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….MP Duncan says, as he dubs Budget 2021 “useless”
By Svetlana Marshall
More than 20 years after the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) assured Guyanese that it will aggressively address their housing needs, the promise is still to be fulfilled, A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament Sherod Duncan said as he described Budget 2021 as “useless.”
“This budget, Mr Speaker, is like the COVID Cash Grant distribution, which has no structure, and like the pink slip that no one wants. It promises something that everybody knows will not come. It a placebo Mr. Speaker, it is useless, it is worthless. Budget 2021 is a pink slip,” the Opposition MP said on Monday, as he addressed the National Assembly on the $383.1B National Budget proposed by the PPP/C Administration.
Centering his presentation on the Housing Sector, MP Duncan, a former City Mayor, said in 2000, the then Finance Minister, Sasenarine Kowlessar, during his budget presentation, said that the PPP/C Administration was on a mission to revolutionize the Housing Sector – a move that would have seen every Guyanese owning their own home.
“This was 20 years ago, and they spent 23 years in Government [1992-2015], and they are still trying to achieve this. Mr Speaker Budget 2021 is a pink slip,” the Opposition MP said.
Currently, there are well over 70,000 house lot applications in the system, and the current PPP/C Administration has pledged to distribute 50,000 house lots over the next five years, starting with 10,000 this year.
But MP Duncan urged his colleagues on both sides of the House not to be carried away by the glorious promises of the PPP/C Government. He pointed out that in 2010, Dr. Ashni Singh, who was the Finance Minister at the time, spoke to the very issues. The APNU+AFC Parliamentarian said 10 years later, Dr. Singh, who has returned as a Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, is making similar promises.
“Why?” he questioned.
“He is proposing to this House, 10 years later, why? Becaude this budget is a pink slip, useless and worthless.
MP Duncan, to solidify his case, referenced to the Ram & McRae Annual Budget Review for 2010. “As a matter of fact, go pass the 2010 Budget, to Ram and McRae’s pronouncement on the 2010 Budget, and this is what Ram and McRae said: ‘The budget speech by the Honourable Minister Ashni Singh, had been relegated to a spending list; many of the projects are ill conceived, insufficiently studied, poorly executed, badly supervised, and some are also subjected to nepotism and corruption.’ He is talking about the 2010 Budget, but it seems as though he is talking about 2021. It is a pink slip!” the Opposition MP told the House.
He said budget after budget, the PPP/C Administration continues to make the same promises will little evidence to show of any progress made in the Housing Sector. “2021 Budget, Dr. Ashni Singh is still selling dreams to Guyanese, now it is coined ‘Dream Realised Housing Drive.’ But they are really selling dreams,” he posited, that what the PPP/C Government failed to do in 23 years, it expected the coalition to do in five years.
During his presentation of the multi-billion dollar budget, Dr. Singh had boasted that when the PPP/C Government demitted office in 2015, a total of 22,964 house lots were allocated during its last five years in office, however, only 7,534 house lots were distributed by the APNU+AFC Administration during its five-year period in office. “The slowdown in distribution of house lots under the previous administration was due to a lack of a clear vision and policy for the housing sector,” Dr. Singh told the House.
However, MP Duncan said a large percentage of the lots distributed were not serviced lots, and as such, lack basic amenities. He said in other cases, lots could not have been accessed. According to him, a review of the Housing Sector revealed that there was a general lack of a holistic plan.
He said the issue of squatting is no different. Currently there are more than 30,000 squatters spread across 173 squatting settlements in 700 plus structures. “…that didn’t happen in the last five years, that was inherited,” MP Duncan said.
He submitted that when the APNU+AFC took Office in 2015, it had a vision to facilitate a nation housed in cohesive and sustainable communities by providing opportunities for all Guyanese to improve their quality of life by owning their own home.
Inheriting a system that was highly discriminatory, MP Duncan said the APNU+AFC, in an effort to undo the injustices done, forged ahead with a programme of establishing cohesive communities in which serviced lots were complemented with infrastructural amenities including green spaces, parks and recreational facilities.
Perseverance, Stewartville, Communings Lodge, Prospect and Amelia’s Ward were among Housing Schemes developed.
“Given the huge demand for house lots, and the limited availability of serviced lots for distribution, the Government piloted a project to construct apartments, condominiums, and wooden houses…in existing areas such as Stewartville, Cummings Lodge, Perseverance and Amelia’s Ward. By 2018, Mr Speaker, the work of the Coalition Government was ongoing, the Housing Sector continued to expand and contributed to the growth of the construction sector. The role of government contained a comprehensive approach to housing which included not units but lots and roads and drainage, sidewalks, lighting, social services, and recreational facilities,” MP Duncan reported.
In addition to hinterland communities under the then Government’s Hinterland Housing Project, which saw billions of dollars devoted to the upgrade of Mahdia, Lethem, Bartica and Mabaruma from communities to capital towns.
But Minister within the Ministry of Housing and Water, Susan Rodrigues said the PPP/C Government is committed to its plan and promise.
She said just a few months into Office, the PPP/C, in the 2020 Emergency Budget, inclusive substantial funds to ensure more people become homeowners.
She not only is Government providing Guyanese with house lots, but in the 2021 Budget, it has provided a menu of measures that will result in a significant drop in the cost of construction materials.
Like Dr. Singh, she reminded of Government’s commitment to provide 50,000 house lots by 2025.
“Government will also be constructing 1,000 homes for low-income earners and young professionals, in addition to the 1,000 homes slated to be constructed in Region 10,” the Minister said.
According to her, it was the APNU+AFC Administration which had neglected the Housing Sector.
Some $6 billion has been allocated to further advance infrastructure and utility works in new and existing housing areas, while $1.5 billion was allocated to continue infrastructure works in the Sophia, Diamond and Parfaite Harmonie housing schemes. Another $2.7 billion would be invested to expand the water sector and $1.1 billion for sanitation.
“Government plans to increase treated water coverage in keeping with Sustainable Development Goal – Number Six (Access to Clean Water), reduce non-revenue water and modernise sanitation facilities across the country,” Minister Rodrigues said. This will see a number of projects being executed under the Hinterland Water Supply Programme as well as the Coastal Water Supply Programme.