Ms. Hastings: I stand to make my presentation on the Budget 2013 which has the theme “Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana”.
I hasten to say, after listening to the presentations made by my colleagues on the other side of the House, that I am not convinced that truly this was their initial intention in the crafting of this Budget 2013. For if, indeed, they were so much into working together with all the stakeholders, including the Opposition, why then the idea proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Member Mr. David Granger, to have a meaningful engagement as a tripartite party in planning this Budget 2013, was not accepted in good faith?
I can recall, as a junior teacher, I was taught how to plan a lesson in order to teach effectively. I remember clearly that in planning I must take into consideration the condition, performance and criterion. Given the condition that we are in a situation where the majority of seats in Parliament are occupied by the Opposition. That is the condition. One should have then decided to go about planning the budget and to involve the majority, but this was not done. Now for the Members on that side of the House to come in this august House persuading me and my colleagues on this side of the House to accept and bless the budget, as it stands, is unacceptable.
I will now make my comments on some of the measures used to validate this Budget 2013. I recall clearly saying to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs during my contribution to last year's budget that which cannot be measured cannot be improved. Today, as I examined some of the measures presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance, I must commend him and his staff for their hard work in putting together this budget, but this does not merely state that it is a good budget, but their efforts must be recognised.
I am looking to see what provision has been made in this budget under the heading “Mortgage Interest Relief “ for our teachers nurses and other government workers who work and live in the hinterland communities of whom do not own individual titled lands or house lots. Owing to the fact that they live on a communal land, which is an Amerindian community, hence, they are not able access loans from the commercial banks or any other agencies such as DPF without a transport. I have known of incidents where teachers travelled to the city to transact such business and were turned down because of this pending situation. I am therefore asking the relevant ministries to implement and adopt policies to promote home ownership to such hard-working individuals serving in our hinterland.
This brings me to another important point: Amerindian land rights and other current issues of concern to our Amerindian brothers and sisters. Indigenous leadership and decision making at the national level are often constrained by Government interference. For example, the National Toshaos Council, which is housed in the Ministry of Amerindians Affairs building, has no independent funds to carry out the business of the council. The Indigenous Peoples’ Commission, which is an independent body established to look into the matters that affect the lives of the indigenous people, has a lot more to do or in fact has not done anything to this day as it is mandated.
I have been mandated by the pupils of Kako Primary School to highlight the challenges that confront them on a daily basis. More so, as they are being currently challenged with the mining activity that has began up the Kako River. They are struggling, along with their parents, to keep their only main source of drinking water, which is the Kako River, in its pristine state. Hence, I will repeat the words of their song:
“Come on all you people
Stop this destruction
Let us join and fight to stop discrimination
Don't be led astray my friends
Seek God's inspiration
A little effort from you my friends
Can change this situation.”
The residents of Kako are eagerly waiting on the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment to quickly satisfy their request that was made by a statement presented to the visiting team. We must be sensitive to the cries of our indigenous people.
As it relates to the safeguarding of their rivers and traditional lands, we must remember that they are our first people and are entitled to their rights as any other Guyanese. When I heard the Hon. Minister of Housing and Water Mr. Irfaan Ali vigorously saying that this Government puts its people first, the Guyanese first, I could not have agreed when he and all of us can allude to the fact that this was not the case with the people of Isseneru, in the middle Mazaruni, when in January of this year in which a court order was passed to have the miners continue mining in their titled lands. Let the voices of our brothers and sisters be heard and let something be done to solve these problems.
I believe and I know that in your good offices we can “together”, as the theme states, find solutions to these problems. I wish to remind this august body that consultation is always the proper thing to do. Consultation must be done first with the people. Whether they are on the mountains or in the valleys, irrespective of their locations, we need to go and meet with the people, consult them before any policy is implemented. Prevention is always better than cure.
Education: With $28.7 billion being budgeted for this sector, I was hoping to see, somewhere in the capital expenditure, moneys being allocated to build a technical school, which I had requested for during my last year budget presentation. I had also requested that a School's Welfare Officer be employed, who will be based at the Kamarang Education Office, to assist in curbing the accelerating pains or issues of teenage pregnancy and delinquency of students at the primary tops and the Waramadong Secondary School. I was hoping to see moneys being allocated to establish a science laboratory, Home Economics Department or a ICT labs which the people of upper Mazaruni has been requesting ever since I came into this Parliament in 2010.
When this Government boasts about, as saying, the children in the hinterland now having access to universal secondary education, it is not true in reality. Yes, they have access to a secondary school building but not secondary school education. For those buildings are still without trained teachers; they are without Home Economics Department, no science labs, equipment, text books. Those continue to be in dire need for each school in the hinterland. Many schools are still far from being child-friendly.
The question is then asked exactly happened to the $26.5 billion which was expended in this sector in 2012. Did our children reap the value for money spent? One is left to wonder what will be done with the $28.7 billion dollars allocated for this year. I must inform this honourable House that the Jewella Village Council, in recognition of its role as a partner in education, decided to take upon it shoulders to erect and complete the construction of a new nursery school building. It must be commended for its efforts. After making the request and thinking that it was the State’s obligation to build schools it could not have awaited any longer when the eighty-eight nursery children were cramped in a classroom. The community is asking the Ministry of Education to ensure that the school is equipped with outdoor playing equipment, such as slides, swings and other equipment, that the children can use to play. The building is also wired and a request was made to the regional administration to find a source of electricity, but to this date there is none.
Teachers’ incentives: For too long the teachers in the hinterland, or what we call remote areas, have been receiving an incentive of seven thousand dollars which was intended to ease the problem of high cost of living. This programme began in the year 2006. From the year 2006 to present, we all know that the prices of food items, fuel have been on the rise year after year. Just to name a few, one pound of chicken now costs from $750 to $1,200. When one goes to shop at places such as Kamarang, a teacher goes to buy chicken, flour, sugar in Kaikan or Phillipai, the further one goes away from the city, higher the cost of items one will find them to be.
I therefore ask that this Government considers the raising of the rural area incentive allowance from $7,000 dollars to a reasonable to meet the demands of these basic needs.
Physical infrastructure - Roads and Bridges: I have seen in this year’s budget that the five miles Bartica/Potaro road has been allocated some sums of money. I did ask this National Assembly to ensure that the Barticians have access to a proper heavy duty road. Mr. Speaker, if you go there, to travel from Bartica to Bartica airstrip, which is about five miles, you have a very bad experience of hippity bump hippity bump. The road in its present state is very bad. It is worse than last year and I have been told that the aviation service has indicated to reestablish the scheduled flights in and out of Bartica to other locations. As such, Mr. Speaker, we need to hasten in construction a proper road not only for the Barticians but also for our visiting friends.
Let me come to GPL. With the allocation of $11.2 billion for this sector, I hope and on behalf of the residents of Bartica make a request that the power station there is in dire need of new engines. When the engines are being started there is a lot of smoke around the market area and it was jokingly said that maybe a new pope was being installed there. Every time the white smoke or black smoke is seen that is what comes to the minds of the people. Indeed, the residents of Bartica should be now treated, not with fairy lights, today on tomorrow off, with lights that they can be able to enjoy as anyone else on this coast.
Water still continues to be a problem to the residents. Just as the lights go on today and off tomorrow that is exactly what is happening with the water system in Bartica. Please, Mr. Speaker, I am asking this Government to look into this matter too so that the Barticians could have access to clean potable water.
In conclusion, I must say that this Budget 2013 indeed is bigger but not better in any way for it has not been… As I go through the measurement, which the Hon. Minister of Finance used, it has not in any way alleviate the poverty of the poor people in this country. People that are in the hinterland, remote areas, even on the coast, there is still a lot more to be done for those people. Remember they are the people who voted for us and therefore we must serve and satisfy their basic needs. As a Government, as a parliamentarian, whatever capacity we find ourselves in, we need to look after the welfare of our people.
Thank you very much. [Applause]