‘Debate the budget not politics’ – Deputy Speaker backs gov’t spending but says doctors, teachers need more support
In the only presentation so far that received support from both the government and opposition sides of the House, Deputy Speaker Dr. Asha Kissoon backed the 2024 National Budget but still called for more support for healthcare workers, teachers and pensioners.
Dr. Kissoon, who is an opposition Parliamentarian as the representative of the joinder list, was the first speaker at the final day of the 2024 budget debates in the National Assembly.
Standing in front of her APNU-AFC opposition colleagues, Dr. Kissoon started her presentation by calling for all Parliamentarians to raise the level of discourse in the House.
According to her, the debates so far have largely been characterised by “inter-party” exchanges instead of actually debating the government’s planned expenditures and policies being implemented.
She said that shouldn’t be the case.
Dr. Kissoon then got into her substantive presentation by commending the government for its work in the housing and agriculture sectors. She also said the government’s online scholarship programmes, the Guyana Online Academy of Learning (GOAL), is a key tool that gives her “profound pride” since it is educating thousands of people.
According to her, investments in these sectors are helping to empower Guyanese.
Those commendations were, however, followed by her calls for more support for key groups of Guyanese.
The Deputy Speaker pointed out that the old age pension was just about $17,000 when the APNU+AFC coalition was in government up to 2020. Now, that sum has been raised by the PPP/C government to $36,000.
“…While there (have) been improvements, there is still more room for improvement for our elderly. These are people who worked their entire lives and we must thank them,” she posited.
She also pointed out that the education and health sectors have gotten large allocations in the 2024 trillion-dollar budget, so that necessary investments can be made to build new schools and hospitals and provide the services people need.
But she said the workers in those sectors deserve better compensation and incentives.
“…While I appreciate everything that is being done for teachers, I am suggesting that this be revised and more be done for our teachers especially the junior teachers,” Dr. Kissoon said, urging the Finance Minister to consider duty-free concessions for them.
For health workers, like herself, she said financial compensation is not adequate. Adequate overtime payments, she suggested, should be explored by the government as one of the solutions to curb the migration of healthcare workers.
At various times, Dr. Kissoon won the support of her opposition colleagues and the government parliamentarians. But the Deputy Speaker said she doesn’t care much for the “fame.”
“I cannot reject the 2024 Budget because the truth is, it does benefit the Guyanese people but I do ask for kind consideration that my points raised are considered.
“… It’s not about bringing fame to my party, to opposition, to government… it is simply about the Guyanese people,” Dr. Kissoon said.