President David Granger: Inter-American Development Bank, Country Representative, Ms. Sophie Makonnen; members of the Diplomatic Corps; members of the Private Sector Commission; members of the business community; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
As Mr. Persaud said, the idea of this Private Sector Summit came about at the meeting in June 2015 and it was followed up six weeks after I was sworn in as President and I once again called for a Private Sector-led summit to be held and if I can quote, “in the shortest possible time” – this was June 2015 – so that we could all come together, politicians, businesses, trade unions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), religious organisations, to hammer out a new social contract among the Guyanese people taking us over the next five years.
My concept then was that a comprehensive conference could be convened to ensure that the interest of our producers: farmers, fisher folk, miners, loggers, traders and workers could be considered as elements of a contract that would be the basis for consultation rather than confrontation.
I therefore congratulate the Private Sector Commission today for convening this conference and I look forward to reaching a broad agreement on the way forward for our country and I promise not to lock the doors of the hotel in so doing.
Your Government has been working to create an environment which is supportive of socioeconomic development that is linked to the objective of ensuring a good life for all. I noted elsewhere that a good life means the absence of poverty, the presence of equality and the creation of an enlightened citizenry through education, effective stewardship of our natural resources and employment for our people.
The attainment of the goal of a good life requires the reduction of disparities based on geography and ethnicity and the sustained creation of wealth through economic growth and employment. The Private Sector is a creator of wealth and generator of employment, and can work with Government with the labour movement and civil society towards attaining the objective of that good life.
I’ve been given fifteen minutes to speak and being a disciplined person, I’ll try to stay within those limits and I will therefore select simply, three elements of our Government’s approach and these are simply: investment, innovation and the creation of institutional framework for economic development.
First, private sector investment is pivotal to development. Your Government over the past twenty-nine months, would have been working to create a more enabling environment for business development by encouraging investment and by ensuring stable macro-economic environments. Government while seeking to fix the economic problems which we inherited, has been actively courting investment and encouraging the diaspora to invest in Guyana. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Citizenship have been pursuing increased investment and trading.
Ladies and gentlemen, Americans, Brazilians, the British, the Canadians, the Chinese, the French, Indians, Russians, Surinamese, Turks, Trinidadians are all investing in Guyana. Why can’t you? Why should Guyanese have to be reminded? Guyanese should have no good reason for not increasing investment in their own country. Investment is the fuel of economic expansion and employment.
Government has been encouraging the banking sector to expand its financial services to agricultural, rural and hinterland gold mining areas in other zones. Guyana is lagging in the ratio of commercial banks per a hundred thousand persons in the population. The banking system can become a goldmine of investment funds; access to affordable capital by local investors will spur investment.
Second, innovation: increased investments alone will not yield prosperity. Investment must be backed by innovation to create a more competitive economy. As I’ve been saying over the last seven years, the excessive concentration of primary production has exposed the economy to market volatilities and economic vulnerabilities.
The curse of the six sisters, the subject of much editorializing: bauxite, gold, fisheries, rice, sugar, timber, does not arise from the character of the commodities but in the over dependency on raw products, the lack of innovation, the absence of diversification and the neglect of value-added manufacturing.
These sectors have served us well but failure to innovate and diversify has made us vulnerable to exogenous shocks. A decline in the price of these commodities or a loss of market access often leads to distress, and we are very familiar with the consequences of collapsing prices on these commodities.
Guyana, the biggest and most bountiful state in the Caribbean is blessed with abundant natural character. Our varied landscapes, our grasslands, our islands, our wetlands, our highlands, our lakes, rivers, rainforests, shell beaches and waterfalls are habitats of some of the world’s rarest flora and fauna.
These features endow us with world class eco-tourism and eco-educational products. Our green state policy which emphasises the preservation of our biodiversity, the protection of our environment, the provision of eco-tourism and eco-educational services and the promotion of renewable energy generation and practical measures to ensure climate adaptation could unleash a whirlwind of investment and innovation.
It could open business opportunities in agriculture, banking, biodegradable packaging, construction, distribution services, eco-tourism, green transportation, information and communication technology, energy saving equipment and energy generation equipment from sustainable sources- manufacturing/recycling so there is much to learn through innovation and diversification.
And thirdly, the absurdly anachronistic adherence to the colonial three county system still pervades public administration and this is being geographically rebalanced. You would have heard quite recently of persons who have to collect benefits from the court system in Wismar having to travel to Vreed-en-Hoop. We have heard of businessmen in the Rupununi and Lethem having to travel to Adventure on the Essequibo Coast to register their business and up to quite recently, our colleagues heard of National Insurance Scheme (NIS) panels being confined to places called Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara.
So we have inherited a system which needs to be rebalanced. The inherited system of former laws of informal conventions and regulations that direct the delivery of public services, public education, public health, public security, public infrastructure; all these shared socioeconomic activities will have to be revised and are being revised.
Guyana’s regions are the real frontiers of economic development, not just the city. Capital towns will drive development by promoting business opportunities for the private sector and by pursuing economic development which provides economic leadership. For this reason, we have established three new towns: Mabaruma- the capital town of the Barima-Waini Region; a region that’s nearly four times the size of Trinidad and Tobago; Lethem- the capital town of the Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo Region, a region that is larger than Costa Rica, Bartica- the capital town of the Cuyuni-Mazaruni Region, a region that is bigger than The Netherlands. Mahdia will soon become the capital town of the Potaro-Siparuni Region and it is through the regional system that the Government will pursue economic growth.
The Ministry of Business is encouraging the resuscitation of the regional chambers of commerce to work with their respective Regional Democratic Councils and NGOS. We are pursuing a policy of developing regional action plans to promote business in the regions. The Ministry of Communities is encouraging the hosting of Regional Agricultural and Commercial Expositions (RACE). The Ministries of Agriculture and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs have intensified their focus on the ‘food economy’ of the hundreds of villages in the hinterland and coastland, whose farms feed the nation. The economic revitalisation of our villages could reduce poverty and unemployment. The Ministry of Public Infrastructure and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Engineer Corps are developing plans to improve bridges and highways to the hinterland. The Ministry of Legal Affairs has introduced legislation aimed at strengthening the regulatory framework and curbing money-laundering and financial crimes. The Ministry of Public Security is decentralizing the law enforcement agencies in order to be able to deal with cross-border and other forms of transnational crime.
Ladies and gentlemen, the reduction of poverty and unemployment is not only the human development imperative, but it is also good for business. Lifting people out of poverty will increase their participation in the economy; will generate employment; will enhance citizens’ incomes and create higher demand for goods and services. The economy is being rebalanced also by investing in the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which constitute half of the economy and is estimated to contribute about 30% of the GDP. So the Government sees development in a holistic way- horizontally, across all 10 regions and vertically from the household right through to the big corporations. We hope that a conference such as this would include them all: farmers, fisher folk, the micro and the maxi. I don’t know if that will happen.
Ladies and gentlemen, the government has supported private sector development in a holistic way as part of its broad commitment to improving citizens quality of life. Your Government has ensured macroeconomic stability, it has encouraged investment, it has enhanced competitiveness, it has also started the process of rebalancing the economy and rebalancing the public administration to make them both more robust and more resilient. The Private Sector must position itself to take advantage of the emerging economic activities which Guyana offers. The Private Sector has the expertise and the experience to drive economic development; in doing so it can count on the support of my government.
I thank you.