Mrs. Hastings-Williams: I rise to make my contribution to the motion for the approval of the 2014 Budget Estimates presented on the 24th March under the theme, A Better Guyana for All Guyanese.
Hon. Members on both sides of this House, I must remind you that it was the hinterland that brought people to Guyana in the search for El Dorado, besides the sugar and rice. It is the hinterland that continues to bring tourists to Guyana; it is the golden frog, the mighty Kaieteur, the gold rush and, yes, Dr Frank Anthony, the giant arapaima and all the flora and fauna found in our hinterland that keep the revenues flowing into Guyana. Therefore, it is our duty to ensure that the government of the day takes care of the needs of our people in the hinterland region; these are Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9.
But what we continue to experience as the years come and go and as the national budget gets bigger year after year is that the young in the hinterland continue to be denied equal access to education. I say this knowing that over 20 years as a government, the PPP/C has failed to deliver quality education to our hinterland children. I was hoping that this Budget would have sought to improve this situation.
If my Colleagues over there boast so much about building a number of schools in our hinterland region, why is it that the results of the National Grade Six, National Grade Four Literacy and the CSEC results coming from the hinterland continue to be very poor as against those of Region 10 and other Regions? I hope that the new strategic plan for education that has not been completed but is on its way to being completed works towards reversing these poor results in our hinterland. Then I can agree with you, my Colleagues on the other side of the House, that the children in the hinterland are being delivered quality education.
It was stated last year by the Hon. Minister of Finance that the 2013 Budget was bigger and better, but let us takes some time to reminisce a little on some of the reflections of that said Budget. Has it really improved the quality of the lives of our brothers and sisters living in our interior locations? If I am wrong and misinforming this House, I stand corrected. Tell me, Hon. Members on the other of this House – and I will borrow the words from my colleague Dr. Ramayya - what direct impact had it on the hinterland residents?
One of the cries is that there are still limited job opportunities for our young people and I believe that it is time for the youths to have access to technical or vocational centres in Regions 1, 7 and 8, whereby they can be empowered with appropriate skills to contribute meaningfully to the communities in which they live. What is happening, however, is that youths from Bartica and youths from as far as Chinowieng have to travel all the way to Georgetown or to Essequibo to acquire a trade or skill at a very high cost which their parents could hardly afford. The majority of the children who leave the Waramadong Secondary School return home year after year, having been successful at one subject or none, in most cases, and having no second chance to equip themselves with technical or vocational skills, find themselves in the gold and diamond fields at a very tender age. These and more are the reflections of the past budgets.
National School Feeding: whilst we are happy that the Government could have continued the hot meal programme in our hinterland schools, a study done by the World Bank titled, “Rethinking School Feeding: Social Safety Net, Child Development and the Education Sector” established that it is a valuable exercise that captures the most vulnerable in many countries. However, the question that comes to my mind is: are the moneys allocated for this venture adequate? Tell me what kind of balanced meal can be provided with $175 in these times to nourish the brain of a child who we expect to become literate and numerate in the end. That is what is being offered for a child. Not only that; there are cooks who are being paid $1,000 a day for their cooking and would receive $20,000 - $25,000 for the month out of the same allocations given for the School Feeding Programme. Tell me, Comrades, what kind of new Mathematics is this? These are all the testimonies that testify to the continuous neglect of our children in the hinterland. Stop neglecting our young people. I say stop making them want to run away from this beautiful Guyana in search of a better place to stay.
Like my Colleague, Mr. Damon, I would have been proudly saying to this House how many times the Minister of Education has visited the Upper Mazaruni, but so sad to say we are still awaiting our first visit.
We may continue to approve large sums of moneys year after year, but I believe it is time we, as representatives of our people, begin to evaluate and examine to see if development is really taking place in our hinterlands. Is it not time for Bartica to become a township with better roads, adequate water supply, improved street lighting and better banking services? Is it not time for a child in Phillipai, Arrau, Paruima and Kako to be doing his or her research on the internet? When exactly would this Government become serious about developing our children in the rich hinterland?
In 2013, $287.7 million was expended to procure solar systems for ICT hubs and I see there are plans to construct 100 hubs in 100 Amerindian communities this year. Will our teachers and nurses in the hinterland schools and nurses be given laptops so that they can use same to improve their methodologies and strategies to teach our young children? I hope so, Mr. Speaker.
Let me touch a little on agriculture, not because it is less important in anyway but because I have been saying to this House repeatedly that there is an agricultural potential in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region. We can have cheap and abundant supply of healthy foods and a rich and diverse regional economy.
Culture, youth and sport: while you may have heard my Colleague, Mr. Trevor Williams, mention that Region 7 has been without a youth and sports officer for quite some time now, I would like to add by saying that there has been no regional camp held for the past three years or more. This was an annual event which used to be funded by the Ministry and one which the young people always looked forward to attending. This activity was eventually phased out. I ask the women on the other side to challenge me in playing football.
Upper Mazaruni and Region 7 has young men and young women who have basic skills, but are awaiting the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport to deliver training sessions, coaching sessions and refereeing session. We do not have a problem with sports grounds. We have a lot of big football fields. All we need is that the Ministry provides materials like football and gears so that our young people can improve on their sport activities. We all know that sport is good for our health. Come this year, when Digicel is having its school competition, Waramadong Secondary School will be out here again. I invite you to come and be entertained by very good football.
This Budget, which my Colleagues on the other side refer to as a visionary budget, seems to be suffering from a cataract. To my mind, it lacks a clear vision for the development of this country as a whole. It cannot be a better Guyana for all Guyanese when our brothers and sisters in the remote areas continue to moan about the high cost of living, lack of proper medical and other social services, for example, the people at Kamarang, who have been suffering without power supply since July of last year. Our Prime Minister and his team were there lately but perhaps they did not notice because they were staying a guest house that was given supply. Since July of last year, without potable water supply for many years, it leaves me to wonder what exactly was done with the $2.4 billion expended last year for this sector and what will be done with the $2.5 billion estimated for this year. I am hoping that for our brothers and sisters in Kamarang, this problem will soon be solved and even this year.
We all know that there is a joint agreement between Guyana and Brazil and that information sharing had begun in the Upper Mazaruni sometime last week. I am hoping that the residents do not have to wait until the hydro project is materialised before they are given power supply. I hope not. I do not know how many of us would live comfortable in such a place.
I agree with the Hon. Minister of Finance that indeed we have challenges that confront us as a developing country, but let us be real my Comrades. Let us set realistic goals that we can achieve and, if you wish, you can begin to take pattern from the APNU with a manifesto entitled, A Good Life for all Guyanese. That is a realistic goal and, when given the opportunity by the populace of this country, come next elections, we, on this side, will work towards a better life for all Guyanese and we will not stop until we attain the best life for all Guyanese.
Before I finally take my seat, I must join my Colleague, Ms. Volda Lawrence, in congratulating my fellow women, Ms. Karen D’souza and the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, for the awards given to them and, last but not least, I pay homage to the late Mrs. Deborah Backer, a fighter who fought to the end. I do this on behalf of myself and the people of Region 7.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you. [Applause]