'Call me'

From Sharief Khan,
Chronicle Editor-in-Chief
Guyana Chronicle
December 11, 1999

MIAMI - President Bharrat Jagdeo topped a key pitch to a large gathering of investors here yesterday by giving out his personal office telephone number and urging them to call him if they run into problems trying to invest in the country.

The action-oriented thrust of his message drew sustained applause from top United States and other business executives and other participants at the 23rd annual Miami conference on the Caribbean and Latin America which wrapped up here yesterday.

He won the hearts of his audience by his open and frank approach from the moment he announced he was discarding his prepared speech, declaring "we are here to do business" and gave out the names, e-mail address and telephone numbers of the key persons in charge of dealing with potential investors.

The packed luncheon gathering at the Inter-Continental Hotel burst into prolonged cheers when he gave his personal telephone number and invited those who encountered problems in moving to invest in Guyana to "call me".

He also warmed himself more to delegates at the conference sponsored by the Washington-based Caribbean Latin America Action group by agreeing to field questions after his address.

After his address, delegates queued up to shake hands with the President, who, at 35, is the youngest head of state in the hemisphere.

President Jagdeo, noting that Guyana has been dogged by misconceptions in the past, urged business people and others to judge his government "by the policies we have been adopting".

Outlining the "significant changes" in Guyana in recent years, he said these formed the base for preparing the country for globalisation and referred to the "strong efforts" at macro-economic management the government had embarked on.

Mr Jagdeo noted that state companies have dwindled under the privatisation programme and that there have been significant reforms in the financial sector "because the government has recognised that it had to give more room for private sector involvement."

Repeating a pitch he made to another business group Thursday at a luncheon at Fort Lauderdale, he stressed that Guyana is one of the freest economies in Latin America and the Caribbean with all trade and exchange rate restrictions removed.

He said the legal and regulatory framework within which companies operate was being reformed and the administration has "simplified the process for investing".

The President assured that he placed "high priority" on investment, stating that it was working in partnership with the private sector and the incentives regime has been significantly improved.

Billing Guyana as the ideal gateway for the Caribbean to Latin America, Mr Jagdeo said the government has been developing infrastructural linkages to South America, including pushing the road to Brazil, plans to build a bridge over the Berbice River and expanding ties with Latin America.

Noting that Guyana was not much known internationally, is often confused with African countries and often remembered for the November 1978 mass murder suicide of some 914 Americans in the People's Temple cult in Jonestown in the North West District, he invited potential investors to visit the country and see for themselves what's happening.

There are "numerous (and) great opportunities" for investment, he pointed out, listing areas including agriculture in the Intermediate Savannahs, the expanding eco-tourism sector and infrastructure schemes.

As part of the thrust to lure more investment, the President yesterday afternoon formally opened a Guyana Trade Office in Fort Lauderdale.

He said there are plans to open more in Brooklyn and Queens in New York, and the office in Trinidad and Tobago is being improved.

Mr Jagdeo led a government-private sector delegation to the Miami conference. Among those in the team are Trade, Tourism and Industry Minister, Mr Geoff Da Silva; Presidential Advisor, Mr Kellawan Lall; Guyana's Honorary Consul in Miami, Mr Hilton Ramcharitar; Head of the Private Sector Commission, Mr George Jardim and leading businessman, Mr Yesu Persaud.

Most of the private sector delegation members have welcomed the President's outreach in Miami, saying he has touched the right notes and made the correct pitch.

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