Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise in this Hon. House to make my contribution to the 2013 Budget debate under the theme “Overcoming Challenges Together, Accelerating Gains for Guyana.” I would like to thank the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh and his team for their hard work in producing this Budget.
I would also like to take this opportunity to reflect briefly on our first year in this Tenth Parliament which we so proudly refer to as the “new dispensation.”
In the 2011 General and Regional Elections, Guyanese went to the polls with the intention of changing their circumstance for the better, of course, and so created history. The result was a minority PPP/C Executive and a majority APNU/AFC Opposition - the new dispensation. It was an exciting time. Guyanese from all walks of live were excited and expected this Tenth Parliament to make decisions producing results that would affect them in a positive way. We have failed them miserably in our first year and should apologise to them. We spent most of 2012 squabbling with each other and causing Guyanese to be unhappy and discouraged with us. The Opposition after nineteen years of being voiceless stepped forward bravely to create the change that was promised to the people of this country while the Government on the other hand resisted change with all their might, refusing to compromise in any way. I would think this was because change was imposed upon them with no time for them to get used to the idea or to prepare for the consequences. But leadership is about change and rather than feel they have lost control of their territory and dwell on who has power, or who has more power than whom, the Government should have proceeded to be smart leaders and invited the Opposition into the planning of this Budget earlier and giving us ownership for what we bring to the table.
This is a new year and I am happy to hear that most of our colleagues in the Government are calling on us to work together for the development of t his Nation. One Hon. Minister even invited us to put on our jeans and go along on weekends on outreaches with her. We would appreciate that Hon. Minister providing you foot the travelling expenses since the travelling allowance for Opposition MPs is a meagre $8,000 per month.
Mr. Speaker: Are you saying the Speaker or the person giving the invitation?
Mrs. Garrido Lowe: No, not the Speaker, the person who issued the invitation.
Minister of Education [Ms. Manickchand]: I will foot the bill.
Mrs. Garrido Lowe: Thank you so much Minister. I hope also that this is a genuine invitation and not budget show-talk. But most of all, for this new year onward, I would like for us in this Honourable House to embrace change and work together towards the happiness and prosperity of our people of this Nation.
This Budget is being presented by the Government as a Budget for the people, a little of something in it for everyone. I beg to differ for there are many this Budget will not touch in any way and many lives will remain the same as it was for decades. I am not speaking about new buildings being constructed in the indigenous communities. I am referring to limited revenue earning opportunities causing our indigenous brothers and sisters to struggle on a daily basis to provide basic necessities like clothing, educational supplies for their children, especially the ones attending secondary schools, and housing.
I am also referring to all communities that do not enjoy basic necessities like electricity, potable water, a health post with qualified medical personnel, an adequate stock of drugs and telephone facilities. Communities like Maruwa, Red Creek and Touruka in Region No.8; communities like Waikarabi, Chinese Landing in Region No.1; communities like Achiwib in Region No.9; communities in the regions across Guyana like Ms. Wade’s hometown that do not receive electricity.
Our Indigenous brothers and sisters, whose many hardships are documented so often in the media and yet somehow manage to be viewed as normal in the interior continue to be great concern for us. Nothing is normal about these hardships suffered by residents of Indigenous communities or any hinterland community for that matter. They are absolutely abnormal and totally unacceptable to us here on this side of the August House and should be to my colleagues on the other side of the House.
It is absolutely abnormal and totally unacceptable for Rosalind Stephen, from Parishara in Region No.9, to travel on a motorbike, while pregnant and hemorrhaging, to the Lethem Hospital to try to save her life and that of her child. It was absolutely abnormal and totally unacceptable for Euphemia Francis from Nappi to die at home while she could have been treated at the Lethem Hospital. If there were good roads and at least, a village minibus in each village, both Rosalind and Euphemia may have been alive today. There are countless other emergency cases across the hinterland and in all the Amerindian villages where residents suffer similar fate - the stories are heartbreaking when we hear them. It is heartbreaking to hear or see our young men and women dying from malaria and maternal complications; accidents that could have been treated on time in the regions’ hospitals if they were adequately equipped; it is heartbreaking for three children to die from the gastro outbreak in Port Kaituma. As stated by my colleague, the Hon. Dr. George Norton, it was only after the death of three children and the number of cases reaching a total of 525 that the authorities took proactive action. It is unacceptable for the residents of the Moruca sub-region to suffer from recurring dengue and nothing being done to try to halt the situation. Aged persons, weakened from getting dengue so often, succumb before their time. There are many cases we do not hear about, where our hinterland parents and children are left with nothing but grief from the unnecessary loss of loved ones. Losses that could be avoided if the Government and relevant organisations have more care for the people who reside in the Hinterland.
I can remember in the 70s when Aishalton Village boasted two doctors, one of which was a Roman Catholic priest who was a surgeon. According to the Hon. Sydney Allicock, now they have none and the Lethem Hospital also needs a surgeon. This will save lives and millions of dollars spent on medivacs, which, as mentioned by the Hon. Dr. Norton again yesterday in his Budget Speech, totalled more than $15M in 2011 and $19M in 2012. These moneys saved could be going towards paying our doctors decent wages so that they will feel comfortable working in a public hinterland facilities. We need improved healthcare in our villages across the hinterland; we need qualified doctors and specialists, especially surgeons in our hinterland hospitals. We need qualified nurses and midwives in all our health centres and health huts in our Indigenous villages. We need to be stocked adequately with the necessary drugs.
The Nursing Schools train hundreds of nurses every year. Where are they? Many young persons were trained as doctors for the past years in Cuba. Where are they? We have to pay these professionals decent wages for them to stay and serve in our hospitals and health centres across this country.
In hinterland communities, we have to equip every health centre and health hut with generators since most Indigenous Communities do not have electricity and the small solar panels that were distributed to some communities are not reliable sources. Delivering babies with the aid of a “flambo” or a fireside are not acceptable health practices.
There is much to be done in the health sector across this country and more so, in the hinterland communities with more emphasis being placed on the training of quality medical personnel and the care of people.
Education - one Minister mentioned that there is equal access to education for all. I beg to differ. Secondary schools in the hinterland do not have science labs, for example, Mahdia and Paramaktoi Secondary schools in Region No.8 and Santa Rosa Secondary School in Region No.1. These young people who graduate every year cannot pursue higher learning in the science field, even if they wish, without spending at least two extra years in a school in Georgetown to acquire the science subjects. Being able to afford this is another matter. Hinterland Secondary schools do not have Home Economic Departments or Information Technology (IT) Labs, like most of the schools in Georgetown. There is no technical and vocational institutes in Region Nos.1, 7, 8 and 9 that train hinterland youths in plumbing, mechanical and electrical engineering, carpentry and joinery, masonry and civil engineering.
Only last year the students of Paramakatoi Secondary School prepared to write their CXC examinations, after studying very hard at the various subjects. They did get to write the examination, but only because the head of the school and others in authority decided they would be too disappointed if they did not write them. Unfortunately, the examination papers arrived late in Paramakatoi and although the children wrote the examinations, they were not marked. Is this equal access to education?
Housing and Water - with the costly price of gasoline to saw boards, the high price of nails and other building paraphernalia and the scarcity of traditional building materials, proper housing remains a challenge in many hinterland communities. I hope the dream of the Hon. Irfaan Ali will become a reality and not remain a dream and the housing drive extends to Indigenous communities. Stabroek News published a family home in Nappi a few months ago and the stark poverty that was portrayed in that photograph is a living reality for many residents of the hinterland.
Potable water remains a problem and the Minister should focus his energies towards alleviating this problem so as to prevent water borne diseases like the recent outbreak of gastro in Region No.1.
Sports - It is well known that hinterland communities possess some of the most talented athletes in this country. The hinterland has produced quality footballers, both male and female who are not recognised because no emphasis is placed on these shining stars. The hinterland has produced track and field athletes, like Doretta Wilson and Hezron Simon and others. What are our sports authorities doing to support and develop the natural talent of our hinterland athletes? These athletes, once given the chance, can easily place Guyana on the world map. Where is our Sports Policy Hon. Dr. Anthony? I remember my team and I working on a proposal which we presented to you at your Ministry and that was several years ago.
Culture - It is my firm view that Indigenous languages, at least one, should be taught in schools throughout this country so that the rest of our Guyanese brothers and sisters could come to understand and appreciate the culture of our indigenous people. We must not wait until someone translates the languages into writing for us to teach it. Writing is not how Indigenous peoples, for centuries all over the world, preserved their languages and traditions - it is an oral tradition.
Roads and Bridges - The condition of the roads in most of the hinterland areas of Guyana are in a deteriorating state. Most of these trails need to be upgraded in order to provide better transportation services for residents of these communities. These are some of the roads in Region 8 that need to be upgraded urgently - Mahdia to Princeville road, Brian Sucre Junction to Tumatumari and Micobie; and from Kurukabaru to Kopinang. In Region 1, there is the Kumaka /Kwebana road that is in a deteriorated state most of the year, even though millions of dollars are spent to upgrade it every other year or every year. The residents of Kwebana would like the Hon. Minister of Public works and the Hon. Minister of Local Government to know that they can work to fix their own road, but they must get at least half of the contract moneys which at times totals up to approximately $70 Million. The other half can go to the contractor who owns the bulldozer and grader, but the communities themselves can work towards building their roads; they have the skills and they are willing.
The rehabilitation of the San Jose/Kumaka Bridge, a $28 Million Capital Project, had commenced late last year, but had to be halted because of shoddy work and bad engineering. The women of Kumaka said that if they were given the contract they are sure that they would have done a better job. The bridge now stands as an eyesore to the community and the Regional Executive Officer (REO), to date, cannot give a definite date as to when the correctional works, including revetment, will be resuming. The Ministry of Local Government should monitor these capital works since millions of dollars of tax payers’ moneys are being spent on these projects.
Amerindian Development Fund - The Amerindian Act states that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission shall transfer 20% of the royalties from the mining activities to the fund designated by the Minister for the benefit of Amerindian villages. Many Amerindian/Indigenous people would like the Hon. Minister to tell us if this fund is the same fund that is called the Amerindian Development Fund. The Indigenous population of Guyana would also like know when, actually, this fund was established and how much money is in this fund? If money was spent from this fund, what was it spent on? We need public accountability for these moneys Hon. Minister.
Information Technology - I must commend the Hon. Dr. Singh, Minister of Finance, for the S500 Million allocated this year to Indigenous communities for Information Technology. How can I not? Information technology is what this world is about today and Indigenous communities must not be denied their chance to be part of this exciting world. Most of us, however, are apprehensive. We are wondering how much indeed would be spent on this project for the Indigenous people and how much would go to consultants.
The One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) programme is also a good programme and it is our hope that the students of the University of Guyana, who cannot afford to purchase a laptop to assist in their studies, each receive a laptop. It is our hope that the students of secondary schools who cannot afford to purchase laptops receive their laptops. Our Hinterland students would also welcome their laptops along with the necessary training in basic Microsoft programmes. It is our hope that our Indigenous youths will be able to access the internet with their laptops to assist in their studies, that is, provided they receive one in the first place. We, in the Alliance for Change will be following this allocation carefully to make sure that our youths in the hinterland get what is allocated to them.
Mining - Traditional mining in our dear land of Guyana has been going on for as long as the Pork Knockers were in existence. These fearless Guyanese from all walks of life and from every ethnic group pioneered a way for our country to begin to see mining as a huge revenue earner. The Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh in his budget address said that mining has been playing an increasingly important role in the domestic economy with production reaching unprecedented levels. This is good news Mr. Speaker and Dr. Singh.
However, what is not good news is when miners are chased off lands because they have suddenly become illegal when they were allowed to prospect and work these lands before, without complaint. It would seem that as soon as the owners of these claims gets a better deal than the small miners can afford to give them, they try to get rid of them as quickly as possible without adequate notice. If the miners do not comply because of the short notice, then their equipment are being destroyed. Equipment that they saved to buy one piece at a time while risking their lives working in the back dams of the interior. For example, Marudi Mountains, where the miners there were beaten and most horrific of all a woman and her child was beaten. Another example, the miners in Port Kaituma who were given Cease Work Orders (CWOs) at short notice and because they did not move, some of their equipment were destroyed. Some of them still owe for these equipment.
While it benefits our country to enter into large scale mining agreements with foreign companies, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and Government must recognise the importance of the contributions of small miners towards the development of communities and ultimately towards the development of our country.
Small miners generally sell their gold to licensed dealers and do not airlift it out of the country leaving only 5% for us. Their contributions can be seen in better housing in communities. They support local stores and shops, restaurants and small food vendors, hotels, schools and generally uplift the standard of living in communities. Indigenous communities get to sell their cassava bread, farine, ground provisions, fish, etc. to the miners and earn much needed moneys which help them to improve their standard of living. These parents also get to support their children attending secondary schools, many of whom are staying in dormitories and the inflow of sustained revenue eases the burden of parents and children alike. Many of these miners are Indigenous persons and are happy to mine.
Workshops for Miners – GGMC should have at least two workshops per year on good mining practices to help educate these small miners on good mining practices... [Interruption]
GGMC should have at least two workshops per year on good mining practices to help to educate these small miners on mining the land in an environmentally friendly and healthy way. Mining inspectors should insist that latrines are built, garbage is disposed of properly and that the mercury water does not run directly into the creeks, thus, contaminating the water and killing the fishes. Trees that are felled, while cutting roadways, should not go to waste but should be used to make camping sites clean and healthy.
Mr. Speaker, I have lots more to say, but I do not know if I have time so I will just stick...
Mr. Speaker: The Hon. Member has five minutes, so all of those who are encouraging her to say it, you can say it but marshal your arguments and take your time and wrap it up. Thank you.
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Mr. Speaker, our vast hinterland is the richest part of this country with unique eco-tourism attractions and home to first citizens of this country – our Indigenous brothers and sisters. It amazes me and bothers me that from the amount of wealth – gold, diamond and lumber – that are extracted from the Hinterland that only a tiny trickle of it is reflected in the hinterland itself and almost zero in most Indigenous communities. Something is terribly wrong here and we in this August House should hasten to fix it.
The Hinterland and our Indigenous peoples are part and parcel of each other. Policies and legislation for one affects the other. The two are synonymous. It is my strong belief that instead of having a Ministry for Amerindian Affairs, we really ought to have a Ministry for Hinterland and Indigenous Affairs. This way we can make plans for the development of the hinterland and pour some of the extracted wealth right back into this area which will have positive effects right across the spectrum and in every Indigenous community.
Roads in the hinterland for instance, which all traverse – business owners, miners, Indigenous, tourist and Government - will then become priority for hinterland development. Indigenous and other stakeholders will then have a seat at one table in the discussions for the development of the hinterland and Indigenous communities. With development will come jobs for hinterland residents which will naturally include residents from Indigenous communities.
Extracting natural resources and boasting how must the country has earn from them, must not be the sole aim of the Government for the hinterland. Instead a sound developmental plan is needed for this rich and very important fraction of our country. The little projects earmarked for Indigenous communities each year by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs must not be the only source of revenue for these residents. Many of these projects fail anyway. Instead, they should be encompass in the wider developmental plan where they will benefit from more opportunities for personal and community development and their general comfort and well being.
The situation right now with the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs serves to isolate the Indigenous community from the rest of Guyana, stagnating growth and causing unwarranted suspicion on both sides. There is no Ministry for African Guyanese brothers and sisters nor is there a Ministry for our Indian Guyanese brothers and sisters. [Mr. R. Persaud: Should we scrap the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs?] No, we add hinterland to it and make it bigger. They are in the hinterland, it is their home. [Interruption]
Social Services - It is commendable that emphasis is being placed on the continued empowerment of our women. It is never too much since many of our women today single parents and with the high cost of living a working mom cannot afford to provide for her family adequately without extra funds coming in from another source. We prefer that the extra funds come from acceptable sources.
Attention must also be paid to teenage pregnancy on the coast and in the hinterland. Last year in Region No.3 there were teenage pregnancies and one of the young mothers was only 12 years old.
Hon. Minister of Human Services has to find ways to deal with prostitution of young girls’ right here on the coast. I can give you an instance, a shocking one – I have to close, but let me give you this in the mean time. Some hinterland colleagues of ours came down and we had to find a hotel to accommodate them. Naturally we wanted to find an affordable hotel. I took them to this hotel and the room was adequate for the money and I thought that was okay. Two days after my friends came and told me that, “Oh my, Ms. Val” I was so shocked, I was coming down the stairs and I stepped out onto the balcony and I saw a big man with a little girl about 9 or12 years old going to the room. She was an Indigenous woman and she was so horrified. This is happening on the coast and with our coastal people; our coastal brothers and sisters, it is actually happening here. [Interruption] Minister, we have to find solutions for this, it is terrible and it is grave and it is happening right here in Georgetown.
Time does not permit and I must conclude. Thank you very much. [Applause]