It is unfortunate that the Opposition parties did not avail themselves to the invitation of the Minister of Finance to engage in the discussion on the Budget prior to its presentation, this is indeed is a lost opportunity but when we listen to the Opposition all we hear are negative views with no real or concrete proposal or sound advice to enhance the Budget or the economy. I therefore speak today in support of this Budget and urge that it be given unanimous acceptance in this House. Mr. Speaker, before I go into details of the Budget discussion, I mainly wish to highlight some of the activities successfully undertaken by my Minister during the year 2013:
The Labour Department
The Ministry of Labour Occupational Safety and Health Department during the period under review made some significant achievements in the following areas:
- We ratified the ILO Convention 189 on Domestic Workers thus making Guyana the first country in the Caribbean to ratify the Domestic Workers Convention in August 2014.
- We prosecuted 19 cases, which were reported for failing to pay the Minimum Wage and charges were filed against one of the largest security firms for violating the national minimum wage and that is the Strategic Action Security Service.
- On the National Minimum Wage we issued the work order which became effective, as the Minister indicated in his Budget on 1st July, 2013. The new order stipulates a 40-hour work week at five days per week, eight hours daily. The new order paved the way for new categories of workers to benefit under the 40 hours work week scheme. As the Minister pointed out in his Budget Speech, over 31,000 workers have benefited from this arrangement and are now entitled to leave with pay benefits.
I heard the Honorable Member Ms. Volda Lawrence spoke just now on violation of workers’ rights, but these two measures Mr. Speaker: the signing of the Convention 189, as well as the introduction of the Minimum Wage Order offered real protection to workers whom she mentioned has been exploited and the Ministry of Labour will pursue any employer that violates the rights of workers. We will not, we will not turn a blind eye to any infraction of the labour laws of this country and Mr. Speaker, that is the reason why during the year in introducing these measures we have appointed six new Labour Officers to compliment our lot and we are targeting to employ additional officers and target a senior personnel very experienced in the field of industrial relations to work as a consultant in the Ministry shortly.
Mr. Speaker in the area of Occupational Health and Safety we are working with the Ministry of Education on the process of streamlining Occupational Safety and Health in the school’s curriculum and that process has begun. We also translated key labour laws into Chinese given the number of Chinese employers and employees operating in Guyana and earlier in 2012 we translated those same laws into Portuguese as well. We also had interaction with the Ministry of Education and interventions on the issue of child labour were conducted in schools across Guyana. The HIV/AIDS regulations have been gazetted and tabled in this House with mining, manufacturing, noise and chemical regulations completed and we hope to have them vetted by the Attorney General Chambers before they go through the same process.
Board of Industrial Training
In the area of the Board of Industrial Training Mr. Speaker, the total number of persons trained in 2013 was 2304 with the apprenticeship programme having 95 youths who commenced training, 68 of whom were at the GuySuCo Training Centre in Port Mourant, 10 at Barama, GPL 17, and this lot represented the largest block of apprentices under the BIT scheme for a number of years. The National Training project for youth empowerment completed training for 1537 persons, certified in the area of engineering, electrical work, construction, health services, information technology and clerical work and home economics. The single parent training programme completed 447 persons at the end of last year, certifying in garment manufacturing, construction, cosmetology, catering and some as drivers/salespersons and this would answer the question, the issue raised by Honorable Member Volda Lawrence whether we are sticking to one programme. In the past it was merely cosmetology and maybe garment, we have moved into construction and the other areas, we also had extended programmes where 113 persons were certified at the Forestry Training School and 112 at the evening class programme conducted by GuySuCo mostly in the area of information technology. Those at the Forestry Training school have conducted in the area of forestry harvesting and other activities.
Mr. Speaker, because we have attached grave importance to the Board of Industrial Training Scheme, a number of companies have applied and we have examined their applications with what they are doing and we certified over this period new companies in addition to GuySuCo, GPL and GNIC which existed before, we have added to that Barama Company Limited, the Republic Bank has been approved and we are in consultation with them and their training programme for school leavers in the banking industry and we are working with the Forestry Commission which we will certify them as a Masters under that programme. During the year also Mr. Speaker, we have acquired two new Bobcat machines, a heavy duty equipment with implements to enhance our training programme for heavy duty equipment operators, since this skill is in high demand with an equally high response rate. So, added to the two which we already have, we now have four which we will carry across the country to increase our training in this programme and again this is in response, this answer would be in response to what Ms. Volda Lawrence said just now that we should not just stick into merely one programme, we are moving ahead.
In addition to that Mr. Speaker, we have been in consultation with the Minister of Health and the Ministry of Health and we have seen the need to train bio medical trainees, bring them into the field because that has become a scarce area of endeavor and we want to be self sufficient, hindered to that programme, those aspects of the work was done by Cubans and we are hoping to commence training of about 15 persons in that area very shortly.
The School Retention ILO/TACKLE Child Labour Project
We have also over the year Mr. Speaker continue the School Retention ILO/TACKLE Project on the highway where we targeted 360 children representing the entire population of Dora Secondary, Kuru Kuru Primary and Nursery class on the Linden Soesdyke Highway. That project, which came to an end last year, saw an investment of US$222,878 financed mainly by the ILO with Guyana’s contribution amounting to $3,365,000. Prior to that project Mr. Speaker, records from the Dora Secondary for example showed a 65% average attendance rate, Kuru Kuru Primary, a 77% attendance rate with 56% at the nursery level, consultations with parents and teachers revealed that the primary reasons why many children were unable to attend schools regularly was due to financial constraints. Our project intervention included the following, we had teachers and school administrators training programme, numeracy and literacy programme and nutrition support and transportation support programme, parenting workshop and physiological support, the programme which was launched in September 2011 saw within two weeks of its implementation that attendance had moved from 64% to 94%, the other results included punctual and regular teachers and students attendance because they were provided with transportation, the teachers attrition rate had reduced considerably, the school for the first time presented 18 children to write the National Grade Six Examination in 2012, the previous highest number never exceeded seven. The school entered into a national poetry competition and copped a prize at that competition. One student at Dora Secondary School recorded eight CXC subject passes, the best performance the school had in a decade.
The ILO project, as I indicated Mr. Speaker, concluded and I am advised because my Ministry was working in conjunction with the Ministry of Education that this project will continue by the Ministry of Education.
The US Department of Labour, ILO HIV Project
The US Department of Labour, ILO HIV Project also concluded recently, this project started in October 2003 and concluded February 2014, it was funded by the United States Department of Labour between the years 2003 and 2006 to the tune of US$397,000 and between the period 2006 and 2012, PEPFAR funded the programme to the tune of nearly US$1M. The Government of Guyana’s contribution was merely in the form of releasing workers and participants within the government sector to cooperate and to work with the project. The project had a national coordinator and was effectively and independently supervised by the tripartite body, consisting of the Ministry of Labour, the Guyana Trades Union Congress and FITUG, as well as the CAGI representatives. The programme saw many benefits Mr. Speaker, top of the list was the working of the HIV/AIDS regulations, which was drafted and which we had gazette and tabled in the House recently, which I had mentioned earlier. They had the national HIV/AIDS policy developed, they had partnership formed with 33 companies in various sectors and they had about 30,000 employees trained during that period to raise the education and awareness about HIV/AIDS at the workplace particularly in security, mining, manufacturing, media, banking and agricultural companies. They have also amounted successive education and awareness campaigns throughout this country and hosted numerous training for employees and employers in counselling and educating persons and for the focal points at the workplaces.
The tripartite grouping Mr. Speaker with the end of that programme will continue its work with the national tripartite body to oversee and monitor HIV/AIDS regulations and other issues at the workplaces.
The Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency
The Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency during the period 2013 Mr. Speaker registered a number of 3099 applicants and as a result of those registrations was able to place 2596 of them at workplaces in the areas of supervisory work, clerical typist, customer service reps, receptionist and in craft related areas welders, drivers, fitting machinist, mechanics, machine operators, skilled and semi skilled workers, factory workers, cleaners, sales clerks and laborers, as well as security officers were also added to that list, 2014 Mr. Speaker will see the programme being further decentralized with the recruitment and placement officers appointed and placed within every region of this country and having an integrated networking system. Staff members have been trained and we are in process of installing a new software system and equipment to modernize the service of the Central Recruitment and Manpower Agency so that persons can use the service from any region as long as they have the internet service.
With respect to the Cooperatives Department Mr. Speaker, in the year 2013 there 80 expressions of interest from groups desiring to become and form the friendly societies, rules of which was submitted to the department and vetted and meetings were held with those steering committees of each of the groups with consideration and approval given to most of them. They have also over the period conducted investigations into the Friendly Societies activities, three of those, they have audited 50, and release 47 audit report to these societies and they have had a total of new registration of about 30 while they conducted field visits of about 9 of these agencies based on reports received. With respect to the Cooperatives Society, four new ones have been registered, two were cancelled in 2013, inquiries and investigations were held against three of the societies, amendment for rules of those societies, we had one investigation done and the amendment took place, with 42 audits taking place, all the audit reports have been released to these bodies and based on reports and request by the Cooperative Societies, 61 field visits were concluded.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Honorable Member Ms. Kissoon made reference to co-ops and to quote me and to highlight the importance of the co-ops that there must be concern with the advertisements that some 212 co-ops have been slated for cancellation, we have already been in receipt of a letter of concern and expression of willingness to work with the Ministry from the Leader of the Opposition’s office under t he signature of Mr. Joseph Harmon. I have had a meeting with Dr. Rupert Roopnarine on the concern expressed by one society and I have had discussions with the Honorable Member, Clement Rohee, in his capacity as General Secretary of the PPP, over concerns expressed by another set of Cooperatives and to indicate that in all these areas we will be examining the list and to ensure that every society that wish to continue and show that willingness to continue we will give them that opportunity but we want to ensure that we start and all the issues pertaining to good governance would be observed. Many of the Societies however Mr. Speaker, will not have an impact on Cooperatives, since many of these societies are defunct for over ten years; a decade and we are merely cleaning the records of these. As I indicated not a single society or member’s asset will be put in jeopardy with this exercise our willingness to continue to work with every single organization and body that is willing to come forward and to encourage compliance with the law and good governance as well as to assist in good management practice, we will work with them.
The 2014 allocation under the Budget Mr. Speaker would see $383,159 expended on or being voted in the Budget for Labour Administration which will cover employment cost estimated $97M with other cost to the cost to tune of about $286M, we also have Budgeted under this programme $246.8M for our capital programme. The Budget allocation for 2014 with respect to these agencies therefore Mr. Speaker will see the continuation of these programmes with improved results and participation in 2014.
I now turn Mr. Speaker to some of the salient points raised in the Budget and which had been raised by members during the course of the debate. I want to deal Sir, first of all with respect to the issue of wages and workers interest, Mr. Speaker, the Honorable Minister of Finance indicated that Budget 2014 is expected to see the economy growing by 5.6% and with the world economy when you compare that you will see that growth of about 3.7%. What is significant Mr. Speaker is that for the year 2013 we have had the highest growth rate over the period showing a 5.2% increase with inflation pegged at about 0.9%, the lowest inflation rate in almost a decade. Compared to world performance Mr. Speaker, that the world performance average a mere 3%, when you take 5.2% Mr. Speaker as the economic growth measured up with the rate of inflation and you examine what was paid to public workers, as well as what was done for workers in other sectors, you will see that 2013 has been one of the most successful years in decades for the workers in this country.
Wages & Workers’ benefits
Real wages has been protected in a real way, unlike Mr. Speaker, what had happened in the past, I wanted to prevent going into it but the Honorable Member Volda Lawrence in her presentation made mention of “not a cent more” a statement alluded to earlier in Dr. Jagan’s life as a politician and administrator of this country. The issue has been one which has been raised several times and must be given clarity. Dr. Jagan did not in a high handed way say not a cent more, he was engaged in negotiations with the unions, made offers and in fact paid offers and indicated that he did not have more money after he would have paid. He was involved in the true process of collective bargaining unlike what had happened in the past. In the mid 1980’s Mr. Speaker, we had the infamous “Hoyte Circular” which proscribed collective bargaining. No agency, no one was allowed to engage in any form of collective bargaining and the settling of any agreements with anyone. That is what we had in the mid 1980s.
In 1979 we had the withdrawal of increments and refusal to pay workers their benefits while for two years in the 1980 there was introduced a wage freeze, that must be measured with has happened between 1992 and 2013. In addition to that Mr. Speaker, the situation in the country in the 1980s got so miserable and so desperate for workers that analysis done by high ranking economists, including Professor Thomas, showed that real wages in the 1980s declined by 45% below the 1942 level. In addition to that Sir, when we compare in the 1980s and put the diet of the slaves under slavery, put the food and cost it in the 1980s we found that the slaves were enjoying a better cost of living than the workers in this country and those studies were done Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, when you examine the performance of the economy over the years under the PPP/C Administration and when you examine the wages paid you will find that the PPPC administration has improved real wages in a real way. In addition to that Mr. Speaker, throughout the period even when there was poor performance in many sectors we see that wages were paid, some level of wages, but that is not all Mr. Speaker, that is not all. In addition to that when you look around the country and you witness development even the blind people would say that they have never seen development of this magnitude. Look around the countryside Mr. Speaker and see the numerous homes, the workers in this country have been given the opportunity to own their own homes.
In the past Sir, the workers in this country were limited to housing opportunities and they were limited to banking facilities and loans, interest on loans was in the vicinity of 20 and 21%. Under the PPP/C Administration that dropped to 3.9% for low income. Workers who are low income can own their own homes, as a result of that with repayment being less than what it takes for you to rent a bottom house these days. So every worker is being encouraged, more and more public servants are given opportunities under this scheme to own their own homes; police officers, public servants are all given this opportunity.
When you look at the economy Mr. Speaker, you will see progress in the banking sector with over a decade of progress in the banking sector; profits increasing, asset base increasing with every passing year. Look at every one of the financial reports, look at large companies Mr. Speaker, and you will find that every single large company and even those mushrooming are becoming very large companies, establishing branches outside of Georgetown, Georgetown is no longer the hub for business activities. Almost in every village in many regions there are many business activities and employment creation in these areas.
Mr. Speaker, I now turn to the issue of the sugar industry, something that has been near and dear, close to my heart and I know a number of persons and a number of our brothers and sisters and comrades in this House have expressed genuine concerns, but some have expressed concerns to the extent that they want to damage the industry, they believe that it is no more, but sugar has over three hundred years of history and as a young man I grew up reading the story about British Guiana. It was about the sugar industry, nothing else, the story of Guyana and the history of Guyana is about the history of the sugar industry. Over the colonial period Sir, the sugar industry had huge sums of money extracted and as result of sweat and tears of workers and were moved away to Great Britain and it was said that huge sums of money expended during that period by Great Britain were extracted from colonial countries, which were sugar based. Following nationalization, sugar continued, many of the estates were manned by local managers. Workers continued to work and the country, this country, benefited tremendously in terms of the development from the sugar industry.
The profits of the sugar industry was ploughed into many national activities Sir and one recall clearly in the 1970s when sugar price soared in 1974 in particular, the millions of dollars which was extracted from a sugar levy, which was introduced in 1974, was extracted and used for national development purposes in fact, it was misused. It was misused. The levy was used for all sorts of experiments, they went into other crops division, they went into spendings at the National Service, we know how much money from the sugar industry was expended on the National Service, especially at Kimbia Sir, especially at Kimbia. Irrefutable record. The records are there Sir, if you examine it, those were used from the sugar industry. What the sugar industry has given to this country no one can ever repay. No one can ever compensate that industry for what they have extracted and they have done. Today, the industry like many times in its history has bad patches. If you look at the record of the sugar industry, you will see declining periods as well as periods of growth and those who continue to do commentary like a former member of Parliament Sir, I have seen several pieces of commentary from one Mr. Vieira, which has been used only to embarrass the Opposition on the activity of the sugar industry and their proposals, but you know there is a saying Sir, “the more you write is the more you expose your ignorance” and Mr. Vieira coming out with some of the writings on the industry didn’t have the belly Sir, to continue in sugar when faced with hardship, he closed down his industry, closed down his estate, put workers on the breadline and never continued Sir, today he wants to lecture this Government on the sugar industry, today he wants to lecture this Government on the sugar industry. Mr. Vieira is in no position to lecture the industry in any way as to improvement. He had a failed record. He’s a failure in terms of the sugar industry.
Mr. Speaker, the sugar industry has played this important part, was exploited and we hope that in all the ranting, our colleagues, the Hon. Members, will see the wisdom in making this allocation so that we can bring this industry back. It is important to note Sir, that the Economic Services Committee in either 2011 or 2012 visited the Skeldon Sugar Factory headed by Mr. Winston Murray with Mr. Vieira, part of that grouping and during the visit and I was there Sir, they were satisfied as to the management team and they expressed that publicly and they were satisfied with what was being done to correct the measures in the sugar industry. That was public Sir in the meetings with the management.
We continued that development process and those corrective mechanisms and I want to say without any fear of contradiction, like the Minister would tell you, the Minister of Agriculture, that sugar and Skeldon Factory will continue and make progress before the end of the year. We will fix it!
The problem with Skeldon Sir if I may say, the problem of Skeldon and if people want to be educated they will know has nothing to do with the Government of Guyana, the problem with Skeldon had to do with a management team brought in by the People’s National Congress in 1990. That management team was responsible for the supervision of the factory and created enormous problems and Mr. Speaker, because this matter is in Court I will not delve more but I lure them to a writ which was filed by GuySuCo and signed by me for which I gave evidence in Court as to the numerous failings of GuySuCo management, for which under the leadership of Minister Robert Persaud we fired them and did not pay them. So Mr. Speaker, Booker Tate can be seen as a major factor, the supervisory personnel in the Skeldon factory’s operations and not the Chinese.
They were merely performing based on the engineers, based on the engineers, I will urge my colleagues therefore if they believe in the interest of the sugar workers and the learned and Honorable Members of the AFC who came from the bowels of the PPP and the father of the Nation Cheddi Jagan and saw the struggles, admired and continue to mention his name will not cause him to turn in his grave if they were to vote against the sugar industry and the workers because Mr. Speaker we have a glorious opportunity, we do not want to go back into the past, we do not want to delve into the past.
The Honorable Members of this House I am sure and they have demonstrated in no uncertain way, they have the interest of Guyana at heart, all of us but we have different ways of thinking and we have different methods of solving issues. Unfortunately Sir, over the past three years while an opportunity was presented to the combined Opposition by the voters and placed them in a majority position in this Parliament, one would have thought that using this opportunity they will show this nation that they are an opposition, a Government in waiting.
That they will do things in an objective way, that they will promote national development not sabotage the economy, that they will promote national development, that they will enhance the Government programmes and work side by side with the Government. Instead what did we find Sir, for two and half years and I am appealing to my brothers and sisters, the Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen of this House to work together so that we can build this country. We can no longer be decisive. As politicians we have to work together and merely lip service for whether you call it a political solution or whether you call it for some form of compromises Sir, we have to show that we really mean it and that we are sincere.
You cannot want to extract it through coercive mechanism. You cannot want to tell us you want to work together and sabotage national development. So let us be realistic Sir, and put the nation’s interest first. Let us work together Sir. Do not make any new demands, just work. The President Sir, I am advised and I am told and I heard from him and the Honorable Minister of Finance because it was stated publicly that he gave a commitment to the Leader of the Opposition and other members in his discourse with him on the Anti Money Laundering Bill and he said to him look I know you have some demands, but we want the Bill to be passed if some of those demands are acceptable, let us pass this Bill unconditionally and I will gave my attention to those issues which you have concern with and we will work thereafter.
That was a genuine offer Sir, I believe this nation could ill afford not to pass the Anti-Money Laundering Bill Sir. The nation’s future, every Guyanese future is at stake. Every Guyanese, every worker and so I appeal if you want to see goodwill Sir, show goodwill. Political grandstanding Sir, from either side will not work; there is need for us to rise above the level Sir. Let us to work together. I gave the assurance for my colleagues and all my colleagues on this side that we will work feverishly with colleagues on the other side if goodwill is shown from today that we will work to build a better Guyana and we will work together in the interest of this country. Our country can no longer, can no longer sail in an area of doubts and an area where we fight each other daily, where every position is seen merely from one party’s point of view, we have to listen to each other, we have to negotiate with an open mind and we have to say sometimes it is not always what we present but what is right for Guyana.
Sir, I am reminded of Shakespeare, Julius Caesar of the following:
There is a tide in the affairs of men Which taken at the floods leads on to fortunes; Omitted all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves Or lose our ventures.Julius Caesar
The PPP/C Administration has a course Mr. Speaker. It has a course. We call on our colleagues to work with us. No one should dominate either side. Cheddi Jagan struggled since the 1970s. Talk about critical support, Cheddi Jagan gave support for the nationalization unconditionally of the bauxite industry when it was needed Sir and promises which were given to him were never fulfilled, never fulfilled! Who from the PPP was named a member of the Board as it was promised Sir? This is history. Cheddi Jagan gave critical support to the People’s National Congress on many issues Sir, put that aside, put that in the ages of the history book Sir, we want to turn a new, we want to work for a better Guyana. We are committed to working towards a better Guyana. We want goodwill to be shown on all sides Mr. Speaker.
On this note Sir, I call on the Honorable men and women on that side to let us work together. Let us through consultation, another Election will not solve this; will not solve the problems of this country. It will solve this issue of majority over that side and minority here because as you cut the Budget, you will cut your votes and you will cut your seats over there! And so Comrades, I want us to work together. I want us to work together for the betterment of this country, for the betterment, for our children. Thank you.