GO-Invest in makeover mode

- strategic plan to refocus state trade, investment agency, operations to be relocated

Potential investors who had previously engaged the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-Invest) are being encouraged to reopen those investment enquiries as the agency enters its retooling phase to better position itself to respond to government’s accelerated focus on creating an enhanced enabling environment for foreign investment.

At the same time, the agency’s recently appointed Chief Executive Officer Owen Verwey told Stabroek Business that potential investors with new applications should visit and engage the agency with a view to pursuing their business interests.

In an extended interview with this newspaper on Wednesday, Verwey said that the immediate focus of the agency is on positioning itself to become optimally equipped to pursue its mandate with significantly enhanced effectiveness. Going forward, some of the priority initiatives that will be undertaken to move GO-Invest in that direction are the relocation of the agency’s operations to premises that can offer an environment and facilities that are better able to more effectively deliver the services expected on the country’s key investment and trade promotion agency. While confirming that a firm decision had already been taken on relocating GO-Invest, Verwey said he was not yet in a position to provide further details on either a time frame for the move or the alternative location.

And accordingly to Verwey, the remodelling of the state investment and trade agency, which has long faced public criticism in the face of charges that it was failing to fulfil its mandate, will include moves to significantly upgrade the capacity of its staff members through a sustained training regime aimed at ensuring that its human resource capacity adequately matches the needs of the organization.

Meanwhile, the new GO-Invest CEO told Stabroek Business that the country’s key investment promotion agency will indeed function as a “one-stop agency” even though he made it clear that the title was not intended to suggest that GO-Invest would be operating in isolation from the various other key state agencies whose services are essential to the effective and complete processing of

investment applications. “We would like GO-Invest to function as much as possible as a one-stop agency and we try to do this as much as we can. However, some matters require discussions and interface between the potential investors and the specific agencies such as the Guyana Forestry Commission, the Lands Surveys Division, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Guyana Revenue Authority,” Verwey said.

He said, however, that the services provided by the agency would include interfacing with the various other relevant state-run agencies to help facilitate a smooth process. “Where there is no need for that interface we will facilitate that process fully,” he added.

Who would fill the position of CEO at GO-Invest had been the subject of speculation ever since the APNU-AFC administration assumed office in April last year and Verwey, a Land Economist who served as a Planning Officer at the State Planning Secretariat before migrating in 2002, told the Stabroek Business that the current focus of GO-Invest includes communicating to potential investors opportunities and any specific projects that might be available here. “Additionally, we are actively highlighting to the international markets that Guyana is open for business, that we are business-friendly with several fiscal and concessionary incentives to investors and we have no restrictions on foreign exchange, capital reparations and that foreign and domestic investors receive equitable treatment to establish, own and operate businesses.”

Verwey said GO-Invest is seeking to highlight that Guyana has an abundance of natural resources “that are available for utilization or underutilized.”

GO-Invest will be stepping up its collaboration with Guyana’s diplomatic missions abroad as well as with strategic partners in the diaspora and in the investment industry. “The diplomatic missions have always been supportive of promotional activities for GO-Invest and Guyana… In continuing this we intend to equip the mission staff with the relevant information so that they can better guide potential investors and recognize opportunities for GO-Invest,” Verwey said, adding that in some North American markets the agency will be seeking to partner with others to promote the opportunities available in Guyana “at targeted forums.”

Regionally, Verwey said, GO-Invest will be “using the Caribbean Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (CAIPA) which is very resourceful in the industry to gain access to potential investors and networks, especially those already interested in the Caribbean and Guyana to message our opportunities directly.”

And in a brief comment on the expanded role of the investment promotion agency, he said it will continue to participate in trade fairs but would be doing so “with renewed energy and enhanced networking in the various sectors.” There have been instances in the past when GO-Invest-led delegations to regional and international trade fairs and exhibitions have fallen short of participants’ expectations.

Meanwhile, GO-Invest is promising local entrepreneurs “more support in their quest for external markets” through the enhancement of “awareness of market opportunities and information to support their preparation to access these opportunities,” according to Verwey. Staff at the agency will be increasing their focus on export promotion in order to inform exporters and potential exporters of opportunities. These initiatives, will be provided through the use of online platforms such as LAC Flavors, Correct Americas and Outsource2LAC that offer direct linkages with exporters and buyers. Additionally, GO-Invest will be seeking to work other government agencies through the Ministry of Business to, as far as possible, “improve the efficiency of the process of exporting, especially perishable products,” he added.

Asked whether GO-Invest would seek to address expeditiously the frequent criticism of the pace at which it expedites investment enquiries, Verwey said that this was recognized as a challenge to be overcome and has been addressed “significantly” in the past five weeks. “Firstly, we aim to respond to all initial enquiries within three business days with an acknowledgement and, where possible, additional guidance and information. Secondly, we have put mechanisms and procedures in place for interagency processing of applications… Finally, the Board of Directors has been expanded to ensure adequate representation of government agencies and businesses and to ensure that staff have relevant contacts in overcoming processing challenges,” he added.

GO-Invest, he said, had also put systems in place “to ensure that applicants are aware of the information required, the necessary agency involved in their application and the expected processing timelines.”

Verwey anticipates new challenges for GO-Invest associated with what he said was “a significant increase in the number of projects coming to the office” in addition to those that were “seeking a reopening of their old files” as well as those that had experienced delays on account of incomplete information.

Asked whether the country could anticipate an expanded GO-Invest on his watch, Verwey said some measure of change could be anticipated to meet the needs of an entity that was in the process of transformation. “As with any revitalized agency some realignment and resource adaptation is required,” he said.

Meanwhile, the agency will shortly begin to draft its strategic plan out of which will come information related to resource adaptation. “GO-Invest has committed staff and there are significant expectations from investors and the wider business community. We will have to ensure that those expectations are met,” Verwey said.

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