Chairman of the Private Sector Commission Ron Webster yesterday praised the construction sector for its contribution to the national economy and he called for a body to oversee it to ensure that there are high standards maintained.
“The investment in the construction of a home which for most Guyanese is the single largest investment of their lives should not be dependent solely on the integrity of the contractor,” he said.
And he said that there is much more that could be done by the commercial banks to increase home ownership in Guyana and called for there to be a body to ensure that contractors deliver quality work. Webster was speaking at the opening ceremony of the fourth annual International Building Expo, which is being held on the forecourt of the Guyana National Stadium, Providence.
Held under the theme “Consolidating partnerships for Sustainable Develop-ment,” Building Expo is being staged until tomorrow and will have over 100 local, regional and international exhibitors. Some of the countries which have exhibitions include Suriname, Brazil, Canada, China and Malaysia.
Housing Minister Irfaan Ali said that the much-vaunted Silica City at Kuru Kuru will have an eco-tourism hub, a commercial zone, a residential hub. He said that it will be an empowered community where people will be able to generate their own employment.
“We believe that with the right infrastructure mix, with the proper public transportation system, we could create the right incentive, we will create the right environment in which this investment can be made and be made in a sustainable manner,” said the Minister.
Webster said that Silica City could be used as a model for eco-community, “since it would appear to fit in very well with our Low Carbon Development [Strategy], which the private sector fully supports.” “What is really impressive is the increase in mortgage credit to the private sector, from $27.3 billion in 2009 to $45.7 billion in 2012,” he said. “What it indicates after adjustment for inflation is a direct increase in home ownership,” Webster said.
He said that globally, the construction and real estate sectors are vital to economic growth. “And the provision of the infrastructure necessary to enable and support national development now and into the future [is also vital],” he said. “The importance of this sector can be better appreciated when we consider its ranking…in 2012 the construction industry overall took the number four spot in contribution to GDP, after agriculture, wholesale and retail and mining,” he said. He said that for the preceding two years, construction held the number three spot.
“[Some] of the driving forces in any economy are road construction and major government projects and that applies anywhere,” he said.
Webster said the success of the housing industry has to do in part with the willingness of the commercial banking sector to provide low mortgage loans. “I have asked the commercial banks to seek ways of being able to develop their financing products and offer longer mortgage periods at lower costs,” he said.
He said that the introduction of tax relief on mortgage interest payments for first-time home owners will be significant because of the way that mortgages are structured. “The early repayment costs are primarily interest payments hence offer attractive tax deductions,” he said.
Minister Ali said that it is only through the completion of major projects that the country will develop, saying that the building and construction sector and the private sector will grow when demand is stimulated.
He said that the Marriott Hotel, the new highways and other projects in the country must be pushed forward “if we are to create the enabling environment to determine the progress, growth and expansion of the economy.”
He said, “We must remove all the blocks, we must remove all the stops and we must hold hands together…for the future of Guyana.”
“I say tonight that we cannot sleepwalk into the future. We must understand the challenges that lie in the future,” Ali said.
“It is for this reason that Silica City was born…we recognised there is competing demand for land along the coastline. We have 80 percent of our population living on 20 percent of our land. We know that we are at the breaking point in terms of finding new land for the expansion of industry, commerce and housing. But we are not going to just know this fact and sit back. It is for this reason that we are pushing the idea of Silica City,” the Minister said. “The vision of Silica City may seem an impossible task but I wish to assure all my brothers and sisters that we have started and we will not stop until we have realised the worth and wealth of Silica City,” he said. He called for persons in attendance to share their ideas in terms of investment for Silica City.
Prime Minister Sam Hinds, performing the functions of President, who arrived just as he was slated to give the feature address, spoke of the achievements of the present Government in housing over the last 20 years.
Hinds said, “We have been able to achieve over the last 20 years reasonable growth and development.”
Noting that Guyana had not done well during the 1970s and 1980s, things had started to look up during the early 1990s, “when the PPP/C administration came into office.”
“There was so much to do but not much in the national coffers,” he said. “Most of all there was a great need for housing and to rehabilitate schools and health centres.”
He said that housing and building in general has been the country’s leading economic sector over the last 20 years, providing focus and stimulating and leading activities across the economy and transferring landscapes.
“As we open this International Building Expo 2013 allow me to retrace quickly along the path we came to where we arrive today. There is much that we could learn from looking back and from which we could draw the assurance that whatever will come our way we can overcome,” he said.
Noting that housing and infrastructure are major economic activities, Hinds said that they could lead to persons being motivated to save and could also stimulate demand throughout the economy.