April 11, 2012
Mr. Seeraj: I lost that quite some time ago Mdm. Deputy Speaker. Thank you Mdm. Deputy Speaker. It is a lot quieter at this end of the room with you sitting up there. I am very happy that you are sitting there.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker: We may have to move to make that permanent Hon. Member.
Mr. Seeraj: I am sure we can enter into some bilateral discussions.
First of all, allow me to welcome and congratulate the new Members to the House on both sides. I am certain that they will enjoy their stay here. Whilst it may be challenging, especially as the buzz words in these days are “the new dispensation”, we do not have any experience to draw down on as to how the House will operate. So in this regard we are almost as new as they are in trying out this new formula as to how we operate.
Secondly, I would like to add my congratulations, to that of my colleagues on both sides of the House, to the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh who has done it once again in presenting a very good budget, and by extension the people behind the Hon. Minister who would have spent long days, way into the evenings, in preparing this budget. Sometimes when I listen to some Members of this House, especially on the other side, I am almost inclined to suggest to the Hon. Minister to give them a chance to prepare and present a budget to this House, and let us see how they will fare. Because it is taken for granted that in presenting a budget of the likes that we have seen since 1993 that that this is an easy job. We do not understand and appreciate the complexity behind presenting a budget that can deliver to the people of this country.
I was looking forward to a profound and in depth presentation by the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greendige a former Minister of Finance. I must say I was disappointed. I do recall the fiery presentations by the late Winston Murray. The Hon. Member and colleague Volda Lawrence does a good job in leading off the debate. Mr. B. Williams tried one year, but he did not make it. I must say that given my understanding of the background of Mr. Carl Greenidge, his presentation left a lot to be desired.
(Mrs. Indranie Chandarpal in the Chair at 9.36 p.m.)
Mdm. Deputy Speaker, I am very fortunate this evening. This is the second lady I am talking to.
The Minister in his presentation made a number of profound statements that has to do with positioning Guyana’s economy in the first instance, the economy of the Caribbean, and in the second instance, in the global arena. When we look at what is happening in Guyana, we must not see this in isolation of what is happening in the rest of the world.
What were some of these statements that the Minister made? Real growth, I read, in gross domestic products averaging 4.4% over the past five years, last year it was 5.4% and this year it is projected at 4.1%. External balances, the highest ever; external reserves increasing 3-fold since 2006 to US$798 million; external debt reduced from 658% of GDP at the end of 1991 to 47% by the end of 2011. This figure taken into isolation does not give you the real impact of Guyana’s performance when compared with the rest of the world.
If we look at the Caribbean for example, close to home here, how did the Caribbean fare? In 2010 the growth in the Caribbean region was 0.2%. In 2011, it was 0.7% and this year, whilst we are projecting a 4.1% growth, the Caribbean is looking at a growth rate of 1.7%. We have to position Guyana in this context.
If we look further afield, how is the rest of the world managing? It is in the Minister’s presentation, but let me highlight that, global output expanded by 3.8%, which was down by 5.2% in 2010. The advanced economies or developed countries, those economies grew by a mere 1.6% and this year they are projected to grow by 1.2%. So I beg of my colleagues to view this budget in this context. Perfection does not exist anywhere or if it does, I have not been there. Of course, we will have to continue maintaining the roads, hospitals, and schools. We have to continue earmark new projects, our sea defences, drainage and irrigation networks, providing extension services and so on, to all farmers. That is an ongoing business of the Government and we expect Members to raise those concerns, but we do not expect them to get on as if there has not been progress, as if this Government has not been delivering on its mandate, as if we have not been fulfilling our promises.
We are hearing a lot of talk about the pension, public assistance and VAT. Hon. Member, Mr. Allicock, I must tell you that I saw somewhere in the budget that there has been a lot of millions allocated for the tourism sector. By the way, beef is VAT free, just to let you know, it is zero rated. So, when you talk about VAT we also have to examine VAT as to what items are vatable, because sometimes we get away with this impression that everything that is needed for the ordinary household is carrying a VAT of 16%. These are troubling issues, these are issues that we have to talk about and we have to view them in the context in which this Government is trying to bring about economic development and well-being for our people, we have been doing that.
If we look at the issues of pensions for example and we take the life expectancy that this country was experiencing in 1991, we could have easily raise pensions, if we had maintained that life expectancy; if we had not done the necessary investments in the health of our people, in proper food security, education, in providing an enabling environment that caused our life expectancy to move from 59 years to 70 years and we had allowed it to remain at 59 years, we could have easily said the pension is $1 million per month, because persons would not have been alive to get that pension. What we have been doing is that we have been consistently investing in our people, in their education and for this purpose, in particular, in their health, that is why we are seeing the results of insuring that our people’s life expectancy has moved from 59 years to 70 years. We do not wait until you are 65 years to give you a pension. What was that pension in 1991? It was G$211 in 1991. We are investing in the welfare of our people from birth. As a matter of fact our investments are in our people, even before they are born, in the maternal care that we are providing for our expectant mothers. We do not wait until you are 65 years to give you a pension.
Our colleagues have mentioned how the pension have moved from G$211 in 1991 and we have to look at it in that context, look at what it is now and what it is projected to go at. Of course, it is not enough, but at the same time the point is that we have been continuously investing in our people and our budget shows that. A consistent budget, as way back as from 1993 to now. Even if we look from 2006, $105 billion, $109 billion, $167 billion and then last year $154 billion, $192 billion, it demonstrates continuous growth in keeping with the growth of our economy and it demonstrates solid macro-economic management by the Government in terms of ensuring that Guyana stays on course and the country has been responding.
If you talk to members of the Private Sector Commission, they will tell you clearly that there is more confidence in Guyana now in terms of investment. If you look at the agriculture sector, if you look at tourism, in every single sector we have grown confidence in the performance of Guyana’s economy and I just mentioned how the rest of the world is doing. [Mr. Greenidge: Inaudible] Mr. Greenidge you should be the last man to talk, you have not really done anything. We have to examine your performance in the period that was classified as “The lost decade”. That is where we had to pick up from. A country that was bankrupt.
Look at how the agriculture sector, in particular rice, had responded to the enabling environment that was provided by this Government. Continuously, we have been breaking records in terms of production. We made record production in 2009, it last a mere 12 months, we broke it in 2010, 2010 records was broken in 2011 and this year 2012, we will also break the 2011 record. This is not happening in isolation with what is taking place in the rest of the world, in the rest of the country. We have been investing not only in the physical infrastructure, Hon Minister, Dr. Gopaul mentioned it, we have been training our people and the rice farmers have been part of this process. We have brought them up to date with technology, not in an air-conditioned environment or in a classroom environment, we took that technology to the farmers in their fields, in what is called Farmer Field School Activities and we provided that environment for them to engage with our scientist and vice versa, because it is a learning process, it is a two-way street. That is how we do business on this side of the House. We have been continuously seeing the results of that kind of investment.
One would have expected that the Hon. Dr. Singh, recognising the new situation here, to come with a budget that would probably address, in more details, concerns of persons and geared towards a more election environment. That is not the case, the Minister continued to ensure that his budget follows a trend and a path that has been designed from the inception to provide a solid economic platform for this country to grow and to sustain that growth and our people have responded; it is not by the wave of a magic wand. Every single sector has improved, our education and health for the people in this House who are approaching 65 years and beyond - I see some gentlemen across there - be comforted in the fact that the average life expectancy is 70 years and with the good care of this PPP/C Administration, you will go beyond that. That is the kind of budget we present to this National Assembly, to ensure continuous growth on a sustainable basis and we will not pander to sometimes desirous, nearsighted or otherwise just because we have observed a change in dispensation. We will stay on that course to ensure economic development on a sustainable basis. We are going to stay on the course of investing in our people; we will stay on course to provide safe and drinkable water, housing, education and health.
Guyana is one of the few countries, developing and otherwise, that continues to provide extremely good health care, free of cost to our people, in every single village, all over. If some doctors worked their full eight hours at the Georgetown Public Hospital, as they are paid to, we will have better care, especially better eye care for our people. They are paid to go there for eight hours and they short change the treasury by turning up and then rolling out back and go to their private clinics. Then they refer patients from the public institution to their private clinic. If we are leaders we have to lead from the front and demonstrate in a concrete way our nationalistic views. We have to do it that way and make representation.
The programme that we have earmarked on in this budget, which is so athlete titled, “Remaining on course, united in purpose, prosperity for all”. This theme that is in this budget can adequately provide for every single Guyanese, wherever they are, for them to enjoy prosperity and take part in national development, for them to enjoy a better way of life and for their children. I have experience that, the way I grew up is not the way my children are growing up and I am certain under the continued governance of the PPP/C Administration, my children’s children will grow up even better than they are growing up.
Mdm. Deputy Speaker I thank you very much. [Applause]