Address by Hon. Winston Jordan, Minister of Finance, Guyana to the 35th Conference of Caribbean Chartered Accountants, Marriott Hotel, Georgetown, June 23, 2017
Distinguished Conference Participants and Other Invitees
Representatives of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me say how pleased I am to be able to address you, today, at the opening of this conference that brings together a wide cross section of certified accountants. His Excellency, President David Granger, to whom the original invitation was extended, is unable to be among you because of prior commitments and pressing duties. He has, therefore, asked me to perform this important function.
I want to take this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to everyone to this Green State of Guyana, especially those visiting from the Caribbean, the United Kingdom, the Unites States of America and Canada. I wish you a very pleasant and productive stay. Please take time off to visit the many exciting and attractive places of interest and sample the exotic cuisine on offer. As a country that is trying to sell its budding tourism product, I am urging you to drink the creek water, for folklore has it that you are guaranteed to return to Guyana.
Mr. Chairman, I observed that this is the 35th edition of this conference. Immediately, I am reminded of Hervey Allen’s witticism: “The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old, servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.” Reflecting on your 35 years of meeting, annually, to discuss global developments that impact on the scope of the work of accountants, gives me a great sense of your longevity and of your building a network of individuals who strive to uphold the highest standards of ethics of the accountancy profession. I pause for a moment to recognise individuals, such as Willie Stoll, Victor Gangadin, Yesu Persaud, Alan Luck, John Barcellos, and Edgar Heyligar, who, through their excellence, have helped the profession to maintain its elevated status among the top career picks of students.
The theme for this year’s conference is “New Horizons- Charting the Course Together”. The term “new horizons” has come to denote new prospects or new outlook. In that context, I do find this theme to be quite fitting at this juncture, when globalization and the use of technology are constantly changing the structure and practice of businesses and organizations; and when global standard setters are imposing measures aimed at harmonizing international reporting standards, in order to promote consistency and facilitate comparability.
Mr. Chairman, your theme finds resonance and acceptance with our Government’s vision of a “Good Life” for all Guyanese. Our very first Budget, delivered in August 2015, centred around “A Fresh Approach to the Good Life in a Green Economy”. Here, we envisaged an enlightened perspective to good governance, transparency and accountability so as to build a vibrant and resilient economy that could sustain an ever-improving standard of living of the Guyanese people. In both themes, therefore – your “New Horizons” and our “Fresh Approach” – we see indications of the need for us to change the prism through which we view the evolving environment and its changing dynamics, if we are to achieve our near, short, medium and long term goals.
Mr. Chairman, “New Horizons” will precipitate new challenges and new opportunities that will require accountants with the requisite skills to address them in an efficient and sustainable manner. It is with that in mind, that I would like to pause, to recognize the efforts of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean in providing support and capacity building initiatives for its members, through educational activities like this conference. I am happy that a team of highly resourceful and knowledgeable professionals has been selected to address the theme.
It is claimed that accounting is the oldest profession. After all, it was Adam, who, on seeing Eve in the garden, turned a leaf and made an entry (Joke). Since that time, accountancy has grown in both size and importance, moving away from the antique notions of the profession being the dusty preserve of visored men, in brown offices, surrounded by endless accounting books, to now being regarded as essential for a country’s growth and development. Accountants have many roles to play in the development of every economy. After all, the rate of growth in any country hinges on the efficiency with which available resources are managed and utilized. Accounting is all about savings, which is at the heart of economic development and growth.
Certified Accountants also play a pivotal role in strengthening the internal control mechanism employed by businesses and organizations to ensure efficient and effective operations, and compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Certified accountants are depended upon to provide high quality financial reporting that reflects the true business transactions of their clients.
At the level of the Government, accountants hold the key to the efficient management of public funds, good governance, accountability and transparency. I vividly recall when our Government came into Office, in May 2015, that there was a clamor by the populace to investigate the state of the country’s finances. This was after persistent and widespread allegations of corruption and unaccountable governance during the reign of the previous administration. As a result, the Government made the decision to commission several forensic audits. That, apparently, was done without consideration of the accounting landscape. We soon learnt that there were not many forensic accountants within our midst. So, even though we contracted a range of local individual accountants and accounting firms, with specific terms of reference, the work product, in several cases, fell far short of what one expected from a forensic audit. Nevertheless, the findings were many, varied and revealing, with several of the reports being given to a special investigative unit to pursue criminal charges, where appropriate.
The findings also reflected shortcomings in our own Auditor General’s Office, both systemic and human capacity. I do not know whether this problem is peculiar to Guyana or whether it is observed across the Caribbean accounting family. What I would ask is that, over the next few days, you devote some attention to addressing this issue.
Distinguished participants, modern technology has transformed the way accountants work and communicate with their clients. It is no longer necessary to reach clients in person; you can now communicate with them using the internet. But this advantage makes accountants prime targets for cybercriminals, who have become more sophisticated in “hacking” or otherwise obtaining your clients’ personal information. Therefore, you will need to build adequate and secure defense mechanisms against such attacks. In this regard, the adoption of appropriate cyber security must be given the desired prominence, because, like banking, trust remains vital in your relationship with your clients.
Distinguished delegates and participants, I am pleased that Guyana has been chosen, for the fourth time, as the host country for this important conference. You meet at a time when our country is on the cusp of a major economic transformation. You are aware of a major discovery of oil in Guyana by Exxon, in association with other partners. You may be aware of the recent decision by Exxon to invest about US$4 billion to recover the oil, thereby implying a significant inflow of resources and influx of personnel to the country. The efficient utilization and management of the revenue from this source and the changes that will arise in our tax and regulatory regimes will trigger an upsurge in the demand for the services of qualified accountants and allied fields.
We will be pursuing a path of economic diversification that is essential to avoiding the so-called “Dutch Disease” and “Resource Curse” that many oil producing countries have experienced. Our intent is to expand core underdeveloped economic sectors; focus on value added products; and invest heavily in infrastructure and human development. Again, the scale and magnitude of these activities will require the skills of qualified accountants at the level of the government and the private sector. This is an opportune time for you to strategize on how best you can position yourself to take advantage of the many opportunities that will be created. Here, I am not only referring to Guyana; I am including our Caricom partners and further afield.
Guyana’s high exposure to climate change poses severe risks to Small and Medium Enterprises in key sectors, such as tourism, agriculture and services. Notwithstanding the important role of the government in the adaptation and mitigation process, certified accountants have the opportunity to provide assistance to their clients in identifying their vulnerabilities to these changes and help them to build business resilience and competitiveness. This is especially important in Guyana, since many of the small and medium businesses are susceptible to climate change, which can impact their contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Mr. Chairman, Guyana, like many other Caribbean economies, are affected by the new regulatory measures imposed on international financial institutions by global standard setters such as the Financial Action Task Force. These developments have resulted in corresponding banks in developed countries severing or reducing their relationships with jurisdictions that are considered high risk. To reduce the impact of de-risking, we are working assiduously to strengthen the country’s Anti Money Laundering and Corrupt Financial Transactions (AML/CFT) regime. Accordingly, new laws and regulations that are imposed on many domestic institutions and the expansion of the regulatory perimeter will, most likely, create higher demand for accountancy services. Accountants are also expected to undertake appropriate Client Due Diligence. They are called upon to know who their clients are; what are their motives; and what is the nature of their businesses.
Guyana recently completed its first Money Laundering/Terrorist Financing National Risk Assessment. The findings from this exercise will help policy makers to identify and assess money laundering and terrorist financing threats and vulnerabilities that are relevant to Guyana, and efficiently channel available resources to mitigate these risks. A key finding that is of relevance to this distinguished group is that the accountancy profession carries a high risk for money laundering in Guyana, a situation that is common to many developed and developing countries. I, therefore, urge all accountants present here today to let your country’s anti money laundering laws take precedence over your professional privileges and ensure that your offices do not facilitate predicate crimes.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I would like to leave you with these words of Peter Bakker, from the World Business Forum for Sustainable Development: “accountants are going to save the world”. As you conclude your deliberations over the next three days, I hope you are closer to making Peter Bakker’s sagacious prediction a reality.
It is now my distinct pleasure to declare this conference open.