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Guyana A p r i l • M ay 2 0 1 3

P u b l i c at i o n o f T h e Wa s h i n g to n D i p lo m at S P O N S O R E D R E P O RT


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April • May 2013


CONTENTS President Ramotar

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Democracy Bears Fruit

ambassador Karran Page 5 Man of Many Talents

economy & finance

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On the Money

banking

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Keeping Fiscal Order

Diplomacy

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A World of Partnerships

Diaspora

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Enduring Links

oil & gas

page 11

An Energized Future

mining

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Unearthing Bright Prospects

business

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King’s: A Dazzling Pioneer

Private sector

page 15

Engine of Growth

tourism

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A Natural Choice

aviation

page 18

Flying High

communications

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Finding Their Voice

call centers

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Success on the Line

education

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Important Lessons

culture

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Colorful Traditions

hydropower

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Overflowing Potential

the Washington Diplomat international Department Nadira Berry, Project Manager P.O. Box 1345, Silver Spring, MD 20915 USA www.washdiplomat.com

April • May 2013

fruits of democracy

President: Under PPP, Guyana is ‘Back on Track’

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uyana proclaimed its independence from Great Britain in 1966, but it wasn’t until 1992, when the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) returned to power after decades in opposition, that the country truly found its footing.

Today, it’s on a solid path of democratic and economic advances, moving forward at a rapid pace under the direction of President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar. For Ramotar, the nation’s success has been a 20-year journey. “In 1992, we took over a country in ruins. That was due to the fact we didn’t have a democracy,” said the president. “When we got into office, we had a huge debt burden — 95 percent of our revenues were going to service the debt. Today it’s only 4 or 5 percent. Our country is once again back on track.” Ramotar, 62, spent an hour talking with us at his office in the heart of Georgetown. The jovial president spoke about Guyana’s problems and progress with warmth and humor — and obvious pride in the nation he has led since his Dec. 3, 2011, inauguration. “Our country has been on a steady path of growth. We have improved in every area of life. The main obstacle is that we still have a fairly weak infrastructure,” he said. “That’s why we’re investing heavily in hydroelectricity. This project will help us attract investment in manufacturing, which is crucial for us. We must develop an energy infrastructure, roads going into the interior, and a deepwater port in line with expansion of the Panama Canal.” We asked the president if there’s any achievement he’s particularly proud of. “I’ve kept the economy going,” Ramotar replied. “Last year, it grew 4 percent, and this year we’re hoping for 5 percent. From the political point of view, we haven’t had any serious major political crises, despite the fact we’re a minority government. That’s new for Guyana. And I hope that in the near future — another four or five years — we can have universal secondary education in our country.” Another priority for the government is developing a knowledge-based economy. “We are investing in our people because we believe we have the possibility of being one of the best countries in the world,” he said. “Our efforts are reflected in our ‘One Laptop per Family’ project, our building of a fiber-optic connection to a Brazilian telecommunications provider to bring relatively cheap Internet access to remote areas, and developing e-governance for the country’s schools, hospitals and other services, and most importantly, tapping into the many investment possibilities that ICT offers.” The president noted that Guyana possesses a number of advantages that make it an ideal location for information and communications technology services. “Guyana is an English-speaking country with a relatively high literacy rate and this makes the business of providing voice or data services to customers in the SPONSORED REPORT

UN Photo/Jennifer S Altman

DONALD RABINDRANAUTH RAMOTAR, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GUyANA, ADDRESSES THE GENERAL DEBATE OF THE SIxTy-SEVENTH SESSION OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLy.

Our country has been on a steady path of growth. We have improved in every area of life…. Our country is once again back on track.

— Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar president of Guyana

global markets much easier.” Ramotar was born in 1950, the same year Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Jagan’s Chicago-born wife Janet Rosenberg were joined by the charismatic Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham to form the PPP as the first mass-based political party in what was then known as British Guiana. The young Ramotar signed up to the PPP in 1967, some 12 years after the party had split between Burnham’s new People’s National Congress (PNC) and the original PPP. By age 17, Ramotar already knew where his political ambitions were headed. “We were out of government, and I wanted to make a contribution,” he recalled. “So I campaigned in the 1968 elections and gradually rose within the party, from the ground up.” Ramotar eventually wound up managing the PPP’s head office in Georgetown. He became the general secretary in March 1997 when Jagan passed away, a position he holds today. “I wouldn’t say I had set my sights on becoming president, but it so happens I was promoted to these Continued on Page 4

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President Continued from Page 3 positions because of hard work,” he told us. “My whole intention was wanting to play a part, but politics is such that — speaking for myself — I got more and more deeply involved until it became my life.” Following the election of Nov. 28, 2011, Ramotar was declared the winner, although the PPP fell one seat short of an outright majority in the National Assembly, winning 32 out of 65 seats. That put Ramotar in the position of serving as president, even though a coalition consisting of the People’s National Congress and several smaller opposition parties comprises a parliamentary majority. “The opposition sees its role in Parliament largely to harass us more than anything else,” the president lamented. “That’s why they’ve passed all kinds of bills, most of them proving to be unconstitutional. They’ve tried to cut our budget and even stop one of our ministers [Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee] from speaking in the National Assembly.” Years earlier, the PPP also regularly encountered opposition from the United States, with the Kennedy administration viewing the man who led Guyana to independence — Cheddi Jagan, the son of Indian sugar plantation workers who became a U.S.-trained dentist — with suspicion. The United States and Britain backed the PNC over the PPP because of fears that Jagan’s party was cultivating ties to communist states such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, helping the PNC consolidate power over the next three decades. However, decades of mistrust between the PPP and the U.S. government dramatically thawed in 1992, when Jagan won Guyana’s first internationally monitored elections and was embraced by Washington, which hoped he would stem a tide of corruption, waste and economic mismanagement under the PNC. Today, Guyana’s relations with the United States are robust; Ramotar and his wife Deolatchmee met President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel in September 2012. “Guyana wants good relations with the United States, because it’s the biggest power in the world and because it’s in our interest to have good relations,” the president said. It’s also in America’s interests, given the economic gains Guyana has made over the last 20 years. Under Burnham’s authoritarian rule, many schemes to nationalize industry essentially bankrupted the country. In recent years, however, Guyana has managed to stabilize its economy and attract foreign investors drawn to its vast natural resources. Even so, there’s very little direct U.S. investment in Guyana; Ramotar said he suspects that has to do with “misinformation” about the country. Asked to explain, the president said the PNC frequently accuses his government of corruption — a ploy he dismisses as a “political weapon” with little, if any, substance. “I’m not saying there’s no corruption. I would be the last to say there’s no corruption in our society — but not the kind of corruption they’re speaking about,” he told us. “About two months ago, I released every privatization action taken by the PPP to clear up any questions they had. That is a public document. It shows how many bids we got, how they were advertised and where the money went.” There’s no question, said Ramotar, that before 1992,

things were much worse. “When we came into office, the auditor general hadn’t issued a report in more than 10 years. Since then, we’ve ensured that every single year, the government books are audited,” he said. “The opposition chairs the public accounts commission, and all our senior officers go there to answer questions. Secondly, we’ve established four standing committees in the National Assembly. Senior government ministers can be summoned, and have been summoned. These are things you’ve never seen before in Guyana.” The government is also working to tackle crime, a major issue for the whole Caribbean. “But the fact is that Guyana has become a transit point for narcotraffickers, fueling a lot of this crime. There’s no other

explanation in my view,” Ramotar told us. “It’s not because of any economic situation at home, but because as the Americans squeeze Colombia, the traffickers look for alternative routes to transport their drugs out of South America.” Despite the problems facing his country, Ramotar is confident his administration will make a difference by the time he leaves office at the end of 2016. “Guyana is a free and open society. We have respect for democracy and the rule of law. We have a lot in common with the United States,” he said — though it’s clear this president isn’t taking anything for granted. “I’d consider 20 years of democratic rule quite young. I would be the last to say it is totally irreversible,” Ramotar said. “Probably dangers are still lurking out there.”

Guyana wants good relations with the United States, because it’s the biggest power in the world and because it’s in our interest to have good relations.

— Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar, president of Guyana

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April • May 2013


man of many talents

Guyana’s ‘Accidental’ Ambassador Moves With Diplomatic Purpose

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ayney Karran always dreamed of becoming a disc jockey, not a diplomat. As a teenager, Karran was active in his high school drama club and performed in plays that were recorded for radio, sparking his lifelong fascination with broadcasting.

At 17, he left school and began working at Radio Demerara, which back then was the most popular station on the air in Karran’s native Guyana. “Eventually, I did all kinds of programming: music, news, interviews, DJ stuff. I thought I could go far in broadcasting,” Guyana’s longtime ambassador to the United States and the Organization of American States recalled during an interview at his residence in Bethesda, Md. “By 19, I was getting to be a household name. There was no television in Guyana at the time, so I was a celebrity. I even used to get fan mail. That was pretty cool.” But Karran’s father would have none of that; he insisted his son study law instead. Ram Karran was deputy leader of the leftist People’s Progressive Party (PPP) under its founder, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, and spent more than 28 years as a member of Parliament. So the young man took his father’s advice and went to law school — beginning in Guyana and finishing up in Barbados and Trinidad. “By the time I got back, the Guyanese economy had collapsed and I couldn’t make a living in radio anymore,” said Karran, who eventually joined a law firm and spent years immersed in torts, contracts and debt recovery for financial institutions. However, Karran never lost his love for radio, which proved to be an asset. “When the PPP got into office in 1992, they had been out of power for 20 years and needed a chairman of the board of directors for the Guyana Broadcasting Co.,” he said. “I was the only guy who knew anything about radio. In two years, we were able to turn GBC from a loss-making to a profitmaking institution.” Karran impressed his elders so much that when the PPP-led government decided to replace its ambassador to Venezuela, they offered him the position in Caracas. “It wasn’t so much that I came to diplomacy, but diplomacy came to me,” he said. “They asked me to serve as ambassador as a stopgap measure. They wanted to make a change, but not leave the post vacant, due to Venezuela’s territorial claims on Guyana. The idea was that I’d go for a year or two. But I ended up staying seven years.” During Karran’s 1997-2003 posting in Caracas, relations between the two South American neighbors improved considerably — to the point that the Venezuelan government under President Hugo Chávez conferred upon Karran one of its highest

April • May 2013

Bayney Karran, Guyana’s ambassador to the United States. Photos: Larry Luxner

It wasn’t so much that I came to diplomacy, but diplomacy came to me. — Bayney Karran, ambassador of Guyana to the United States

national awards: the Order of the Liberator, First Class. In fact, the medal itself was ceremoniously pinned on him by Venezuela’s then-foreign minister, Roy Chaderton, who is now the country’s permanent representative to the Organization of American States, where Karran also works. By November 2003 — when Karran was sent to Washington to replace Guyana’s outgoing ambassador, Odeen Ishmael — the one-time DJ had already become a seasoned diplomat. Ishmael, who is now Guyana’s envoy to Kuwait, had served here for 10 years. That means that since 1993, Guyana has had only two ambassadors representing it in the United States, when other countries might have had five or six during that time. “As ambassador, you build up contacts and gain people’s confidences, so there’s something to be said for long postings as well. We find that works for us,” said Karran. Karran’s seniority in Washington has made him the longest-serving ambassador from any Latin American or Caribbean country, though his 10 years here isn’t enough to make him dean of the entire D.C. diplomatic corps; that honor goes to Djibouti’s Roble Olhaye, who’s been here since 1988. Karran presented his credentials in 2003 to thenPresident Bush. He’s met with President Obama five or six times, most recently at the OAS Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. He says relations Sponsored Report

between the United States and Guyana have improved dramatically since the 1960s, when the Kennedy administration considered PPP founder Cheddi Jagan to be a dangerous Marxist and worried that Guyana would become a communist beachhead in the hemisphere. “I think security cooperation has improved a great deal. We fight common challenges in the fight against drugs and HIV/AIDS,” the ambassador said. “We have a very large Guyanese Diaspora in the United States, and the overall atmosphere of our relationship is on a much friendlier and more cooperative footing. In 2011, when we recently celebrated our 45th anniversary of independence, Congress passed a resolution congratulating us.” Karran said his top priorities as ambassador in Washington are to encourage U.S. investment in his country — particularly in agriculture, telecommu­ nications, forestry and tourism — and to connect members of the large Guyanese Diaspora with their homeland. To that end, Guyana already has consulates in New York, Miami and Houston, and will soon appoint representatives in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Perhaps the only major issue separating the two countries is Cuba, but Karran said that on this topic, Guyana is united in solidarity with Caricom’s other 14 member nations. Continued on Page 22

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on the money

Guyanese Finance Minister Promotes Economic Diversification

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solated for years because of economic mismanagement, Guyana is now firmly back in the good graces of the world’s international financial institutions — and is working diligently to diversify its economy away from its traditional dependence on sugar, rice and bauxite exports. That’s the verdict from Finance Minister Ashni Singh, who’s held that position since 2006 and is now in his second term. “Our relationship with the IMF has strengthened significantly over the years,” Singh told us in an interview at his Georgetown office. “Since the return of democracy in 1992, we’ve spent a number of years in successive IMF structural reform programs. And while we’re not currently in a program now, we in fact have maintained very close engagement, characterized by a country that manages its economy responsibly.” Singh, who holds a doctorate in accounting and finance from Britain’s University of Lancaster, concurrently represents Guyana on the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank. Two decades ago, he said, the typical IMF report on Guyana complained of macroeconomic chaos and extremely heavy indebtedness. Back then, Guyana’s debt-to-GDP ratio was 500 percent. Today, the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio has been slashed to 60 to 70 percent. Bank of Guyana “Prior to 1992, Guyana had in Georgetown essentially stopped servicing its debt, to the point that most IFIs [international financial institutions] stopped doing business with Guyana. So our first priority was restoring Guyana’s creditworthiness. That involved putting in place a responsible credit framework, implementing that framework, and investing in infrastructure.” These days, he explained, commodity exports have benefitted from strong prices, helping to lift the Guyanese economy to levels not seen in decades. “Our debt is sustainable and our real economic growth is steady at 4.5 percent — and it’s been uninterrupted since 2006. This is not a trivial

achievement. Most small Caribbean countries are struggling to grow at all.” As a result of steady growth, the government has been better able to provide for its citizens. The recently released 2013 budget, totaling $208.8 billion, is the largest ever presented in Guyana. Among its investments: strengthening democracy and state institutions, expanding infrastructure, improving social services, and diversifying the economy. “What you see now in Guyana is the result of our ongoing efforts to diversify the economy,” said Singh, who released the budget on March 25.

“Whereas 15 or 20 years ago, the economy was primarily sugar, rice and bauxite, today it’s much more diversified, with minerals playing a significant part. The gold industry has been doing very well,

Finance Minister Ashni Singh and European Union Ambassador to Guyana Robert Kopecky sign two multibillion-dollar financing agreements that were formalized on May 25, 2012.

driven by strong external prices. Gold mining brings in government revenues and creates thousands of jobs. Minerals tend to attract a lot of attention, but other sectors are showing tremendous dynamism too. Over the last eight years, the ICT [information and communications technology] sector has created about 3,000 jobs in call centers and is on the verge of a major expansion.” Singh noted that Guyana is an active member of both the Inter-American Development Bank, based in Washington, D.C., and the Caribbean Development Bank, based in Barbados. The IDB is Guyana’s largest lender — having extended hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other basic infrastructure, while the CDB has a much smaller portfolio “but has the advantage of being a small, regional bank that is very familiar with our region.” Singh concluded: “Investor confidence in the local economy has increased. We welcome investors from anywhere in the world, as long as they comply with our laws.”

Our debt is sustainable and our real economic growth is steady at 4.5 percent — and it’s been uninterrupted since 2006. This is not a trivial achievement. Most small Caribbean countries are struggling to grow at all. — Ashni Singh, minister of finance for Guyana

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Photo: courtesy of Ministry of Finance

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April • May 2013


keeping order

Guyana Banks on Fiscal, Monetary Stability for Foreign Investors “

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hen he was 19 years old, Lawrence Williams applied for a position at the Bank of Guyana. After four attempts, the persistent young man was hired as a clerk. Williams stayed for six months, then went off to university and came back in 1979 as a supervisor. Today, the one-time teller runs the bank. Appointed governor in 2005, Williams is now in his second five-year term, reporting to Finance Minister Ashni Singh and setting Guyana’s monetary policy. Notably, the Bank of Guyana was established in 1965 — making it older than Guyana itself, which got its independence a year later. “Like any other central bank, our role is fairly well established,” Williams explained. “We issue currency, provide advice to the government, and set policies that ensure that we can control inflation and at the same time make sure there’s enough credit available for the orderly development of industry.” It wasn’t always that way. In the 1980s, Guyana suffered from hyperinflation, a desperate shortage of foreign exchange, and an external debt exceeding $2 billion. “It was a time when we pursued an economic model that is completely different from the one we have now,” said Williams. “Debt servicing was consuming almost all our foreign-exchange earnings. A great deal of it represented arrears, and at one point, we just stopped servicing some bilateral debt.” Between 1984 and 1989, Guyana went through a series of devaluations that made the Guyanese dollar one of the worst currencies in the Western Hemisphere. “Naturally in that scenario, we were trying all sorts of modalities to stem the hemorrhage taking place,” Williams said. “After the president [Forbes Burnham] passed away in 1985, his successor [Desmond Hoyte] decided it was time to reverse course and seek accommodation with the IMF and the World Bank.” By 1989, price controls had largely been removed, the foreign-exchange market was liberalized, and the government began privatizing state-owned companies such as Guyana Telephone & Telegraph. “We remained in the clutches of the IMF from 1989 until 2006, then we exited the IMF program, by which time we were able to achieve some macroeconomic stability,” said Williams. Today, inflation is running about 3.5 percent a year, while interest rates have dropped from 30 percent to 5.7 percent. Money sent from Guyanese living abroad makes up a significant chunk of Guyana’s balance of payments. Last year, the country took in $420 million in remittances — more than half of that coming from the United States. “During the 2008-09 financial crisis, the level of remittances slowed, but not like the dramatic falloff we saw in other countries,” said the bank governor. “It may well be that members of the Guyanese Diaspora are employed in sectors of the economy that were not

April • May 2013

We issue currency, provide advice to the government, and set policies that ensure that we can control inflation and at the same time make sure there’s enough credit available for the orderly development of industry. — lawrence Williams governor of the Bank of Guyana

LAWRENCE WILLIAMS Photos: Larry Luxner

affected negatively.” Still, inflation has taken its toll on Guyana, with the result that today, the highest banknote in circulation is the G$1,000 bill, introduced in 1996. That bill, worth $5 at current exchange rates, now accounts for 93 percent of all banknotes in circulation — which Williams says drastically exceeds international guidelines. To reduce the burden on merchants and consumers, the Bank of Guyana will roll out a G$5,000 banknote later this year. Nevertheless, Williams says the bank has no plans to either reform the national currency as did neighboring Venezuela and Suriname, or dollarize the economy, which is the solution Ecuador and El Salvador have adopted. “You can re-align the currency by knocking off a couple of zeroes, but we haven’t gone that route because it would be very costly for us. You’d have to do wholesale price readjustments and run sensitization workshops. There’s going to be the inevitable cost to the financial sector, and it could be disruptive to commerce, at least initially,” he explained. The other path, adopting the U.S. dollar as Guyana’s legal tender, was never given serious consideration, said Williams. “Our economists did some studies, but the general feeling is that going that route would be ceding monetary policy to another authority. This is not something we would want to embrace at this point in time.” Yet a third possibility might be the establishment of a common currency by the 15 members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), which happens to be headquartered in Guyana. Some Caricom countries have fixed rates; others have floating rates. Williams said strong arguments exist favoring one exchange regime or the other, depending on where a particular country is at in its stage of development. “The OECS [Organization of Eastern Caribbean States] has had a fixed-rate arrangement since the establishment SPONSORED REPORT

of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, and it has served them well,” he said. “Studies have been done to see what sort of accommodation could be made. We may want to start by having a new currency.” For the moment, Williams said one of Guyana’s most important achievements in the economic sphere has been to liberalize the foreign-exchange market and lift its formerly onerous currency restrictions. “You’re required to declare only if you’re taking out or bringing in more than $10,000,” he said. “The removal of restrictions provides the investor with the incentive that once he invests, he doesn’t have to worry about administrative restrictions on repatriating his earnings. A lot of investors see this as an attraction.” Guyana is still a very cash-driven society, with rather limited use of credit cards and electronic payment systems. However, Williams would like to see that change. “The payment system is what drives economic activity, to ensure that as an economy we’re performing efficiently. So we not only look at a currency structure that will serve our needs but also actively promote the development of non-cash means of payment,” he said. “That’s not moving at the pace we’d like to see, because we still have this heavy cash orientation in the economy.”

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global partnerships

Guyanese Diplomacy Advances International Strategic Objectives

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rom nearby Brasília to faraway Beijing, Guyanese diplomats are working hard to cultivate bilateral relationships they hope will generate economic cooperation in the form of foreign investments. So far, that strategy appears to be paying off.

And the fact that Georgetown happens to be the headquarters of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) gives Guyana far more clout than its relatively small population of 750,000 might suggest. Guyana, in fact, is the only English-speaking country in South America and shares cultural and historical bonds with the Anglophone Caribbean. But its diplomatic outreach is global. “Even though the United States remains our largest trading partner — and the place with our largest Diaspora population — we are looking at relations with other countries, particularly with emerging economies,” Foreign Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said in a recent interview at her Georgetown office. At the top of that list is Canada, a critical source of direct foreign investment that is home to more than 200,000 people of Guyanese origin — principally in the Toronto area. “We have a long history of trade with Guyana, going back hundreds of years,” said David Devine, Canada’s high commissioner in Georgetown. “We try to focus on where we have the best competitive advantage, certainly in the mining sector. We have limited resources, so we want to be strategic about it. So we work with the government and the private sector on international standards, making sure they are as open, transparent and effective as possible.” Devine said 32 Canadian companies are involved in Guyana’s extractive sector, all of them trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Three or four “have made significant enough discoveries to move to the feasibility or even the development stage,” Devine said, though he noted that no active Canadian large-

Photo: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

Guyanese President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar addresses officials and ambassadors at the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C.

scale mining is currently taking place in Guyana. “If we’re going to have a sustainable long-term relationship, it can’t be onesided. You have to make sure Guyana grows and is able to develop as well,” Devine explained. “So we’ve tried to provide not only regulatory assistance but also on the educational side, Parliament House offering courses in everything from environmental safety to health and mining techniques. We want to especially offer those sorts of initiatives that will give young Guyanese much better opportunities in the future.” Another huge opportunity for Guyana is China, the world’s most populous country, which last year celebrated the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Guyana. “China has forever been a partner of Guyana, in good times and bad,” the foreign minister said, noting that Beijing has never forgotten the fact that

her nation’s socialist leaders extended diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic in 1972 — back when many of Guyana’s Caribbean neighbors had instead allied themselves with Taiwan. “Now that China is doing very well, it has not only invested here but has played a part in Guyana’s development in other ways too,” said RodriguesBirkett. “Nearly 45,000 laptops have been distributed as part of China’s ‘One Laptop Per Family’ program.” Zhang Limin, China’s ambassador in Georgetown, said that in 1853, the first group of Chinese indentured workers arrived in Guyana, sowing the seeds of friendship. “For over 160 years, the Chinese immigrants in Guyana have lived in harmony with the local people, working side by side and making significant contributions to the social and economic development of Guyana,” said Zhang. “On the political front, China and Guyana are good partners with equality and mutual trust. And political trust between our two countries has been increasingly consolidated through frequent high-level exchanges of visits and contacts in our governments, parliaments and political parties.”

Even though the United States remains our largest trading partner — and the place with our largest Diaspora population — we are looking at relations with other countries, particularly with emerging economies. — Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, foreign minister of Guyana

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April • May 2013


enduring links

Guyana Diaspora Project Helps Nationals Connect with Homeland

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t was a freezing, rainy evening in Washington, D.C., yet more than 100 Guyanese-Americans living in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and New York showed up anyway for the Feb. 22 inauguration of the Guyanese government’s ambitious Guyana Diaspora Project.

“You have to be quite patriotic to brave this weather and be here tonight,” said the country’s ambassador to the United States, Bayney Karran, speaking under a huge white tent set up in the backyard of the Guyanese Embassy. “The size of this crowd is a symbol of your commitment to Guyana.” Karran, addressing his compatriots on the eve of Guyana’s 43rd anniversary as a republic, was joined on the podium by Foreign Minister Carolyn RodriguesBirkett and by Rui Oliveira Reis of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). “For decades now,” said the ambassador, “our primary resource, our people, have engaged in a pattern of steady migration which has adversely affected our development. Guyana must extend the pool of our human resources beyond the perimeters of our national territory by compiling a guideline of the skills, resources and level of interest available in the Diaspora. This will give both the government and the private sector a reliable means of reaching Guyanese overseas for our nation’s development.” While the same could be said for any number of Central American, Caribbean or African countries working to improve living standards, in Guyana’s case this migration is profound: With only 750,000 people inhabiting a remote territory the size of Great Britain — its former colonizer — more Guyanese today live outside the country than in it, giving Guyana one of the highest migration rates in the world. Karran said one of the goals of the Guyana Diaspora Project (GUYD) is to minimize the practice of different Diaspora groups undertaking missions that sometimes overlap with each other. “This,” he said, “will help to dispel the notion among some in the Diaspora that their desire to help is being met with indifference.” GUYD is a partnership between the Guyanese government and Geneva-based IOM, which has 9,000 staffers working at nearly 500 offices in 150 countries. Reis, a Portuguese citizen who’s spent the last three years in Georgetown, said such endeavors are a good fit with his organization. “Migration and development is of great importance for IOM. It’s something we have years of experience with,” he said. “In Guyana, the Diaspora has played an important and positive role regarding direct investment, human capital transfer, philanthropic contributions, remittances, capital markets and tourism.” In fact, he said, 80 percent of all visitors to Guyana are Guyanese citizens who live abroad. “However, this role can be expanded to include transferrable skills and networks that are integral to the development of the basic economy,” Reis told his

April • May 2013

Photo: Larry Luxner

One thing will never change, and that is where you’re from. So our government has taken a different approach to this issue of migration.

— Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, foreign minister of Guyana

audience. “We live in an era of unprecedented mobility. It’s very common that you live in one country, and your children live and study in another country. But that doesn’t mean you’re not attached to your country.” Reis said GUYD is the first serious effort “to build a constructive relationship with the Diaspora” since Guyana’s independence in 1966. “But the magnitude of this engagement cannot be the sole responsibility of government alone,” he said. “We, the IOM, are already on board, providing guidance and technical expertise. Now we invite you to come on board.” Rodrigues-Birkett, Guyana’s former minister of Amerindian affairs, said she laments the “brain drain” so prevalent throughout the English-speaking Caribbean — but has no desire to criticize her fellow Guyanese who left for better opportunities in the United States, Canada or England. “The reality is that with the advancement of technology and so many people having access to the Internet, people will see where opportunities exist,” said Rodrigues-Birkett, speaking at her first official function at the Guyanese Embassy in Washington since her appointment as foreign minister. “They will probably live in several countries over their lifetimes. So we have to see migration through a different lens now. How can we Sponsored Report

benefit from their skills and other resources regardless of where they’re living?” Guyana needs to improve its infrastructure, she said, and even though they may no longer live there, Guyanese émigrés are still eager to build up their homeland and see it prosper. “In my travels to several countries, I have met Guyanese from all walks of life, and of course some of them have given me a good tongue-lashing about what we need to fix in Guyana. All of them have said they’re interested in Guyana’s development, and that to me is what matters,” said Rodrigues-Birkett. “One thing will never change, and that is where you’re from. So our government has taken a different approach to this issue of migration,” she added. “I’m not here to tell you to come back to Guyana, that our streets are paved with gold. But I know people in the Diaspora who just want to help a child. Other people are already helping hospitals. Some of you might send remittances to your relatives.” The Guyanese Embassy already has more than 2,000 names and email addresses on its mailing list, but it urges any member of the Guyanese Diaspora who hasn’t yet signed up to do so. Opportunities for investment are plentiful, the foreign Continued on Page 14

Page 9


Diplomacy Continued from Page 8 Meanwhile, bilateral trade has blossomed from $1 million a year in the early days of diplomatic ties to $147 million in 2011 and $226 million last year, though Chinese exports to Guyana last year dwarfed Guyanese shipments to China by more than five to one. “China is a huge country, while Guyana is very small. When I look at trade figures, I can see we’re not exporting a lot,” said Rodrigues-Birkett. “We certainly should look at how we can export more to China.” Adds Zhang: “The Chinese and Guyanese economies are highly complementary, and our economic cooperation has delivered tangible benefits to our two peoples.” Among the biggest Chinese projects in Guyana are: • The Guyana International Conference Centre, a Chinese-built architectural landmark in the district of Liliendaal, adjacent to the new Caricom Secretariat building. •Georgetown’s new 160-room, $58 million Marriott Hotel, being built by Shanghai Construction Engineering. •Expansion of Cheddi Jagan International Airport, headed by China Harbour Engineering and financed largely through a $130 million loan from China’s Export-Import Bank. • The proposed Amaila Falls hydropower dam, to be carried out by China Railway First Group, based in Xian. At $835 million, this ranks as the largest single infrastructure project in Guyanese history.

Illustration: Armando Portela

Page 10

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Like China, the Republic of Cuba last year also celebrated 40 years of diplomatic relations with Guyana. The presence of hundreds of Cuban doctors working in clinics and hospitals throughout Guyana has earned the Caribbean island widespread acclaim; in fact, Guyana’s embrace of Fidel and Raúl Castro is one of the few foreign policy issues that has divided Georgetown and Washington over the years. “Cuba has been kind to everyone in my view. For a country suffering under an economic blockade, being able to give scholarships to medical students in over 100 countries has to be a really large feat,” said Rodrigues-Birkett. “But our relationship should not be one where we just receive from Cuba. I think we need to look at what more we can do with Cuba in terms of trade. Hopefully in the not-so-distant future, Cuba’s minister of trade will visit Guyana to see where we can work together.” Also crucial to Guyana’s future is neighboring Brazil, which the foreign minister points out now ranks as the world’s sixth-largest economy. During his December 2010 official visit to Georgetown, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was awarded the Order of Excellence, Guyana’s highest honor. The two countries are negotiating the construction of a road from Lethem — on Guyana’s border with Brazil — to Georgetown, which would give Brazil a land route to the Caribbean for the first time. The two countries are already connected by broadband fiberoptic cable, and even more importantly are negotiating Brazilian participation in the construction of a hydroelectric dam and transmission lines that would help meet Guyana’s growing energy needs. The Guyanese government also maintains friendly relations with neighboring Venezuela, despite a lingering border dispute with Caracas. Nevertheless, during the 14-year rule of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died in early March, bilateral economic ties flourished. “Today, we have very good relations, and for the first time we’re selling rice to Venezuela,” said the foreign minister. “As with all of our neighbors, we’re trying to look at what brings us together rather than what sets us apart.”

April • May 2013


energized future

World’s Oil and Gas Companies Eye Guyana’s Rich Offshore Waters

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enezuela, Guyana’s neighbor to the west, boasts the planet’s biggest petroleum reserves — even larger than Saudi Arabia. And Brazil, its neighbor directly to the south, has become a major oil producer and exporter in its own right.

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Trinidad and Tobago

Venezuela

Demerara PPL

Guyana

No wonder the world’s energy giants have their eyes trained on Guyana, which may be poised to become an energy Zaedyus Well heavyweight in the region. The U.S. Geological Survey says the offshore Guyana-Suriname Basin holds a Suriname potential 13.6 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, making it French Guiana one of the biggest potential reserves of hydrocarbons in the Western Hemisphere. “It’s clearly an exciting basin to be in,” Kilometers said Suresh Narine, executive chairman of 0 125 250 Toronto-based CGX Energy Inc., director of the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research, and professor at Trent University in Canada. For now, the emphasis is on prospecting. We have a offshore prospecting licenses for CGX. The 15-year old Narine, who joined the CGX board in petroleum-sharing agreement that comes after a company will also overhaul its technical management January 2012 and became chairman in May, said the discovery. They’re not onerous because we want the team and its board of directors. company has a local workforce of 85, which can climb basin to be developed. We need to attract the right “Guyana is right now the best play in the Western to 200, including sub-contractors, when actively drilling. players here.” Hemisphere,” said Ronald Pantin, CEO of Pacific “We have spent more than $200 million, which is Persaud said his government is currently drafting a Rubiales, adding that his company understands “very more than 50 percent of all oil exploration dollars ever petroleum development policy that will be ready in the well the geology of this basin.” spent in Guyana,” said Narine. “We are a tiny company, next few months. Repsol YPF SA, a Spanish-Argen­ but there are some inherently valuable “We’re working with the U.S. Department of the tine oil conglomerate, is also active in things about CGX, such as our in-country Interior as well as the Canadian government,” he said. the Guyana-Suriname Basin. Last year, relationships. We have employed more “We want to ensure that the country benefits, and that the company drilled an exploratory Guyanese than any other company we’re saved from the resource curse. This is a very well located 107 miles offshore to a operating in petroleum.” depth of 21,500 feet. Since 1997, Repsol complex and costly exercise, which is why we try to In July 2012, Colombia-focused Pacific has invested about $33 million for their work with the companies without compromising our Rubiales acquired a 36 percent stake in 15 percent share in the well in Guyana, national legislation.” CGX. In March 2013, CGX announced a Narine said it is imperative that Guyana develops with total new drilling expected to cost private placement of $35 million to $40 its own oil and gas industry — because the dividends an additional $300 million. million, subject to shareholder approval, will help the government alleviate concerns many “The probability of success of the that would increase Pacific Rubiales wealthier countries have that less-developed nations first well was 11 percent, and the interest to 65 percent of CGX, and provide will spark climate change and environmental probability of success for this new CGX the capital it needs to launch its next destruction by exploiting their resources. project is 15 percent. So we have to stage of oil exploration in the basin. Photo: Larry Luxner “Once we [realize the potential] of our petroleum make seven wells to find only one “We have done more seismic work Professor Suresh S. Narine, resources, the capital we create out of that will go to discovery,” said a Repsol official. and have drilled more wells than chairman of CGX Energy define a sustainable future for us,” he said. “Guyana has “There have been 26 wells drilled off anybody else in the Guyana Basin,” Inc., a major investor a crippling dependence on imported power. Long Guyana’s coast in the last 50 years and added Narine. “More importantly, many in Guyana’s offshore before the world faces the specter of the end of oil, its nobody’s found anything. But former employees of PDVSA [Petróleos oil sector. price will become so prohibitive that unless we produce remember that in the North Sea, 74 de Venezuela] now work with Pacific our own, our industries will be decimated.” wells were drilled before oil was discovered.” Rubiales. They have an 83 percent geological success But striking oil and natural gas in the GuyanaIndeed, Robert Persaud, Guyana’s minister of rate in Colombia, Peru and Brazil, and they bring the Suriname Basin would be a boon to Guyanese industry natural resources and the environment, says the most advanced technology available.” — not to mention the energy companies involved in the business of oil exploration is a risky one — but one that Together, CGX and Pacific Rubiales say they plan to endeavor. carries huge rewards for those who persevere. invest $600 million to $1 billion in oil exploration The surge in interest is a dramatic turnaround from “Our chances are good, but you have to hit the right activities over the next five years, now that Guyana’s area. Libya discovered oil after 57 wells were drilled. Geology and Mines Commission has renewed three Continued on Page 22 Corentyne PPL

April • May 2013

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bright future

Guyana’s Mining Sector Sparkles As Gold Exports Hit Record Highs

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n 1594, Sir Walter Raleigh set sail for South America, in search of the legendary El Dorado. Though he never found his mythical city paved with gold, Guyana — the land Raleigh claimed for England — could well turn out to be a bonanza for multinational companies armed with the funds, machinery and know-how to get the country’s nearly 30 million ounces of proven gold reserves out of the ground.

No longer the domain of one-man “pork-knockers” working in remote jungle camps, Guyana last year mined a record 438,000 ounces of gold, mostly for export. The government expects 2013 gold production to rise by a further 2 percent, while output of bauxite — an aluminum ore and the main source of aluminum — could increase by nearly 7 percent. That follows last year’s bauxite production of just over 2.03 million metric tons, itself a 25.7 percent jump from the 1.83 million tons produced in 2011. “Our extractive industries — gold, diamonds, bauxite and manganese, as well as our potential in offshore oil and gas — are all driven by private investment. The state is not a player in any of those activities, and we’ve deliberately decided on that approach,” said Robert Persaud, Guyana’s minister of natural resources and the environment. “We have a very attractive investment policy, one which makes doing business here affordable but without bureaucracy and delays,” Persaud told us, noting that his government aims to provide potential investors with complete transparency. “There is no level of uncertainty in terms of what’s expected and what’s not expected.” Some 32 Canadian companies are currently involved in gold production, as well as some smaller U.S. juniors and a few from Australia. Several have made significant enough discoveries moving to the feasibility and development stage. One of them is Sandspring Resources Ltd., a Canadian company that is developing Guyana’s largest gold resource, the Toroparu property, located between the Cuyuni and Mazaruni rivers in southern Guyana. Sandspring announced the results of a prefeasibility study in early April 2013 and is continuing development of Toroparu with a goal of commencing construction of the project in 2014. Highlights of the prefeasibility study are: global resource in excess of 10 million ounces, initial proven and probable reserves of 4.1 million ounces of gold, and

Photos: Larry Luxner

annual production of 227,000 ounces of gold per year over a 16-year mine life. The project will provide several hundred jobs that Sandspring hopes to fill from the local workforce. Sandspring operates in Guyana through its subsidiary company, ETK Inc. ETK has been in business in Guyana since 1999 when it was founded by John Adams, currently chairman of Sandspring, and Rich Munson, currently CEO of Sandspring. ETK has been active in the mineral sector in Guyana since its formation. “John and I have been very fortunate in our endeavors in Guyana which have led to being in a position to put Toroparu into production in the near term,” said Munson. “We have been able to build a world-class team of mine builders [led by Mr. Yani Roditis] and explorationists [Werner Claessens and Pascal van Osta]. Werner and Pascal choosing to live in Guyana on a full-time basis with their families has significantly enhanced our presence in Guyana. Sandspring/ETK is definitely in Guyana for the long term.” Munson went on to say: “When I look back at our almost 15 years in Guyana, I am very impressed by the

above, Robert M. Persaud, Guyana’s minister of natural resources, discusses the country’s offshore oil potential. Left, This natural 17-ounce gold nugget mined in Guyana has a retail value exceeding US$86,000.

strides the country has made on all fronts. Guyana has an extremely well-educated and eager work force with a strong desire to learn skilled trades. Government has strengthened its open-door policy significantly under the last and current administration. In comparison to other places in the world our team has done business, Guyana is a great place to be building a major industrial operation. A positive example of Guyana’s open door to doing business was the execution by Government of Mineral Agreements with both Sandspring and Guyana Goldfields in 2011, which has allowed each company to aggressively move forward toward production.” Last year, Toronto-based Guyana Goldfields Inc. — which has operated in Guyana since 1996 — signed an agreement valued at $1 billion to develop various prospects throughout the country. According to a Continued on Page 14

Our extractive industries — gold, diamonds, bauxite and manganese, as well as our potential in offshore oil and gas — are all driven by private investment.

— Robert Persaud, minister of natural resources and the environment for Guyana

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April • May 2013


dazzling pioneer

King’s: Reigning Champ of Guyana’s Jewelry Retail Business

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ucked into a nondescript building along Georgetown’s Quamina Street is the workshop and showroom of Harrinand Persaud — an expert on the Guyanese gold industry and one of the country’s top jewelers.

Persaud, known to the world as “Ralph,” is chief financial officer and marketing director of King’s Jewellery World, a fixture in the Georgetown business community. His father Looknauth Persaud started the family business in 1970 from the bedroom of his house with one goldsmith and two apprentices. In 1994, the company opened its first outlet in Georgetown’s Cara Suites Hotel. Today, King’s boasts eight stores, including one in the departure lounge of Cheddi Jagan International Airport. The retail chain sells not only fine jewelry but also luxury watches, sunglasses, handbags, clothing, shoes, crystals, pens and accessories. Persaud, 36, has been in the business since 1994. He was originally going to study engineering in Miami, but eventually decided to remain in Guyana, study accounting, and stay with the family business. Today, he runs the thriving company along with his brothers Rohandev and Gowkaran. “Gold means a lot to people from India, so wherever they settled, you’ll find their descendants in the jewelry business,” he told us during a recent tour of the premises. Persaud and his brothers regularly go to trade shows in Miami, New York and Las Vegas; his father has also attended shows in places as far away as Hong Kong and India. When it comes to jewelry, according to Persaud, Guyana has a huge advantage over its competitors. “There is a cost advantage in that the materials are readily available here — mostly locally mined gold as well as diamonds, silver and platinum,” he explained. “Labor is cheaper here than in the rest of the Caribbean, so that enables us to produce pieces at significant savings over other retail locations.” Last year, Guyana produced 436,000 ounces of gold, mostly for export. The government expects 2013 production to be even higher. Persaud said his family used to operate in New York, Trinidad and the Bahamas, but “we were forced out of all these locations because of crime. Due to the downturn in the economy, jewelers were a big target.” Unlike Nassau — where Persaud catered mainly to cruise ship passengers from the United States and Europe — his Georgetown customers are mostly locals living in Guyana, as well as overseas Guyanese visiting their families back home. “Four of our family members are graduates of the Gemological Institute of America, so we’re all experts in gemstones and diamonds,” he said. “That gives us added assurance to customers that when they buy a piece from us, it’s authentic and has been given a full integrity check.” King’s employs more than 100 people, nearly a third of them in the jewelry workshop that occupies an entire floor of the building separate from the showroom. That workshop is managed by Niranjan Sukhram, who’s been with the company for 35 years. “We’re known for one particular item on the international market: the cricket bracelet,” he said. “We manufacture these bracelets for the West Indies cricket team. Every time they visit Guyana, they come to us to upgrade.” Cricket bands range in price from $750 up to $10,000 for one with diamonds. There’s also a particularly expensive item called Ralph’s link, which contains nearly four ounces of gold and retails for $7,090. “These bracelets are so strong, they will never break. People even pass them down to their grandchildren,” Persaud said. “We can reproduce almost anything, whether you bring a design to us or see something on the Internet.” Curiously, Guyana’s history of hyperinflation and economic instability has worked to Persaud’s advantage. “Over the years, we’ve had lots of currency devaluations, so the people found that having cash didn’t work for them. They’d rather save a couple of dollars and put their money into gold, gambling that it will increase in value.”

April • May 2013

Photos: Larry Luxner

Rohandev “George” Persaud and Harrinand “Ralph” Persaud, owners of King’s Jewelry World in Georgetown.

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Mining

Sandspring Project

Continued from Page 12 feasibility study issued in January, Guyana Goldfields will need $205 million to achieve commercial production of 3.29 million ounces of gold over a 17-year period, at an operating cash cost of $527 per ounce. The study projects average annual gold production over the life of its Aurora mine at 194,000 ounces, rising to 231,000 ounces a year for the first 10 years and peaking in 2020 at 349,000 ounces. If all goes according to plan, Guyana Goldfields should begin commercial production in early 2015. David Devine, Canada’s high commissioner in Georgetown, said the Ottawa government has sent senior geologists to help the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission review its mineral data collection program. Likewise, Canadian educational institutions offer training courses in everything from environmental safety to advanced mining techniques. “We’re also working with the Guyanese government and the private sector to make sure they are as open, transparent and effective as possible,” Devine told us. “We have a small embassy with only one commercial officer here, so with our limited resources, we try to focus on where we have the best competitive advantage. And our latest estimates are that Canadian companies are involved in 10,000 mining operations around the world.” Gold is not all that glitters in Guyana, however. Guyana also has the world’s seventh-largest reserves of bauxite. Its estimated 850 million tons of reserves are outranked only by Guinea, Australia, Brazil, Vietnam, Jamaica and India. Just as Canadians are supporting much of Guyana’s gold industry, the bauxite industry in Guyana is being run by Chinese and Russian investors. The Bauxite Company of Guyana, founded in 2004, is 90 percent owned by Moscow-based RUSAL — the world’s largest aluminum producer — and 10 percent by the Guyanese government. During the first 11 months of 2012, it produced 1.41 million tons of bauxite, 5.9 percent more than that produced for all of 2011. Meanwhile, China’s Bosai Minerals Group, which

has an extraction capacity of 1.2 million tons of bauxite ore per year, processed about 618,500 tons between January and November 2012, or 26 percent more than for the whole of 2011. The company said it intends to spend $100 million on an expansion program this year. A third company, Toronto-based First Bauxite Corp., is currently prospecting for refractory-grade bauxite. Statistics on diamond production are much more elusive. Persaud said his government is working hard to prevent diamonds from being taken across the border with Venezuela by smugglers trying to flout the Kimberley Process. “We’ve always been conscious that there can be cross-border movement,” he told a Reuters reporter last year, adding that Guyana’s compliance with the Kimberley Process is under “constant review.” Guyana is also beginning to export manganese — an alloy used in the manufacture of stainless steel—

for the first time in nearly 50 years. Reunion Gold Corp., based in Longueuil, Quebec, has acquired rights to prospect on 185 square kilometers at Matthew’s Ridge in northwestern Guyana, near the country’s border with Venezuela. “Since obtaining the prospecting licenses for Matthew’s Ridge in late 2010, our team has embarked on an extensive drilling campaign to establish an initial resource estimate and move Matthew’s Ridge towards development,” said Reunion’s executive chairman, David Fennell, whose company aims to extract at least 20 million tons of manganese for export to major markets. But that will require an investment of at least $300 million before production can begin. “We believe the Matthew’s Ridge project has the potential to become a leading producer of manganese in the Americas,” he said. “While this resource is very substantial, many undrilled targets remain available for additional resource growth.”

Diaspora Continued from Page 9

Photo: Beverly Richardson

A kite design of the Guyanese Diaspora celebrates Easter at Centennial Park at an event organized by the Embassy of Guyana.

Page 14

minister said. Neighboring Brazil, with the world’s sixth-largest economy, could run out of energy by 2020, “so they’re looking at countries around them they can partner with in order to build hydroelectric plants. Brazil wants electricity, and we want the road from Lethem to Georgetown paved and we want a port. But we cannot borrow money to build these things, or we’ll end up with an indebtedness that might not be sustainable.” In order to attract that kind of investment, there must be political stability, said Rodrigues-Birkett — expressing confidence that Guyana, with the help of its many citizens overseas, will be able to overcome whatever challenges crop up. “We have to move Guyana to a different place, and we’ve begun that process. I believe no country can be successful without education and

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without infrastructure,” she said. “How do we develop a country of 83,000 square miles? I don’t think we can do it with 750,000 people living on 9 percent of the land. But we have to start somewhere.” Guyanese Finance Minister Ashni Singh, interviewed in Georgetown, said the Diaspora means more than just the $420 million in remittances sent back home annually. “Our biggest export market for locally produced goods is New York, where many Guyanese live,” he pointed out. “In addition, we increasingly recognize that the Diaspora has an important role to play in representing our interests overseas.” Singh added: “There was a time when outward migration was viewed as a negative thing. Now, one takes a slightly more enlightened view. The reality is that people will move in and out of countries. Today, more than ever, we recognize the vast value of the Diaspora — as something of value, rather than something we have lost.”

April • May 2013


engine of growth

Private Sector Business Finds Booming Growth in Guyana

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ack in the 1970s, capitalism was a dirty word in Guyana. Under the country’s authoritarian president, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, Guyana’s onceprofitable sugar industry was nationalized, private businesses were denied access to capital, and the socialist-style policies advocated by Burnham sent the Guyanese economy into free fall. “Our experiment with socialism really took our economy back and decimated Guyana for close to 20 years,” says Clinton Urling, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). “But in 1992, we had a change of government and the first free and fair elections.” Fast-forward to today: The private sector is booming, new hotels are popping up all over Georgetown, foreign money is pouring into the mining sector, and Guyanese who once shied away from their homeland are coming back in droves to invest and live. This year, Guyana’s GDP will expand by a healthy 5.3 percent, predicts the Ministry of Finance, marking an impressive eighth consecutive year of growth for the country. “We welcome investors of all types, our trade policies are open and free, and our regulations are fair and efficient. I think the government has made big strides since 1992, in terms of getting our macroeconomics in order,” Urling said. “Today, they pursue fiscal and monetary policies that are very businessfriendly.” Urling’s organization, created in 1889 by an act of Parliament, has 105 members and is open to any business that operates in Guyana. It offers four levels of membership, ranging from $500 a year for large companies down to $25 annually for the smallest microenterprises. His stated objective: to ensure there’s a conducive economic

environment for business to succeed. “We want to move away from any perception that the chamber is an elitist organization, and to represent the interests of a wide cross-section of Guyanese,” said Urling, owner of German’s Restaurant and a GCCI member since 2006. At 33, he’s the youngest president in the chamber’s 124-year history. Urling says the country’s priority should be to diversify its economic base. “We’re still primarily a commoditybased economy. We need to move away from that toward more diversification and a knowledge-based economy,” he told us. “One barrier to investment is inadequate infrastructure. We see the robustness occurring within the mining sector, so we need more access to the interior. There’s still a need for more airstrips in the interior and for [completion of] the GeorgetownLethem road.” One business leader doing something to improve Guyana’s transport infrastructure is Brian Tiwarie, managing director of BK International Inc. BK, registered in 1993, is the country’s largest privately owned construction company. Its projects include sea defense works, commercial building and custom residential construction, roads, bridges, water distribution systems, wharves and jetties. We caught up with Tiwarie at his

Photo: Larry Luxner

Brian Tiwarie, managing director of BK International Inc., Guyana’s largest privately owned construction company.

office overlooking a construction site where BK is building a $10 million cruise ship port. At the moment, his company is dredging the port to a depth of six meters, which would allow ships of 80 feet to enter at low tide. “Most of the ports are made out of wood, but this is fully concrete,” he said, adding that the project will be finished

late this year or in early 2014. BK, which employs 400 people, has built more than 90 percent of Guyana’s sea defense works and 100 percent of all such projects funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank. It recently invested $15 million in a new asphalt Continued on Page 24

We welcome investors of all types, our trade policies are open and free, and our regulations are fair and efficient. I think the government has made big strides since 1992, in terms of getting our macroeconomics in order.

Clinton Urling

April • May 2013

— Clinton Urling, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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natural travel choice

Off-the-Beaten-Path Guyana Promotes Itself as Prime Ecotourism Destination

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rom the moment you step off the plane and onto the tarmac at Guyana’s Cheddi Jagan International Airport, you know this is going to be unlike any country you’ve ever seen before.

For one thing, Guyana is South America’s only English-speaking republic, and it’s a melting pot of cultures, religions, ethnicities and eclectic traditions. This becomes quickly evident along the 28-mile highway to Georgetown, where men congregate on the side of the road, holding birds in bright red cages and placing bets on whose bird sings the sweetest melodies. You’ll also pass Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and an occasional Chinese pagoda — and you’ll have to keep reminding yourself that this is South America, not Asia. Guyana, which itself is an Amerindian word meaning “Land of Many Waters,” is home to only 750,000 people, more than 90 percent of whom live in the narrow coastal strip along the Atlantic Ocean. That makes this largely forested country — about the size of its former colonizer, Great Britain — among the most sparsely inhabited on Earth. Yet it’s also home to the world’s tallest wooden church, its highest single-drop waterfall, one of South America’s most colorful markets and one of the continent’s best-preserved mangrove wetlands. For intrepid travelers, that alone more than compensates for the lack of chain-brand all-inclusive resorts normally associated with a Caribbean tourist destination. The three-hour Mangrove Reserve Tour developed by Annette Arjoon-Martins of Air Services Ltd. is a delightful, unforgettable introduction to Guyana. “The good thing about this is, we’re only half an hour’s drive from Georgetown, and it’s a nice alternative to a city tour,” said Arjoon-Martins, a certified pilot and now tour operator who tries to educate her guests as well as keep them entertained. “Climate change is a major issue for Guyana because we are seven feet below sea level. That threatens our existence along the coast,” she explained. “Mangroves sequester 10 times more carbon than any other forest because they grow so fast. Three hundred years ago, our entire coastline was covered in mangroves, but a lot of coastal degradation took place, especially in the ’70s, when we were playing around with socialism.” The Mangrove Reserve Tour, winner of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s 2012 Biodiversity Conservation Award, costs only $25 per person and begins at a 165-year-old former sugar plantation house, where visitors watch a short film about Guyana’s 22,600-hectare coastal mangrove forest. Then it’s all aboard a cart pulled by an ancient horse for a leisurely tour through traditional Guyanese villages. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, Guyana’s minister of tourism, industry and commerce, says the mangrove tour is a prime example of how the Guyanese private sector is promoting his country as a unique ecotourism destination. “We’re trying to merge the whole issue of

Page 16

The world-famous Kaieteur Falls

Photos: Larry Luxner

environmental protection and sustainable development into the tourism product, so that the value of Guyana’s greenery and biodiversity can be understood,” Ali told us. “You don’t need to go into the interior to see that we’re practicing sustainable conservation.” But some particularly adventurous tourists choose to do just that. Dane Gobin is CEO of the Iwokrama International Centre, a 371,000-hectare rainforest nature reserve established in 1996 as a joint effort between the Guyanese government and the British Commonwealth. Iwokrama is located just north of the Brazilian border about 340 kilometers south of Georgetown; that’s six hours by road, or one hour by air. Its chief patron is Prince Charles, who has visited the project twice. The Iwokrama resort draws about 1,200 people a year, 95 percent of them British citizens attracted by Guyana’s reputation as a birding mecca (the country is home to 474 known species of birds). The resort’s remote cabin, which sleeps eight, is equipped with a weather station that conducts scientific research, as well as a full kitchen and broadband Internet in the rainforest, “with speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second, thanks to the new fiberoptic cable to Brazil,” Gobin notes. A natural magnet for eco-tourists, Guyana is home to 275 waterfalls, four mountain ranges, 18 lakes and vast swaths of untouched tropical rainforest. The Guiana Shield and the adjacent Amazon Basin form the largest equatorial forest in the world and boast a wide range of Sponsored Report

Princess Hotel & Casino south of Georgetown is Guyana’s largest hotel.

ecosystems, with distinct flora and fauna, abundant wildlife, spectacular vegetation, and one of the richest biodiversity destinations in South America. Guyana’s exceptional and still largely undiscovered nature tourist attractions and resorts are mainly found at the confluence of three of its largest rivers — the Essequibo, the Mazaruni and the Cuyuni — nestled amid thousands of square miles of savannah land between untouched mountains ranging from Brazil to the south and Venezuela to the north.

April • May 2013


We’re trying to merge the whole issue of environmental protection and sustainable development

into the tourism product, so that the value of Guyana’s greenery and biodiversity can be understood. — Mohamed Irfaan Ali, acting minister of tourism, industry and commerce for Guyana

The world-famous Kaieteur Falls is a natural wonder, Roraima Ball Room is also Guyana’s biggest with the highest single-drop waterfall in the world, at 226 multifunction hall, with a seating capacity for up to 800 meters. Surrounding Kaieteur are a number of rare, people. threatened species, including the golden frog, whose A different kind of hotel is the Cara Lodge, a threeentire life cycle plays out in the water that collects in the story wooden mansion in the heart of Georgetown. giant Tank Bromeliads, the second-largest bromeliad in Dating from the 1840s, this home-turned-hotel was once the world, as well as the Guianan cock-of-the-rock and the residence of the first Lord Mayor of Georgetown. The the Makanaima birds, who emerge in the hundreds at Cara Lodge opened for business in 1996, later expanding dusk from under the vast shelf of rock carved by the falls from 14 rooms to 34 under the supervision of owner over the centuries. Guyana, in fact, is a birder’s paradise, Shaun McGrath. filled with 858 species prevalent in the The Cara Lodge also boasts two suites: Guiana Shield. the Quamina Suite, named after one of the Some 20 miles up the Essequibo leaders of the 1763 slave rebellion, and the River — the largest river between the Walter Raleigh Suite, which pays tribute to Orinoco and Amazon — easily the English explorer who came to Guyana accessible by private speedboats or in 1594, in search of the legendary El fast water taxis, is the mining town of Dorado. Bartica, where the Essequibo is joined For many years, Guyana’s premier hotel by the Mazaruni and Cuyuni Rivers. has been the Pegasus. Located on eight This magnificent expanse of waterway acres of prime real estate along the is home to the lovely Hurakabra River Georgetown seawall, the 130-room swanky Resort and Baganara Island Resort, property was acquired in 2009 by both beautifully appointed beachfront businessman Robert Badal, who properties surrounded by tropical immediately embarked on an $8 million forest. renovation. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, The waters surrounding Bartica “The Pegasus has a long history of minister of housing and water and acting minister and these two resorts provide some attracting the cream of the crop of travelers of tourism, industry and of the most stunning, virtually who come to Guyana,” said Badal, estimating commerce for Guyana untouched river scenery anywhere in last year’s occupancy rate at 65 percent. “Our the world. Bartica is also a port of clientele is mainly diplomats and business entry, where customs clearance for cruisers takes less travelers, rather than ethnic Guyanese who tend to stay than an hour, and the area is hurricane-free. As a result, with their family when they come home. All the big cruisers sailing north from Brazil to the Caribbean are functions and moments in the history of this country now making the Essequibo River a top destination. have taken place here.” Tourism to Guyana in general is on the rise. Not far away, a 197-room Marriott is rising. The fiveAccording to Ali, the country saw an 18 percent increase star hotel, to be finished in mid-2014, represents a $58 in tourist arrivals last year. million investment and will mark the first time an “We count every person who is not a Guyanese as a international chain enters the Guyanese market. Among tourist,” he said, explaining that the 183,000 nonother things, the Marriott will have a boardwalk, a casino Guyanese who visited in 2012 came from the United and 17,000 square meters of guest space on nine floors. States (58 percent), Canada (19.6 percent) and the “In 2001, we had 700 hotel rooms in all classes. Now Caribbean (17.9 percent). The rest arrived from Europe, we have 2,900 rooms,” said Tourism Minister Ali. “The South America or elsewhere. Marriott’s clientele will be more package tourism, which Yet despite the deep cultural links between Guyana is something we’ve never had before.” and the United Kingdom, and the thousands of Something else Guyana has never had before is cruise Guyanese who call England their home, no direct flights ships — despite the many requests the government has exist between the British Isles and Guyana. “Most received from major cruise lines. Said Ali: “One of our European tourists who come here fly to Barbados, but to major challenges is our main harbor, which cannot get the connection to Guyana you have to wait a accommodate larger ships. We are working to develop a minimum of 16 hours, which is not good for the market,” deepwater port to ensure that this capacity constraint is he said. removed.” One approach Ali’s office is attempting to remedy that situation is to market Barbados and Guyana as a common destination “so you can have a seven-day package with beaches, blue waters and sunshine, but also a strong ecotourism product and cultural heritage.” Georgetown, Guyana’s quaintly colonial capital, is itself a tourist attraction, famous for its stately Parliament building, the iconic Stabroek Market clock tower and St. George’s Cathedral, which at 43 meters high is one of the world’s tallest wooden structures. Georgetown also hosts the 15-member Caribbean Community, which in February 2005 inaugurated its gleaming new headquarters in the city’s Liliendaal district. Accommodation varies from boutiques hotels to guest houses to the recently inaugurated six-story sixPhoto: courtesy of Wilderness Explorers story Princess Hotel, whose 200 rooms make it the largest hotel in Guyana. It boasts a casino with 250 slot machines Prime Minister Samuel Hinds and others look at a giant turtle on Shell Beach. and offers a wide range of table games. The hotel’s

April • May 2013

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Hurakabra resort for sale www.hurakabragy.com

Photo: courtesy of Wilderness Explorers

Iwokrama Rainforest Nature Reserve

Photo: Baganara Resort

Baganara Island Resort www.baganara.net

jaguars

Photo: courtesy of Wilderness Explorers

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flying high

Guyana’s Flagship Airport Embarks On $150 Million Transformation

C

heddi Jagan International Airport is about to undergo a dramatic transformation that will enable Guyana’s flagship airport to receive larger, heavier aircraft — boosting direct passenger traffic to and from Europe and North America.

The $150 million project, to be financed mostly through a $130 million loan from China’s ExportImport Bank, will be finished by 2015. The idea is to turn the airport — located 25 miles south of Georgetown — into a busy regional hub that could eventually link northern Brazil and the Caribbean with Africa. “The biggest challenge we’ve had over the years with CJIA is the length of the runway and the size of our terminal building,” said Ramesh Ghir, CEO of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Corp., which oversees CJIA. “If we were to process three flights at the same time, the terminal building would be filled, and we’d have overflows. This leads to inefficiency; you cannot process passengers in a timely manner this way.” In 2012, the airport handled 543,000 passengers, a 16 percent increase over 2011 volumes; this followed a 7 percent increase the year before. That means traffic at CJIA is growing at twice the regional rate of 8 percent a year, and more than three times the worldwide annual growth rate of 5 percent. Much of this jump in air traffic is linked to a boom in the Guyanese gold and diamond mining sector, as well as increasing offshore oil exploration and rising numbers of overseas Guyanese coming to visit friends and relatives back home. In addition, air traffic activities (overflights) have jumped from 40,961 in 2007 to 61,338 four years later — a 49 percent increase. To cope with more demand, CJIA’s runway will be lengthened from the current 7,500 feet to 10,500 feet. Likewise, the new passenger terminal will measure 14,000 square meters, twice the size of the current terminal. It will also have eight boarding bridges to protect passengers from the elements; the current terminal has none. One additional parking position may also be dedicated to cargo. At present, CJIA has five duty-free retail concessions — three shops selling Guyanese rums and liqueurs as well as premium spirits brands, the New Era gift and souvenir shop, and a King’s Jewelry outlet. But that’s likely to double or even triple once the new

An Artist’s rendering of the renovated Cheddi Jagan International Airport which is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

terminal is finished. Other features will include restaurants, escalators, elevators, improved CCTV monitoring and upgraded bathroom facilities. The Cheddi Jagan International Airport project is being carried out by China Harbour Engineering Co., a Beijing-based Ramesh Ghir, CEO of conglomerate whose 8,000 Cheddi Jagan employees operate in more International than 80 countries. The Airport Corp. world-renowned (CJIAC). international contractor is currently involved in projects valued at around $10 billion. The company said it has been “making major strides in its efforts to improve infrastructure development throughout the Caribbean” in recent years. Besides Guyana, it has also secured major contracts in Jamaica, Mexico, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. In April 2010, China Harbour established its regional headquarters in Jamaica, where it’s heavily involved in the $400 million Jamaica Development Infrastructure Program. Meanwhile, in the Bahamas, China Harbour is

building a bridge to link the islands of Little Abaco and North Abaco, as well as a cruise ship port in George Town — capital of the Cayman Islands — and a giant container terminal at the Mexican port of Manzanillo. “China Harbour comes to Guyana with a strong and positive trade record of highquality infrastructure work in Latin America and [has] completed significant airport projects around the world,” said the company’s general manager, Zhongdong Tang, at a recent Photo: Larry Luxner groundbreaking event in Guyana. “Airport safety will be increased. Guyana will become a more viable option for trans-Atlantic flights, leading to great airlift for passengers and cargo,” he added. Guyana has also made significant headway forging stronger air links with the United States. In late March, the country inked an “open skies” air services agreement with Washington. The accord was signed by Brent Hardt, the U.S. ambassador to Guyana, and by Robeson Benn, Guyana’s minister of public works. Open skies agreements allow unrestricted air service by airlines of both countries, between and beyond the other’s territory. They also allow airline

We can become what the Panama Canal did for maritime traffic. Guyana can become a hub, and that’s why investing in this new airport is so critical.

— Mohamed Irfaan Ali, acting minister of tourism, industry and commerce for Guyana

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April • May 2013


managements to determine how often to fly, which aircraft to use and how much to charge. The State Department said the pact “creates opportunities for strengthening the economic partnership between the United States and Guyana through closer links in transport and trade.” Tourism Minister Mohamed Irfaan Ali said the sky’s the limit for Guyana’s air services industry, although he added that his country’s biggest tourism challenge is bringing down the cost of flights between Guyana and the rest of the world. “Regional transport still remains very expensive and uncompetitive. At one time, you had to pay $395 for a round-trip ticket to Trinidad,” Ali explained. “True, the cost of fuel is a major problem, but one of our good prospects is our proximity to South America and even Africa. We can become what the Panama Canal did for maritime traffic. Guyana can become a hub, and that’s why investing in this new airport is so critical.” CJIA began life as a U.S. military base in 1941, opened to commercial traffic in 1946, and was renamed Cheddi Jagan International Airport in March 1997, following the death of Guyanese independence hero and late President Cheddi Jagan. The current terminal building was built in March 1952 and was last renovated in 2008. Ghir says that Guyana has “significantly higher jet fuel costs” than its competitors, which is why state oil entity Guyoil is in the process of setting up its own fuel farm at CJIA, with the goal of reducing fuel costs. Guyanese authorities are also trying to attract airlines such as Aeroméxico, Copa Airlines and Gol, a low-cost Brazilian carrier. At the moment, however, transatlantic flights direct from Europe cannot land at CJIA, “hence the need for a longer runway,” Ghir explained in a recent interview. “The largest aircraft we can take right now is the Boeing 767. When we finish the expansion, we’ll be able to receive 747s. Our objective is to become a hub for the region, attracting flights from Africa that would stop here and go on to North America and vice versa, as well as receive direct flights from Europe.”

Ghir added: “At the moment, Barbados and Trinidad are seen as regional hubs, but we push adventure tourism, and there’s a huge market for that in Europe. If we could make the cost of direct flights more reasonable, more people would visit Guyana.” Asked if the local government would follow the example of the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador in expanding CJIA as a build-operate-transfer concession (a type of private-public partnership), Ghir said no. “It’s a government-owned airport but it’s being operated as a semi-autonomous agency — and our model has worked for us over the years,” he said, noting that revenues rose from G$171 million ($855,000) in 2001 to G$1.2 billion ($6 million) last year. “We’ve increased our income five-fold over the past decade,” he said, predicting that CJIA “will see 6 to 9 percent annual growth once the terminal is completed.”

Cheddi Jagan International Airport.

Century of Flight: Guyana Marks 100th Anniversary of Aviation In March 1913, a German daredevil named George Schmidt made local history when he flew his monoplane over Georgetown, dropping messages from the sky. That marked the birth of civil aviation in Guyana, even though the outbreak of World War I forced colonial authorities to ban flying over the country — then known as British Guiana — for the next six years. On March 26, authorities marked the 100th anniversary of Schmidt’s humble flight with a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority’s new headquarters at Ogle International Airport. Only three days later, Ogle marked the completion of its phase II development and its certification as a Class 2C airport. That will allow the once-quiet suburban airport to receive larger aircraft such as the Dash 8 and ATR aircraft used by LIAT and Caribbean Airlines on flights linking Guyana to Barbados, Trinidad and other islands. “Ogle’s development is a major transformational achievement and, perhaps, the finest example of publicprivate partnership contributing to the growth of the economy,” said Michael O. Correia Jr., owner of Trans Guyana Airways (TGA) and president of the Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana Inc. (AOAG). “This decade-long investment is remarkable, too, for the fact that it is an entirely Guyanese enterprise utilizing Guyanese private sector capital, Guyanese management and operational skills, and was built with Guyanese engineering construction skills and labor.” Ogle, which occupies 441 acres of land, boasts a 4,000foot runway and is located seven miles east of Georgetown and 24 miles northeast of Cheddi Jagan International Airport at Timehri. It serves as the base of operations for 13 airlines maintaining a fleet of 44 airplanes that transport some 80,000 passengers and 5,000 tons of cargo per year between Georgetown and Guyana’s vast, sparsely populated hinterland.

April • May 2013

Ogle International Airport.

Since 2001, the aerodrome has been managed by Ogle Airport Inc., a subsidiary of AOAG. Ogle gained international airport status in 2009 following a $3 million upgrade. Over the next five years — as foreign investment in Guyana’s lucrative mining and forestry sectors increases — authorities expect the number of aircraft movements to jump by 50 percent. Projections call for 125,000 takeoffs and landings per year, while operations will be extended to 16 hours per day to accommodate evening traffic. In addition, the terminal will be enlarged to handle up to 100 passengers at a time, while maintaining international airport safety and security standards. Another pioneer of the Guyanese aviation industry is Air Services Ltd., which has 23 aircraft in its fleet as well as a Bell 206 long-range helicopter. The company is run by prominent pilot Annette Arjoon-Martins and operates 150 flights a week. In July 2012, Air Services dedicated its new departure and VIP lounge at Ogle, where it also houses its maintenance operations and flight school.

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Outside of Georgetown, the government has also invested $300,000 to expand the airstrip in Lethem — along Guyana’s southwestern border with Brazil — and plans a passenger terminal there as well. And in midFebruary, Trans Guyana Airways began scheduled domestic flights from Ogle to two new destinations: the town of Bartica — located along the west bank of the Essequibo River and home of the 187-acre Baganara Island Resort. Finally, a newly rehabilitated, 3,000-foot airstrip at Surama is likely to boost tourist arrivals to the nearby Surama Village Eco-Lodge, located six kilometers off the main Georgetown-Lethem road. Built in 1998, the lodge attracted 42 tourists that year; in 2012, visitor arrivals to the tiny village had jumped to more than 800. The lodge already has bookings for 2014 and requests for 2015 rates. Besides Ogle, the AOAG has another milestone to celebrate this year: the 20th anniversary of the Art Williams & Harry Wendt Aeronautical Engineering School. Founded by Capt. Malcolm Chan-a-Sue and Col. Charles Hutson in 1993, it’s the only accredited engineering school of its kind in the Caribbean; from seven students in 1997, enrollment has now grown to 85. It’s accredited and certified by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority and by the civil aviation authorities of Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. The school’s staff includes instructors with university degrees and years of experience in management, education, electrical engineering, mathematics and medicine. In addition, all engineers are involved in the day-to-day maintenance of aircraft throughout the Caribbean. The school’s mission statement is simple: “To develop aircraft engineering skills and technical expertise essential to the development of air transport within Guyana, the Caribbean Community and the world at large.”

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can you hear me now?

Digicel Leads Guyana’s Mobile Market, While GT&T Dominates International Traffic

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t’s hard to go very far in Guyana without running into Digicel, the country’s dominant mobile phone service provider. Digicel’s advertising is everywhere, from the signs greeting arriving passengers at Cheddi Jagan International Airport to the bright red umbrellas that provide shade to fruit vendors at Georgetown’s colorful Stabroek Market.

In only 11 years, parent company Digicel Group Ltd. — incorporated in Bermuda and headquartered in Jamaica — has grown to over 13 million customers across more than 30 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific. In Guyana, Digicel is the only wireless rival to Guyana Telephone & Telegraph (GT&T), which was privatized in 1990 and enjoys a protected monopoly on fixed-line dialing and international service through its majority stockholder, Atlantic Tele-Network (ATNI). Gregory Dean, CEO of Digicel Guyana since July 2008, said his company started operations on Feb. 14, 2007, and has since become Guyana’s top mobile provider, with more than 50 percent of the market. The remainder is controlled by GT&T’s Cellink. “Since we’ve come in, about 150,000 people now have mobile access they never had before. Domestic calling rates have dropped by more than 50 percent, and a lot of new telecom services have come to Guyana,” Dean told us. “Before Digicel, for example, there were no smart phones on the market here. We’ve contributed greatly to smart-phone use in Guyana; today, it’s now the primary source of Internet access for most Guyanese.” At present, Guyana has 154,000 fixed-line subscribers, 28,000 fixed-broadband customers and 570,000 mobile subscribers. Although Guyana’s fixed-line density is high considering the country’s low per-capita income, the mobile penetration rate has recently stagnated at around 80 percent — below the regional average — meaning that there are still plenty of opportunities for growth. “Guyana receives over $400 million a year in remittances, representing 20 percent of its GDP.

Photo: Jacqui James

That Diaspora market is critical to our business,” Dean said. “People in the Diaspora send money, and local people spend it.” For competitive reasons, Dean wouldn’t reveal what Digicel’s local revenues are, or how much subscribers pay on average for mobile service. He did say the company has 180 direct employees as well as another 1,000 indirect employees at the retail level. The single biggest factor that could boost business for Digicel, according to Dean, is a complete liberalization of the telecom sector — including both fixed-line telephony as well as lucrative international services. The Guyanese government renewed GT&T’s fixed-line monopoly in December 2010, though a new telecommunications bill has been drafted that would throw that sector open to competition. “We anticipated that by mid-year, the market could open up. That’s what we were hoping for, but nothing has happened. I think the market should have been opened a long time ago,” Dean said. “We have one hand tied behind our back. Obviously the international market is going to be

From right, Digicel CEO Gregory Dean, Guyanese Minister of Amerindian Affairs - Pauline Sukhai, and Wakapau Toshao Lloyd Pereira attend the launch of the Wakapau Cell Site, the firstever solar-powered cell site in Guyana, a communications solution being used for sites in remote areas.

an area of competition because of the number of Guyanese living overseas. At the moment, traffic going in and out of the country has to go through GT&T.” Since 1990, GT&T has been 80 percent owned by Atlantic Tele-Network. But last year — in anticipation of the coming liberalization — the state sold its 20 percent share in GT&T to China’s Datang Telecom Technology and Industry Group for a reported $25 million. Gail Teixeira, President Donald Ramotar’s advisor on governance, said the telecom sector and its de-monopolization remains a critical component of Guyana’s national agenda. “We are looking at opening up the sector fully,” Teixeira recently told reporters. “We are talking about liberalizing the sector to allow for any other company that wishes to enter the Guyanese market to come on board.”

Since we’ve come in, about 150,000 people now have mobile access they never had before. Domestic calling rates have dropped by more than 50 percent, and a lot of new telecom services have come to Guyana. — Gregory Dean, chief executive officer of Digicel Guyana

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April • May 2013


success on the line

Guyana Emerges as Leader In Global Call Center Industry

T

he next time you call your phone company with a question about cellular service, or need to dispute a charge that appeared on your latest credit card statement, don’t be surprised if the voice on the other end of the line belongs to a customer service representative in Guyana.

Qualfon, a leader in the business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry, has quickly become one of Guyana’s biggest private employers. Qualfon has a strong track record of sales, customer service and back-office processing growth in the BPO industry. As part of its mission of “making people’s lives better,” Qualfon invests in the well being of its people — a philosophy that’s been key to high employee morale and tenure. It has launched support programs such as providing milk subsidies for its employees and in the community to take care of its people — which in turn provides a high-level platform for Qualfon to better care for its customers, clients and communities. It now has 1,700 workers in Georgetown, the capital. A second site just a few kilometers away will have an additional 800 employees within the next 12 to 18 months, and a large multi-building campus planned at a third site near Guyana’s new national sports stadium will eventually house up to 5,000 workers. Qualfon, established in 1996, is a debt-free company with just over $100 million in annual revenues; its chief executive officer, Michael P. Marrow, is based in Boca Raton, Fla. “In the early years, India was the country of choice for BPO firms because of its large labor pool, low wages and prevalence of English speakers. “The challenge India has had is a very recognizable Indian accent that Americans tend to have a difficult time with,” Marrow told us. “The Guyanese have a pleasant accent, and we’ve never had any problems with that. Several large mobile phone operators and banks visited our Guyana operations and were very pleased.” He added: “Companies like ours are constantly looking for other locations and have been opening up call centers in Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras. One advantage is that we’re in similar time zones and close by, so if one of our Fortune 100 customers

Above, Qualfon Call Center in Georgetown at left, QUALFON GUYANA SITE DIRECTOR MARK BOYER, QUALFON CEO MICHAEL MARROW, CALL CENTER MANAGER LUANNA PERSUAD, AND SR. VICE PRESIDENT PETE LUTZ RESPECTIVELY IN GEORGETOWN.

uses our services, they can frequently go and visit the sites. Marrow said Qualfon’s clientele consists of wireless operators, banks, credit-card companies and major retailers. “Guyana has the benefit of proximity. You can get there in five hours from JFK [John F. Kennedy Airport] or four hours from Miami,” he said. “Their native language is English, not Spanish, and like the Filipinos, the Guyanese have a very strong affinity to the United States. There’s also a strong affinity to the U.K., so it’s a terrific location. The government is very supportive, and the technology infrastructure has really progressed since we first opened there

seven years ago. “When we started, we were communicating with our domestic centers via satellite. Now it’s via fiberoptic cable linked to Trinidad,” he added. “There’s also a new fiber-optic route coming in from Brazil, which we expected to go online momentarily. By May, we will have a state-of-the-art, fully redundant network in place for our clients.” So far, Qualfon has spent about $4 million in infrastructure in Guyana and plans to spend another $3 million in the next few years. In that regard, Guyana’s GO-Invest promotion agency has proven extremely useful. “Virtually everything in Guyana is imported, so part of the incentives GO-Invest provided was for us to have these import duties waived,” Marrow explained. “In order to build our sites, we had to bring in all the computers, cubicles, servers, routers, office equipment and telephony infrastructure.” While Qualfon is the largest call center company in Guyana, it is not the only one.

Continued on Page 22

Guyana has the benefit of proximity. You can get there in five hours from JFK or four hours from Miami. Their native language is English, not Spanish, and like the Filipinos, the Guyanese have a very strong affinity to the United States. There’s also a strong affinity to the U.K., so it’s a terrific location. — Michael P. Marrow, chief executive officer of Qualfon

April • May 2013

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Page 21


Ambassador Continued from Page 5 “In the United States, Cuba is a domestic political issue, but in the Caribbean, it’s not,” he said. “In the U.S., both Republican and Democratic administrations through the ages have maintained a certain posture against Cuba. However, in the Caribbean we tend to see things differently.” Some Americans have also criticized the Guyanese government for not doing enough to stop violent crime. Asked about that, Karran acknowledged that security is indeed an issue — but that it’s also a question of perception. “The percentage of crime victims relative to the number of visitors to Guyana is not sufficient to warrant any kind of undue concern,” he said. In recent years, Guyana has chaired UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and the Rio Group, a regional bloc that has since been merged into the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC in Spanish). In addition, said Karran, the country has become a leading voice within Caricom (the Caribbean Community), which itself has always wanted to maintain a high profile within the OAS. When not focused on his job, Karran enjoys spending time with his wife Donna and their three children: Cassandra, Amanda and Kevin. He also has a number of philanthropic interests. Back in Guyana, Karran chaired the appeals tribunal of the National Insurance Scheme; he was also on the board of the University of Guyana and is still a member of the Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, a nonprofit group that provides free legal representation to indigent Guyanese. Here in Washington, Karran currently serves as vice

Call Centers Continued from Page 21 Clear Connect Inc. was established in 2007 by local businessman Adrian Collins, who had offshore experience in the Philippines, India, Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. Collins started in the first floor of a Georgetown office building with 36 employees, and he has since built Clear Connect into a successful operation with a local workforce of 200. “As near-shore leaders in this industry, we rank second to none in providing principled customer management and BPO solutions tailored to specific industry verticles,” says the company website. “We strive to improve operational efficiencies, achieve key performance metrics and reduce costs in the industries of communications and media, financial services, health care, retail, travel and hospitality.” Another company, Londonbased Sambora Communications, offers its clients inbound sales and service, retention programs, customer satisfaction surveys, lifestyle surveys and debt collection services from its Georgetown branch office. Sambora’s chairman is Ralph

Page 22

The Guyanese Embassy in Washington distributes literature such as these pamphlets and brochures to promote tourism and investment in Guyana.

chairman of the Young Americas Business Trust, a locally based NGO that fosters entrepreneurship among youth across the Americas — and whose models have been replicated worldwide. Given his active schedule, don’t expect the ambassador from Georgetown to retire anytime soon. This year, the Guyanese government formally notified the OAS of its intention to nominate Karran to replace Surinamese diplomat Albert Ramdin as the body’s assistant secretary-general when Ramdin’s term

Ramkarran, the senior partner in Cameron & Shepherd, Guyana’s oldest and best-known law firm, as well as the outgoing speaker of the National Assembly. The company says it plans to expand its workforce to as many as 1,000 employees, citing “Guyana’s reliable and secure communications network” as well as its Englishspeaking workforce and its people’s neutral accent. Sambora adds: “Our low-cost base in Guyana allows us to provide high-quality solutions at costs that are competitive with all offshore locations.” Qualfon’s Marrow said that when factoring in all operating costs, Guyana is still about 10 percent cheaper than the Philippines and 30 percent cheaper than Costa Rica. “In Costa Rica, Spanish is the native language and we’re trying to hire English-speaking people. Only a small percentage of Costa Ricans speak English, and an even smaller percentage speak English fluently, and they command a premium for their services.” In Guyana, the call center position is a mid-level or above opportunity. “Comparatively speaking,” Marrow said, “they earn what an accountant with a few years’ experience or mid-level manager would make.”

Photo: Larry Luxner

expires in 2015. If his nomination is approved, Karran would become the first Guyanese to occupy a senior position within the OAS since the organization’s founding in 1948. “We have a very unique position in the hemisphere because we’re part of the West Indies and the Englishspeaking Caribbean, but we also have a South American identity,” Karran said, explaining why Guyana deserves such a prominent post in the 35-member organization. “We’re located on the continent, and we have always seen ourselves as a bridge between the Caribbean and South America. This is reflected in our foreign policy initiatives.”

ocean saratoga

Oil and Gas Continued from Page 11 just over a decade ago, when foreign investors generally stayed away from the area because of a dispute between Guyana and Suriname — its neighbor to the east — that nearly sparked a border war back in June 2000. That was when the Surinamese Navy sent a gunboat to forcibly evict an oil rig contracted by CGX, claiming it was drilling in Suriname’s territorial waters. Seven years later, however, the United Nations International Law of the Sea Tribunal settled the dispute, awarding Guyana 12,800 square miles

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of the contested area and Suriname 6,900 square miles. Odeen Ishmael, who was Guyana’s ambassador in Washington at the time and is now envoy to Kuwait, told us that his country could emulate the success of other oil regional exporters within the framework of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). “While the maritime boundary between both countries is now clearly demarcated and it is clear that both countries have their own pro­grams for exploiting this resource,” he said, “it will be of immense signi­ficance if they decide on an enterprise involving some form of cooperation, since the petroleum belt runs through the territories of both nations.”

April • May 2013


important lessons

Universal Education Is Key To Guyana’s Economic Future “

One of the priorities of the PPP government has always been education. The founder of our party, Dr. [Cheddi] Jagan, had said since the 1950s that the way out of poverty was through education. And that philosophy has always stuck with us.

Dr. Seeta Shah Roath, director of the Guyana Learning Channel.

I

t’s one of Guyana’s enduring ironies: Despite a literacy rate of 92 percent and the fact that it spends a higher share of its GDP on education than any other South American country except Argentina, Guyana remains poorer than many of its neighbors.

Frank Anthony intends to change that. As Guyana’s minister of culture, youth and sport — and acting minister of education — Anthony is convinced that education is Guyana’s ticket to prosperity. “I was born in Enmore, a town famous in Guyanese history because on June 16, 1948, five sugar workers were killed there in a protest against working conditions,” he said. “I made a silent pledge at their grave that I would dedicate my life to the struggle of the Guyanese people.” To that end, Anthony, 46, studied for one year at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem, eventually earning a master’s degree in public health. He then worked 13 years in the Guyanese health sector, while politically remaining loyal to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), which has now led Guyana for the last 20 years. “One of the priorities of the PPP government has always been education. The founder of our party, Dr. [Cheddi] Jagan, had said since the 1950s that the way out of poverty was through education. And that philosophy has always stuck with us,” Anthony told us. At one time, he said, sending their children to elementary school was considered a luxury for many rural Guyanese. “We introduced primary education to ensure that

April • May 2013

— Frank Anthony minister of culture, youth and sport for Guyana Photos: Larry Luxner

ordinary people had access to education. And in the 1960s, when people weren’t even thinking about tertiary education, we opened up Queens College,” Anthony said, noting that this month marks the 50th anniversary of the April 1963 parliamentary decree establishing the University of Guyana. “The opposition used very derogatory terms, calling it Jagan’s Night School, but from these humble beginnings, it has grown and blossomed into a good university,” he said. “We now have two campuses with about 7,000 students.” Last year, Anthony said, the government spent G$21 billion ($105 million) on education, out of a total budget of G$180 billion ($900 million). That translates into nearly 12 percent, a “huge chunk,” he points out. In the 1970s, single-sex schools were made co-educational, while private and parochial schools were incorporated into the public school system. Today, private schools exist in Guyana, with many of them run by Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and secular institutions. In all cases, kids wear uniforms to school, regardless of their age. Today, Guyana is one of the highest-ranked developing countries in the education index of the U.N. Human Development Report. Its score of 0.943 puts it third in the Caribbean after Cuba and Barbados, and second in South America after Argentina. “We have made primary education universal, and it’s taken us awhile to get there. We’re now working on trying to get universal secondary education. But in many of our interior communities where you have people living in sparsely populated areas, villages have only 200 or 300 inhabitants each, and you can’t put a secondary school in every village,” Anthony explained. “So we build a school to serve a cluster of villages, and also a hostel. Children stay there, and we provide meals for them, funded by the government. Our main challenge is to build more of these facilities.” The government also offers vocational education for youths who drop out of school and want to learn Sponsored Report

practical skills that can translate into meaningful jobs. “We have a residential training program where kids from all over Guyana stay for nine months, learning things like masonry, plumbing and electrical wiring,” Anthony said. “Some of these kids didn’t complete secondary school. In the past they would have fallen away, but now we’re giving them skills and certifying them.” Another innovative project is the Guyana Learning Channel, which is run by the Ministry of Education’s National Center for Educational Resource Development. Dr. Seeta Shah Roath, the channel’s founder and director, said hers is an all-educational, non-commercial TV network similar to PBS in the United States — “except that we focus mostly on curriculum-based educational content.” That could mean everything from physics, math and English literature to national songs, folk traditions and Guyanese history. “It’s lifelong learning, from pre-kindergarten to adult education,” Roath said. “We broadcast 24 hours a day via satellite, retransmitting terrestrially from 16 sites, and an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 Guyanese watch our channel.” Yet one area in Guyana’s expansive curriculum that needs shoring up is foreign language instruction. “Spanish is offered in the schools, but we can do more,” Anthony acknowledged, adding that Portuguese-language instruction should be more widespread given Guyana’s growing trade links with Brazil, its vast neighbor to the south. “This is definitely something we are working on.” Roath also noted that the Guyana Learning Channel has developed elementary Spanish learning programs, which are broadcast daily. “However, Portuguese programs are still on the drawing board and the Learning Channel is working on having both languages taught in a more structured distance learning mode.”

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Photo: Larry Luxner

The headquarters of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) in Georgetown was built by Vikab Engineering Consultants Ltd., one of the Caribbean’s leading consulting firms.

Private Sector Continued from Page 15 plant imported from India, which enables BK to build asphalt-surfaced roads 40 percent more cheaply than before. In 2009 — in partnership with K. Nauth Consortium — BK rehabilitated 40 kilometers of the Berbice Highway to Moleson Creek at a cost of $15 million. At present, BK is rehabilitating a number of important highways in Guyana, including Georgetown’s new access road to Cheddi Jagan International Airport. Courtney Benn

BK Quarries, a unit of the parent company, owns the largest quarry facility in the Caribbean, supplying 75 percent of Guyana’s construction stone needs at half the cost of imported lower-quality stone and saving the country millions of dollars in foreign exchange. BK Quarries currently supplies 60,000 blocks of concrete per month for construction of the Marriott Hotel rising within sight of Tiwarie’s office. BK Marine, meanwhile, ranks as the

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largest shipping company in Guyana, with a fleet of tugs, barges and cargo vessels that transport rice, plywood, fuel, cement, steel and other basic commodities throughout the Caribbean and South America. The Courtney Benn Group of Companies is another major Guyanese privately owned family business — and an important player in con­ struction, engineering, shipbuilding, infrastructure and real estate. Founded in 1983 by Courtney and Brenda Benn, the company has $10 million in annual revenues and has completed more than 400 projects — many of them relating to the state sector, where competitive bidding is the norm. CEO Courtney Benn started out as a welder working for Bookers Shipping. The company has built everything from ships for the Guyana Defence Force to the radar tower at Cheddi Jagan International Airport. Two years after its founding, the group spun off its first subsidiary, Brenco Shipping & Trading Co. Ltd., to handle sourcing and import of ship spares and other supplies. It acquired the M.V. Brenco to transport sugar from various estates in Berbice to the Demerara Sugar Terminal in Georgetown. Benn’s Compustruct Engineering Inc. unit, established in 1996 to provide computer services and undertake construction projects valued at less than $1.5 million, has completed 78 such contracts in road building, water supply, bridges, culverts and electrical jobs. And Benn’s newest subsidiary, Cumberland Developers Inc., was established in 2011 and focuses on residential real estate sales and development. It has secured 50 acres of land at Providence on East Bank

BK Quarries

Demerara — a 15-minute drive from Georgetown — where it plans a gated community of 200 luxury and high-end homes. “We’re now finishing an 18-month road-building project on the east coast that involved the driving of 1,100 piles,” said Benn, whose share of the contract was worth $5 million. That project was financed by the Barbadosbased Caribbean Development Bank. A regional player is Vikab Engineering Consultants Ltd., one of the Caribbean’s leading consulting firms that services clients from its main office in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The company, owned by Managing Director Hardutt Punwasee, a member of Guyana’s Diaspora, specializes in architectural design, quantity surveying and project management as well as civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering. Vikab is best known for having planned and supervised construction of the impressive headquarters of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) in Georgetown, as well as the arrivals terminal at Cheddi Jagan International Airport. “Our success is based on first-hand knowledge of our operating environment, gained through extensive consultation with stakeholders, with respect for the culture and customers of the countries in which we work,” says Punwasee. Vikab’s long list of major projects also includes the headquarters of Guyana’s New Building Society Ltd., the National Public Health Reference Laboratory, the Geddes Grant warehouse, the Berbice campus of the University of Guyana, and various schools, hospitals, clinics and other public buildings throughout the country.

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The company has also supervised the construction of hotels across the Caribbean, including Tobago’s Grafton Beach Resort and two properties in St. Lucia: the Wyndham Morgan Bay Beach Resort and La Jalousie Plantation Resort, now the Hilton. It has substantial experience working with projects financed by the World Bank, European Union, Inter-American Development Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and the Canadian International Development Agency. Another private sector success story is Demerara Distillers Ltd., which ranks as one of Guyana’s largest private companies. With annual sales of $70 million, Demerara Distillers is the country’s leading bottled and bulk rum exporter. The award-winning company, which traces its roots to 1670, is chaired by Yesu Persaud, who joined Demerara Distillers in 1975. Today, the Georgetown distillery is owned by 9,200 shareholders that include all 1,000 of its employees as well as European and Canadian investors. “We have gone through some hard, difficult times but we’ve survived, and today we’re a very diverse company,” said Persaud. “We’re now in shipping and convenience stores. We do PepsiCola, 7 Up and Slice, and we have a Tetra Pak plant producing fruit juice.” Persaud, at 77, is an icon of Guyana’s business community. He said that while the country has tremendous potential, there is room for improvement. “The government has to be more pro-active. This is a huge country with huge resources, but it’s underde­ veloped,” he said. “We can transform Guyana into not only the breadbasket of the Caribbean, but suppliers to the world at large.”

April • May 2013


colorful traditions

Festivals Celebrate Guyana’s Rich Tapestry of Culture

Photo: Dr. Seeta Shah Roath

G

uyana has a diverse cultural landscape drawn from its incredibly varied ethnic compositions. Over the years, the Amerindian, Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese, Chinese and Portuguese have all left their own distinct imprint on the nation, which hosts an array of religious and secular celebrations throughout the year.

All Guyanese celebrate Christmas, Easter, Phagwah, Diwali and the Eid holidays. But there are many other unique traditions, such as the large Carnival called Mashramani, when Guyanese and visitors from around the globe enjoy the rich revelry, masquerades, costumes, parades, concerts, conferences and exhibitions to mark the birth of the Republic on Feb. 23. Mashramani is an Amerindian word meaning “celebration after hard work.” And that’s just what people do, letting loose with junior and senior Calypso and Soca music competitions, poetry, drama and costume festivals, as well as a countrywide carnival. The annual event showcases the capital city of Georgetown and all that the country has to offer, including its vibrant rain forests, waterfalls, beach resorts and other attractions during this relatively cool time of the year. Christmas in Guyana involves black rum cake reminiscent of English Christmas pudding made with ground dried fruits, brown sugar and local rum. Other signature dishes include garlic pork from the Portuguese and pepperpot made from different types of meat cooked in a dark sauce derived from the cassava root. The latter delicacy is Amerindian in origin. There is also an abundance of home-brewed ginger beer and sorrel drink. The Christmas season takes on a colorful atmosphere as masquerade folk parades light up towns, villages and city centers, in addition to the usual Christmas revelry, from Santa Claus parties to caroling and religious pageants. Meanwhile, the Easter festivities highlight a unique tradition that can be found throughout the country but is especially prevalent on the coastal belt, where trade winds help to propel colorful, long-tailed kites. During Easter, children and adults alike fly thousands of kites of all shapes and sizes as families picnic in parks and along the sea wall that stretches the entire length of the coastland. There are kite competitions, radio and television programs, and theater shows all commemorating the Easter festival in late March to April. Easter weekend also boasts boat regattas on the Essequibo River at several major villages and towns. In addition, a Guyanese Rodeo is held during Easter week in the savannah lands of Lethem at the border with Brazil. Amerindian vaqueros have garnered international fame with their dramatic bull riding and wild horse sporting displays and competitions. March also features the Phagwah festival, which was brought from India by East Indians who came to

April • May 2013

Photo: Michael C Lam

Guyana as indentured immigrants 175 years ago. Descendants of all ethnicities have embraced this harvest festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. One of the main attractions of Phagwah is the playful spraying of friends and family with colored water and powders. Folk songs, dances and cuisine characteristic of India have been retained, adapted and shared by all Guyanese. The Amerindian Heritage Festival is celebrated in more than 15 Amerindian villages scattered throughout the 10 regions of Guyana, with major events in the city of Georgetown during the month of September. Conferences, art, cultural programs and folklore experiences, including craft exhibitions and markets, are among the many activities presented during this festival. Native music, dance, cuisine and folk dresses provide a retreat into an indigenous existence lost to many other countries in the Americas. Another cross-cultural holiday is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which is commemorated in November with fireworks, brightly lit homes, exuberant fairs, and highly decorated motorcade competitions with models of scenes depicting the return of Lord Rama after being exiled for 14 years. Celebrated by descendants of Indians who settled in Guyana over 170 years ago, this festival provides visitors and residents with a picturesque evening parade, Indian sweets and lively music to look forward to every year. Indeed, throughout the year, visitors to Guyana can easily immerse themselves in a countrywide festival or a cultural presentation at the National Cultural Centre, the historic Theatre Guild of Guyana and the National Stadium, or just catch a jazz session at the Sidewalk Café. The country’s numerous venues are home to a panoply of culture that fuses elements of Guyana’s diverse multicultural influences for a one-of-a-kind experience. Sponsored Report

Photo: Dr. Seeta Shah Roath

Photo: courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

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overflowing potential

Amaila Hydropower: Largest Public Works Project in Guyanese History

T

he $835 million hydroelectric facility planned for western Guyana ranks as the country’s largest public works project in its history — and one that could, for the first time since Guyana’s independence, give the South American nation a stable and affordable supply of electricity.

“For decades, Guyana has talked about developing our hydroelectric potential, and it was even acceptable to talk about harnessing Kaieteur Falls in the 1960s, but these ideas were never realized,” said Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, whose portfolio also includes the energy sector. “In the mid-1970s, the United Nations reviewed a number of sites, and about six locations including Amaila were thought to have the most potential,” he said. The Amaila site was eventually chosen. As

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Guyanese government officials meet with Sithe Global, which is leading development of the Amaila Hydropower Project. From clockwise left, Guyanese President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar, Finance Minister Ashni Singh, and CEO of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd. (NICIL) Winston Brassington talk with Senior Vice President of Development at Sithe Global James McGowan, Sithe Global Chairman and CEO Bruce Wrobel, and Brian Kubeck, also a senior vice president of development.

currently envisioned, the Amaila Hydropower Project will include not only the 165 MW (megawatt) hydroelectric facility itself but also a 270-kilometer high-voltage transmission line and new substations at Linden and near Georgetown, the capital. Development of the project is led by Sithe Global, which is majority owned by funds managed by Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment and advisory firms as well as an experienced and active investor in the energy and natural resources sector. The Sithe Global management team has successfully developed or acquired more than 70 power projects in numerous countries representing more than 18,000 MW of generating capacity. Sithe Global’s development effort is supported by MWH Global, a preeminent global hydro engineering firm, and Conservation International, an internationally respected NGO focused on biodiversity conservation and offset design as well Sponsored Report

as implementation of mitigation strategies for the project. Debt financing for the project will come from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and China Development Bank. “We’re putting in some equity too,” said Hinds of the Guyanese government. “This would be, by far, the largest single project in Guyanese history.” The prime minister added: “We are hoping that all the arrangements will be closed by the second half of this year, and that ground will be broken soon. Power should be available by early 2017.” Senior Vice President for Development at Sithe Global Brian Kubeck said that similar to Sithe Global’s 250 MW Bujagali project in Uganda, which promoted economic development by eliminating load shedding in the country, the benefits of Amaila range from combating climate change to saving Guyana tens of millions of dollars each year. “The scale of benefits that Amaila would bring to Guyana has the potential to be transformative

April • May 2013


This transformational project is the single largest investment in Guyana and will allow Guyana in one single step to move from being almost entirely dependent on costly fossil fuels to being supplied almost entirely by renewable energy.

— Ashni Singh, minister of finance for Guyana

for the country,” he said. “It is a defining example of sustainable development — providing reliable, clean, renewable energy at a significant cost savings. Sithe Global is proud to be moving this project toward reality for the people of Guyana.”

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds

The Amaila Hydropower Project will be constructed by China Railway First Group, Ltd., based in the Chinese city of Xi’an. A ceremony marking the signing of the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) agreement took place last September in Xi’an and was attended by Bruce Wrobel, chairman and CEO of Sithe Global, and by Sun Yonggang, chairman of China Railway First Group, Ltd. Also in attendance were Winston Brassington, chairman of Guyana Power & Light; presidential advisor Steven Grin; and representatives of the province of Shaanxi, China Export and Credit Insurance Corp., China Development Bank, the IDB and others. “This transformational project is the single largest investment in Guyana and will allow Guyana in one single step to move from being almost entirely dependent on costly fossil fuels to being supplied almost entirely by renewable energy,” said Finance Minister Ashni Singh. “We are delighted to have such credible partners recognize the importance of the project and be ready to invest private capital in Guyana.” Hinds, a chemical engineer with experience in the bauxite industry, said he’s “behind this project 100 percent.” That’s because it’ll bring down the cost of electricity from 20¢ per kilowatt-hour to 12¢ per kilowatt-hour, he said, allowing Guyana to wean itself off of expensive diesel and heavy fuel oil — both of which contribute to global warming. And those lower generating costs could lead to a rebalancing of tariffs, which would help all Guyanese in the long run. “Some companies like [alcoholic beverage producers] generate their own electricity because it comes out cheaper,” said Hinds. Demerara Distillers Ltd., for instance, is conscious of its environmental footprint. It decided a few years ago to invest in a biomethanation plant that converted the wastewater from its distillery operations into methane gas, which is used in its boilers,

April • May 2013

replacing a significant quantity of fossil fuel it previously used to produce steam required for its distillation process. The company also built a plant to capture carbon dioxide that is emitted from its molasses fermentation process and purify it for use in its carbonate beverage production. “It’s expected that with tariff rebalancing, we’ll be able to offer even greater reductions for industrial demand,” Hinds said. That, in turn, could lead to more investment in Guyana’s crucial mining sector. “If we stay dependent on petroleum, we’ll face a continual rise in prices,” Hinds warned, “though coal is not an option because of our relatively small size. This will not generate enough power for Guyana to export.” Hinds said nobody would have to be resettled, since the Amaila dam is located in a remote area of Guyana. “Environ­ mental issues are being looked at very closely,” the

prime minister added. “We have advocated the Low Carbon Development Strategy.” In addition to Amaila, the Guyanese government has advertised for contractors to build a small hydro plant and irrigation infrastructure in the southwestern village of Kato, near the border with Brazil. The European Union is funding the $3 million project, to be implemented by the Hinterland Electrification Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister. The 330-kilowatt micro hydropower station will be located at the Chiung River waterfall. Among other things, this project will provide clean energy through a 16-kilometer transmission line to the village of Paramakatoi as well as a new secondary school and various government buildings to be constructed by the Ministry of Education. That station is expected to be online by mid-2015.

RESOURCES IN GUYANA Guyana Office for Investment GO-Invest is the primary contact for investors and exporters. It helps companies connect with government ministries and other agencies, and expedites the processing of applications for concessions and other government support. www.goinvest.gov.gy Resorts & Tours of Guyana Baganara: www.baganara.net Hurakabara: www.hurakabragy.com Knight Riders Tours: www.knightriderbus.com/Tour.html Wilderness Explorers: www.wilderness-explorers.com Hotels CARA Hotels: www.carahotels.com/guyana_suites/ Princess Hotel Guyana International www.princesshotelguyana.com Guyana Pegasus: www.pegasushotelguyana.com

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Knight Rider Bus Service www.knightriderbus.com Knight Rider Bus Service offers ground transportation services and the largest fleet of vehicles in Guyana. It provides charters for most tour operators, international organizations (UNICEF, UNDP, PAHO, WHO, WWF, etc.), foreign missions and nonprofit groups. Guyana Tourism Authority www.guyana-tourism.com; www.guyanabirding.com Ministry of Foreign Affairs www.minfor.gov.gy Guyana Diaspora Project www.guydproject.iom.int Government Information Agency (GINA) www.gina.gov.gy/wp

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April • May 2013


Guyana