April 13, 2012
Minister of the Public Service [Dr. Westford]: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. Before I start, can I please ask permission, from yourself and my colleagues in this House, to use, from time to time my medicine? As you can hear my throat is not too well.
I rise, like my colleagues before me, to congratulate and also to support the Minister of Finance and his worthy staff who worked side by side with him in bringing to this Hon. House this Budget 2012. Before I continue, let me, like some of the other Members of this House, congratulate the new Members, especially the young, new Members of this House, some of whom I have had some discussions with. Let me give them that encouragement to continue the good work and to ensure that we ought to remember that you are a politician, but being a politician does not mean misrepresenting facts. Always try to have the facts in order. As I have promised some of you whom I spoke with, if there is any information you need or any help I can give, feel free to come and ask me.
I must also congratulate the Hon. Member, Ms. Hastings, who comes from a region that I am very close with also she has always been able to bring constructive criticisms. I have always said in this House, constructive criticism is good for development and that is what we need in this House.
We have heard criticisms throughout this budget presentation, the speeches here, some a lot of misrepresentations, some of it because of misinformation and some of it because of malicious misinformation. We have heard a lot of that misinformation being debunked by this side of the House. Also, because of the time limit that we are having, I would like to concentrate mostly on some of the misinformation that we have been hearing, some of the things that we have been hearing from the day that this budget was presented.
Just after this budget was presented, we heard on the airwaves, then it was replicated here in this House, that there is nothing or very little in this budget, especially for workers. I would like to ask, who are the workers of this country? They are the people of this country; they have relatives and families of this country. The Public Service, the Public Sector consists of 11200 persons, but by extension, we can safely say that we are speaking for about 45,000 persons. Who would benefit? If we look at the Hon. Member’s budget presentation; let us look in the area of agriculture. Who will benefit from the $1 billion that the Minister said was placed in the Ministry of Agriculture, that would be developing new lands and new agricultural products? Who will benefit from this? Our people, our workers. We are not saying workers will not benefit, we say, this is a budget for our people, to develop our people.
Let us look at education, who will benefit from that allocation? Our people. I did not say my people, as some persons are saying; I said our people will benefit from that $26 billion. We are seeing new schools... I heard the Hon. Member, Mr. Granger, said a short while ago that a building is not an institution. [Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Greenidge is my name.] Yes, Mr. Greenidge. Sorry Mr. Granger [Mrs. Backer: You have your eyes on the Leader of the Opposition, be careful!] I have known the Leader of the Opposition long before you have Madam. The Hon. Member Mr. Granger... [Mr. Greenidge: Granger again?] Greenidge have said that... [Interruption] Mr. Greenidge had said that a building is not an institution and he is right. Even though we are putting up schools, many schools, we have also been equipping them with the necessary tools, including human resources.
Who will benefit from those buildings? Who will benefit from the education sector? [Ms. Ally: Contractors.] I agree. Contractors will also be benefitting and I can show you that some of those contractors are the fathers, the brothers, the uncles and the nephews of workers of this country so, by extension, our workers will benefit. I agree with the Hon. Member.
I will call Mr. Granger’s name now because the Hon. Member, Mr. Granger, was one of the persons who I overheard on the nation airwaves mentioning that there is nothing in the budget for development of human resources. I will deal with the development of human resources in a while so as not to have to mention the Hon. Member’s name again.
If we look in the housing area: We heard the Hon. Minister, when he spoke, make mention of the 100,000 house lots that have been given out already and the 6,500 that are yet to be done. How many of our workers have benefited? How many of them?
Let us look at the electricity sector: Is it not our workers who will benefit as well from our electricity sector? Who will benefit? They will be benefitting; I can assure you. Why is there this big question and it being said that there is nothing for the workers. [Mr. Greenidge: The contracted workers are different.] I will get to the contracted workers in a while, Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge.
Let us look at roads and bridges: We just heard from the Hon. Member, Ms. Hastings. Ms. Hastings, the road you spoke about in Bartica – the Bartica-Potaro Road – may I inform you that that road – though you are saying that it is being done year after year – is being done in phases so the work is going to be continuous and if one goes on that road and if one reads the contract and, as I said, all of us should try to enlighten ourselves about issues that we speak on. I will promise the Hon. Member, Ms. Hastings, to provide you with a copy of that contract so that in the future you will understand why the road is continuously being done. [Ms. Ally: You live in town.] I happen to be the representative for Region 7, “Bartica map”, and I have been informing myself, Madam.
Clearly we can see that there is an attempt to mislead the people of this country. I always say that we in this House are the ones who must be able to lead people and if we do not tell them the right things we will be misleading them. It is all well and good for us to play politics but there comes a time when we have to let people know… “Look, there is something here for you but we think there must be more.” Do not let us say that there is nothing. Let us be honest with our constituents out there.
Let me come now to the, Hon. Member, Mr. Granger’s concern about human resource development. [Mr. B. Williams: But he has not made any presentation…] Mr. Williams, if you listen carefully I said that I heard on the airwaves his comment on the budget. The Hon. Member in mentioning this seemed very convinced that there was nothing in this budget for human resource development. We on this side of the House, the Government, view human resource development probably differently. We view human resource development as it ought to be viewed. The human resource of any nation does not start with somebody who has to go to school; it starts with the conception of a human being. That is where the human resource of a nation starts. If one should take the time to go through this Budget of 2012, one would see that indeed this Government has mentioned in this book all of the things that will be done at all of those stages and it starts with the Ministry of Health concerning what development will be done for women who are pregnant, after they get the baby… [Mrs. Backer: We passed that age. We cannot get…] What a pity. We look at the children – nursery, primary, postnatal care, the health sector. That is how we have been looking at it. We have been going from stage to stage in the development of our human resource. We go through those stages and we ensure that at all of the stages we have placed a lot of interest, the necessary resources, to ensure that that development continues. It is very important, this issue about a holistic approach, because if we do not look at our children when they are very small, our little postnatal children… At one point in the history of this country, and I can stand here and say it, because of lack of proper attention and care we had something in this country that was destroying our young children – malnutrition. It was so bad that in this country, that in the health sector, there was a whole ward for malnourished children. If our children are not properly nourished it will affect them in their early school ages, in their later school age and we will not be able to stand, as the Hon. Member Ms. Hastings so proudly stood and said she was educated under the PNC Government… I also got a scholarship under the PNC Government and I am proud of it. I got a scholarship not by carrying a card of any mean colour but because I attained the proper education and was offered a scholarship. It was good luck that I was not born during the time I was speaking about with the malnutrition. It is very important, the attention and care that we have been giving to the health sector… The ward that was named the Malnutrition Ward was disbanded because there was no need for it and there still is no need for it. Only because of good management could we have done that. We all know the days of beriberi and I can go on and on.
That is how we look at human resource development; ensuring that we have healthy people, both in body and mind. When we have that then we can go a step further and so what we have been doing – creating professionals for our work force. That is what we have been doing.
I would like to mention to the Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge. I was very surprised when the Hon. Member, was speaking about the public service, mentioned two things that were disturbing:
1. That we do not have a qualified public service
2. That there is a lateral public service briefed with contracted workers but the “contracted workers” part was not the annoying part. The annoying part was that he said that the contracted workers were not qualified and were being paid super salaries.
That was replicated, somewhat, by the Hon. Member Mr. Williams by saying – though I do not wish to, permit me to repeat the words he said – that the contracted workers are PPP cronies. If I may be permitted, I am not going very far. I am staying right where we are, the Parliament Office. I have in my hands a list of 56 contracted workers of the Parliament Office of Guyana and I would like all of the PPP hacks to stand if they are in here and let Mr. Williams see them and I will…
Mr. Speaker: Could you share that list with me as well, please.
Dr. Westford: I will not call the names of these persons. I am going to call their designations and I am going to read for Mr. Greenidge their qualifications and their salaries. I will start with the Research and Analytic Assistant, that person has a post graduate Diploma in Developmental Studies and a Degree in Public Management. That position is listed on the position of inventory and it falls under Band 10 and that person is being paid $126,309 – the salary scale that falls within Band 10. I am going to continue because it is an affront to those persons who work here and I chose her so as not to go too far because I can replicate this across the Public Service with my contracted workers. It is an affront and I want to ask for an apology on behalf of those public servants. These are young people. They have studied hard and they deserve to be employed.
The Hon. Member, Mr. Williams was grandstanding; ‘year come, year go’ we have been on this very issue about contracted workers and they have been told that the worker has a choice. Right now, if we come back again, right here – we are not going far – we have persons who are on the pensionable establishment who are requesting to come under contracted establishment. They are requesting. [Mr. Greenidge: Why are they requesting?] You must know why, Sir. The only difference with the two categories of staff is that one category will wait until they are 55 years old to retire. Their salaries are the same. All of their conditions of employment are the same and I dare anyone on the opposite side to bring anything to the opposite. I dare anyone there. The Hon. Member continues to grandstand. The only difference is the contracted workers are paid a gratuity twice per year – every six months. That is the difference. They have exactly the same terms and conditions of service.
In the essence of time I will not go through this list but I am prepared to share this list with anyone in this Hon. House. I have many others of all the contracted workers and I am willing to share them with anyone in this House. Those persons deserve what they are getting and they get nothing different from anyone else.
There is nothing like “a parallel”. I heard something else another speaker said, which was the Minister did not mention… It seems strange to me… There is nothing which says which band contracted workers are on. I am going to offer once again my services to anyone in this National Assembly for clarification of any issue that they may not understand. A contracted worker occupies the very positions on the very band as all of the workers of this country.
It is said that where ignorance is bill it is folly to by wise. I think that I am going to try to be wise today.
This Government prides itself on being a working class government. Our policies are all geared at the relief and assistance of our working class people. “You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” We are hearing “Okay, yes, the threshold has been risen to $50,000 but it needs to come up a bit more.” Let me remind members of this Hon. House that $50,000 being the threshold means that every single worker, every single taxpayer in this country, will be taking home $10,000 per month of real disposable salary. I say “real disposable” because of the many other things that they have in place. I told you that there is health care. We heard about the health system that we are getting, free health care, education, agriculture, water, housing… They have that $10,000 per month that they can do something else with.
We are looking at the $50,000. Let us think about when we took office… We have our workers at heart. When we took office in 1992 where was the threshold? It was $4,000. We are not going to give what we do not have. We will not do that. We run a prudent economically viable economy. We will not end up like some of our neighbours that we are being equated with by some of my friends on the opposite side. Some of our near neighbours in the Caribbean who have been paying huge salaries, what did they have to do? They had to start to tell people to go home voluntarily. When the people said that they are not going home voluntarily because they are not sure what will happen to them they started saying “Well then you have to take a pay cut.” Upon saying “pay cut” I wonder if my dear friend, the Hon. Member Mr. Williams who likes to fight so much for the interest of public servants, would agree to take a pay cut. [Mr. B. Williams: Do you pay me?] Will you agree to take a pay cut? You get paid here, Mr. Williams.
The $10,000 that the workers are going to gain is of a great relief to them, Sir, make no mistake. It is of a great relief to them. Let us not look at that $10,000 that these persons are getting. There are other job related benefits that our workers get. I was searching and I spoke with a few of my colleagues, Ministers of the Public Service within the Caribbean, and I have been asking by saying “Do you have any such thing like you give your workers a duty free concession of cars?” They said “Well, no but you have some private companies who do that kind of things.” So we have, out of a total of 11,200 public servants, a total of 2,015 public servants who access duty free concessions from this Government, on cars. We also have another set of persons who get concessions if they want to buys motor cycles that are above a certain cubic centimeters (cc); if it is below, they get an allowance to assistance them to do so.
We have various means of assisting our public servants. Our housing: once one is a “minimum wager”, one automatically gets a low cost house lot. The Hon. Member, Ms. Vanessa Kissoon, asked a question yesterday – it was a very important question. She asked why it was that two separate persons paid two different sums for the same size of house lot. I hope all of us listened carefully to the explanation because that is our way of trying to show that we give preference/relief to the poorer persons in our community.
Again, as I said, wages are not the only things that we do for our workers and our human resource – as I like to say – in this country. It is well know and publicised, the Government’s Training Programme… I agree with the Hon. Member, Mr. Williams. I agree that we inherited the training programme which existed under the PNC Government but, Mr. Williams, I would like you to go back to see what the numbers being trained were. What were the numbers being sent on scholarships during that period? I would like you to do that, Sir. We are not only doing better, we are exceeding and excelling by leaps and bounds. A numberless quantity of doctors, engineers, mechanics… We currently have citizens, young people of this country, students, in 14 countries in the world and had it not been for concern of sending them to some other countries we would have had them in more than 30. We are trying not to send people as far as the Middle East at this point in time. [Mr. B. Williams: Do they come back?] Yes, all of them come back. All of them do not stay. Being cognizant… It is one thing to be given a suite of clothes to wear and it another thing to make sure that one gets another one when that one is finished being worn, because when that one is torn one would walk naked if one does not have the ability to ensure that you can put another one on your back.
Yes, we inherited a scholarship programme but we bettered it by far. Another thing, our qualified professionals did not only start leaving Guyana under the PPP/C Government… As a matter of fact, before I even go there, it is not a “Guyana thing”; I will soon be going to a conference in the United States where all of the countries – I did not say the poor or third world countries – of the world… IMF and the World Bank are having a meeting to discuss what methods we are going to employ in looking at the skills flight throughout the world. It is not a “Guyana thing”, Sir.
Politics aside, I think that we should stop beating up ourselves sometimes. We should give credit where credit is due. In the past, when people went away, we had big holes. We have looked at the situation and we have realised that people will go and we know what time they will start to go, because nobody want them between certain periods; they want experienced professionals. To buffer that, knowing that we are going to lose a certain percentage, we have been retraining and we will continue to train to ensure that we have adequate numbers to service our people’s needs in this country. [Mr. B. Williams: No. You must devise strategies to retain them. You must not only train them.] Is it we cannot retain them because we are a poor country… We will get there.
When we do get the money to prudently pay them higher salaries there will be no need to train that quantity, and we will stop doing it, Sir. For the time being, we will continue to train our people. When I say “our people”, I mean everybody - everyone who is qualified will be trained.
The reality is that in our country our institutions are being manned by Guyanese – qualified Guyanese. Maybe, they are on contract, but they are qualified, and fully qualified.
Another issue that was raised in this House by the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge…Mr. Speaker, Mr. Greenidge raised the issue about another qualified… I do not doubt that he is eminently qualified in his field, as engineer - I will not call his name here - who mentioned that some of the engineers in the Public Works department not being qualified because there was some fault with the sea defence somewhere. Let us be realistic. Which professional, including the one who has been criticising, has not, at some point in his or her career, had the experience that he or she would have ten or fifteen years after he or she would have graduated. We must not beat up on our young people. We have to nurture them. We agree that there will be errors and mistakes, and we will have to put proper monitoring systems in place. We agree, but let us not discourage those people. Let us not discourage our young people. We, in this House, have to give them that encouragement, Sir.
For those of us who read…, it was approximately two or three years ago when there was a huge hotel which fell, killing hundreds of people. What was the result of that? Do you know what? Three engineers and two architects, who built that building, were found. They were old men at that time. Do you know what they were charged with? They were charged with murder because it was found that there was a fault. It was not in Guyana that that incident happened; it happened in a big metropolitan country, Sir. Errors will be made but we cannot put everybody in one basket and say that we do not have qualified professionals. Our people – the same people who the Opposition Members are saying are running out of this country – let us go and see what they do abroad.
May I inform some of these very Hon. Members here that some of those very people who would have left, both in the period of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), are now returning, Sir. Currently, I have on my desk fifteen applications from imminently qualified persons who would like to join the public sector, Sir. Do you know what? Things are not good out there anymore. The green grass that they went to meet is not green anymore. It has turned brown. [Interruption from Opposition Members.]
I would like to implore upon my colleagues in this honorable House…As someone before me said that in any budget, in the world, people would like to have everything, and that is a fact. But people cannot have everything; they can only have what the country’s coffers can give them; and if prudently managed, we will continue to have. We do not want to be like the man who had the goose that laid the golden egg. He did not want one egg a day; he wanted all of the eggs. He killed the goose and he got no eggs. We want an egg every day.
In closing, Sir, I want to come back…As I was saying, let us be proud of what we have. Let us be proud. The Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo… [An Hon. Member: Are you proud of him?] I am proud of all of us in this House. We have been placed here by the people out there to look after their business. The Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, when he was speaking about Guyana, mentioned everything – the past President is bad. I am not going to put in words that he did not say, but we all know what he said. He mentioned corruption and mismanagement and then he said something else. He said, “You know, if we look at the United States that is being run by this great man, the greatest man…” and he named President Obama. I like President Obama; I respect him; I think he is great also. Do you know what is significant? We are chastising and denigrating ours. The very man that Mr. Nagamootoo was standing in our National Assembly and saying is so great, and trying to disrespect and disgrace our past leaders, do you know what has happened there? The very night when I went home, I was privy to hear a debate going on because a member of the Republican Party called the very great man a thug. Do you know what they were saying? They were saying that it was wrong: they should not do that; they must revere and they must respect. I want to ask us to do the same thing with our leaders. We may have our differences in this country. Guyana is for Guyanese. It is our country. We must be respectful and we must ensure…
Those of us in this House who deem ourselves as “senior persons”, let us give guidance to those young people who are in this House. They are going to be here long after we are gone. Let us show them the right way how to do things. Let us give respect so that we will be respected.
This Budget 2012 is here before us. We have tried to make the most of and give the most that we can at this point in time. We have done a lot but, if anyone should ask, “Are we there yet”? I am not going to say that that person should get an answer as the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo would have given, but it will be a resounding no. We are not there as yet, but we are getting there, and steadfastly. This is a great country with great potential and with the encouragement, cooperation of each and every one of us, we are going to get there and we are going to have that happy, peaceful country that we so deserve.
I thank you. [Applause