Mr. T. Williams: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I rise to make my contribution on this Budget Debate 2013 presented under the theme Overcoming Challenges Together and Accelerating Gains for Guyana.
If I had the honour of making any contributions to this theme I would certainly add the words “Accountability and Transparency”.
Indeed, there is an abundance of challenges in Guyana and I believe our recent experiences in and outside of this National Assembly have served to remind us that cooperation and togetherness is at an all time low.
Here in 2013 we are asked to “dream the dream”. I would like to say that dreaming can become nightmares when sleep is difficult.
We in the Alliance for Change stands supportive of any budget that seeks to address the needs of this nation in a very holistic way and in keeping with the principles of good governance. And I must add in keeping with our Constitution; and yet, again, one that is done in transparency, an ingredient, I must say, which seemingly poses a challenge for this present Government.
After discussing for the last year how we move this country forward I am surprised that this current Budget makes no allocation for the Public Procurement Commission , a very important watch-dog institution which will help us tackle the issues of corruption and malpractice.
I recently read the United Nation’s 2013 Human Development Report 2013 entitled The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World.
Permit me, Mr. Speaker, to share just a few, what I consider important quotes from this report before I get further into my presentation. Here it is pointed out that there are key drivers of a proactive and developmental state. Let us start with Driver 1, I quote:
“A strong proactive and responsible state develops policies for both public and private sectors based on long term vision and leadership, shared norms and values and rules and institutions that build trust and cohesion.”
I further quote:
“Priorities need to be people-centered, promoting opportunities while protecting people against downward risks.”
I move immediately in the said Report to another quote. Driver 3 which says:
“Few countries have sustained rapid growth without impressive levels of public investment not just in infrastructure but also in health and education.”
The Minister of Finance on Page 33 of his presentation, the Hon. Minister may I add, said:
“This government recognizes as essential for reducing poverty, supporting personal empowerment, and achieving national development”.
It is almost ten years since the subvention for the Critchlow Labour College has been removed by the Former President, then Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo. This collapsed three campuses countrywide, bringing an end to the dreams of nearly 2,000 students most of whom were seeking a second chance. I, being a former student of this institution and I am so informed on which I stand to be corrected, that there are Members on the opposite side who also benefitted significantly in their academic pursuits at the Critchlow Labour College. I saw the heartache, felt it, and witnessed the drastic fall of hope of hundreds of young Guyanese.
In her very detailed presentation this afternoon the Hon. Minister of Education, Ms. Priya Manickchand, made a plea and a cry for the students and the children of Region 5 and 6, reminding us of what they deserve and what they are entitled to. This was done with a hope of persuading the Opposition not to cut this Budget or else our children will suffer. In the same breath I ask the question honestly, have we not suffered the students past and future of the Critchlow Labour College enough?
I have heard many quotes in these budget presentations. I have heard many inspiring presentations and proverbs read. I will say in this presentation I would rather be guided by the saying, “speak the truth and speak it ever cost it what it will.”
I quickly return to the United Nations Report for yet another quote. Driver 3, Enabling Voice and Participation, and I quote:
“Unless people can participate meaningfully in the events and processes that shape their lives, national human development paths will be neither desirable nor sustainable. People should be able to influence policy making and results, and young people in particular should be able to look forward to greater economic opportunities and political participation and accountability.”
I enjoyed my readings in this Report so I will give another quote, and it says:
“Dissatisfaction is on the rise in both North and South as people call for more opportunities to voice their concerns and influence policy”.
It is no secret that for the last year the combined Opposition pursued this Government relentlessly to have meetings and consultations to hopefully influence how this Budget was crafted. We all know the outcomes of those meetings that happened and probably never did.
One of the most disturbing acts of Executive lawlessness was displayed when the Former President, and I give my word, “frequenticised”, his buddies, friends and colleagues by handing out secretly, in the dark, about 18 licences to have his friends dominate the communications spectrum. Region No.10 has been long ago in need of its own radio and television stations. I take this opportunity to call on the Government, the administration, to reject this lawlessness at every level and rescind the inequity and demonstrate fairness.
I have friends in this National Assembly and I am sure on the side of the Government. One such friend is my Hon. Comrade Mr. Kwame Gilbert, the Hon. Reverend. I listened to his impressive presentation on the opening night. If I recall him correctly he said the Opposition seemed to have a proclivity to cutting branches which may fall on the head of others. However, I wish to share with my Hon. Reverend that cutting seems to be very scriptural because in John’s Gospel Chapter 15 it says that God the Gardener cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit and of course, he disposes of them. In that spirit should we have cause to amend the Budget it will be wise pruning, such is the rationale for appropriate mending and avoiding waste.
I quickly turn to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), an area on which the Hon. Minister had much to say. In the discourse on accountability and transparency, from which I intend to base my short presentation, the Minister gave us a very inspiring lecture on responsible forest stewardship and accelerated economic growth. I wish not to go through all the details.
“Under our visionary Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), at the end of 2012
Guyana fulfilled all the requirements for a third tranche to bring a total of US$115 million…”
He said in 2012, funds began flowing from the Guyana REDD+ Investment. He said in 2013, Guyana will work strategically with the leadership of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations. I am still under the GRIF Fund; sums totaling US$17.6 million are allocated. We in the AFC are pro-development, but we are also watchdogs of the “nation’s purse”. The Hon. Minister announced that US$15 million has been disbursed to the Low Carbon Development Funds. We in the AFC would like to ask what about the consultation and the terms set by the Norwegians for this country.
From my short reading, I wish to quote an article by one Chris Lamb on the 14th March, 2013. These are the comments of the Norwegian official.
Mr. Speaker: Does it have a title or source.
Mr. T. Williams: The name of the article, It’s a Mystery Why We Choose Guyana.
Mr. Speaker: It is contained where?
Mr. T. Williams: By one Chris Lamb quoting the Norwegian Government official. This Low Carbon Development Strategy has received as much criticism as that of praise. How did Norway choose Guyana was one of the questions. It was pointed out and I do not have to take this next statement particularly from this article because it is well known around the world, that Guyana is also a very corrupt country, ranking 133 in Transparency International Corruption Perceptions of 2012. Comments were made that it was aid in a rush; it was ground breaking. Comments were made that the current and Former President Mr. Jagdeo, apart from what the Norwegians consider…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams, one second please.
Mr. R. Persaud: I rise on a Point of Order and also a Point of Correction. First and foremost, the article that is referred to - and I allowed Mr. Williams to read on to confirm that it was in fact the article that was brought to my attention - was carried in one of the local newspapers. The Former Norwegian Minister who now heads an European Union (EU) body himself responded to the article and corrected the assertions in the article as not representing… [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: The Point of Order has to be precise.
Mr. R. Persaud: The Point of Order is that this is a matter that the Norwegian Government Minister has pronounced on, that is a misrepresentation. Members of the media who are here representing news outlets can confirm that this matter was publicised. For us to bring that now without reference to its clarification is a gross misrepresentation. Those are the facts. [Interruptions from both sides of the House]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, may I be heard please. The Hon Member has sought to quote from an article that he has in his possession setting out the opinion of the writer. If in fact that article has been impugned we welcome it to be brought here. It is an opinion and if there is a counter opinion which is a more official opinion that second opinion should be brought and laid before the House. If a writer gave an opinion even in error it is not improper for someone to quote from it, but that person having been advised there is, or has been, either a retraction or something regarding that article should be open to receiving it. But there is nothing improper about quoting from something where…
Mr. R. Persaud: But Mr. Speaker, just to give a background. When Mr. Williams spoke he preceded his quotes by stating the Norwegian Government itself was questioning the process and the decision and then he went on to quote “Mr. Whatever” is his name, who the Norwegian Government subsequently said does not represent the views of Norway. That is my Point of Correction.
Mr. Speaker: Very well. The point is noted but cannot be acted upon in the absence of the other official document. In the meantime we have a statement, whether, as I said, that statement was ridiculous, erroneous, misguided or otherwise, it was a statement made and recorded. I think what the Member is doing is quoting from that statement. I am inviting and asking for the official statement to be brought and I will have it circulated here. Go ahead Mr. Williams.
Mr. T. Williams: Thank you Mr. Speaker. I could understand the nervousness and the tensions. To conclude my point on introducing this article in which, of course, a number of persons were interviewed including one student in Norway who was doing her Master’s thesis on this Low Carbon Development Strategy.
The main point I intend to make here and I read this and I quote it:
“One of the people they had interviewed described Norway as being quite naive with its involvement in Guyana.”
Another described the partnership as, “bad aid”, adding that Guyana is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and that Jagdeo was steering it like his own farm. [Mr. Lumumba: Who are you calling Jagdeo?] [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: The Hon. Member is quoting something as stated, allow that. He said he was quoting. He is quoting. [Interruption]
Mr. T. Williams: Thank you Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, you would note that I did say in other instances, Former President and Mr. Jagdeo, here I am just quoting.
My final point from that quote is that it was highlighted globally that even then. We do not even have a Public Procurement Commission. It was a matter of great concern for how Guyana was going to account for these funds in a very transparent manner. The fundamental flaws were pointed out, leaving the transaction and the arrangement to be very questionable.
I wish to move on and say that the year 2012 saw the lowest production of timber since 1999. So we got US$115 Million, but we lost US$60 Million in 2009, as a result of declining forestry production. Let us not fool ourselves, the managers of this fund, the World Bank and the UNDP; they too must have their take. So US$115 Million could eventually be about US$95 Million. [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I do not think it would be paying any courtesy to the Member who is trying to speak. Mr. Williams please proceed.
Mr. T. Williams: Mr. Speaker, I thank you and I will proceed, the best I can. I quickly turn my attention to the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture. I will ask the Hon. Minister, where is the National Sport Policy? I ask again, do we have a plan to develop sports across the Regions of Guyana? What sort of jobs are we creating for young people and if so how many? What percentage of our graduates of higher education would like to and wants to remain in Guyana? Many of them who stay are tied to a contract of which to hope to see through quite early. I also ask, what is the Government’s plan to deal with an upsurge in teen violence? Violence I might add and substance abuse. Armed robberies among youths have increased significantly in this country.
I come back to the Minister of Sports. Where do our interior athletes disappear to after a good showing at the National Championships? In 2012, I had a very sad experience with one of our top teams in this country. The Kwakwani High School basketball team had won the championships at the National Gymnasium. As a result of winning the championships, they were invited to Antigua to take part in a tournament. I saw the letters; I was keeping them for some time. I do not know where they are now, but I can find them if need be. The coach of that team wrote the Hon. Minister, asking for financial aid. It was the cost of $2.1 Million to take the students to Antigua to play basketball. Of course, they did not get it from the Ministry; they got a wavier in Airport Taxes. The Private Sector had to step in. That is the love we have for our children. But let no one fool themselves and talk about the cutting because I cannot remember cutting the allocations for sports in 2012. So, as I said from the beginning, speak the truth and speak it ever, cost it what it will.
Let me tell you something more about the allocations of 2012. The Hon. Minister of Sports explained to us last year that the Sports Development Fund of which $100 Million were allocated for last year and before, was to be used to develop grounds and sport facilities. Let us talk about the Fund because I believe it is only fair that the Minister in his presentation give us some details on what was done with that money. I saw in the newspapers the Minister presenting a number of wedding machines and he said they were valued around $400,000 or $435,000 each. I do not think they were more than eight machines, but we are talking about a very large Fund. What happens to this Fund?
This is the experience of one community. In the village of Whim, where our beloved Mr. Moses Nagamootoo is from; where Dr. Ramayya represents the people, they got a gift from this Government. After rejecting this Government at the last elections, the ground of Whim was dug up, half done. Here is the article. The Regional Chairman had this to say, here is what he said and I quote and I have to quote very carefully for my friends:
“It does not have anything to do with politics it is strictly a question of economics. We do not have any money to expend on the ground right now. It makes no sense pulling out the whole fence and getting machinery to do the work there.”
$100 Million allocated in 2012 to look after ground, in a year when outdoors sports, particularly cricket, suffered in this country. Grounds were hardly used. Would you tell me this is not vindictiveness? That is not proper use or accountability of our moneys.
In this age of development we are still the last country in this Region to live in a monopolistic telecom sector. Our young people pay more for basic telecom service, which remains quite limited. They pay more than all our counterparts in the Region, but we are tough and sacrificial. Since most of us carry two cell phones or two sim cards, banking on free weekends or $1 a minute, I take this opportunity... [Mr. R. Persaud: Digicel or GT&T?] Yes, both Digicel and GT&T. I call on this Government to end this slavish monopoly of this sector and pass the Telecommunications Bill.
Mr. Speaker: Yes, Ms. Teixeira.
Ms. Teixeira: I would like you to caution the young Member of Parliament. He has a pecuniary interest in the company which he is speaking on. I think you should just be cautious on that; that is all I am saying.
Mr. Speaker: I believe the Member is quite aware and has declared that interest. He was echoing the Hon. Prime Minister’s words that the Government is soon going to bring the Bills and the negotiations will be completed. I see nothing wrong with him making that stated opinion. It has been stated in this House that Government is meeting with the stakeholders and hopes to bring the legislation shortly. If it is that he seeks to benefit from his association is a different matter, but all afternoon, in fact and for the next few days, you will be hearing Members speak of their prowess in courts and arguments they have advanced for and against matters that arose in this House. I see nothing wrong with that as well. Proceed Mr. Williams.
Mr. T. Williams: The Marriot – we speak in this House to this Government about creating jobs, particularly for young people. I need not say much on this project, except, it remains an insult to the most ordinary Guyanese construction workers or graduates from University of Guyana (UG), the Government Technical Institute (GTI), Guyana Industrial Training Centre (GTIC) and all the regional vocational schools, when it appears we do not even have the skills to lay a few bricks and bend some steel, so we must import every aspect of our labour.
I call on this Government to pay heed and close attention to how they aim to spend and disperse moneys in this budget of 2013. We in the Alliance for Change alongside A Partnership for National Unity and all those stakeholders who wants the best for Guyanese will leave no stone unturned in getting value for money. I thank you. [Applause]