Budget Speech - Ms Ferguson—20143241 02 Apr, 2014
Ms. Ferguson: I rise this evening to make my presentation in relation to the motion for the approval of estimates to the tune of $220 billion for the financial year 2014 which stands in the name of the Hon. Member Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh.
Prior to me discussing my presentation, Mr. Speaker, kindly permit me to express my appreciation to the Hon. Member, Minister of Finance, and his support team who worked, tirelessly, in the preparation of Budget 2014 under the theme A Better Guyana for All Guyanese, a phrase which is almost synonymous to the APNU’s campaign theme of 2011, A good life for all Guyanese.
In discussing my presentation, I will do so in a twofold category.
Firstly, I will critically examine the Hon. Member’s budget speech, subsequently narrowing my arguments to physical infrastructure for transformation, specifically addressing bridges and roads.
A brief examination of Volume 2 of the Estimates speaks directly to revenue and expenditure and programme performance statements. The question to ask, Sir, is whether the returns received after expenditure truly reflects programme performance statements. I ask this, since each year, when we are provided with these huge volumes, there is no major changes in the areas of objectives, strategies, impacts and indicators. The only changes contained therein are in figures. I would like to make a recommendation to the Government or the Hon. Minister of Finance that there is urgent need for the review to be done in these areas to determine whether we are receiving desires outcomes.
I now turn my attention to the motion before this honourable House and categorically state that the Hon. Member, in his deliberations, reported to this House, and by extension to the citizens of this nation, that in the previous financial year 2013 the Government expended the sum of $11.3 billion to continue construction of the East Bank Demerara and East Coast Demerara four-lane highways, inter alia. What is of major concern here is that the Minister has failed to identify the amount of moneys expended thus far in areas alluded to above.
Under roads, the Hon. Minister reported that the sum of $13.7 billion has been budgeted to improve roads and bridges in which $12.9 billion will go towards roads and $844.2 million for bridges, making a comparative analysis of what was actually budgeted and spent in 2013. Since the sum of $12.6 billion was approved, in which $11.2 billion went towards roads and $1.4 billion on bridges, the question to ask: Is the proposed allocation for road works was adequate? I can only guess the answer to be no.
Hon. Members, at paragraph 4.51 on page 33 of the Hon. Member’s presentation, he reported that in 2014 there will be a financial feasibility study for the construction of a bypass road from Ogle to Eccles. The A Partnership for National Unity welcomes this, since we believe that the time has come for the construction of new roads which will aid in the reduction of heavy traffic that our people experiences on a daily basis, whilst travelling on the East Coast and East Bank roads. My thoughts on this, and I anticipate the Hon. Member would be in a position to provide the information on this, is that, could not another area, further, on the East Coast be identified to conduct such a study?
In the Hon. Minister’s 2013… he made mention at paragraph 4.44, page 27 that:
“…the completion of the designs and commencement of works on the Sheriff Street to Mandela Avenue roadway”.
Could the Hon. Member provide a status up date, since there is no further reporting, regarding works that was expected to be done in the Parika/Ruby backdam road in 2013. The Hon. Member did not indicate the reason for the works not done. I do look forward to him providing an update.
I turn my attention to examine bridges and roads. These areas remain a major challenge for our people on a daily basis. In 2013, we saw and read of citizens taking actions into their hands, that is, by way of protesting and blocking of roads in their respective communities, just to get the attention of the relevant authorities to address their problems. In paraphrasing what my fellow colleague, Hon. Member Mr. Harmon recorded at an APNU’s press conference on March 14, 2014, “We are of the view that public infrastructure must serve the people and the people must be the centre of it and it is not that the people must serve the public infrastructure, which is currently happening”.
I turn my attention to a photograph which was taken in Sophia. As we said, infrastructure is supposed to be serving the people and not the people serving infrastructure. This picture tells it all. The residents in Sophia are longing for the roads to be constructed. While I was on the ground, some weeks ago, I witnessed residents paying $5,000 just to get the potholes filled in that community. The APNU’s view is that the only change to this is through Local Government Elections, hence, its continuous call for it to be held by 1st August, 2014.
Permit me to remind the honourable House that the sum of $11.2 billion was spent in 2012 on roads, while the for financial year 2013 a total of $11.3 billion was spent. Giving a total of some $22.5 billion spent, thus far, for the past two years since the commencement of the Tenth Parliament. Yet, there has been no significant improvement in the rehabilitating, reconstruction and repairing of our roads. As my predecessors, in the previous Parliaments, recorded their dissatisfaction and disgust in the approach Government continues to handle infrastructure in this country. We continue to see what is happening, that is, the waste of taxpayers’ moneys on capital projects such as the Marriott Hotel, specialty hospital and the Amaila Fall Hydropower Project as our citizens continue to bemoan. The audited reports, laid before this Assembly, speak volume on the amount of irregularities, that is, the overpayment to contractors inter alia.
I had the privilege of visiting the Sophia area, as I alluded to earlier, and I empathise with those who reside in that community. Whilst there, the residents voiced their frustration on the state of their roads and the challenges they face especially when it rains. Most referred to the roads as the “abortion roads”, as I would have illustrated earlier. In some cases they are forced to pay extra in transportation cost, mostly at nights.
Another community, which continues to be neglected by the administration and there is no provision in this year’s budget to address residents concern, is the Kaneville area. I am quoting from Kaieteur News, dated September 8th, 2011 and this is what one resident said:
“President Bharrat Jagdeo, during a community meeting in 2004, challenged the residents there to hold the Government to task as $250 million has been earmarked to spend on drains and roads, electricity and water”.
We are now in 2014. In 2013 there was another article carried by the very newspapers, dated June 9th. This is what was told to persons:
“Persons who can afford transportation and self help will be given crusher run, stones and tar to repair their streets. The focus will be on Kaneville, Diamond New Housing Scheme and Cinema Road. One resident…”
Can I call her name, Mr. Speaker? Am I allowed to?
Mr. Speaker: Did she give you permission to do that?
Ms. Ferguson: I am quoting from the newspapers.
Mr. Speaker: Well go ahead.
“…one resident Shareeza Kumar said that her husband’s vehicle would frequently land in the potholes in her street and would end up in the workshop constantly.”
Now, as I said, this is 2014. I can recall asking the Honourable Member Mr. Robeson Benn, last year, when his Ministry would have done the repairs in Kaneville and some promises were made. The people in Kaneville are still waiting to be relieved of their disgust. The people there are of the view that the Government continues to fail them and not to yield to their demands of ensuring that relief is given to them, that is good roads. Recently, we heard the outcries from residents in Vryheid’s Lust, Better Hope and Plaisance denouncing the state of the roads in their communities. When this was done the residents, of themselves, made comparisons with other streets in areas that are heavily supported by this Government.
I represent the citizens in constituency 13, East/West Ruimveldt, including Riverview. An outreach was conducted in these areas and it revealed that the community roads in East Ruimveldt are in reasonable condition. In West Ruimveldt a few roads are in reasonable condition with the exception of Gill House square. There the residents reported that the road has been in that state for some time now and whenever minor works are being done in the area, no attention is given. It is just as other areas, Riverview has bad roads.
There should be a cessation in frequent “road patching” and “pothole filling”. In the 21st century Guyana, as many of my comrades on the opposite side alluded to, the solution to road repairing is “capping of the entire stretch”. With this, our roadways would last longer and minimise wasteful spending.
I turn my attention to bridges. The Government is seeking an allocation of some $844.2M towards the construction and the rehabilitation of bridges. Under this head, the Honourable Member in his speech failed to itemise the amount expended on bridges in 2013, rather than a single figure was given to cover both roads and bridges. The sum of $43M was spent on the bridge Moruka. To date, our brothers and sisters in that subregion cannot use it as a result of the substandard works done. Regarding revetment works in the Kumaka area, an initial sum of $62M was spent and due to the substandard nature in the work the sum of $35.2M was spent to redo the works, giving a sum total of $97.2M.
I alluded to earlier that moneys are wasted. In this case, we see wanton waste of taxpayers’ money. A close examination of the estimates was done to ascertain the amount of bridges including roads to be done…
Mr. Speaker: Honourable Member, you have five minutes with in which to conclude.
Ms. Ferguson: Okay.
…in financial year 2014, despite the information not being detailed, a few areas have been identified.
The Hon. Member Dr. Westford called on both sides to cooperate. Let me inform the Honourable Member of the common saying charity begins at home and the Government frequently boasts of being a caring Government, a working class Government and a Government for all. I ask, does it have the will and courage to practice what it preaches? In order to find common ground to cooperate and move Guyana forward, as the Budget theme promulgate for 2014, we need to rise above party politics and act with maturity. My colleagues and I, on this side of the House, promised Guyanese a good life, hence, the reason for the call by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and Honourable Member Mr. Ramjattan for the establishment of the tripartite committee. In 2012, it was felt then that both the APNU and AFC sides were willing to cooperate with the executive branch of Government in propelling Guyana towards the theme for Budget 2014, A Good Guyana for All Guyanese.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, the Government must devise a policy for the proper operation of our country’s infrastructure, since it is noted with concerns that the following Ministries are involved in infrastructure: Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Housing and Water, Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. We, in the APNU, have the experts and expertise in developing such a plan or policy. Recently, the APNU at one of its weekly press conferences called for the establishment of such. I trust that the Government yields to this call.
In summing up, I want to echo the sentiments raised by my colleague, the Hon. Member Mr. Bulkan and to say to the Hon. Minister of Finance that a thorough scrutiny will be done on the estimates and if there is no provision to bring relief to the residents of West Ruimveldt, Riverview, Sophia, Kaneville and others, he will have to go and come again, since those people pay their fair share in taxes, they deserve proper roads and linking bridges in their communities. The time for empty promises by the Government is long overdue. There is need for immediate action now.
Mr. Speaker, I conclude by referring to Budget 2014, as not a people centred budget.
Mr. Speaker, I respectfully submit.
Thank you. [Applause]
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