Dr. V. Persaud: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I am sure the Minister of Health will give detailed explanations as to the questions asked by the Hon. Member.
I rise to applaud and support a budget which caters to Guyanese of every strata in a holistic manner. Budget 2013 presented under the theme Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains For Guyana espouses its theme through the provision of benefits and support starting from the family unit and weaving its way through the communities and country. It has responded to the changing dynamics of our society, the widening middle class, the increasing numbers of young professionals, the accelerated expansion of communities through the highly successful housing drive, and works towards alleviating the burdens of the poor. Young people, working people, professionals, right across Guyana have been given the incentive to own their own homes through the innovative tax deductable scheme towards mortgages and the removal of property tax for homes below 40 million. They have been given the incentive to develop skills in information communication technology, a rapidly expanding sector. They have been given the incentive to have access to the world of information and the opportunities beyond the confines of Guyana through ownership of laptops and internet access. They have been given the incentive to recognise their inherent potential through the sound development of educational strategies, facilities and infrastructure, and not to mention the encouragement of microenterprise and business property ownership. This budget does not discriminate. It is a budget for all; it encourages every Guyanese not to simply dream big but to make that dream a reality, to live in a Guyana that is equipped to face the future. To slyly or unequivocally denounce this budget and the development which has ensured under this Government is to be like the emperor who paraded naked because he was ashamed to express what was.
Mr. Speaker, like all of you Honourable parliamentarians in this August Assembly, I came here to be an integral part of a productive process and a discussion which yields benefit to every Guyanese and hastens the progress of Guyana. I am confident that my colleagues on the other side of the House will approach this budget of the PPP/Civic Government with maturity and reason, with the goal of empowering and providing for all Guyanese a commitment, my colleagues and I share on this side of the House. And not with the heavy power of a one seat majority which will be wielded to carve and hack away at the benefits and relief offered by Budget 2013. To approach this debate with that mindset clouded with political partisanship, personal issues and agendas, is tantamount to impeding growth and starving the Nation; starving the nation’s children, abandoning its people – some say to a black hole over there; that is what I was hearing – and neglecting our sugar workers. Black hole? What are we saying? I am certain that none of us want this Budget of 2013 to be a repeat of 2012 when cuts were made acrimoniously with little regard to the long term and far reaching impact that it has on lives of young people, women, children, the elderly, the indigenous people, every Guyanese. Because of those cuts programmes and projects were halted, people suffered. We are parliamentarians, yes, but we should be humanitarians first. We should be nationalistic. The welfare of our people must be foremost in our mind. I know it is in my mind. Guyanese look at us and ask us when we meet here in this National Assembly, yes, at their expense. We talk about concerns for taxpayers’ money. Have we shown any when we slash and negate bills and moneys because we want to illustrate that we can simply do so? Have we? We only do that and return again, we have our Ministers return again with supplementary and at that point we may condescendingly grant or not more sittings more taxpayers money. Do you really care about the tax payers? They are bearing the brunt of all of these sittings when we come back again and again; food is provided. And yet we say we care about taxpayers money.
The Budget and the Bills Government produce you say are fundamentally flawed because you see it as ours and not yours, you see it as theirs and not ours. That is the cry, yet we bring the same things on our side, that side, and it is fine. Ah, the power of that one seat, the power of that one seat should be used for the citizens not as a bragging right as I hear emanating from you people on the other side. Let Budget 2013 usher in change, change of that pasture, not look for holes and grasp at straws to deconstruct a good budget as the Hon. Mr. Greenidge did in his rambling discourse on many things which I floundered to comprehend. Minister Ali enlightened us all on the foundation that that Hon. Gentleman laid in the 1900s. My learned friends, Hon. Members, let this year be a year of change in the manner in which we approach the budget and, in fact, all matters in this Parliament. Let us do what we came here to do, serve and work in the interest of the Guyanese people. This is what I am here to do. This is why this Government has presented a budget that touches many lives and provides relief to so many. No one here will say the budget provides everything and answers every appeal or every request but we can all agree on – The Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Guyana (FITUG), the PSC agrees, I even saw Mr. Peter Ramsaroop agreeing and he was one of yours the other day – that it is a budget which has reached out and shown the Government’s seriousness about reducing taxes, adding to the basket of the underprivileged and elderly. It shows the Government is conscious of the single parent who has to provide for her home and children; and knows that a young professional wants to own his or her own home and be unencumbered by tax, and none of us sitting here wants to pay higher electricity rates. I do not believe that for a second so do not say it. Let us be practical and be real and admit we can only spend what we have, prudent spending. The movement has been made by the Government each year to improve the living standards and cushion all Guyanese from the impact of the unpredictable global financial hardships which have caused deficits in the growth of even developed countries, yet we in Guyana can speak of and project an increase in the domestic economy to 5.3 percent in 2013. This follows on the heels of real growth in 2012.
Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge I am sure you must be very happy to hear this. This tells you that there is progress, real progress. This year I will not quote anything from your 10 years because I want you to hear only the words growth, progress, new initiatives, housing for all, and opportunities for all. So I am not going to dwell on the dreary past and those words like deficit and failure; you know them well so let me stop.
The 2013 Budget, who can dismiss a budget like this? Please do not dismiss it like it you have been dismissing our sugar workers and sending them into a black abyss. This Budget has within its framework a reduction of personal income tax from 33½% to 30%. The tax payers who are taking home the collective sum of $1.8 billion will not dismiss it, how can you? The young couple who wants to own a new home and were thinking of the huge mortgage they would encounter could own their own home now; not just any home. Why? Because now firs time home owners who are holders of mortgage loans up to $30 million granted to them by commercial banks or the building society will be permitted to deduct the interest they pay on such mortgages from the taxable income. None of the new homeowners will dismiss this; it is a saving. People who have homes below the value of $40 million do not have to pay property tax; another saving. The Government feels the days of shacks are numbered. More and more Guyanese must own their own homes and not just dream of owning a home. From Crabwood Creek to the hinterland people are owning their own homes, beautiful homes. The housing sector has expended so much, $3. 1 billion caters for 5,000 more home owners. The turnkey initiative will cater for young professionals. They can own their own homes too and even gated homes. The future of all Guyanese is being catered for, and that too from the earliest age.
The education sector is the beneficiary of the largest allocation under this Budget. The Government is cognizant of the need to prepare young people from now to take the reign of the country in their hands with surety – with surety - that a solid foundation has been constructed. That is, if my Hon. Colleague Mr. Ramjattan who is so fond of wielding his scissors does not remove from their grasp any of the things they are entitled to through this Budget. From nursery to tertiary levels diverse needs have been addressed – new schools, new labs, continued school feeding, uniform programmes, 500 more teachers, Information Communication Technology (ICT) laboratories. Not only will schools been upgraded but constructed in the hinterland to the coastland. The saying is equal access to education and not education if you are lucky or you had a godfather. All eyes will be on the University as 14 labs and science and technology faculties will be rehabilitated while full internet connectivity will be provided to all faculties and the library. University of Guyana (UG) students right across Guyana will benefit through $50 million provided to allow access to online courses reducing cost of travel and other expenses incurred by having to move away from home. This is empowerment.
Education paves the way for empowerment and employment. We talk about providing employment. It pays the way to increase qualified and competent human resources. Youth are being encouraged to think beyond the traditional areas of employ but to utilise new avenues which crop up in each sector – sports, health and importantly to think about owning their own businesses with the measures offered in the budget. To counter unemployment young women and men and those who want to own their own business can be able to sustain those through the small business development fund at a cost of $370 million. People are not going to be left to flounder. And these are not just figures I am conjuring up. However, they will be trained in business management, food handling, marketing, and Information Technology. This training will target 1,000 business owners. I believe that this Budget is all about real investment in people. This is encouraging people to work, create, develop, build, and see a future where they can earn and live comfortably and not look for handouts. In addition to all of this $52 million has been provided to strengthen the central recruitment and manpower agency to ensure equal opportunity for all. Young people are challenged to become empowered and employed through the National Youth Empowerment and Apprenticeship Programmes. Young people are encouraged to pursue sports with equal fervor as their education with the over $1 billion allocated to sports. We need more athletes, swimmers, cricketers, boxers. The development of countrywide sports centres and facilities and world class venues the track and Olympic swimming pool, ensures young athletes live their dreams of bringing home goals from the Olympics or becoming another Shivnarine Chanderpal. Budget 2013 empowers them to live that dream.
My friends on the other side, this Budget should not be scoffed at. Sure you may not agree with every aspect but be fair and acknowledge that it speaks to many issues, all strata and shows care to all.
Young women out there and single parents that benefitted from Women Of Worth (WOW) will continue to benefit under BIT Single Parent programme. Diverse community training programmes, private and public partnerships, especially through the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute, will be able to provide women with training and the ability to set up cottage industries through public/private partnerships so their income could be sustained and they could have income generation for quite a while because we believe in empowering our women.
My good friend over there talked about injections and all those things. While I do not want to impinge on the turf of the Minister Health expiry dates are definitely not that short on injections. Also there are training programmes at the hospital, training/specialist programmes in emergency medicine, pediatrics, gynecology, surgery, just to name a few. And the wait time is long because there is a triad system; one is treated based on a need and not on a first come first come basis.
Health, water supply, electricity, sanitation, our homeless, our first people, our young women, professionals, working class, vulnerable, each of these groups benefit through the 2013 Budget.
Electricity is a sore point, is it not? We all cry out about rates yet we cut the subvention in the 2012 Budget and cried loudly that we care for people and we want them to spend less but in a louder voice we scream bailout for GPL and no more subvention. Mr. Nagamootoo flourishes his signature scissor-hand signal. Linden and Kwakwani alone will benefit from $2.9 billion dollars.
All of GPL’s customers and families will benefit from the 2013 Budget allocation. Cut away Messieurs, cut away. All of Guyana is waiting and watching. I was listening to the hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan speaking on television struggling to bash the 2013 Budget. Even there he needed help from the gentleman next to him to understand and make arguments against it. It was tough I imagine because Budget 2013 bolsters Guyanese people and enhances Guyana’s infrastructure. Please do not wait tax payer’s money by asking for supplementary for the same things you cut at budget time to prove magnanimous later on or refuse. Do not bring other’s bills as your own because you have problems, personal issues with them. Shall I go on? If I was in the Opposition I too would have had the liberty to call for a large sum of everything under the sun but Government has to act prudently and disburse moneys responsibly based on what the country can afford. We do not want to end up… okay, I promised not to say anything about that time. This Government leaves space f or growth and building on foundations laid in previous budgets. The 2013 Budget is admirable.
I call on all the Honourable Members in this Parliament in 2013 to put our country first, put Guyanese first. Let us remove the taint of 2012 of being a Parliament which achieved more battles, more walkouts, spent too much on food and sittings, where the outcomes were decided long before the debate ensued; where hatchets and scissors were wielded willy-nilly. The Guyanese people expect more. Let us open our eyes and see what this Budget offers to all. The chance to save, to be sheltered, to be fed, to be well educated, to be empowered, and to live with dignity that in the past had been removed. My prayer is not for the Hon. Member Mrs. Backer to sit quietly while the Minister speaks – I think that will be a good prayer too – but for us to work together to overcome the challenges and refrain from negative shadows as we walk towards the horizon of accelerating gains which we all can enjoy. Budgets have come, budgets have gone, but Minister of Finance and my colleague I think you and your staff have created the dynamics for a refreshing and robust debate. While we have different perceptions, different points of view, while it should be robust, dynamic and vibrant, let this debate be guided by the best interest of the nation – free from rancor, free from divisiveness. Guyana is our pride. We are the people of Guyana. If we destroy our country, our homeland, then what is left for us to boast about? So let us make the 2013 Budget work for all. Acknowledge it; give it the commendation it deserves. Mr. Speaker I unhesitatingly support Budget 2013. [Applause]