Guyana Diary

March 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 March 2010 - Issue No. 74 - Back to Embassy page

Previous Guyana Diaries are available here.

Foreign Minister reiterates Guyana’s territorial sovereignty

Recent reports emanating from Suriname of presidential instructions under the previous Surinamese government to invade Guyana’s territory (namely the New River Triangle) have prompted Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett to reiterate the tri-junction point which clearly recognises the New River Triangle as being within the sovereign territory of Guyana.

Reading a brief statement in the National Assembly during the budget debate on February 15, Minister Rodrigues-Birkett said it is a well established fact that in 1936, the governments of the federative republic of Brazil, Great Britain and the Netherlands identified the tri-junction point at the source of the Kutari River where the boundaries of British Guiana (now Guyana) Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) and Brazil meet.

“In spite of that conscious act, successive governments of Suriname have sought to illegally annex Guyana’s territory including by an unsuccessful armed invasion in 1969 that ended when the GDF expelled Surinamese military personnel from the area,” the Minister said.

She described the public statements currently being reported upon in the Surinamese press as confirmation that in the year 2000 when Suriname violated Guyana’s exclusive economic zone and forcibly removed the CGX rig from Guyana’s waters, the then government of Suriname also had formulated plans for the invasion of the New River Triangle.

“Such an act would have also been in breach of international law just as the tribunal that heard the maritime dispute between Guyana and Suriname ruled that the removal of the CGX rig by Suriname, constituted a threat of the use of force in breach of the UN convention on the laws of the sea, the UN charter and general international law,” she added.

Given the confirmation of the stated hostile plans of Suriname in 2000, the Minister said she met with the Surinamese Ambassador in Georgetown and registered Guyana’s concerns not only of the admitted invasion instruction but also the failure of the current government to ‘reassure Guyanese and the international community that the use or threat of the use of force is not an option that Suriname currently embraces.’

Guyana’s economy remained stable in 2009

At the presentation of the 2010 National Budget before the National Assembly on February 8, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh, highlighted that Guyana’s economy was resilient in 2009, overcoming tumultuous external circumstances, both globally and regionally, to remain stable and growing during the year.

“In the final analysis, the domestic economy achieved positive real growth in 2009, inflation declined, the fiscal deficit was reduced, a balance of payments surplus was realised, our external reserves were increased, and the exchange rate remained stable. At the same time, visible progress was made in expanding and upgrading our country’s physical infrastructure and our Government’s longstanding pact to invest heavily in social programmes continued to be honoured,” the Minister stated.

This is in direct contrast to the world economy which shrank by 0.8% in 2009, led by a 3.2% contraction in the advanced economies, with output in the United States economy shrinking by 2.5%, the Euro Area by 3.9%, Japan by 5.3% and Canada by 2.6%.

The negative global growth performance reflected persistently weak demand in large markets and a 12.3% decline in trade volumes, which affected developed and developing economies alike.

Also, he pointed out, the Caribbean economy contracted by about 2.2% in 2009. This reflected dramatic declines in tourist arrivals at some destinations as high as 20%, significantly reduced activity in the bauxite and alumina sector, lower inward worker remittances, shrinking foreign direct investment and, in some jurisdictions, elevated uncertainty and risk arising from the CLICO and Stanford situations.

However, despite these negative external factors, Guyana’s economy recorded positive real growth of 2.3% in 2009, a fourth consecutive year of positive growth since the 2005 floods. This was led by strong performances in both the rice and gold sectors.

Rice production expanded by 9.2% to 359,789 tonnes, the highest annual production level in a decade and the second highest production level in the entire history of the industry, while gold declarations increased by 14.7% to 299,822 ounces, the highest level of gold declarations ever achieved in any one year.

These great performances aided a balance of payments surplus of US$234.4 million which contributed to the Bank of Guyana increasing its external reserves position from US$356 million at the end of 2008 to US$628 million, the highest level ever in the country’s history.

Also, the inflation rate during 2009 was 3.6%, the overall deficit was $13.5 billion or 5.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a significant reduction from the 7.6% in 2008, and the value of the Guyana dollar appreciated by 0.97% against the US dollar during the year.

Such an excellent performance in the domestic economy during the past year, which was characterised by the most testing global economic circumstances in living memory, attests to the soundness of the government’s position of maintaining macro-economic stability while pursuing economic growth.

Guyana’s foreign policy – preserving territorial integrity

The thrust of Guyana’s foreign policy is one that is based on the preservation of the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and seeking assistance to confront the economic and social challenges at home and enhancing Guyana’s role in the international arena.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett reiterated this statement to the National Assembly during her presentation on the ongoing 2010 budget debate.

In terms of relations with Venezuela, she said that over the last year Guyana’s relationship with the country continued to be strengthened. During her official visit to that country in July 2009, the Minister said that discussions led to the advancement of the consideration and implementation of several projects including the centre for rehabilitation and integration of homeless persons, among others.

She said significant progress was also made in terms of negotiating a memorandum of understanding between the two countries to address issues relating to the treatment of fishing vessels and crews after apprehension for illegal fishing.

The Minister highlighted that as Guyana continues to build a relationship with Venezuela, it is also looking to further develop trade ties.

She stated that this year, the country is considering the establishment of a consulate in Puerto Ordaz, since more than 20,000 Guyanese reside in this area in Venezuela.

In relation to Suriname and information emanating from the country regarding instructions that were given by the previous government in relation to Guyana’s New River Triangle, she said that Guyana would continue to take seriously any threat, serious or perceived to its territory and will continue to utilise the diplomatic process to deal with the issue as far as possible.

However, she added that Guyana was equally serious about engaging with Suriname on other issues that would benefit the citizens of both countries.

Turning to diplomatic relations with Brazil, the Minister said the establishment and commissioning of the Takutu Bridge on September 14, 2009 saw Guyana and Brazil for the first time establishing a physical link and the occasion led to several agreements being signed in the areas of culture, trade, investment, and defence cooperation among others.

She contended that the agreements would be useless if the country did not make use of the provisions included therein, adding that in 2010 focus would be placed on the implementation of some of them bearing in mind that the Brazilian process is different to that of Guyana’s, while some of the agreements would require the approval of Brazil’s Congress.

Mashramani 2010 a huge success

The streets of Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, came alive on February 23 as hundreds of resplendent, colourfully bedecked revellers took to the streets in their eye catching costumes and floats as they participated in the main event to mark Guyana’s 40th anniversary as a Republic.

More than 33 bands took to the roads showcasing various topical themes and aspects of development much to the admiration of the thousands who came out to be part of the day’s happenings.

The parade started off from Camp and Church Streets and weaved its way along Church Street, into Vlissengen Road before making its way into the National Park, Thomas Lands.

It was evident hat the revellers were having a wonderful time as were the thousands, lining the parade route inclusive of many children. For many it was a grand picnic.

This year, the Mashramani Secretariat of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport organised several events which started as early as January to commemorate the 40th Republic anniversary. These included calypso, chutney, soca, steelband and costume competitions that saw the participation of Guyanese from all across the country.

Godfrey Chin’s outstanding pictorial exhibition

Some never-before-seen images of Guyana, past and present, were on show at the Umana Yana in Georgetown in February. They were exhibited by photographer and renowned former costume band designer Godfrey Chin.

The exhibition was a partnership effort between Chin and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport in the lead-up to Guyana’s 40th Republic anniversary celebrations.

Among the collections were pictures that reflected the themes: “From Whence We Came” the “Garden City,” “Festivals,” “Mash,” and Guyana’s Hinterland,” among others.

Explaining the background to the exhibition, Chin said the inspiration was drawn from advice by friends to write a book about Guyana. Following on the advice, Chin, in December 2000, started writing articles for his book “Nostalgia – Golden Moments of Guyana 1940 to 1980.” In the process he also compiled a series of photographs after developing a love for photography.

$852M in contracts signed for housing development

The Housing and Water Ministry and several contractors on February 12 signed eight contracts totalling $852 million for the development of infrastructural services in the housing sector in five areas across the country.

The contracts are financed under a recent loan approval by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to the Government of Guyana for the sum of US$27.9 million for the implementation of the second Low Income Settlement Programme.

The programme is part of an ongoing collaboration between the government and the IDB to address low-income housing issues. It is aimed at improving low-income families’ access to enhanced living conditions through housing solutions and access to house lots. It is expected to benefit about 12,000 (or eight percent) of the country’s households.

This programme will also focus on developing basic services, consolidating existing housing schemes, and upgrading squatter areas, implementing pilot projects to deal with issues of affordability and sustainability, and strengthening the Central Housing and Planning Authority.

Infrastructural development under the programme will see:

• construction of roads, drains and structures at Fort Ordnance (in Region 6) to the value of $233.6 million leading to the development of 430 lots to benefit 2,185 people;

• construction of roads, drains and structures and installation of a pure water distribution network at Tuschen (in Region Three) at a cost of $334.6 million to develop 674 lots to benefit 3, 370 people;

• upgrading of roads at Area “B” Lusignan (in Region Four) at a cost of $65 million to complete 329 lots benefiting 1,645 people;

• construction of roads, drains, structures and installation of pure water distribution network at Binkey Alley (in Region Four) at a cost of $29.5 million to develop 60 lots for 300 people; and

• construction of roads, drains, structures and installation of pure water distribution network at Section “D” Sophia (in Region Four) at a cost of $189.4 million to complete 680 lots for 3,400 people.

Mining without reserves not tenable

President Bharrat Jagdeo, Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, several Ministers and the Commissioners of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) met on February 11 with a large contingent of miners at the Guyana International Conference Centre to assure them that the government had no intention to close mining operations across the country. In fact, the President highlighted that his administration would like to see the mining industry expand.

The President explained that the suggested new regulations would reconcile the rights of surface (timber operator) and sub-surface (miners) rights holders.

He indicated that the requirement to have miners notify the GGMC of their intention to move to a new mining site was intended to permit the timber operator having the forestry lease for that piece of land to decide whether he/she intended to make use of the concession.

The President explained that such a decision would have to be made within one month and if the timber operator failed to make a decision or choose not to exploit his/her lease, mining would be permitted.

However, if the timber operator should decide to exploit the concession, he/she would be given six months to do so during which time mining would not take place. This would be the only time when the six-month regulation that was been behind miners’ protests would be necessary, the President explained.

Otherwise, mining would remain unhindered. During the one-month notification period, an area equivalent to three hectares would be made available to the miner to continue operating.

“How can a Government that has consistently supported mining want to shut it down?” President Jagdeo asked, pointing to the duty-free concessions given to miners for importing dredges and excavators.

In response to requests from miners to have between 7-10 percent of the country put aside for mining, the President questioned why miners would only want such a small portion of land when the government was supportive of mining activities all over Guyana, as long as it was done in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Also, he noted that Guyana’s agreement with Norway would not undermine activities in the sector as it was agreed that Guyana would maintain its historic level of deforestation of 0.3 percent, equivalent to 45,000 hectares. However, current mining activities accounted for 10,000 hectares of deforestation annually and, therefore, there existed much scope for expansion.

However, it was noted by Prime Minister Hinds that mining without reserves was untenable and members of the mining communities would have to plan their activities more thoughtfully. This would ensure that the best use would be made of the forests with Guyana maintaining its historic deforestation rate so as to access funding under the Low-Carbon Development Strategy.

President appointed to UN Panel

Guyana’s presence on the world stage and the opportunity of a small country to influence global dialogue and mobilisation efforts on combating climate change have been vindicated with the appointment of President Bharrat Jagdeo to sit on a United Nations (UN) panel to address financing for countries in the mitigation effort against the negative effects of climate change.

The panel which includes four heads of Government – the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, Ethiopia, Norway and Guyana’s President – was established by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon.

The work of the panel is seen as critical to the recently held 15th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the follow up conference slated for Mexico later this year.

Birth certificate project for hinterland communities

The Guyana government has been dedicating resources towards the empowerment of Amerindians, especially those who reside in hinterland communities. To this end, the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has embarked upon speeding up the registration for birth certificates while simultaneously hosting consultations to determine the needs of communities.

Officials from the Ministry visited Region 8 recently to assist in the registration of births. This process was a collaborative effort, facilitated by the Community Development Officers and Toshaos of the villages. Further the Ministry will be working along with the General Registry Office to ensure that the birth certificates are issued to villagers within a month.

The exercise, which saw the birth registration of 372 persons, was conducted in Paramakatoi, Bamboo Creek, Tuseneng and Monkey Mountain. It began on February 3 and concluded on February 7.

Consultations were held in Paramakatoi and Monkey Mountain to determine the needs of the communities. The results of these consultations will serve as a guide for the Ministry when planning and executing developmental strategies.

Technology boost for rice industry in 2010

Agriculture contributes significantly to Guyana’s GDP. Rice which is a large contributor, last year experienced an increase of 9.2 percent with a production of 359,789 tonnes. This resulted in the industry securing its second highest annual production of all time.

Such success would not have been possible without prudent management of the industry by government, key agencies and farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture in 2009 undertook the purchasing of technology, the implementation of the farmers’ education programme and the amendment of the Rice Factories Act. The sum of $400 million was provided to the Guyana Rice Development Board in light of the decline in export prices.

To increase the productivity of the sector in 2010, the government will continue to set high standards. It will expand operations in a technological environment and educate farmers on crop cultivation and the proper utilisation of technologies.

In addition, operations will be governed by the Rice Factories Act which will facilitate the smooth flow of business transactions between farmers and millers.

To modernise the industry in the Berbice district, the government has earmarked the construction of seed and drying facilities. Construction of the seed facility will commence this year with a budgetary allocation of $40 million and the drying facility will be built at a cost of $16 million.

Twelve additional drying facilities will be built in Regions 2, 3, 4, and 5. Rice farmers had agreed to the setting up of these facilities out of the $400 million fund approved in 2009 to assist them.

In the utilisation of all resources available, the laser leveller purchased in 2009 will be instrumentally employed to foster water management and reduce weed infestation, thereby further enhancing paddy yields.

In addition, the government will focus resources on the expansion of the farmers’ education programme. Last year the programme which took the form of farmers’ field schools enabled 4,755 farmers to benefit from advanced agricultural knowledge.

Agriculture sector to benefit from risk assessment

The government of Guyana, supported by the World Bank, will benefit from an assessment aiming to evaluate the risks faced by the agriculture sector, particularly those affecting the rice supply chain, and the feasibility of agriculture risk transfer and insurance solutions for the sector as a whole.

“Agriculture is the most important productive sector of Guyana’s economy. Agriculture accounts for approximately a third of Guyana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 30 percent of the country’s employment. However, in the five past years, the sector has been affected by international volatility in price fluctuations and unusual flooding, which have contributed to poor agriculture growth performance,” the World Bank said.

As the country’s sugar and rice quotas in the European market will be reduced, the government of Guyana is seeking to diversify the agriculture economy and its production systems, with emphasis in new crops, livestock, fisheries enterprises and other income generating activities.

“The agriculture sector in Guyana is not only vulnerable to increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events, but also to a wide range of production constraints that compromise the competitive development of the sector,” said Diego Arias, World Bank Senior Agriculture Economist.

“Ensuring a competitive Guyanese agriculture sector, and the design and development of an effective risk transfer solution, such as insurance, are crucial for the country’s development,” he added.

The assessment of the rice supply chain will evaluate and prioritise risks, and identify and rank areas of future policy and investments needed for improving competitiveness.

The pre-feasibility assessment on agriculture risk transfer instruments, such as insurance, will be based on the analysis of the status of key areas for agriculture risk management, mainly technical, institutional, financial, and agro-meteorological infrastructure. This assessment will focus on main agriculture activities requiring priority attention, such as rice, fruits and vegetables, production, livestock, and aquaculture.

Support slow in coming after EU sugar reform

The Guyana government is concerned over the European Union’s slow pace of delivery of accompanying measures under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which replaced the preferential sugar protocol once enjoyed by the Caribbean.

This concern was stated on February 25 by Guyana’s Ambassador to Venezuela, Odeen Ishmael, when he made the opening remarks at the start of a two-day regional meeting in Caracas of the Latin America Economic System (SELA), of which he is Chairman.

He said the strict conditions are restricting the disbursement of timely support to the sugar producing countries of the Caribbean whose economies are facing severe consequences arising from the 36 per cent price cuts by the EU on sugar.

Significantly, the full price cut, which took effect this year, will result in an annual loss to Guyana of US$34.1 million, Ishmael added.

SELA is preparing for the Madrid meeting between Latin America and the Caribbean and the European Union, scheduled for this May.

Even before the last Summit, which was held in Lima, Peru, negotiations had started on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the European Union and the CARIFORUM countries comprising Caricom and the Dominican Republic.

Negotiations were concluded in 2008 and the agreement was signed last year. This Agreement provides for substantial liberalisation of market access for both goods and services and replaces the non-reciprocal preferential trade arrangement which existed previously under the Lome and Cotonou conventions negotiated with the African-Caribbean-Pacific nations.

The Government of Guyana had expressed some reservations, since it felt the Agreement would create some vulnerabilities for its major sugar industry and the welfare of the sugar workers of the country, thus implying that the agreement is not totally fair.

“The Guyana Government felt then – and still feels – that the terms and conditions of trade with the EU must be fair and just, and expressed those views very clearly before and after it signed on to the EPA,” Ishmael noted.

In reality, he said Guyana is worse off now than before with the EPA.

He noted that the sugar producing countries of the Caribbean, which include Guyana, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, have expressed their disappointment with the slow pace of disbursements of funds from the EU, which are intended to help in buffering the economies of sugar producing countries from the fall-out associated with the price cuts.

“The sugar producing countries want a trading regime with fair and stable prices and access to a secure and a predictable long term market in the EU, and this will surely be expressed at the Madrid summit,” said Ishmael.

The EU-LAC summit, which sees the participation of more than 60 countries, has a powerful international impact, Ishmael noted, saying the debate at the highest level identifies new development vistas for the participation of both regional groupings, and allows for the adoption of fresh initiatives to deal with the challenges of mutual economic assistance, trade and investment.

With regard to economic assistance, foreign direct investment from the European Union to Latin America and the Caribbean has proven to be of growing significance in the last two decades, Ishmael stated, while noting that on the other hand, bilateral trade between the two regions has suffered as a result of the international economic crisis.

SELA is a regional intergovernmental organisation that groups 27 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Its head office is in Caracas, Venezuela.

Guyana and Kuwait finalising double taxation agreement

The governments of Guyana and Kuwait are in the final round of negotiations on a double taxation agreement, which will come into effect from April.

A Kuwaiti delegation was in Georgetown for the final rounds of talks on February 24 with their Guyanese counterparts on the agreement for which negotiations began in 2005.

Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and International Cooperation, John Isaacs felt the agreement would significantly benefit Guyanese and Kuwaitis alike.

“The double taxation agreement I am quite sure will not only auger well for the continued good relations between our two countries but also for the development of our peoples, expansion of our bilateral cooperation programme and the promotion of mutual economic relations between the two countries,” Isaacs said.

Meanwhile, a member of the Kuwaiti delegation, Abdulaziz Ali-Sallall, said he was looking forward for the agreement which would establishing a proper environment for investment and significantly improve economic ties between the peoples of the two countries.

The final agreement will be signed in April when the Kuwaiti Prime Minister Nasir al-Muhammad al-ahmad al-Sabah visits Guyana.

Guyana and Kuwait established diplomatic ties in 1975 and have since been sharing a very cordial relationship.

News Briefs

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

Compiled and edited by Evangeline Ishmael

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