April 16, 2012
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak before this House. I am a proud Guyanese woman; I am a proud Member of the People’s Progressive Party and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government who stands before this House to support the Budget 2012 – “Remaining on Course, United in Purpose and Prosperity for All”. I am proud that this budget continues to provide support to Guyana’s constant trajectory on building a modern democratic and developed nation.
I have heard comments from the floor and it appears as if some people seem to think that one budget can provide all of the answers. In fact, no budget can turn a country around in one year, but a budget can, over a period of time, lay the foundation for development and I will use a number of cases to support this: Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Brazil; all their paths to development were that of moving from under-developed countries or countries with major problems… Their foundations were laid over years with a budgetary support, with legal and regulatory transformation as well as political war – if one looks at China from 1989, Brazil over the last 15 years, and so on.
This budget builds on what we are trying to do. It is not a panacea for all of the challenges that we face in our country – both at the national level and at the global level – but rather, as I said, as we continue to move forward this budget builds on earlier budgets and lends tangible support to the Government’s Pro-Poor, Pro-Growth Approach to national development.
Mr. Speaker, you may have been quite a younger man when the very first budget of the first PPP/C Government in 1993 was tabled. We started on a very conscious trajectory of reconstructing what was a collapsed society and economy to advance the conditions of our people’s lives and to position Guyana as a modern and developed nation. One of the things we struggled with in the early years was: How did we have and develop growth while keeping a human face? How did we balance it? That is how we came up with the Pro-Poor, Pro-Growth Approach. Therefore, throughout the budgets, particularly of the period 2001 to now and more so in 2006, one would see the emphasis on balancing economic growth with a pro-poor approach being made. In the earlier period of 1993 to 2001 we were really reconstructing with very limited resources and tried to bring Guyana to a stage where it could be able to move into position of expanding the economic and agriculture base.
These were not easy decisions. The number of poor and vulnerable of our country was a very large in the early years – the 1990s. We have to recognise that the per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was US$290 in 1991. Today it is US$2,868 per capita GDP. Certainly this is something to be happy about; that we made a change in this way, the fact that poverty has been reduced but we have not conquered poverty yet. We have been able to make big strides in reducing it and we are satisfied that there is equalisation of opportunity for people at many levels but we still have to admit the poverty is still amongst us.
I will say this, I remember in my earlier days traveling around this country and seeing such abject poverty. The young generation today in this room does not know what a kwashiorkor baby looks like – kwashiorkor occurs when there is extreme malnutrition with swollen belly and red hair. This is what we saw in the 1980s where 54% of all children in Guyana were malnourished. I know from whence we came and I do not reserve this knowledge to myself alone, because there are those sitting in this room who also know that I speak the truth.
Members of the House, our greatest challenge is not only the economic one and brining us into a level of stability where we recognise – and I will come to that later – that these achievements are not a fiction of the PPP/C; it is recognised by the international community that we have come from such a low level to what is now a respectable level where we can walk with our heads high in any part of this region and not be considered the “poor basket” of this region.
A number of speakers have referred to what probably is our biggest challenge as a country. The biggest challenge that we have to face is building trust and confidence. After trying to reconstruct this country and bring something up to some level by 1999, with the violence of 1997, 1998 and 1999, we went into constitutional reform because we had to. We – meaning not only PPP/C but all of the political actors and the civil society, had to find a way to repair the fractured governing structures of our society and in an unstable political environment. If we did not find the stable political environment this country could not develop.
When we talk about budget… [Interruption] I am talking about, Mr. Williams, in case you have not read the Budget Speech, on page 59, “Governance” which the Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine spent his time speaking about during his speech and I am also speaking on it.
We must be proud as a people, as a Parliament, in what we have done in terms of constitutional reform, Parliamentary reform and the fact that we had built an inclusive governance model. It is unique and I do not care who finds it funny or who mocks it. The fact that this country is the only country in this region that says that the Leader of the Opposition has a veto vote, as does the Head of State, is a power tool of inclusive governance.
We can belittle these things but I want to honour the dedicated and committed individuals in the People’s Progressive Party and the People’s National Congress who worked to find compromise, not only in the constitutional reform period and in the many meetings by plenipotentiaries outside of this room and the rooms of Parliament but also find the language and the crafting of the language for Standing Orders and constitutional changes and the motions that came here on Parliamentary Management Committee and the Sectoral Committees. I want to honour those who were here and who spent dedicated hours, because of this. To me, this is a sign of political leadership that we must honour in our society – the “Dr. Luncheons” and the “Lance Carberry’s”, the “Winston Murrays” and the “Reepu Daman Persauds”. I was honoured on a number of occasions to be part of that and I am also honoured to have been part of the Human Rights Task Force of the Constitutional Reform Commission that worked on the Human Rights Section with Hon. Member Mrs. Backer, with Hon. Member Ms. Nadir and with the Civil Society Representative Ms. Larose.
The struggle to reach the language and to pass these Constitutional Amendments, the struggle to get the Standing Orders, the struggle to make legislative changes occurred during a matter of only a few years; it was only 8 years. Therefore, we all sit and we hear about United States’ democracy, British democracy and Canadian democracy. They have been struggling with it for… [Mrs. Backer: Who spoke about that?] I have sat in Parliament long enough to have heard it. These countries have taken 200 to 300 years to reach where they are and the reversals of those democracies are going on in those countries.
My greatest concern when dealing with this budget is that there appears to be a mood, a language, that is bent on unraveling these gains fought so hard for and, in appearance, to recklessly want to throw the baby and the bathwater out together.
Our society is not only about bread and butter issues; it is about where we are going as a people. When I have listed to the speakers on the other side they are right to make their representations as geographic MPs, as Members of their Parties, as Members of APNU or AFC but the grand design of Guyana is about where we are going as a country. We have positioned Guyana at a point now where internationally and regionally – and I will come to the figures to show – we have done well. Therefore, we do not have to be living from day to day; we can now be looking 5 years up the road and talking about hydropower, when hydropower was a dream of this country for the last 40 years or so – since the 1960s.
We talked about oil and gas and yet we are now seeing that the horizon is closer and not just a pipe dream – when people laughed. I remember the days when Mr. Burnham said to the people in the National Park “hydropower or $14 a day” and the people did not get hydropower and they did not get $14 a day; I remember.
We have the power to allow these changes to be implemented. The Hon. Member, Dr. Roopnarine spoke about a number of issues; he referred to Public Procurement Commission as, I believe, one of the agencies and so did Mr. Williams and other speakers, about not being established. It is on the list of items for the IPPD (Integrated Product and Process Development) discussions and it is in the Parliament and Constitution Committee of which both Dr. Roopnarine and I are Members and it is listed as the third item for discussion and we have given ourselves five months to deal with it, I believe.
We also talked about other appointments. Reference was made to the Chairman of the Integrity Commission and to the Ombudsman, through a number of constitutional appointments. I have files here from Office of the President going back to 2007, 2010, 2011, with the former Leader of the Opposition in relation to appointments of the Chairman of the Integrity Commission, of all these different posts. The present Leader of the Opposition again raised the issues and Mr. Granger received a letter on the 22nd February listing all of the appointments – all of which, or most of which Hon. Member Dr. Roopnarine talked about:
The submission of the six names for the Chairperson of the Human Rights
Appointment of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice
The appointment of the Chairperson of the Integrity Commission
The appointment of the Ombudsman
The appointment of the Public Service Appellate Tribunal
The establishment of the Public Procurement Commission
Appointee of the Leader of the Opposition to the Board of the Guyana National Broadcasting Authority
Appointee of the Leader of the Opposition to the Board of the Protected Areas Commission
Appointee of the Leader of the Opposition to fill a vacancy in the Guyana Elections Commission as a result of the passing of Commissioner Robert Williams
Appointee of the Leader of the Opposition to the Advisory Committee on Broadcasting
So, I believe a meeting did take place with the President and the Leader of the Opposition however no names have been forthcoming. I know that the President named some of his names. Mr. Harmon did refer to the fact that there was a code. I have looked at the code having seen it for the first time today but it does not have anything much to do with constitutional appointees; it has to do with criteria for board selection and when one talks about that one is talking a about letters that have gone out both electronically and hard copies to the Leaders of the AFC and the APNU as well as Members of the Committee that deals with Boards in the IPPD discussion – again, those are all pending. Whist I realise the Hon. Dr. Rupert Roopnarine is anxious to have all of this done, all these issue have been incorporated, some were removed to be exclusively in the domain of the President and the Leader of the Opposition meeting, some were referred into the IPPD general or plenary, as we call it, and others were put into Subcommittees; boards were put into the Subcommittee of Governance, the ones with the PPC and Parliamentary changes are in the committee that the Hon. Member and I sit on.
We are talking about operating in good faith. We must operate in good faith. We cannot come to this House and talk about partnership and a new dispensation and at each step of the way the path is strewn with no movement, little movement, no negotiation or a “take it or leave it” attitude. I will not, as a Member of this Parliament for the last 19 years, allow statements to go unchallenged in relation to the way in which Parliament operated in the 8th and 9th Parliaments. The 9th Parliament was a success, is a success and in the annals of history will be a credit to both sides of this House. It will be because people worked hard in this House. We were able to put into place for the first time Constitutional Reforms with the New Standing Orders. It is the credit to the MPs, the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the staff and Clerks of this House that we all showed that this could work.
When will a time come when we as Guyanese will not undress our country as we do? When I look at Jamaica and Trinidad they have major problems. When one looks at the latest paper – many people seem to quote a number of papers… [Mrs. Baker: They did not file an action in court against Parliament] Yes they did where there was Mr. Manning, you forget, because they did not appoint a Speaker for an entire year and they went to court. We will no longer discuss that. Mr. Speaker. I ask for your protection. The latest report, 8th April, 2012, “Trinidad Business: 200,000 persons are placed on the breadline as a result of…” This is a statement by the San Juan Business Association in relation to strike action taken by the workers of TCL and that 200,000 people are on the breadline. We have to be able deal with the issue of building trust and confidence. We have to deal with issues of ethnicity and protect ourselves from attempts to vulcanise our country. When we have people in this House making references that to me at best are ethnically sensitive – in which it is said that in one particular Ministry one ethnic group was removed and replaced with another and now it is being reversed and therefore we can now expect a professional and better Ministry. I shudder when I think of that and I feel pained and revolted by this because I believe that we in this House should feel ashamed because Guyana is multiethnic and we all have a place here. There is no Region in this country, Guyana, that can be said to represent one ethnic group – not one. One of the things of the Housing programme which no one has spoken about here is that we moved away from the violence of the 1960s, villages being ethnically stratified, into new communities, new schemes where people can live together of different ethnic groups, classes, religions, different geographic locales. I challenge you to go to Diamond; try to find out. People come from all different regions of Guyana. This is a new Guyana being born and you seem somehow to want to be stuck in the past. You want to hold us to the past but Guyana and the new young people are moving ahead. So, comrades, this attempt to vulcanise us and to try to show that “this” Region is not getting over “that” Region because of some unstated innuendo is not going to move this country forward.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, your time is up.
Mr. Rohee: Mr. Speaker, may I ask that the Hon. Member be given fifteen minutes to continue?
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, do I have your approval?
Mr. Speaker: I do not know. There was an arrangement between the two sides that backbenchers, including yourself, would be given 5 minutes extension so that would depend on cooperation of Members of the House.
Ms. Teixeira: I agree. I want to see the good faith now at work. [Mrs. Backer: You all did not give us time.] I did.
Mr. Speaker: What I will urge is that we recognise Ms. Teixeira as a very senior Member of this House – longstanding – who has, in a sense, reserved herself for last so that all of her colleagues could go before her. Her 20 minutes are up; under the time provided to me by the Chief Whips she would have 5 minutes thereafter but, as I said, it would have to come with the consent of your colleague, the Chief Whip on the Opposition side.
Ms. Ally: Mr. Speaker, we agreed that backbenchers will get a 5-minute extension and so we stand to our word.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker that is what I talked about, good faith. Mr. Speaker, I am a very disciplined person. I negotiated with Ms. Amna Ally for two backbenchers to get 45 minutes on their side but this is the new dispensation you all want. Mr. Speaker, I will abide with it.
Let me just wrap up. One cannot dispute the image of Guyana in terms of how we are looked at. All the statements by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) by the fact that they are saying in the last sentence: “The future looks bright and despite many challenges Guyana must lock in the gains from recent years of fiscal consolidation, prudent sustained macroeconomic policies and have resilience in the face of economic shock.” Mr. Speaker, this country has made a name for itself at an international level – the UN (United Nations), LCDS (Low Carbon Development Strategy), climate change, REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). We should be proud as Guyanese, proud!
We have passed the test of media freedom. The Freedom House Report of 2012 has this as a free country with the press. The reports of freedom of religion we passed the test. At the Universal Periodic Review, Human Rights Council, we passed the test. At the OAS (Organization of American States), Inter-American Convention against Corruption we passed the test.
Mr. Speaker, I say to the Opposition: Can we do better? Yes. Can we be more efficient? Yes. Can we improve the quality of our work? Yes. Can we be more productive to face global competition? Yes. Can we continue to work towards poverty reduction? Yes we can and we must! Can we improve the efficiency and accountability of the judiciary and the rule of law in this country? Yes we can and we must. Can we tighten up on our oversight to ensure that there is greater transparency and accountability? Yes we can and we shall.
I sincerely hope that when all the things are done… I heard people say that this budget has no purpose, no vision but I have not heard one person say what the vision of APNU (A Partnership for National Unity) and the AFC (Alliance for Change) in relation to the budget.
I want to close on one thing. I did not know that two parties went to the elections; I thought three did, but I have heard comments by Mr. Harmon appearing to say that he has lumped together the votes of APNU and AFC and made them one. That is a problem for AFC and APNU not me; that is not a problem for the PPP/C. However, let me just say this, Mr. Speaker, I sincerely hope that APNU and AFC do not blow this opportunity to approve this budget to allow Guyana to continue on the path of progress – to allow our people to get on with their lives and their businesses – because whilst we “pampozet” in here – someone used the word “pampozet” in here earlier – the ordinary men and women of this country are organising themselves, they are doing things to improve their lives and they want to see more of it so we would have to deliver.
We are at crossroads. This country is at crossroads. Which way will we go? Will we go on one side of the House? Do we decide to approve a budget in which nobody has, in principle, found a problem with the vision? They have had problems with implementation, they have had problems with administration, but they have not had problems with the vision. So when Mr. Harmon said that people rejected the vision he did not advise me what the vision was that the people wanted. However, we are at the crossroads as a country, as a people and in this Parliament. We can decide to approve the budget, or as Mr. Moses Nagamootoo said “use the scissors and not the sledge hammer” or as other people have said, but whichever side we choose to be one – you choose to be on – we in the PPP/Civic are clear that history will be on our side. Thank you very much. [Applause]