Minister of Amerindian Affairs [Mrs. Campbell-Sukhai]: I wish to congratulate the Minister of Finance, Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, and the dedicated team of planners and drafters from the Ministry of Finance for once again putting together the annual Budget for 2014.
I wish to recognise that the $220 billion Budget offers allocation of funds for the economic and productive sectors which will further stimulate growth and expansion of our economy and will complement the progress established over the years under the PPP/C Government.
The Budget also offers a practical set of measures that places much emphasis on meeting the needs of the people, including women, youths and Amerindians, and safety nets to support vulnerable groups, including pensioners, children and single parents.
Budget 2014 is a true reflection of the PPP/C delivering on its manifesto’s commitments to the Guyanese people. Be reminded, lest we forget, that the architect for two decades of transformative achievements and success is the PPP/C Government.
Mr. Speaker, recalling the late leader Dr. Jagan’s objective for putting people at the centre of development, I wish to applaud the current Government for its foresight and investments and the continued confidence it has placed in the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs to execute the programmes and projects that bring greater levels of support to Amerindian development.
This is unlike the historical track record of the past when there was little or no consideration for hinterland and Amerindian development, which, as we know, resulted in wide gaps in basic services which greatly hampered the wellbeing of the Amerindian population. The story of how our Amerindian brothers and sisters were left out in the wilderness and the cold, marginalised and maligned and neglected should continue to be repeated. However, the new success story must also be told of how, over the last two decades, amidst a tight financial base, the PPP/Civic Government took on the task of correcting the wrongs, filling the gaps and supporting the developmental needs of the Amerindian population.
Over the most recent years, Government intervention and support to Amerindian development continued to make positive impact on the wellbeing of the more than 70,000 Amerindian residents. This is not to say that there is nothing more to address regarding Guyana’s Indigenous people. That is far from it. The transition of Amerindian village economy is an ongoing process. The granting of land titles continues to progress. The need for increased access to secondary education continues to be addressed. Improving and expanding healthcare and water access is an ongoing project for this Government. The empowering of Amerindian youth is spiralling. The cultural integration and development has been strengthened.
Amerindian leaders are refining their governance and administrative skills. They have developed well defined goals for sustainable approaches for village development. Of course, this was all made possible in a conducive environment created, established and supported by the PPP/C Government.
Yesterday in the National Assembly, the concern of Amerindian students not having access to quality education was raised from the Opposition benches. However, this is far from reality. We can recall the Cyril Potter Collage of Education (CPCE) during the PNC days, the enrolment of Amerindian teachers – just teachers – was so minimal - very minimal. The hinterland schools depended mostly on coastland teachers who, of course, gave their best. Since the PPP/Civic took office, there has been complete turn around. Mr. Speaker, today, if you visit the hinterland and you go to the nursery, primary and even the 12 or 13 secondary schools which have been refurbished, rebuilt and established by this Government, the majority of those manning, administrating and delivering education are Amerindian teachers.
If I may add, to use one example, Martha George, a student of the Waramadong Secondary School who received quality education under this Government, has successfully finished her medical degree in Cuba and has returned earlier this year to serve. Is this not evidence of equity towards access to quality education that the PPP/C Government has pioneered? Even the Hon. Member Hastings, who sits on the opposite side, is a beneficiary of the same quality education, and I would like to congratulate her for remaining in the sector to serve her people.
Let me underscore that over the last 20 years, the Hinterland Scholarship Programme has produced 7,000 hinterland students and, in 2014, Region 7 registered the second highest number of such students in the Programme. Is that not access to quality and equitable education? The total investment in this Programme for the last 5 years amounts to more than $350 million. This year, 2014, an estimated 470 students will benefit from the allocation of $66.6 million, as proposed by the Budget, and I wait to see the outcome of the approval of the Estimates.
In addition to that, I wish to say that there are other related educational opportunities for hinterland and Amerindian students. We must recall that there is the School Feeding Programme, the Snack Programme, the National School Uniform Programme and, of course, the grant which is proposed in this year’s Budget, a grant which will see the support of $10,000 per child for each family to benefit from. When we add this up for the hinterland, $10,000 by 30,000 hinterland students, it is a whopping $300 million more investment in the educational opportunities for Amerindian and hinterland students.
Addressing the criticism made by Hon. Dr. George Norton on the failure of the primary healthcare system in the Amerindian communities, I wish to recognise that there are challenges, but I hasten to posit also that this Government continues to offer services to hinterland and Amerindian patients. Over the last five years, an estimated 7,000 patients received subsidised associated medical support, free meals and accommodation, free medical supplies, transportation, post operation treatment and patient care from the programme administered by the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs at the Amerindian Princess Street residence. This enhances and compliments the healthcare services available in the hinterland.
Agriculture and food security continue to expand in Amerindian communities. The agricultural support received by villagers is now unprecedented to what obtained prior to 1992. Thirty-three tractors, trailers, and agricultural implements consisting of plough and harrow were provided to farmers to address increase cultivation, transport and marketing of produce so as to sustain increased production, thus improving community food security and income generation.
On the assertion which was made yesterday by the Hon. Member of the opposite side that the Upper Mazaruni’s agricultural potential is not being supported, I strongly beg to differ because the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has distributed tractors and agricultural implements to Omenike, Imbaimadai, Kaikan and Paruima to assist in their agricultural drive. What is wrong with the Opposition? I am advised by some of my friends to ask the question: is your vision infected with cataract?
Mr. Speaker, let us turn to road infrastructure development. Road infrastructure development continues to go apace. This year the budget is $2 billion, targeting the main hinterland roadways. Many Members from the Opposition benches have said that they have travelled the length and breadth of the hinterland. I am happy to say that they could only have done that because it was this Government which has instituted hinterland road programme, making it possible for them to travel throughout the length and breadth of the hinterland. I admit that this Government has much more to do with respect to the road networks in the hinterland and so too they have to do with the airstrips maintenance, construction and expansion. Of course, we could have done much better with airstrip maintenance and construction if last year the Opposition did not seek to cut the budget on that programme.
Households Solar Units Distribution: for the first time in the history of Guyana, ‘jumbie lamps’ are now extinguished. Amerindian residents have benefitted from the distribution 10,858 solar home unit systems, providing innumerable benefits to our people, including students who can now study in the comfort of their homes later in the evenings. This programme also offered training for installation of these home system units to more than 300 young people of the hinterland.
River and Land transportation Investments: the lifeline of Amerindian people hinges on their mobility. The Government of Guyana continues to invest heavily in river and land transport to reach many of the far-flung villages in the hinterland. In the last five years, the land and water transport programme totalled a huge $376.2 million investment. These investments resulted in the distribution of 53 ATVs, 25 mini-buses, 17 4x4 pickups, 65 boats and 107 engines which were much needed to boost the transportation needs of our people who reside in the hinterland.
The Presidential Grant: the Presidential Grant offered investment funds for Amerindian communities to invest in productive and economic ventures. This Grant financed various income generating and social development projects that enhance the livelihood options for the people of the hinterland. Projects implemented included, of course, transportation services for the communities, construction and stocking of community shops, construction and furnishing of guest houses and multi-purpose centres, agricultural projects, including cattle rearing, poultry rearing, bee keeping, building of bridges, installation and improvement of communication systems and tourism projects. We must recall also and record that such projects that are currently being implemented should have been implemented prior to December to March. We could remember last year that the President’s budget was cut to a mere $1 and, of course, the Amerindian villages had to wait for more than two years for the Presidential Grant of 2011 and 2012.
I now turn to the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS). Recognising the importance of this strategy which guides this country to sustainably utilise the forest resources, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs continues to play a leading role in the LCDS public awareness and consultation activities. Ongoing awareness programmes and updated activities continue to engage the Amerindian population in explaining the impacts and benefits and the level of implementation derived out of this national strategy.
I am very happy to report that on the signing of the agreement between the Government of Guyana and the Kingdom of Norway, Amerindians are the first beneficiaries of this LCDS initiative. Amerindians benefited from US$16 million under this memorandum of understanding. US$6 million is allotted for projects that will see economic transformation of their villages and communities throughout the creation of low carbon and environmentally friendly projects, thereby creating jobs for our people within their communities.
Today, Amerindians are blazing the trail with respect to developing a green economy in this country. Over the next three years, 166 villages and communities will directly benefit from an investment fund totalling US$6 million. Of course, we have already notified this nation that 26 such projects are at various stages of implementation and these include agriculture, aquaculture, eco-tourism, logging and village enterprises, just to mention a few.
The PPP/Civic Government continues to focus and keep on their agenda the titling and demarcation of lands for Amerindians and it remains a priority.
Reflecting on the PPP/Civic election manifesto since the last Congress, major support for land rights and tenure security were recorded, borne out by the fact that after such reaffirmation in that Congress on 21st October, 2013, at the last Toshaos Council Meeting, the signing of the agreement for disbursement of US$10 million was completed. This will address the remaining applications for land titles which are before the Ministry.
In the next three years, this US$10.7 million allocated from the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) to address the outstanding request will commence. Today, the Amerindians are the largest private land owners with collective rights over more than 14% of Guyana’s land mass. The number of titled villages is expected to increase from 97 to 110, bringing to completion all applications for communal land titling. It will also include addressing demarcation and extension application.
There is no country in the wider international community that can match Guyana’s records regarding land rights and ownership. It is the PPP/Civic Government that rose to the occasion to ensure that land tenure of Amerindian communities was secured. Twenty-two villages which settled after independence were provided with land titles. This dismisses the propaganda that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government is out to rob Amerindians of their lands. These are the benefits that are derived from this Government and, of course, more so supported by the initiative of the LCDS. I also need to say that on the opposite side, there sit two Members of the Master of Social Science (MSSc), who continue to fail to inform their constituencies of such achievements and benefits under our LCDS.
I also want to turn to the aspect of inclusion in our Government and in our body politic. There has been no time in the history of this country where Amerindians, even though we form only 10% of the population, have a large and sizable representation in the Cabinet, in the Parliament, at the RDC levels in the hinterland regions. We have been provided with this opportunity under a PPP/C Government. Just look around in the front bench. What do you see? You see the face and the image of Guyana in our Foreign Affairs Minister. For anyone who wishes to dispute that the Indigenous people do not participate in their development and that the Indigenous people are not consulted with respect to development taking place at a national level, I wish to reaffirm that this is the evidence whereby even on the opposite side today one can see not only a handful but a substantial number of Indigenous MPs, speaking on behalf of the Amerindian population. This was made, of course, possible in the democracy which the People’s Progressive Party / Civic continues to foster in this country.
I wish to say that the Budget is a pro-poor budget, a people’s budget and, therefore, I wish to commend this Budget and I expect that on the opposite side of the House, we would not stymie the development prospects and potential for our country, more so those for Indigenous development.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker. [Applause]