April 12, 2012
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity to address the Members of this esteemed House.
I rise, today, in this Hon. House only by the grace of God. I say this because it is nothing but the truth and I thank him for it.
Like many other sisters who are being verbally, emotionally, mentally and physically abused everyday in Guyana and many murdered, I too have suffered the trauma of verbal and emotional abuse and barely escaped from physical abuse had it not been for the media and my supporters. This I had to endure, publicly, with no one else coming to my defence, and for what reason: because I, a mere woman, dare to speak my mind to a then Minster of this Government – this Government that prides itself in caring for our women, introducing the campaign Stamp It Out. This Government, my Government, our Government, whether we voted for it or not, could not haul in its own Minister and ask him to stop the abuse, stop the violence against this woman standing here today. This Government has failed me! How on earth do you expect to stamp out violence against women when you carry on merrily without batting an eye lid with violence against women as if it were a sport right at the highest level of this country.
There is the case of Henry Greene. Even if sex, in the end, was consented to, he had no right whatsoever to use his position of authority as a bargaining tool for sexual favours. Henry Greene ought to be dismissed, but instead he is still being kept around in his position. Why the double standards? If it were an ordinary man who was accused of the same thing as Henry Greene, he would have already been in jail and probably gotten beaten up too. Violence against women and sexual harassment must be stamped out at the very top before it could ever be stamped out at the bottom. You are leaders and you have to lead by example so do not only talk the talk but walk the walk; cut out the double standards. The nation is watching and has given you another chance to lead and it is waiting for you to lead honestly and fairly, and to make sure that you do just that, they have given us on this side the authority to speak on their behalf; they have given us the majority!
I must congratulate the Hon. Minister, Ms. Manickchand, for at least standing up and publicly saying that Henry Greene has to go, never mind she was silent about my situation.
Ms. Teixeira: Mr. Speaker, as a principle, this House should not be using people’s names who are not here and who do not have the right to reply. I really believe that we are talking about the Budget. The Hon. Member has a right to raise many of these issues, but whether they are the subject of the Budget is another issue. This matter is a matter I think, maybe, for the Member to bring an issue to the Parliament on a proper form. This is not an issue right now on the Budget no matter how strongly she feels or many Members of this House on both sides feel. This is not an issue for the Budget right now.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I believe that under the rubric of vulnerable groups including women and children, the Member is in order to speak to social issues. But in so far as referring to persons by names, I would ask that she moves on. In terms of the social needs and the social programmes of this Government, any Member is within order to speak to them.
Mrs. Garrido-Lowe: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, congratulations to you and your team on the presentation of this Budget. Indeed it is an overwhelming undertaking. I must mention, however, that contrary to what the Hon. Minister of Finance announced, this Budget is not such a people friendly budget. And why is this not so? It is because Value Added Tax (VAT) has not been reduced. It is because old age pension has gone up only by $600 and social assistance by a mere $400. The Hon. Member, Ms. Baveghems, said yesterday, “To become a pensioner is a frightening experience,” and I believe her.
Cost of living is so high that your own children who would otherwise be happy to take care of you when you reach the retirement age cannot do so properly simply because they too are struggling to make ends meet. I do not doubt that there were positive changes since this government were and are at the helm- of course, there were and the figures touted that make our country look good economically, are good too. Our poor and vulnerable cannot eat those attractive figures. Our single women, for instance, have to be very innovative in order to feed, clothe and house their children as we heard from the Hon. Member yesterday. And I believe her because I was a single parent too.
Mr. Speaker, Food security is very important to children. When mothers cannot find food to put in their children's lunch kits, it is a dreadful, helpless and lost feeling. I think that a father who loves his children would feel the same way. That is why the AFC, knowing the plight of single parents, stated in our action plan that single parents would be given $2000 per child per month until the child attains the age of 18 years.
I must commend again, the Hon. Minister Manickchand for her Women of Worth (WOW) programme, but it has to be distributed equally and fairly across all 10 regions. It is my hope that this budget will make sure that this happens.
I would like to touch on so many other concerns of women but time does not permit, except to say that I expect that the Ministry of Social Services be implementing strong programmes to empower women with life skills, build their self esteem and confidence,
build more shelters to assist them should the need arise, set up hotlines so that they can call any time of the day or night to get assistance, set up literacy programmes for them so that they will be able to assist their children at home in their lessons.
Equally as important, are the concerns of my blood brothers and sisters of whom I will now address- the First People of this nation, the Indigenous People of Guyana, after hundreds of years are still being discriminated against, and although they are not totally neglected, they still are being neglected.
The traditional lands of my people where they have hunted for food and waters where they have fished for centuries are now disappearing from their reach. Pieces of lands are being demarcated and given to them with hefty slices chopped off from their original residential boundaries. So their residential quarters and their villages are now being made even smaller.
Many villages complain of this and these are: Kwebana, Santa Cruz and Chinese Landing. They are further told that they can apply for extensions but low and behold before some Toshaos could apply for extensions, non-residents have already taken up residence right next to them, squatting on the villages' original residential quarters as in the case of Kwebana. Remarks like, "Amerindians have plenty land already and what do they want to do with more?" are frequently heard.
The first peoples of this nation lived throughout the centuries, by farming, fishing and hunting, moving their farms to somewhere else to allow the previous farm land to replenish itself again; hunting and killing only what is needed for food and a little to sell; fishing, catching only what they need for food and a little to sell to buy some basic household needs. They cut trees only when it is necessary, making sure that smaller plants are not destroyed.
The first people of this nation have been preserving this forest for centuries and because of us Guyana's pristine forest, as the advertisement says, has now become an income earner for Guyana, another gift from the first people of this nation who are the real champions of this earth. It is only right therefore that the bulk of the income from the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) programme should go towards the development of Amerindian Communities and establishing an Educational Fund for those who wish to further their education at the University of Guyana or at a University abroad.
The Hinterland, the home of my people, is considered the richest part of this country; gold, diamond and lumber are extracted from there, yet unto today, my people remain the poorest in this nation while the extractors of all this wealth are naturally very wealthy. While my people do not envy the wealth of others, I feel it is only right for these extractors of our wealth to put something back into the communities nearby. They can help to build proper houses for my people; they can put down wells in communities so that my people can have potable water since it is due to the careless mining practices of some miners which are now polluting the river water that is normally used for cooking and drinking.
I paid a visit to Chinese Landing about two months ago and was horrified to see the condition of the water that my people have to wash, cook and even drink when there is no rain water to be had. They told me that this is caused by miners mining way up the Barama with no regard for the survival of my people. Even the fishes are contaminated but my people have to eat and so they eat the suspect fishes. Miners who pollute these waters should think about investing in fish ponds for villages along the river so that our people can eat fish free from contamination. This Government must make sure that proper mining practices are being adhered to.
Another irksome situation, and I consider it pure “eye-pass”, is the negative labelling of my people by persons representing the government. If the Government comes up with a project of theirs to be piloted in Indigenous Communities they normally say that they will involve the Indigenous Communities in the decision-making process before it is implemented and they do set out to do just that, but with what attitude? With an attitude that it is an already a decided deal and the visits are just for spreading the word and if the villagers do not understand they are free to ask questions. However, if they dare to ask questions that send the message that they do not agree entirely with a project, then they are branded as the opposition and are made to feel like outcasts, even in their own villages.
I am compelled to say to all of my Indigenous brothers and sisters to chase them out of your village. Do not entertain them if they make you feel like that in your own home.
It is also wrong for the Government to politicise Village Council Elections. Let my people feel free to elect the best of them to represent them without meddling and creating fear in their minds. I am asking the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and their staff to cut this nonsense and start engaging our people in a positive way so that they can feel the care that this Government claim to have for them.
Furthermore, do not insult them by telling them that if they are not on your party's side they will continue to eat cassava and pepper pot. So what If they continue to eat cassava and pepper pot, it is an Indigenous delicacy. I myself enjoyed some only a week ago.
The Amerindian Act needs to be reviewed as was stated by my brother, the Hon. Mr. Sydney Allicock, yesterday and I fully agree with him.
About a week ago I visited four villages in the Moruca sub-region and had some very enlightening meetings with the residents, this I will proceed to share with this Hon. House. First of all, the Kumaka/Kwebanna road is a sore point for the residents of both Santa Rosa and Kwebanna. The road is being graded as we speak and according the Regional Chairman, Mr. Paul Pierre, major repairs were done to the road in 2010. I was told by residents that these major repairs were done to the tune of approximately $70 M but the Hon. Minister of Public Works would know better. Repairs were done last year also and are continuing this year, but these roads only last until the rains fall again.
Santa Rosa is a fast developing community with buses, cars, pick-up and other vehicles plying the route. Kwebanna also has its share of vehicles. It is time that the Kumaka/Kwebanna Road is upgraded into an all-weather road. When the weather is dry and boats can no long pass comfortably through the 99 turns in the Baramani River, all villages from up the Barama and Waini Rivers dock at Kwebanna and use the Kumaka/Kwebanna Road to get out to Charity. The vast mining community also uses the road to travel out to Georgetown. The farming community will also benefit from this road since it would be easier to transport their produce to the nearest point, either at the Kwebanna end or the Kumaka end that is providing that this Government finds market for out people’s produce. They are willing and ready to farm on a large scale basis. They are not a lazy people. If monies are not allocated in this budget for the upgrading of the Kumaka/Kwebanna Road then this government must certainly seek to do so in next year's budget.
Employment in the villages of Santa Rosa, Kwebanna, Santa Cruz and Warapoka are next to zero except for teachers, nurses, medexes and a few other jobs attached to the Regional Administration. Students graduating from the Santa Rosa Secondary School have nothing to do. The young men head to straight the mines as my sister the Hon. Eula Marcello mentioned yesterday. And not all mothers feel comfortable when their young sons go to work in the bush since malaria and HIV are the dreaded diseases with crime adding a frightening dimension to the risks involved with working in the mines. Alcohol and drug abuse also take their toll. The girls literally have no way of earning an income.
It is my hope, Hon. Minister Ashni Singh that you have provided moneys in this budget for projects where our young men and women in Region 1 and other Hinterland Villages throughout this country who are suffering from the same fate can earn a decent wage.
The Kumaka District Hospital does not provide either dengue or typhoid tests, but rather only malaria and diabetes tests are available. Dengue is rampant in both Santa Rosa and Kwebana Villages and I suspect in other neighbouring villages. The district hospital roof is leaking and it has gotten worse since President Ramotar's visit when he was campaigning and promised repairs before election.
The hospital is also badly in need of another boat and engine. When one is on outreach there is no boat around for emergencies. Education also does field trips so it is no use depending on their boat. The only alternative the community has is hiring a private boat.
The hospital's vehicle has not been working for two years. The Kwebanna Health Centre needs bigger sink in delivery room, a trolley to move instruments, storage room for drugs, a Kitchen, nets, sheets, cupboards in two rooms, the vaccine fridge is down since last September and affects Kwebanna, Santa Cruz, Wicarabe and Warapoka, also a larger vaccine fridge is needed.
At the Santa Cruz Health Centre the solar panels are not working and emergency cases like deliveries have to be done sometimes using a torch light. There is no transportation for the health hut.
It is my view that a vocational/technical institute should be established at Kwebanna village so that young people can be trained with skills.
Our Indigenous people are natural sports men and women- natural athletes. Whenever a National team is chosen we would like to see that the team that represents Guyana truly reflects a national team which includes our indigenous athletes. Whatever it takes, our Indigenous athletes must be fairly represented on National teams.
The people of Region 9 also have some serious concerns. The roads are in extremely poor condition. Millions of dollars are continually being spent on dry season roads. There are shortages of drugs for complaints such as diabetes, hypertension and heart. Folks of Region 9 are asking when the X-ray Unit will become fully operable.
Doctors who staff Lethem and Aishalton hospitals have recently graduated from Cuba. They are working without senior supervision. My people in Region 9 are asking who is there to insure that their performances are monitored.
In terms of Agriculture and the Grow More Food campaign, why can extension officers not be employed to serve cluster villages where they can do relevant field work such as advising farmers in use of fertilizers, pesticides and planting distances of crops such as corn, black eye peas, et cetera? Only one Agricultural Officer has to service the villages of Region 9. Every year students graduate from Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA). Where are they being sent to? These extension officers are persons who need to be out in the fields with the farmers, rain or shine.
In all schools in Region 9 and I gather in other Hinterland Regions, teachers need more supervision and support from the education authorities. Literacy programmes in all interior schools need to be thoroughly supervised by Regional Education Authorities.
Also in Region 9, there are no employment opportunities for our young people leaving school and there is an urgent need for vocational centres there also.
Marijuana consumption and cultivation are on the increase in villages. Law officers need to deal with this problem in a more systematic way.
The cost of milk in the hinterland needs to be subsidized so that families can afford to buy milk at a more reasonable price. Milk is currently $700 in the Lethem stores and outside of Lethem, between $800 and $900 a pound. There is much evidence of malnutrition among babies due to the lack of milk.
The recent increase for old age pension will have no relief whatsoever for interior senior citizens who do not have other forms of income, having been subsistence farmers all their working lives and also with cost of living in the interior ever rising.
These are but a few concerns of my people which I hope the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh had considered when he was crafting this 2012 budget.
Thank you Mr. Speaker and Hon. Members. [Applause]