1.1 Mr Speaker, I rise to move the motion for the approval of the Estimates of the Public Sector and the Budget for the Financial Year 2001. In so doing, I wish to indicate that in concurrence with Article 171, paragraph 2 of the Constitution, the Cabinet has recommended that the National Assembly proceed upon this motion.

1.2 Mr Speaker, the General and Regional Elections that were mandated under the Herdmanston Accord are now over. The people have spoken. Through the democratic process, they have given the PPP/Civic Government a renewed mandate to consolidate the gains that have been made over the past eight years; and to continue the task of nation building, in order that Guyanese may enjoy a brighter, more prosperous future. We have to work with the political Opposition and other groups in the society to create a lasting environment of peace, trust and enduring stability. Without a doubt, these are vitally important prerequisites for attracting investment that is so necessary for the continuation of economic progress and social development in our country.

1.3 We have taken careful note of our people’s demands, their hopes and aspirations. Indeed, these have always accorded with our vision for Guyana’s future - a vision which we have shared continuously over the past years and which we elevated in our Manifesto for the recent elections. To restate it succinctly, we envisage a country in which our abundant natural resources are harnessed by a resilient and enterprising people to create wealth that is then equitably distributed among the people for their benefit. We are single-minded in our resolve to establish a society in which no one feels excluded from the mainstream of development - a society in which the rich diversity of our people is used to strengthen the bonds that bind us, rather than accentuate those that divide us. We have achieved much over the years, including improved growth rates; modernisation of the economic infrastructure; reduction in the foreign debt that has facilitated higher expenditure in health, education, housing and pure water, among other areas; and a significant reduction in poverty.

1.4 Mr Speaker, considering the extent of the physical, economic and social decay which enveloped our country not so long ago, many would be satisfied with the progress that has been made to date. Not so the PPP/Civic Government! We recognise that much more needs to be done. The economic base of the country needs to be expanded. Our traditional industries have to become more efficient and productive, while new growth areas such as tourism, informatics and computer-related industries will need to be attracted. We need to integrate our regions, towns, villages and communities; we have to invest more in our education and health systems, our sea defence, drainage and irrigation and road networks; we must devote more resources to improving policing methods, reducing crime, defending our borders and external interests, and protecting our national patrimony. Above all, we must encourage and attract massive investment to create jobs. These are some of the challenging tasks that we will confront during this third term.

1.5 Mr Speaker, mindful of the impatience of our people and acknowledging the enormity of the tasks that lie ahead, we have developed a comprehensive economic development strategy for implementation over the next five years. We envisage that by 2006, we will have a very robust, diversified economy that is both capable of withstanding adverse external shocks and competing effectively within the new globalised environment. 

1.6 Mr Speaker, this Budget draws heavily upon that strategy and, therefore, should be seen as the first step towards the realisation of those goals. The Budget revolves around the theme, “Moving Guyana Forward Together.” It is an imaginative attempt to build on the foundations that have been laid for our economic take-off; to promote the well-being of the country; and to address many issues and concerns of the Guyanese people. It has been prepared against the background of a very hostile external environment. As many of you are aware, Year 2000 was a particularly difficult one for Guyana.

1.7 At the external level, massive increases in the price of oil, declining prices for our main exports, and new threats to the survival of long-standing trading arrangements in crucial product markets, affected our capacity to accelerate the pace of our development. Domestically, adverse weather conditions affected production in the real sector, especially sugar and rice. As if that were not bad enough, investors either delayed or postponed investment in light of the Elections that were held in the first quarter of 2001. These factors were responsible for the economy returning a small, negative growth rate.

1.8 We feel confident, nevertheless, that, as in the past, our people and our economy have the capacity and the resilience to rebound quickly from such a temporary setback. We believe that the policy measures and programmes that proliferate in this Budget are sufficient to evidence the turnaround that is projected for 2001. 

1.9 Mr Speaker, I firmly believe that the goodwill exists in the society for us to move resolutely forward together. Guyana’s gains are the people’s gains. Her losses are suffered by all of us. Let us, therefore, eschew the desire to destroy and destabilise our country. Instead, let us embrace the extended hands of friendship, love and cooperation, united in purpose to build the type of Guyana of which we continue to dream. This, Mr Speaker, is the charge of this Budget - the first of this Eighth Parliament of Guyana.