Mr. Jones: Thank you Cde. Speaker. Let me just quickly respond to the Hon. Minister of Labour when he stated and I quote:
“The PPP have a course.”
While one tends to agree with him that the PPP have a course the PPP ship lacks the rudder. And that rudder can be found on this side of the House.
Cde. Speaker, I rise to make my presentation on this 2014 Budget under the theme, “A Better Guyana For All Guyanese.”
You know it does not matter what the theme is because the theme says one thing, but the contents say something completely different.
You see, Cde. Speaker, the Founder Leader of my party, Guyana’s first Executive President, Caribbean Man of the Century and indeed the Father of the Nation, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, always said that “it is a sign of maturity when you read not only what is on the lines but what is between the lines”. So do not let us worry about the theme. To quote one of our local soca artiste in this year’s soca competition it can be described as just “yada, yada.”
Let me take this opportunity to thank the staff of the Ministry of Finance, who, no doubt, would have spent many long hours, late nights and maybe weekends away from their families preparing these Estimates of the 2014 Budget, For all of their hard work, we say thank you and you are all appreciated.
Cde. Speaker, this 2014 Budget, like the 2013 and 2012 Budgets, has fallen into what I would call the PPP/C series of unfortunate events.
In my 2013 Budget presentation, I alluded to indicators that signaled, for want of a better term, disrespect. I alluded then that despite the calls made, on 12th December, 2012 by the Majority Leader David Granger on his Excellency President, to establish a Tri-Partite Budget Committee to have all the parties represented in this August House sit together and put together the people’s budget, there was not even a hint of progress made to this end.
The call was ignored, notwithstanding it was made against the backdrop of the new composition in this House resulting from the choice made by the electorate during the 2011 General and Regional Elections. I can recall saying that once is an accident; twice is a coincidence; three times is disrespectful. This 2014 Budget represents the third presentation in this Tenth Parliament, the third occasion that the Government has failed to consult with the majority elected Opposition.
This 2014 People’s Progressive Party/Civic Budget, as presented, has now confirmed to the Nation that this Government is most disrespectful to the needs of the people of this Nation: disrespectful to the Police Man and Woman who have to every day and night risk their lives to protect citizens and their property: disrespectful to the soldiers who have to spend days and nights away from their families on our porous borders; disrespectful to the Doctors and Nurses who have to provide health care; disrespectful to the Teachers who are the educators who mould the nation; disrespectful to the Pensioners who in their younger age did all of the above to pave the way for all of us here today who are enjoying the fruits of their labour; disrespectful to those who are in need of public assistance - the visually impaired, the differently able; disrespectful even to our own parliamentary staff who toil tirelessly to ensure we do the Nation’s work effectively and efficiently.
Series of Unfortunate Events
The Government’s attitude of non-consultation can best be described as a series of unfortunate events transcending beyond the setting up of the tripartite budget committee. The failure to consult with the beneficiaries is another such unfortunate event.
In his budget presentation, the Hon Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Kumar Singh, under the caption “Education Grants” stated, and I quote:
“Government will provide this year a cash grant to the parents of every child attending nursery, primary, or secondary school in the public education system in the amount of $10,000 per child for the year 2014.”
He further stated:
“This grant can be used to meet such costs as transportation, and will provide added impetus to raising enrolment and attendance rates”
This sum calculates to $40 per day. For those living on the coast, is not even a short drop via public transportation. What about those students living in the hinterland and riverine communities? A case in point is the village of Hackney on the Lower Pomeroon River, Region 2, where students traveling via boat are forced to pay as much as $1,000 per day per child from the village of Hackney to Charity to get to school.
The unfortunate event here is that the Government did poor consultation or did no consultation with parents; if they did, they would have been told that in riverine communities, a school boat would be their first choice and for those on the coast, school buses their preference and the ten thousand dollars can be put into the wages and salaries of the parents.
Series of unfortunate events - New Opportunity Corps (NOC)
Under the capital project profile program for youth, we see an allocation of $30 million dollars for the completion of confinement building and construction of fence and walkway for the New Opportunity Corps.
Even though, it is public knowledge that these works are due to the unrest at the facility on 23rd August, 2012, the taxpayers who have to front this bill are still awaiting the report from the Commission of Inquiry which was set up to examine the circumstances that led to the break out, the fires that destroyed buildings, and make recommendations.
In the 6th February, 2013 publication of the Kaieteur News, an article was carried under the caption “NOC Commission of Inquiry - Final Report to be Presented This Month End. The article also quoted Minister Anthony as stating his assurance that “any staffer found guilty of abusing the children when the report is presented this month end, will be dealt with accordingly”.
Cde Speaker, that was on the 6th February, 2013. Today is the 1st April, 2014 and we still await the report.
There are countless reports from former inmates of the NOC of the abuse that they have endured during their time at the institution. What is even more alarming is the fact that the caregivers at this institution are the persons engaged in those abusive practices.
The NOC is a correctional institution that provides opportunities for rehabilitation of those inmates. It is funded by the taxpayers and, as such, the taxpayers have the right to know what led to the unrest of 2012, the measures that have been put in place to prevent same from recurring, and that both inmates and caregivers that have been found culpable are dealt with. Why the secret?
“Series of unfortunate events”
Under the caption “Youth”, the Hon Minister of Finance stated, and I quote:
“Government continues to support the development of vulnerable youth across the country by empowering them with the skills and knowledge to improve their own livelihoods.”
The Minister went on to state that over 2,300 young people benefited from training under several training programmers - National Training Project for Youth Empowerment (NTPYE), Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training (YEST) and the Board of Industrial Training (BIT) training programmes. What is absent in the Minister’s 2014 Budget presentation, like his 2013 and 2012 presentations, is the J-O-B-S, the jobs.
One would have expected that when the Government boasts about how much moneys have been spent to train youths, it would have been proud to shout on the mountain top that we the PPP/C have created thousands of jobs for our young people and this year we are expected to create even more; nothing of such. In fact, over the years, we have seen five government ministries – the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Labour – continue to jostle each other to offer a variety of glamorous, short-term, ad hoc, training courses for young people. They all promise but do not provide long-term careers that youths desperately seek.
The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, for example, in 2013 launched $200M Youth Apprenticeship and Entrepreneur Programme (YAEP).
The Ministry Of Culture, Youth and Sport conducts the Youth Entrepreneurial Skills Training (YEST) programme.
The Ministry of Home Affairs offers training in what it calls “life skills” a vocational pursuit under its Citizen Security Programme (CSP).
The Ministry of Labour, through its Board of Industrial Training (BIT) conducts a two-year apprenticeship programme now called the National Training Project for Youth, Empowerment (NTPYE).
There was even the PYARG- the President Youth Award Republic of Guyana.
All of these programs YAEP, YEST, CSP, BIT, NTPYE and the PYARG attracts millions of the taxpayers’ dollars to be spent, yet the Hon Minister of Finance cannot even report to the National Assembly on how many jobs have been created.
This country’s unemployed young people feel that they are in an employment cul-de-sac. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its National Employment Report stated and I quote:
“Seventy-seven per cent of educated persons of working age migrate because of the lack of employment opportunities. They feel that they have become entangled in a web of bureaucratic programmes, which generate lots of certificates and diplomas, but provide few jobs.”
Too many Guyanese youths still leave school unskilled, enter the workforce for the first time and are obliged to resort to the informal sector for employment in low-paying occupations. Four out of every ten youths face a jobless future and the PPP/C Administration is still to announce a plan to deal with the crisis of youth unemployment. This, is but another of the PPP/C “Series of Unfortunate events”.
National Cultural Centre
The PPP/C “series of unfortunate events” continues. Over the past few months, this premiere landmark has been described as a “hot mess” with its broken air condition unit, poor lights, weak audio system, etcetera. We note, however, in this year’s Budget, there is an allocation of $55 million to replace the air condition unit, lights and audio system.
The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony, at a press conference, complained about the Centre losing money and that it cannot sustain its operations because, he claims, of its low rentals. Here are a few facts, as recently reported by the producers of the popular Link Show, Mrs. Gem Nascimento of Gems Theatre Productions, stated:
“The National Cultural Centre charges an $80,000 flat rental for the entire building. In addition to the basic rental of $80,000, the producer pays a surcharge of 20% on all ticket prices, rental of bars, for the printing of tickets, a charge for the use of the producer’s own video camera to film this very producer show, for rehearsals, ushers, front of house staff and security.”
Calculated on ticket prices of $2000, $1500 and $1000, once there is a full house, a total sum of $2,947,500 is realised per night. The producer then pays approximately 26% of the gross income to the National Cultural Centre or a sum of $766,350, plus, the producer then pays a 16% Value Added Tax (VAT) to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) or $471,600. Although, 40% of each night of the producer’s gross income is paid over to the Government, this amount paid to the Ministry of $766,350 per night for eight nights at minimum, amounts to $3,183,300. This is only for one show that is hosted at the National Cultural Centre. One therefore wonders was the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport misinformed when he said that the National Cultural Centre was unable to sustain itself or if he was simply being creative with his remarks.
According to the man on the streets, Sir, it is because it was built by Forbes Burnham under the People’s National Congress (PNC) administration that it is being allowed to fail and fall apart.
Mr. Speaker: One second Mr. Jones your time is up. Mr. Jones you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mr. Jones: Thank you Sir. “Series of unfortunate events” – Sports. The Minister of Finance stated:
“A sum of $960 million has allocated to the sector of which $344 million is expected to be spent on continuing works at the Lenora Athletics Track.”
According to the Government Information News Agency (GINA), of 5th August, 2013, in an interview with the Minister of Finance, he said:
“Earlier this year, 2013, a sum of $176 million has been contract to B.K. International for the construction of two stands at the northern side of the track. Minister Anthony said the foundation work for the stands has started. These are being constructed in stages and once completed will accommodate approximately 10,000 persons. The Minister further explained that all materials for the track are in Guyana and the Ministry is awaiting good weather for the German Company to return to lay the track.”
Again, the Government Information News Agency on 25th September, 2013, quoted the Minister of Finance again as stating that the synthetics track will be completed at year end. To date Sir, this track has not been completed.
This is clearly not a “series of unfortunate events”, but more like a series of confusion. Cleary, something is afoot and all is not well with this project. As such, I will urge the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony to be prepared to provide this House, when we meet in the Committee of Supply, with straightforward answers as it relates to this project. Because $344 million is too large of an amount of the taxpayers’ money to wasted.
Series of unfortunate events – the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall. The Cliff Anderson Sports Hall and the National Gymnasium are two of our main sports facilities. These facilities are used for training and competition purposes, such as, basketball, table tennis, hockey, boxing and netball, to name a few. This, is according to the Government Information News Agency. However, one notices the absence of Football or Fustal Football from that list. Cde. Speaker, permit me, for the benefit of the Members of this House, to explain what Fustal Football is. It is an internationally known sport like Football however, it is played indoors.
Mr. O’ Neil Durant, Sports Coordinator of the Stabroek Warriors Sports, introduced this style of football to Guyana in the year 2010. Teams are drawn from all of the Municipal Markets across the country, for example, Stabroek, Bourda, Leonora, La Penitence, Mon Repos, just to name a few, to play a friendly game of football. These vendors, who due to their very demanding and time consuming jobs, would otherwise not find the time to organise sport. One should view this healthy competition as in keeping with the statement from the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr. Frank Anthony, when he mentioned, “To have Guyanese get out, get fit; get out and play.”After the first competition in 2010, the Stabroek Warriors were given the royal run around to access these facilities. For the past three years, having written to the National Sports Commission on several occasions, to date they are unable to get access to this facility.
It would appear that it seems to be must easier for persons to access these facilities and then use them as an abattoir to slaughter goats than it is for sports organisations to access them, to use them for the intended purposes.
In closing, the Stabroek Warriors have indicated that in the year 2011, they have paid to the National Sports Commission, the sum of $165,000 to host this event. Sir, I have here the two receipts, with the head “National Sports Commission” and it is stamped by the National Sports Commission. To date, they have been unable to get a refund of this $160,000 that they have paid to the National Sports Commission. I call on the Minister of Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony to please look into this and please seek that this organisation gets their money.
In closing, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic’s Series of Unfortunate Events did not begin in 2012, it began several years ago, when the People’s Progressive Party Civic did not heed to their own supporters call for a better life, for improved wages and salaries, and as such their supporters spoke loudly at the 2011 General and Regional Elections. One would have expected that after this loud statement by their supporters that they Government would have changed their ways. We see now in 2012, 2013 and here again in 2014 the People’s Progressive Party/Civic series of unfortunate events continue. I thank you. [Applause]