Address to the 2020 National Budget debates.

Presented by Catherine Hughes MP

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this most honourable house, to deliver my contribution to these budget debates and for the first time to be part of discussions that will shape this 12th Parliament of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.

The fact that I am speaking with you virtually is a sign of these difficult times…. sadly, due to the covid 19 pandemic and safe distancing requirements we are unable to meet in our traditional home in Stabroek.

Mr. Speaker, although this budget is dubbed “Our plan for Prosperity” let me put the emphasis on the “Our”, it is clear that there is not much of a plan and there is little recognition that the current national environment we find ourselves in today, is anything but one on which we can build a prosperous nation.

A budget is defined as “an estimate of income and expenditures for a set period of time” and that’s the problem with budget 2020 that was presented – a vacuous series of figures with no proper consideration of realities of the Guyana.

To start Mr. Speaker, at this time it is clear that this budget was given maybe to the best person that could read it. Isn’t it strange ’eye pass’ in Guyanese parlance, that we are drowning in meaningless talk of transparency and accountability and the people of this soon to be Dubai of the region, still don’t know who their Minister of Finance is? That man or woman who we Guyanese will ultimately hold responsible for the management of “our” millions.

How is it that with all the scheming and plotting by the then opposition after the no confidence motion of 2018 and this “no frills budget” – MP Edgehill’s words not mine – we still do not have a Minister of Finance.

The fact that a man of the cloth delivered the speech devoid of any compassion, with no indication that we should all still be our brother’s keeper – a principle found in all our religion is beyond me. The fact that this Government missed this supposed momentous opportunity in “our plan for prosperity” to rally us all together in a spirit of unity, peace and forgiveness is simply sad. How can we forge that land of love, hope and unity!

Mr. Speaker the heckling will soon start, speak to the budget and numbers that shrill voice on the Government side will shout but Mr. Speaker I realise that at this moment in time, numbers don’t cut it in Guyana. Let’s get honest, let’s take a look at our reality – our Guyana today.

Mr. Speaker if we in Guyana thought that a five month election debacle was hard, the last two weeks have been brutal on the sensibilities of every Guyanese regardless of his or her Race. That we have a massive mistrust of each other and that three generations later it still threatens the stability of our dear land is frightening. Therefore Mr. Speaker it is against this background that the numbers in this budget must speak loudly and clearly. It should have a plan to address these deficiencies. It doesn’t.

Mr. Speaker the last two years Guyanese have been drowning in the propaganda wars of doom and gloom. Let’s look at the sectorial performance of the economy.

As stated in the budget speech MP Edgehill states “End of year outcome for 2019 grew by 5.4%”…

Rice grew, beef grew, pork, mutton, table eggs, fishing grew, quarry and mining expanded by 10.6%, growth in gold mining by 3%, even bauxite by 1.7%.

He said “ The outturn in gold mining was spurred by small and medium scale miners” that it increased over 25% on the previous year.

Mr. Speaker do you think the representative of the Minister of Finance would care to admit that the previous Natural Resources Minister and Junior Minister maybe had a plan, a specific policy and initiative that resulted in the phenomenal growth he refers to. Certainly, that could not have come from an APNUAFC plan but that was 2019.

Then we are told that rice and other manufacturing increased by 26.4%

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering if these words were being spoken by my friend the real Minister of Finance Mr. Jordan!

These are the words of the current Government but I was hearing the words grown, increased and expansion many, many times.

Now I wonder if members of the Private Sector Commission heard this part of the speech. Mr. Speaker on page 10- 12 of this budget speech – the words growth, expansion and increased appears more than 12 times on these two pages! How can this be…in 2019 when the economy was under the management of the apnuac coalition!!

But Mr. Speaker this is an indication of one of the major issues Guyana faces today-that is the inability to build on the good, the achievements, regardless of where it came from or who implemented it. The inability to be honest with the facts, to give jack his jacket. Mr. Speaker, the PPP are masters at propaganda I’ll be the first to admit. With all this growth and the picture of doom and gloom painted and consumed by many including sections of the international community I wondered …is this same place we are talking about.

Mr. Speaker, one would have hoped that budget 2020 would be transformational, that it would achieve all that the previous government failed to do in those four long years…i’m being sarcastic folks, but we see the same political agenda of the PPP and the continuation of a failure to put Guyana first.

The presenter of this budget, in this honourable house at point 3.3 in the printed copy of the speech says and I quote “the sugar growing industry declined for a fourth consecutive year with sugar production declining by 11.8% from the previous year” and guess what, you are planning to reopen sugar estates that failed to have a competitive advantage when it comes to production costs. No plan is articulated in this budget to ensure we to do it a different way and it doesn’t become the black hole it was in the past. Instead we will hand over triumphantly more than 5 billion of tax payers money, pay back to your political supporters.

Mr. Speaker, Can we get to a time when profitability and competitive advantage are the prime considerations of the day?

Mr. Speaker on March 11, I wrote to the Ethnic Relations Commission sharing links to Facebook posts that incited in the most disrespectful manner racial hostility. After receiving a prompt acknowledgement, there has been no indication that anything was done. The seeds of these despicable acts and our “you do and I do back” mentality, were sown a few months after our 2015 election, articulated consistently by some of our supposed role models and men in government today. This talk has blossomed and continues unabated today.

Imagine even the ERC had to issue a public disclaimer regarding the utterings from one of its own commissioners.

Mr. Speaker, It is against this backdrop of growing race hate, that I lament that this budget has no clear definitive statement or entity that will focus on and is adequately financed to deal with the issue of growing racial intolerance.

Social cohesion has been tossed on the dumpsite with no replacement at a time when we have become so barbaric we now beat, break and can brand an X’s on the mutilated bodies of our teenagers . Mr. Speaker the Ethnic Relations Commission like GECOM failed us Guyanese at the time we needed them the most.

May I suggest that the 220 million granted in this budget might be insufficient.

Mr. Speaker this budget understandably takes cognizance of our covid reality as it should and speaks of bringing under control the spread of covid.

I recall in March when invitations were issued to the then opposition for participation on the national covid task force, these were vehemently rejected. How ironic it is that for first six months of dealing with this pandemic our covid statistics remained relatively stable tottering around 400+ cases and in the 4 weeks of our new government has increased more than 100% galloping out of control.

But Mr. Speaker what about the infrastructure we need to help us manage this covid pandemic. I can stand tall and proud of the legacy left to this country through the hard work of the former Ministry of Public Telecommunications which today one would have thought is all the more necessary – to be able to deliver education, health, a safe city and other service in a covid world which is identified as the primary focus of this budget 2020.

In 2015 I met a public sector still in the dark ages when it came to the delivery of services on line. With the support of hardworking staff and public servants all across this country we embraced the concept of creating a digital nation and putting Guyana on the same footing as her colleagues in the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

Over 120+ ministries were connected with secure internet through an e government network which was established long before 2015 but never operationalized. With this network in place we connected over 158 primary schools, 105 secondary schools, 30 technical and vocational institutions, opened 173 ICT hubs, provided free internet to RDC and NDC offices, internet to over 72 hinterland communities, hotspots, 11 fully equipped smart classrooms and a few smart hospitals. Not to forget the safe city solutions with cameras, connectivity at markets, police and fire stations.

Mr. Speaker now why would you dissolve this ministry which provided dedicated focus on the expansion of infrastructure and services, the training our people and which was becoming the envy of many a sister Caribbean country?

Mr. Speaker, I’m not tooting my own horn, but seek to remind the current administration that a solid digital infrastructure is in place, which must be expanded to meet the demands for on line learning in our covid world.

Mr. Speaker, I read stories for broadcast to schools, at the age of 9 and although there is a place still for this medium, more than 40 years later, I lament I have heard little or nothing on the use of the existing digital technologies, plans for safe distancing access and the role ICT’s can play in alleviating some of the current crisis we face regarding the delivery of education to our children.

Mr. Speaker let’s face reality, if you have money today in Guyana and you can pay for internet, and your child has a device your child’s learning can progress relatively unhindered. If you come from poor circumstances with no access to connectivity or a device your child will face the hardships and flounder. I raise this Mr. Speaker because this budget should have spoken in a greater voice not to the one laptop per family of 6 years ago but to one laptop per child in as required in these covid times.

Mr. Speaker in 2015 Ram and McRae in their audit of the infamous failed fibre optic cable, highlighting a scandal unsurpassed, corruption involving a close relative of the former President Ramotar to the tune of over 2 billion US dollars with absolutely nothing to show for it.

But even with the progress that one can see was made under the APNUAFC, a quick look at Appendix T highlights that fact that this sector has received 400 million less this year. Mr. Speaker this makes no sense.

But Mr. Speaker there are even a few more misgivings in this budget.

That the Ogle to Diamond bypass road would now be reduced to a two lane ogle to Eccles bypass road, and not a transformational gateway is simply shocking. Shocking recognising the growing populations that reside in Diamond and in places like Parfait Harmony, and the more than 10,000 cars we put on our roads every year.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful that we left in place under the hinterland, poor and remote community GRIF funded project – equipment including vsat dishes, and laptops ready to be implemented in 200 hinterland communities part of an ongoing commitment to expanding connectivity and bridging the digital divide.

I’m happy that mention was made of our project to rebuild and renovate the Linden call centre, that it is continuing so that the employment potential it will offer can be materialized.

Mr. Speaker as a people we must move away from if its not my idea it can’t be good. It is the same tax payers monies that every government spends in these budgets.

Mr. Speaker this time round this budget is not about numbers but what we the leaders of this beautiful nation will leave this generation and the next generation.

How will we honour the blood shed on these lands long before independence and continuing today. The blood of six peoples – five of whom travelled to come here. Some against their will and leaving a better life to be an unpaid slaves and others choosing to seek better in this new world.

Whichever way you cut it Mr. Speaker, we have failed to forge the one people, one nation with a common destiny we can all subscribe to. Until we do, no amount of oil discoveries, thousands of barrels of oil a day, will make a difference or stop the blood that will continue to be shed.

Mr. Speaker, the last speaker MP Beri Ramsarran was correct in his assertion that Guyana is back track. Yes, back on track with racial instability, back to the violence, the innocent slaughter of young Guyanese of all races but especially young black men. Back on track with aircrafts found on deserted airstrips full of drugs, cocaine or a dead body as we saw these last few days. Back on track to degrading women which you are familiar with Mr. Ramsarran. We have not forgotten.

Mr. Speaker, when we play the game this way there are no winners. History is replete of examples of this and our own poet Martin Carter reminds us “we are all consumed”. Mr. Speaker “better must come”. May this honourable house play a pivotal role in its fast arrival.

September 16, 2020.