Canada’s High Commissioner to Guyana David Devine yesterday endorsed the setting up of bodies such as the Public Procurement Commission, saying that such actions would address perceptions of corruption.
“Perceptions are there. The question is… how a country chooses to deal with it. You know, if you had people’s perceptions of corruption related to procurement areas, there’re areas of how to be able to address that issue. …Commissions… to regulate the institutions, can be put in place in order to be able to stamp down that perception,” Devine said in response to a question from Stabroek News at the closing press briefing of a Canadian High Commis-sion- sponsored investment conference yesterday.
Corruption was highlighted during the conference as one of the top ten issues of concern for investors and on Thursday, President Donald Ramotar said that government does not get enough credit for its efforts to deal with corruption in the face of only “perceptions”. The President’s comments followed remarks by Devine that countries that condone or do not have effective preventive measures in place to stop corruption will lose investors.
The issue of corruption in government has come under increasing scrutiny, most recently highlighted by former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran, who said that the PPP is under the spell of corrupt groups. Ramkarran, who left the PPP over concerns about corruption, wrote in his weekly column that the administration is reluctant to do anything about corruption owing to its links with three discrete groups which finance the PPP’s leadership and fuel graft, including a group of wealthy and influential businessmen with high political connections who profit from insider information.
“Particular actions can be taken in order to be able to address perceptions and that’s the challenge for every government to be able to put those types of actions in place,” Devine said yesterday.
Questioned by Stabroek News, he had said that corruption was identified as “one of the top ten areas” in the range of issues brought out at the conference. “Bribery and corruption is something that is endemic in every single country in the world,” he stated. The difference is how a country chooses to deal with it, he added.
The Canadian envoy said that the challenge is how to effectively deal with the issue with the proper structures and institutions in place; proper regulatory reform, enforcement and those sorts of elements. “It’s an issue, there’s no question but as I said it is an issue along with a range of other issues as well,” he added.
‘Open, frank discussions’
The Canadian High Commission had taken the lead in organising the two-day conference under the theme ‘Maximising Opportunities for Investment in Guyana.’ The conference focused on enhancing Guyana’s economic prosperity by identifying the challenges and opportunities facing foreign and local investment in Guyana. No government representative was present at the closing press conference yesterday and when asked about this, Devine said there was no intention to exclude anyone. “They have their own interests… they weren’t excluded nor invited,” he said.
US Ambassador to Guyana D Brent Hardt was the other official present at the conference.
Earlier, Devine had noted that the goal of the conference was to maximise opportunities for investment in Guyana. He said one of the most important reasons for the conference was that there had been representation from ministers and even the President who repeatedly said that government wanted to see more Canadian, US, EU, UK and Mexican business and investment.
The Canadian diplomat said that during the discussions, the various stakeholders looked at the various challenges and opportunities for investing in Guyana and they were delighted at the presentations. “I am confident that any participant who engaged in the entire conference would conclude quite positively that it offered a well-balanced look at the advantages and opportunities available to investors in Guyana and the ways in which the investment climate can be further enhanced,” Devine stated.
He said that in some cases, there were comments by some that were perhaps misunderstood that the conference was designed to be an opportunity for Guyana; a chance to brand Guyana as a hot destination for investment. After making reference to bribery and corruption and trafficking in persons, Devine said that when speaking about investment “it’s very important that all of the issues be on the table” and “you have to talk about the entirety of that.” This is the key message that he wants to deliver, Devine said.
“We clearly welcome open, frank discussion on all the issues related to investment and this conference I think has helped put many of those issues on the table. This will only have value however if all stakeholders take what was discussed and develop it further and clearly look at enhancing investment planning,” the diplomat added. He said they will look to share the substance of many of the presentations with the public and summarise key findings for future actions.
Meantime, Hardt said that all of Guyana should be pleased with the number of presenters who offered views in critical areas. He noted that US companies have invested and he will continue to work to bring American companies to Guyana. The ambassador said, “I also know however that there have been American companies who have come here and have been interested in investing and have for a variety of reasons decided not to invest and these are business decisions based on, as David said, many factors. It could be red tape, it could be safety and security, it could be other things, profit margins…so our goal was to try to figure out in those cases how could Guyana have done better in tracking that investment” or in getting investors who may not have even come down to explore, to look at Guyana and say this looks like an attractive destination, he said.
The US ambassador said he thought the conference had done so and he looks forward to working with government and the private sector to promote closer economic ties and trade.
Meantime, Devine said that among the main challenges identified for investing in Guyana were the cost of energy and bandwidth, among others.
Asked what made the conference different from others previously held, Devine said that they tried to look at partnerships involving government, the private sector and private companies “a broad coalition of interest.” He said it was a beginning and they want to be able to look at perhaps some follow-ups. Participation was intense, he said. “We’ve tried to be able to make it as broadly based, participatory as we possibly can,” and this is what makes the conference different,” Devine said.