— other ‘people-centred’ allocations in 2021 budget
MINISTER of Human Services and Social Security, Dr. Vindhya Persaud, vehemently defended her ministry’s budgetary allocations in the National Assembly on Wednesday. She indicated that while the $383.1 billion budget will be transformative for the country’s economy, it was also specifically crafted to cushion the needs and improve the lives of women, children, persons with disabilities (PWD) and other vulnerable groups of Guyanese.
The minister made direct reference to a sum of $30 million which will go towards constructing a modern building intended to house a training hub for PWDs. The building is expected to be erected in the compound of the Mahaica Hospital, East Coast Demerara. Persons with disabilities, according to Dr. Persaud, will also benefit from a series of vocational training, as well as the provision of prosthetics and other equipment that are often needed by PWDs; some $120 million will go towards the latter venture.
Added to this, some $50 million has also been set aside to further assist the operations of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
Dr. Persaud said that large allocations within the budget will go towards empowering, training, and promoting entrepreneurship among women throughout the length and breadth of Guyana. She specified a sum of $80 million which has been allocated to train women in a variety of areas including fashion designing, child and elderly care, interior designing business and enterprise development, graphics designing, and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
As it relates to the promotion of entrepreneurship, Dr. Persaud said that the ministry’s programmes will allow for women to have easier access to financing offered by the Small Business Bureau, as well as other loan and grant agencies.
“We will not only see the transformation of the lives of women once they have only gotten the training, but being a part of an extensive programme that moves them from training to investments and grant access so that they can start their businesses, be their own bosses and if they so wish, acquire a skill that will make them marketable and employable,” Minister Persaud said.
She explained that as International Women’s Day approaches in March, women will have the opportunity to participate in a ‘Women Entrepreneurship Challenge’, which will facilitate the submission of business ideas that will be considered to for financing via a grant that will be made available by the ministry.
Even further to that, Dr. Persaud noted that a business incubator will be established specifically for women and their products. This particular incubator, the minister explained, will serve as a component of the Guyana Women’s Leadership Institute (GWLI) which is slated to be revamped in the coming months. The budget also caters for a $20 million facelift of the GWLI building located at Cove and John, East Coast Demerara.
TRAINING IN MICROENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT
Once operational, the GWLI will focus on training women in microenterprise development, especially in areas that have often been male-dominated, such as graphic designing, videography, welding, joining and carpentry, etc. Dr. Persaud also highlighted the ministry’s plan to create digital database and social media platform to market the skills and products of the trained women.
“That’s creativity; that’s innovation; that’s original,” Dr. Persaud asserted, as she addressed the opposition’s claims of plagiarisation. She also pointed to the “brand new” establishment of the 914 hotline which was specifically designed to deal with violence, especially those committed against women and children. The minister also highlighted the advocacy programmes which were specifically designed to support battered women and abused children.
“We do not believe in wild, wanton, reckless expenditure. All of what we are doing is geared towards ensuring people experience a better quality of life,” Dr. Persaud asserted.
The Human Services and Social Security Minister also pointed to a number of initiatives geared at improving the lives of elderly persons and children across Guyana. Dr. Persaud pointed to the increase of Public Assistance from $9,000 to $12,000, as well as Old Age pension from $21,500 to $25,000; she said that in the coming weeks, 40 new and more convenient pension distribution locations will be established.
Minister Persaud reminded the House that $892 million has been budgeted to respond to child abuse and provide parenting programmes for troubled families. The Drop in Centre, which the minister said is in a “horrendous” state, will also be renovated. The night shelter is also poised to receive a massive overhaul.
Additionally, efforts are also in the works to update several archaic legislations relative to children, trafficked persons and other vulnerable groups.
Meanwhile, Opposition Member of Parliament, Natasha Singh-Lewis, said that the budget contains nothing for poverty reduction, and should therefore receive a failing grade. “I cannot support it,” Singh-Lewis insisted.
Nonetheless, in wrapping up her presentation, minister Persaud said that the areas she highlighted were only a fraction of what budget encompasses, and encouraged the Opposition Members of Parliament to either support the budget, or provide for consideration, wholesome, constructive criticisms on the programmes and policies highlighted in the financial blueprint.
“We can sit and conjure all the thoughts, but the people will expect a contribution that can enable us to continue on the journey of development and progress,” Dr. Persaud surmised.