Mr. D. Trotman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The 2014 Budget presentation by the Hon. Ashni Singh is the third which I have had the dubious privilege of listening to.
I had eagerly looked forward to the Minister’s dissemination of information in respect to his plans for 2014 but sad to say the end of the Minister’s monologue left me wondering what’s new. I say ‘what is new’ deliberately because, to my ears, in the main, it was nothing but a regurgitation of the issues he addressed in the first and second years with the usual famous boast made at the end of each presentation which always indicate that the Budget for that year is “Guyana’s largest budget ever”. At this time, I wish to say a special thank you to my Colleague, the Hon. Carl Greenidge, for taking the time to put into context the issue of the largest Budget ever.
As in the case of last year’s budget, I would like to make a small contribution to the debate in the area of Governance.
The three-paragraph section on Governance appears on pages 63 to 64 of the Budget Speech, but the treatment borders on the trivial and dismissive. One paragraph tersely refers to the impasse on the Anti-Money Laundering Bill; the second paragraph even more briefly refers to the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and then aimlessly states that “Guyana’s report and the report of the OAS Mechanism for the Implementation of the Convention Against Corruption (MESICIC) on its review of Guyana are now publicly available”. The third paragraph gives a few selected examples of ad hoc consultations with selected stakeholders. However, the Minister, in a moment of sober reflection, will want to agree that the issue of governance is a much more structural and multifaceted phenomenon.
Good Governance requires inclusion of the following:
1. Sharing of information and timely disclosure;
2. Transparency and accountability;
3. Recognition of Parliament and the Judiciary as sources of authority, besides the Executive;
4. A Capacity to compromise;
5. Establishment of key institutions and commissions;
6. Effective implementation and praxis of these institutions;
7. Integrity and public disclosure of parliamentarians’ assets;
8. Non-corruptibility in the issuance of contracts and conduct of ministers and public officials;
9. A less than overbearing central government system vis-à-vis local government; and
10. Meaningful power sharing and decentralisation.
I have listed some of the salient aspects of good governance to remind the Minister of Finance of what should also constitute the process and path, as he puts it, to “A Better Guyana for All Guyanese”.
In reference to his citing of the money laundering impasse, I would also like to inform the Minister, his Colleagues and the unyielding President of Guyana of a celebrated principle called a “Single Undertaking” that underlies international trade negotiations: nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
The Minister of Finance is fulsome in his praise and trumpeting of the 5% growth rate achieved by the economy of Guyana, forgetting that this is what would be expected since the country is rising from a very low economic base, but permit me to state that if we were fortunate enough to have good governance, instead of the current perversion, the economy would probably have grown by 10%, no less. Such a stellar achievement is not possible in this current regime, partly because bad governance results in poor project choice, corrupt contracting of incompetents, distortion of economic decision making by cronyism and partisan political considerations and sub-optimal levels of capital investment by both foreigners and locals because of the uncontrolled levels of crime.
The Minister also wallows in self praise by saying that it is, “Government’s attention to stable macro-economic fundamentals and prudent public financial management, that has contributed to the economic resilience we have achieved…” This can be found on page 7. An objective observer can equally state that the 5% growth rates would have been achieved regardless of Government’s efforts. What indeed has been Government’s contribution to the following?
Firstly, drug proceeds have been pouring into Guyana and construction and other commercial activities have been the beneficiaries without any major arrests of the money launderers.
Secondly, substantial remittances from abroad have also helped to fuel construction and retail activity.
Thirdly, and very importantly, the most high performing and export related activity has been...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Trotman, one minute please.
Mr. Ali: Mr. Speaker, a very important statement was just made, by the Hon. Member, that needs urgent clarification. He said that the construction sector is a result of drug proceeds and money laundering. If the Hon. Member cannot provide evidence to justify this false claim, I think it will be extremely irresponsible of him and it can be read out of context by many hardworking Guyanese who are building and expanding their businesses and their entities in our society. I am calling on the Hon. Member to provide the evidence from which he formed this basis. Thank you.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Trotman, could you repeat what you said, please?
Mr. D. Trotman: Mr. Speaker, this is what I said: “What indeed has been Government’s contribution to the following? First, drug proceeds have been pouring into Guyana and construction and other commercial activities have been the beneficiaries without any major arrests of the money launderers.”
Mr. Speaker: Okay, thank you. Hon. Member Mr. Ali, the Member did not name anyone. He said “into the sector”. He did not say whether 10% of the sector or 90% of it is affected. I believe that I have read sufficient data and analyses on Guyana which suggest, indeed, that there is some illicit proceeds of narcotics and other illicit trades in every sector in this country so I believe that the statement is general enough so as not to offend you. I know that you head the Government’s aspect of that sector but I do not believe that the statement, in any way, is offensive and, in fact, it reflects quite accurately what is an accepted fact - that narco-trafficking is indeed infiltrating into various, if not all, sectors of this country and whether it be the legal system...all. It is a known fact and I only yesterday read an analysis on our economy and that was quite palpably stated.
Go ahead, please, Mr. Trotman.
Mr. D. Trotman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Secondly, substantial remittances from abroad have also helped to fuel construction and retail activity.
Thirdly, and very importantly, the most high-performing and export related activity has been as a result of hardy gold miners braving the elements in an unforgiving interior environment without Government provision of adequate road access or requested fuel subsidies to take advantage of fortuitously high international high international gold prices.
A good question is: what remedial governance related actions the PPP/C regime will employ when the gold price reverts to historical norms and the reserve pool of young unemployed swells again to alarming proportions? In this regard, also, it should be noted that receipt of worker remittances “declined by US$141.1 million to US$328.2 million”, page 7, probably reflecting a tapering off of the residential housing boom. Also, international foreign exchange reserves at the end of 2013 only amounted to US$776.9 million, equivalent to 3.9 months of import cover, compared with the five months of import cover that obtained in the previous year. In addition, implementation of anti-money laundering legislation may reduce the flow of illicit funds. Storm clouds are gathering and growth sustainability is in question. Moreover, Guyana has not seen it fit to establish a stabilisation fund unlike, for example, Trinidad and Tobago which, before the advent of the global financial and economic crisis, had built up in good times a Heritage and Stabilisation Fund in order to cope with inevitable hard times; so much for good governance and contingency planning.
One means of bolstering the country’s resilience is ensuring that all economic and social actors are involved. In this regard, there is an important role for enhanced local governance. There is need for greater empowerment of the people and this can be achieved via a strengthening of the Municipalities and Neighbourhood Democratic Councils wherever they exist and active revitalisation of the economies in the more depressed communities with income and employment generation measures.
However, the current central government regime, imbued with the socialist tenets of democratic centralism, has seen it fit to wage war against the local government organs by displacing, dismantling and disembodying same, refusing to make available expected fiscal subventions and declining to give permission for revenue raising measures. It is instructive that an opposite process of decentralisation and devolution of power is taking place in other countries. For example, In the European Union, as shares of total government expenditure in 2012, central government accounted for 37%, state government for 8%, local government for 23% and social security funds for 32%. With respect to total government expenditure in 2012, relatively high shares of local government expenditure are observed in Denmark - 61%, Sweden - 49%, Finland - 40%, Norway - 34%, Netherlands - 32% and Italy - 29%. This can be found in the Eurostat European Commission May 2013 Report. The figure in Guyana is probably less than 5%.
The assault on the local government system in Guyana must come to an end. Presidential assent to local government reform legislation must be completed. Elections must take place this year.
I wish to turn my attention to the performance of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development and, in the process, address the proposed allocations earmarked for the regional administrations.
Mr. Speaker, just let me begin by saying that without a doubt, the performance of the Ministry of Regional Development and Local Government in 2012 and 2013 left a lot to be desired. This trend continues in 2014. To my mind, there seems to be a lot of confusion on the part of the persons charged with the responsibility of overseeing the functioning of this Ministry.
I note that the Ministry’s Mission Statement enunciates the following tasks: supervise and maintain the legal regulatory framework of the system of local and regional administration, encourage and facilitate the economic development of the Regions, promote the continued integration of the hinterland communities into the wider Guyanese society and encourage self-sufficiency and social development in the hinterland regions. What is implied in these tasks is that development must take place within the legal structures of the system and for the benefit of all of the people who live, work, play and die within Regional Administrative and Local Government communities.
I submit here, Sir, that when one examines the functioning of the Ministry, the inescapable conclusion which will be arrived at is that the Ministry has not been operating within the boundaries of the law and for the equal benefit of all of the people who fall within the respective communities. Too often we hear complaints of the relevant Ministers using the resources of the state to advance the partisan political interest of the party in Government and imposing their will on certain non-PPP/C administrative bodies while, at the same time, ignoring the pleas of elected officials in these bodies to facilitate their functioning in keeping with the law.
If truth be told, the reason why every year the Auditor General is forced to issue his scathing comments on the operations of the Regional Administrations has to do with the fact that the Regional Administrators are doing their own thing as a result of the restraints placed on elected Councillors by the REOs and, by extension, the Minister.
The Minister may wish to deny being involved in any way in the harnessing of Councillors in carrying out their legitimate functions. However, until such time as he can justify why the several calls to him by Councillors from Region 4 and 8 RDCs, just to name two, to be provided with the resources to monitor the works which have allegedly been done on behalf of the people, until he can to the satisfaction of members of this honourable House provide us with an answer to this riddle, he will continue to be accused of collaborating to prevent Regional Councillors from carrying out their duties, the Auditor General will continue to make his scathing remarks and the people will continue to be denied value for money in the execution of projects.
We have had cause on several occasions over the last three years to speak in this honourable House to the obstructionist methods of the Regional Executive Officers. The Auditor General himself has provided numerous instances of payments for shoddy work, overpayments of money for work done and payments for work not done in the Regions. Members of the Public Accounts Committee from both sides of the House have expressed alarm, disgust and anger at the regularity at which these offences are being committed and yet nothing has been done or is being done to bring a halt to these scams. Yes, scams are what they are and I dare the Minister to say differently. No one has been surcharged and there has been no instance of the police being called in to examine this escalating criminal situation. We cannot and should not ignore the fact that the people are being poorly served, not by their elected officials, but by those persons employed as administrative officials within the system. All of these things are happening while the Minister tinkers with a system that, potentially, if given the opportunity to work, can play a meaningful role in the development of people.
Let me, at this time, remind the Minister that in carrying out his functions, he has a duty to ensure that the people can contribute to a system of governance which they have confidence in. The people are allowed, under the aegis of Local Government, the right to elect their own officials and not to have people foisted on them. Sir, I wish to reiterate something I said when we debated the Local Government Amendment (Elections) Bill a few weeks ago:
“People want garbage free communities; they want qualified administrators capable of quick, efficient responses to flood and deteriorating health situations and they want to elect their own officials. What they do not want are hand-picked hacks and dunderheads who are incapable of recognising their nose hole from their posterior, and, more importantly, they are fed up with the Minister’s presence and his micro-management of the system.”
That position is as true today as when I first said it. I, therefore, wish to use this opportunity to call on the Minister to abandon...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Trotman, you have five minutes within which to conclude.
Mr. D. Trotman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I, therefore, wish to use this opportunity to call on the Minister to abandon the insulting ridiculous position he holds which says that people are not ready for local government elections and I urge him to move with haste to appoint the date when local government elections are to be held in Guyana. That is what the people want and it is what they must have.
I have looked at the allocations made for the Regions. My Colleague, Mr. Hon Ronald Bulkan, has adequately dealt with them and I do not believe that I need to add very much to what he has said, but I want to say one thing in relation to the allocations for Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9, in particular Region 8, which provides the greatest logistical problems in relation to the delivery of services to the people in that Region. To my mind, the proposed allocations for those Regions fall far short of what is required to meaningfully impact the manifold problems which plague these communities.
Additionally, the reduction of expenditure with respect to public works in Region 8, bearing in mind what the situation on the ground is, is, to my mind, worrying and frightening. What are the reasons for this reduction? Does it have to do with the inability of the Administration to spend the voted provisions in 2013? If that is the case, the thing to do is not to penalise the people by reducing the allocations, but to remove the administrator and replace him with someone who is competent and who understands the need to get things done in a timely fashion.
In spite of the contributions that Region 8 has been making to the country’s coffers, it continues to be denied the degree of financial support from Central Government which is required to lift it out of the doldrums. The reality is that life in that Region, especially for people in Sub-Region 1, is a far cry from what it should be. The Government should, therefore, move to adapt a more even-handed approach in respect to the developmental needs of the people in that and other hinterland regions.
Finally, I believe the inadequacies, the weaknesses, the failings, of the 2014 Budget have already been and will continue to be appropriately addressed by those of us on this side of the House as we continue to engage the debate of this year’s Estimates. I believe the efforts of pointing out the shortfalls in Minister Ashni Singh’s proposals for this year should be seen for what they are - comprehensive, objective criticisms by those of us on this side of the House. The views expressed have nothing to do with spitefulness or vindictiveness, but are formed out of a desire to take Guyana beyond where it is presently. The criticisms provide us with an opportunity to reflect on and to reformulate some of the proposals and to re-present them in a more acceptable form. I hope Government is capable of doing this because, if it is not, those of us who represent the APNU and, I daresay, the AFC will join in ensuring that the Budget will not go further than where it is in this point in time.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]