Minister of Public Telecommunications Catherine Hughes yesterday defended the 2018 Budget allocations to her ministry.
Responding to a request, from Opposition MP, Irfaan Alli, for an update on the National Broadband Project, Minister Hughes stated that the proposed three-year venture is slated to commence in the latter half of 2018. She explained the project will upgrade the Network to enable equitable delivery of services to citizens in the areas of education, health, security, government administration, business, citizenship and immigration.
Minister Hughes also reminded that Cabinet has approved both the application for the loan from the China EXIM Bank and the award of the contract to Huawei Technologies of China. The contract has been signed and execution will begin as soon as EXIM bank approves the loan.
Opposition MP Joseph Hamilton requested an update on the number of ministries and agencies connected to the e-Gov network. The Minister said the improved network provides internet access to 53 government ministries and agencies; to more than 95 secondary schools; the 2 campuses of the University of Guyana and the Cyril Potter College of Education; to over 37 technical/vocational institutes including the Carnegie School of Home Economics; to the offices of Regional Education Officers, and to several NGO’s.
The Telecommunication Minister also reported that the National Data Management Authority (NDMA) has worked closely with communities in Regions Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Nine and Ten to establish approximately 90 ICT Hubs (to date) with computers donated by Government, thus providing nearly 200,000 citizens with access to the worldwide web. Another 103 ICT hubs will be operational by December 31.
Additionally, regional offices, public hospitals, airports, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Revenue Authority, the Guyana Power and Light Company and the Guyana Defence Force and other service organisations are now online and connected to each other via 23 virtual private networks.
The Minister also told the House during questioning that preparations for the new Telecommunications Agency are moving apace. Additionally, the Commencement Order for the establishment of the Telecommunications Agency has been approved and will be gazetted shortly. She explained that the Telecommunications Agency will absorb the functions of the National Frequency Management Unit.
The Committee of Supply approved a total of $4.696B, which sees current and capital expenditure at $2.1B and Capital $2.5B respectively. Provisions will be expended on Policy Development and Administration, Public Telecommunications and Industry Innovations.
$144M will see the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Information Technology (collaborative initiative between the Government of India and the eGovernment Agency); the National Broadband Project will receive $2.3B and the National Data Management Authority $113M, which will see the expansion of e-government network and services.
Policy Development and Administration will receive $5M for furniture and equipment and the Industry Innovations programme, $1.4M for furniture and equipment.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Protection has received $16.988B to continue its mandate of providing quality service to the country’s vulnerable groups – women, children, the elderly, homeless and youths.
The sum of $150M was approved for the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) Projects. The venture entails provision for community-driven entrepreneurial projects, increased job opportunities and employment, improved access to training, enhanced skills and competency levels, and greater social and cultural cohesion.
Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally explained that for 2017, 20 SLED projects were rolled out in all the administrative regions except Region Six. She explained that the 2018 allocation will cater for additional programmes to be implemented in more communities in all the regions.
Other provisions covered under the ministry’s budget are an allocation of $10M each to fund a country gender assessment and the preparation of a social protection strategy. Minister Ally explained that the assessment will examine gender inequalities in the education system with special emphasis on the under-achievement of boys.
The sum of $6.6M will provide for the construction of a fire escape at the Palms Geriatric Institution, while $20M will cover the procurement of equipment and furniture for the geriatric facility and $16.5M the purchase of buses for the Palms and New Opportunity Corps.
A total of $144M has been allocated for the completion of the Drop-in-Centre at Sophia. Another $9.5M will be used for the purchase of a vehicle for Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) and $12M for the purchase of furniture and equipment for Child Care Secretariat, district officers’ quarters and care centres.
Under current expenditure, $101,887M was allotted for subsidies and contributions for local organisations.
Opposition Member of Parliament Priya Manickchand questioned the reduction of subsidies to the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic by $25M. Minister Ally explained that while the reduction will not affect the work of the clinic. She noted if however the $41M allotted to the clinic is exhausted, there is an avenue (once it is justified) in which a request can be made for additional funding.
Asked to defend subsidies for the Together in Peace organisation, Minister Ally clarified that the shelter, which was created in 2015, provides shelter for victims of trafficking. However due to the sensitive nature of the issue, the Ministry could not provide any further details of the organisation and its functions.
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