President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday urged the private sector to be open to “capital” and “expertise” from abroad emphasising that these are integral to Guyana fulfilling its potential.
Jagdeo, while addressing the Opening Ceremony of the National Competitiveness Summit, noted that the private sector is often opposed to overseas capital and urged that it changes its attitude to this. “I ask you to see this country with its infinite resources and possibilities as ours and that we need to benefit from it…but we cannot unlock all of these possibilities, resources, potential with our capital base,” he said, “it’s just too shallow”. Further, he said that the country would not be able to tap into the resources with its own expertise stating that the country “has to be open to the world”. “We have to remain open to capital and expertise from abroad and to the transfer of technology,” the President told the capacity audience at the International Conference Centre.
According to him, the onus would be on the authorities here to ensure that when the capital comes here, the national patrimony has to be protected and that the people get to benefit from the wealth that is created. Jagdeo warned that if these avenues are not pursued, many persons here with great ideas would only be talking about the possibilities but never being able to develop them simply because of a refusal to be open to equity participation from abroad or other forms of financing.
Jagdeo also projected that in the future, Guyana will have to open its doors to foreigners to aid in widening the economy. “At some stage…to unlock this potential…maybe five, ten years into the future we may not only have to bring in capital but we will need to bring in people,” he said. “And I ask that we don’t follow the route of some other countries and become xenophobic about foreigners because our people have sought their fortunes in other lands when things were really bad here and we need to remain welcoming to people,” Jagdeo stated. “In a larger economy they are not going to replace us. They create value for us and for our children too,” he opined.
The private sector was also urged to be more transparent in conducting its affairs. “We have been trying to encourage more companies going public because public companies have to be more transparent in the conduct of their affairs,” Jagdeo said. “But we have not been able to see major changes in this direction and even some of the public companies we have manage their affairs like private companies,” he lamented.
According to Jagdeo, “in a modern environment this cannot continue”. “It is not just good governance in government, which is essential, but good corporate governance is important to lend confidence to the overall system,” he said. “It sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that we are responsible and that we are prepared to manage our affairs in both public and private life transparently,” he added.
Pointing to other difficulties the private sector faces here, the Head of State said that the cost of doing business here was still high and admitted that this is a matter that the government has not been able to address fully. He pointed to challenges in the cost of capital, electricity costs and in telecommunications.
The President spoke about the Amaila Falls hydropower project as part of the long term solution to the country’s electricity woes before taking time off to attack the Stabroek News for its recent coverage on the project.
“I can assure you that work is being pursued significantly. Don’t follow the headlines,” he said. “Today (yesterday), I see the Stabroek News had the cost of the hydropower overshot its target by US$200M. It’s nonsensical,” he said. “Those were the figures close to the beginning of the project,” he said. “They think that in financing projects, that the only costs are costs associated with the construction. You have financing costs etc,” Jagdeo recounted. “And this is one of the problems we have in the country, there’s a great deal of illiteracy in reporting economic news,” he said urging those gathered not to base the economic decisions on what they read but on other more reliable sources in the private sector, the government and non-governmental organizations.
Stabroek News had reported that the indication on Tuesday by Jagdeo that the hydropower project would cost US$835M (inclusive of construction costs and the cost of capital during the construction period) was more than the US$616 M that the government had projected last year.
The government had said then that the actual construction of the project would be US$450M with the rest being the financing costs.
Meanwhile, the President also spoke about the need for the reform of telecommunications, referring specifically to the cost of bandwidth which he said is still too high. He stressed that government’s decision to bring in a fibre optic cable from Brazil should not be seen as government competing with the private sector.
Jagdeo also called for more predictability from the courts in terms of the decisions emanating from them. Elaborating on this, Jagdeo said this would include decisions which follow general principles that are established and predictability in terms of the time frame in which decisions are made.
The National Competitiveness Strategy is an initiative aimed at strengthening national competitiveness and diversifying Guyana’s economy thereby engineering economic growth here. The theme of yesterday’s summit was “Partnering to Promote Economic Growth and Development” and is being held at the International Conference Centre.
Other speakers at yesterday’s event included Commerce Minister Manniram Prashad, President of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) Carvil Duncan and Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Ramesh Dookhoo. (Mark McGowan)