Private sector sees Demerara Harbour dredging, Amaila Hydro as priorities

Dredging of the Demerara Harbour and the Amaila Falls hydropower project are the two infrastructural projects that the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has declared as absolute priorities and it also wants the garbage crisis to be tackled and environmental standards raised generally.

In a session with the media yesterday at the Georgetown Club, PSC Chairman Ron Webster said that the dredging and rehabilitation of the Demerara Harbour were vital. This, he said, could be followed eventually by a deepwater harbour but that the Demerara Harbour had to be addressed immediately.

He said that 90% of the country’s goods come via the Demerara River.  Webster noted that at present cargo destined to Guyana is transshipped from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago via smaller feeder vessels which only come in half loaded because of the silted up Demerara Harbour. The present route is Trinidad, Suriname and then Guyana.

From left are Kit Nascimento, Ron Webster and Ramesh Dookhoo at yesterday’s breakfast meeting with the media.

“This places an enormous cost on every tonne of product that comes in…,” he said, adding that this matter had been advanced by the private sector via government’s Competitiveness Unit but that action needed to be “speeded up”. He argued that it impacts on the cost of living and reduces the ability of the country to compete with the rest of the Caribbean. He contended that his concern was the manufacturing sector, which has to export in an efficient manner and the matter of the cost of goods on the local market which could be reduced if larger capacity vessels were able to come.

On the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP), he said that there was still a long way to go on this and problems such as the underestimating of the cost of building the access road had occurred. However, he said what the private sector was focused on was a stable price for electricity and they were of the view that this could be delivered by the AFHP. In addition to stability, Webster said that at the moment it would appear that based on pricing, the cost of power to be sold by AFHP to Guyana Power and Light (GPL) would be a lot less than Heavy Fuel Oil and diesel power.  He noted that GPL would need to put in the distribution systems to ensure that power was efficiently channelled.

Webster declared that environmental standards have to be lifted across the aboard and he pointed to the garbage problems in the city as a prime example. He said that the filth in the city was unacceptable and a deterrent to the tourism industry and investors. A culture change in how people handled trash was needed and the overall management of solid waste has to be revisited. He said that the current solid waste management site at Haags Bosch on the East Bank had taken 10 to 12 years for establishment and was now out of date. The “totality of solid waste management has to be looked at”, he declared.

PSC member Kit Nascimento who chaired the proceedings, said that a crew of yachtsmen who toured Guyana had reported glowingly on areas across the country but were “horrified” on what they saw in Georgetown. He said Georgetown and Bartica are barriers to tourism because of their garbage problems.

Asked by Stabroek News why after 20 years of continuous governance by the PPP/C and advocacy by the private sector that essential projects like the dredging of the Demerara Harbour and the garbage crisis in the city had not been settled, Webster said “…We tend to go hot and sweaty over various projects and then we don’t follow-up …it is a tremendous concern  we need to follow up. As citizens we need to ensure that certain things are done, not by coming out and cussing up and so on but by reminding the agencies concerned that they have a job to do and we expect them to do it.”

He said what used to push the dredging of the Demerara Harbour was the movement of bauxite ships but that isn’t any longer prevalent. He said as the bauxite industry expands and the Brazil road kicks in there will be further interest in the Demerara Harbour.

“This is really my area of concern because if we don’t act fast we are going to lose that Brazilian business. It is going to either go to Suriname or it is going to go to Venezuela. It is the most frustrating feeling when some of these things don’t happen”. He noted that a committee is to be appointed in the PSC to handle the Brazil nexuses and an ex minister has indicated interest in leading it. All of this, he said, means that Guyana had to get its act together on ocean freight.

Former PSC Chairman Ramesh Dookhoo said in relation to the city and garbage, it cannot be ignored that the private sector has been a “huge advocate” for local government elections. He said the responsibility for a clean city cannot be passed to the private sector, government and to everyone except the rightful managers of the city. He said the private sector has called relentlessly for elections and an efficient M&CC.

On the Demerara Harbour, he said that the routine dredging by the Steve N had fallen away and the major focus now was to get the Demerara Harbour fixed. He said many don’t understand the higher costs attached to goods because of the state of the harbour.

Head of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry Clinton Urling said that the best advocacy does not guarantee policy action from policymakers and that the Stabroek News question made the assumption that only the private sector had a role in this advocacy. He said advocacy was also a matter for other stakeholders, including the media.  Noting the reference to 20 years, he said it could be argued that in the 1990s Guyana had focused on the economic fundamentals and that its position as a small emerging economy with limited finance also had to be taken account of.

Urling said that everyone needed to focus on the “now” and what are the prescriptions to make Guyana a more competitive economy.

Noting the continued reliance on commodities, Webster said earlier in his address that it was important to broaden the economy and this had to be the focus of the government, the private sector, the opposition and the media.

Webster also said that the country’s institutions need to be strengthened, adding that the economy had outgrown these and the migration of skills had compounded matters. He said that a lot of effort was being invested to bringing qualified Guyanese back but that the “quality of life must attract them back”. He noted that young people were pouring out of high schools and would often be told that they would only achieve something if they migrate to North America or Europe. “The pride in achieving something in our own society seems to have become secondary”, he lamented.

While focused on the Demerara Harbour and Amaila, Webster said that expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport was also critical from a safety perspective but also needs a better road for the east bank and for Timehri to the east coast.

The Marriott Hotel project was also something that the private sector would continue to support, he said.

Webster called on the media to avoid unsubstantiated negativity as it is destructive and affects the perception of potential investors.

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