A Good Life For All Guyanese, APNU rated highly the importance of providing dedicated training courses and facilities for the gold mining, diamond and quarrying industries in collaboration with the technical institutes, miner’s association and equipment suppliers. This remains an urgent and immediate need as this expanding sector will need a commensurate expansion of technical capacity. If we are not…, as the manganese operation is being forced to do, to be importing geologist, laboratory technicians and other skilled workers all the way from Africa and other faraway places . We stressed the need to provide incentives for the establishment in the mining sector.
I want to mention that I have noted the enthusiasm with which the Hon. Prime Minister spoke of the expansion of the bauxite sector, and, as we know, RUSAL plays a large part in this expansion. I would not mention here RUSAL’s atrocious labour practices and contempt for the labour laws of our country, matters of which my colleague, the shadow Ministry of Labour, will deal with. My concern is with RUSAL’s chronic and recidivist failure around the world to honour its commitments and meet the targets it signs onto. Its recent expulsion from Guinea for failing to deliver on the extravagant targets it had contractually committed to is only the most recent of its catastrophes. The Hon. Prime Minister must, I am sure, be aware of these happenings, so he urged maximum caution in any reliance in RUSAL’s projections and targets. I was happy to see BOSAI’s abject public apology to the citizens of Linden for the rain of dust that they have been enduring. Let us ensure that this time round BOSAI’s commitment to clean up its act is more serious than last one. Now that we have facilitated BOSAI’s monopoly on calcine bauxite, Hon. Prime Minister, is it our intension to release Block 37 to it? We recommend that there should be no allocation of Block 37 until a viable plan is produced that includes a large alumina plant. My recommendation is that slippages in production should be brought to the attention of this House as they occur.
We must not leave our considerations of the mining sector without expressing our concerns over what appears to be the co-option of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) by the new Minister of Natural Resources and Environment. It has come as unwelcome news that the Hon. Minister is now cheering the weekly management committee of the GGMC’s Board. It would be regrettable if the institutional framework of the GGMC and improvements in its operations and procedures that lead to the acquisitions of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) skaters were to be dismantled. Are there such plans afoot? Will not putting the ISO on hold erode investors’ confidence? We, in the APNU, have a particular concern that our small and medium scale miners will not continue to be disadvantaged by the use of exemptions in the law where the excuse of hard rock being used to take properties away from the small and medium scale miners. What we should be doing is facilitating the process of upward movement from small to medium to large scale and to stop putting obstacles in the way.
When will there be updated of the 1997 policy document piloted very capably by the Hon. Prime Minister? What has been the outcome of the ad hoc committee headed by the Hon. Minister Mr. Robeson Benn on the LCDS and mining .We cannot leave this important sector on which so much of our future hinges without urging the Hon. Minister to accelerate the work of resolving the serious conflicts which are arising in the gold industry. We would have all seen the members of Women’s Miners Association standing at the police barricades with their pickets, the day before yesterday, having come to alert us about the unfairness they are being subjected to when properties on which they have worked on for years have been caught in the expansion of Amerindian lands.
We all have seen, as I said, the members of the Women’s Miners Association standing at the police barricades with their pickets, having come to alert us of the unfairness they are being subjected to when properties on which they have worked on for years are being caught on the expansion on Amerindian lands. This is a difficult situation that needs to be urgently resolved since it throws into conflicts the rights of two of our most deserving sets of citizens, our indigenous people and the women miners.We stand ready to assist the Hon. Minister in his efforts to arrive at measures to revolve this conflict of interest, and the conflict of rights. Such a resolution must arise out of meaningful consultations and the fullest participation of the women’s association for miners and the indigenous communities.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, allow me to end on the note which the Minister of finance began, by quoting what I said, when I had the honour of speaking on your behalf of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) in the 1997 budget debate. I said on that occasion.
“On the threshold of a new century, I ask that we learned deeply from the lessons of the last fifty years of division in our country and understand that we cannot go forward into the next century as divided as we are as a people. We put it forward in this Assembly that what we need is a season objection in generosity, not a season of suspicion. We need a season of forgiveness, not a season of blaming and carping. We need to come together. People in more serious circumstances, where blood does flow like a river, have managed to come together and deal with the problems of their own country. What is the matter with us?...”
This was in 1997.
“…I asked seriously that we take seriously the challenge being put forward in the budget. I see it as a challenge, a challenge to partnership. We take that in its most profound sense, an attempt to move our country towards a positive way, so that all of our people can look forward to the next century which hopes in their hearts. Look forward to releasing the enormous talents and energies that we still have remaining in Guyana, but a lot of which has been bottled up as a result of the lack of consensus and agreement amongst the political parties.”
This was on the 29th of January 1997. We know how the year ended. It is for us in this honourable House to decide when we move forward together in conditions of mutual respect and unite in our love of country or whether we continue to make our people the victims of our own failure to bring an end to political hostilities. In this new dispensation there must be no place for the white flag of surrender. As we go forward, let the spirit of compromise prevail. Let each side of this honourable House treat respectfully with the convictions and aspirations of the other side, especially when we most disagree. Let us find the accommodations where they can be found. No white flag of surrender, only the Golden Arrowhead flying bravely in the wind above the historic Tenth Parliament.
I thank you. [Applause]
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