April 12, 2012
Mr. T. Williams: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, it is my maiden speech. I want to, first of all, thank the 35,000 plus supporters that voted for the AFC (Alliance For Change) and that have placed confidence in us, these MPs (Members of Parliament), to represent their interests in the best way we can. [Ms. Manickchand: 6%] Yes, I know that it is 6%. I also would like to congratulate all of the new Members of this Hon. House as they too stand here to represent the interest of their parties. I must also offer congratulations to the Hon. Finance Minister for presenting this document; a document I believe he is hoping the Opposition at the end of the debate would be able to agree with, standing with the PPP to pass this document.
I learned not so long ago a story of a gentleman who, late in his life, decided to go back to attend school to get an education that bypassed him. To make the story short, because of time, this gentleman went to an English class and he came into contact with parts of speech. His assignment was to go home and learn the word “nouns”. He did not learn about the word “noun”; he learned “a door”. When he returned to school the next day the teacher asked him “Give me a noun.” He said “A door.” She said “Brilliant. Give me another noun.” He said “Another door.” She was startled and she said “More nouns.” He said “More doors.” Hence I believe that, largely, this budget offers for the Guyanese people more of the same.
I do believe that in Guyana today there exist developments. I do believe that things have changed and transformed over the years and I would like to give credit to the Government. I forgot to say that before I started speaking I rose with a contracted headache which I believe came from excess entertainment via interaction; however, I will stand to say what I have to say.
We see roads, bridges, schools, school feeding programmes and a lot more have been done under this Government but we also see large sums of the Guyanese money being presented for contracts; such contracts delivered, as have been happening over the years, where the Guyanese people have been asking for standard work, for quality work, for responsible work. I was elected to help the Guyanese people to charter a better course and ensure that this Government believers value for money.
If this budget is allowed to pass in this current form there is less hope for our farmers, mothers, youths, miners, the workers and the unemployed.
INCREASE OF PENSION
I have $20 and at the same time I have two mints and I did not eat them earlier because I realised that had I eaten these two minutes I would have been eating what the Finance Minister is offering our pensioner daily and that is the increase of $600 per month – $20 per day. If it was an oversight we in the AFC stand ready to forgive him and work with him for an adjustable acceptable increase as was proposed – like $10,000. If our noble colleague, the Minister of Finance, is saying that $20 is enough in 2012, as a daily increase in pensions then I say that he is a very brave man.
DISAGREEMENT WITH MONETARY ALLOCATIONS
The PPP cannot afford to subsidise Linden to the tune of $2.9 billion for electricity but they could have afforded to give $600 million to one man who never built a pavement. He was going to build a complex road in our pristine forest. We do not see an increase to $10,000 for the pensioners but we repeatedly hear that there is a controversial past president pension of $3 million plus allowances for a gardener, researchers and more. We hear about $300 million being allocated for procuring computers and this was given to a barbershop. Under this trend the PPP has spent more money and projected more money but who gets more of the Guyanese money.
In 2008, and I quote the Hon. Minister as saying “our new education strategic plan, 2008 to 2012, is being finalised and will focus on literacy and numeracy programmes, universal secondary education, teacher training school health nutrition and HIV/AIDS, science and technology and the creation of a labour force with the skills that match the needs of our development agenda.” The Minister was allowed by the PPP since then to spend some $85 billion of Guyanese money on the education plan 2008 to 2011 but to what effect.
We look at the pass rates from grades 1 to 3 at CSEC (Caribbean Examinations Council) from 2008 to now70% of our students are failing mathematics under the PPP. In 2008 we had 31.4% passes; in 2009 we had 31.1%; in 2010 it was 34.5%; in 2011 it was 30.4%. I say that this is not value for money and it is a shame.
In this 2012 Budget they are said to continue this broken model of building more schools when the teachers need the tools to do a better job. Mr. Speaker, Hon. Members, teachers need better teaching aids. They need more text books, better salaries – may I add. As to the students: they need better support from the system; especially those children in failing families, but did you see any billions to council and to offer better study environments in the communities so that children can do their homework and blossom to the best that they can be. Where are the billions spent?
We all know the play book: “spend plenty and do little for the people”. So, they spent $85 billion on education in four years and did very little by producing what we can simply call more functional illiterates in four years. I ask again, “Where did this money go?”
We look at UG (University of Guyana) and there is a more demoralising story. I heard the Hon. Member, Dr. Persaud, yesterday speaking as a proud graduate from the University of Guyana. I share her sentiment as I too am a proud graduate of the University, but I am far from being proud of what this university has become under this Government. Under the PPP/C the University of Guyana has operated like an abortion machine, which keeps producing and disposing of the products so regularly. Nowhere else in the Caribbean does a recognised university suffer from such a shortage of quality lecturers. Hence, this delay in the graduation of many and causes the slowing down of their professional pursuit for a better life. Hon. Member, Dr. Persaud, you would have been to the university a long time ago but I do not know if you can recall the dangers of asbestos when the university doors had to be closed. You apparently were not there when we had to interrupt one class to accommodate another. One is sitting in a class room at the university and one turns around only to see another lecturer appear with a number of students saying “We were supposed to be here.” I have had the experience of having various lecturers being called in just to finish one course because they left the university for various reasons, yet this Government has been promising year after year to better and enhance what we have. I was sitting in the GWLT (George Walcott Lecture Theater) many days when the rain would fall and one had to play musical chairs with ones furniture just to not get wet – you and your books. That is not a university to be proud of but one that we should be ashamed of and work together to develop and invest in our young people.
In this budget the PPP are spending some US$750 per university student every year; if one were to compare that with the UWI (University of the West Indies) Mona Campus in Jamaica, they spent US$1,500 per student. For Barbados and Trinidad the figures are even higher. Even in Suriname the Government spends more on a university student. I say “shame” on this performance and the regard that we have been seeing for education under this Government. The University of Guyana has, no doubt, been a political playfield and has caused the suffering of many of our students; it is like “starve and feed”.
INFRASTRUCTURAL WORK TO LINK COMMUNITIES AND COUNTRIES
In 2008 the PPP promised to complete the feasibility study of a paved Linden to Lethem road. Four years later that project is still being analysed. We do not know why the government is taking those promises so lightly. Building a transportation link, even if it is a rail, will fulfil our national ambition to better connect and unit the coast lands with the hinterland under the banner “One People, One National, One Destiny”. What is really of concern is, in 2010, President Lula came to our shores and promised this Government his full support to build the Lethem to Linden road. What did the PPP do with this promise from one of the world’s most powerful and emerging nation? They sent the Hon. Kelowan Lall to Brazil as our premier ambassador. Yes, they continue to send untrained diplomats.
While we were playing musical chairs, Suriname, in 2010, signed an agreement to go and actively seek out some $6 billion from the private sector and friendly governments to fast tract the construction of a deepwater harbour and railway from the coast of Brazil, among eight prestigious projects to fulfil that nations national agenda.
The Hon. Minister alluded to how his Government spent some $8.7 billion on roads in 2011 and planned to increase this by 25%. I dare the Hon. Minister to find out from the Guyanese public if they believe that they got 25% quality increase in the roads provided.
I now turn my attention to youths. I believe that the fairness of this budget will be determined by how much our youths are catered for. As a young man I would like to say to the Hon. Minister that the easiest way to motivate me to support this budget is to do something to enhance the lives of Guyanese youths. I would not want the Hon. Minister to lose that opportunity. According to the IDB (International Development Bank), in Guyana youth employment is more than two and a half times higher than unemployment amount adults. 30% of our youths who want to work are currently “kicking bricks” thanks to the Hon. Members. There have been in power from 20 years and have done very little for our young people.
What is even more startling is, according to the IDB, the employment rate among young women who want to work is a heartbreaking 47%. Right now there are 21,957 young people walking the streets of Guyana “kicking brick” thanks to their Government. Of that amount, about 14,600 are women; I say that this is a shame. No wonder that 89% of Guyanese graduating from the university seek to get out of their beloved country.
I cannot support this budget unless it does the following for youths in Guyana:
Put funds in this budget to equip secondary schools with computer labs. It is better to spend $400 million on 500 young people than $600 million on one man, Mr. Motilall. It is next to impossible for me to support this budget unless Government offers a successful youth empowerment grant for young people who have demonstrated a business idea to start their own business – I must say that the Finance Minister has mentioned something to that effect. I expect that the state will support these youths in areas such as marketing their products and services, managing their money and writing up their business plan to seek further financing from banks. It is better to spend $100 million on 1,000 youths than $900 million on one man.
WHAT IS NEEDED TO ENSURE SUPPORT OF THE BUDGET
I cannot support this budget unless this Government brings back regional mechanical workshops to create thousands of new jobs for young apprentices at the RDC (Regional Democratic Council) level. It is better to spend $100 million on 1,000 young people than $168 million on one man to build a hotel which after will be sold for a profit.
I cannot support this budget unless there is a pool of funds set aside to help talented young athletes with cost-of-living support. For example, $40,000 per month for 12 months will cost the Government only $24 million…
I cannot support this budget unless faith-based organisations which are engaged in moral revival projects receive a state grant of at least $2 million each year to help youths to reintegrate into mainstream society. I, quickly, have one example of the Hauraruni Girls Home. This was founded since 1982 and it has been contributing to the successful care of the lives of young women. The Hon. Minister of Social Services spoke yesterday and said that we were spending about $18,000 per month on our children in homes; they have a budget of US$2,600 a month and it is on record that the Government of Guyana only gave this honourable home US$500 per year. It is a shame.
I want to go quickly to some regional aspects. We ask that the Berbice River Ferry will be restored so that families along the Berbice River would be able to transport their produce and develop their lives within their communities. We are happy for the two roll-on roll-off ferries in the Essequibo River but Berbice River Ferry served a number of villages.
I also want to suggest that we pave the road from Linden to Kwakwani. The Hon. Minister spoke about the millions of US Dollars that were invested in heavy duty machinery and the long-term plan of developing regional resources. If we can proudly say, in this Hon. House, that Region 10 is receiving so much money and investment, then I believe that it is honourable that this Government pilots that road for the residents of Linden to Kwakwani.
I want to speak quickly about Region 2: the villages of Onderneeming and Sand Pit where thousands of residents live without potable water. They swim in a pool that does not run and is only filled by the rain. I call it the “Death Pool”.
Although there was the development spoken about at the Suddie Hospital in Essequibo – for which I commend the Hon. Minister – the medical garbage from the Suddie Hospital is dumped right next to the houses in Redville. It is right here (in a picture). This is going on until today. The children of the residents would pick up the needles and fight with them.
Right there is the Adventure Nursery School which is supported by two black tanks. The entire community needs water. A picture tells a thousand words and this is a picture of the village and the residents have to live by the black tanks. We call it the “Black Tank Villa”. There is more; there is a well there that does not work – it is non-functional – which is called Isaacs’ Well. It is a “white elephant”, they need water. There is more. The roads that were built there just a few months ago are in a very deplorable state.
I want to speak quickly about Bartica before I close. Since 2009 the residents are still awaiting township. Garbage is still a main problem in that community to the extent that the garbage removal machinery that was taken there by this Government broke down before it reached Bartica and it had to be pulled off of the ferry. It is still parked in the Regional Workshop. The residents are thankful for a functioning theatre but they need a resident surgeon in that community. I also want to point out that it is commendable that the government is building the Community Centre at Bartica but, of course, they need recreational facilities in the Four Mile Scheme and the Agatash Area. The residents of Middle Mazaruni are calling for a new secondary school and a new dormitory since the ones there are overcrowded. We will be very happy and supportive of the ventures of this Government to remedy and meet the needs of the people of this country.
I want to say that I did not say all that I had to say but, most importantly, the AFC is in this Parliament to work with this Government and the Rest of the Opposition to ensure that the people of Guyana indeed get a better deal. Thank you very much. [Applause]