I rise to make my contribution to the motion before us, the one standing in the name of the Hon. Prime Minister, Mr. Moses Verasammy Nagamootoo, a motion titled “Approval of Government’s Policy in the President’s Address.”
Mr. Speaker, before doing so, allow me please to join my colleagues who preceded me in offering sincere congratulations to you on your accession to this high office. I have no doubt that in the execution of your duties you will do so with firmness and fairness. You are already in receipt of the highest endorsement, and that is, from His Excellency when he spoke in this chamber recently. He was referring to you when he said:
“He is a public servant of professional eminence, academic experience and unquestionable allegiance to our country. He will add lustre to the highest legislative forum in our land as the Speaker of this Assembly.”
I have no doubt that the National Assembly will benefit from your wisdom and your guidance.
Permit me please to pause and pay tribute to your predecessor Hon. Member Mr. Raphael Trotman who presided over the Tenth Parliament. It is common knowledge that that was not an easy task, given that for the first time in our history we had a minority executive and one, to boot, that the Members did not understand that they did not command a majority in this National Assembly but sought to behave as if they did. Your predecessor, however, navigated his task and function with dexterity and efficiency. As a freshman, I benefited from his guiding hand. Thank you very much, Sir.
Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, if you will permit me speaking of freshmen, I will like to offer my warmest congratulations to all the new Hon. Members in this House. I congratulate them and expect that they will find their work and the contributions that they will make in this honourable House to be as enriching and rewarding as I have found my experience in the short time that I have been here.
Two weeks ago, on 10th June, His Excellency President David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, opened this Eleventh Parliament since we became an independent nation 49 years ago. In his address President Granger outlined what are the priorities of the administration that he leads for the next five years, until 2020. These include:
- the elimination of one-party domination of the government;
- the enhancement of local, municipal and parliamentary democracy;
- the elimination of ethnic insecurity;
- the expansion of economic enterprise;
- the enrichment of cultural life, and
- the deepening of national consciousness.
In his presentation on the debate of the address by President Ramotar, at the opening of the Tenth Parliament, Brigadier David Granger, then Leader of the Opposition, said the following:
- “The ceremonial opening of the Parliament should be more than a spectacular event. It should be an opportunity to present an outline of the priorities, the policies and the programmes and, particularly, the proposed legislation for the new session.
- It should embrace, in a serious way, the intentions of these 20 honourable Ministers of the Cabinet.
- It should inform the nation about the policies which it can expect during the course of the Tenth Parliament. It is a serious exercise. It is not an exercise in frivolity.”
This is precisely what His Excellency did two weeks ago in this chamber. It is now up to the Cabinet Ministers to elaborate on the policies and programmes, as well as the proposed legislation, for the years ahead, and for their respective Ministries.
The majority of my colleagues have already presented their vision and an outline of the policies and programmes of their Ministries. It is now my turn, for the Ministry of Communities.
By now it may be well known that a new Ministry has been created, that is the Ministry of Communities. This Ministry encompasses what were formerly the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development as well as the Ministry of Housing and Water. The Ministry comprises four departments. These being the Department for Housing, the Department for Water, the Department for Local Government and the Department for Regional Development. It is quite a large portfolio. In fact, when I was offered by the President if I was interested in accepting the position, which I now hold, that was the very comment he made. However, I am ably supported in my tasks and endeavours by having two capable and competent Ministers in my Ministry, these being Minister Scott and Minister Dawn Hastings.
The obvious questions are why there is a new name and why there is the combining of those two Ministries. The brief answer is that it is a new philosophy or new mindset. The focus, therefore, is that from a governmental perspective it is not on the provision of individual services, for example Housing or Water, but on a larger objective which is addressing human needs or the human condition. The Government therefore sees its responsibility to those in need as more than the provision of shelter but rather as delivering a community experience. A community by definition goes beyond a collection of houses. It has to have certain amenities to so quality. His Excellency puts it best. In his address he said:
“Your Government aims at providing accessible and affordable housing in sanitary and safe communities, with the necessity for wholesome and dignified living, for citizens in need. We shall ensure that all state-sponsored housing developments are provided with recreational, educational and sports facilities in addition to basic infrastructure services such as electricity, telephones, roads, solid waste disposal and pure water supply.”
Hon. Member Raphael Trotman, when he spoke yesterday, referred to how economical, with words, is our President. With those few words it is already captured in essence and in detail what is the mission of this Ministry. I could easily refer and rely on those words alone and end my presentation but I will not do so.
The answer to the second part of the question now becomes self-evident, that is, why combine two Ministries into one?
Local government, regional development, housing and water all relate to people’s quality of life, of which the condition of one’s community is a major component. Central coordination will now result in a more rational formulation of policy and more effective delivery of governmental services. Following on the foregoing, it can be said that the Ministry is created to influence the conditions that fulfil the vision for more cohesive, empowered and sustainable communities (CESC). In pursuit of CESC vision, the Ministry will implement a strategy for sustainable communities by empowering and equipping local democratic organs to deliver satisfactory services, promote integrated water resources and sanitation management and provide quality, affordable housing solutions to satisfy the needs of communities and residents across Guyana.
Some key objectives of the Ministry:
(i) It will promote decentralisation and democratic engagement and we will end the era of top- down government by finally honouring constitutional provisions relating to local governance and local democracy.
The constitutional provisions, to which I refer to, came into being in the year 1980. It was actually strengthened in the year 2001, with new additions to our Constitution and the subsequent process of local government which reforms, refines and defines a clearly articulated role for local democracy and local government organs.
(ii) Strengthen the regional administration mechanism in keeping with the foregoing.
(iii) To operationalise the Local Government Commission
(iv) To create a national solid waste management plan to secure a sustainable solution at the level of the communities.
The plan will result in an integrative solid waste management system that is efficacious in the storage, collection, transportation and disposal of waste. It will explore initiatives resulting in marketable by-products for the agriculture, energy and construction sectors.
It is disgraceful that in the year 2015 our country does not have a single landfill site, one that provides for environmentally safe disposal of municipal solid waste. The Haags Bosch facility, on which huge amounts of money was spent, has never operated the way it was conceptualised. It functions as a dump site. Improper management of municipal solid waste results in blights on the landscape, countrywide. It is a problem that exists on the coast as well as in the hinterland. We have shown callous disregard for waste management. This administration will treat this issue with the seriousness which it deserves. This administration will solve the problem of managing solid waste.
(v) Re-establishment of the National Water Council to promote integrated management water resources.
(vi) Development of a national waste water management plan to transform current national waste water practices and achieve international compliance.
(vii) Development of a housing policy and strategic plan that target provision of cohesive communities in which housing solutions are complemented with educational, health and recreational amenities. Affordable alternative options, direct housing and land divestiture will be incorporated in this plan.
(viii) A loss reduction and energy efficiency plan to improve operational efficiency at the provision of potable water service.
It might shock you as well as Members of this honourable House and the wider public to learn that it is estimated that approximately 70% of the water, which is pumped to customers in Georgetown, is calculated as being wasted. The term that is used by the agency and the authority is non-revenue water, water for which no revenue is recovered.
(ix) Institution of a hinterland water strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change and mining on the provision of safe water in remote and indigenous areas.
(x) Strengthened community disaster risk management mechanisms to build capacity for early warning and early response to droughts, floods and other disaster impacting on the well-being of the community.
Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA): This agency has presided over the changing face of our capital and many other communities across our country. It is not for me to pronounce whether this changing face, which I have alluded to, is for the better or for the worse. That would be uncalled for. In fact, that would be impertinent. I will say, however, that it needs to stop and take stock. It needs new energy as well as an infusion of expertise and it will receive this from the central Government. In this regard, its strategic direction, vision and mission will be brought into line with those of this administration. Its vision will now be “A nation housed in sustainable and cohesive communities.” Its mission will be, as I have alluded earlier, “To improve the quality of life of Guyanese by establishing new, cohesive communities and consolidating existing settlements, through the promotion of integrated planning, land divestment and affordable housing.”
For the fiscal year 2015, its activities will include:
- Community planning and design
- Community infrastructure development
- Land Divestment
- Community Development and
- Squatter Regularisation
These activities will see the commencement of the planning phase for the establishment of a new cohesive community and the consolidation and expansion of the 1,000 homes project at Perseverance on the East Bank of Demerara. The installation of infrastructure will continue in 28 existing housing areas, with completion targeted for about 90% of the areas, by year end. Approximately 800 households will benefit from the allocation of service land and turnkey homes, with three community plans targeted for implementation and 200 households benefiting from squatter regularisation.
For the remainder of 2015 year, the Ministry will focus on implementing the third phase of installing infrastructure and the commencement of construction of the fifth batch of 50 two-bedroom houses also at Perseverance. These two-bedroom houses i.e. (house and land), are being sold for $4.9 million.
Additionally, 200 serviced lots will be allocated at Diamond/Grove, Farm, Covent Garden, Herstelling and Providence, all on the East Bank of Demerara, and Kilcoy, Chesney and Bloomfield in Region 6, by the end of this year.
Strategic objectives 2015 – 2020:
(i) Increased access to serviced land and housing.
- New cohesive communities developed.
- Existing housing schemes transformed to cohesive communities.
- Serviced lots allocated.
- Titles transferred.
I may add efficiently and expeditiously.
(ii) Promotion of public/private partnerships to facilitate the provision of housing, social infrastructure and community services
- Designs of neighbourhood centres (e.g. shopping centre or market) and community facilities (e.g. multipurpose complex, bus terminal) completed.
- Partnership agreements and Memoranda of Understanding signed, and other.
- Construction of neighbourhood centres and community facilities completed by private sector, other civil society organisations and donor agencies, and other.
- Neighbourhood centres and community facilities utilised.
- Housing solutions constructed by private developers.
(iii) Fostering of community involvement for the identification and implementation of community projects.
- Formation of communities.
- Regular community meetings held.
- Community projects identified and implemented.
- Capacity building training implemented.
- A mechanism established for linking communities with local government organs and our local democratic organs. This is an issue that the Ministry will play an active role, will engage, facilitate and be a catalyst.
In this regard, I am pleased to inform you and Hon. Members in this honourable House that since my appointment to this office I have been approached by many individuals across our country offering and volunteering their services to play such a role in leading community revival in many of our regions. I would like to single out one individual, a gentleman who lives at La Parfaite Harmonie who took the time to contact me and also to write a long letter about a number of problems that beset that large community of La Parfaite Harmonie. Among the issues, which are of concern to this young man, is the inadequate level of policing coupled with the high crime rate in that community; that there is no recreational facilities or playgrounds for the young and not so young and that there is an anti-social tendency whereby many of our youths are being recruited into drug use. Mr. Leroy Haynes, which is his name, has offered to volunteer his time and his services to be active in leading a revival and addressing those problems that beset his community.
(iv) Coordination of programmes/projects through collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organisations.
- Inter-agency coordinating committee expanded.
- Mechanism established to improve information sharing among stakeholders.
(v) Integrated development planning.
- Community development plans prepared.
- Housing profile study completed.
- Housing policy and strategic plan completed.
(vi) Squatter regularisation and containment.
- Comprehensive squatter regularisation and relocation plan developed.
- Squatter households regularised.
(vii) Improve quality of housing in hinterland communities.
- Subsidies disbursed
- Housing improved in Hinterland communities
(viii) Review and prepare urban development plans for new towns.
The House and this nation have already heard His Excellency’s announcement that before the commemoration and celebration of our 50th Independence Anniversary, next May, our country will have four new towns, these being Mabaruma, Bartica, Mahdia and Lethem. In this regard, the Lethem plan is being reviewed as well as the Bartica plan and plans will be prepared for Mahdia and Mabaruma. In addition to the legislation, which will be needed, priority will be given to remedying much of the infrastructure deficiencies that are present in all four of the mentioned communities.
Secondly, these new towns will provide governmental services that are currently unavailable. In fact, my colleague, the Hon. Member Mr. Felix, yesterday alluded to what will be some of the governmental services that will be provided as part of the process of decentralisation and devolution that I alluded to earlier, among these being the availability of birth certificates, passports as well as land titling, to name a few.
The programme over the next five years, as far as this agency is concerned, the Ministry will focus on providing serviced lots in addition to constructing houses and establishing new cohesive communities, where there will be emphasis on providing social infrastructure and other amenities that are consistent with improved quality of life for ordinary Guyanese.
The following locations are being considered for the development of physical and social infrastructure in these communities, to realise the target of providing shelter solutions for approximately 4,000 families and households over the next five years. These will be across our country.
- Region 1 –Mabaruma,
- Region 2 – Onderneeming
- Region 3 – Stewartville, Edinburgh, Anna Catherina and Cornelia Ida (West Coast Demerara)
- Region 4 – Prospect, Perseverance, Great Diamond, Little Diamond (East Bank Demerara), Good Hope, Cummings Lodge (East Coast Demerara)
- Region 6 – Williamsburg
- Region 8 – Mahdia
- Region 9 – Culvert City
- Region 10 – In the case of Linden, new lands will be identified for house construction.
These new communities will offer a range of housing solutions, including starter houses, rent to own apartments, two-bedroom and three-bedroom houses to cater for the needs of the low and moderate income persons. In addition, consideration will be given to providing shelter solutions for the differently abled as well as the elderly. The Ministry is currently working on designs, in terms of layout, infrastructure, housing and other community amenities as well as expanding and strengthening partnerships to stimulate investments in the sector and build strong, sustainable and cohesive communities.
I would like to add as well as on the question of the new communities, which will be developed, that much attention will be paid to the aesthetics of the communities. In this regard, one of the focuses will be to move away from this grid pattern that we have inherited and we seem to have such a liking for, I am referring to the straight lines. In the establishment and development of new communities, we will try to soften out those harsh straight lines by introducing curves. All of us who have travelled abroad have seen how much the look of a community is enhanced when we move away from these regimented straight lines. Those will be some of the new features that will be a part of our new communities.
Mr. Speaker, you and other Members of this honourable House might feel that that is a tall order, which has just been articulated, but I say that it is better for us to be ambitious. I am of the firm view that those plans and policies are grounded in reality. It is said, on the question of setting of goals and targets, that if one does not know where one is going any road will get one there. It is not the philosophy of this administration. I would like to add as well that in the execution of those activities, which I have outlined a moment ago, that key and central to their execution will be the elements of transparency, efficiency and accountability.
The Department for Water: The immediate and five-year plans for the agency responsible for water, namely the Guyana Water Inc. (GWI), has nine priority areas of focus. These key areas will target reduction of water wastage, improvement in operational efficiency, a focus on sustainability and preservation of water resources, increase research and development, waste water treatment, expansion of water supply, provision of improved services across the country, as well as the financial viability of the agency.
These nine key areas are:
(i) The reduction of non-revenue water: the target is to reduce that non–revenue water (NRW) from its current 60% to be reduced by at least 5% per year.
(ii) An increase in treated water coverage to 75%: the target being to construct six new water treatment plants, of which there are three presently under construction under a programme funded by the International Development Bank (IDB) to take that coverage to 60% and another three plants are proposed.
(iii) Study on the performance of the underground aqua fans: the target being to complete a comprehensive study on the performance of the aqua fans and recommendations on their sustainability.
(iv) Alternative sources of energy: target being to investigate the cost for powering offices with wind, diesel, and hybrid systems at Port Mourant, Better Hope and Lima on the Essequibo Coast.
(v) Energy efficiency: target being to improve the pumping system efficiency to achieve conversion efficiency between 55% and 60%.
(vi) Water shed management: target being a feasibility study on the use of surface water in GWI, in its operations and development of water shed management plan to protect water resources.
(vii) Construction of waste water treatment plant: completion of construction of waste water treatment plant for the treatment of the sewage in the city of Georgetown.
(viii) Provision of potable water in the entire Georgetown to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s standard, with rehabilitation of the shelter belt water treatment plant, expansion of Sophia and central Ruimveldt water treatment plants and replacement of deteriorated mains and an upgrade of service connections.
(ix) An improvement of services and increased coverage in the hinterlands: target being to increase hinterland coverage to 95% and recovery of operating cost in the small towns.
His Excellency has spoken in this House, and on many different occasions and venues, that one of the aims of any administration that he heads will be to bridge the gap between the hinterland and the coastland.
Given the formation of this Ministry, the following legislation and legal documents will be required to be revised and there are three:
- The Water and Sewage Act
- Licence to supply water and sewage services
- Regulations under the Water and Sewage Act
Department of Local Government:Yesterday, the House heard the first reading of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, a Bill that will have its second reading in this House very shortly and in the debates – when that Bill is debated at the second reading – the opportunity will be offered to speak at length and in greater detail on the administration’s intentions and programmes relating to local government. Permit me on, suffice to say, however, Mr. Speaker, that so far in local democracy, local administration, and where local democracy is concerned, that this administration will reverse the course. We will remove that ubiquitous hand of control and domination that characterised the previous administration and we will replace it with a hand of support, a hand of cooperation. I recall saying in this House, when the four Local Government Bills were debated, I believe it was on the 7th August, 2013, and in describing the actions of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development, that sought to exercise that hand of domination and micromanagement, that namely the Ministry cannot do the work of 81, which is our local democratic organs, and I believe that I described such a situation as insanity.
The mission of this administration and of the Ministry, under my stewardship, will be to build capacity in our local government organs; will be to equip and empower our local democratic organs to discharge their constitutional roles, responsibilities and functions, provisions that are specified in our Constitution, as well as the legislation.
Local Government Elections, as it is well known, was last held in 1994. They were last due in 1997, which means that it is some 18 years overdue. It is resulted in normal local administration being paralysed. Our councils are largely dysfunctional. The previous administration had shown little interest in empowering our people. In fact, it has presided over the degeneration of the system of local government.
To add insult to injury, it demolished duly elected councils and replaced them with unelected Interim Management Councils, also known as IMCs. In many cases, the democratic principle was not adhered to and those IMCs were largely peopled with friends and favourites of the former administration which has compounded the problem of the degradation, destruction and the dysfunction of the system of local government. It has procrastinated, so far as, the need for the holding of Local Government Elections.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) made what many thought was a solemn promise in its election manifesto for the 2011 Elections, that is, to hold Local Government Elections within one year, if it had returned to office.
Subsequent events made a mockery of that pledge and promise; it did not happen. This Administration, however, is committed to the early holding of Local Government Elections. We are committed to a democratic renewal, insofar as our local government organs are concerned.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to advise you and Members of this honourable House that yesterday I met with officials of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and I indicated to them that we would like, ideally, for these elections to be held in November of this year. Earlier today, I was trying to make contact with GECOM and I learnt, by the way, that they were having a retreat. I am unsure if that retreat was planned before they were alerted to the desire of this Administration to have Local Government Elections in November. But, in any event, whatever would have been the items to be discussed in their retreat, I have no doubt that now that they are aware of the desire of this Administration to hold Local Government Elections this year, it will be a major item for discussion on their agenda.
It brings us to our absent friends, those empty chairs across there. They have made public statements; Hon. Members, they have made public announcements that they have no intention of contesting Local Government Elections, unless, this, that and the other happens in GECOM. Well I believe that somehow or the other, they are still under the impression that they have Executive authority, but they have to learn to come to grips with the fact that they are now in the Opposition.
When we examine their track records, insofar as local democracy is concerned, it establishes clearly that they do not believe in people being empowered and having the right to manage and develop their respective communities. I believe it is out of a recognition on their part, that they know they will be rebuffed or rejected at the level of our communities, when those Elections are held, that they are looking for this distraction and diversion and a red herring, saying that they do not have any confidence in GECOM and this is why they do not want to have Local Government Elections. The simple truth of the matter, I believe, is that they are afraid of what those Elections would reveal; that people, after decades, will have a Central Government that will respect their constitutional rights to manage and develop the affairs of their communities, which is what will lead to a renewal in communities all across our country.
The Department for Regional Administration – the Ministry will oversee the coordination of our 10 administrative regions, by eventually divesting itself of the responsibility for interfering or managing the affairs of the 71 local democratic organs (LDCs), which I referred to a little while ago. The Ministry will be able to focus more on supporting the activities of our 10 Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs). Strong administrative coordination and support will be given to our Regional Democratic Councils.
In particular, special attention will be given to our four hinterland areas in accordance with the exhortation of His Excellency, that the hinterland must proceed with the same pace of development as our coastland. It is no secret that our hinterland region and areas are in crisis. Our Leader, President David Granger, in one of the many booklets that he has authored, there is one here titled Another Country subtitled Crime, disease and poverty west of Fort Island, I believe it is what he refers to as some of the horsemen of the Guyanese apocalypse. In this publication, and I like to quote, insofar as the hinterland’s condition is concerned, this is what His Excellency says in the opening paragraph:
“The hinterland comprises over three-quarters of Guyana’s territory. The Barima-Waini, Cuyuni-Mazaruni, Potaro-Siparuni and Upper Essequibo-Upper Takutu (Rupununi) and parts of the East Berbice-Corentyne and Upper Demerara-Berbice Regions – might be the most picturesque parts of the country but they are the poorest”.
It goes on to say:
“Central Government Policy over the past two decades…”
Incidentally, Mr. Speaker, this booklet was authored last year, in the year 2014, so he is referring to the two decades prior to that.
“… has been dangerously dividing Guyana more deeply into two countries. It is creating an East-West divide that separates the land west of Fort Island on the Essequibo River from those to the East. That policy has perpetuated the disparities, divergences and divisions which hinder development.”
It goes on to say in, relation to the hinterland economy…
Mr. Speaker: The Hon. Member, the Leader of the Government Business, may wish to …
Minister of Social Cohesion [Ms. Ally]: Mr. Speaker, I move that the Hon. Member be given five minutes to conclude his presentation.
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. Bulkan: Thank you Mr. Speaker. The very booklet goes on to say, in relation to hinterland infrastructure:
“Hinterland infrastructure is inadequate and could be unreliable and unsafe. Safe, sturdy structures are necessary for present-day heavy-duty vehicular traffic. The collapse of the Moco-Moco Bridge temporarily halted travel in the Rupununi. The Kumaka-San Jose Bridge became an expensive nightmare for Moruca residents.”
It goes on to say:
“Isolated, but potentially productive communities are heavily dependent on airstrips…”
His Excellency refers to the need to upgrade those airstrips. He then goes on to zero in on the root of the problem, in relation to hinterland underdevelopment and the lack of proper infrastructure in the hinterland. This is what he says:
“The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development – MLGRD – is the major source of hinterland development problems. The MLGRD seems to be obsessed with the day to day micro-management of local organs. It seems not to have comprehended the complexity of, or to have seen the need to discharge its long-term responsibility for, encouraging economic enterprise and development.”
This Administration and this Ministry will reverse this state of affairs. We will work to eliminate the extreme poverty that exists in our hinterland regions. We will utilise the abundant natural resources to bring about material prosperity in our hinterland regions, to transform the lives of the people in our hinterland regions.
In closing: What do our people expect; what do they deserve? It is my belief that our citizens expect fairness, transparency and accountability. They expect that there will be rules and that those rules will be followed. It cannot and must not be that knowing or having access to officials will be the way to receive attention and governmental services.
Ever since I have assumed this office, I have been approached by many persons. In fact, even within the last two days. Here in the National Assembly, I have been approached by both members of the public, as well as staff, making representations for services that they have applied for. I believe, however, that it is unfair to the majority who have no such access and that therefore, the system must be able to deliver equity and efficiency to all our citizens. I am not suggesting that I will ignore the representations that have been made to me. The Ministry will work to bring an end to such a situation, that there must be, as I said, equity and all must be treated equally, as well as efficiently and with courtesy.
In relation to the work of the Ministry, I remind myself why I am here; why I hold this Office, for the time that I do. It is to make the lives of ordinary Guyanese better, so that when 2020 dawns, this is the standard, I believe, by which collectively we will be judged. It is up to us, therefore, to turn the words that I have just uttered into actions.
Finally, I would like to place on record, my gratitude to His Excellency, Brigadier David Granger, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, for his illuminating, inspiring and comprehensive address given to the National Assembly. I commend this motion to the honourable House for its unanimous approval. Thank you. [Applause]