Thank you and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) for the opportunity to address all of you on such a special occasion.
As one of the oldest organizations in Guyana representing the private sector, GCCI and its members are in a prime position to advocate for the growth of Guyana’s economy and the prosperity of its people. You are all captains of business and industry and, by extension, stewards in Guyana’s job creation, investment, and international trade. I am grateful to be here tonight to celebrate the achievements of those of you who are receiving awards.
It is also my pleasure to share the stage with key leaders in Guyana’s future, chief among them the Honorable Minister of Natural Resources Trotman, who is leading efforts to ensure the success of Guyana’s future petroleum industry.
The United States and Guyana are celebrating 50 years of a strong bilateral relationship. Together, we have embarked on projects that empower youth and women; close the gap in health disparities; and, promote regional security.
We have also built lasting and important bonds through commerce and trade that underscore a high level of trust by our citizens in both our economies.
This trust in our bilateral cooperation is why the United States can proudly claim to be one of Guyana’s most significant trade partners. By the end of this past September, for example, the United States had already imported US$348 million worth of Guyanese products, that’s GY$71.3 billion generated for Guyanese producers, distributors, and countless service providers involved in a variety of industries ranging from machinery to foodstuffs to pharmaceuticals.
And we know that our relationship is only growing stronger thanks to your private sector.
The private sector, along with Guyana’s government and civil society, will play an integral role and share responsibility for shaping the future of the country. As Guyana continues to develop new industries and shape the regulatory structure and processes that will govern them, your role as citizens, as well as business leaders, will only grow in scope and importance.
Guyana is at the cusp of a transformation. Recent estimates confirm that offshore oil deposits may be as large as 1.4 billion recoverable barrels of oil. Estimates continue to change, each time growing larger, and as these numbers grow so too the expectations of the Guyanese people. The stakes are high, but, in my short time here, I have been encouraged by the Government of Guyana’s high level of political will and the Guyanese people’s willingness to engage in public discourse and action.
Already, you have shown a keen understanding of the need for preparation and education.
I think we all can agree that legislation and regulations that protect Guyana’s interests and promote transparent resource management at all levels are key components to success. The list of important legislation for the industry is vast and spans across the spectrum, from a Petroleum Act to regulations for a sovereign wealth fund, licenses and fees for the new industry, to occupational, health and safety standards.
Not just the government, but the people of Guyana have an incredible opportunity to define the country’s future. That starts with a carefully calculated strategic plan of action – formed from the collaboration of all stakeholders – that targets job creation, investment, and long-term revenue management.
Guyana’s oil find will generate significant levels of new revenue. It will be critical to think strategically now about how to best invest those revenues in ways that develop (1) diverse industries, (2) physical infrastructure, (3) renewables and energy security, and (4) quality education and health services.
These are the areas that will create significant job numbers. Local content in the off-shore operation will not be enough. A broader vision is how Guyana will avoid “Dutch Disease,” and ensure that petroleum is a strategic industry, not its only industry.
This great challenge is one for all the citizens of Guyana. I hope that, as business leaders, you will continue to step up to meet the challenge and bring more people to the table for a dialogue that allows everyone to determine the future of your country.
But, revenues can be fleeting, whether coming in or going out. This brings me to the subject of long-term revenue management, which I know all of you as business people understand and, in which, as leading taxpayers, all of you have an interest. A sovereign wealth fund will provide Guyana with the opportunity to invest in its long-term future. Prudent management of revenues will ensure that investment by the government in its people does not simply last for as long as oil is pumped out of the ground, but beyond that. Such a sovereign wealth fund should be (1) transparent, (2) independent, (3) inviolable, and (4) non-partisan.
And that brings me to my last point. Guyana is at a crossroads, and the Guyanese people, (who are also taxpayers and consumers), will have many choices to make.
This means that everyone needs to make a conscious decision to stay and invest in Guyana today. We are heartened with the knowledge that many of you in this room – and outside of this venue – make that decision every day.
We commend and support your decision to invest your talents and voices in Guyana and hope that you will invite more Guyanese at all levels to do the same.
Certainly, Guyana is not and will not be alone in the road ahead. The United States, along with other partners, has and will continue to provide counsel and assistance in support of Guyana’s efforts to build industries – not just petroleum – that are transparent, responsive, and accountable to all. But make no mistake, it falls to all of you to advance a vision and implement a plan. There is no amount of assistance that anyone can provide Guyana that can rival political will, an informed private sector, and collaborative citizens.
Thankfully, we know all three are already here. And we commend you for building Guyana today.
In closing, we encourage you to continue participating in Guyana’s present and to keep building a better future.
We ask that you participate in the liberalization of the telecommunications sector. Strong regulatory structures that protect both consumers and businesses are good for everyone, but remember that sanctity of contracts and respect for agreements are important for future investors.
Tackle the challenges that make it difficult to do business in Guyana, so that future investors can feel welcome and empowered to build partnerships and joint ventures with Guyanese businesses. Invest in clean forms of energy now and push for improvement to the electricity grid to bring down costs that prevent businesses from thriving and affect the productivity of everyday people.
And, above all, think about Guyana’s important role in the region and how new industries, economic prosperity, and social development can only strengthen this role. Help Guyana remain committed to being a leader in the region and within the Caribbean Community in encouraging human rights, public security, and renewable energy.
Guyana is the Land of Many Waters – a land rich with natural resources and warm and intelligent people, and tremendous potential. Let’s work together to realize this potential.
Again, my congratulations to all awardees, and thank you all.