A welcome investment Editorial
Stabroek News
April 7, 2003

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In these very difficult economic circumstances, every new investment counts whether large or small, whether inward or foreign. And given the ongoing political instability and runaway crime it is sometimes unfathomable that investors are still willing to give this country an opportunity.

We therefore welcome the conclusion on Friday of a US$20M investment which will see a new entrant - Cel*Star - in the telecommunications sector. The investment was sealed with the signing of an interconnection agreement with the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T). Apart from the size of the investment, the deal is positive in two other senses, it increases competition in the red-hot cellular phone sector and will open up opportunities in other parts of the country for Guyanese to stay in touch with each other. With the signing of the deal, the company is expected to begin erecting 21 transmission towers across the country and initially 50 jobs will be created in the core activities of the US-based company.

As with GT&T's own cellular operations and those of its competitor in Berbice, Cel*Star will add connectivity opportunities for thousands of other Guyanese who are unable to own landlines because of the limited expansion in this area. The cellular phone has given the small man and woman an opportunity to tap the benefits of the telecommunications industry. Their only challenge is finding a way to manage the ever shrinking pool of disposable income which cellular phone charges can be a huge burden on. Nevertheless, in the context of the continuing drive towards the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, the entry of a new player is always important.

There are of course burgeoning downstream opportunities in the information technology sector and this is the area that telecoms liberalisation will be aimed. While wage rates tend to be at the lower end of the market, call centres are still a big opportunity in the Caribbean and while a few have already been set up here there is much room for growth. Jamaica is now scrambling to find new real estate in Kingston to cope with growing demands after the No.1 choice - Montego Bay - ran out of space. The problem for Kingston is that investors are nervous about relocating there because of the crime and palpable political violence and skirmishing. It is an ideal lesson for us.

While the government here says a whole range of new investments is in the pipeline, the risk associated with crime and political instability in the capital and on the East Coast, in particular, will pose a significant problem. The two men who hold the key to creating an enabling environment for investors are President Jagdeo and the new PNCR Leader Mr Corbin. The country needs to see more engagements between the two leaders reflective of last Friday's meeting at Parliament on the Appointments Committee rather than the protest that was mounted by the PNCR during the government's presentation of the 2003 budget.

For the sake of the country, it is hoped that the two leaders could finally meet shortly to embark on their own journey of political dialogue with the interest of the country at heart. The pressing challenge for the two is finding a modus vivendi for navigating the crime problem. The turbulence and extreme violence in Buxton over the last few days is a classic example of the danger posed to the entire village by playing host to gangs of criminals who owe nothing to lawfulness and whose sole compass point is the gun. This outlawry cannot continue to flourish in circumstances where the country faces a host of economic and political problems which will only worsen unless the entire nation gets behind the wheel of the state. There are many other communities throughout the country as impoverished and deprived as Buxton is. But as many others have pointed out, they have not loaned themselves to armed criminals and turned their backs on the rule of law. Buxton and the neighbouring village of Friendship have.

When the two leaders meet, a common stand on the crime situation must be a top priority. It could be the difference between more investments like Cel*Star or a slide into further anarchy and hopelessness.

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