World will not wait for Guyana to iron out its issues – President – at National Economic Forum

Georgetown, GINA, August 14, 2013

As stakeholders of a National Economic Forum gathered to brainstorm avenues for promoting and removing obstacles to Guyana’s competitiveness, the lost opportunity the country would have suffered as a result of the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP) debacle did not go unnoticed.

The National Economic Forum will build on the platform established by previously held summits and provide a forum for stakeholders to discuss key emerging issues to the nation’s development.

President Donald Ramotar addressing stakeholders at the National Economic Forum on August 14, 2013 at the Guyana International Conference Centre

In the face of a political opposition that had withheld support from the project on the grounds of transparency, the Government continues to uphold the hydropower investment as the solution to Guyana’s energy needs and a main supplement to the country’s competitiveness.

But with the recent withdrawal of a major international partner, Sithe Global, and the years it will take for a project like the AFHP to become a reality, the government foresees no alternative that can be accomplished within the next decade.

 

Financial closure to the project with the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) was within reach and the US$30M Government funded road to the project site in Region Eight has a completion date of year-end. Lack of unanimity at the legislative level, a critical element of the project’s success was the main reason for the setback. The APNU refused to support the Bill that would have paved the way for the project’s construction.

A section of the gathering at the National Economic Forum

The Government is still taken aback by the political opposition’s list of doubts about the hydro investment, especially after fulfilling its obligation to ensure that parliamentarians were fully involved in the process.

President Donald Ramotar while addressing today’s National Economic Forum at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC) criticised the opposition for what can be considered a sudden turnaround of opinions.

“I have heard some saying that they did not have enough information… I invested a lot of my time in ensuring that everyone was on board with this project and today when I hear that ‘I don’t agree with the financial architecture,’ I don’t know what that means because it was never raised, I don’t know how it is being raised now when on the 18th of July when this matter was debated in the National Assembly not one MP from APNU spoke and raised any issue on this matter,” President Ramotar said.

 

At the August 7, sitting of the National Assembly, last minute support from the Alliance For Change (AFC) to the Hydroelectric Amendment bill and an AFC amended debt ceiling motion that were both rejected by the combined political opposition on July 18, was practically useless.

Members of the Diplomatic Corps interacting during the National Economic Forum on August 14, 2013

“The Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (has been compromised by our inability to take decisive decisions and project implementation,” Chairman of the Private Sector Commission Ron Webster highlighted during his address at the forum.

Sithe Global, a prestigious international partner walked away from the hydro project citing lack of unified consensus in the Parliament, raising fears about the similar dilemma which the anti-money laundering legislation is facing.

“We see with the Amaila project that the world is not waiting on us. Those who think that the world is waiting on us to deal with all our issues, this is a lesson,” President Ramotar said.

Still optimistic, the Head of State continues to plea for the full support of all to complete the hydropower project.

“I hope that this setback will be used as an opportunity and as a lesson for everyone… and that when we have the next venture, we will have one hundred percent support of our country behind cheap energy for Guyana’s economy,” President Ramotar said.

The AFHP is one that promises significant reductions in power outages, electricity tariff, fuel consumption savings by 90 percent and the stimulus to economic development, particularly in the processing and manufacturing sectors.

“Entrepreneurs… everyday pay more than they should for electricity… confront unreliable electricity supply and therefore have to invest in redundant power… almost all of the private sector representatives in Guyana currently carry the capital cost of backup power because of incidents of interruptions in our electricity supply. On top of that, you pay more than you should for electricity. That impacts on your competitiveness,” Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh said in his address.

The consumption cost of a finite resource like fossil fuel to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), were explained in detail by Guyanese born world-renowned Scientist and Professor Dr. Suresh Narine who made a presentation on energy at today’s forum.

            As Chairman of CGX, a reputable Canadian based oil and gas Exploration Company operating in Guyana, Professor Narine also zeroed in on other inalienable facts and peculiarities about fossil fuel that will be an inevitable burden on the country.

            Among them is the fact that fossil fuel is a finite resource that will peak and generate a heavily subsidised electricity sector in Guyana.

            “With petroleum prices, especially Heavy Fuel Oil prices expected to increase in the near term, government will not be able to cushion electricity and fuel prices… with that kind of a large import price to GDP and that kind of a large subsidy ($100M) … I don’t know what Government will continue to provide that kind of subsidy,” Dr. Narine said.

            Like several other stakeholders, Dr Narine is banking on the hydro project to address many of the challenging energy issues, and supported it as the most sensible investment compared to other renewable initiatives like wind and solar power, biogas and biomass.

            The two-day National Economic Forum will see presentations from different stakeholders in ten thematic areas. They include agro processing, aquaculture, aviation, energy, human resources and manpower planning, infrastructure, land use, manufacturing and standards, non Caribbean trade and tourism.

President Ramotar is following on the heels of his predecessor Bharrat Jagdeo as Chairman of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) that was established to take ownership of the National Competitiveness Strategy (NCS).

NCS is an initiative launched in 2006 at a Presidential summit on private sector development. It outlines 245 actions across 30 policy areas which when implemented will enhance the competitiveness of Guyana’s economy.

 

            Today’s forum was themed “Promoting Economic Growth Through Innovation, Diversification and Partnership.”

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