I was taken aback by the leading front-page headline of Stabroek News of 19th December, 2017. The headline read, ‘Loss of US$5M investment must not be allowed to happen again -Finance Minister’. The Minister of Finance was speaking at the launching of the Burger King franchise at Camp and Regent Streets. The ensuing article quotes Minister Jordan as saying: “We note, with disbelief and distress the loss of a US$5 million investment to Trinidad and Tobago, by a world-renowned Guyanese businessman, whose only crime appeared to have been being the cousin of now Hon Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan”.
Let me say immediately, that it is quite ironic for Minister Jordan to speculate about the alleged loss to Guyana of a US$5 million investment, but at the same time, steadfastly refuse to deposit into the Consolidated Fund, US$18 million actually received from ExonMobil which is stashed in a secret account at the central bank.
Back to the Minister’s speech. I know the businessman to whom Minister Jordan refers. I was quite shocked by his allegations against the PPP government. Before and while I was in government, I encouraged this businessman to invest in Guyana. We had long conversations on this issue. After reading the article, I spoke with former Minister of Housing and Business, Mr Irfaan Ali, who informed me that he never received any application from this businessman in relation to the several “expressions of interest” which the Ministry of Housing issued over the years inviting commercial applications for lands along the East Bank of Demerara, or at any of the industrial sites. In fact, Mr Ali indicated that our government worked closely with a nephew of this businessman who launched a similar line of products in Guyana, a few years ago.
Additionally, former President, Mr Donald Ramotar, also informed me that he met with this businessman in St Lucia and personally invited him to invest in Guyana, offering his government’s assistance where necessary. I also know that this businessman enjoyed good relations with former President, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo, as well. Indeed, the Minister must be aware that this investment was launched in Trinidad less than a month ago. The PPP/C left office over two-and-a-half years ago. The businessman’s cousin is and has been a Vice-President and minister of this government for over two-and-a-half years. Yet this was insufficient to attract the businessman to make his investment in Guyana.
In fact, in the following day’s edition of the Stabroek News, the current head of Go-Invest, Mr Owen Verwey, contradicts Minister Jordan. Mr Verwey opined that this businessman made demands which could not be met. He further cited the cost of energy as amongst the factors why Guyana was not chosen as the investment destination by this businessman. Minister Jordan ought to know that the cost per kilowatt for electricity in Trinidad is five times less than in Guyana. Still the Trinidad government subsidizes electricity for its manufacturing sector. In contrast, Minister Jordan has removed subsidies and has imposed VAT on electricity. Perhaps had the APNU+AFC not killed the Amaila Falls Hydro Project that investment could have been made in Guyana.
Minster Jordan should recognize that since his government took office, no new investment of worth has come to these shores. Worse yet, since he assumed stewardship of the economy it has been progressively declining at such a rate that there is hardly any hope that his government would attract any worthy investments in the near future. Certainly, he has been unable to speak of any in his 4 budget speeches thus far. In contradistinction, they are replete with stagnating and declining performances in almost every one of the productive sectors. So much so, that Minister Jordan spent nearly 35 minutes in his closing address in the 2018 Budget debates, speaking about the importance of plantain chips and cook-up rice to the Guyanese economy, espousing them as critical bases of our manufacturing sectors. Therefore, the state to which Guyana’s economy has descended may also be the reason why we lost that investment.
As a longstanding former employee of the Ministry of Finance, Minister Jordan must be able to recall how minuscule the private sector was before 1992. Dr Cheddi Jagan was able to assemble almost the entire private sector in a small room at a city hotel before the 1992 elections. Minister Jordan would recall that Guyana did not have a single contractor with the capacity to do substantial infrastructural work of any kind. Contractors were imported from Trinidad and Tobago. The private sector, as we know it today, grew and blossomed in an encouraging and conducive atmosphere created by successive PPP/C administrations. Local businessmen and entrepreneurs, including those who support this government, who are reading this can reflect for themselves where their businesses were in 1992, where they were in May 2015 and where they are now.
Every sector of this country was transformed. The banking and financial sector was modernized and grew to its largest during this period with the entry of several new banks into the system, spreading their branches to corners of Guyana where people never dreamt banks would be located. The nation witnessed new foreign investments in the bauxite sector and the gold and diamond sector as never seen before. Today, two gold mines are operating here for the first time in our history. The local gold and diamond mining sector grew exponentially, producing for the first time a large number of large local operators. The forestry sector has seen similar foreign and local investments and has grown astronomically. The rice sector grew from 90,000 tonnes of paddy in 1990 to 690,000 tonnes by the end of 2014. Even Region 9 attracted large scale rice cultivation from a foreign investor. The Marriott brand came to Guyana during this period. It was during the PPP/C administration that mega investors such as CGX and ExonMobil came to Guyana and placed Guyana on the map of the world as a potential oil producer of immense capacity. The huge Chinese companies that are now building highways and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport are also the products of this period. Were the Amaila Falls Project not chopped down by the APNU+AFC, we would have had another mega US multi-million investment from Blackstone, a world-renowned operator in the hydro-power industry. The 40-year-old monopoly imposed upon the backs of Guyanese by the Desmond Hoyte administration in the telecommunications sector was broken by the PPP/C government, which saw the entry into Guyana of telecommunication giant, Digicel. It was also under the PPP government that a new vista was created which saw the advent and proliferation of major call centre operations in various parts of the country.
The above is certainly not exhaustive, but it contains an indisputable compendium of local and foreign investments which were made in Guyana while the PPP was in government. These investments have not only created thousands of jobs and contributed billions to the treasury, but they have transformed the financial and services landscape of our country. These investments were not conjured up by any magic. They were attracted, nurtured and groomed by an array of prudent government policies and a regime of incentives which conduced to their embryonic evolution and eventual blossoming. Certainly, we may have been able to achieve greater heights and attract more investments had the country not been forced to endure almost a decade of political and social unrest, violence and looting, all inspired by a political motive.
No one can dispute that, thus far, the APNU+AFC coalition government has abysmally failed in the face of such accomplished track record. Indeed, there is not even a basis for comparison.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP