Public Service Minister Dr Jennifer Westford cited the Cuba scholarship programme as a major success of the government during last week’s budget debate which also saw severe attacks on two opposition figures by PPP/C MP Odinga Lumumba.
In her presentation, Westford said that the Public Service in the country has undergone modernisation in recent times and predicted that this trend will continue during the course of this year.
One of the major successes of the government, Westford identified was the hundreds of students that have been beneficiaries of scholarships to Cuba. She said that last year several of these students completed their studies and returned to Guyana and were gainfully employed.
Meantime, those students who are still studying are now benefitting from the recently increased stipend that the government approved. The stipend was increased from Cdn$50 per month to Cdn$100 per student from January.
Meanwhile, the Minister said that during this year, the Ministry will be taking serious note of officials who are not doing their job. She said that there may be some restructuring in the various Ministries but emphasised that the ministries will not be reduced as had been suggested by the AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan. She said that the government was into creating jobs not reducing them.
Regarding the issue of salaries, she admitted that these salaries could be improved but that the financial circumstances prevented this. The Minister, however, promised that salary increases will continue during this year.
Meanwhile, Webster said that steps will be taken to look at some of the concerns of workers. According to her, her ministry will be addressing the rules within which the public service operates since these are notably silent on a number of critical issues such as sexual harassment. She said that at present there is no guidance as to what a female employee must do if she feels threatened or violated as a result of unwelcome sexual advances by a co-worker or supervisor.
Bheri Ramsaran, the Minister within the Ministry of Health, outlined the progress in the health sector since 2006. Using the PPP/C‘s 2006 manifesto “A Brighter Future for All Guyana”, Ramsaran stated that the government had already fulfilled many of its promises mentioned in that document. He identified the completion of the Diamond Diagnostic Centre, the Leonora Cottage Hospital and the Port Mourant Ophthalmology Centre as significant developments.
Ramsaran also said that much emphasis has been placed on training medical officials and added that this was evident in the increased numbers of nurses, doctors and other medical personnel that are now employed at various hospitals and health centres across the country.
Meanwhile Presidential Advisor on Empowerment Odinga Lumumba delivered one of the more controversial presentations of the week, during which he launched a stinging attack on Opposition Leader Robert Corbin and AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan.
Lumumba criticised the PNCR-1G for its negativity towards the budget and stated that the party ought to be ashamed since when it was in power it destroyed Guyana. A former member of the PNC, he said that since the PPP/C took over there was marked improvement in several sectors in the country, which surpasses anything that was achieved during the period the opposition party was in power. He identified growth in the economy as one of the significant developments that has occurred since the PPP assumed power.
He criticised Opposition Leader Corbin (who was absent at the time) who he stated was a failure when he was a Minister of Government and was proving to be the same as Leader of the Opposition. He upbraided Corbin for his suggestion that if the government did not change its policies, it could soon find itself in a state of civil unrest similar to Zimbabwe. Lumumba stated that presently President Bharrat Jagdeo was more popular than the Opposition Leader even in his hometown of Linden, where the President has poured several millions into its development. He said that in this year’s budget $2B has been allocated towards Region 10, $1.7B of which has been set aside for Linden.
Notably during Lumumba’s attack on the Opposition Leader, there was little reaction from the few party members who were actually present in the House at the time.
However, as soon as Lumumba attempted to attack the absent Chairman of the AFC, the leader of the Party Raphael Trotman rose to the defence of his colleague. Lumumba accused Ramjattan of spouting “garbage” during his debate presentation on Monday in which he was very critical of the budget. Trotman while objecting said that it was disrespectful to describe any presentation by a MP, a submission which was upheld by Speaker of the House Ralph Ramkarran. Seconds later, Trotman again rose to defend Ramjattan when, Lumumba stated that Ramjattan was pretending to be a virtuous person, when as a lawyer he had defended murderers, rapists and other hardened criminals. Trotman asserted that this was a direct attempt to tarnish the reputation of his colleague, a submission which the Speaker of the House upheld.
Soon after, an obviously agitated Trotman stood once more after the Presidential Advisor suggested that Ramjattan was being prejudiced against the Afro-Guyanese that had voted for the AFC, when he suggested that the government close down several ministries. Trotman argued that this was an unfair racial insinuation, however, the Speaker did not side with him on this point, which prompted the AFC Leader to describe it as a “sad day indeed” before taking his seat.
Meanwhile, Lumumba rejected suggestions that the now embroiled Michael Brassington Jr (who was recently charged in the US with conspiracy, fraud and endangerment, connected with a plane incident in 2005) had helped the government procure the helicopters acquired last year and said that it was Lex Barker who had helped the government in this regard. He pointed out that Brassington had been very vocal in his disapproval of the government’s decision to acquire the helicopters.