Government is working to put in place all legislative and institutional frameworks necessary for the burgeoning oil and gas sector, according to Business Minister Gaskin, who has cautioned that it is the private sector which is at risk of being ill-prepared for the changing business climate.
Gaskin issued the warning last Friday evening at the opening of the 14th Berbice Expo and Trade Fair, where he assured the gathering that the government of Guyana is implementing initiatives to ensure Guyanese and the economy benefit from the country’s oil.
According to Gaskin, he has knowledge of what the government is doing and, therefore, he knows firsthand that Guyana is close to being where it needs to be. “In spite of all the gloom, doom and negativity, things are taking shape,” he said.
Gaskin noted that Guyana’s oil was only discovered some three years ago, hence the expectation that the country should by now have had world-class institutional and legislative arrangements in place to govern this sector is “unrealistic and even a bit foolish.”
He stated that government is now working to put the necessary framework in place, which include the “Department of Energy, Sovereign Wealth Fund, Local Content Policy, financial sector reform, enhanced revenue and trade facilitation systems and many other initiatives and programmes to ensure that Guyana’s oil will benefit Guyanese people and the Guyanese economy.”
Additionally, Gaskin pointed out that these developments are all occurring within the bigger framework of the Green State Development Strategy, which will guide Guyana’s development over the next few decades. “I am not worried about government,” the Minister stated, “but I am a lot more concerned about the private sector.”
He opined that standards and quality have been ignored in Guyana for a very long time “and we have manage[d] to get away with it, but now it is coming back to haunt us because the big international companies that are coming here to do business because of what is happening in the petroleum sector don’t want to do business or are not allowed to do business with individuals and companies who do not meet certain standards in the way they are managed and in the good[s] and services they provide.”
He called on businesses within Guyana to “shape up” and prepare themselves in order to qualify to take advantage of the opportunities that are ahead. “Right now it is very important that we focus on implementing standards and improving the quality and consistency of what we do because Guyana is at a junction and we can go right or we can go wrong,” he said. “If we go right, we can enjoy a bigger share of the benefits of the oil that we own and if we go wrong, we may lose out on a lot of those benefits and others will end up enjoying them for us.”
The minister stated that Guyana has a problem which a lot of countries would be happy to have. He said the country has a lot of opportunities ahead which citizens are not yet prepared to take advantage of. “When I say we, I mean both the government and the private sector because we are in this thing together; it is Guyana’s oil and together we have to find a way to maximise the benefits of that oil,” he stated.
Gaskin explained that while the government of the day will get money to improve education, health care, security, roads and more within the country, businesses within the country must also get contracts to provide the goods and services that the oil industry will need. “Our entrepreneurs must start positioning themselves for what is going to happen within all sectors when Guyana starts to produce oil,” he stated.
He stressed that “not everyone has to be an oil man or an oil woman as there will be an increased demand for construction, transportation, maintenance, food, almost anything that businesses are currently doing, currently providing, will be required on a larger scale and more importantly, at a higher quality and with better consistency”.
In that vein, Minister Gaskin stated that the theme for the Berbice expo, ‘Advancing Economic Progress through Professional Standards and Entrepreneurship’, is one which needs closer attention over the coming years because Guyana cannot afford to lose sight of the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead. He said, “We know that things are happening that will lift us into a whole new level of existence, it is coming, it is coming our way and it is coming very quickly.”
Meanwhile, he also pointed out that regional expositions can help prepare businesses for participation in international trade shows and said his ministry would like to improve its collaboration with the organizers of regional expos in order to bring out the best “each of our region[s] has to offer” in order to present it to buyers..
From ‘glory to gloom’
Even as the Minister called for citizens to increase their capacity to adapt and cater to the transitioning sector within their respective roles, Poonai Bhigroog, the President of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, gave an address which highlighted the crippling changes already being undergone by the ancient county, in its current transitional state.
Delivering a fiery speech at the opening ceremony, Bhigroog stated that the economic landscape of Berbice and the entire country is presently undergoing significant changes. He said that with the closure of several sugar estates, persons might term it going from “glory to gloom” because of the ripple effects which are far and wide. “Our fishing industry continues to be at high risk, one, with many acts of piracy committed over the years; we now see a decline in this industry, fishermen are scared to go out to sea,” he noted.
According to the Chamber President, there is no market for livestock farmers, retail businesses, and market vendors, and other sectors are also presently seeing a decline in sales, which has resulted in several businesses either closing or downsizing.
Bhigroog highlighted that after the opening of Black Bush Polder and the new Skeldon Estate, no other significant government investment was made to open new lands within Region Six to “invest in agriculture on a large scale” so that schemes could be developed and employment could be generated for youth.
Bhigroog, pondering on how various sectors could use their experience to advance economic growth within the regions in order to “move from gloom to glory”, called on entrepreneurs to think differently, work consistently and be competitive, so as to position themselves to benefit directly from the opportunities ahead.
Regional Chairman of Region Six, David Armogan, who was also present at the opening, called for more investments from central government into Region Six.
Armogan stressed that it is time to stop focusing on just sugar and rice and look at other resources within the region. “We have to diversify our economic base in this region to make sure that when these primary commodities suffer a decline or suffer a price adjustment we do not get the kind of shock that we get today,” he said.
He stated that although these are “trying times,” Guyanese must become resilient and find new opportunities and avenues for development.