President Ramroop Rajnauth
Senior Vice President Ryan Alexander
Junior Vice President Rafeek Kassim
Other Distinguished Officers of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce
Members of the Media
Thank you for your kind invitation to join you this afternoon. My wife Rosaura and I are grateful for the opportunity to be here today. We enjoyed the beautiful scenic ride into the lovely countryside. It is often said that Georgetown is not Guyana, and that is certainly true.
In looking at the program, my remarks are between you and a delicious lunch so I will be brief, and I think our frank and open two-way conversation during lunch will be more productive than anything I could say to you in a speech.
First, I would like to congratulate everyone in the region for exercising your right to vote and participating in the first local government elections in more than two decades. We had teams of observers here in Berbice and throughout the country, which helped verify that elections were indeed free, fair, and credible. GECOM did a commendable job in organizing the polls and I am confident three years from now, systems will be even better. Much has been written about perceived low voter turnout, but I can say that 47 percent in the U.S. for an off-year local election would be considered very successful, so you all should be proud of the accomplishment and use this years’ experience as a starting point for what I am confident will now be a triannual exercise. As Winston Churchill once said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others…”
The United States is Guyana’s largest trading partner, and with the significant discovery of oil in the Stabroek Block, we are likely to become your largest foreign investor. Guyana may very well transform from being one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere to one of the richest. We are committed to working with all stakeholders including government officials, the business community, and non-governmental organizations to help Guyana ensure that the transformation is seamless, efficient, and transparent. There will be many opportunities and yes, there will be challenges.
We all know how important transparency is, and the government has committed to establishing a Sovereign Wealth Fund in addition to joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, both steps we fully support. Just this week Deputy Chief of Mission Bryan Hunt met with Prime Minister Nagamootoo and a Deloitte regulatory advisory team on petroleum issues. We pledged support for expanding capacity under the US Department of State’s Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative (EGCI). The EGCI is an inter-agency effort that provides a wide range of technical and capacity-building assistance to host governments of selected countries that are on the verge of becoming the world’s next generation of oil and gas producers. We want to ensure that the oil and gas sector of Guyana’s economy becomes one that support s rather than crowds out other critical sectors of the economy. We are equally committed to ensuring that the government has the necessary capacity to manage effectively environmental risk and ensure safe and credible oversight of industry operations.
I don’t want to cast any illusions. It is going to take some time for oil revenues to start flowing. In many countries it is three to seven years before you start seeing positive income statements. It is also going to take the collective efforts of many talented and skilled people, some of whom may be in this room, to help Guyana successfully make the transition to an oil-producing nation.
As many of you know, a significant portion of my 26+ years in the Foreign Service have been dedicated to public safety and security. You all are the experts in business, but one thing I do know is that at the core of successful business operations there has to be a strong sense among producers and consumers that it is safe to purchase, transport, and provide goods and services. To that end, I am pleased to have officially opened our DEA office earlier this year. The DEA is working closely with local law enforcement officials to help build the public trust and make Guyana a place where entrepreneurs and investors feel safe to conduct business. Additionally, through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative we are making progress in disrupting and dismantling criminal networks in the region. We are providing a great deal of training to law enforcement officers, and using technology to bring more opportunities to Guyana without even having to leave the country. For example, a course on how to gather evidence offered in Trinidad can now be simultaneously taught to officers in Guyana. Communication among law enforcement officials is getting stronger and this helps in coordinating efforts and maximizing use of resources. As in the U.S., small business people and entrepreneurs are the engines that drive economic growth, but in order to even try, people need to have confidence in the public security apparatus. Again, success does not happen overnight, but working together, and with patience and persistence we will get to where we want to be.
I would like to conclude by talking a little bit about the social responsibility of businesses. Research clearly shows that being good corporate citizens is good for business. Organizations that get out in their communities and help with issues of importance like the environment, blood drives, eliminating stigma associated with HIV/AIDs, suicide prevention, gender-based violence , cyberbullying, religious tolerance, and others; do better financially because they are seen in their communities as more than just a business looking to pad their bottom lines. I encourage everyone to get more involved in your community and continue making a positive difference for your children and grandchildren.
Guyana is indeed “One people, One Nation, One Destiny” and as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence, and 50 years of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Guyana, it is also time to remind ourselves that we must all do more to help those less fortunate and continue building a country that is safe, secure, and inclusive. I look forward to working with all of you to help make it happen.
Thank you very much.