The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica; Governors; President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB); Vice Presidents; Directors; Distinguished Delegates; Ladies and Gentlemen.
Permit me to extend my deepest appreciation to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for its continued collaboration and engagement with the Government of Guyana (GoG). I should also like to use this opportunity to congratulate the Bank’s President, Dr Warren Smith, on his unanimous re-election to a second 5-year term. Through his proven leadership, we are assured that the Bank will continue its commitment to support the development agenda of its Borrowing Member Countries.
On May 11, 2015, the people of Guyana ushered in a new Government of a coalition of parties to govern their affairs. This is the first opportunity, therefore, of this coalition of democratic forces to address the Governor’s Meeting, and outline our strategic agenda for development of Guyana and its engagement and partnership with the Bank in pursuit of that agenda.
This 46th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Bank is being held at a time when there is a crisis of confidence and great uncertainty in the global economy. Commodity prices and financial markets remain volatile and concerns have intensified over China’s transition to more sustainable and balanced growth. While recent data and policy actions give rise to renewed hope and expectation, recovery of the global economy remains disappointing. The growth rate is at its lowest since 2009 and future growth has been revised downwards. Into these headwinds have sailed the Caribbean economies, whose vulnerability has been exposed by their openness - characterised by their high import dependence and narrow range of exports. In the case of Guyana, growth of 3% was recorded in 2015 and the forecast for 2016 has been pegged at 4.4%. This compares favourably with the regional forecast for Latin America and the Caribbean of less than 1%.
Guyana, which is a commodity dependent country, has a narrow revenue base. As such, like most Caribbean countries, it is operating within inadequate fiscal space and, therefore, has restricted flexibility to re-allocate funds. To expand the fiscal space there will be need to reduce waste and stamp out corruption within the public sector among other measures. We, as a government, have to ensure that our taxpayers’ money is accurately accounted for and spent in the most efficient and productive manner and that we create opportunities for the prosperity of our people, as crafted in our Vision 2020 manifesto. Intrinsic to this strategic trajectory to 2020 and beyond, is the thematic of “A good life in a green economy” underpinned by robust economic growth that is equitably distributed, good governance and environmental sustainability. Guyana Vision 2020 articulates Government’s developmental priorities and central to this is linking the Coastland to the Hinterland through Infrastructural and Social and Human Development.
The Government is promoting greater integration between the hinterland and the coastland of Guyana. The hinterland comprises over three- quarters of Guyana’s territory. In order for Guyana to realize holistic, comprehensive and sustainable development, the Government is focusing on bridging the spatial and developmental divide that exists within the country. In this regard, the Government is currently developing four new towns and is examining several other areas for township. They are expected to become thriving economic centres overtime.
Secondly, the Government is focusing on developing infrastructure. Non-traditional economic activities, particularly value-added industries, often require more sophisticated inputs than traditional primary industries. They need reliable electricity, water, telecommunications, and the ability to transport inputs and outputs. The country’s Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) for 2016 reflects this thrust as Government is investing over 75% of the budgetary allocations in this area. Thirdly, as it relates to renewable energy, the Government continues to pursue a comprehensive energy matrix. It is expected that, by the end of 2016, one of the new towns, Bartica, will become energy self- sufficient with the construction of the first solar energy farm in Guyana. Additionally, the Government has advanced dialogue with investors to establish a 25 megawatt wind farm on the Atlantic Coast of Guyana.
Fourthly, the health and education sectors are being re-examined. Building an educated, healthy workforce is crucial towards ensuring that businesses can find employees with the skills required to contribute meaningfully to their vision and mission. To this end, plans are underway to develop a comprehensive technical and vocational programme; modernize the primary and secondary curricula and institutions; and upgrade the educational programme and facility within the University of Guyana. To respond to health issues of the nation including high infant and maternal mortality; pandemics such as Zika and Chikungunya; and incidences of chronic non-communicable diseases; and suicide, the Government is investing significant resources in expanding health care facilities, with emphasis on maternal and child health; increasing the availability of drugs and medical supplies; and intensifying training, among medical professionals.
To finance the Government’s ambitious programme, there is need to broaden the tax-base, improve tax collection, develop public private initiatives and expand the role of development partners in financing these projects. In this regard, the Government has recently concluded an assessment of the current tax system. The recommendations are being reviewed with the aim of speedy implementation. New policy guidelines for pursuing Public Private Partnerships are being promulgated, while the business environment is being improved to attract greater foreign and domestic investment.
As a founding member of the Bank, we value our relationship with CDB highly. The Bank remains a fundamental development partner in supporting Guyana’s national developmental agenda. In recognition of this, mere months after its accession to Office, the new APNU+AFC Government was extremely pleased to welcome a high-level team, led by the President. Our fruitful engagement led to the rapid preparation of a Mid- Term Review Strategy Paper for Guyana. This Interim Strategy will inform a comprehensive Country Strategy Paper (CSP) for the period, 2017-2020, which will be aligned to our Vision 2020.
Within the context of engagement with the CDB, we wish to acknowledge the Bank’s role in developing and implementing the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) Programme, of which Guyana is a main beneficiary. The BNTF has been a pillar in improving living conditions in rural communities in the country. Community-driven interventions under the programme have assisted in reducing poverty levels through focus on: Education and Human Resources Development; Water and Sanitation; and Community Access Roads. The Government looks forward to the strengthening of the BNTF Programme across the Region. In this regard, the early replenishment of the Special Development Fund (SDF) will signify new hope for the development of catalytic projects which can be designed towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and meeting other international milestones. I salute the efforts of the Bank in exploring options for creating easier terms of borrowing within the Special Development Fund. Guyana supports the recommendations of the Bank to reduce SDF lending rates from 2.5% to 1% for Groups 1 and 2 countries, and from 2% to 1% for Group 3 countries.
The Government also welcomes the Bank’s options for co-financing and is grateful that the Bank is considering this funding mechanism under the UK-CIF and SDF initiatives. This would contribute to increasing the resource envelope available to Guyana in the form of loan co-financed by a grant element.
We are cognisant of the growing CDB portfolio in Guyana and the level of discomfort at the rate of implementation of the projects. We would like to recommend that the Bank reconsiders placing a permanent resident representative in the country. This would release the stress under which the monitoring of the current Investment Portfolio finds itself, as well as improve the efficiency and effectiveness of communication between the Bank and the Government.
As the Government completes its first year in office, we look to partners like the CDB to help us build a green and prosperous Guyana in the coming years.