Unchecked alcohol abuse taking toll on economy, Lawrence warns

Saying alcohol is the cheapest and most accessible commodity drug being abused by Guyanese, APNU’s Shadow Minister of Human Services Volda Lawrence yesterday castigated the Donald Ramotar administration for failing to address the impact alcohol abuse has on the economy in the proposed budget.

“It matters not how large the budget is nor how substantial the increase allocated to the social services sector once there continues to be easy access to cheap alcohol in the communities… we as a nation will surely pay the price,” Lawrence warned during her contribution to the debate on this year’s planned spending, during which she held a bottle of liquor to emphasise her point.

She noted that the Health Ministry in a partnership with the Pan American Health Organisation found that alcohol was identified as the country’s number one drug problem in 2009 but up to now the budget fails to address the impact alcohol abuse has on the economy.

Volda Lawrence holding up a copy of the DVD `Guyanese Girls Gone Wild Part Two’
Volda Lawrence holding up a copy of the DVD `Guyanese Girls Gone Wild Part Two’

Instead of addressing the country’s number one drug problem, Lawrence said, members of the government were more concerned with covering for friends.

“According to the man on the street, alcohol is the cheapest commodity in the market and continues to get cheaper as vendors continue to operate outside of and above the law,” she said, while adding that alcohol was at the core of the loss of life through accidents in addition to the alarming incidences of violence and violent-related activities fuelled by it. She recalled that since 2010 Berbice Magistrate Tejnarine Ramroop, in an interview with Stabroek News, cited that 100 percent of domestic violence cases that came before him were related to alcohol.

Lawrence questioned what the government’s steps for addressing the issue would be and where in the presented budget were those mechanisms to be outlined. She added that if the authorities were to visit bars and nightclubs across Guyana they “would find an alarmingly high number of children under the age of sixteen consuming alcohol.” She also stated that at alarming rates children and women were becoming dependent on alcohol to relieve stress.

 Protection for girls

Lawrence also bemoaned the lack of protection for girls as well as the level of assistance being given to the aged, the differently-abled and the homeless.

On the former, she noted that girls were being left by the wayside. “Our problem in Guyana is that everyone knows that there are children under the age of 16 years that are sexually active, but nothing is being done about it. Men are getting away with statutory rape for many of the fathers of underage teen mothers are between the ages of 25 and 40,” she said.

Lawrence claimed that no one had yet to be charged for statutory rape under the 2010 Sexual Offences Act. As a result, she said the human rights of girl children across Guyana were being trampled by the very system set up to protect them. “These girls do not only deserve a better life, they deserve protection from predators within our society,” she added.

Lawrence called for a body to be established under the Social Services Ministry that would be a haven for girl children to protect them from lewd acts and provide opportunities. She waved a DVD of Guyanese Girls Gone Wild, Part II as another example of the exploitation of Guyanese girls. She stated that girl children lack support through the services provided and that APNU would support an increased allocation to the ministry for mechanisms and institutions to be put in place to deliver effective opportunities.

 Neglected groups

Lawrence also argued that the elderly and persons with disabilities were also groups neglected in the proposed budget. She said that the abysmal $625 increase to old age pensioners will take effect in May without retroactive payments. She also called on the Finance Minister to provide details of the $590 million that was allocated in 2013 for the Electricity Assistance Programme, which will receive an additional $300 million in 2014.

Lawrence stated that only 7,026 pensioners were eligible for the electricity subsidy out of 7,283 that applied, and only $140 million was paid out in assistance. “In fact, all you have done is shift monies to the two failing entities: the Guyana Power and Light and Guyana Water Incorporated,” she added.

Lawrence highlighted the fact that the government has continuously said that money was being allocated for programmes and shelters but she noted that there was little follow through. She expressed concern that the Hugo Chavez Centre for Rehabilitation and Reintegration at Onverwagt, West Coast Berbice, a shelter which was commissioned over five months ago and could cater to 180 persons, was still vacant.

She also stated that the construction boom in Guyana was visible at every turn, however no building provisions were being made for persons with disabilities to physically access the new venues.

She referred to the government’s position on the differently-abled as lip service, saying that these persons continue to be left by the wayside in the planned spending each year and are only given recognition during special occasions.”

“Teachers and caregivers should be given national awards for teaching differently-abled children in the 21st century with methods used in the middle ages,” Lawrence said. She also said education reform was essential to help integrate persons with disabilities into the school system or assisting with the development of their independence as much as possible.

Lawrence dedicated her budget address to the memory of former APNU Member of Parliament the late Deborah Backer, who she thanked for continuously championing the causes of women and other vulnerable groups in Guyana.