Dr. Roopnaraine: Thank you Mr. Speaker. As I rise to make my contribution to the debate on Budget 2014 under the theme “A Better Guyana for all Guyanese”. I wish to begin as I did a year ago in my contribution to Budget 2013 by embracing the remarks of those comrades on both sides of the House who spoke with sincerity and feeling on the need to eschew narrow self serving political in favour of greater and more meaningful engagement across the divide in our joint struggle to build the Guyana we wish to bequeath to our children and their children. But let us make no mistake on this score, the tasks ahead are enormously challenging and require all hands on deck. It has long been the considerate view of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), and I speak like a few other Honourable Members of a certain age in this House out of some four decades of intimate involvement in the political life of our country.
I believe it is delusional to believe that either side of this House, guided only by its own lights and acting exclusively on its own, has the monopoly and the capacity to conceive, formulate and execute the policies that are needed to bring about the transformation to which we all aspire. Experience from the past 59 years following the ruptures and fissures of the United National Democratic Movement in 1955 and 1957 that resulted in the political and ethnic polarisation of the country should have thought us at least that much. It was out of this conviction that we and APNU raised the banner of a government of national unity in 2011 as inscribed in our Manifesto of good life for all Guyanese. Nothing in our experience over the past two years in this Tenth Parliament has altered my view that the national challenges we face can best be me by a national government. As I said last year, we will not overcome challenges together until we confront and overcome the challenge of togetherness itself; it is the prior challenge.
A year ago I had need to comment on what I perceived as the shrinking expectations of my Friend, the Hon. Minister of Finance, as expressed in his prefatory remarks to Budgets 2012 and 2013. Referring to the configuration of the Tenth Parliament two years ago, in Budget 2012, he spoke of, and I quote:
“domestic novelty… an arrangement that beckons our country into a new political epoch and heralds an opportunity for the nurturing of a new political culture. The prevailing dispensation”
The Hon. Minister said then:
“...will test and hopefully prove our resolve as a people, and within this House our respective will to serve as responsible representatives of a deserving people, to work together in service to the cause of national development.”
It was a cautiously hopeful note with which I had much sympathy.
By 2013, after the clashes and the slashes and the gnashing of teeth, caution gave way to intemperateness and hope to disenchantment. “The past fourteen months”, the Hon Minister bemoaned,
“have rendered a veritable plethora of examples of Parliamentary action, occasioned at the behest of the Opposition’s one-seat majority, that consumed valuable legislative time and effort in futile, unproductive, and oftentimes counterproductive pursuits.”
Mr. Speaker, you will recall only too well the ruckus that these remarks provoked on this side of the House a year ago. I myself referred to them as vituperative and tendentious. In this year’s Budget’s Introduction, the Hon. Minister is in more sombre of mood, as he engages in a few words of “midterm introspection”, restricting himself to noting two “instances…illustrative of the gravely debilitating consequences of legislative stalemate” – the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project and the Anti-Money Laundering Bill.
The Hon. Minister is not a careless writer. The “togetherness” of last year’s budget theme has all but disappeared, but not quite. The Hon. Minister has held his hand until the final words of his speech. He closes his address by saying:
“...it might be somewhat ironic for me to say it now, but had brevity not been a paramount concern, the theme of this year’s budget could equally have been, By All Guyanese, A Better Guyana, for All Guyanese.”
As the arguments have ebbed and flowed these past days and nights, Mr. Speaker, I am more fortified than ever in my view that what is to be done must be conceived together, refined together, formulated together and executed together. Irony or no irony, brevity or no brevity, it is on the part of my friend, the Hon. Minister of Finance, a sober if submerged recognition that the better Guyana for all Guyanese will only be realised if it is the work of all Guyanese. On this we are at one.
Nor can there be any quarrel with the Guyana of the future painted in Section 4.3. It is the Guyana we must combine our energies and our talents to build. And given the attrition we have suffered from the outward migration over the years, the haemorrhaging of our skills and talents at all levels in society, the demoralisation and futurelessness of whole generations; it becomes more imperative than ever that inclusiveness be our watchword.
Turning our attention to the claims by the Minister of Finance, and I turn now to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), in sections 4.6 - 4.10 on pages 17-19 of the Budget Speech. Concerning the Low Carbon Development Strategy, it is noticeable that the LCDS a year ago was touted as “visionary…the paradigm overarching our policy framework” seems to be of somewhat diminished centrality in this year’s budget.
The Hon. Minister would be on firmer ground to continue to claim that Guyana has earned these funds from Norway, if we saw more evidence of clear integrated policies and robust practices for reducing emissions from deforestation or forest degradation. We have been allocated money for avoided deforestation against an absurdly high reference level, but even there, deforestation increased by 50% in calendar year 2012 over the previous year 2011. The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and Indufor ascribe this increase to gold mining, while claiming that deforestation, due to the continued logging for export of unprocessed timber, was only 240 hectares in 2012 from a recorded production of 276,000 cubic metres of logs and 75,000 cubic metres of chain-saw and lumber.
The Ministry of Finance in Norway has blocked payments into the GRIF Fund after two tranches totalling US$ 70 million, paid in 2010 and early 2011. Guyana continues to fail to prepare or submit project concept notes beyond the five projects already agreed, which total US$31 million. Only about half that money appears to have been disbursed or is in process of disbursement. Many months pass after the GRIF Steering Committee approves a project before money is officially spent. No projects appear to have been audited so far.
The US$91 million projected for GRIF funding in 2014 by the Minister of Finance apparently includes US$80 million for the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, although that scheme collapsed in the middle of last year partly because of sudden, large and unexplained rises in financial costs. Other Government Ministers are now reviving Brazilian proposals for two much larger dams in the Upper Mazaruni catchments, but claiming that the flooding for reservoirs would be much less than intended in the 1970s proposal. No time should be lost in keeping the National Assembly abreast of these latest explorations and possibilities.
Although the Hon. Minister projects US$91 or US$92.8 million - again, there seems to be different estimates in different documents - to be spent on GRIF projects in 2014, as in previous years there are no details or justifications in the three associated volumes, nor reference to project concept notes or proposals.
I turn to Paragraph 4.6:
“Mr. Speaker, in the wake of the intensification of the adverse impacts of climate change, Government continues to forge ahead with our innovative climate resilient and low carbon approach to economic development backed by our unwavering commitment to good forest governance and stewardship.”
This is a fine declaration, as declarations go. Certain questions arise however and need to be answered. Knowing my friend the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources, I know they will be. Firstly, what accounts for the reported increase in deforestation to 0.079% and the likelihood that the disbursement by Norway will be significantly reduced for 2013?
Two - is there any correlation between the extraction of natural resources, agricultural activities, infra-structure development such as roads and trails in the forested areas, Guyana’s stewardship of the forests, and its monitoring and enforcement capability? Surely, if there was such integrated planning and execution, we would not be facing such a significant reduction in disbursement for 2013.
Three - this Agreement with Norway is scheduled to end in 2015. Is there an extension being negotiated with one year to go of the current Agreement? And if not, how does Government propose to sustain the projects said to be funded from the Norway funds?
In Paragraph 4.8, we learn that:
“2013 was a notable year of progress for activities under the GRIF. A total of four GRIF projects, with a combined approximate value of US$30 million, were in their implementation phases.”
The paragraph goes on to list a number of projects: the Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV), the Amerindian Development Fund (ADF) and the Micro and Small Enterprise Development Project.
I ask, is there a database somewhere, listing all of these GRIF-funded projects and are they anticipated outputs being monitored to ensure the objectives are being realised? Are all of these projects sustainable and generating funds so that eventually they will be self-financing? In Paragraph 4.9, we read that:
“In 2014, sums totalling US$90.6 million have been allocated for continued implementation of the GRIF projects previously identified, along with new projects in the priority areas of adaptation, high potential low carbon sectors, hinterland development and low carbon infrastructure. Specific new interventions are expected to include ecotourism development.”
The question that arises is this: are communities genuinely benefitting from community-based tourism and receiving a significant slice of the tourism cake? Or, are the tour operators, airlines and hotels the greatest beneficiaries? It is of no small interest, given all that has transpired in this House not so long ago, to learn that a sum of US$80 million is once again allocated to meet Guyana’s equity contribution to the Amaila Falls Hydro-Project. Given all that has and has not happened is the Government intending to keep the Parliamentary parties and civil society updated with the resurgence of efforts in regard to the Amaila Falls Hydro Project?
We read in Para 4.10:
“On the international front, Guyana...”
I assume as part of Caricom:
“...will continue to advocate more ambitious emission reduction targets by industrialised countries and scaled up financing for climate change, and push for a global agreement on climate change by 2015. On the domestic front, Guyana is on track to have the world’s first fully operational REDD+ mechanism in place by 2015. This will enable Guyana to earn considerably more from the sale of REDD+ credits than we do today.”
Assuming that this mechanism is in place, is Guyana engaged in any active negotiations with countries interested in REDD+ credits? This should be a priority activity involving a dedicated team of skilled negotiators. It would be useful to keep the National Assembly abreast of the progress of these important negotiations.
While on the issue, what is the situation of the National Protected Areas System? Can Parliament be advised on the steps being taken to mobilise international and national financial contributions to augment the Protected Areas Trust Fund? Interest from sensible investment of Protected Areas (PA) Trust Fund would guarantee adequate funds for management of the Protected Areas. I am hoping that the responsible Minister who speaks after me can provide the answers that I am seeking.
I turn now to bauxite. Turning now to Paragraph 4.20, when RUSAL was given the Berbice Bauxite resources; they undertook to do a number of things when it was passed to them:
- They were to upgrade and expand the bauxite drying capacity and the production of metallurgical grade bauxite and some level of chemical Grade bauxite at Kwakwani;
- Secondly, they were to develop the large Kurubuka metal grade bauxite resources to sustain the increased production levels; and
- Thirdly, they were to build an Alumina Refinery and eventually an Aluminium Smelter with hydro-power facilities.
The reality is that:
- One - they are exporting about 1.4 million tonnes per year of mainly raw metallurgical bauxite to the Ukraine. Significantly less than was previously shipped from Berbice;
- Two - they are now belatedly developing the Kurubuka deposit; and
- Three - there is now no talk about an Alumina Refinery or Smelter.
It is strange that they would be considering a trans-shipment facility in Trinidad, since there is greater depth at the mouth of the Berbice River, than would be available at Point Lisas or Chaguaramas. BIDCO had abandoned Chaguaramas because it was far more economical to develop the Demerara river channel to establish a turning basin and trans-shipment facility in the Demerara River.
I turn now to BOSAI. Like RUSAL, they had made a number of grand promises, including an Alumina Refinery and Smelter and hydro-power facilities, which seem to have been quietly dropped. The ownership of the Linden facilities gave them an international monopoly for Calcined Bauxite. The reality is that:
- One - they have opened no new mine at Linden, but have been scavenging existing mines and the Washer Pond at Linden;
- Two - they have been shipping about 200, 000 - 240,000 Tonnes, significantly less than had previously been shipped from Linden;
- Three - they have built no new Calcining Kilns, but have been using the existing facilities at Linden;
- Four – the issue of the conversion of the Kilns at Linden to use coal raises questions and issues about pollution from the use of low-grade Chinese coal, as well as product quality implications. It does appear that they are focusing on the shipment of large quantities of raw bauxite to satisfy demand for metallurgical bauxite in China.
Before we leave this issue, is Guyana verifying the quality of bauxite being exported by RUSAL and BOSAI? Do representatives of Guyana take independent samples and have them tested? As a country we should be concerned to achieve higher added-value through the processing of our raw material resources within Guyana. Instead we are seeing a continuation of the old model, which condemns countries like Guyana to perpetual under-development.
Given this record, it is with some scepticism that we read that:
“Despite the global markets being relatively unfavourable our local bauxite companies continue to rise above the storm, with Bosai and BCGI investing sums exceeding US$17.5 million in 2013.”
There is, under all the existing circumstances, little that is consoling in the report of the new investments by BOSAI and RUSAL to make their operations more efficient and sustainable.
Members of the Natural Resources Standing Committee were curious to know, Mr. Speaker, and the National Assembly has a right to know: how much royalty and income taxes are being paid annually by RUSAL and BOSAI? Are the payments in full compliance with the terms and conditions of the respective licences? Are there any waivers?
We cannot leave the matter of bauxite without condemning the slow progress the responsible authorities are making to ensure that RUSAL is brought to book for the flagrant contempt it has shown for the labour laws of Guyana.
I turn now to Gold. The 2014 Budget presentation sidesteps the contribution of small and medium scale gold and diamond mining to the economy of Guyana. While the large scale licence holders are still conducting exploration in the approved manner, Guyanese miners collectively produced over 400,000 ounces of gold in 2013. That production is equivalent to more than twice that being promised from potential large foreign owned mines in Guyana. Yet no adequate analysis is presented to demonstrate what fiscal policy improvements are necessary to sustain and increase this outstanding contribution to the economy by these Guyanese miners.
I trust that any mistakes that I make in this presentation will be ably corrected by my Friend, the Hon. Minister when he speaks.
In October 2012, a report was published analysing the role of mining in national economies. According to the report, a Mining Contribution Index (MCI) was developed and each of the world's 212 countries has compared using this index. The report states that the aim of the MCI is to highlight the importance of the mineral sector within national economies. Guyana's assessment produced an MCI of 93.1 out of a maximum score of 100. Guyana was rated within the top 20% among all countries. The actual ranking was 11th. This rating suggests that Guyana is one of the few countries whose economies are highly dependent on mining. The report was based on 2010 data, and was published by the International Council on Mining and Metals.
The local gold miners are making an overwhelmingly strong contribution to the economy of Guyana. Are they getting fiscal incentives commensurate with the strong contribution they are making? What steps are being taken to group small miners into syndicates for more effective transfer of technology and higher recovery percentages?
There should be strict monitoring and verification of production from mechanised mining to ascertain whether there are any phantom operations. That is, no one must be able to buy gold from others and pass it through the Gold Board or licensed dealers as though it was produced by the declaration. This I believe would be an effective and necessary anti money laundering measure.
Our local gold and diamond miners have consistently complained about the poor maintenance of the roads leading to these vital mining areas. Judging from the poor condition of roads in some coastal areas, it is reasonable to believe the complaint of the miners. Roads to mining areas need to be all weather roads capable of accommodating low beds taking modern 25 ton weight processing plants to mining sites throughout the year. Minibuses must be able to travel all roads leading to the mining areas. The days of leaving miners to travel atop cargo at the back of trucks and pickups are over.
Key portions of the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cuyuni rivers must be improved by dredging as well as by blasting to remove rock impediments to safe passage of large boats and barges. Dredged and blasted material can be used as coarse and fine aggregate. Interior airstrips must be improved and maintained to accommodate larger passenger and cargo planes. It is worth remembering that large planes serviced Guyana's interior during the 1970s and 1980s.
In addition, proper weather stations must be built and maintained for key interior settlements and airstrips. Mining development in Ekereku and Imbaimadai would benefit from larger airstrips to accommodate larger planes.
The Budget acknowledges that the gold mining sector has for another consecutive year played an important role in the domestic economy and delivered record-breaking production. That much is incontestable. Of at least equal if not greater significance is the issue of the environmental impact. There is abundant evidence of widespread environmental degradation across the hinterland, including the discoloration and even destruction of rivers on which communities rely on for life.
So it is good news that the adoption of innovative technology is unfolding as a necessary development to
“...blunt the issues associated with mercury abatement, improve efficiencies in recovery to offset cost of production and reduce threats to the environment.”
On the subject of the environment, to what extent is the Environmental Bond reflective of the true cost of rehabilitation of mined out areas? What correlation is there between the massive budgeted expenditure - $500 million - by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) on rehabilitation of mined out areas, and the development of viable agricultural cultivations in suitable areas within mining districts? Such an initiative would reduce food being transported into the hinterland areas and also be a catalyst for establishment of settlements using the developing roads and other infrastructure?
Paragraph 4.23 assures us that:
“...despite the more cautious response by the global markets to the price shocks, the prospects for large scale mining for gold in Guyana are still very real. Fortunately, demonstrated investor confidence remained unshaken where large-scale projects for gold were concerned. We note and welcome the news that the Guyana Goldfields project at Aurora is advancing aggressively for late 2014 start up and that Troy Resources (Pharsalus) in the Kaburi area is on stream, for late 2014 start up if not earlier. The ETK/Sandspring project at Toraparu is also poised for further developmental works geared to production start up by 2015.”
My Friend, the Hon. Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment should make public the proposed and final financial terms governing the mine developments by Guyana Goldfields, Troy Resources, Sandsprings and First Bauxite at Bonasika. A Study should be commissioned of the impact of variation of terms on the viability of each of the proposed developments and present it to the National Assembly.
This is an appropriate place to ask, Mr. Speaker, what progress is being made with Guyana’s application for membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Efforts should be stepped up in this direction, since this seems to be a limiting factor in the preparedness of the IFIs to provide funds to investors in the mining sector in Guyana.
If I may be permitted to hazard some suggestions:
Guyana should craft a set of strategic fiscal incentives to encourage Guyanese miners to develop and mine minerals other than gold and diamonds: deposits of manganese, columbite-tantalite, kaolin, amethyst, bauxite, and aggregate can be targeted. Technical support, including market studies, can be offered.
Training in cutting and polishing of diamonds can be restarted. Training of goldsmiths and jewellers can be restarted at the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Jewellery Training School. A study of the jewellery industry should be commissioned. These are some of the ways in which we can attempt to ensure that mining in Guyana is more than gouging precious metals out of the earth.
I turn back to that which has taken up much of the time of my friend, the Hon. Minister of Agriculture, and that is the question of sugar. An examination of the production figures really says it all.
Sugar production by estate tells us that Skeldon, which produced $39,883 in 2013, is projected to produce $81,165 in 2017. I say this because the Hon. Minister has expressed great confidence in these projections for 2017. It really is mind boggling to understand how we expect to move from the production of 2013 to that projected for 2017, which is a question of moving from $203,191 to $349,719.
Distinguished Professor Clive Thomas, in one of his recent analytical pieces on the sugar industry, made this observation:
“One of the most tragic dynamics facing the industry is that those who are politically responsible for it and indeed those who are responsible for managing it, but feel obligated in some ways to those who are politically responsible for it, readily resort to spin and propaganda in preference to facts. Spokespersons make outlandish claims, knowing full well they will not be challenged by industry insiders.
Professor Thomas, then cite’s Consider the following claims made by the Government Information Agency in February 2010, about the Ministry of Agriculture’s report to the Economic Services Committee of the National Assembly:
- One - GuySuCo’s Strategic Blueprint for success has been producing positive results;
- Two - production costs, including management and cane production costs, are falling.
- Third -co-generation of electricity from Skeldon to Berbicians is turning out to be a salvation.
- Four - Skeldon now is offering a dramatic increase in factory capacity.
- Five - the industry’s break-even output level is 310,000 tonnes.
- Six - Guyana’s sugar would be profitable by 2012.”
Further comment on these grandiosities is not necessary. In the Minister’s 2014 Budget speech, he tells us that even though the industry is all but collapsed, through cogeneration in 2013, GuySuCo effectively supplied approximately 50 percent of demand in the Berbice area and so the industry remains relevant to the health of the national economy.
Am I mistaken in believing that co-generation involves the burning of bagasse rather than the heavy fuel oil used in the Wartsila generators at Skeldon to produce the power? While the Minister then outlines the crumbling market for our sugar and the possibility that the European Union (EU) may not be buying our sugars in 2014, he then tells us:
“…many countries including Guyana still require additional financing to undertake further investments to complete their restructuring process.”
On that note, particularly given the public debate on this issue, it is useful to indicate that Government transferred a total of US$195 million to Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) over the period from 2005 to 2013 in support of its various restructuring and turnaround initiatives. In 2004, the annual production was 325,432 tons. We are told that between 2005 and 2013 US$195 million was transferred and notwithstanding this infusion of funds we saw the industry plummeted from 325,432 tons in 2004 to 189,000 tons in 2013.
As far as his promises of going forward, GuySuCo aims to substantially advance the mechanisation process, increase yields through piloting:
“the use of organic fertilisers, lower transportation and production cost by improving access to sugarcane fields, creating greater efficiency of the drainage and irrigation system, and establish a modern agricultural industrial complex at Enmore to produce direct consumption sugar”.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member you time has elapsed, you need an extension.
Ms. Ally: I move that that the Hon. Member be given 15 minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Dr. Roopnarine: With no implementation plan, this really sounds like wishful thinking.
I do note with some relief that the Hon. Minister is no longer giving us these improbable production expectations, such as this one of last year, that the Guyana sugar industry had the potential to achieve and sustain an annual production of 400,000 tons in the medium term. This time he told us that the emergence of a revitalised sugar industry is anticipated. He also referred to valued added products such as extra processed, refined and bagged sugars, that he alleged, will achieve a profitable and competitive industry in the long run. But the Hon. Minister, being a serious person, was noticeably lukewarm with respect to the prospects of the industry.
We see no evidence that convinces us that even the lower expectations of the Hon. Minister can be achieved. In his 2011 presentation he told this House that GuySuCo would have produced 298,879 tons. In fact, the industry produced roughly 189,000 tons in 2013, the worst production in over 20 years. The Minister has completely overlooked the fact that as recently as 2004 the industry produced 325,159 tons of sugar and has been on a downward spiral ever since producing, in 2011, 237,000 which is 37% less than 2004. Therefore telling us that the industry will produce 5.7% more in 2012 than in 2011 is not compelling.
What needs to be squarely faced - my friend the Hon. Minister of Agriculture, who spoke just before I started, admitted as much - is that the sugar industry is in deep crisis and will require better management and less wishful thinking. In his 2011 speech the Hon. Minister told the nation that GuySuCo would be injecting $4.3 billion in capital works which would enable the company to recover its production levels and restore its financial performance. We need to know how that $4.3 billion was spent and if it was spent properly and why another $4 billion was needed.
We repeat the call for a Commission of Inquiry into this malfunctioning organisation, and specifically in relation to the complexity, that is Skeldon. There needs to be an official inspection of the basic issues involved. GuySuCo needs a root and branch overhaul and refitting.
To begin at the beginning, there needs to be put in place a new board of directors. I thank my honourable friend, the Hon. Minister of Agriculture, for announcing that such a board has apparently been appointed. I want to go on to say that my understanding of a new board is that it should be filled with tried and tested people of proven competence and expertise, people who would be loyal only to the resurrection of the sugar industry. There must be no sacred cows.
The substantive utility of the most recent strategic plan must be subjected to detailed scrutiny, including the related implementation programme. There must be an identification of the specific management and operational resources involved, complemented by an audit of competencies, particularly of the management cadre. The crippling migration, away from the fields, needs to be carefully scrutinised as it relates to the potential of adequate personnel for the organisation’s sustainability.
At this time there is no substantive incumbent for the position of General (Estate) Manager at Skeldon. A logical follow-up must be about GuySuCo’s training and development programme, assuming it has a credible organisation structure and related succession plan. The selection and recruitment process is alleged to be not the most transparent. Stories of the malfunctioning of the apprentice training school need to be closely investigated. More importantly is the reported incapacity of the management to upgrade the curricula in order for students to cope with the latest technologies in field and factory.
To conclude on the sugar industry, Mr. Speaker, allow me to say this: One of the major measures announced by the Minister in this year’s budget, the $6 billion subvention for the Guyana Sugar Corporation, will undoubtedly become a major flashpoint during the consideration of the estimates by the Committee of Supply. Given the deep troubles facing GuySuCo, senior Government spokesmen have gone on the offensive defending the subvention on the grounds that sugar has historically given to the country far more over the years; that GuySuCo is too big to fail; that the livelihood of 18,000 workers and the families would suffer, and so on. Compelling though all this may be, and compelling it is, it may not be sufficient to give the subvention a free pass.
If he wants this subvention to be approved, a total of $11 billion in three years, the Hon. Minister of Agriculture is advised to present to the Committee of Supply a viable plan for lifting GuySuCo out of its indebtedness and production rut. The problems are well known but neither the Government nor GuySuCo projects any real command of them. Therein lies the dilemma. Given the slumping production in recent years, the loss of a significant part of the labour force, poor field and agronomic practices, the size of the wage bill, impending negative developments in the EU market and the intractable problems at the Skeldon factory, the Government has to lay out a convincing plan to the Assembly that GuySuCo will be able to begin a sustained turnaround as was the case in the early 1990s.
The omens are not positive and the Government appears frozen in the politics of sugar and unable to take the right decisions even in relation to the composition of the board and management. Before a vote on the subvention is taken by the Committee of Supply there should be a forensic examination of GuySuCo’s accounts over the last five years, an assessment of its indebtedness and the scrutinising of its present recovery plan to evaluate whether there is risk of continuing in the present direction. The Government will have to explain about the industry’s circumstances in 2014 which necessitates a whopping $6 billion compared to $1 billion in 2013, and whether there is any certainty of recovery in the short to medium term. The use of recent subventions to GuySuCo and the large tranches from the European Union in accompanying measures since 2007 must be explained thoroughly.
If we are serious about salvaging the sugar industry, we must go beyond putting plaster on the sores. We must go to the root of the disease.
The Hon. Minister of Finance and his colleagues have expressed great pride that the country had experienced eight consecutive years of GDP growth with last year’s being 5.2%. The figure and sustained growth are to be commended, except that critics and the average citizen would query whether that expansion in GDP has accomplished two things: a significant upswing in the job market and the lifting of the per capita income particularly for those under and near the poverty line. My colleagues on this side have argued this point forcefully and with merit.
An enduring flaw in the Hon. Minister’s budgets is their unwillingness to address the evident unemployment and underemployment in the economy. There is no evidence that the unemployment and underemployment issue is being seriously addressed and there is no policy or programmatic attempt to confront it in the Budget 2014. It must mean that the Government is at a loss on how to create jobs or even how to stimulate the private sector to accomplish this – the lone big project in recent years being Qualfon’s Guyana Inc. call centre. The Minister of Finance was able to complete his lengthy presentation without any direct reference to unemployment and the measures that the Government would take. The results of the 2012 national census, which may shed some light on this, are still being awaited in 2014. It seems that the Government’s answer to this issue of unemployment is merely to continue highlighting the varied youth training programmes being offered by it and non-governmental organisations. These undoubtedly create some enterprising entrepreneurs and lead to a few jobs, but certainly not in the quantities that are needed.
Qualfon’s 6,000 promised jobs in business process; outsourcing is undoubtedly a big development in the information technology sector. That aside, the Government has been unable, through policies or by attracting investors, to significantly transform the economy. The danger of this straitjacket was evident in the fall in foreign exchange earnings in 2013. Sugar was down because of production problems, so too was the economic star, gold, because of the slide in world prices. Rice returns were up but in essence a set-off against what Guyana would have spent purchasing oil. Bauxite and timber had unimpressive showings. There was no other co-star to share the stage. Twenty-two uninterrupted years of PPP/C governance has failed to restructure and transform the pillars of the economy and there are dangers to each of the established sectors in the years ahead.
To end, where we began, I urge that my honourable friends, on the other side, bring a halt to their migration from reality and confront head-on with what stare us all in the face. It is this: that the configuration of this Tenth Parliament imposes on all three sides an obligation that is unique in our post independence history; an obligation to listen, to search relentlessly for common ground, however elusive it may appear from time to time; to curb every instinct to dominate; to treat otherness as a strength and not a weakness and to prefer generosity over meanness. Were we to honour these obligations we would be worthy of those we claim to serve.
Allow me to conclude by quoting the words with which our sister Mrs. Deborah Backer ended with, in what was to be her final budget speech, on Friday, 5th April, 2013:
“We, APNU, have campaigned on a system of government called “shared governance.” I believe now that this Government is beginning slowly to recognise the advantages of such a system. Sir, you remarked yesterday that everybody forgot who he or she was as we rushed to help our fallen brother. Luckily it was only a temporary falling. Why we cannot, in this House, if Mrs. Backer, who people wrongfully say, if I may say, is very confrontational, genuinely say let us work together? Let us work together, so that together we can move this country, which we love so much, forward. Sir, I rest my case.”
As I rest mine, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]