Guyana Diary

March 2009

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
embguy@cantv.net

On the Internet: http://www.guyana.org/spanish/venezuela_embassy.html

Posted March 2009 - Issue No. 62 - Back to Embassy page

Previous Guyana Diaries are available here.

The budget: Govt delivers on 2008 promises

The government has accomplished last year's budget promises that have put the country on a better footing.

Among the promises fulfilled were: responsible management of the economy, infrastructure development, investments in the social sector, targeted assistance to the most vulnerable in the society, reforms of the justice and security sectors and institutional reforms to the business environment to stimulate greater investment.

In Dr. Ashni Singh's presentation of the 2009 National Budget on February 9, he gave a review of the Guyanese economy in 2008 that highlighted the successes the government achieved in these areas. Through its responsible management of the economy, Government was able to ensure:

1. Economic growth of 3.1% in a hostile global economic environment;

2. A moderate inflation rate of 6.4% despite the severe fluctuations in world market prices for oil and other commodities;

3. A surplus on the balance of payments of US$6.6 million; and

4. A growth in external reserves of 13.89 percent to US$355.9 million.

The Berbice River Bridge, the principal infrastructure project of 2008, was completed through a public/private sector partnership at a cost of US$40 million and opened to traffic on December 23.

The sum of $6 billion was spent on road and bridge construction, rehabilitation and maintenance which included work on the New Amsterdam to Moleson Creek road at a cost of $1.9 billion, and construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of urban, rural and hinterland roads in all 10 regions of the country at a cost of $1.7 billion.

Other achievements in infrastructure development included completion of the Takutu Bridge, rehabilitation and maintenance of 36 coastal and hinterland airstrips, and reinforcing sea and river defence structures to prevent flooding and overtopping at a cost of $2.6 billion.

A total of $33.3 billion was spent on education, health, housing, water and sanitation as the government continued to invest in the social sector to ensure that all Guyanese have what they need to live meaningful, productive lives.

Spending of $1.8 billion on the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of schools countrywide, and the completion of the Lethem hospital and the comprehensive diagnostic and treatment centres at Suddie, Leonora and Mahaicony all attest to government's commitment to improved education and health.

The allocation of 2,366 house lots and the processing of 2,434 land titles, and the commencement of construction on wells and water treatment plants at Lima, Vergenoegen and Cotton Tree are also some of the achievements made in the housing and water sectors during 2008.

To help the most vulnerable in Guyana, the government increased old age pension and public assistance by 63 percent and 82 percent respectively, trained 571 individuals under the National Training Programme for Youth Empowerment and conducted nationwide public awareness campaigns on domestic violence, sexual offences, matrimonial clauses and divorce laws.

Recognising the need to enhance the functioning of the security agencies, the government spent $12.9 billion on acquiring two helicopters, 35 vehicles and several boats for interior and river bank areas, rehabilitated police stations and living quarters, upgraded prison facilities, constructed and rehabilitated of fire stations, and enacted numerous pieces of legislation to improve the administration of justice.

Social programmes will continue despite US economic rating

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, assured on February 20, that Government will not cut critical social programmes for the sake of improving its rating on the Heritage Foundation economic freedoms index.

Guyana scored 0.4 point lower than last year because improvements in four of 10 economic freedoms were offset by a large decline in “government” scoring size.

The compilation said this country’s “oversized” government, with expenditure exceeding half the GDP is the biggest barrier to development. It added that the government has been consistently increasing social spending, resulting in a persistent fiscal deficit.

The Minister, still alluding to the rating, said, in the area of monetary fund, Guyana was scored down for influencing prices through the regulation of State-owned utilities and enterprises but has no regrets for so doing.

“This Government has no apology for intervening in the market to ensure the people of Guyana continue to benefit from affordable fuel,” Singh declared.

The Minister argued that the $710 million allocated for the school feeding programme targets the vulnerable in society and the 10,000 persons who will benefit from eye surgery at Port Mourant Diagnostic Centre and thousands of farmers directly from some $8 billion in drainage and irrigation works, among other projects, all speak to positive development.

Singh supported his contention by pointing out that in 1992 public servants minimum wage was $3,137 as against $29,836 today, excluding the temporary cost of living adjustment announced by President Bharrat Jagdeo last year. He said that reminded reality represents an 851 percent rise in Guyana dollars.

He pointed out that the gross international reserves moved from US$191.1 million in 1992 to US$355.9 million at the end of 2008, an 86 percent increase despite the food, fuel and economic crises.

Singh said, in addition to the many noteworthy economic strides, the US$2.1 billion total external debt, inherited by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in 1992, has since been reduced by 60 percent to US$833 million.

Bank of Guyana says financial institutions are strong

The Bank of Guyana is assuring the general public that the financial and liquidity positions of licensed financial institutions in the country are strong, and have constantly met and sometimes have exceeded its requirements.

The following is a statement issued by the Bank on February 27:

The Bank of Guyana (BOG) is concerned that there is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public on the health of the financial system by persons who may have ulterior motives and are uninformed about the workings of the system.

It has been brought to our attention that there is a report on the internet . . . . to the effect that the Guyana Bank for Trade & Industry Ltd. has applied to the BOG for a $1 billion bailout. The BOG categorically denies that it has been approached by GBTI or any of the licensed financial institutions for liquidity support.

As supervisory authority for all licensed financial institutions, the BOG wishes to inform the public that the rumours of GBTI bailout are false and misleading and should be totally disregarded. The BOG is satisfied that the financial and liquidity positions of the licensed financial institutions are strong. These institutions have consistently met our requirements on the capital adequacy ratio and have exceeded the liquid asset and reserve requirement ratios, where applicable. In the case of GBTI, with assets of $50 billion, their capital adequacy ratio of 16.83 percent at the end of January 2009, exceeds the international benchmark of eight per cent and is higher than the average for the banking sector of 15.19 per cent. The public is encouraged to browse the BOG’s website (www.bankofguyana.org.gy) to monitor these prudential ratios.

Offsite, onsite supervision protects banking system

The Bank of Guyana has played an important role in ensuring the strength of the financial sector in Guyana by providing offsite and onsite supervision of financial institutions to ensure that there are no breaches of the financial regulations that are laid out in the Financial Institutions Act (FIA). This was indicated by Governor of the Bank of Guyana, Lawrence Williams on March 2.

Lawrence indicated that the financial sector in Guyana remains sound despite reports to the contrary over the past few days, and referred to the advisory which the Bank of Guyana had to issue to refute the claims that a certain financial institution had applied for a bailout. He noted that all of the financial institutions in Guyana have remained strong and condemned the reports as false and misleading. He encouraged the media to refrain from practices that engender fear and undermine confidence in the financial sector.

He also highlighted the role of the Bank of Guyana in the oversight of the sector. Williams stated that supervision of the financial institutions was two-pronged with both offsite and onsite monitoring. He stated that all financial institutions have to submit mandatory reports to the Bank of Guyana which are analysed to assess trends and identify factors that may pose a threat to the financial institution being monitored. Indicators such as the capital adequacy, reserve requirement and liquidity reserve ratios are examined and it is ensured that they are within the parameters of the financial regulations.

Onsite monitoring involves visiting the offices of the financial institutions to examine their procedures and processes to ensure there are no internal control weaknesses which can compromise the system.

“We have to be vigilant and ensure that the institutions we monitor do not take undue risks,” he stated, “and ensure that swift action is taken to correct any deficiencies identified.”

Amerindian development remains steadfast in 2009

In its efforts to continuously protect the rights of the Amerindian people and improve their assets, the government has provided some $488 million in the 2009 National Budget for the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.

This amount, which is a 38 percent increase over the 2008 projections, will promote further development in the hinterland areas by alleviating the critical need for transport, Amerindian students' welfare and support for agricultural and other micro business opportunities.

A total of $30.7 million has been allotted to improving the livelihood of residents in several hinterland communities who currently experience transportation challenges in carrying out their daily activities.

The river bank communities in Regions 1, 2, 7 & 9 will receive a total of 10 outboard engines with boats valued $10 million, while citizens will benefit from the government's commitment to ease transportation problems in Regions 1 and 8 through the provision of six all terrain vehicles (ATVs) costing more than $20 million.

The students' hostel at Liliendaal, Georgetown, is expected to be completed this year with a final allocation of $107 million. The project, which commenced late last year, costs $113 million and will provide accommodation for 120 students who would have all earned placement to Georgetown institutions under the hinterland scholarship programme.

Improving the capabilities of Amerindians remains foremost with the administration which has established an Amerindian Development Fund of $110 million. In addition to providing equipment support for agricultural ventures and other micro business activities, the fund will address issues and concerns on land demarcation. The Ministry of Amerindian Affairs has set aside an amount to ensure that Amerindian lands are not comprised by the encroachment of illegal miners and loggers.

Amerindian communities will also benefit from an additional $150 million under the Presidential Grant. These grants are disbursed in three categories whereby small communities are entitled to $500,000 whilst medium sized communities can access between $0.7 million to $1 million and larger communities $1.2 million.

US acknowledges Guyana’s efforts to confront drug trade

The US State Department, 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) has acknowledged the efforts being made by the Government of Guyana to modernise its laws to confront the drug trade.

The report noted the passage in December 2008 of laws that allow for plea bargaining, wiretapping, and the collection of cell phone ownership data in order to modernise Guyana’s legal system. The new laws, the reported stated, collectively enhance both the investigative capability of law enforcement authorities, as well as the tools available to prosecutors in drug-related and other criminal matters.

The report, while stating that Guyana still remains a trans-shipment point for cocaine to the USA and other territories, acknowledged the major staff changes within the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) resulting from the termination of some employees after they had failed a polygraph test, a move highly criticised by the opposition and some sections of the media. The report stated that this action “offers some promise of improved coordination and interdiction efforts.”

In relation to other actions taken by Guyana to augment its action against the illicit drug trade, the report noted that the Government was in the process of procuring new surveillance cameras for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, after signing an inter-agency agreement that facilitates the sharing of airport surveillance footage among all relevant law enforcement bodies.

Addressing the issue of collaboration with other international agencies to combat the trafficking in illicit drugs, the report noted that in April, Guyana acceded to the UN Convention Against Corruption, and in June, it acceded to the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and that Guyana is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

Additionally, it stated that the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Trinidad office continued to collaborate with Guyana’s law enforcement agencies in counter-narcotics-related activities, and reported a generally favourable working relationship and the government’s continued implementation of a US$5 million, multi-year Security Sector Reform plan funded by the United Kingdom that commenced in 2007.

Commenting on Guyana’s ability to actively police its borders, the report stated that the typography of Guyana offers ample cover for drug traffickers and smugglers with its vast expanse of unpopulated forest and savannahs. It further pointed out that Guyana’s ability to deal with drug abusers is hampered by the modest financial resources to support rehabilitation programmes.

Libyan trade, investment team meets President Jagdeo

Libya and Guyana are working towards the establishment of stronger trade and economic partnerships following the visit by Guyana’s Head of State Bharrat Jagdeo to the North African country in January this year.

On February 26, a team from the Libyan Trade and Investment Agency met President Jagdeo at State House to continue discussions which began with the Libyan leader Muammar al Qadhafi. The team was headed by Mohamed Kouja and included Aymin Matri and Yussef L. Habi.

Another Libyan team is expected shortly in Guyana to assess potential investment opportunities and, through this collaboration, the relationship between the two countries will strengthen.

Agriculture, forestry and hydropower are just some of the investment possibilities which the visiting team discussed during their talks with the Head of State.

During the President’s recent trip to that country, it was agreed that Libya would send a committee to open the Libyan People’s Bureau in Guyana.

The relationship between Guyana and Libya dates back to the late 1970s when Libya maintained an embassy in Guyana but which was subsequently closed.

Few reports of persons trafficked in Guyana

The 2008 Human Rights Report released on February 25 by the US State Department noted that in Guyana, unlike previous years, there were few reports of persons being trafficked to, from, or within the country.

The report stated that there was a national action plan to combat trafficking in persons (TIP) as well as a National Task Force, consisting of multiple government agencies that meet to address anti-trafficking issues. Penalties for trafficking include three years to life imprisonment, forfeiture of property, and full restitution to the victims.

There was no evidence of societal discrimination against victims were received. The Government also worked closely with, and provided some financial support for, the non-governmental organisations Help and Shelter and Red Thread, although neither reported any trafficking victims during the year.

In January 2008, the Government facilitated the return from Trinidad of a trafficking victim who had escaped her captors; this individual received vocational training and a stipend from the Government to assist in her re-integration into society.

In February 2008, the Human Services and Social Security Ministry completed a countrywide anti-trafficking educational and self-awareness campaign, which reached more than 5,000 individuals. The National Task Force also conducted sensitisation and awareness sessions with more than 1,000 people participating across the country.

Guyana celebrates 39th Republic anniversary

Guyana’s 39th anniversary as a Co-operative Republic was marked on February 23 when the Golden Arrowhead was hoisted early in the morning at Parliament Buildings before a large crowd comprising government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, sections of the disciplined services and civil society.

President Bharrat Jagdeo took the salute prior to the hoisting of the flag and was invited to inspect the guard of honour as is customary. The Golden Arrowhead was hoisted simultaneously with the traditional 21-gun salute, following prayers by representatives of the Muslim, Christian and Hindu Communities, the three main religions in the country.

Following this, the National Pledge was recited by all, followed by the Song of the Republic and the National Anthem.

The ceremony also saw the Guyana Police Force Band entertaining those gathered at the event to mark the 39th year since Guyana gained its status as a Cooperative Republic on February 23, 1970, following its independence from Great Britain in 1966.

Main focus of 2009 GUYEXPO is joint ventures

GUYEXPO, Guyana’s largest annual trade and investment exposition, is expected to be bigger and better than ever, this year.

So said Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mr. Manniram Prashad, on February 8 when he indicated that one main focus will be on developing joint investments with Caribbean partners.

The exhibition will be staged from September 24 to September 30 at the traditional venue, the National Exhibition Centre, Sophia, Georgetown.

A seminar for investors will be conducted on September 23 with participants from at least 40 other countries.

The Sophia site, which underwent a makeover for CARIFESTA X two years ago, can now accommodate more booths and there will be less congestion as a result of the building of an additional exit from the exhibition site.

“I think this year we will really have a huge GUYEXPO and all eyes will be on us, as this is the largest trade show, single event in the entire Caribbean,” Prashad stated.

He explained that the local exposition will run over six days continuously and is the biggest in terms of attendance, booths and participants.

Some of the foreign participants will include China, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Belize, Suriname, Barbados and St. Lucia.

GUYEXPO was inaugurated in 1995 to showcase locally produced goods and services and has since grown vastly in attendance, participation and scope.

Screening starts at National Ophthalmology Hospital

The National Ophthalmology Hospital at Port Mourant, Berbice, has begun screening eye patients as the institution initiates the database of patients for surgeries when the facility becomes operational shortly.

The Cuban personnel at the hospital will also be engaging in outreach programmes to screen patients in Region Six.

The hospital will preclude the need for Guyanese to travel overseas for eye surgeries as it will conduct surgeries for cataract, glaucoma, retinopathy and retina detachment among others.

This is the first modern ophthalmology hospital in the English-speaking Caribbean and will cater for approximately 10,000 eye surgeries yearly. It is set to commence operation by the first quarter of this year.

The hospital is equipped with modern equipment donated by Cuba. The Cuban medical personnel will man the centre for a period of five years after which Guyanese personnel will take over.

The hospital was constructed through expanded cooperation in the area of health between the governments of Cuba and Guyana. The visionary nature behind the construction and repairing of health facilities around Guyana is to maximise and improve the health sector in Guyana.

This allows accessible, faster and convenient services to the people of Guyana which are a part of Government’s mandate to diversify health-care delivery to all.

The Mission Miracle flights to Cuba will also cease after the surgeries commence at the hospital. Mission Miracle has over the past two years been responsible for restoring sight to thousands of Guyanese who have had acute eye conditions.

Intermediate savannahs combat effects of climate change

The intermediate savannahs, located in Region 10, about 160 kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, forms a unique and fragile eco-zone. These savannahs offer an ideal climate for pioneering farmers and entrepreneurs in agriculture and agro-industrial development and eco-zone is considered the "second frontier" for major agricultural development.

Several large and small scale farmers have benefited from government's distribution of a significant number of leases and as part of the adaptation measures taken against climate change, large scale investors like Alex Mendes and small farmers in the Wiruni savannahs are some of the beneficiaries.

Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud, Brazilian Ambassador Arthur Meyer and a team from the Agriculture Ministry in February visited Mendes' farm at Dubulay where he is involved in the planting and experimenting with different varieties of soya bean and corn.

The Agriculture Minister said that his visit was intended to determine whether there could be better integration by private investors and government. He said that Mendes was involved in a wonderful experiment and one which would see a commercial operation supplying different seed varieties with respect to corn and soya beans.

He said at Ebini, Region 10, his Ministry runs a research facility and noted that it was good that the Brazilian Ambassador was witnessing the efforts made. Minister Persaud said that he did not only want to collaborate with the Brazilians in the intermediate savannahs alone but in Rupununi and Roraima as well.

More than 100,000 acres of land have already been allocated to farmers and the government wants people to become involved in activities such as those at Dubulay farm.

Minister Persaud said that such activities would give support in terms of adaptation since it would reduce floods, vulnerability and improving livelihood. He disclosed that the government was looking at other options to go forward with the intermediate savannahs and wanted to work with and support investors.

Through activities like these, he noted, Guyana could see increased food security, reduced vulnerability, employment and economic growth. He also disclosed that they would also be looking at testing sugar cane and at other Berbice River communities to develop soya bean and corn.

Mendes said that he also produces a significant amount of seeds and that the farm has been involved with research and trials but has not gone far with using fertilizers. At the moment, he said, he was in the process of packing some seeds to ship to the United States for trials.

Mendes explained that he took over the business from his father and that it was feasible in terms of feed and livestock. He said Bounty Farm requires 100 tonnes of soya bean feed every week so the market was available.

He pointed out that he was using drip irrigation for corn cultivation, but depended on nature for soya beans, adding that an advantage of having such a farm is that it produces all the time.

Ambassador Meyer said that the co-operation between Brazil and Guyana in the domain of growing soya beans has been very fruitful. He said that he was happy that the crop from Brazil had adapted to Guyana's conditions. He promised to continue to look for other areas of co-operation. He added that Brazil recently signed five agreements with Guyana including in the areas of forest reserves, rice and maize cultivation and aquaculture.


News Briefs


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

Compiled and edited by Evangeline Ishmael


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