Saying that this year’s $192.8 billion national budget misses the mark in human development and poverty alleviation, AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo yesterday accused the government of a lack vision, conscience and heart for failing to address the needs of the poorest.
“We need to get back to the drawing board, [look at the facts] and rework the figures. Real progress in any country is measured by the level of human development,” he said, during his presentation on the first day of the budget debates.
Speaking just after Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali, Nagamootoo rejected the minister’s glowing report on the state of the economy, which he said was stronger than most places in the Caribbean. “If we have achieved the benchmark of development and we are ahead of our neighbours, including Trinidad that has oil, [why do we still have] our pensioners on US$37 per month?”, Nagamootoo, a former long-serving PPP/C MP asked. “It must be a great pleasure for all of us to live long but the greatest tragedy is the day that we arrive at the age when we receive an old age pension and be given a pittance and an insult for our contribution to this nation,” he said.
“I say this government, the post Jagan-government should hang its head in utter shame for trying to come to this parliament in all this fancy talk, foot works and mouth works to tell us that the opposition should be judged [for not supporting the budget],” he declared, while challenging the government to take the growing revenue from VAT and give it to the pensioner, workers and those who deserve social assistance.
“We are earning more from the people… we are taking more from the pockets of the people…from the food on their table, yet you cannot come here with a good conscience and tell the people that you owe them something in return and that is where we find that the fundamentals of this budget is wrong. It has turned economics on its head. It has turned the people on their head and it has turned logic into an abuse,” he said.
Nagamootoo, who is credited with peeling away crucial Corentyne votes from the PPP/C at the November 28 general elections, also decried the quality of water available through the taps across the country and challenged the government to tell the people that they can drink it. “Because I have gone to Linden and I have seen some water in Linden. It is as red as blood. I have gone to Ithaca, on the West Coast of Berbice, and the people came there with bottles and jars of water and there were worms, apart from contamination, in the water. You tell the people of Ithaca that they could drink that water. You tell the people of Georgetown that they could drink that water,” he said. “We talk glibly about the money we spend on water and we have people fearful of opening their taps for a glass of water. They [resort] to the billions of dollars every year on bottled water and we need this Minister to tell us why are people in this country forced to buy water in bottles to drink and how much it cost the people to do so,” he said.
Nagamootoo also emphasised that the will of the majority of the electorate must prevail in the consideration of the budget. He said that it was not a warning but simply advice to those in the government benches that they should engage in the debate not by the gestures and the pomp and the theatrics but constructively and wisely, so that in the end Guyana is the winner.
He pointed out that the 2012 budget was presented under the shadow of endemic corruption, mismanagement and lack of accountability. “The corruption that I talk about raises doubt over the credibility of the budget,” he said, adding that the sums requested in the budget could be washed away in torrents of waste, mismanagement and bureaucratic and political inertia.
Nagamootoo said that at the heart of any budget must be poverty reduction. “Yes I agree that the economy has grown due to many factors,” he said. “But notwithstanding the boast of achievements there is still huge poverty in Guyana. The question is, ‘Was it addressed adequately or at all by this Government and in this budget?’”
The former PPP/C MP said that the increase in pension by $600 per month is criminal, since it works out to an additional $20 per day. “You give a beggar $20 and he gon tell you ‘haul you…!” said Nagamootoo. “This is a national disgrace and to add insult to poverty, the Finance Minister promised [the increase from May 1],” he said, while pointing out that social assistance and old age pension are both below the extreme poverty line. “So miserly have we become in this rich country they boast about with the highest growth rate in the Caribbean, the highest creditworthiness in the world and the greatest attraction for investors… My God, that we couldn’t give them from January 1, 2012,” he declared.
“This pension package and social assistance package is not a lifeline. It is a suicide belt that you hand to these poor people and damn them to do what they will,” Nagamootoo said. “The best judge are the people of Guyana and the people have judged them, and the people have condemned them, and the people were not satisfied with their explanations of growth and development and prosperity and the people said stand down and become a minority,” he added to a roaring National Assembly.