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Shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amanza Walton-Desir, in her Budget Debate contribution not only corrected “several misconceptions that might have been conveyed to the people of Guyana by [her] colleague on the other side” but also highlighted areas of government treatment of citizens, their assets, the financial management of the country, areas she felt the government failed and could do better.
Mr Speaker, every Guyanese who is paying attention knows exactly when the oil money became available to the Republic of Guyana and for the honourable member to stand there and to say the A Partnership of National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) government did nothing d with all of the money is misleading the people of Guyana,” she argued.
She added, “we have to set these things straight Sir. Mr Speaker, in the ease with which we say these things to the House I heard the honourable member, Mr Ashni Singh stand in this House and tell us that they have completed the synthetic tracks in Region Six and Region 10. Well, as Lindener, I had to go and check for myself. Mr Speaker, the tracks are incomplete and for misleading this House, Mr. Speaker he ought to be brought before the Privileges Committee, or better yet, he ought to be made to put on his tracksuit with DPI [covering him] and made to run those tracks that he said have been completed.”
She continued by saying, “we owe a duty to the people of Guyana to be honest with them and when you stand and you hear the colleagues on the other side of the house just say these things with ease, it really boggles the mind, and so I wanted to clear up those misconceptions very early. Mr. Speaker, the other issue that I have and that I believe is cause for alarm is the Minister’s utterances that they will be going after Co-op lands.”
“…he said in his address that they will be going after those co-ops with lands that are idle. Mr Speaker, I believe…that is an indication that this government intends to dispossess Guyanese of Cooperative lands…lands which by law they have a vested proprietary interest… to look at this government’s track record we will see that they simply do not care; they bulldozed the squatters at Mocha. They destroyed their belongings, killed their animals, and now they are going after the co-ops,” she mentioned.
“Mr. Speaker, I will say that it is not passing strange. A pattern is developing of dispossessing people of a certain ethnicity who have land. Mr Speaker, it is known all throughout Guyana that Afro Guyanese Mr Speaker are heavily involved in cooperatives and incorporative lands and so Mr Speaker you know I know that they’re the chief apologist for the other side …saying that Amanda would speak to racism. As if his reverse psychology could prevent me sir from pointing out that the PPP/C administration is a clear and present danger to the constitutional rights and freedoms of Guyanese,” M.P Desir argued.
“They’re coming after our property, they’re coming after our freedom of speech, they are coming after our way of life, …. they are a clear and present danger. So let the vice president know that his reverse psychology will not work with me.” she expounded.
“Mr Speaker, I realised that I could take my last year’s presentation and word for word regurgitated here…and [it would be] just as appropriate… last year I stood here and I said to the people of Guyana, let us see where this government spends their money and that will tell you what they value and what their values are. And Mr. Speaker, we saw it last year, we saw it in 2022, we saw how much they value the hard-working public servants of this country…who turn up every day, rain or shine, to keep the wheels of this country turning and you know what- they rewarded them with amazingly taxable eight percent increase,” she stated.
“Mr Speaker, that is how much they value the public servants…we saw how much they valued GUYSUCO, Mr. Speaker, $13 billion poured into an industry…that they themselves have said is dying. The vice president is on record telling sugarcane workers you all have to find jobs in other sectors but here they are pouring $13 billion.”
She noted that the current administration lied to the Guyanese public stating that the APNU+AFC Coalition killed the sugar industry, however it was under their government that most of the sugarcane factories were closed.
“Mr. Speaker, those are the facts, …so we have to continue to set the record straight. Now Mr Speaker they have allocated $4 Billion to GUYSUCO already for this year and …they’re gonna come for more. This is just the first, we got at least three more supplementals, I am sure for GUYSUCO.”
Mr Speaker under the Coalition, we continued the right-sizing of this industry. When you look at the way in which this budget is couched I want to show you how this government values the people…we know where sugar is going, they have admitted it has gone with the wind, they have said it Mr Speaker ,but yet and I want to quote the Honourable Member Ashni Singh, he says ‘Government is resolutely committed to invest heavily to have more better, sharper and more creative young minds.’ He said this when he was talking about youth development and guess what he- allocated a whopping $960 Million dollars..,” she noted.
Further she argued, “So youth development got $960 million, not even a billion Mr Speaker. When you look at it…it means that the Government of Guyana has allocated US$35 for every youth, for their Youth Development but they want to talk about robust investment, Mr Speaker.”
“Mr. Speaker, let me say this issue about free education at university continues to be a fleeting illusion, and then I heard their chief apologist saying to us that ‘oh we didn’t say in the first year you know we got five years so we can still do’ is insulting the intelligence of the Guyanese people. But Mr Speaker, I suspect that they want to use it as an election gimmick and so close to the elections they’re going to come and announce free University education, as if they’re the champions of free University education when the truth is that from 1976 to 1994 Guyanese enjoyed free education from Nursery to University as enshrined in our Constitution.”
“So, when they’re coming back with this big announcement, we will simply remind them you’re not doing us a favour, you are simply righting a historical wrong that you committed against us, the people of Guyana. Mr Speaker, and you know that is the thread, sir, that is common throughout this entire budget, the ability of this government to do more for the people of Guyana is present, but their willingness sir is absent. It is woefully absent, and you see it through the way they are portioned and what they have allocated…”
“As a result of this, in the midst of plenty there is poverty. 48% of Guyanese are living below the poverty line and this is not the APNU/AFC Coalition, these are the stats by the reputable organisation from which we get the statistics.
“48%, Mr. Speaker, according to the World Bank, just in case I’m not clear, they said sir that 43 of these Guyanese are living under the poverty line. Mr Speaker, the FAO in 2023 said that 43 of Guyanese cannot afford a healthy diet and that five percent of Guyanese are malnourished. That is what the FAO reports says, Mr Speaker. So, they can heckle all they want. The numbers do not lie…”
M.P. Walton-Desir quoted the World Economic Forum Global risks report and encouraged the House to download a copy of the report and read it.
The World Economic Forum report stated that the cost-of-living crisis is the number one risk the world will face in the short term of the next two years.
She continued by adding, “And yet sir with all of this empirical data that is showing that we are suffering…this government has allocated a measly .5 per cent of this budget to also address cost of living and the cost-of-living crisis. Mr. Speaker 0.5 not 1.5 and we have a head of this government who says ‘oh the people of Guyana are my friends and my family.’ Mr Speaker with friends and family like these may God protect us from our enemies.”
“Mr Speaker, may God protect us from our enemies. Mr Speaker, this is serious Mr Speaker more can be done for the people of Guyana who are suffering Mr Speaker, the sweeper cleaners who isn’t $85,000 a month, Mr Speaker, $50,000 on rent, another $15,000 on transportation and then she has to spend $10,000 a week to feed herself and her two children. Mr Speaker, that is the end of her salary, and she still has not paid GWI, she still has not paid GPL, and… The head of state and his government have the temerity to put in the budget that they are studying cost of living measures for the last two years. Mr Speaker, they have been studying and consulting, and the people of Guyana are starving and whilst Rome is burning Nero is fiddling his thumbs,” the M.P pointed out.
“Mr Speaker, we will say sir that we are happy that the ‘Because we care’ grant has been increased. That is a good thing, and we commend the government for that, and we commend them also for continuing the school feeding programme that the coalition government started. Because we appreciate sir, the connection between nutrition and cognition…and learning and, so Mr Speaker this is good, but Mr Speaker more is possible…more is possible because we have more at our disposal Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker, for example why can we not work together to devise a scheme to subsidise transportation for school children…they’ve allowed the buses to rot Mr Speaker. Why can we not? We have the funds sir and with .5 % of this budget allocated it, that will mean that parents will no longer have to carry the burden of paying for transportation,” she emphasised.
She continued by adding, “Mr Speaker freeing up money in their pockets and allowing them to have more disposable income. Mr. Speaker, my colleague Miss Flue- Bess earlier gave us the price of commodities of basic food items in the shop…. Why can we not as this government that so cares about people…why can we not have a programme to subsidise the basic food items. Mr Speaker, egg, rice, sugars, milk and potatoes…so that single parents, the most vulnerable amongst us sir can go to the store and be able to have …these items that they depend upon for their survival, Mr Speaker. It is possible for us to do with a mere 1.5 % allocation from this budget Mr Speaker.
The ability is present, but the willingness is absent and that is unacceptable, she argued.
The M.P highlighted that it is important that women be able to participate meaningfully in Guyana’s economy. Further, she emphasised the evidence on the most recently published labour force survey.
“The survey, Mr Speaker, shows that despite less women participating in the labour market, the unemployment rate of women is 50% higher. Mr Speaker, we cannot have inclusive growth if our women are not gainfully employed or able to meaningfully participate in the oil and gas economy and Mr Speaker why we commend the WIIN program, the statistics that I just cited suggest to us Mr Speaker that these interventions are not enough and so to end this Mr. Speaker,” she added.
“I want to encourage the government that empowering women, economically, is not just a moral imperative but it is an economic strategy. It is smart…. It is the smart thing to do… and so I want to urge us, Mr Speaker, to invest more in partnering with private sector women’s organisations, there’s women in oil and gas, there is the Women’s Chamber of Commerce… Those organisations, sir, will be able to establish training programmes and to train and mentor women in business and to set up business incubators for women.
“Mr. Speaker those initiatives are present, but my point is Sir that we need to do more because more is possible because for the first time in our post-colonial history in our post-independence history Mr Speaker,” she argued.
She pointed out the fact that we have the resources to do all of those points she mentioned above.
She continued by stating, “It baffles me that we are investing hundreds of billions of our money building all kinds of roads and bridges and all kinds of things…and the most critical piece of infrastructure, Mr Speaker, we are neglecting. Mr Speaker, the sea walls. The river defence is the most critical infrastructure for a low-lying coastal state like Guyana. Mr Speaker, every country in the world is fortifying itself against rising sea levels…against the effects of climate change and guess what sir we’re doing the opposite in fact Mr Speaker. In this budget we decrease our allocation to sea defences. We allocated $5.5 billion last year and this year we have allocated $4.9 billion.”
“Mr. Speaker, this is the economic dynamism that we’re talking about…. Every country in the world is fortifying itself, every country with the resources is doing the projects necessary to fortify themselves against climate change and rising sea levels. But we here in Guyana are doing the opposite. Mr Speaker, the science is clear, sea levels are rising sir and the science is telling us sir by 2030, it is entirely possible that Georgetown will be under the water,” she posited.
“Mr. Speaker, the [science] tells us that we are more prone now to tsunamis and tidal waves than we have ever been, and this government is running around this country building roads, building bridges, building hotel rooms, building calls centres, building synthetic tracks, and failing to do the most important thing…and that is to protect them from flooding and from the sea coming in on us.
Mr Speaker, it appears as though if it is left up to this PPP/C government, all of us are going to be washed away, she noted.
She added, “Mr Speaker, I want to turn to foreign affairs. You know I usually leave my good colleague on the other side to last…on the issue of our territorial integrity and of our sovereignty…We stand resolutely, we stand as resolutely, sir, as the Pakaraimas and we are saying sir that we will support all of the endeavours of this government, Mr Speaker that is geared towards preserving our territorial integrity.“
“Mr. Speaker, I want to put on record or gratitude to the bipartisan team who late last year, sir, made some excellent submissions to the ICJ. Mr Speaker their submissions were in my view impenetrable and so we look forward to a victory not only for international law but for the people of Guyana. Having said that though, Mr. Speaker, it would be remiss of me sir, while we stand against those that would want to alter the shape of Guyana, and it will be remiss of me sir not to draw attention to a matter that threatens to undermine us not from without but from within sir. That is, the unchecked migration across our porous borders, particularly sir, in Essequibo and the establishment of settlements there. Mr. Speaker, this government appears either unable or unwilling to appreciate that this is an existential threat to us as Guyanese and to our sovereignty Mr. Speaker,” she pointed out.
“Mr Speaker, they have this attitude of burying their heads in the sand …and coupled with the politically expedient decision that they took to alter the requirements to water down the requirements for the obtaining of a Guyanese birth certificate places us in clear jeopardy. Sir, [we’re]being undermined from within, and we must demand sir that this government pays attention to this matter…
“Mr. Speaker, there is no time for a clear and comprehensive immigration policy because sir we are not against immigration. For decades Guyanese have migrated in search of a better life for themselves and families…and so we’re not against migration. But what we are asking for, and what we are demanding is that this government sponsors a clear Immigration Policy so that we understand where we stand, and we understand what the future course of actions will look like. This ad hoc transactional approach to our Foreign Relations has to stop, Mr Speaker.
“You can’t be going all the way to the Asiatic regions, Mr Speaker, to talk about labour shortage when you have failed to look right in the Caribbean first …for labour force there is a level of inconsistency sir in this government’s approach.
“Mr. Speaker, let us say that at the epicentre of our Foreign Policy lies at the epicentre of our Foreign Affairs rather lies the issue of our foreign policy. Mr Speaker this entails the general objectives of our state and its interaction with foreign actors.
“Mr Speaker, of course it is formulated on the basis of our domestic policies and other international considerations and Mr Speaker diplomacy is that vehicle through which our foreign policy is carried to its destination.
“The former High Commissioner of Guyana to India, Mr Speaker, who was seen on videotape, you know in the vilest manner, abusing an Indian national Mr Speaker. And then you know what, Mr Speaker, again this propensity sir to mislead the people of Guyana. We had the Head of State on TV saying that Charrandass façade will be recalled and that is a matter of public record,” she highlighted.
She argued that we are still yet to appoint ambassadors to Venezuela and Brazil, which he deemed two of our most consequential interactions.
“Mr Speaker, it appears that this government is only able or concerned to put people in positions who they consider as loyalists…and so they would prefer to go for years without appointing an ambassador Mr. Speaker, rather than give it to a deserving professional diplomat.”
“In conclusion, I want to say to all of us that oil production offers this country a glorious opportunity to boost inclusive growth and to diversify the economy by addressing our human capital and our infrastructure gaps. Mr Speaker, it is clear to me that the PPP/C cannot get out of its own way to govern this country in a fair and equitable and inclusive manner,” she said.
“Mr Speaker even the projects that are intended to be transformative are either geographically misplaced or woefully underfunded, the logics are behind putting a tourism and hospitality industry in Port Mourant in the agricultural belt of this country, when the hotels are 90 per cent of them located in the capital city, is beyond me, Mr Speaker.”
“This budget is high on dollars and big on concrete but short on care and compassion…Mr. Speaker once again we are faced with a budget that does nothing for the poor and working class in comparison to what is being done for big business Mr Speaker. And so, Mr Speaker while I thank the Ministry of Finance and their hard-working staff for putting together this budget. I am afraid that in its current iteration I cannot support it thank you sir,” she stated, concluding her debate.