Budget designed to mirror political climate
Persaud promises 'licks like peas' at elections
By Oscar P. Clarke
April 11, 2000
A late sitting of the National Assembly on Friday heard Minority Leader Desmond Hoyte claim that the budget had acknowledged that there were discrepancies in the last elections.
But this was rejected by Leader of the House for Government Business, Reepu Daman Persaud who stated that those polls were the freest and fairest in the history of the country.
Persaud in his wrap-up speech stated to loud thumps from members on that side of the floor, that the PPP/Civic was committed to free and fair polls and was willing to hold elections even before the stipulated date.
Persaud predicted that the PPP would win by a greater percentage, which was met with shouts of "by thieving" from the opposition benches. "This time is licks like peas," retorted the government's chief spokesman in the house.
Hoyte, who was wrapping up the debate for the opposition, stated that the budget was designed specifically to mirror the political climate and that any change in this outlook could spell disaster for the nation. He said that a depressed state existed in all sectors of society pointing to the workers picketing just outside the chambers to secure pay rises.
Hoyte went on to deal with the reduction in public sector employment which he told the assembly was some 36% since the PPP came to office. More public servants, he added, were being earmarked for similar treatment with the voluntary separation package, where a further 8,000 persons from the sector will join what he described as the "army of the unemployed".
He termed the trend of unemployment a monster being created by the government adding that the budget document had not shown how this would be dealt with. The hardest hit, according to Hoyte, are the young qualified graduates leaving the university unable to secure jobs.
But the minority leader's most stinging criticism was over his pet subject investment. Hoyte told the house that the government, through its Foreign Affairs head, had used the excuse of PNC scaring investors away to hide from the fact that it had failed to attract any significant new ones.
He proudly declared to loud thumps of approval from the opposition benches that investment was paramount under the PNC, especially under his watch. Hoyte then announced to the assembly that as a consequence of the PNC's wisdom on subject, he had been invited in his own right and as leader of the PNC to speak at the coming Investing in the Americas conference.
Persaud, defending the government's position on investment, stated the country was still awaiting much of the investment which the PNC leader had claimed to have attracted on his trips abroad.
He quoted from the budget presentation to show that the government had experienced greater success in securing solid investment. The unemployment situation he added had experienced significant improvement. "Just go to Parika," declared the Minister of Agriculture and Parliamentary Affairs. He stated that development was visible right across the country and would have been greater if the upheavals associated with the 1997 elections had not occurred.
On the issue of house lots, Hoyte bemoaned the fact that lots and not houses were being given out. Most of these he described as lacking in social infrastructure and crammed with bottlenecks leading to multiple allocation of a single lot.
When pressed for examples he cited Field 'B' in Sophia where he stated there are also cases of persons who had paid an initial charge of $8,000 on a $29,000 plot, were still being asked to pay the full sum after which they could apply for a refund.
This was countered by Persaud who stated that the government was giving Guyanese a chance to own their own house lots by freehold title which would allow them to use the property as a means of generating capital.
Returning to the budget document, Hoyte pointed to the jargon that was used in relation to the development of the education sector. Words like hardware and software, he said, did not give the true picture either quantitatively or qualitatively. Questioning what was being done to keep teachers in the system, he said that according to his calculations, they were departing these shores at an alarming rate of some 1,000 per year. He said that he saw no immediate improvement in the situation until a constructive policy was implemented to ensure that teachers were happy and contented in their profession. The issue of school dropouts was a consequence of the depressed education system and one which if the government was not careful could lead to the loss of a whole generation.
Persaud rebutted Hoyte's assertions of the deplorable state of the sector by quoting from the Hansard when in 1973 the then education minister in the PNC government had told the national assembly that half the students leaving primary school at the time were unable to read.
Poverty alleviation, according to the PNC leader, has recently occupied just one line in every budget with very little detail on how the problem would be tackled, but with millions set aside. Hoyte listed a number of areas for which no figures were given, among them suicide--"Jonestown," the government benches shouted--and those departing the country--"who started it," they quipped.
The minority leader responded that it was not who had started it but that it had not stopped as predicted.
On the issue of corruption, Hoyte cited the situation at Charity. While stating that the people in that area were not being treated charitably, he said that the contractor had used the wrong hammer in relation to koker works and it took the Drainage and Irrigation Board some five months to recognise this.
This was rebutted by Persaud who accused the opposition of not giving the board credit for repudiating the contract once it had discovered the faulty work and suggested that maybe the PNC had hoped to gain mileage out of a failed final product.
Hoyte questioned the PPP's position as it related to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), questioning a newspaper report which stated that Guyana had withdrawn from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO). He received an instantaneous negative reply from Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry, Geoffrey DaSilva.
Persaud stoutly declared that the government was committed to CARICOM, telling the house that he had personally written to his Caribbean colleagues on the issue of students' attendance at REPAHA. He also stated that he had performed a similar gesture in relation to the major player in the Caribbean Agricultural Development Institute (CARDI).
Persaud whipped his fellow government members into a frenzy of loud thumping when he boasted that the PPP was not identified with rigged elections and that the Caribbean, the international community and other groups were aware of its struggle for free and fair elections.
Hoyte departed the chamber as Persaud was announcing that he (Hoyte) had presided over the worst of the rigged elections in 1985, in which the PPP only received eight seats. Hoyte, Persaud forcefully stated, should not point a finger at the PPP staying in office beyond the time stipulated in the Constitution as he had remained in government for the next seven years while they gave up two years in the interest of peace.
Reference was made to the budget document as the minister, who has responsibility for Agriculture and Parliamentary Affairs, quoted figures to show instances of growth in the economy: 14% in the agriculture and fisheries sector and 60% of GDP as sugar's contribution to economy for 1999.
Persaud ended his presentation by congratulating Minister Saisnarine Kowlessar on his budget which he stated aptly illustrated all of government's proposals.