Finance Minister sees first major wave of economic diversification

Citing the PPP’s manifesto, Finance Minister Ashni Singh told Parliament in yesterday’s budget speech that the next five years would bring the “first major wave of large scale diversification of our economy” and he cited information and communication technology (ICT) among the key prospects.

His reference to diversification may be seen by some as a tacit admission that the last 20 years of PPP/C governance has failed to produce transformation of the economy from merely primary production.

Singh declared that the next five years present the country not only with the opportunities to completely change the face of traditional industries such as sugar, rice and bauxite but they “also present us with the very real prospect of realising the first major wave of large scale diversification of our economy, with emergence of new sectors, such as environmental services, petroleum products, previously untapped minerals, information and communication technology, and tourism, all poised to become significant contributors to national output, creating jobs, and generating incomes and wealth for our people.”

In the medium term outlook he projected thousands of jobs for the ICT sector and said there are already 3,000 people employed in 10 call centres.

“Mr. Speaker, we have already successfully facilitated the emergence of an ICT sector, within which over 3,000 persons are employed in business process outsourcing with ten call centres currently in operation doing business in telemarketing, inbound customer support, voice transcription, medical records transcription and data warehousing. This sector is poised to be a major driver of growth in the future, with the potential to create an additional 6,000 jobs in the near term and a further 15,000 jobs in the medium term. We will continue to promote investment in the sector aggressively in order to ensure that as many high quality jobs are created in the shortest possible time”, he told the National Assembly.

He said that a critical element of ensuring competitiveness and expansion in this sector would be the achievement of telecommunications liberalization and the relevant legislation will be brought back to this Parliament after not being proceeded with in the 9th Parliament.

“In pursuit of the objectives of universal access, Government has been following the twin tracks of installing infrastructure that will see high speed delivery of e-Government content along with ensuring that no household will be left without access to that content. To these ends, amounts totalling $2.6 billion were allocated to install some 580 kilometres of high speed fibre optic network spanning from Lethem to Providence with drop-off sites at Lethem, Annai, Kurupukari, Mabura and Linden, and commencing a high speed fibre optic backhaul network connecting Moleson Creek to Anna Regina, with a data centre at Providence for the development of e-Government with high speed wireless access using a 4G network. A total of $3.1 billion is budgeted to be spent in 2012 for the continuation of these networks”,  he reported in his budget speech.

He also said that over the next year 63,000 laptops will be distributed under the government’s one laptop per family programme.

“Also in 2011, Government launched the flagship One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) programme. An amount of $1.6 billion was spent to procure 27,000 laptops of which 10,850 laptops were distributed in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. To facilitate the effective use and operation of these laptops Government utilised 99 private sector hubs to provide training and internet access to the recipients. In this regard, 3,569 recipients completed the mandatory ten hours training programme.  This year will see the continuation of the OLPF programme for which an amount of $3.7 billion is allocated. Over the next year a total of 63,000 laptops will be acquired for distribution to families and communities countrywide, bringing the total number of laptops distributed to 90,000. This programme will make a dramatic difference in ensuring that our most vulnerable have equal access to ICT, and will vastly increase the pool of IT literate persons in our country”, Singh stated.

Singh also made mention of other transformational projects such as the deep water harbour which critics have said that the government has dithered on while other players such as Suriname are making strides in this direction to capitalize on business and trade traffic with rapidly developing Brazil.

“In addition to the transformation of our productive sector, the next five years will witness a concomitant modernisation of our country. The foundation is laid for improved infrastructural links both within Guyana and with our neighbours including through the advancement of the Linden to Lethem road and the associated deep water harbour. Our energy supply will be modernised, including by the harnessing of hydropower to meet the needs of the national grid. Information and communication technology will be utilised and universal access promoted in pursuit of a more efficient public and private sector and a more competitive and better trained work force. Also within the next five years, Guyana’s place would have been secured as a global leader in providing environmental services, in particular, utilising our vast forest resources in the fight against climate change, and environmental responsibility will underly every policy in the modern Guyana”, the Finance Minister said.

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