Budget Speech - Mr Adams—20142173 02 Apr, 2014
Mr. Adams: Mr. Speaker, I rise to join my colleagues in debating the 2014 National Budget which was delivered to this august House by the Hon. Minister of Finance. Permit me, at the outset, to express disagreement with the misapplication of the theme, A Better Guyana for all Guyanese. This is an unrealistic title for an almost three-hour litany and it is more suited to be labelled, ‘Making a Better Life for Some Guyanese’.
The 2014 Budget, touting a whopping $220 billion, makes very little provision for the ordinary public servant. This anti-labour budget does not, in any way, offer hope for the ordinary man becoming a real man. Although there is neither provision for any new tax nor increase in taxes in the Budget, the ordinary public servant will continue to struggle to provide a good life for his or her family. This contrasts with decades ago when a public servant could have maintained his family, educate them, cater for medical expenses and provide for an occasional vacation for the family.
Despite a new measure of an education grant of $10,000 to every child attending school, this cannot suffice adequately for the small income earner. This measure, though it may sound well, will give more to those who already have and, therefore, not need much in such assistance. I would wish to suggest that some more thought be given to this measure before it is implemented. Since the child whose parent can afford will get the same benefit as the child whose parent is struggling to send him or her to school, it would have been better if a feasibility study was conducted so that the disadvantaged would have benefitted from double or triple times the $10,000.
In addition, I ask, what has been considered for our ordinary nurses, teachers, the men and women in uniform, the sweeper/cleaners, the ward maids, etc? They, too, desperately need an increase in salaries to make ends meet. A $10,000 non-taxable grant on their wages and salaries would have been a good start in an effort to alleviate the hardships they face.
The Hon. Minister of Finance and all other Ministers should park their vehicles occasionally and go to the market places, go to the bus parks and hear the plight of our public servants, as they would be better equipped to make informed decisions when it comes to the liveable wage or salary for our downtrodden public servants.
After the Budget was presented, I had the fortune of speaking with an old-age pensioner, who is very dependent on her pension for survival. I asked, “Are you satisfied with the 5% increase?” These were her exact words: “With $625, I will buy a pound of beef for $500 and the smallest packet of curry powder but still I ain’t got no rice so how I cookin’?” In the year 2014, $625 is just giving the pensioners almost nothing.
Of all the roles these sound developmental works the Hon. Minister alluded to in his presentation, very little caters for the human development, the most important resource of any country.
In Budget 2014, billions of dollars have been allocated to the health sector. Ironically, although we hear of the amount of money being spent in this sector, one would be left in shock upon visiting some of our medical institutions. Only a few weeks ago, the West Demerara Regional Hospital was short of some basic drugs to treat patients. If the West Demerara Regional Hospital does not have drugs, then it is logical that there would be no medical supplies at Leonora, at Wakenaam, at Leguan and at all of the other health centres and health posts in the Region.
The Social Services Committee of this very Tenth Parliament visited the Mahaicony Hospital in the month of March and what a tragedy it was to discover that the institution was short of insulin. It begs the question: if we spend so much money on drugs, how is it then that there is a shortage? Maybe it is time to zero in on the procurement process associated with drug purchases for patient care. Further, these health institutions continue to be short of medical doctors and other critical staff, although the Government boasts of training umpteen doctors and nurses. I, therefore, cannot help but wonder: are we training these health sector professionals for export? I would not even touch on the embarrassment the Government brought on itself with the recent attempt to train a batch of nurses, for which a miniscule amount passed.
We continue to witness the rapid decline of the sugar industry. Despite the astronomical amount of money that is being pumped into this major sector, it continues to fall short on its targets. A multimillion dollar factory designed and constructed at Skeldon, against advice from knowledgeable, experienced technicians has only served to trigger sugar into losing its sweetness. The annual injection of billions of dollars is not clearly the answer to GuySuCo’s woes, for until we have the right kind of management, GuySuCo will continue to go to ruin. It was said somewhere during this debate that under a PNC Government, we closed Versailles and Leonora Sugar Estates. That might we so, but, although they were closed, GuySuCo was reaching and surpassing its targets on a yearly basis. Uitvlugt Estate, like so many other estates, did not reach its target in 2013 and from the current trend of how things are progressing, it seems like this would again be the case in 2014.
Of all of the graduates from the legendary Port Mourant Apprentice Training School, only one can be found at Uitvlugt Estate. Traditionally, GuySuCo was a corporation persons ran to for jobs and prided themselves on being an employee because of the favourable terms and conditions. Today, qualified person, both technical and administrative, are placing employment at the hitherto glorious establishment down in their priority for job placement. In fact, due to the inefficient administration, many attach to GuySuCo are looking for an opportunity to bail out. The managers from whom accountability is demanded are not allowed to manage. Take for instance if a person is to work overtime, a directive must come from the head office approving this intention. This situation of accountability without responsibility was unheard of in the time of GuySuCo when it was reaching and surpassing the production targets. If the Government does not act wisely and does not do so now, GuySuCo will be a Corporation we once had.
Another major agricultural crop of Region 3 is rice and, from speaking with farmers, one would instantly recognise that they too are experiencing severe constraints in this sector. Unless we forget, on the day the Budget was presented to this National Assembly, dozens of farmers came from Region 2 out of disgust to protest against the Government for the hardship they are experiencing as a result of the clueless manner in which the state is managing the rice sector.
This grave shortcoming has resulted in the perpetuation of adversities to rice farmers, including not being paid for paddy sold since 2013’s second crop. Rice farmers throughout our country are in dire need of a better stake in the industry by way of technical and economical support.
Education: Although we welcome the news, both teachers and students of Zeeburg Secondary and St. John Secondary Schools, on acquiring new buildings, the education sector in Region 3 is not without its monumental challenges. Once again, the department of education staffers continue to function in a cramped building with some officers occupying plywood cubicles as their offices. These hardworking public servants now have access to only one stairway of that building since the REO, in his wisdom, decided to close one stairway. This is an occupation health and safety breach and, undoubtedly, a fire hazard.
Our trainee teachers continue to be housed at Vreed-en-Hoop Secondary School with no access to a library because the area of the building they utilise for training is wholly inadequate to house a functioning library. While this short-sightedness is happening, a building which one housed a section of Winsor Forest Primary School remains unoccupied and unused - another case of short-sightedness, Mr. Speaker.
The students of Vreed-en-Hoop Secondary School have been relegated to utilising a portion of land in the compound of the West Demerara Regional Hospital as their agricultural plot. This discomfort exists even though a building which once housed the Practical Instruction Centre, Agriculture, is left to rot and more than three acres of land is becoming a forest. All of this is happening when this very Government has introduced the Secondary Competency Certificate Programme (SCCP) and Agricultural Science has the tendency to attract the largest number of students. I recommend that the Practical Instruction Centre, Agriculture, at Fellowship be reopened.
The Practical Instruction Centre, Industrial Arts, is now being housed in one building and students are forced to do both practical and theory in the same environment. Here again, the other more appropriate building to do the theory is being left to crumble. What foresight does this exemplify?
Again, we continue to see in the 2014 Budget, as in previous years’ budgets, the machinations that will result in a wanton waste of money while simultaneously enhancing the gravy train for political associates of Government. This historical revelation of an obvious absence of value for money regarding several road projects will intensify as well as the trend of works not being done to specification resulting in contractors becoming wealthier on the backs of the taxpayers.
A few cases about shoddy work in Region 3 are some community roads, such as the Haag Back Damn Access Road, Lanes Avenue and the Den Amstel Old Road. The main road leading to the Stewartville Secondary School is sometimes impassable in the rainy season. Much more has to be done. Much more can be done for all Guyanese to have and enjoy a better life if the title of the 2014 Budget is to be taken seriously. For now, it is devoid of the realism needed to stimulate the human capital of Guyana. I, therefore, cannot support the passage of the 2014 Budget in its present form.
I thank you. [Applause]
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