December 28, 1999
From all indications President Bharrat Jagdeo's presentation to potential investors at the annual Miami conference on the Caribbean was well received and there were many contacts made.
It was reported that out of the conference a Trinidadian firm is eyeing investment here in the fast-growing informatics sector and other companies are also interested as long as satellite facilities exist. While quite important, these potential openings emerge at chance meetings like the Miami forum and are far and few between.
If the Beal Aerospace Technologies satellite launching venture takes off it will be the single most significant investment lassoed - in terms of sum invested and project importance - by the PPP/Civic since it entered office in 1992. Beal's interest was, however, driven by its own investigation and after having encountered difficulty in Anguilla renewed its interest in the Guyana site. It was not a case of Guyana actively canvassing for this investment even after the initial approach was made by Beal. If this investment is as important as it is being advertised at the moment, the government and its investment arm should have done more to win it otherwise it could have easily been lost to Anguilla or some other location. It is only the eminently suitable attributes of the Waini site that holds the interest of the investors. It is a captive investment in a sense.
While a satellite space port might not be on the list of traditional investment projects for most countries it demonstrates the scope for attracting investors across a broad spectrum and it behoves the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) now merged with the Guyana Export Promotion Council to buckle down to the task of marketing Guyana.
The government and Go-Invest must draw up a blueprint of the most feasible investments (farming, agro-processing, light manufacturing?) that could be made here and tilt the fiscal incentives regime in favour of these. These areas would also have to be matched to the availability of labour and skills levels here. Can Guyana, for example, provide a sufficiently large and skilled labour pool for a big investment in informatics tomorrow? The peculiarities of investing in Guyana would also have to be considered: limited transportation infrastructure, unreliable essential services etc.
Once hammered out, Go-Invest should seek out investments for these sectors in the Caribbean and further afield by advertising viable proposals through Guyana's missions abroad or by convening an investing-in-Guyana seminar and inviting companies which are known to be looking for investment possibilities.
Countries such as Mauritius have drawn large, economy-spurring investments by adopting a proactive stance on investment. It is this outlook that Guyana's investment arm needs.
It will require a millennial change in thinking by this government which often seems hung up on a dollar-a-year mentality rather than taking the longer view. A classic example was the recent travel expo where the government failed to help local tour operators in capitalising on a good opportunity to showcase Guyana's tourism market in London.
Go-Invest would have to be peopled with skilled investment officers and given a budget commensurate with its mandate.
There are also other prerequisites. The long-awaited investment code and guide together with a comprehensive policy need to be finally put in place. It makes little sense for the government to mount ambitious campaigns at fora like Miami only to go red in the face when a serious investor stands up and asks for copies of the country's investment code and other promotional material.
The government should sit down with the private sector and other interest groups and devise a scheme to market investment opportunities here and provide Go-Invest with the tools to do the job.
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