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Shadow Minister of Labour, Ms. Coretta McDonald, in a resounding performance in the National Assembly during the 2023 Budget Debate expounded on the crisis in the education system, and government’s destruction of the homes and businesses in Caneview, Mocha, the act of which she called economic genocide.
McDonald, who is a Member of Parliament (MP) in the A Partnership of National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition also blasted the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government for its treatment of the working class, the disregard for laws and labour conventions, and stated the majority of the budget goes towards public infrastructure which she said, “is where the corruption party is at.”
According to the MP “one glance at this budget would quickly reveal the trick- the money has been put to infrastructure and is not being directed to the hands of the people because infrastructure is where the corruption party is at.” She told the Government side of the House they are not fooling anyone but themselves.
“The context in which this debate is occurring should not be pleasing to anyone. It is carnage everywhere [and] I take no pleasure in reporting to this chamber and the people of Guyana that our education system is in crisis, it has fallen victim to the carnival of corruption and lawlessness,” she declared.
“We barely survived the first pandemic and now, we are struggling through the second pandemic of bad governance. Sir, weapons are being found in the bags of students, children are sitting in classrooms hungry and uncertain about the future.”
Politicisation of education, disrespect for teachers, and return of school fires
McDonald told the Assembly teachers are reporting for duty with stress. She pointed out that they cannot afford to pay for rent, as it is too high, and they are left to struggle through the month with their low salaries and look on as other workers get increases.
“the disrespect meted to them has added another layer of frustration to their plight. They cannot look to the Ministry of Education for direction because it is too politicised, professionals are being overlooked and the peter principle is in full effect: the most incompetent are rising to the top and the $94 billion allocated for Education cannot solve this malaise. There is nothing in the budget to deal with the issues that I have raised,” the MP McDonald contended.
She continued, saying, “the installed vindictive regime has not only disrespected our teachers, but their lawlessness also exposes our teachers to daily danger, sir, as the ordinary people observe that some are immune from the law and can get away with anything, they are taking negative examples. Sir, this nation stood and watched the Headmistress of Queen’s College being subjected to intimidation for doing her job without fear or favour.
“The children watched a powerful elite parent enter the school compound with a senior law enforcement personnel at his side. Sir, this MP is convinced that the out of order parent felt emboldened because he has links at the highest level and true to form, we saw no significant outrage from the regime when this distasteful development occurred.”
She mentioned, “despite his tactics of intimidation, the headmistress stood her ground. I wish to hereby publicly commend her for her heroism and wish to use this platform to say to all teachers, and those in education leadership: If you are on the side of what is right, stand your ground.
“…we have witnessed numerous attacks on teachers, Mr. Speaker. It is in this sad context that this budget debate is being conducted. On top of all this pressure on the education system, our schools are being burnt by arsonists. Mr. Speaker, the question needs to be asked: Who is sending the fire starters and why is this occurring now, under the People’s Progressive Party?”
She stated that whilst she didn’t want to engage in hearsay, word on the street is that the schools may be in locations that are needed by the elites, and this may be the reason for the fires. While she does not have any evidence of this contained in reports, she stated “when one looks at the locations of these schools being burnt, they are smack down in the middle of commercial districts.”
We call on the government to release the reports by the Fire Service and the Minister must desist from inserting himself in every investigation and let the professionals do their jobs, she argued.
“Schools are not only a place for education; it is an economic zone for small vendors and canteen owners, it provides important employment. Importantly, it is a social network that provides a sense of community for workers, students and other staff.
Dark days have returned
“Mr. Speaker, the carnage is everywhere!! The corrupt and evil People’s Progressive Party couldn’t care less as they dance in the carnival of corruption,” she said.
“It is has found itself in the health care system as the experienced and professional nurses beat out to find greener paying pastures, the system is left with trainees doing the job of someone with 10 years of experience as a result, we are seeing a rise in maternal deaths. It pains my heart to see what women experience at the hospitals and yet when they look at social media, they see the government propaganda. Some have refused to visit the public hospitals. Families are making the financial sacrifice to access private medical services,” she highlighted.
She continued: “Sir, on top of all of this crisis, the dark days have returned-ghosts, phantoms and the hired guns have returned. Guyanese are asking the key question: Why do these things only occur under the People’s Progressive Party? Stabreok News has declared that extrajudicial killings have become a feature of the society on November 2021, the newspaper noted:
‘the environment in Guyana is one where state and non-state actors feel empowered to continuously take the lives of others, comfortable in the knowledge that they will bear no repercussions. Extrajudicial killings have simply become another feature of our society, where calls for process, accountability and justice are steadily ignored.’”
She also added, “the guns are blazing once again. The tears of mothers are being shed from Berbice to Essequibo. The Henry families are still crying, the Boston’s are crying in Essequibo, the family of Peter Headley is sobbing, the family of Quindon Bacchus still cannot sleep comfortably at night.
The members on that side of the House must know: these tears are on you, but you don’t care, it is all about the money for you once you have your million-dollar salary and your countless properties, the people of Guyana are left to their accord. But let me remind you, the longest rope has an end.”
Economic Genocide in Caneview, Mocha
“My attention [is turned] to an issue that has ripped the scab off of old wounds in this society. Let me be very clear: what occurred at Caneview, Mocha on January 6th will be recorded as one of the darkest days in the annals of modern Guyanese history. …history has taught us that there are specific incidents that represent an inflection point where there is a call to action.
“The wipeout of that community is a call to action for the people of Guyana. There is no doubt, this government must suffer serious electoral consequences to wake them up. Mr. Speaker, let us not play fast and loose with the words to describe the evil event. It is not a mere bulldozing of houses, it was the wipeout of a community.”
She added, “sir, the wipeout of the community, ensnared businessmen and women who possessed business interests valued at over $30 million, individually. On top of that, the village economy of Caneview, Mocha prior to the wipeout of the community by this government was valued at half of a billion dollars. When the highest leadership of this government issued the instructions to wipe out the community, they proceeded to commit economic genocide. It is economic genocide.
“Economic genocide is defined by international law as the intentional destruction of the livelihood of a specific group of people given the environment of discrimination and the real perception of racism, there should be no doubt, the people of Cane view, Mocha experienced economic genocide at the hands of the People’s Progressive Party.
“Sir, it must be noted that the community of Caneview, Mocha had a social environment. On Easter and other holidays, families gathered in that space to enjoy leisure time that can no longer occur due to the wipeout of the community by the people’s progressive party. What occurred at Caneview, Mocha, …must be described as racist, discriminatory and murderous…it is often said that God hears the cries of women, children. We will never forget; the people of Guyana will never forget and the day of judgment at the ballot box awaits the members on that side of the House.”
“Sir, it is against this backdrop, this budget was presented, and this debate is ensuing based on the dismissal state of affairs which I have just described, I cannot see how any reasonable mind could lend support to any major initiative by this government on that consideration, sir, I cannot in conscience lend any support to this budget it is woefully short on delivery to end the carnage and it cannot satisfy.
Labour at its worst in decades
“Mr. Speaker, I take no pleasure in reporting to this chamber that the state of labour is at its worst in decades. workers are sacrificial lambs in an environment where the labor laws are not being enforced and when workers seek to access the redress baked into the legislation designed to protect them, the powerful private sector interests would simply pick up the phone and call the big boys at the top.
“Sir, this budget is anti-working class and therefore, we don’t expect to see any improvement in the fiscal year that will encompass this budget….the fundamental flaw in this budget as it relates to labour, lies in the government’s failure to understand what will be the ultimate liberation of the working class. This liberation does not lie with handouts and an increase of 3000 and 4000 dollars in their salaries you have to make the small man and woman, real people.
“The only way that can be achieved, there must equity the government does not or refuses to understand this concept equity means bringing everyone up to same level, so that they can equally access the opportunities that may be available this budget has no poverty alleviation program for the working class there is no affirmative action programmes that address the economic disparities of workers due to historical discrimination therefore, Mr. speaker, in that regard, just like the hon. member who presented the document, it falls short and fails to satisfy,”
The MP said “Mr. Speaker, I have thoroughly examined this budget and nowhere in this document is the word ‘equity’ mentioned in any significant way added to the absence of this word, there is no mention of ‘collective bargaining’ process. Workers’ wages must not be subject to the whims and fancies of government that decides what freck they wish to dish out here and there. This installed government who functions for their friends, family and favorites, couldn’t care less for workers.”
“Mr. Speaker, the record will show that in 2016, the APNU+AFC restored the collective bargaining process. Sir, I feel duty bound to remind this government that this process stems from the International Labour Convention No. 151 – Labour Relations (public service) 1978, ratified by Guyana in June, 1982. This convention provides for the protection of public employees’ right to organise and to collective bargaining, procedures for dispute settlement through negotiations, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration. Convention 151 places similar rights that flow from Convention No. 98 – right to organise and collective bargaining,…this is also the case with private sector employees.
“The Minister of Labour, insofar, as he has a voice, should be reminding his Cabinet colleagues about Guyana’s international treaty obligations of International Labour Conventions which are baked into legislation such as the Trade Union Recognition Act Chapter 98:07, No. 33 of 1997, which imposes an obligation on the union and employer to bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining.
“There was no grand announcement by the Minister of Finance that the government plans to restore or respect this process therefore, Mr. Speaker, the little frecks that have been identified by this budget, fail to address the macro issues that are affecting the working class therefore, Budget 2023 falls short and cannot, by stretch of the imagination, provide any satisfaction.
“Sir, this tone deaf and vindictive government does not seem to get it. They are rejoicing over the fact that they have seemingly provided salary adjustments, increased the income tax threshold, increased old age pension and have generally thrown a few measures here and there.
“I understand that it is difficult to explain the economic hardship to people who are receiving $1 million every month, plus their parliamentary salaries which would take their haul at the end of the month to $1.3 million it is like crying to the desert chasing the wind or dogs barking at a flying bird,” she mentioned.
She posited, “but my message today is not intended for those members on that side of the house who live well and could care less about who does not have food to eat I wish to explain to the Guyanese people how this budget, despite the measures, will change nothing in their difficult lives and wish to point out to them that it will not change as long as the people’s progressive party is in power.
“The IDB pegged Guyana’s inflation at 6.6 percent in 2023 this means that any increase in salaries would have zero effect because inflation has virtually wiped out the money you cannot rejoice because you have increased the monthly income tax threshold to $85,000. Do you know how impossible it is to survive on that money in today’s Guyana?
“Rent has increased and with that salary, $50,000 would go to the basic need to live another $30,000 would be spent on monthly transportation you are left with $5000 to provide food for your family and pay the light bill, the water bill and other expenses which government in their right sense would rejoice at any effort that sees workers receiving $85, 000?” Therefore, Mr. Speaker, it is no time to celebrate, she debated.
“..the Guyanese people have seen this vindictive and uncaring regime in operation there is no hope of change. Things will not get better. The oil money will never reach your pockets under the PPP. There is only one option remaining: the APNU+AFC stand ready as an alternative government, ready to rescue the situation. The people have seen the difference between the years 2015-2020, we delivered. We were clear from the inception; we envisioned a Guyana where the average man and woman could experience the ‘good life.’
Wrapping up her presentation the MP told the Assembly after every APNU+AFC Budget presented by Minister of Finance, Mr Winston Jordan, the lives of Guyanese improved when compared to the PPP/C and the facts do not lie. “Mr. Speaker, I hereby call to attention, the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: ‘everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.’ You can spin that narrative as much as you wish but the fact remains, this budget falls short and has failed to satisfy all Guyanese. “