Minister of Public Service Ministry [Dr. Westford]: I, as my colleagues before me, take this opportunity to congratulate the Hon. Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh and his able staff for working assiduously in the recent several weeks of the budget preparation exercise. I must contend that what we have before us is not a budget full of tricks, as the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge mentioned in his presentation, but, in terms of policies, plans and strategies, it has been well thought out and truly reflects the strategic plans for the year 2013 that is being designed to promote a common and shared vision for Guyana’s future in close partnership with the private sector, civil society and development partners for sustain economic growth.
It is imperative that the Government, the private sector and all of our development partners work together to transform this economy into one which is globally competitive, more diversified and resilient to external shocks. To do so, we need to thoroughly examine the way we have been doing our business. We need to accept that today’s challenges require a new set of solutions and strategies and be prepared to let go of old practices that no longer yield good results. We must find innovative solutions that are consistent with the changing environment. We must believe in ourselves and our people. We must believe in that Guyanese dream which we heard so much about in the two former speeches before.
Our challenge as a country is to focus on areas that will improve national productivity and accelerate growth of the economy. Of key importance on this transformation is the development of an education sector that allows for the formation of competitive and productive human resources. Such a strategy is necessary for transformation, diversification and the long-term growth of the economy. To achieve this, the Government has provided the necessary resources to create the optimal conditions in our various sectors.
The education sector, for instance, has benefited from massive infrastructural improvements over the years and this year’s budget makes provision for additional improvements. Over the last ten years the Public Service Ministry has awarded scholarships to a total of three hundred and sixteen teachers to attend the University of Guyana and other overseas institutions in order to improve the quality of the education delivery human resource personnel. The Hon. Minister of Education will expand on this sector when she gives her speech. Also for us to improve productivity, a diligent workforce, drawn from a healthy population, remains an important factor. It is for this reason that Government continues to develop and improve health services throughout the length and breadth of this country.
In Budget 2013, increased funds have been allocated to maintain these services and to effectively operate the health sector. Again, the Public Service Ministry, over the last ten years, has trained two thousand four hundred and sixty-three health care professionals, such as medical doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, laboratory and x-tray technicians. This year more emphasis will be placed on training health care specialists in the fields if gynaecology, obstetrics, paediatrics, pathology, ophthalmology and the general service. Again, the Hon. Minister of Health will expand on this sector when he gets up to speak.
The agricultural sector has also been heavily financed over the years by this Government and this Budget 2013 has continued that trend to ensure that the sector fulfil its mandate of providing food security for our nation, creation of jobs and external revenue. To enhance the performance of this sector, the Public Service Ministry has also trained, over the last ten years, a total of two hundred and eighty-seven agricultural professionals and agricultural technicians, such as veterinary doctors, agronomist, marine biologist, agricultural scientist and agricultural technicians. This year, six persons will receive additional training in the planting and harvesting of non-traditional products, such as nutmeg, cinnamon and clove harvesting.
The housing and water sector has also recorded unparalleled development, as described by the Hon. Minister Ali during his speech. To facilitate the functioning of these sectors the Public Service Ministry trained several persons in water resource technology, well drilling and urban housing planning and surveying. Additional staff training is planned for this year.
Promoting regional and international trade is critical in the diversification of our economic base and enhancing our ability to transfer the economy to a high income status. Hence, in a drive to expand market access for our goods and services and implementation of trade arrangements with our partners, the Public Service Ministry provided and will continue to provide training in the fields of trade negotiations, market economics and diplomacy to current and specific employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade International Co-operation.
The current development of the e-Governance programme, which is within the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) policy, will provide a platform for effective and efficient provision of services, both locally and internationally. Already we have seen the emergence of several call centres and medical transcriptional businesses. We have also computerised some of our local businesses and will expand the reach this year. Again, having the appropriately qualified staff is vital for the success of the sector. To date the Public Service Ministry has trained five hundred and eighteen information technology professionals at various levels and will provide training for thirty more this year, both at local and foreign institutions.
Electrification and community development have also received a lot of attention by this Government over the years and for this reason in Budget 2013 we see allocation to the Guyana Power and Light. I dare say that I do not consider this being moneys thrown into a black hole. The sums, which are being allocated, will benefit all of our persons, including us sitting in this House. We also saw an allocation of $2.9 billion to Linden and I hope that is also not being deemed as moneys being thrown wastefully, because I know that our brothers and sisters in Linden are really interested and would like to have these moneys.
In the field of community development, we have also seen allocation for the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, dormitories, health centres and facilities in all of our hinterland communities, even though we heard, a short while ago, of everything that was done in the region, so far, and is proposed to be done in Budget 2013, is inadequate. On that score of inadequacy, I do not know, but I have read several budgets from several other countries and I dare say that I do not think that there is any country which has ever produced a budget that holistically caters for every item of want of a country. A budget is based on a progressive plan for countries and that is why there are annual budgets to ensure that there is continuity. I know that this Government always plans our budgets and it is based on the continuity of services to our people.
Another key example of the fact that we are running an effective, responsive and representative Government, one that is alive to the challenges faced by the citizens of the State, is the old-age pension scheme for the aged. In this Budget 2013, Government has increased the old-age pension to $12,500 monthly… [Mrs. Backer: The top up.] Yes, the top up… to all elderly persons in the country who are above the age of sixty-five. Also those persons will benefit from additional moneys, $20,000 per annum to assist in their electricity bills. They also benefit from assistance with their water bills. We also saw increased allocations for gender empowerment. More in this sector will be said by the Hon. Minister of Human Services and Social Security.
All of the above are complimented by the massive investment that this Government is also making in tourism. Almost one billion persons engaged in tourism annually around the world. Tourism has come to be recognised as an activity essential to the life of the nations because of its direct effect on the social, cultural, educational and economic sectors. We as a nation cannot but recognised this important area of the economy of our country which is blessed with some the most picturesque natural land scheme, including beautiful mountains, waterfalls, rivers and creeks. Against this backdrop, and in the light of the blessings of our topography, Government’s goal is to make Guyana the most attractive destination for relaxation and holidaying in this region.
What this budget has done is to link governance with infrastructural developments and established a connection between education and human capital development, gender equality and women empowerment and tied all of those with the need for a healthy population. The modernisation of agriculture has also been connected to the massive push for industrial development.
For us to achieve the benefits and to solidify the gains which have been made it is necessary for an attitudinal change in our society. We must have an attitudinal change towards work, towards littering, littering as we heard Members on the opposite side muttering when the Minister was speaking about tourism - about the rubbish and the littering. Littering was not creating and is not caused by persons on this side. It is a problem that all of us must grapple with; that all of us must let persons in this country know that littering is an indictment on all of us as Guyanese. It is not an indictment to the people of the People Progressive Party/Civic.
This Government places high priority on the welfare of its labour force and it shall continue to support the workers in all ramification to contribute maximally to the growth and development of our public sector. The Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge mentioned that the Government has not been paying attention to the strengthening of our human resource base. I mentioned a short while ago some of the category staff that the PPP/C Government has trained over the last ten years. Let me mention that never before has this country engaged in training with so many partners. Currently we enjoy partnership in training with a number of countries. We trained persons right home, here in Guyana, at the University of Guyana, at the Government Technical Institute, the Guyana School of Agriculture. We trained persons in Cuba, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, New Zealand, Australia, and University of the West Indies, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, China, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Denmark and Israel.
Between the years 1993 and 2012, this Government trained a total of two thousand four hundred and sixty-five persons at university level; it has also trained two thousand seven hundred and one persons at the technical level. Over the last ten years the human resource base has been strengthened with three thousand eight hundred and twenty-two persons, of that amount thirty-five left before the end of the fifth year and of that thirty-five, twelve were university graduates and twenty-three were graduates at the technical level. The great flight of skills that we are hearing about I am not seeing that from our database. We must understand that this skill flight, which we keep harping on, is not a Guyanese phenomenon. Currently the World Bank is organising forums to deal with this issue in the developing world and Guyana has been attending such forums and will continue doing so.
Government has been also looking at ways and means, the Hon. Member also spoke about reducing the flight of our professionals, by which it can arrest some of the flight of some of its professionals.
Right here in our 2013 Budget are measures. We have measures such as improvement in employment benefits.
I heard one of the speakers before me on the Opposition side; I think it was the Hon. Member, Mr. Scott, who spoke about there being nothing in the Budget for increased wages. I do not know where he got that information from, but I do know that moneys are in the Budget. Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge, I am not in a position to say how much increases we will get since those increases, the amounts, will be based on our negotiations with our trade union partners. Once again, may I say that even though the Hon. Member, Mr. Scott, said that multi-year agreements are not good and that they lock in the unions, I would like to differ because multi-year agreements are very good; they are predictable. When one locks in a multi-year agreement, he or she will know that over the next five or six years, he or she will have a predictable sum coming to the workers, irrespective of what the economic situation turns out to be.
It is a fact that over the years, this Administration has continually improved wages and salaries and has implemented various schemes aimed at economic relief for our human resources, especially at a time when around us we see some countries which were deemed developed countries retrenching workers and cutting salaries. We have never had to engage in such activities because of our prudent management of our economy.
Again, in this Budget, provision is made for income tax relief for our workers. Special housing facilities for our young professionals are also there, and improved working environment. This Administration shall continue to support any scheme that would improve the welfare of the entire workforce. We will continue to work with the trade unions to ensure that staff are accorded maximum available employment benefits. Training and retraining of the workforce shall also be accorded a high priority which is geared at creating a conducive environment for the provision of effective, efficient service to the populace.
This 2013 Budget seeks to sustain sound macro-economic growth and will translate to achieving socio-economic transformation and gainful employment for our people. But we can only progress in this course and turn our possibilities into reality when we diligently adhere to the implementation of well thought-out and articulated developmental policies.
This Budget, as a whole, has taken the welfare of Guyanese as top priority. In an environment of global uncertainties and domestic challenges, the strong support of our people is invaluable for us to achieve our set developmental goals.
As we collectively resolve to create a brighter and enduring future for all Guyanese, a future of hope and prosperity, not lack, fear or hatred, we must prepare to overcome any adversity that may arise. Accordingly, we must all be determined and committed to follow through with the difficult but balanced choices that we make in piloting the affairs of this nation. We have to stop pulling our country down into the abyss. We have to carry our own torches because no one will carry them for us.
I encourage us to dialogue openly, frankly and in good faith over the challenges that face us as a nation. It is my hope that this new dispensation will not continue to cloud our judgement as we deliberate over issues that can make or break our nation.
We spend too much of our precious time quibbling over issues that will not bring benefits to our people, the people who have put us all here. We refer to ourselves as leaders in this honourable House so let us conduct ourselves and our business as such. Let us leave a legacy of meaningful engagement for our future leaders, our young people, to follow.
In closing, we have lots of challenges to overcome, but we can only surmount them if we do it together. What we need is more productive collaboration to the benefit of all our people. Should we fail, history would judge us harshly. Let us move this country of ours forward, together as one people and one nation aspiring to achieve one destiny.
Thank you. [Applause]