Mr. T. Williams: I rise to make my contribution to Budget 2014 presented by the Hon. Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh under the theme A Better Guyana For All Guyanese.
On a more personal note, before I get into the substance of what I have to say, I wish to register a concern, I believe, that 20 minutes for the backbench speakers is quite inadequate. Mr. Speaker, we are representatives for the people for the entire country…
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Williams, the Speaker did not set the time. Bear that in mind. I was not the one but I will try to be flexible, but I was not the one who set the time.
Mr. T. Williams: I know that Mr. Speaker. I wish to speak freely in this National Assembly. [Ms. Shadick: You are wasting the 20 minutes.] You do not worry how I spend my 20 minutes. For many of us, sometime the only speaking time we get in the National Assembly is on the budget presentation. I wish to state that come next year we should try to give our backbenchers at least 30 minutes.
With that said, I wish to turn my attention to what I believe are very important issues. I wish to look at this budget not just in the context of the numbers purposed and the amount of projects and programmes the Government indicates to execute, but I wish to also look at this budget in the context of the Guyanese life today, our reality, and particularly focus on the plight of our young people in Guyana.
I sat in this august Assembly yesterday expecting to find a few lapses of judgement in the presentation of the Hon. Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport but I was hoping in the interest of moving the business of this critical portfolio forward to find some common ground upon which we could start that journey. I was completely disappointed to see that after eight years, with one person in charge of the same portfolio, we are essentially running blind, running in place and claiming progress.
I would like to start in the area of youth, particularly where the issues affecting our young people, our future, are being given inadequate attention.
The absence of a national youth policy. Yesterday the Hon. Minister stood and promised us the implementation of a national youth policy coming out of widespread consultations in 2013 and 2014. Permit me to refresh the Minister's memory on his history of national youth policy consultations by reading the following excerpt from an article published under the headline “National youth policy consultations in phase two”.
“Stakeholders yesterday started to fine-tune a number of initiatives to respond to the challenges and concerns facing the nation's youth while at the same time creating ways to ensure their participation in the country's development... Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Dr. Frank Anthony declared yesterday's session opened and urged active discussion and interaction and pointed out too that the new programme was geared toward empowering Guyanese youth and improving their entrepreneurial employment and leadership skills.”
That article was published in Stabroek News in January of 2007. Almost seven years later, the same political party in power, the same Minister in place, we learn from an article in the Guyana Times THE BEACON OF TRUTH, October 13, 2013 that:
“The second consultation for the drafting of the National Youth Policy saw a positive response from youths when it was staged on Saturday at the Regency Suites Hotel, Hadfield Street, Georgetown.... The National Youth Policy, which is currently being crafted to address existing and emerging youth development challenges, is likely to be completed by year-end. Consultation began in September and is expected to be completed sometime this month.”
The only difference is the external agency funding agency to this initiative. In 2007 it was United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) in 2013. We are in 2014 and still there is no actual policy document, no overall vision for youth development, although a draft, I have seen, makes no mention of the 2007 consultations, although it lists a 2008/2009 UN funded process. The Minister yesterday spoke about continuing existing programmes to benefit youth, and, apparently, he believes that repeating the same thing again and again with no actual result is progress. I can also remind the Minister that recognition of need for a national youth policy started in 1992, which means that a baby born then would have come of age while the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has failed to implement such a mechanism.
When it comes to mechanisms for our young people to have input into national and regional policy decision making, there is the usual mismanagement and neglect. Earlier this year, there was Region 7 Chairman, Gordon Bradford, complaining that that region has been without a Regional Youth Officer for the past three years with repeated calls to Dr. Anthony to rectify the problem going unanswered. Similarly, Guyana remains without any representative on the CARICOM youth ambassador programme after several years. Of course, youth policy initiatives do not exist in themselves. Certain areas of the overall environment disproportionately impact upon youth development and the budget fails to adequately identify these.
Security among youths. Nowhere in the budget, for example, is the recognition that Guyana has the fourth worse suicide rate in the entire world, a national crisis problem that disproportionately affects our young people and this was according to the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2008. Simultaneously, those were the years we have seen consistent economic growth. I quote my friends over there.
For this year, the suicide rate in Berbice alone is competing with the national homicide rate, and the young are disproportionately affected. Just today, tragically, a thirteen-year-old boy was found hanging in Enmore, while over the weekend a ten-year-old attempted to kill himself.
When it comes to murder and violent crime, our criminal justice system continues to fail our young people, from the Sheema Mangar case to the Kirk Davis case to the murder of Trevor Rose. Guyana under this PPP administration is not a safe place for our youth and nothing seems to be done about it.
The Minister of Human Services and Social Security sought to make the case that trafficking in persons is something that disproportionately affects young, poor women from marginalised communities and exists at some acceptable minimum. The AFC would like to recognise and applaud the tremendous work done by Ms. Simona Broomes and the Guyana Women Miners Association for continuing to tackle a problem that has proven to be an inconvenient truth to this administration.
Young entrepreneurship and employment. Apart from being rid of our best and brightest minds via the continuing brain drain scenario, Guyana’s youths remain largely detached from mainstream development, mostly unemployed and underemployed. I take this opportunity to echo the call of the other Members on the Opposition side of the House asking the Hon. Minister Dr. Gopaul to kindly release the unemployment figure of this nation. Please do it, Dr. Gopaul; we beg of you. Please do it before the sun goes down today. We need to know the working status of our young people. It ought not to be a secret kept with the PPP. If we will work together, let us bring the facts to the table.
Young people remain objective in this nation and attempting what they can. One only has to obey or stop at a traffic light and one will see young men and women standing in the sun all day, running to one’s car with bottled water or a daily newspaper. Our young people have a heart in this nation. I would have expected, particularly, in an electioneering budget, concrete programmes focusing on youth entrepreneurship from a policy level. A multi-sectoral job creation programme, which links Guyana Office For Investment (GO-Invest) with the Ministries responsible for Labour, Education, Industry and Youth, would have been welcomed but it is, of course, conspicuously absent.
Absent also is an investment regime in which foreign investors should ensure that they create employment for Guyanese. There was the Marriott Hotel fiasco of recent. Now Bai Shan Lin recently announced that in its plan to invest in value added forestry products in Guyana over 300 skilled persons would have been needed, unfortunately, there was no indication that any could be supplied from Guyana. There was Vitarna Holdings, after acquiring Caribbean Resources Limited (CRL) from Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO), in Region 7, which promised Guyanese that it would invest in value added production, instead it was shipping away our logs and forestry in its rawest form. That, I consider, is to be ripping off the nation. We need an investment regime that will hold foreign investors accountable to creating jobs in this country.
The Minister of Labour spoke boldly, not so long ago, that he and his Ministry is ready to represent the interest of workers all across Guyana, and I applaud him for that statement. On my way to this debate today, I was called by a worker, very concerned and with very alarming news from one of our extracting industries in the natural resources and environment sector, stating that management hit a worker with a spade. Now, that is not the first time we are hearing such allegations but it did not stop there. The manager continued to stone the workers with hard hats, which are commonly called helmets. It did not end there. When that worker stood up for his right, he is, as of today, fired.
I call on the Ministry of Labour and the Minister to take action to investigate those issues of abuse and trampling on the rights of Guyanese. I will give to the Minister at the break, personally, the name and details of the company… [Dr. Singh: Why did you not…[inaudible]?] It came to me on my way to the debate so I have the opportunity now. Thank you Dr. Singh.
Let us get back to the issue of the day because I sense that my colleagues are getting very excited over there when we speak about workers.
I forget to mention that I rise to give this speech in a very strange context because earlier I heard the fight and the clamour over there for the father of the nation, and then I got it from here, and then I realised that my party does not have any claim to any particular father of the nation. I notice that we have two fathers who are Mr. Ramjattan and Mr. Trotman, so I think the Alliance For Change (AFC) is on track for great things.
For the more serious business of the day, I turn my attention to sport and the mysterious synthetic track. I will speak directly to the most glaring aspects of the sports allocation although the Minister’s programme, in this regard, is as flat as the rest. I have noticed that throughout his career, one of Dr. Anthony's favourite words is “soon”. World Cup Cricket audit - soon, and that was way back in 2007,Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) audit - soon, national youth policy - soon, national cultural policy - soon, copyright legislation - soon, Caribbean Press, books by local authors - soon.
In September of last year, the Minister promised that the track would be laid by the end of 2013. In January of 2013, there was the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Mr. Alfred King, promising completion of the project sometime soon. Now, two weeks ago we learn that, with the latest contractor paid and costs inflated to multiples of the original winning bid two years ago, the track is yet to finish. If it were the case that anyone in this National Assembly made a deal with a contractor to build his or her house and that contractor kept inflating costs and changing the deadline for completion he or she would stop all payments on that house, yet the Minister expects us to approve close to $1 billion to fund mismanagement, poor accountability, on the premise that he will deliver on what has to be the world's most expensive synthetic track - soon.
We now go to culture. The Hon. Minister spoke proudly about an initial consultation on culture industries recently held. What is strange is the only indication, which I have seen, that this meeting took place is a letter from one Mr. Barrington Braithwaite, seasoned campaigner for cultural industries in Guyana, published in Kaieteur News of March 9, in which he wrote:
"On Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 a meeting, symposium or workshop was held at Umana... Of course, myself, Ruel Johnson and many others, who were earning and practising cultural industries and are critics of the Ministers miserable failings, were not invited.... Minister Anthony [and] Dr. James Rose have all let the ball drop, they are afraid to engage the creative community as equals..."
The Minister, who urged in his presentation yesterday that people reach across political lines to work together, neglected, of course, to explain why a consultation on creative industries held by a Jamaican expert failed to invite some of the key people involved in creative industries.
Indeed, creative industries represent the area of entrepreneurship most suitable for our young people to take advantage of, yet as a basic component of a viable creative industry environment, proper intellectual property legislation, the executive continues to drag its feet. It was laughable to hear the Hon. Attorney General spoke with disdain about lawyers photocopying, at exorbitantly price, set of documents that were externally funded and should be in the public domain when the Government, to which he is legal adviser, not only refuses to move on IP legislation, but embarrassingly facilitates the illegal infringement of copyright by opening tenders for pirated textbooks.
The development of cultural industries, of course, only makes sense in the environment of a broader national cultural policy. Please permit me to read a few excerpts from a document relevant to this critical area:
• “Guyana does not have a well articulated national cultural policy and there is a great need for one to guide administrators, practitioners and other stakeholders.”
I will read another one:
• “...there is no up to date legislation in relation to archaeology and anthropology, film-making, copyright and patent and trade marks. Some of these are presently under review and it is hoped that the copyright legislation, for instance, will shortly be enacted”
Mr. Speaker: You have five minutes to conclude, Mr. Trevor Williams.
Mr. T. Williams: I will try to very soon, Mr. Speaker. I have to do some skipping, Mr. Speaker, and that really makes my case for the extra 10 minutes, from next year.
The Sports and Arts Development Fund. One worrying recurring allocation over the past five years has been the Sport and Arts Development Fund to the tune of $100 million. This is listed under “Subventions to other Organisations” and has been particularly troublesome since it creates the impression that the fund can be accessed by independent organisations when in fact every area of funding in 2012 was for Government managed initiatives, including CARIFESTA participation and the Caribbean Press which has attracted more than enough controversy over the past years to warrant far greater introspection.
For example, last year the Minister stated that $9.25 million was allocated for film, yet CineGuyana, the entity originally established by Government, but now is a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has not received a cent since the original funding in 2010, the year before elections. Now the Minister suddenly sees the need to start over, piggybacking on the Loyola Documentary Film Festival instead of building upon the gains of the Government's original programme, unless CineGuyana was original funded by just electioneering.
I want to quickly turn my attention to the National Sports Commission. This is the National Sports Commission Act and I just wish to read to you that there are a number of obligations that the National Sports Commission must follow and are not, currently, fulfilled by how it is, currently, set up.
Point 6 states:
“The Commission may establish regional sports committees in all three counties across Guyana. Each regional sports committee shall have an office in the region in which it is established.”
The situation is that we have none. It states:
“The Commission may establish advisory units to assist in the performance of its functions. It must manage the secretariat and its commissions. The Commission shall keep proper accounts and other records in respect to its operation which shall be audited by the Auditor General.”
It also states:
“The Commission shall in each year prepare a report of its activities in the last proceeding year and shall furnish such reports to the Minister no later than the 13th June. A copy of the report of activities, together with a statement of accounts audited, shall be printed and laid before the National Assembly no later than the 13th day of September in each year.”
This Opposition, the AFC in particular, will have a difficult time in allocating and supporting funds that are going to bodies and committees which are not legally, properly and functionally constituted and where there is a question over the accountability for such funds.
I want to close on this point. I have heard numerous things said about Berbice and the sugar industry and what we want to do with it. I have one small point to make on that, and it is that the AFC, for many years, has been calling for the Public Procurement Commission. Had there be the Public Procurement Commission in place we would have had a better factory today; we would have had GuySuCo pumps and we would have Amaila Fall road with “Fip” Motilall sorted out. We want the public to appreciate what we are doing in this House and we are trying to serve this country according to the constitutional demands and requirements. Therefore we stand by our word, that is unless they are accounted for and there is transparency we would have a very difficult time and that I consider to be “working together”.
Mr. Speaker, I now conclude from my speech that the PPP/C Executive and its supporters with vested interest have sought to stress the continuity of the Budget as a good thing. But if it is continuity of poor vision, poor management and completely poor accountability, then this entire National Assembly, not just the Opposition majority, has a duty to ensure that this sort of continuity is brought to an abrupt end.
The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport portfolio, despite having what you would presume is the advantage of an eight-year continuity of leadership and institutional direction, has been visionless, stagnated and completely without innovation. I agree with one thing that the Minister said yesterday; people are tired with the politics of frustration. The youths are tired of being promised a cultural policy in one year and seven years later there is none in place. Artistic entrepreneurs are tired that a proper national cultural policy environment is being ignored with the Government refusing to honour its own promises to look at intellectual property legislation.
Sportsmen and women are tired of haphazard management, poor recognition and little political intrusion. To paraphrase one popular song, people are fed up with the same thing over and over and over, yet the same thing is what the Minister is offering today. I hope this soon comes to an end. I thank you. [Applause]