Members of the diplomatic community, members of the private sector. I am very pleased to be with you this afternoon, though virtually. Well, not even live virtually but recorded virtually whilst I would have loved to be there with you in persons, or live virtually the conflicting demand on my schedule today did not allow this, as at the same time of your AGM I’ll be participating at a Commonwealth Round Table with His Royal Highness, Prince Charles. I assure you, though, at the conclusion of this event, I will be rejoining you, and once you are still there virtually, I would be more than willing to take any questions you may have. It is my strong belief that we could only move forward in a stronger way if we listen to each other, if we understand each other and if we have great clarity on where we are going as a country.

Today I wish to speak on a few areas, some macroeconomic fundamentals, the area of elimination of waste in public spending, our transformative agenda, building capacity within our country based on the future demands of the economy, both the human resources capacity and financial capacity—the issue of local content, security, predictability, and democracy, the importance of partnership. I also would like touch briefly on the overarching model of development that will be the Enhance Low Carbon Development Strategy.

It is clear that the role of the private sector in advancing our national agenda and driving structural change cannot be overemphasized. This is especially important on the backdrop that over the last five years, our private sector has been subjected to much economic and financial hardship from dwindling consumer demand and blatant outstripping of much-needed access to domestic credit and, of course, the levying of burdensome taxes. All of this contracted the economy, contracted business, and of course, had a negative effect on the private sector itself.

Over the next five years, my administration intends to put in place the requisite macroeconomic and legislative framework that will allow our private sector to grow and to be the integral part that it should be an expansion of our economy. It’s also very important that we create an environment in which our local private sector can develop their competitiveness and can be the primary beneficiaries of the economic transformation that will take place. Our goal is to make Guyana the economic powerhouse of the region, a place where national prosperity would be a reality. Individual prosperity and wealth creation can and will be achieved for those who are willing and prepared to invest the required effort.

Indeed, the prospect of us achieving this objective is contingent on our ability to develop a cadre of vibrant professionals, developing a strong industrial and manufacturing sector, strengthening our traditional sectors of growth, whilst transforming those sectors from mere production base to value-added, thus increasing productivity, increasing price and achieving higher value.

There are various instruments and policies that we will be pursuing to achieve this. These include access to quality education and specialized training. We have recently launched the 20,000 Scholarship Program, a program that identifies key and critical areas for growth and development in the future and launches an opportunity for Guyanese to be trained in those areas. We are also working to ensure that our promise of free university education is accomplished before the end of our five years.

The objective of this is to ensure not only do we have the most vibrant economy but also the most vibrant pool of human resources, the most talented, skilled, trained, and qualified human resources to take our country forward. This, of course, resound to tremendous benefit for businesses because more skilled human resources base we have, the higher level of productivity and efficiency we’ll have, and a greater level of service is expected.

All our plans hinges upon sustainability and stability. To achieve this, we have to exercise shrewd management of government expenditure. We have already worked out enhanced revenue administration. We have to ensure that wasteful spending is removed from public expenditure so that more money can be directed to the creation of wealth, more money can be directed to the empowerment of human resources, more money can be directed to the expansion of our economy and this is exactly what the focus of the government is on.

While our focus and objective over the medium-term period is to bolster economic growth, we will remain vigilant of avoiding any supply-side constraint and, indeed, the Dutch disease. To do this, we have to ensure that our economy and the strength of our economy rests on varied plans. That is why we are not sinking all our ambitions with that of the oil and gas sector. We are talking about massive transformation. I’ll come to that theme a bit later; transformation that will create opportunities for us externally by internal investment, opportunities that will create a hub effect for the provision of different services here in Guyana.

This is the focus of our government: positioning Guyana as a mainstay for regional growth and development. Our ambition and targets are beyond our national needs because we understand that we operate in a much larger market, and we have great potential in reaching that market. So how do we achieve this; how do we achieve positioning Guyana into this powerhouse, and let me now talk about our transformative agenda a bit.

You will know by now that a number of key projects are earmarked over the next five years, and these projects are critical. These projects are critical at opening up new opportunities, enhancing our competitiveness, reducing the costs of doing business, improving efficiency, and at the end of the day, creating value and jobs. What are some of these projects?

To improve connectivity, we have a number of new road links, new highways. We have a number of farm-to-market access roads that will be constructed, but it’s not just the construction of the highways; it is what the highways are linked to. It is not only about the reduction of traffic, the reduction on travel time, which is critical because if one is to analyse the man-hours we lose every day with people being stuck in the traffic in the morning, it has a great impact on productivity, but these developments are linked to expansion in agriculture, opening up of new housing opportunities, creation of new industrial park, agro-industrial park, support to the mining sector, support to the forestry sector, and importantly, opening up the opportunity for Guyana to be food provider of the region.

This is the focus. It also allows us to work on enhancing our capability to reach our tourism product in a cheaper way and to build that tourism product. Because of this clarity in vision and clarity in relation to where the government is going, we are seeing more and more large-scale investors expressing interest in agriculture because we have been able to put the agricultural potential on the front burner in our country.

So, whether it is a Linden to Mabura Hill road, the Schoonard to Parika four-lane superhighway, the Parika to Goshen route to link the commercial centers of Parika and the mining town of Bartica, the Timehri to Bartica routes, and the farm to market access routes in Number 58 Village linking the Corentyne coast highway to Canje Creek or our investment in roads to open up the intermediate savannahs for the cultivation of corn and soya to make Guyana self-sufficient in animal feed production. It is a clear vision of the government to link infrastructure transformation to wealth creation and growth opportunities in the different sectors.

Housing, let us take housing, for example, or before we go to housing, let us look at what, even before we get to the output of where the transformative infrastructure is taking us, let’s look at the total $39 billion investment in infrastructure from the Ministry of Public Works in this year’s budget alone. Let us look at that and see what it means when you break it down.

So, government is expected to construct and rehabilitate border 118 kilometres of an asphalted coastal roads. What does this mean? To achieve this, it will require more than 28,000 truckloads of sand and loam, over 305 tons of crusher run, and 85,000 tons of asphalt. Additionally, it will require 170,000, 170,000 tons of boulders and 57,000 tonnes of gabion stones.

This is just one sector. Imagine the impact of this for river transport, land transport, labor, and what has been the net effect of this? And we are not counting the private investment as yet, but what has been the net effect? The net effect is that we have had in the last nine months, more than ten private sector interests in new quarries. We have had more than four new concrete plants coming in and when you add the new investment of hotels, shore-based facilities, lay down yards, and housing to this, you can understand the level of impact the agenda of the government will have at an individual level, community level and at the national level.

And it is not only about building infrastructure; it is about how we reduce the cost of doing business. How do we ensure that the cost of business comes down, and importantly in bringing down the cost of business, how do we improve efficiency and reliability? It is no secret that we have outgrown our port facilities for commercial traffic. It is also no secret that we cannot continue, in a modern economy, to have port facilities for commercial traffic that is tide-dependent. These are all things that we have to fix, and we will be fixing, but importantly, we’ll be fixing with partnership of the private sector, the partnership of the private sector.

We have already started with an investment of $100 million for navigational aids including buoys and beacons, $310 million in rehabilitation for stellings, $200 million for the acquisition of a new pilot launch, $400 million for the removal of wrecks at the harbour entrance in the Demerara River, $400 million for the establishment and equipping of a Maritime Rescue Coordination Center. These are all critical investments for a modern maritime industry, and we are making those investments to support the private sector growth and development, and I just want to share with you. Let me share with you some initiatives that we have already engaged the private sector on that we believe would be transformative by themselves alone.

We’re presently collaborating with the poultry industry in supporting backward and forward linkages. We are putting in infrastructure. We are working with them on drying facility. We are ready to make the investment that would propel this industry in a way that is self-sustainable. The objective is to have all the grains that is required for the feed to be produced locally. The benefit of this is enormous, and then on the forward linkage side, we want to get into value-added. So, we have moved away from the fiscal incentives alone, and now we’re supporting the sector in investing with them to become competitive and self-sufficient. We’re also working aggressively on breaking down the barriers within CARICOM itself so the market can be expanded. That is one example.

We’re also supporting the farmers in Black Bush, where the complaint has always been about excessive production of peppers and other produce. The government now is helping with the building of a processing facility for packaging and canning, working with the private sector, again. Soon we’ll be launching another program with the private sector to enhance our productivity and production of swamps shrimp; swamp shrimp production will be enhanced, niche market in our diaspora again creating wealth at a community level in partnership with the private sector, we are want to support the farmers in Pomeroon with the purchase of pontoons and excavators, the help for the flooding, the opening up of lands.

This is a type of real partnership that is on-going between the government and the private sector over the last seven months. And  you  would have noticed I’m not even talking about the Hotel, I’m not talking about the manufacturing, I’m not talking about industrial development, I’m not talking about the oil and gas sector. I’m showing you in one sector, food production, and agriculture, how we’re working to enhance our competitiveness and productivity. We’ve made it very, very clear that we are opening up new lands, and we want the private sector to be spearheading your transformation. So again, I’m throwing out a challenge to the private sector; aquaculture is a huge area of opportunity. Reach out, talk to the embassies, let them link you up with investors from other countries. Take the lead, take initiative, and the government will support you in putting in infrastructure. It is our aim to be a major player in the aquaculture business.

Support for Call Centers this, too, is a key area we have successfully worked with GTT they have a call center in Tuschen that will create hundreds of new jobs here. Again, the government is providing the shell. We are ready to support such investment in regions two, six, and ten, where the government would invest with you the private sector; we will build the shells you just bring the opportunity here again is a challenge to you. We will build the shelves in these regions, and that is why the liberalization will now give us better prices and greater efficiency. And that was the only inhibiting factor from us competing globally, to bring, to be the hub for the call center businesses.

 We are already supporting the private sector and enhance engineering services, but we want the private sector to be aggressive. How do we make Guyana the hub for machining? We have a huge yachting industry in the Caribbean that requires machining facilities. You come up with the idea, how can we work together to create Guyana as a hub bringing in business, another area that we’re looking at. We have already made it clear. We have announced tax incentives that we want Guyana to be in medical and educational hub. And I must say we very pleased with the level of private sector participation and local participation in investing in these sectors.

 So this is how and what the transformation is linked to. We have the new city; we will be, we will be putting out special incentives for the manufacturing sector and industrial sector to expand the building a new city. What this will do for you; it will give you tax incentives and other incentives that will give you a competitive edge, but we have to stop thinking from a compartmental way that everything revolves only around one sector and understand the opportunities that these type of investment will bring; these type of investment by the government will bring for the private sector.

We are ready to work with you at the housing program; look at what is happening; 50,000 house lots has to be developed. We were already working with a local private sector in building these homes; the banks are on board. We have more than twenty local contractors’ builders working with us hundreds of skilled, semi-skilled, and laborers working with us on this program creating new entrepreneurs, new opportunities.  Every time we build a thousand houses [and], I’m just giving you a thousand houses. You’re talking about close to $5 billion of translated benefit spending in the economy, and we want to at least get 25,000 new homes while we do the $50,000 house lots built over the next five years. This sector alone the translated benefit alone from this sector would be enormous. And I’ve not said anything about Mining, Forestry. All of these are areas that would benefit as a result of the investment.

So the opportunities are out there as I said; the transformative agenda leads to the opening up of these opportunities. We just have to be innovative, be creative, and be aggressive.  While our focus is on advancing our economy it is important and critical to understand that this must be done in a sustainable way. We also have global responsibility, and let me be very clear on this. Our Low Carbon Development Strategy is a development strategy. In the past, we have seen how the Low Carbon Development Strategy earned us revenue, the ground-breaking Forest Partnership Agreement with Norway was the first for a developing country and the third-largest agreement in the world. Guyana earned more than 250 million us dollars over a five-year period. 

By the end of this year, we’ll put measures in place to unlock almost 135 million that we are yet to receive. And going forward, we are already targeting new initiatives with higher value markets to be a major player in the carbon market. It has the potential of earning our country of hundreds of millions of dollars annually, us dollars. The Vice President is leading our efforts in this regard only yesterday; we signed an important MOE that place us ahead of everyone else in this regard.

I wish now to address an issue I know we’ve spoken about many times. And this has been preoccupying the minds of most of our private sector actors, and players. And that is the whole issue of local content. And how do we see this going forward. First of all, let me say that we intend to have as much service as possible in the oil and gas sector, done Guyanese, and there is no compromise on this. We are also going to ensure we invest in the training of our human resources so that they can be equipped to function in the sector. So very soon, this document will be finalized, and its intention is to maximize the opportunity that exists along the value chain of the oil and gas sector for both our people and local businesses.

We believe that local content plays an instrumental role in advancing our macro-economic development agenda. Our policies, therefore, must be on enhancing our ability, must be an enhancing our ability to benefit from this sector. We have to put the right legislative and regulatory framework in place, the right training program, the right set of infrastructure, the right support of the private sector to ensure that they can benefit. Because at the macro level, it is critical if you look at estimates in 2020, almost US $1.8 billion left our shores as net services, which includes consultant fees and so on.

These are revenues that can remain here in Guyana with the type of investments we are making to enhance our capacity and capability to provide more of the services here. So if we managed to increase our team or retain half of what leaves, imagine what we can do to improve the social welfare and well-being of our people. We have already set targets ambitious targets for pensioners to help our pensioners, school children, indigenous people because we do not want the expansion of inequalities in our society. We have to ensure that the livelihood and standard of living of every Guyanese move upwards with investments we are making.

That is why in our energy mix, which is another critical part, part of it becoming globally competitive and being part of the massive opportunities in the energy corridor within the Guyana Shield.  Later this year, Guyana, Brazil, and Suriname will meet to further advance the opportunities in this energy corridor. What we’re not waiting, that is why we’re investing heavily on renewable power, solar energy, natural gas plants, hydro, so that not only will we satisfied our power demand that are immediate but that we will be creating enough power we will be generating enough power for the transformation that will take place in the manufacturing and industrial sector.

This is key, also to our future. I know I’ve been going on for quite a long time, and maybe this is one of the advantages of sitting and making a presentation. But let me take a little bit more of your time to deal with the issue of security.  I know security is a key issue for the private sector. And I would say that as President, I welcome constructive criticism and understand that even if it’s not constructive, even if it’s not constructive. It is still your democratic right to be critical. But sometimes, we have to understand the implications of our actions.

So whilst we are not satisfied, and government is not satisfied with one crime, it is important that we talk to each other to share information in addressing crime and security. Because security has to be addressed in partnership whilst the government is responsible to provide public security to its citizens, we can only resolve this in partnership. A lot has been going on in reform, in training, in strengthening, investment, the tools and equipment’s, but security still remains a work in progress.  The more developed a country becomes, the more sophisticated the crimes.

Guyana is developing at a fast rate there is no secret that our resources are quite limited when it comes to manage all threats facing our nation. And, of course, the added threat of COVID-19 pandemic has even made it more difficult. But crime itself has been evolving over the years, challenging the local law enforcement to keep abreast with preventative measures and investigative reach. The government has recognized the importance of protecting its people, property, and life all efforts and hands to address mechanism to equip law enforcement where necessary tools, equipment, and training to make their duties successful.

In 2021 $15 billion has been allocated to the security sector. We have reviewed available statistics and have since designed a plan to ensure resources, both human and financial, are targeted so that we can get the best possible result.  The setting up command centers operated by police in high crime areas has been one of the new measures we’re taking. But we need the collaboration of the private sector while you’re establishing rapid response units in every region. One of the complaints has been the level of professionalism. That is why, at the regional level, at police stations level themselves, we’re now establishing a management committee that involves civil society, involves the private sector in providing that oversight at the station level. We’re also looking at the welfare and the environment in which our men and women are operating in enhanced that; we’re utilizing more technology.

But when I came to office within the first few days, I went with some members of the Georgetown chambers, the younger members. Well, at least they look younger. And I challenge threw out a challenge to them invest in two cars, for example, on Regent Street. The government would provide duty-free, they can have a security service assigned to the cars, and we can also assign police officer to do patrol up and down Regent Street. When you work out the cost, it might be $5,000 for every business owner for a month, but we got no response from that. Resolving the issue of crime calls for innovative thinking; it calls for partnership it calls for proactive work. And we’re very open to discussing ways in which private sector and government can collaborate in this regard.

I would wish now to wish you the best, and hopefully, I can join you to take questions on the many additional areas I would like to speak on, but of course, time presents a limitation on what we can achieve in this short message. Thank you very much, and I wish you well.