Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai says that the 2014 Budget offers a practical set of measures to meet the needs of Guyanese inclusive of the Amerindians who have benefited tremendously over the years under the present government.
In making her contribution to the 2014 budget debate she said that it allocates funds for the economic and productive sectors which will further stimulate growth and expansion of the economy.
She said that the launching of the $200M Youth Entrepreneurship and Apprenticeship programme in 2013 has benefited 886 young people in Regions one, seven, eight and nine. This investment, she said has resulted in many villages benefitting in the areas of improved governance and administration of village affairs, maintenance of village assets, social services, revival of the arts and craft and support for the development of sports and culture in the various Amerindian villages and communities.
One hundred and ninety eight Amerindian youths, she added, were trained in the management of PV systems (solar panels) and basic ICT computer hardware (installation of solar panels).
According to Sukhai, the Budget referred to resources channelled towards the development of Amerindian communities and expressed satisfaction that the revival of the most at-risk Amerindian Languages is being recognized.
Turning her attention to education, she said that over the last 20 years the Hinterland Scholarship Programme has produced 7,000 hinterland students. In 2014, she said Region Seven registered the second highest number of students (80) in the programme.
The total investments in this programme for the last 5 years, she said was more than 350M and for this year an estimated 470 students will benefit from the allocation of $66.6M.
As proposed in the 2014 budget, more than 30,000 Amerindian students will benefit from the $10,000 grant, “and I hope the opposition will not deny this right to our Amerindian brothers and sisters and our children. This is an additional $300M educational support to indigenous students”,she stressed.
She added that under the PNC government the scholarship programme only catered for the top three, training of teachers was centralized, there was no targeted school feeding programme, no school uniform programme, one secondary school in the hinterland and no text books.
Sukhai told the House that the annual national school uniform project provides benefits to a total of 30,000 hinterland students of which more that 95 percent are Amerindians. She dismissed criticisms by Dr. George Norton about the failure of the primary health care system in the Amerindian communities stating that in the last five years an estimated 7000 patients received subsidized associated medical support, meals and accommodation, free medical supplies, transportation and post operation, treatment and patient care from the Amerindian Princes Street residence. “This enhances and complements the health care services available and provided for hinterland residents”, she said.
There has also been noticeable success in road infrastructure and development, river and land transportation and telecommunication, she said.
Development being hindered
Meanwhile AFC’s Eula Marcello during her presentation outlined the issues affecting the residents of Region Eight. She said that the economic development of the region had been hindered due to government’s refusal to consider recommendations made by the Regional Democratic Council, the education department, public works department and the health department.
She said that schools across the region continue to experience challenges when it comes to education delivery such as inadequate learning materials, text books and janitorial supplies. She said that there is need for trained teachers as opposed to those who take up the profession voluntarily. She also urged the government to build schools to cater for the growing population “because women of the hinterlands have a high fertility rate”. She said that the rate is high because women do not have access to family planning services. She urged government to also construct a Technical Institute.
According to Marcello, health in the region has suffered tremendously as a result of the shortage of the commonly used medical supplies. Expired drugs, she added is another area of concern. This was meet with loud heckles. “A shame”, one opposition parliamentarian shouted while another heckled “eh eh” and “what”.
She said that although the minister has boasted about the increased numbers of doctors and nurses there are several health facilities in the region that do not have a doctor. She spoke of instances where doctors drink at nights and go to work “staggering”. She questioned how a “drunk man” can diagnose and prescribe medication. She said it because of this situation that some residents opt to travel to Georgetown for medical care and in doing so it puts a strain on Georgetown Hospital.
Region Eight, she added, continues to be afflicted by water woes despite the installation of wells. She singled out the community of Paramakatoi where children at the dorm and staff are forced to fetch water since the well is not functioning.
She said that roads in the hinterland are in dire need of repair and this should be made a priority instead of “pumping large sums of money in fancy hotels like the Marriott which an Amerindian like myself would not be able to afford, instead give a mortgage and a commercial bank in Region Eight”.
Despite the fact that large amounts of money are being allocated to the security sector, she said, Guyanese are being robbed, raped, and killed on a daily basis. “Where is the police, where is the SWAT team. Are they only securing government ministers”, she questioned, adding that border security also has to be addressed.
In relation to electricity, she said, that what is needed is Tumatumari hydro power project not Amaila.
She questioned how the government could expect a smooth passage of the budget when “we did not have an equal input in drafting it”. She charged that the government failed the people in 2012, 2013 and now in the 2014 budget. She said too that after 20 years, the government had failed to correct corrupt policies.