Guyana Diary

February 2010

Monthly Newsletter of the Guyana Embassy, Caracas, Venezuela

Quinta Roraima, Prados del Este, Caracas 1050, Venezuela
Telephone: 58-212-977-1158; 58-212-975-3687
Fax: (58) 212 976-3765

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Posted February 2010 - Issue No. 73 - Back to Embassy page

Previous Guyana Diaries are available here.

Foreign Ministry records fair year in 2009

During 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guyana was determined to manifest the fact that a small developing nation can stand tall, proud and strong among the giants of the international arena by helping to promote the cardinal principles of respect for international law, the peaceful settlement of disagreements among and between States, international cooperation to combat common threats, and equal rights for all mankind.

With an experienced and committed staff, the Ministry’s focus on issues pertinent to those principles and the promotion of Guyana’s interests abroad, remained paramount throughout the year.

In a year-end review, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, noted that there was a clear indication of satisfaction with the progress made: from the all important safeguarding of Guyana’s territorial integrity to the consolidation of linkages with existing trading partners and the fostering of new ones; promoting regional cooperation; and facilitating the development agenda of sector ministries through international cooperation initiatives and mechanisms.

For the ministry, a key highlight was the tabling in the National Assembly of the Maritime Zones Bill which has been sent to a Special Select Committee. The tabling of the Bill marks a key step in ensuring that Guyana can fully benefit from the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) – especially as it relates to the protection of Guyana’s rights to the exploitation of the living and non-living resources in the territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and the potential extended continental shelf.

The efforts at safeguarding Guyana’s rights under UNCLOS resulted in Guyana formally providing information to the United Nations Secretary General aimed at securing Guyana’s right to extend its maritime boundary up to 150 nautical miles beyond the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone.

Over $4 billion for old age pensions, public assistance in 2010

The Guyana government plans to spend more than G$4 billion on old-age pensions and public assistance payments in 2010. With effect from February 2010, old age pensions will be paid at a rate of $6,600 per month, while public assistance will be paid at a rate of $4,900 per month, Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh disclosed on January 10.

He emphasised the importance of the old age pensions and public assistance programme as amongst the most important interventions by the government aimed at providing assistance to, and improving the lives of the most vulnerable members of society.

The Minister indicated that under these programmes, over 50,000 elderly and otherwise vulnerable beneficiaries are expected to receive direct income support on a monthly basis. This support, he indicated, is intended to ensure that the State provides a contribution to assist those individuals in meeting expenditure on their basic necessities. He also drew attention to the fact that this programme generates significant economic activity since, given the income and expenditure profile of the beneficiaries, almost all of the amounts disbursed are transmitted immediately into the domestic economy through consumption of goods and services.

The Minister added that this support is in addition to other initiatives such as (1) the water rates assistance programme, under which Government provides financial support to meet water charges on behalf of old-age pensioners; (2) the staggered electricity tariff structure which sees household consumers of small amounts of electricity below a specified monthly threshold being billed at a concessional rate; and (3) the government’s residential programme for the elderly such as at the Palms, along with the several public health care programmes aimed at enhancing and improving the scope and quality of services offered by the public health care system thereby contributing to improved quality of life.

Recent years have witnessed a rapid increase in the amounts paid by Government under the old-age pension and public assistance programme. The new monthly rates announced by the Minister are 80 percent higher than 2007 levels in the case of old age pensions and 98 percent higher than 2007 levels in the case of public assistance.

Telecommunications landscape transformation

Guyana has made a significant step forward in its many efforts to become a country that is on par with the rest of the world with modern telecommunication services.

The long awaited shore-end landing works of the Suriname-Guyana Submarine Cable System (SG-SCS) was finally realised on January 9 after President Bharrat Jagdeo, accompanied by officials of the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T), company performed the symbolic pulling of the cable at the Kingston seawall aback of the Pegasus Hotel.

This historic event marks the fulfilment of the government’s policy of encouraging the establishing international connectivity and the telephone company’s plan to make Guyana’s telecommunications capacity work at “lightning speed.”

The new cable will have 3,000 times the current bandwidth capacity and will facilitate enormous development opportunities including call centres, regional hosting opportunities, the provision of data for disaster recovery facilities, subscriber bandwidth services, telemedicine and distance learning.

The 1,240 kilometre submarine fibre optic cable system will connect Guyana and Suriname to the rest of the world. Global Marine Systems Limited (GMSL) a worldwide provider of submarine cable installation and maintenance was contracted to install the cable and related marine services.

RUSAL-bauxite workers’ dispute

Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir on January 19 dismissed claims in certain sections of the media that his Ministry has not done enough to intervene in a dispute between RUSAL workers and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU).

Responding to a statement that the Ministry was mandated to intervene, Minister Nadir explained that the department had done all in its power to assuage the situation.

“Looking at an interview in the electronic media, the Leader of the Opposition makes mention of the possible failings of the Ministry in terms of the RUSAL/Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU) dispute. I must say that the Ministry has been involved and has taken the matter to its farthest point,” Minister Nadir noted.

He said there is a current stalemate, and not much is left to be done to unite the parties except continually urging them to meet.

“If the union claims that the collective labour agreement is invalid, then there must be some terms of resumption and the Ministry again has been urging them to meet under its auspices. . . The union says it has a legal position on the Collective Labour Agreement.”

Minister Nadir added that no company can unilaterally decide to derecognize a union since this falls under the purview of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board. Over 100 members of the union had applied to the Board, requesting that the union be derecognised.

However, the Labour Minister explained that once a union has been certified as the bargaining unit, the employers must deal with the union.

He mentioned that the union has been levelling spurious accusations against him including that of racism which the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) has been handling.

“Our job at the Ministry is to ensure the labour laws are observed and enforced within the laws and intervene on behalf of workers, he declared. “We have been doing that and quite successfully too.”

Gov’t commits US$1M for Haiti assistance

The Guyana government has donated US$1 million towards assistance for Haiti, which has suffered from a massive earthquake and several aftershocks, and has established a multi-stakeholder committee, chaired by Minister of Human Services, Priya Manickchand, to oversee the effort.

In a statement on January 13, President Bharrat Jagdeo said, “I was deeply shocked and saddened at the extent of the destruction caused by the catastrophic earthquake which devastated our sister nation of Haiti yesterday. The haunting images of bodies, injured persons and ruined buildings struck a chord of compassion throughout our nation for the people of Haiti. Haiti as the poorest country in the western hemisphere is now severely challenged to cope with this tragedy. Haiti needs all countries, including the small developing countries, to come to its aid urgently.”

As a result, the President organised a meeting of various stakeholders, which included the opposition political parties, religious organisations and non-governmental organisations to coordinate a national effort by Guyana to render the assistance needed.

The earthquake, a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 on the Richter scale, was centred approximately 15 kilometres from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and struck at around 17:00 hours local time on Tuesday, January 12.

Mahaicony Branch Road completed

The Ministry of Public Works and Communication has successfully completed the construction of the Mahaicony Branch Road at a cost of G$175 million. This completion adds to the numerous roads constructed, reconstructed and rehabilitated by the administration to improve the transportation network.

The construction of the 6.2 miles road commenced in April 2009 and was completed on January 10, 2010. The road which was previously constructed using chip sealing now benefits from three layers of white sand, as its base, loam, crusher-run and asphalt concrete on the surface. This type of construction is expected to lengthen the life span of the road since the asphalt concrete will prevent water penetration adding to the durability of the structure.

Mahaicony is a largely rice farming area and as such the new road will aid in the hazard free transport of combines, tractors and other large machinery. In addition the approximately 500 residents will benefit from the road.

CGX renews prospecting contract

CGX Energy Inc., the Canadian-based oil and gas exploration company, focused on exploration for oil in Guyana, has announced that the parties to the Georgetown Petroleum Prospecting Licence (PPL) have renewed the existing exploration agreements, thereby entering into the second renewal period.

Managed by a team of experienced oil and gas and finance professionals from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, CGX is financed internationally and has thousands of shareholders worldwide.

The specific parties to the renewal agreement include operator Repsol Exploracion S.A (15%), YPF Guyana Limited (30%), Tullow Guyana BV (30%) and subsidiary of CGX energy, CGX Resources Inc. (25%).

According to the organisation, during the first 18 months of the Second Renewal Period there is a minimum work commitment of one exploration well. In transition to the Second Renewal Period and as required by the Georgetown PPL, approximately 30 percent of the area under contract has been relinquished to the Government.

CGX stated that it is scheduled to drill on its 100 percent Corentyne PPL during the second half of 2010.

Gov’t to develop 460 more house lots at Fort Ordnance housing scheme

The Guyana government, through the Ministry of Housing and Water will be expanding several areas to facilitate more house lots including at Fort Ordnance Housing Scheme, Region Six.

Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali made this disclosure while meeting with residents of Fort Ordnance on the Cabinet outreach on January 12 to update them about planned programmes that will be implemented this year by the government for the community.

The Minister said government will be spending more than $780 million in Region Six for the provision of additional housing.

Fort Ordnance will be extended by a further 460 house lots. The sum of $234 million will be spent to develop infrastructure in the new areas to benefit approximately 2,000 people, Minister Ali said.

The tendering process for the project, he said has been completed and is awaiting the approval of the Inter-American Development Bank.

The Minister further expressed the hope that at the end of the implementation of the Second Low Income Settlement Programme his Ministry would have more than 2,000 new house lots available in the region.

In 2009, approximately $1.6 billion was allocated to the Ministry to implement programmes and expand the housing sector. To date, through the Ministry’s massive housing drive, over 5,000 applications have been processed.

GSA establishes branch in Essequibo

The Ministry of Agriculture, in its effort to build human capacity in the agriculture sector, has established a branch of the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA) at Cotton Field, Region Two. The school was previously housed at the Essequibo Technical Institute, and owing to the growing number of students, the Ministry invested $20 million to create an agricultural learning environment.

The decision to establish the GSA in the Region is to prevent students incurring expense and leaving their homes to attend the GSA in Mon Repos, Region Four.

In addition, agriculture is a major part of the Region’s economy and it is felt that youths should develop relevant knowledge and skills with respect to their livelihood.

The school has a student of population 30 and 7 lecturers who instruct courses in the Diploma in Agriculture and Certificate in Forestry.

Korean trade mission examine prospects in Guyana

Potential areas for trade between Guyana and the Republic of Korea in raw materials in the areas of mining, forest products, and sugar related by-products were explored by a Korean Trade Mission during a visit to Guyana in January.

The Korea Importers Association (Koima) Trade Mission, during a business meeting with members of the local business community, highlighted potential areas of trade where the country is seeking to import raw materials for its industries. The team also met with government officials.

Minister in the Embassy of Korea in Venezuela Lim Jong-Seon, a member of the delegation, noted that since 1970, the Republic of Korea has achieved much development and it is willing to share the experience of its development with Guyana to propel local development. He said that since Korea does not produce many raw materials there are many opportunities for Korean investment in the areas of mining and hydro-power. He explained that the meetings would serve as an opportunity for the two nations to understand each other better and identify the investment potential available.

Siriki residents benefit from housing, water and sanitation

In the efforts to improve water source, sanitation and housing for citizens in hinterland communities, Food for the Poor (Guyana) Incorporated has once again committed its support to the government in assisting the needy by collaborating with the Roetheli Lil’ Red Foundation, an organisation based in Michigan, United States, to complete the $88.8 million Lil’ Red Village II Siriki-New Haven Project to benefit 280 residents of Siriki, a small village located along the Pomeroon River, Region Two.

Recently, Executive Director of Food for the Poor, Leon Davis along with founder of Lil’ Red Foundation, Joseph Roetheli, and Region Two Chairman, Ali Baksh, visited the area to formally open the new community.

The Lil' Red Village II Siriki - New Haven Project entailed the construction of 70 wooden houses with 70 sanitation blocks, a school (School of Hope), a community centre (New Haven Community Centre) and a store house (New Haven store house). It also included the construction of a well and provision of a submersible pump to distribute potable water to residents. The project commenced on October 6, 2009 and was completed on November 28, 2009.

Residents of Siriki will benefit tremendously from the project. The community is comprised mainly of poor farmers and boat builders who live in low land areas that are prone to floods.

29 more Guyanese doctors to graduate this year

Twenty-nine young trained Guyanese medical students will enter the health system as full practitioners this year. These students returned to Guyana from Cuba last year and are doing their final rotation at the Diamond Hospital, the Leonora, Mahaicony and Suddie Diagnostic centres and at the New Amsterdam Hospital and Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.

The initiative to allow students to do their final rotation in their homeland will ensure faster integration into the local health system.

A further 300 Guyanese students are scheduled to return from Cuba in 2011 to complete their final rotation. This period of training is being done under the supervision of Cuban medical and faculty members and professors at the health institutions.

The Cuban scholarship programme started in 2002 when the Cuban government offered Guyana 350 scholarships. It was extended in 2006 when a further 965 scholarships were offered over the period 2006 to 2010.

The scholarships are offered in various disciplines including medicine, engineering, technology, agriculture and telecommunications.

President Jagdeo concludes visit to Kuwait

President Bharrat Jagdeo on January 18 concluded a two-day trip to Kuwait in the Middle East where he and delegation met with several high-level dignitaries within the Kuwaiti government and signed a memorandum of understanding and two cooperation agreements.

The President and his delegation were welcomed at the airport by a large Kuwaiti delegation led by the ruler of the country, Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

President Jagdeo met with Hisham Al-Wugayana, the Deputy Director General of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Managing Director of the Public Investment Authority, Bader Mohammad Al-Saad, the First Vice President of Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry Hilal Meshari Al-Mutairi and members of the chamber, the Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Defence Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, and the Speaker of the National Assembly Jassem Al-Kharafi. All of the meetings were held at the guest residence at Bayan Palace.

On the sidelines of the meetings, Guyana and Kuwait signed two cooperation agreements and one memorandum of understanding (MOU).

Kuwait’s Minister of Oil and Information Sheikh Ahmad Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah signed an agreement to bolster cultural ties between the two countries with Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett, while Minister of Finance Mustafa Al-Shimali and Minister Rodrigues-Birkett signed an agreement on encouraging bilateral investments.

The MOU, on political consultations, was signed by Minister Rodrigues-Birkett and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.

After the meetings, Amir Al-Sabah held at a dinner banquet in honour of the President and the delegation accompanying him at Banyan Palace, after which the two leaders held official talks which focused on means to develop bilateral relations in all possible aspects. Also discussed were issues of mutual concern to the two leaders, as well as developments in the region and the world.

President Jagdeo meets President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on January 20 officially welcomed President Bharrat Jagdeo at the presidential palace in Tehran, the country’s capital, where the two leaders held discussions on several world issues as well as relations between the two countries.

At the meeting, President Jagdeo called for expansion and consolidation of ties between the two countries and said there is great potential to bolster economic and commercial cooperation. President Ahmadinejad supported this call, noting that the current level of economic, cultural and political cooperation between Guyana and Iran can be bolstered, and expressed his hope to witness the expansion of relations and cooperation in these fields over the coming years.

US$1.5M Iranian grant for health sector

Guyana is to benefit from a US$1.5 million grant for its health sector, and will also receive assistance from the Islamic Republic of Iran to map its mineral resources. This was revealed by President Bharrat Jagdeo today during a press conference at the Office of the President, where he discussed his recent trip to the Middle East that included visits to Kuwait and Iran.

“I had several discussions with the Supreme Leader of Iran (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the President of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and many of his Ministers. We signed two memoranda of understanding (MOUs). The first has to do with a US$1.5 million grant for the health sector and the second has to do with the removal of restrictions on visa requirement for diplomatic travel,” the President said.

He noted that the Iranian government was interested in building a health care delivery facility, but was dissuaded by his entreaties to have the money used instead to construct an educational institution that will focus on specialised medical training.

He added that a mission would come soon to work with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to help map the country’s geological resources.

Lumber production increased in 2009

There has been a significant decline by 33 percent in log exports attributed to the implementation of the National Log Policy which sought to channel primary productions in areas where value is added.

Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud, at a press conference hosted by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) in Georgetown on January 22, said, “The fact that we have seen significant decline in log exports and especially since the log export policy came into effect from January 1, 2009 tells us in fact that this policy is working and the value-added sector within the country is growing.”

He noted that there was a 9.2 percent increase in lumber production in 2009 as compared to 2008. The production in 2009 was 73,118 cubic meters while 66,968 cubic meters were produced in 2008.

“Overall we have seen that there has been an increase in extraction; there has been an increase in value-added activity and certainly the local construction sector has been growing,” he said.

He added that there has also been significant improvement with the introduction of computerised bar coding which has enabled the sector to track timber extraction.

As it relates to forest monitoring, the Agriculture Minister said that the commission during last year increased its capacity. Continued investments are also being made in staff through training at the post-graduate level, he said.

The forestry training centre has done much training and Guyana has been recognised as one of the countries that practices sustainable forest management. In 2009 the commission trained over 340 persons and is planning to expand the programme in 2010.

Housing expansion to continue on East Bank Demerara corridor

The East Bank Demerara corridor will be further expanded with an additional 10,000 house lots which will be developed from the 2,000 acres of land recently acquired from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) by the Housing and Water Ministry. Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali said that the acquisition of new lands is part of the Ministry’s efforts to accelerate the housing sector to make available 17,000 house lots over the next three years and meet the demands of citizens.

Recently the Ministry obtained $4 billion for the expansion of the housing sector.

Minister Ali said to achieve this objective of meeting its targets and satisfy the demands; an assessment was conducted to determine the availability of land through negotiations with GUYSUCO. Negotiations led to the identification of lands along the East Bank Demerara corridor. House lots will be located from Peter’s Hall to Diamond, East Bank Demerara.

“This investment is only part of the incremental investment that is needed to actualise the 10,000 house lots and we will need a further $6 billion to provide the necessary infrastructure to develop the lands to make it accessible and available to allottees so this would be another investment that would be required,” the Minister explained.

He pointed out that the design and layout of the area would take into consideration the issues of health, education, economic activity and commercial zone. The scheme will comprise middle, low and high income structures.

News Briefs

Credits: Stabroek News, Chronicle, Mirror, Kaieteur News, GINA

Compiled and edited by Evangeline Ishmael

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