We can be optimistic about the returns from signing the Silk Belt Road Initiative with China

Dear Editor,

I compliment the Chinese on their longstanding support of Guyana and I believe the Government’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China within the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative is the dawn of a progressive new era of relations between the two nations.

It is clear to me that Guyana needs to develop its infrastructure, especially roads and bridges that link the mineral-rich areas with the city, and we simply do not have the funds, expertise and experience  to do this alone. It is good that Guyana can turn to a powerful friend like China to get help with key national development projects.

What I like about China is that their support for Guyana has been consistent throughout the years and has spanned many government administrations. Space does not permit me to cover all their positive interventions, but off the top of my head I can recall the valuable contributions of Chinese medical brigades to our health sector and several donations of much-needed equipment to hospitals.

I remember in 2013 China gave Guyana US$8.16M in grant aid. That is a lot of money and it has grown since then. I also recall with respect and gratitude how they helped us to acquire marine vessels for plying the Essequibo River between Parika and Supenaam. They also assisted with the construction of the Guyana International Conference Centre and funded multiple scholarships and training and capacity building in a wide variety of areas. Furthermore, they provided millions of dollars in equipment and vehicles for the Guyana Police Force.

That is why I extend blessings and praises to the Chinese for making Guyana a partner in the billion-dollar Silk Road Initiative. I am pleased that the first funds are earmarked to upgrade the road from Linden to Lethem, which is often in a deplorable condition with maintenance costs running into tens of millions of dollars annually.

It makes good sense to me that, instead of constantly spending this kind of money in a losing battle to keep the road in good order, Guyana may be able to get funding to fix and strengthen the road by

activating a solid relationship with China that is based on over four decades of goodwill and cooperation between our nations.

Some countries are saying that partnering with China in the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative has left them up to their ears in debt.  I do not see Guyana going along that route. My advice to Government is: instead of taking out loans, try to utilise the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT)  system for this project with China and give the Chinese a 20-year reprieve on taxes.

This would mean we would not become saddled with debt. After a few decades, the road will be transferred to the government and people of Guyana. If we play our cards right, we will have millions of dollars in oil wealth pouring in, so by then we will be able to afford the maintenance costs.

The Linden to Lethem road must also have a modern technological system for tolls for those using the road, including loggers, miners and others. People will not mind paying a toll since the money will be used to upkeep the roadway. Some of the money could also be used for other roads and highways, for example a new express toll road linking the Mahaica area to the airport. I remember the late Hugh Desmond Hoyte, in his vision with the reform component of the PNC, had shown how such a project could have been done if the party was elected to govern.  My advice to this Government is to relive that vision of my hero, the late President Hugh Desmond Hoyte.

By giving my support to this project, I am not saying we should just accept any offer we get from the international donor community of powerful nations who have their own agendas. I am saying that with our upcoming oil revenue we will have greater capacity to meet our repayment commitments for essential development projects, so we can go after more external funding. 

We don’t know what the future holds, so we have to be cautious, but I believe that we can be optimistic about the returns from signing the Silk Belt Road Initiative with China. I believe we have learned a lot from tough lessons in the recent past concerning deals with international partners to be able to assess and monitor a new project of this nature.

I feel a sense of pride to know that Guyana is the first country in South America and the first English-speaking Caribbean country to sign such a treaty with China because it shows that we have insight and vision. I believe both nations realise that it is in their interest to make this venture a showpiece for the world and Guyana should press for funding of other important projects under this initiative.

Kudos to Guyana and China for maintaining their mutually beneficial relationship and securing the basis of an exciting way forward for the well-being of both nations.

Yours faithfully,

Roshan Khan Snr.

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