Remarks as prepared
Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch
Rule of Law as a Foundation for Competitive Business Environment
October 13, 2021
The Honorable Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Mohabir Anil Nandlall,
Kendra Gaither, Executive Director, Coalition for the Rule of Law in Global Markets, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
President of AmCham Guyana Devindra Kissoon,
Members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guyana,
Members of the media,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation and kind introduction. It’s an honor for me to speak to you on the importance of rule of law for sustainable economic growth. Today’s event is auspicious as it comes only a week after the Chamber’s publication of its Global Rule of Law and Business Dashboard 2021. I encourage you all to review the document, available on the U.S. Chamber’s website. I am pleased to report that Guyana’s score has improved.
I hope today’s event will underscore the importance of the five pillars the Chamber uses to measure rule of law in 113 markets: transparency, predictability, stability, accountability, and due process. These are the key factors that drive foreign investment and operations. Based on these findings, the Chamber found a clear linkage between a stable and predictable rule of law environment and high levels of commercial activity. We applaud the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s longstanding commitment to the rule of law as a critical factor to enable private sector-led economic growth and development in the United States and abroad.
The United States has long been a world leader in efforts to combat bribery and corruption, and there are countless examples, large and small, of investigations and prosecutions of public officials and those involved in corrupting them. And, when I talk about corruption, I use Transparency International’s definition – the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.
Given the federal system of government in the United States, the legislative framework for combating corruption, and the related enforcement efforts that exist at the local, state and federal levels, I would like to bring five examples of these laws to your attention:
- Title 18 of the U.S. code enables federal prosecution of public corruption;
- The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 prohibits any U.S. person or company from offering, paying, or promising to pay money to a foreign official to obtain or retain business;
- The Federal Election Campaign Act prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating, or spending funds, directly or indirectly, to any federal, state, or local election;
- The Travel Act makes it a crime to travel across state lines or engage in foreign commerce with the intent of breaking the law; and,
- Presidential Proclamation 7750, which suspends entry into the United States of certain persons who have committed, participated in, or are beneficiaries of significant corruption.
These laws are designed to restrict and punish individuals and public officials from receiving gifts and engaging in illicit commercial activities and financial transactions with foreign governments. U.S. and foreign businesses know that if you want to do business in the U.S. or with U.S. companies, the law matters. And these laws don’t just exist, they are stringently enforced and applied, resulting in billions of dollars in fines and settlements being paid. Clearly, corruption exists everywhere, but how we address it matters. When there is impunity from persecution, the rule of law becomes worthless.
While these laws are important, you cannot discount reputational risk as another important component to doing business; if you or your business are seen as a shady enterprise, your reputation will likely suffer. You may even lose your privilege of traveling to certain countries. That is why it is important to have upstanding business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that have high standards for membership.
And yet, there are many that strive to bend the laws to their own ends, as you may have seen in recent news reports on the Pandora Papers. I want to underscore that President Biden is committed to bringing additional transparency to the United States and international financial systems, including by going after illicit tax havens and making it more difficult for leaders who steal from their people. In June, President Biden issued a memorandum establishing fighting corruption as a core national security interest. Through work responsive to that memorandum, the U.S. Government has elevated efforts to curb illicit and opaque financial transactions at home and abroad, including by reducing offshore financial secrecy and robustly implementing Federal law requiring U.S. companies to report their beneficial owners to the Department of the Treasury.
In Guyana, we at the U.S. Embassy also invoke the U.S. Chamber’s five principles underpinning rule of law: transparency, predictability, stability, accountability, and due process, in addition to implementing international best practices in procurement, and promoting mutually beneficial local partnerships. I see a direct line between the commitment of the international community to the rule of law during Guyana’s 2020 election cycle and the role of these five principals in promoting the rule of law in Guyana’s commercial climate so that it fosters equality, economic growth, and shared prosperity for all Guyanese. If you were serious about peaceful, democratic transition in 2020, then you need to be serious about the economic manifestation of the rule of law now.
The U.S. government also looks forward to a finalized Local Content Policy and amended Natural Resource Fund legislation that charts a clear, realistic path for Guyana, including its citizens, the local private sector, and international investors with knowledge to share. The Local Content Policy should strike a balance between protecting Guyana’s human capital while also creating a welcoming atmosphere for international investors to spur innovation and diversify the economy. If done correctly, the Policy could serve as an incentive to form partnerships and joint ventures that enable both U.S. and Guyanese firms to share expertise, best practices, and profit together across many sectors. Taken together, the Local Content Policy and careful investment from the Natural Resource Fund can foster opportunities for all Guyanese and benefit the entire country. We encourage genuine stakeholder engagement in the development of these and all major government policies to embrace transparency, accountability, and due process.
In Guyana today, there is much to celebrate. This summer I attended the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. The Guyanese booth was by far the most popular, with over 70 Guyanese companies participating, as well as a large government delegation led by Vice President Jagdeo. I lost track of the number of side meetings that were taking place and MOUs that were signed. I expect that the Houston event will result in many additional partnerships with U.S. companies, creating jobs and opportunities for Guyanese who are willing to learn new skills or adapt their existing skillset.
And, as many of you know, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Guyana’s economy grew by over 40 percent in 2020, making it the world’s fastest growing economy and the only country in the Caribbean to register positive GDP growth. In 2021, Guyana’s growth as an oil and gas producing nation is continuing its historic ascent.
But for some Guyanese, the good news on the economy has not yet offered a direct positive impact. Challenges remain, whether it is children struggling with online learning during the pandemic or people waiting in long lines for paperwork or citizens being unable to reach a service provider on the phone.
We also know that both returning members of the diaspora and U.S. business owners coming to Guyana to support development and diversification often face the same challenges. The cost of energy and aging infrastructure require quality investment. If addressed properly, attention to these issues could unlock a new economic boom in manufacturing and value-addition in the agricultural sector.
Guyana is certainly doing its part to address these issues. I applaud the government’s outreach to the United Nations to identify best practices to counter public corruption. The Ali government is very aware that without the right guardrails in place, unscrupulous officials and individuals could misappropriate the country’s oil wealth and direct it away from Guyanese citizens.
Guyana does not just have its energy resources, though, it has its human capital, and I want to emphasize the importance of diversity in securing economic growth. This is not a slogan; it is a call for tangible commitments to diversity in our people, in our membership, and in our leadership. Both the United States and Guyana have rich diversity that has not always been utilized to its maximum benefit. I hope and think maybe we’re ready to leverage our diversity in a more positive direction, for both financial and social benefit for years to come. I want to recognize the importance of mentoring programs that both the U.S. Chamber and Amcham have for young people, because any successful entrepreneur will testify to the importance of mentorship in their success.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Guyana, I want to confirm the Embassy’s willingness and interest in connecting U.S. companies with Guyanese partners. Our bilateral cooperation has endured 55 years, and the future is full of promise and prosperity. We stand ready to assist in arranging contacts and providing consultations. To all of those on line, whether you are in the public or the private sector, I want to underscore the importance of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s five pillars for measuring rule of law and drawing foreign investment. Those pillars are, once again: transparency, predictability, stability, accountability, and due process. If these principles become the routine standard for doing business in Guyana, this nation’s future will indeed be full of promise.
Thank you very much.