Minister of Housing and Water [Mr. Ali]: Mr. Speaker, I promise you that I will stick to the trend and standard set by the Hon. Member, Mr. Carl Greenidge.
Mr. Speaker: You are entitled to extensions if a Member requests it.
Mr. Ali: Mr. Speaker, after listening to the Hon. Member, I believe that we can safely say, “Greenidge is in the wilderness.” I will show to you that this Hon. Member, Mr. Greenidge, was in charge of the Ministry of Finance for a long period in the history of this country, and that period is often referred to as “the lost decade”.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to present to you two sets of information and I wish that you would put yourself in the position of an investor listening to a government proposing policies and programmes that would motivate you to invest in that economy. A former Minister of Finance had this to say to that country and the investor:
“In retrospect, as we examined the performance of the economy in 1988 to 1989, two fundamental problems faced us: severe fiscal imbalance and severe external disequilibrium. There was also uneven economic growth and a decline in GDP”.
He went on to say:
“The human resource problem (which was cited in 1989 as a test of the management of the ERP) has been compounded by higher and unanticipated rates of inflation. This problem will continue to bedevil us until the rate of inflation can be reduced.
Inequity is arising in the fiscal system because too many people and companies evade the payment of taxes, although they seek to benefit from the government expenditures that these tax revenues permit.”
It is important for us to understand this context because today the situation is drastically different. Mr. Speaker, I have just quoted from the Budget Speech of the Hon. Carl Greenidge, 20th February, 1991.
I wish now to quote from a distinguished Minister of Finance, the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, in the 2012 Budget. This is what he had to say:
“Mr. Speaker, Budget 2012 comes to this Honourable House when the Guyanese economy is at its strongest in recent memory. Our productive base is showing increasing signs of resilience and dynamism and is more diversified than ever before, with real growth in gross domestic product averaging 4.4% over the past five years. At the same time...”
The same issue that Mr. Greenidge examined...
“...our external balances are at their highest ever with our external reserves rising threefold since 2006. We are much less indebted as a nation than we were twenty years ago, with external debt being reduced from 658% of GDP at the end of 1991to 47% at the end of 2011.”
Those are the contrasting realities of the economy of this country. Having said this, I wish to congratulate the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh and the team at the Ministry of Finance for piloting Guyana to successive economic growth and social development and advancement.
This Budget comes at a time when we celebrate our twentieth year of democracy. We must not forget that there was a period of dictatorship in this country. This Budget is formed on democratic rule.
The success of the fiscal programmes that we are here, to present in this Budget today seeks not only to consolidate the policy gains, but also to advance the social and economic programmes which were initiated when the Government assumed office in 1992, achieving the various national priorities as set out in the various development paradigms such as the Economic Recovery Programme, the National Development Strategy, the recently launched National Competitiveness Strategy and the Low Carbon Development Strategy. The question that faces us today is: should we continue on this course which has seen Guyana withstand the difficulties of the global financial situation and that has seen Guyana successfully overcoming a lot of the challenges that the financial crisis posed, or do we fall prey to wishful policies that seek to score cheap political points? For example, we have been continuously improving the salaries and benefits of public servants, but when the Hon. Member, Carl Greenidge, says that we can increase salaries to public servants by 20%, he does not go on to give the analytical reasoning as to how this can be done and what are the implications of this. Dr. Ashni Singh has not only presented realistic numbers, but he has given the implications of such numbers on the life and economy of the country.
The Hon. Member, with his skewed statistics, mentioned that the top 20% of the population takes up 40% of the wealth, the space, and the last 20% takes up 7%. That leaves 53% and this is what we have been saying. He has proven the point that there is a growing middle class in the country. Furthermore, the 7% that he talked about is not a number that has been plucked out. We must not forget that we came into government when 38% of our people was below the poverty line. These are the realities; these are the facts.
Most of us in this honourable House would agree that the post-colonial growth story of Guyana, prior to 1992, has been one of decline and stagnation. Even though at the time of independence, and as the Hon. Members asked the question: what is the relevance of the history? Well I will tell you and I will prove to you how relevant the history is today. Guyana was not always the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. When the People’s National Congress (PNC) grabbed government, Guyana was one of the fastest growing economies. Guyana was one of the strongest economies and that government brought it down, in 1991, to one of the weakest economies and one of the most sluggish economies in the western hemisphere. This is the reality. That is why the historical context is so important and that is why the Guyanese people must understand that the gains that we have made, the accomplishments that we have made, and the strength of the economy today can easily be washed away with bad planning, bad policies, and mismanagement. And we must never allow this country to ever again fall in the hands of dictatorship that will allow mismanagement and bad policies to erode the economic progress that we have made.
Mr. Speaker, it is important for us to evaluate the Curriculum Vitae (CV) of various specialists. When someone professes to be a specialist in a particular field, we must evaluate the CV of that person to understand the background of that person, to understand the experience and knowledge of that person, and probably the worse period of our political history - I knew that the Hon. Member, Carl Greenidge, would have left because...he would walk away from his own legacy when we are finished here.
The Hon. Carl Greenidge was the Minister of Finance - indeed the period often described by most academics as “the lost decade”. To better understand what occurred during the 1980s, allow me to provide some important statistics; According to John Gafar in his study entitled “Income Distribution, Inequality and Poverty during Economic Reforms in Guyana”, the following statistics were provided:
“The country recorded negative growth for five of the ten years during the decade that the Hon. Carl Greenidge was the Minister of Finance. The average GDP growth between 1981 and 1990 was -2.2%; GNP per capita declined from US$720 in 1980 to US$290 in 1989; approximately 67% of the population lived below the poverty line in 1989 compared with 55% in 1980; by 1988, the GDP was just 68% of the 1976 level and the external debt was in excess of 600% of GDP; the minimum wage which was US$2.89 in 1980 fell to US$1 in 1989; inflation was averaged at 28.9% between 1980 and 1990, peaking at 66.3% during 1990; the lending rate moved from 12.5% in 1980 to 35% in 1989; the exchange rate moved from 2.50% during 1980 to 111.8% in 1990; the fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP averaged 39.4%, peaking at 66.2% in 1992; the external debt of the country moved from US$639 million in mid 1980 to US $1.391 billion by the end of 1989.”
The fiscal infrastructure was in total disrepair; there was a pronounced shortage of essential items. This was Guyana, this was the reality.
There was once a time in this National Assembly when the population listened out during budget time to hear which items will be banned, which would be prohibited, and to hear about the further erosion of democracy and freedom of choice. Today that is of no more. [Ms. Wade: What about 16% VAT, are you not going to talk about that?] I will!
Mr. Speaker, I wish now to talk a bit about transparency and accountability. The Opposition would want us to believe that they come from the bosom of transparency and accountability. I would like to give you three examples of how transparent they were. I will give you three examples in the privatisation deals. Demerara Woods Ltd., the one that received the most publicity, was sold to Lord Beaverbrook, a former treasurer of the British Conservative Party. He bought the entity in February 1991 for £9.7 million. He negotiated and obtained a fifty-year lease for 1.1 million acres of rainforest. Just months later in 1981 he sold his interest to the United Dutch Company for £61 Million.
Beaverbrook had up to mid 1992 to finish paying the Guyana Government for Demerara Woods, and while he still did not pay the Guyana Government, the then Government allowed him to merge the enterprise into the giant United Dutch Company which took control of Demerara Timbers of which he remained a major shareholder. [Ms. Ally: Tell them Guyana’s (inaudible) on the paint company now]
I am happy that the Hon. Member raised the issue about the paint factory. I will tell you about it now. The National Paint Factory was an efficient profit making entity. It was sold in May 1991 to Steven Giddings, an overseas based Guyanese for US$1.15 Million. Giddings lodged US$200,000 down payment and was given until 1993 to pay the rest at 6% interest at a time when the market interest rate for industrial loans was 35% - 40%. Worst than this, the workers of the company offered to buy the same company in what would have been equivalent to $150.2 million in 1991, but the Government accepted $142.6 million. This is the same set of people who want to lecture us on accountability and transparency. This Government has no apologies for investing any resources that would bring benefits to our people and would improve their equity and asset position. The $4 billion that was invested in the housing sector was done to improve the living conditions, the housing conditions, and equity position of the people of this country.
Since 2006 real GDP growth has been strong and positive in each year over the six years ending 2011 averaging 4.4%, while per capita GDP growth reached US$2,501.07 - the highest average in 2010. All of this was achieved in the midst of severe global economic recession, a recession that is compared to the Great Depression. While not being completely spared from the negative effects of the crisis, we were able to post real growth. In the context of deep and widespread economic contraction across the Caribbean economies, Guyana’s performance may be regarded as remarkable.
Let us look at the statistics of Guyana’s performance versus that of the Region. In terms of Gross Domestic Product, Guyana had 4.4%, Jamaica - 1.3%, Barbados 0.2%, and Trinidad and Tobago -0.0%. In terms of Per Capita GDP Growth, Guyana had 4.2%, Jamaica 1.6%, Barbados 0.2% and Trinidad and Tobago 0.4%. In terms of Net Foreign Direct Investment, Guyana had US$270 million, Jamaica US$169 million, and Trinidad and Tobago US$549 million. With regards to the Total Gross External Debt Ratio Guyana had US$1.043 billion, Jamaica US$8.390 billion, Barbados US$4.485 billion, Trinidad and Tobago US$1.561 billion. These are the facts. You can go and check the ECLAC Report of 2011. Guyana’s performance has been one described by many Caribbean leaders, not only as remarkable, but the Hon. Ralph Gonzales said that Guyana was “the only shining light in all of the Caribbean”.
These are the realities we may want to wish away; these are the facts we may want to wish away, but today as Guyanese we can proudly say we are living under better conditions. Our standard of living has improved, our access to resources has improved and wealth at the household and individual level has improved drastically. These are the realities. We agree that there is still a lot more to be done. There is still a lot of investment that needs to be made. The Government must still widen its social programme so that greater benefit can resound to the Guyanese people, but we cannot widen our social programme or expand our social programmes if we follow the recommendation of the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge. When he used the Heritage Foundation Index on Economic Freedom to judge the Government, he was making a fundamental mistake. The Heritage Foundation scores Governments that have a huge social programme poorly. If you have a big budget on the social side, they score you poorly. Even when the United States was bailing out the financial sector so as not to deepen the financial crises, there was a big row on scoring the United States Government very low. On one hand you cannot ask the Government to improve access, to expand the social safety net, and to expand social infrastructure, and then you are using the tool that would require the Government to reduce such investment to judge the Government. That is double standard and hypocrisy.
Mr. Speaker, over the past five years the domestic financial sector has also played an important role in extending credit to the local private sector due to easy monetary policy stands of the Central Bank. Based on the official statistics of the Bank of Guyana, domestic credit to the private sector increased from $67.2 billion in 2006 to $94.2 billion in 2011. All the major sectors of the economy including the agricultural, mining, quarrying, manufacturing and services sector benefited from higher loans and advances from the commercial banks. The household sector has also benefited significantly from the expansion in credit from commercial banks.
Interest rates also trended downwards during this period. The average lending rate declined from 13.2% in 2006 to 11.68% at the end of 2011. Mortgage rates declined to 4.2% at the end of December 2011. It was also noteworthy that the banking system is extremely sound, ranking at 53 out of 153 countries in 2010. According to the global economic forum, the capital adequacy ratio and tier one ratio of licensed depositary institutions which reflect the ability of LDIs to cope with risks were well above the established international benchmarks. Further, the ratio of non-performing loans to total loans has trended downwards from 2006 to 2010. This has a lot to do with the strong regulatory framework that the Government has put in place in the financial sector. These benefits are as a result of Government’s commitment to modernise the financial sector.
If you look at the statistics from the Bank of Guyana – this would demonstrate how prudent we have managed the economy – Capital to Risk Adjusted Assets in 2006 was $15.7 billion, in 2010 it was $18.8 billion. Return on Assets in 2007 was $2.3 billion, in 2010 it was $2.4 billion. Liquid Assets to Total Assets in 2007 was $25.9 billion and today it is $30.1 billion. These are the realities. These are the facts. What is the impact of this? Poor household and the business sector generally are now able to access mortgages at historically low interest rates.
Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Minister of Finance also pointed out a key issue, that is, that Guyana’s accomplishment of a number of targets in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Amongst the MDG’s already achieved are nutrition and child health. We know what the situation of child health and nutrition was in this country. Of course if you just reflect on some of the old speeches of Hon. Moses Nagamootoo he would have outlined in detail what the state of affairs was then.
Based on the result of Government programmes over the last six years, there should be no reason for change in course at this juncture of our history. Instead, we should continue to pursue the programmes and policies set out in the 2012 Budget in order to achieve the following national priorities. These are the national priorities which Budget 2012 seeks to achieve. Firstly, the creation of jobs for our people; secondly the provision of housing and shelter for all especially the poor and vulnerable; thirdly, the transformation of the economic base so that the economy is more resilient to external shocks; fourthly, improve the competitiveness of the economy; fifthly, the improvement in our human capital; sixthly, the delivery of better quality social services; and seventhly, the strengthening of the national institutions responsible for safety security and justice.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister your time is up.
Prime Minister and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs [Mr. Hinds]: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Hon. Member be given fifteen minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put and carried.
Mr. Speaker: Proceed Hon. Member.
Mr. Ali: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. The eighth priority is the promotion of positive and stable economic growth; ninthly, the creation of a friendly business environment to encourage both domestic and foreign investments; tenthly, maintain fiscal prudence; eleventh – equitable distribution of the country’s wealth and; twelfth – the protection of our environment.
How is this going to be achieved? How could we measure the impact? How can we calculate the multiplier effect of these programmes?
I wish to now look at some of the sectors and to do a socio-economic analysis as to the impact of these investments on the economy and the living conditions of our people.
Let us look at priority number one, job creation, and take one sector, the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector where $2.6 billion will be invested to lay high speed cable. Guyana $3.1 billion will be invested in this year’s Budget to continue these works. What policy is this linked to? The policy priority of Government is the technological advancement of the economy and to give every Guyanese person the opportunity of the benefits offered through ICT, more especially the accessibility to ICT and development opportunity for all Guyanese. What is the impact of this policy? What is the impact of this investment? More than 3,000 new jobs have already been created from investment thus far. This additional investment will create 6,000 in the near term and 15,000 new jobs in the medium term. More persons will have access to the internet and new methods of educating, reaching all Guyanese in every corner of the country with 90,000 families benefitting from having a laptop. We are going to achieve in Guyana what even the developed world is fighting after, that is, to have a 100% Information Technology (IT) literacy. These are the linkages. [Mr. B. Williams: What about water and housing?]
Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Member has asked about water and housing. I am very happy that today my Party in Government has seen the value of young people and have called upon me to do bigger jobs. I take this opportunity to thank my Party for the confidence that they have posed in me.
Let us look at the mining sector. Our national priority is for the protection of traditional sectors and to expand the economic base. Private investments from BOSAI would see US$100 million, BGI US$80 million, First Bauxite Inc. US $120 million, Guyana Gold Fields US$600 million, Sandspring Resources Ltd. US$800 million. These are the private investments and capital that would be flowing through the economy as a result of Budget 2012. What is the impact of this? The creation of more than 3,400 jobs from the new and expanding investments in the private sector in the near and medium term; expansion in the output of bauxite and gold, the respective revenues and royalties, plus the new oil exploration ventures and manganese discovery, showing the development of new sub sectors in mining, all contributing to the diversification of the economy. This is a mainstay of the economy, the diversification of our economy.
Mr. Speaker, let us look at the tourism sector and what is the policy position of the Government. The policy position is positioning and maintaining tourism as a national priority with a commitment to the sustainable development of tourism, creation of a “One-Stop-Shop” for tourism investment and tourism specific investment guide outlining tourism opportunities, and identification of tourism investment zones. One very welcomed development is the mining sector. Local investors in the mining and natural resources sector are now ploughing their excess liquidity into eco-tourism and into other forms of tourism. The times when local investors were seeking opportunities to hide away their funds are long gone. They are now looking inwardly at Guyana as the preferred destination for their investments.
We are also looking to launch the Visit-Guyana-Year 2013. In 2012 we encourage Guyanese in the diaspora to come home for vacation, to invest, volunteer, re-migrate or retire in Guyana. Training of 1000 individuals in hospitality management - Guyana was one of three Caribbean countries to register increased tourist arrivals during the crises of 2008/2009. Increasing visitor arrivals, inproved hotel occupancy and increased tourism revenue are outputs of the policies followed by Government.
There is a lot of talk about Guyana’s $75.8 billion investment that is directly related to the expansion of the tourism sector. That is a development of a new airport, the Marriot Hotel and the Amaila’s Falls hydro project which would see opportunities to invest, reduce costs and offer opportunities. What is the impact of this is? Once the Marriot Hotel comes to Guyana it will give Guyana free marketing time because the there is what you call the Marriot magazine and Guyana will then be featured in that magazine. The investment in the airport will allow us to become a regional hub for refuelling. As a result of investment in the hydro project, we will have reduced energy cost that is necessary to ensure our competitiveness. We will attract investors to the manufacturing sector and reduce the amount of small and medium scale manufacturers to larger scale manufacturers. These are the impacts and this is why such investment is critical for the economic advancement of our country.
I would like to deal briefly with the issue of old age pension. Whilst this Government has increased the old age pension by more than 700% we are still not satisfied on this side of the House, but we must balance political ambition with prudence. There must be a balance. What is the reality? The reality today is that we have 42,000 pensioners and the cost on the Budget of this increase is almost $400 million. Where have we come from? The amount of pensioners that we have now is 75% more than what we had in 1991. For a matter of fact, the life expectancy in 1991 was 59 years, therefore Guyanese could not even live to receive a pension. Today, life expectancy is 70 years.
Let us look at the Housing sector. $3.6 billion dollars will be invested in the housing sector. What is the Government policy? The national priority is to increase access to adequate and affordable housing. The Government has contributed approximately 82,000 house lots between 1993 and 2009 and continues to treat the provision of housing to less income families with utmost importance. 6,500 house lots are to be allocated and 4,000 titles will be processed and distributed; the instillation of approximately 16km of pure water distribution network; the upgrading of 15km of roads in existing and squatting communities. We will distribute more than 190 housing subsidies for housing improvement. 200 core homes are to be financed and built by the Government. We will construct more than 200 additional core homes in the Hinterland communities, and we will activate the facilities that will see the partnership with nurses, teachers and police, in the first quarter we are targeting 200 such houses.
Mr. Speaker, it will not be practical, reasonable or politically correct for the Opposition to oppose policies like these that seek to transform and improve the lives of our people. Should the attempt to do anything that will take away the rightful benefits that the people will derive from this budget, then they must be judged very harshly.
[Mrs. Backer: Who will judge us? Minister Edghill will judge us?]
What is the multiplier effect of this investment in housing? The multiplier effect of the $3.6 billion is estimated to be $1.8 billion value added; direct employment of 1,000 persons of various skills; sustained employment for 30,000 across the economy who support the housing and construction sector; an improvement in the road network which will benefit more than 21,500 households. This is the impact of Budget 2012.
The Water sector has an investment of $2 billion. What are the national priorities? The national priorities are to increase coverage and quality of water supply across the country; 98% water coverage along the coast; an increase in treated water coverage from 25% to 49%; improvement of the level of service across different regions to above five metres. In addition, the coverage in the hinterland has increased from 25% in 2006 to 71%, presently.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member your time is up.
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Hon Member be given another fifteen minutes to continue his presentation.
Question put and carried.
Mr. Ali: Thank you Mr. Speaker.
What is the impact of these investments? Employment creation for 2012 in the water sector, as a result of the investment in the water sector, will be 1,590 jobs. There will be the laying of 85km of pipelines including for new communities in Providence and Hope; drilling of four new wells; upgrade of approximately 25,000 service connections; installation of eight new water supply systems in the hinterland; upgrade of water supply system in two small hinterland towns; and the commencing of construction of two water treatment plants in Linden.
Let us now look at the national priority in maintaining fiscal prudence - an investment of more than $192.8 billion. The policy priority is to increase investment without new taxes while maintaining healthy fiscal balances, and provides more social goods and services, especially for vulnerable groups - only a deficit of 4.6% of GDP below the 2006 level. The private sector in overall economy will benefit and more significantly, the well-being of the poor will be improved through jobs, housing and healthcare – just to mention a few. $120.9 billion in tax revenue - the policy priority is no new taxes, but efficiency in revenue collection and redistribution of income.
The income tax threshold has doubled from 25,000 in 2006 to 50,000 in 2012. The list of zero rated Value Added Tax (VAT) items expanded in 2010. And Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to remove the myth that VAT is solely responsibility for the additional revenue flow. As a matter of fact, since the implementation of VAT only 27.6% of the tax revenue came from that system. Worse than that, the consumption tax which VAT replaced represented 40% on average of total tax revenue. In fact, the percentage share of VAT on total revenue has decreased from 32% to 26%. [Mr. Nadir: Tell them! Tell them!] These are the facts. What is the impact? 21,000 persons will be removed from the income tax net. VAT is merely a more efficient tax. Tax revenue increases represent a broadening of the tax net and not a burden on the taxpayer. With an increase in domestic consumption who benefitted? The poor benefitted from the extensive range of zero-rated items.
National priorities – equitable distribution of wealth – pro-poor policies- what are these? An investment of $4 billion for GuySuCo- this will directly benefit 18,000 workers and indirectly benefit 120,000 persons connected to the sugar industry. Are we willing to oppose an investment like this which would secure 18,000 jobs? Which would ensure that the livelihood of 120,000 persons remain secure? [Mr. Ramjattan: You are only fooling the sugar workers.] This has nothing to do with fooling the sugar workers; this is about protecting the well-being and welfare of sugar workers. We do not have a double message. When the $4 billion was announced the Hon. Member Mr. Moses Nagamootoo said, “Bail out”, then he appeared on a television programme in Albion and said the Government is not doing enough. The hypocrisy, the double standards, how much more are these Hon. Gentlemen willing to impose on the Guyanese people. [Mr. Ramjattan: Why do you not increase the salary?] The Hon. Member is speaking about increasing the salary when we are trying to secure the jobs in the first instance. How can one increase salary if there are no jobs? This man is sailing; he knows nothing about economics.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, who were you referring to when you say, “this man”?
Mr. Ali: The Hon. Member.
Mr. Speaker: You said someone is sailing. I just want to know who.
Mr. Ali: The Leader of the AFC.
Mr. Speaker: That would be me.
Mr. Ali: Sorry, the Deputy Leader. Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge that you are in charge.
Who will benefit from the $6 billion investment in Guyana Power and Light (GPL)? - The 164,000 subscribers. If we did not provide this subsidy for GPL what would have been the consequence? No subsidy would have meant an increase in the tariffs of more than 20%. This Government, being a caring Government, being a Government that believes in equality, being a Government that has promoted pro-poor approaches to growth, saw it fit to absorb that 20 % by plunging a $6 billion subsidy into GPL.
Is the muttering from the opposite side an indication that they will vote against this $6 billion for the people? [Government Member: Let them say] That they would vote against this 20% cushioning? If it is that they will vote against this $6 billion let them say so. Let the Guyanese people see them for who they are. I am proud to say that the Guyanese people have seen what this Government stands for. That is why we are the only Government in the Caribbean and Latin America which can boast of presenting the 20th National Budget for the people of this country. So, yes, let there be no illusion. This is the Government that has developed policies and priorities that will benefit and bring ease to the Guyanese people. [Mr. Williams: What about Linden? They are not people.]
We must also not forget that the public assistance benefits more than 9,000 people.
Let us come to the income tax threshold. Approximately 21,000 people will be removed from the income tax net. Additionally, $3 billion in disposable income will be reinvested in the economy. The doubling of the threshold will ensure that spending, accessibility to income, increase and improve to $3 billion. Some of the other initiatives that will ensure the gap and will ensure that we never go back to the days of inequality, that will ensure we never go back to the days of disparity... [Opposition member: The days of Roger Khan] Be careful the man’s father-in-law is watching us.
The days of “hook-up” are long gone. Do not bother with Roger Khan, the days of all that must be gone. [Mr. Williams: Ali Baba time] The days of turning the attention away from “awee” are long gone; Mr. Basil diversion gone. It is now time for seriousness, that is, to develop Guyana in a secure environment, not an environment infiltrated, not an environment where the security is compromised; and we know the role of the “who and what”.
Mr. Speaker, approximately 90,000 poor families will benefit from the One Laptop Per Family Programme. The National and Hinterland School Feeding Programme will benefit over 63,000 children. I am not even counting the uniform for all programme – all the school children having access to and benefit from uniforms. These are the policies that ensure we have balance in the economy.
The Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) initiative is expected to double GDP. Currently the agreement with the Kingdom of Norway of US$250 million would inject new development in the sector. A lot of this money will go towards the expansion of the University of Guyana – the modernisation and expansion of the University of Guyana. (Noisy interruption) [Mrs. Backer: He is the Minister of everything]
Mr. Speaker: Proceed Hon. Minister. Do you need protection?
Mr. Ali: Thank you. I think the case has been adequately made. Guyana is on the right trajectory. We have the perfect balance with growth and development. We have the right policies; [Mrs. Backer: Amen] all it takes now is the political will. That political will must see a mature political opposition; a political opposition that puts country first before self; a political opposition that separates pettiness from national good. Even my friend on the opposite side of the House knows about entrepreneurship. He ran a car dealership once. He ran an auto sale once, so he knows about the benefit and empowerment the economy offers to the Guyanese people.
We must be responsible. We cannot take money from the ordinary poor people of this country to represent them and then never represent them. We cannot take money from the poor and never represent them. We have an obligation, a responsibility, to represent them.
Mr. Speaker: On that point, your time is up.
Mr. Hinds: Mr. Speaker, I pray for 5 minutes for the Hon. Minister to conclude his presentation.
Question put and carried.
Mr. Ali: Mr. Speaker, I wish to conclude by applauding the Minister of Finance for his excellent stewardship of the economy of Guyana and wish to support this budget. Thank you. [Applause]