Mr. Jones: [Stretches and starts to sing] Wide awake…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Jones, I understand that the Deputy Speaker warned on Friday evening that this is not the Stabroek Market or a rum shop, neither is this a choir hall or a place for singing.
Mr. Jones: So noted Cde. Speaker. I just wanted to assure the Hon. Minister of Housing and Water that we are on this side of the House, wide awake, while the Hon. Minister and his colleagues are asleep and are dreaming. Before I go into my speech proper, I would like to inform the Hon. Member who just spoke that perhaps for the initiatives he placed on record, that his Government has achieved in Region No.1, he could encourage his Government to do the same in Region No.5, more particularly at No. 30 Village, Back Street, where the youngsters are asking this Government to initiate a project and they have so dubbed this project the “One Labtop Per Family (OLPF) Project,” not the project they are aware of but rather the “One Lamp Per Family Project”.
Nin hao zhu xi he Ren min Wei yuan Hui (同志议长，议员的这所房子。). I repeat that, Nin hao zhu xi he Ren min Wei yuan Hui (同志议长，议员的这所房子。).
Yes, Cde. Speaker and Members of this House, I have been taking lessons in what may soon be Guyana’s native tongue.
Mr. Speaker: Let me just remind you though, that the language of this Assembly is always going to be English.
Mr. Jones: Very well, Sir. The translation for that simply means Cde. Speaker, Members of this House. I rise to make my contribution to the 2013 Budget, presented under the theme, Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana. It is evident that there is a stark contradiction in what is suggested by the theme of the 2013 Budget and the actions, once again, perpetuated by the PPP/C Government. The mere notion of overcoming challenges together indicates a need for consultation and collective bargaining. It was expected that at the engagement which involved both Government and Opposition, challenges would be discussed and amicable solutions found to those challenges. Certainly, there has not been a real meeting of the minds.
This 2013 Budget, like the Budget of 2012, had no input from the Opposition- the majority- despite the calls made by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. David Granger, to his Excellency President Ramotar on 12th December, 2011. Then again on 13th April, 2012 during the Budget debate the Hon. Member Mrs. Volda Lawrence made another plea and even before the presentation of this Budget, those calls have been reiterated three times now.
There is the saying, once is an incident, twice is a coincident, but three times is just downright disrespectful. Contemptuous!
Contemptuous to the Constitution of Guyana which clearly articulates in Article 13 that citizens and their organisations should be afforded opportunities to participate, meaningfully, in the decision making processes of the state. Was this done? Contemptuous!
The people of this country spoke loudly through the ballot at the last General and Regional elections. Had this Government moved from their contemptuous ways, we would have seen a 2013 Budget by the people, for the people and for all the people of Guyana.
The Hon. Minister of Natural Recourses, Mr. Robert Persaud, gave his account of former Presidents Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan’s move to establish a government of national unity. One wonders; was Minister Persaud present at the Cabinet meeting after the results of the 2011 Elections were declared? Those results provided this country and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic with the greatest opportunity of bringing about a government of national unity. Instead of that, what did we get?
“I will be putting together a PPP Government”.
So said now President Donald Ramotar.
And we have seen just that. Throughout 2012 and even now in 2013, inclusivity is just a dream or maybe a nightmare, but you decide. So much so for this Budget theme Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
I take this opportunity to indicate that, after thorough scrutiny of the rhetoric by the PPP/C Government, I cannot support this Budget in its entirety. I believe that to do this will be a total betrayal of the Guyanese populace who have entrusted me and every other legislator in this House with the inescapable responsibility of nation building and the insurance of a good life, not only for them, but for their children and their children’s children.
I turn my attention to Region No. 2. This region, as many may know, is dear to me, not only because it is the geographical constituency that I represent, but also because I spent several years there as a child and I take every opportunity to revisit my roots. Region No. 2 is not without its share of challenges. There is great need for improvement in all sectors if those challenges are to be overcome. The problems of unemployment and underemployment, especially among youths, poor health facilities, poor sea defences, schools with inadequate facilities and teaching/learning materials, problems in the agricultural sector, to name a few, are a part of the plight of the residents in the Pomeroon/Supenaam Region.
On 23rd August, 2012 the Essequibo Coast was in a state of unease as inmates of the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) broke out of the facility. To quote the Kaieteur News 24th August, 2012: Unrest turns nasty at NOC; “Panic continues to grip the Essequibo Coast as inmates of the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) at Onderneeming intensified their rampage, setting fires to a dormitory and other buildings in the compound last night. This was after dozens, broke out from the facility on Wednesday”.
In his 2013 Budget speech, the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Dr. Frank Anthony, under whom this facility falls, stated and I quote:
“We continue to work with the children at NOC to give the skills that will make a better life.”
The Hon. Minister somehow conveniently neglected to provide this House with any plausible information as to the state of affairs at the NOC. In the said newspaper interview the Hon. Minister is also quoted as saying:
“A Commission of Inquiry will be set up to examine the circumstances that led to the break out and to make recommendations.”
However, even as we await the report of this inquiry it is our hope that these questions will be answered. One; why were armed ranks deployed at the Onderneeming location? Two; was it necessary for live rounds to be used? Three; did the police act in accordance with their standing operation procedures?
In the 6th February, 2013 publication of the Kaieteur News an article was carried under the caption NOC Commission of Inquiry…Final report is to be presented this month end. That article also quoted the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony, as stating his assurance that “any staffer found guilty of abusing the children when the report is presented this month end, will be dealt with accordingly”. That was 6th February, it is now Monday, 8th April, and we await a report. Perhaps the Hon. Member is wide awake in a dream while the inmates at the NOC are still living a nightmare.
Correct me if I am wrong Cde. Speaker, but is the NOC a correctional institution? What is the purpose of the NOC? If it is not to provide opportunities for rehabilitation of those inmates, then what?
There are countless reports by former inmates of the NOC of the abuse that they have endured during their time at the institution. What is even more alarming is the fact that the care givers at this institution are the persons engaged in those abusive practices.
To detract from Region No. 2 and come closer to home for a bit, we see a similar practice at several correctional and care providing institutions, places like the Palms Geriatric Home, the Sophia Training Centre and the Drop-in Centre - just to name a few - of inmates being abused by those individuals who have been entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring they are cared for, their rights are upheld and they are well taken care of. How much more must they endure? It is my humble recommendation that the relevant authorities take immediate action to correct those ills at the NOC and all other care giving and rehabilitative institutions so as to ensure that the rights of all Guyanese, whether young, old, or differently-abled, are upheld.
I come back to Region No. 2 under Health. During the presentations, I pleaded with the Hon. Minister of Health, Dr. Ramsaran, Minister within the Ministry of Health, Mr. Hamilton, and the two regional Members of Parliament (MP’s), Members Baksh and Damon, “tell us something about the Suddie Hospital” and all, to no avail.
On a recent visit one resident of that Region said, and I quote “this is what they call a modern state of the art Hospital… boss man this place is the pearly gates terminal, yuh either going to meet yuh maker or you going to be referred to Georgetown”. And throughout the length and breadth of that Region, I have encountered dozens of residents that share similar views. They talk about receiving what we refer to as General Purpose Tablets (GPT) or General Purpose Liquid (GPL), chlorophan.
The poor and deplorable condition at the Suddie Hospital has further been compounded on April 1, 2013 with Guyana’s latest maternal death. I am certain that the family of Sharon Edwards, 42, of the Amerindian reservation at Capoey stood in wait, hoping to be told that it was all an April fool’s hoax, but sadly, this was not to be. She met her untimely demise after she checked into the Suddie Hospital for what was to be a relatively simple procedure, a C-Section. [Interruption] Cde. Speaker, the Members are saying… well, indeed it may not be a simple procedure, but when you have a government that tells you that next to slice bread, the health care system in this country is the best thing ever you have to consider a C-Section in Guyana, a simple exercise. According to the Edwards family, as published in the Stabroek News of 3rd April, 2103:
“The staff of the Suddie Hospital should take some responsibility for her death.”
The newspaper also quoted the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shamdeo Persaud as saying, and I quote,
“The findings on some of the maternal deaths indicated that there was laxity on the part of doctors as patients were not managed according to protocol”.
That interview, of course, was done last year.
The United Nations Resident Representative in Guyana, Ms. Musa, at the launch of the State of the World 2013 Report, told Stabroek News, and I quote:
“Maternal mortality is one Millennium Development Goal that seems difficult for this country to achieve by the 2015 deadline”.
The Suddie Hospital in Essequibo is considered to be the pearly gates terminal. Is this the dream that the Hon. Members are talking about? This is a nightmare.
Agriculture - there is a small riverine community along the Essequibo river called Aliki, there are some small farmers who want to expand their operations but they are encountering problems and are calling on the Minister of Agriculture to address them.
According to the March Edition of the New Nation which carried an article on the community, I quote:
“Twenty-five year old farmer Mervin Russell is cultivating several acres of bananas. He was preparing to cultivate more but his work is being hampered by, and amongst other things, poor irrigation and not having his own land.”
He told New Nation that because the main Aliki irrigation canal was blocked during the failed construction of the koker, he was forced to transport his bananas by land; a system which damaged the fruit forcing him to sell at a reduced rate.
Its efforts like these by young Mervin Russell that should be applauded and encouraged. I hereby call upon the Minister of Agriculture to move with dispatch to bring relief to the residents of Aliki on the Essequibo Coast.
I turn my attention to youth. In his Budget presentation, the Hon. Minister of Finance stated, and I quote:
“During 2012 over 1,700 people benefitted from training under several programmes.
In 2013, over 2,500 young people will benefit from similar training programmes, equipping them with the skills that are needed to enter the world of work and to embark on entrepreneurial ventures of their own.
An amount of $65.2 million has been allocated to equip and rehabilitate our training programmes.
In addition, a sum of $200 million has been allocated for youth entrepreneurship and apprenticeship programme targeting hinterland youth.”
Again, in 2013 we see the allocations of resources for training of youths at various centres throughout the country, commendable this is. The lingering question remains, what happens after these trainings have been completed? We are never told how many of those persons who were graduated from those programmes now enjoy gainful employment. We were never told. For this reason this Government should hang its head in shame, because this Government would have produced the largest number of certified unemployed people in comparison with their Caribbean counterparts.
A further $300 million for the development and upgrading of sporting facilities and infrastructure countrywide. While we note the allocation of funds to the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports and we are hesitant to approve these moneys to the said Ministry that is still to this date unable to craft and present a National Youth Policy. What is a National Youth Policy? A national youth policy is not only in itself a document, but a guide that sets out clearly and articulates the developmental initiative for the youths of the country, over a given period. When questioned about the said document in the Ninth Parliament by the Hon. Member Africo Selman about its existence, The Hon. Member Dr. Frank Anthony responded, “we do not have one.” Why should there be allocations by this House to a Ministry that clearly does not have a plan. It would be, to quote the Hon. Member Carl Greenidge “throwing money into a black hole.”
For this reason, I hold the belief that the output of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports should be described as visionless, lacklustre and even laughable to some extent.
However, we are told by the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport that discussions have been concluded with Ms. Ellis of the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) and her department has agreed to fund a consultant to update the National Youth Policy. Now, after more than a decade of no National Policy and billions of tax payer dollars being expended, we are now going to update what does not exist.
In the area of Sports, the same debacle that plagued youth for more than a decade exists, that is the absence of a clear vision and structure for National Development. Thus, we have seen over the years such projects as, and I brought these to the House last year; the market basketball tarmacs and to date not one single basketball hoop has been erected at any of these facilities. Yet, during that parliament, this House allocated over $100 million. The market tarmac initiative and upgrading of community grounds, unseen and unheard of. However, the Hon. Member Neendkumar, last year in his budget presentation, assured me that he has a long list he can make available to the Hon. Member, Cde. Chairman, to date I have not seen such a list.
Yet, we see in the 2013 Budget that there is a request for over $100 million for the upgrading of grounds. Unfulfilled promises: one such promise came from none other than former President, Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. the Hon. Champion of the Earth, Bharat Jagdeo, to members of the Golden Jaguars, Guyana’s national football team. He stated to them and I quote:
“If you are successful at making the cut, I will ensure that house lots and other perks are available to you.”
To no avail––the Golden Jaguars are still waiting. [Member: Gaff.] The Hon. Member says gaff, I say fluff.
Earlier in the year, I raised a question in this House about Guyana’s National Sports Policy, after which, I received this document, albeit at the Cricket Administration Bill Committee level... [Interruption] Comrade, there is no need to go further, I will explain in a short bit.
I have here the sports policy document that I had subsequently received at Cricket Administration Bill Committee level. We see on the front page that it says quite clearly, A proposal. This document was drafted in the year 2010. When we turn the first page, it says:
“This document represents recommendations made by a consultant to the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport on actions required to modernise sports and physical activities over the next five years.”
This document expires March, 2014 and has not seen the light of day. Why should we allocate moneys to this Ministry? Fluff, Cde. Speaker.
In 2016, as all of us in this House are aware, the Olympics come to the South American Continent. I was hoping and praying that when the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport did his Budget presentation, he would outline to us clearly Guyana’s plans to ensure that we have persons participating in those Olympics, but he said not a single word about the Olympics. This, as I have mentioned earlier, shows us clearly that the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport does not have a plan for youths in this country.
It is my humble suggestion that in speaking, we refrain from referring to “Youths are the future”, lest we continue to think that only at a time hereafter and ignore the present needs and concerns of our youth. Instead, let us in our speeches and actions say that the youth matters and we must prepare them now to assume leadership roles in the not so distant future.
In 2013 thus far, the single most outstanding individual in Guyana, in the area of youth development in my view, is no other than the leader of the majority, the Hon. David Granger. Since the genesis of this year, he has dedicated his efforts and the efforts of the parliamentary majority to the development of Guyana’s youth. The Hon. Member has declared that 2013 be the year for Guyana’s youth. Focusing on the areas of education, employment and empowerment has made attempts for the Guyana’s PPP/C led Government to do same. The PPP/C’s Government blatantly disregard to accept this offer. It shows us clearly where their priorities lie.
What is the Guyana dream? I believe the fact to be truth that a picture tells a thousand words. I now hold in my hands the Budget Presentation of the Hon. Minister of Finance. [Mr. G. Persaud: You got that?] Got that! Let us examine it. There is an elderly man holding grains of rice in his hand. Like many Guyanese mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, public servants, this picture seems to suggest the question, “Is this all?”
Let us go to the left of that picture, another gentleman holding sugar; he seems to be saying, “After this Government spent over US$200 million dollars on the Skeldon Sugar factory this is what it produced, a handful of sugar”.
Let us go above to that picture. We see a young lady representing thousands of Guyanese, who, almost on a daily basis, she represents the average Guyanese, unemployed public servants. Just to think she is having her blood pressure checked. Indeed it should be noted that the fact that the Hon. Minister of Finance placed this picture on the front page of the Budget, he has clearly indicated that the 2013 Budget is a pressure budget on the Guyanese people.
In conclusion, since we are talking about Youth and Sport let us look at this 2013 Budget presentation as a game of cricket being played in the jungle. Cde. Speaker, you are the umpire. Cde. Speaker I call upon you to inform the Hon. Minister of Finance that this 2013 Budget is a no ball. In fact, I call upon you to ask the Hon. Members of this House to hold some strains, inform the Minister of Finance that the Budget is a no ball and he will have to bat again.
Cde. Speaker, thank you. [Applause]