“Promoting Investment opportunities in Guyana” was the key for a special forum held last week in Houston, Texas. It was hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership in collaboration with the ‘Relocating to Guyana Group’ and the Government of Guyana. Among the sponsors were Chevron and TOTALTEC Oilfield Services
On the first day, American medium and large scale business executives interacted with the Guyana delegation comprising Ministers David Patterson, Catherine Hughes, Dominic Gaskin, and GO-Invest’s CEO, Owen Verwey.
Each government functionary made a presentation to the potential investors about the numerous opportunities to expand their businesses into Guyana, a country that sits on the verge of first-time oil production.
Below is an abridgement of the remarks delivered by Minister Catherine Hughes.
I, along with my Government, am of the view that today’s dynamic and competitive global economy demands an ambitious commitment to Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We are all aware that Technology and the Internet have already transformed economies worldwide where modern technologies were applied to manufacturing, the extractive industries, transportation, energy, education, healthcare, and even farming.
Today, Guyana is at the crossroads of our economic development. The industries we have depended on for so many years – traditional, colonial-era industries such as sugar and rice, are not enough to support our developmental requirements in today’s digitally connected world.
It is not lost on us that we must diversify quickly; most importantly, diversify into industries that make use of our intellectual capacities.
In recognition of this, the then new Government conceived a Ministry of Public Telecommunications in late 2015, and it was gazetted in January 2016. The Ministry’s fundamental purpose is to create an ‘enabling environment’ at policy and infrastructural levels to ensure that Information and Communication Technologies are fully utilized for national development and Guyana’s economic advancement.
To achieve this, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications is creating a knowledge-based society to make us and our products globally competitive, and ultimately for Guyana to become a premier ICT hub in the region.
We are also working towards creating the “enabling environment” for a new, thriving ICT private sector that will create:
• Wealth and employment
• An ICT literate society
• A culture of innovation and entrepreneurship
• Cross-country internet availability, free to all citizens • Transformation of the entire public and business sectors into an e-environment
• Implementation of legislation that support eCommerce and protect Intellectual Property
We have an obligation to the nation to get it right… now! Technology must become the main supporting pillar for broad-based growth, and for reducing social and economic inequality.
In a few short years Guyana is destined to become a significant player in the Oil & Gas industry, at least regionally, and it has to be said that there is a clear nexus between Oil & Gas and ICT.
Our Government has a duty to ensure that Guyanese are prepared to take advantage of the potential opportunities. We have a duty to ensure that our citizens are fully equipped to provide the best services to every local and foreign entrepreneur and investor doing business in Guyana.
ICT is undoubtedly the cross-cutting component in this milieu. If the apps to increase production of rice, cash crops, metal items, and services are not already in existence, we will ensure that they are created.
NEXUS BETWEEN ICT AND HYDROCARBON ENTERPRISES
While the Oil & Gas sector has immense potential to spur on economic growth, we are very conscious of the pitfalls that have affected other developing countries. We’ve learnt how oil wealth could harm a country’s democracy and its economic instability.
It is abundantly clear that the emergence of Oil and Gas as an industry in Guyana will change the Guyana economy, our people, our expectations for betterment, our values, and our ways of life, and in the short term too. These are the natural results of economic evolution, and with it will come greater demands for different, modern infrastructures and better eco-systems, and for services and social and business support at higher levels. This is especially true for our emerging ICT industry.
ACCESS AND INCLUSION
The ICT sector has become a critical component in Guyana. Our Government (the previous one too) has been preparing for this evolution. More recently, we began to install the necessary infrastructure to ensure that as many of our citizens as possible have free access to the Internet. We continue to provide face-to-face training in Robotics, Coding, Web Design and similar technologies.
To date, we have connected almost every public school and technical/tertiary education institution across the nation. This is in addition to:-
All government agencies and Ministries (eGovernment)
The establishment of 170+ ICT hubs in local communities where citizens could access the Internet free of cost if they cannot do so from their homes; this initiative is focused on poor and remote communities, and the hubs are managed voluntarily by selected groups of community residents who have the autonomy to manage and sustain their hubs
DEVELOPING HUMAN CAPITAL THROUGH BROAD-BASED TRAINING
Our goal is to equip our citizens with ICT skills ranging from basic to advanced levels of proficiency. For example, the number of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) enterprises in Guyana has been increasing, mostly as a result of cost advantages and a widening skill pool. This particular business space is now wide open for new entrants.
DIRECT ICT START-UP SUPPORT
Financing is one of the biggest challenges facing ICT Start-Ups. Our Telecommunications ministry is committed to finding new avenues for micro and small business funding. Currently, we are in the preparatory stages for an ICT Venture Capital Fund, and we are looking for partners.
ICT Park: We are also examining the feasibility and proposed designs for an ICT (Technology) Park. At the beginning, the Tech Park would be the host for start-up enterprises (incubator), a training ground, and a facility for cluster growth.
Virtual Incubators: While we wait for the completion of the prescribed studies/analyses, we are examining the probability of launching virtual incubators which could provide ICT Start-Up businesses with most of the benefits offered by normal incubators without the need for a physical space.
PROVISION OF E-SERVICES
To keep pace with ICT advancements around the world, our eGovernment Agency is working with other Ministries to reach a particular benchmark this year. They have designed a broad-spectrum software with portals to more than 200 public services including passport and business compliance applications, pension payments, etc. to be ready for use by 2020. Imagine the benefits for citizens – efficient public service delivery and cost savings.
In addition, we have been collaborating with the Ministry of Business to introduce e-commerce, e-payments, etc. We have revised Intellectual Property and Data Protection legislations … and this is only the beginning.
(To be continued)
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