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Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Roysdale Forde S.C, in his Budget debate, on Wednesday, told the National Assembly the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government is spending billions on infrastructure projects and has forgotten the struggling working class, single parents, youth, ordinary families, farmers, fisher folk, the elderly, and Indigenous communities.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today cognisant of the expectation on our shoulders from those who sent us to this Honourable House to represent their interest and ensure that as Guyanese they all can benefit from the nation’s coffer, based on need and the creation of opportunities, utilising the principles of equity and equality,” M.P. Forde said.
Even though they are on opposite sides of the House due to who elected them as their representatives, M.P. Forde assured the Speaker that the ordinary Guyanese, represented on both sides of the House, desire to be an equal part of the society and benefit likewise.
He mentioned “This is not only a task, but responsibility, which we must deliver without fear, favour or ill will. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to do this in earnest and due diligence, because a country this wealthy has no excuse not to deliver in equal measures to all the people. The Budget is serious business. It ensconced the financial management of this country for 2023 and what measures, or lack thereof, the Government has provided as a pathway or hindrance, particularly for the ordinary man who rely on us to create opportunities for them to thrive.”
He stated, “We are reminded by Dr. Darrick Hamilton, Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, that there are other ways to ‘define economic value and our traditional measures have not captured what is first and foremost our most treasured asset in this world, which is people.’ Therefore, Mr. Speaker, critical examination, assessment and dissection of this Budget in relation to the rights, needs and welfare of all Guyanese are imperative before arriving at the decision whether this Budget is National or Partisan.”
Social, economic and political rights
“Mr. Speaker, some forty-three years ago, the Guyanese nation transitioned from a constitution given to us by our former colonial master, to a constitution which was indigenous and reflective of the aspirations, hopes and ideals of all the Guyanese people. Indeed, we all would recall that no one other than Dr. Cheddie Jagan, himself, declared that he found nothing really wrong with the 1980 Constitution. Articles 24, 26 and 27 for example, conferred the right of free medical attention and social care in case of old age and infirmity, free education from Nursery to University, and the right to proper housing accommodation. Mr. Speaker, the constitutional commitment to social and economic rights as stated in the aforementioned Articles of the Constitution were never intended to be barren, sterile or arid legal provisions. They were meant to be state obligations which underpin the Nation of Guyana,” he further added.
He noted that in 2016 the A Partnership of National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Government signed the Oil Production Sharing Agreement to ensure and guarantee a prosperous and stable economic future for all the Guyanese people. “However, the PPP/C maligned the Oil Production Agreement, it is the basis of the economic growth that the PPP/C claims falsely as its own and is now grossly mismanaging.”
He continued by saying, “What is really owned by the PPP/C, is the grave deterioration in the quality of life of most Guyanese, increased poverty, increased hunger, low wages, high crime, ever increasing unemployment, especially among the youth, low pensions, malnutrition, and no attention to the elderly/aged and infirmed. However, the PPP/C Budgets have one thing in common, that is, the failure to introduce a vision and plan for all Guyanese consistent with our motto One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”
“They exposed the ugly underbelly of structural discrimination, evident in the growing income gap between the haves and the have nots, the few beneficiaries of the PPP/C ‘one Guyana,’ and the vast majority of Guyanese. The economic decay is reflective of the decay in the quality of citizens’ legal right to access opportunities for their economic empowerment.”
He expounded on inflation and its impact on standard of living, as it remains today relevant as stated by Mr. Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham in his speech “A vision of the Cooperative Republic,” that this nation must be cognisant of “social needs and wants in creating a just society for the people of Guyana… A just society cannot be achieved unless the majority of the people, the masses, the little men have a full share in the ownership and control of the economy…”
Mr. Speaker, apart from the PPP/C’s ‘one Guyana,’ the majority of the people, the masses, the little men [and women]” have not benefited from the oil economy nor have their quality of life positively impacted,” M.P. Forde added.
“Since 2020, the economy has grown 43.5%, 20.1%, 62.30% and projected to grow in 2023, 25.2%, but the Honourable Minister has been unable to point to any ownership by the “little men [and women]” and their families in the ownership and control of the economy. Government must provide mechanisms for ordinary Guyanese to own and control the oil economy. The stable inflation rates from 2016 to 2020, despite high levels of economic growth under the A Partnership of National Unity + Alliance for Change saw greater spending power of Guyanese, greater rates of saving, and the lowering of poverty. To this the nation holds gratitude to the prudential stewardship of the former Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan, President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Ministers of that Government,” he noted.
Further, he stated, “Mr. Speaker, inflation has rapidly increased under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic from 2021 to 2023 when compared with the A Partnership of National Unity + Alliance for Change period of governance. In 2016 to 2020 inflation was 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 2.1 and 0.9 percent respectively. During the Progressive Party/Civic Government inflation was recorded at 5.7 and 9.4 percent in 2021 and 2022 respectively and is expected to be 3.8 percent in 2023. Mr. Speaker, the high inflation and high prices are wreaking havoc in this country and the PPP/C must accept full responsibility.”
The M.P. made it clear that the PPP/C Budget offers no prospects for equitable economic and social transformation which is now more than ever necessary for the people to prosper in an economy identified as the world’s fastest growing.
“Mr. Speaker, the Honourable Senior Minister of Finance in his Budget presentation omitted to provide any information on the human development of the Guyanese people. I submit, given the deteriorating quality of life of most Guyanese since 2020 the Minister thought it prudent, in this oil rich economy, to hide the facts but facts are stubborn and cannot be hidden.
“Mr. Speaker, a recent Food and Organisation Report, entitled “Regional Overview of 2022: Towards Affordability of Healthy Diets” stated that around 43 % of Guyanese’s population cannot afford a healthy diet,”
Decline in quality of life, increasing cost of living, low wages
He mentioned that there is decline in quality of life. “This isn’t the quality of life any caring Government would desire for the people or flippantly speak about. Guyana, the PPP/C is spending billions on infrastructure projects and has forgotten our struggling working class, single parents, youth, ordinary families, farmers, fisher folk, the elderly, and our brothers and sisters in the indigenous communities. Our people are suffering under the heavy rising cost of living caused by this Government with their poor fiscal policies tearing into the pots and pans of every Guyanese, across Guyana.
“This Government has disconnected from suffering families, and this can be related to the more than hundredfold increase in prices for the period January- December 2022: Cabbage has increased by 130%; Pumpkin by 185%; Eddo has increased by 150%; Eggs by 82%; Bora by 183%; and Pak Choy has increased by 166%; (Stabroek News, January 14, 2023),” he explained.
The facts mentioned by M.P. Forde, shows that the prices of basic commodities have increased at a pace that outstrips income (salary/wages/pension); social and economic inequities are increasing for the vast majority of Guyanese.
“Yet the Budget failed to address these. Shame on President Ali’s so-called ‘one Guyana’ Government. Shame on you, Mr. Finance Minister. What the Honourable Minister also failed to address in the Budget is Guyana’s score on the Human Capital Index which revealed that while 97% of our children survive to age 5, the increasing levels of non-communicable diseases contribute to only 79 percent of our 18-year-olds surviving to 60 (with only three quarters of our 15-year-old boys reaching 60),” he argued.
“You would agree Mr. Speaker, these are disturbing statistics. The health and longevity of our people are critical for the development of our nation, likewise the survival of both sexes to ensure procreation, family stability and growth. 12% of our children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition with rates twice as high in the interior of Guyana. Maternal mortality rate in Guyana is now 229 per 100,000 live births – one of the highest rates in the region. The health care professional to population ratio is 31 physicians and nurses per 10,000 of our population. Suicide rates continue to be high with Guyana having one of the highest in the Caribbean – 30.2 suicides per 100,000 persons,” siad Forde
He said the opposition believes the Government must increase, in real time, allocations to education and health and this adjustment must go toward improving the quality of delivery, including training and recruiting competent personnel.
“Recent announcement by the PPP/C that it is against cash transfer because our nation cannot afford it has no basis in evidence other than the partisan desire to keep the poor, and vulnerable persons from benefiting from our oil wealth, therefore increasing the poverty gap. Cash transfers must be paid not only to the poor and vulnerable based on needs, but to every household as recommended by Guyana and the region’s premier labour Economist, Professor Clive Thomas. The PPP/C despite the rapidly worsening economic circumstances in Guyana since 2020, the increase in poverty and the abundance of oil resources, has failed to expand and overhaul the social safety net,” stated M.P. Forde.
The Government must at once provide unemployment grants, establish a social safety net that addresses the circumstances of children, young persons, elders and women in our society.
“Among the travesties still occurring in Guyana, is the persistent failure by the PPP/C to make wages and salaries liveable and respect the constitutional right to collective bargaining for all unionised workers in the public sector or where the Government is a shareholder. I believe this Government must act now and move to the bargaining table with the trade unions to achieve increased wages and salaries and improved conditions of work reflective of an oil and gas economy.
“The PPP/C has failed to deliver on its election campaign promise of a 50% increase to all public servants, after more than two years in Government. Unilaterally tossing less than 20 % increase in wages and salaries to public servants, in three years, is as discriminatory as it can get. In 2020 public servants received nothing; in 2021 they were tossed a 7 % taxable increase, and in 2022 an 8 % taxable increase.”
Government has a boot on citizens‘ neck
He added that the ‘small man’ needs a helping hand up, not the Government’s boot on his neck.
“When the Government boasts of development to the people, this development is meaningless if it is not accessible to our people. In instances where the Government is seeking to establish housing development, citizens are being asked to pay exorbitant sums on unlivable wages and salary. The locations of these areas are far removed from persons’ workplaces and their children’s schools. Persons also can’t easily get to the location where these houses are going up neither can they afford to purchase a car. It is a situation of one step forward and many steps back.
“The situation will get worse if we do not value the importance of progressive infrastructural development and building communities that are accompanied by the requisite amenities and services. And even though many are seeking to break free of poverty by taking the supportive opportunities that exist, they remain shackled by policies that do nothing to empower them,”
He continued, “Mr. Speaker, I believe we could afford to build quality houses for the small man and woman. The construction of these must be done by small contractors primarily from the marginalised communities of our society. That’s a plan to give the small man an opportunity to escape poverty. The Government is also facilitating the massive transfer of state wealth and awarding huge contracts to the identified ‘one Guyana.’ Flagrant disregard for public sector workers and the vulnerable in our midst continues despite evidence of the vast economic disparities and repeated advice to pursue political inclusion and shared prosperity. Even the Joe Biden administration has urged the PPP to act responsibly.
“In the world’s fastest growing economy, Government ignores that 49 per cent of the people are living in poverty, 48 per cent of the population is existing on less than $1200 per day (World Bank Fact Sheet October 6, 2022) And in which country pensioners are expected to survive on $33,000 per month with today’s cost of living. These groups, which represent the majority of Guyana, get no direct benefit living in the fifth fastest growing economy. Only President Ali’s special ‘one Guyana’ is benefiting from this growth.
“This Budget, Mr. Speaker, is anti-family. It has given the small man nothing. Nothing to survive on. Nothing to live on. Nothing to hope for. As families are stretching themselves thin on small income the Government has been withdrawing billions from the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) but the sum has had no direct impact on the lives of ordinary people. Three times last year the Government dipped into the Fund. In May US$200 million was withdrawn, in July another US$200 million, and this month US$207.6 million. In 2022 Guyana earned more than US$1 Billion in oil and gas revenue, US$150 Million in royalty, and the economy grew by more than 60 percent.
“By no stretch of imagination is Guyana a poor country, yet poverty is pervasive with the widening economic disparity and Government indifference. My fellow Guyanese, we would like the Government to address its mind, assuming it has a mind and a heart, to the philosophical underpinning of Aristotle’s theory (and I quote): “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” Aristotle is referenced, Mr. Speaker, merely to direct attention to the causative effects of deprivation, and what we must do as representatives of our people to address this.”
He added that the reappearance of street executioners and extrajudicial killings are symptomatic of socio-economic decay and the return of the breakdown in law and order. “Mr. Speaker, these indicators do not augur well for the stability of our people and our beloved country, Guyana.”
Further, he mentioned that “two days before the Budget presentation, Guyanese were shocked at the news of the gunning down of Delon Josiah, at his home, in his bedroom, at Perseverance, on the East Bank of Demerara. Days earlier Anthony Charles, aka ‘Skiddle’ of Leopold Street was gunned down in broad daylight. This Assembly cannot ignore these untoward happenings out in the street by rogue officers and civilians, threatening the safety and security of Guyanese.
“It is not national development, Mr. Speaker, when the PPP/C continues to ensure significant and transformative projects are landed only in their geo-political strongholds- a continuation of what obtained during previous terms in office. Guyanese are aware that the hospitality training complex is identified for Port Mourant, the gas-to-shore at Wales, the Packaging Plant in Enmore, etc. There have been no similar economic transformational projects, as far as we know, slated anywhere near communities dominated by supporters of the Opposition. This is President Ali’s ‘one Guyana’ and this should offend our national consciousness.”
The largest budget in the history of our nation deliberately avoids meaningful funding to the mostly black civil servants and Disciplined Service. I can say much more, Mr. Speaker, Forde presented.
“Attention is now directed to the travesty in Caneview/Mocha, in which the police were used by the Executive to prevent their fellow Guyanese from protecting their homesteads and belongings. It is beside the point whether persons were asked to remove or offered to support to remove. Mr. Speaker, will the other side of this Assembly initiate this very public policy to clear the Grove to Diamond East Bank Demerara reserves which will ease traffic congestion on the East Bank corridor?
“This legislature, this law-making branch of Government, in which sits the Executive, knows that homeowners, be they described as squatters or otherwise, have rights. No Government should demolish persons’ homes and properties without engagement, providing them with comparative opportunities for relocation and securing their hard-earned possessions and investments,” he pointed out.
“Mr. Speaker, the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities report illuminated the “Twelve Misconceptions and Misinterpretations of the Right to Housing.” That report dispelled the notion of ‘squatters’ being criminals and unworthy of meaningful engagement and respect. Article 154 of the Constitution of Guyana said, rights arising from international treaties ‘shall be respected…’”
Lest it be forgotten, we were elected here to represent our people, and this representation we must execute to the benefit of all Guyanese [and] the PPP/C continues to woefully fall short” Forde told the Assembly.
“The Government’s inattentiveness to the people is also reflected in its treatment of the Judiciary. Not only has President Irfaan Ali failed to respond to the Honourable Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Aubrey Norton’s letter agreeing to the substantive appointments of Mrs. Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Mrs. Roxane George-Wiltshire S.C as Chancellor and Chief Justice respectively, consistent with Article 127 in the Constitution of Guyana; he has also failed to ensure the Judiciary has the required human resources to dispense justice in a timely manner. Initiation by the President of the required consultation with the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment of confirmed officers must happen forthwith. Mr. Speaker, the judiciary demands immediate attention and I believe the dilly dallying must end.”
He noted that the situation is dire, and Government’s dereliction of duty was politely addressed by acting Chancellor Justice Cummings-Edwards. M.P. Forde, quoted:
“We need more judges! We need the Judicial Service Commission to be established ASAP – as soon as possible. We are facing increased case loads. Judges are now overburdened, they are exhausted, they are nearly worn out and they are, in some cases, burned out.”
“Undoubtedly, Justice Cummings-Edwards felt compelled to remind the Executive, again he quotes:
‘We do not need the rhetoric. We need more labourers. We need the judges. We’ve been hearing time and again about the JSC is soon to be established. We would like to see the implementation and the establishment of the Judicial Service Commission.’
“Mr. Speaker, as an Officer of the Court and Member of this House, fellow colleague and Honourable Member Anil Nandlall S.C, is being advised to render proper counsel to the President to ensure the Executive honours its obligations to the Judicature. All are aware that justice delayed is justice denied and the morale of members of the judiciary is tied to employment stability and proper conditions under which they dispense justice.”
Avoiding the Dutch Disease; striving for inclusivity and shared prosperity
Mr. Speaker, a review of the Budget disclosed all the essential characteristics of the Dutch disease. None other than Mr. Geoffrey Da Silva, a PPP/C comrade, had waved the red flag in our faces,”
Mr. Da Silva identified the manifestation of the Dutch disease in four spheres. These are the Political, Financial, Economic and Social. The main characteristics are:
- there is political instability and increased inter-ethnic rivalry;
- national institutions are weak, ineffectual and corrupt;
- the people have less say in governance;
- the Government is over-dependent on oil income for its revenues;
- there is unrestrained public spending; crude oil exports are a very large and increasing percentage of all exports;
- there is little economic diversification and the competitiveness of the non-oil sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing, is declining;
- all types of crime are increasing;
- professionals are paid low salaries compared to foreign professionals;
- the education system produces the wrong graduates and it is tailored to bureaucracy instead of the productive sectors;
- there is a brain drain and there are no limits on the number of foreign employees; and
- political office holders are highly paid while workers and farmers earn relatively low incomes.”
“This is exactly the situation in Guyana. The Budget in its pages reveal the Government over dependence on oil income and there is no restrained in public spending. Mr. Speaker, we heard from the Minister of Finance that major non-oil sectors of the economy are declining. Mr. Speaker, the country heard from the Honourable Minister that major industries in the non-oil sector in the economy are declining. Crime is increasing. Guyana is ranked at Level 3 by the USA Travel Advisory which is message to avoid traveling to Guyana due to increase crime. A recent survey indicated Guyanese prefer to migrate than stay here in Guyana,” he advised.
“It is my view, Mr. Speaker, that we can prevent the ravages of Dutch disease, but the socio-economic and political praxis must change from exclusion to inclusion. This could be sensibly attended to through Article 13 of the Constitution, which provides the basis for inclusive governance, shared prosperity, peace and social cohesion. Before I take my leave, it is timely to remind this House, Premier Forbes Burnham, in 1964 said:
‘…all the people of this country are equally important, whether they belong to a large group or a small group. …the Amerindians are important….the Chinese are important…the Portuguese are important…the Europeans are important. …the mixed races are important…. the Africans are important. ….the Indians are important. In short, all Guyanese are important and valued members of our community, and we cherish them and consider … it is [the] duty and privilege [of Government] to guard, protect and further the real interests of all.’
“Those words which articulate the desire of every Guyanese were no more evident than on the 26th May 1966 when Minority Leader Dr. Cheddie Jagan and Prime Minister Forbes Burnham embraced as Guyana, a new nation, laid the indigenous foundation of inclusivity, equality and equity,” added M.P. Forde
He concluded by saying, “Therefore, Mr. Speaker, fellow Members of this Honourable House, it is being proposed we do the honourable thing and scrap the Budget. Together, along with other national stakeholders, let us conceptualise a vision for All Guyana and put a spending plan in place to reflect All Guyana, not ‘one Guyana,’ and return to this Honourable House to unanimously approve a National Budget that secures the rights, interest and prosperity of All Guyana.
“I am sure my colleagues on this side of the House, and those on the Government side who believe All Guyanese are important, would not oppose a national vision and economic plan that is inclusive, would give hope to All Guyana that the aspirational flame of our founding fathers and mothers for One People, One Nation, One Destiny, is as bright today as it was at the dawn of Independence.”