Every time a government functionary has spoken publicly on the matter of official policy on foreign investment in Guyana it is always the same unchanging story. ‘Guyana is open for investment’—has become a catchphrase, repeated with monotonous regularity—and the various institutions, not least, the Guyana Office For Investment (GO-Invest) stand ready to facilitate visitors to Guyana interested in immersing themselves in those investments which, above everything else, will generate employment.
No one who has an appreciation of the natural resources which this country enjoys (and it is altogether unnecessary to restate those here) would deny that there is really no good reason why Guyana should not be an investment haven. To be sure, these days the country enjoys a handful of prominent foreign investments, primarily in the extractive sectors and information reaches us frequently about other potential investors here in the region and further afield who have had to endure the royal runaround in the course of their investment enquiries. So much so that Guyana had come to be seen as one of those countries that you avoid as far as investing in the region is concerned.
If much of the investment promotion and facilitation has, for several years, revolved, first around GUYMIDA and afterwards, its successor, GO-Invest, there has always been an absence of clarity in the matter of whether GO-Invest, particularly, is an one-stop shop or whether its role is to open doors to the other state agencies responsible for the various types of investment-related inquiries. Part of the problem here (though government is loathe to admit it) is that the creation of a one-stop institution essentially dilutes the influence of the various other state agencies who would otherwise engage would-be investors. It is, of course, unnecessary to spell out the implications of such a circumstance.
Under normal circumstances, it would be easy, by tracking the work of GO-Invest to get a sense of the pace of progress as far as engaging potential investors and expediting investment inquiries are concerned. One would have thought that government would be keen to disseminate information to the public at large as to just how we are faring as far as investment promotion is concerned and what are the outcomes of the various investment inquiries. Not so, it seems and we hasten to ask to be forgiven for dwelling on this particular issue.
We thank the Ministry of Business for making available to us the presentation made by Minister Dominic Gaskin at this week’s Republic Bank forum for regional and local entrepreneurs though it is difficult to overlook the reality that there was really nothing new – from a business and investment standpoint – in what the minister had to say. Coming after the very recent promulgation of the ministry’s five-year strategic plan which sought to lay out a road map for business over the next five years and particularly given what one assumes is a somewhat altered perspective arising out of the country’s recent major oil finds one might have thought that there was an opportunity for a broadening of the parameters of the discourse regarding Guyana’s economic future.
Some early signs of a new kind of economic cooperation between Guyana and other territories in the Caribbean Community are beginning to manifest themselves in the promised signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago which we understand both governments have committed themselves to concluding by year-end. Given the importance of the kind of cooperation in an industry that seems set to play a major role in the Guyana economy in the period ahead it is important that the promised MoU gets signed as soon as possible. Here, one is reminded of course of a promised major agreement between the same two countries in the agriculture sector that ought to have been concluded two years ago but still remains to be finalized. In fact, we were told that the Trinidadian farmers did not like the deal.
The focus, as far as investment promotion is concerned, has been, primarily, on talking the talk. This is not to say that responsibility for the attendant status quo is being placed at Minister Gaskin’s door. It is just that once he grows accustomed to chirping from the same hymn sheet as his predecessors the whole thrust as far as investment promotion is concerned is that potential investors will steer clear of Guyana, whatever blandishments might be on offer.