PPP/C front bencher Priya Manickchand yesterday criticised senior government ministers, saying they have failed to tell the people how the administration will drive a turnaround in an economy that the Finance Minister has said has challenges.
In her address on the proposed 2018 national budget, which she called a “dead end,” she argued that the ministers have not addressed issues that were identified as challenges in the budget. She also noted the absence of both finance ministers-Winston Jordan and his junior, Jaipaul Sharma-from the National Assembly for the past three days and, therefore, their failure to hear the issues raised by the opposition.
(Jordan appeared later in the day for the first time this week and was welcomed by Manickchand.)
She said instead of providing a stimulus for the troubled economy, the government is telling 2000 sugar workers that come next year they will have no income. “Two thousand persons, two thousands families, ten thousand people, are going to be affected. We are talking about these numbers, Mr. Speaker, and I just want if we can close our eyes for a minute and stop and imagine what happens if you are to wake up tomorrow…without a job and in a wheel chair… because we are not only knocking them off we are failing to give them anything they can do, we are crippling them,” a passionate Manickchand said as she held up a copy of Wednesday’s Stabroek News, which had a front page story on the 2,000 sugar workers from Skeldon who received retrenchment letters.
She likened the workers’ situation to if someone is “licked upside down by a car” and described the government as car “licking ten thousand people upside down,” including women and children and not giving them any kind of wherewithal to go and make a living.
“These are not skilled, educated people that you can just get up from one desk job and go [to] another…,” she pointed out, while calling upon the government to put the workers first before profit and she questioned whether it is because “it is not your people.”
The former education minister also queried how much taxes were earned last year as a result of taxes being placed on education goods and services and whether come next year that money could be applied directly to the children of the fired cane cutters.
“We are saying, very clearly in this House, Mr. Speaker, that there needs to be more done for the people who are suffering from economic decline, defined and articulated by the Minister of Finance himself. We say you can begin by telling us in this House… how you are going to deal with the sugar workers and their children,” she suggested.
Speaking right after Manickchand, Minister of State Joe Harmon, who earlier this week noted that Cabinet was surprised when the retrenchment letters were sent out to the workers, would only say that there was a “big chunk” in the budget to provide severance for the workers.
Manickchand also accused the government of not having an ideology and she questioned “the green economy” it has touted since it came into office.
She questioned whether it was about painting buildings and fences green, such as is being done at State House presently—an act that has been criticised but which President David Granger has staunchly defended.
As she spoke, a government member remarked that it was about “Green and Clean” even as Manickchand held up a new old age pension book, which also now has the colours green and yellow—the two main colours for the parties that are in government.
According to Manickchand, while it sounds like a small issue and something that can be trivialized, the move is a return to the days of party paramountcy.
“Party paramountcy has done nothing for the development of Guyana and for the development of her people,” she said, while adding that it is only people who have no plan and vision who can occupy the country with such distracting issues, such as painting the country green and forcing the staff at Office of the President to wear green.
As she related the above, Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence could be heard saying, “Bring the evidence!”
According to Manickchand, the government seems incapable of projecting growth, while noting that it had to readjust the numbers downwards twice over the last two years. She also questioned whether investors would want to come to the country and invest where heavily armed policemen are raiding the homes of citizens. “I want to ask them if frivolously charging political opponents, arresting them and charging them… has anything to do with people believing that this is an unstable place where an investment is not going to see growth.” she said.
She also mentioned the unilateral appointment of retired Justice James Patterson to the position of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission, to which government members retorted, “Fit and proper!” Manickchand pointed out that this decision has been heavily criticised and she questioned whether it has anything to do with the fact that the country’s income is not as the Minister of Finance projected because people believe Guyana’s environment is not stable enough for investment.
She labelled the government incompetent and untrustworthy. “The APNU+AFC government is politically spiteful and happy with dumping years of democratic practice that has brought stability to this country. They are not business-friendly and they are without the ability to plan and or implement for a better Guyana,” she added.
During Manickchand’s presentation, there was sometimes insistent heckling by members of the government side and at one point former attorney general Anil Nandlall, while seated, turned to Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland with his hands gesticulating and said “Mr. Speaker, I can’t hear.” He was then asked to stand by the Speaker who informed him that there is a method by which the Speaker is addressed and that there should be no outburst in the Chamber. Nandlall then enquired about the method and was asked to take his seat but he insisted, adding, “You are not hearing the outburst from the other side?” While some of his colleagues said it was unfair and one even suggested that the Speaker would have to eject all of them, Scotland remained silent and eventually Nandlall took his seat and Manickchand continued her speech.
Meanwhile, another opposition member, Odinga Lumumba, during his presentation caused a slight uproar when he said former President Forbes Burnham stole elections. The government members protested and called for him to withdraw the statement, even as Attorney General Basil Williams rose to his feet and made a formal objection.
Scotland informed Lumumba that he should withdraw the statement and suggested he could express himself differently. Lumumba said while he withdraws the sentence there are historical documents that state clearly that the PNC rigged elections.