Our PPP /C Government has assembled a high-level team of experts to advise our President, Irfaan Ali, and his Government on the formulation of a strong Local Content Policy that will ensure all citizens benefit from the country’s lucrative oil and gas sector.
Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill, had outlined clear focus on Guyana’s infrastructure developmental projects, and was able to negotiate and jump-start several projects which were stagnating under the former APNU-AFC Government. One such project is the Diamond/Ogle bypass road. Originally, Guyana had signed a US$50 million loan with the Indian Exim Bank in 2016 for the project. By 2019, that price had shot up to US$175 million and the Exim Bank was reluctant to fund it.
Our PPP Government was able to reconfigure the project back into the US$50 million bracket within the first 100 days, and the contract for that project is likely to be awarded by this year-end.
The contract for the new Demerara River Bridge is another project the PPP jump-started. After site visits by the President and a team of officials, the Government settled on plans to construct a four-lane, high-span fixed bridge from Nandy Park, East Bank Demerara to La Grange, West Bank Demerara.
As at October, over 40 companies from around the world have submitted Expressions of Interest to design and construct the bridge. The Government is also aiming at building the bridge by 2024.
It must be sad to know only 2300 house lots were awarded, under the APNU-AFC, with no access to necessary infrastructure such as roads. In just a matter of months after taking office, the PPP Government has set out to correct this, awarding 40 contracts to the tune of over $1 billion to 22 companies for infrastructural upgrades to these areas.
These contracts include road upgrades in Eccles, Herstelling, La Parfaite Harmonie, Great Diamond, as well as works on access roads in La Bonne Intention (LBI), Ordnance Fort Lands, Williamsburg and Experiment. Works will also be done on a number of internal roads, including in Mon Repos, Prospect and Providence.
This is part of the $3 billion that has been set aside for the housing sector-Housing and Water Ministers Collin Croal and Susan Rodrigues watch as President Irfaan Ali hands over land title to so many Guyanese
Additionally, $2 billion has been set aside for the Guyana Water Incorporated.
Additionally, hundreds of persons have since received their land titles that were languishing under the previous APNU-AFC Government.
One of the major concerns persons had with the former President David Granger Administration was the increase in the tax burden on the ordinary man. President Ali, in the 2020 Emergency Budget, prepared in a record 29 days, made sure to roll back these measures.
Making good on an issue it campaigned on and criticised the former APNU-AFC Government for, the President Dr Irfaan Ali-led Government rolled back the imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) and duties on mining equipment.
VAT was also removed from exports, cell phones, medical supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE) and building and construction materials, as well as pesticides and agricultural chemicals. VAT was also removed from the importation of stones as the construction sector sets up for a boom.
Our Government also rolled back VAT on electricity and water; a measure that ensured everyone could benefit from VAT reductions.
Corporate tax was also removed from private healthcare and education, thereby clearing the way for foreign and local institutions to invest in Guyana. The Government also rolled back the restriction on the importation of used vehicles older than eight years, a policy expected to open the doors for thousands to own their own vehicles. Likewise, used tyres can now also be imported, easing the burden on vehicle owners.
Pensioners, school children and COVID-19 frontline workers were also catered for in the budget. Pensioners were provided with free water in addition to an increase in pension; they will receive $25,000 per month. Parents will also receive a $15,000 cash grant for each of their school-aged children, in addition to a $4000 uniform allowance for each child.
$800 million has been set aside for the Amerindian Development Fund. This will provide funding to support the socio-economic development of Indigenous communities and villages, through the implementation of Community Development Plans (CDPs) the Indigenous communities themselves picked.
In the field of education, $52 billion has been given to the education sector including $1.7 billion for construction and rehabilitation of schools.
Besides taxes, another chronic complaint against the former APNU-AFC Government was the loss of jobs. This was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of measures from the former APNU-AFC Administration. It’s a situation the PPP/C had immediately set out to address in its emergency budget, with private sector good measures intended to keep businesses afloat and preserve jobs.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the sugar sector was perhaps the worst-hit industry under the former APNU-AFC Government, which closed down the Rose Hall, Skeldon, Wales and Enmore sugar estates and threw thousands of former workers on the breadline.
The PPP/C has since rehired over 200 sugar workers, while committing to rehiring over 400 by year-end. Our Government has also started the process to reopen the closed sugar estates, which it says will be fully functional by 2024.
Other than sugar, the Government recently granted 100 contracts to small and new contractors, who are tasked with work ranging from cleaning the road to sea defence. It is estimated that the spin-off from this initiative will see at least 500 people being hired.
This was all done within 100 days, and the Government is moreover looking at repeating the initiative next year.
On the other hand, the Natural Resources Ministry announced that there are investors who are seeking to develop the Tarakuli bauxite deposit near the Orealla-Siparuta community. This will now pave the way for hundreds of persons living in that community to gain employment.
Other major mining companies – Aurora Gold Mine and Omai – are set to restart operations in Guyana.
Also, the United States is eyeing opportunities in a number of sectors, including energy, agriculture and infrastructure. Just after the PPP/C took office, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Guyana and signed a Framework Agreement to strengthen cooperation in various sectors, including energy and infrastructure, under the umbrella of the Growth in the Americas Initiative. This agreement will not only pave the way for the US Private Sector to expand its investment portfolio here, but also partner with the Guyanese Private Sector.
The US will do all it can to help American companies have access to investment opportunities in places such as Guyana. But at the same time, that will be done in a fair and transparent manner, as the US is equally interested in seeing the wealth that is created from these opportunities benefit Guyanese.
One of the major social assistance offered to Guyanese as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic is the $25,000 cash grant, which was roll out in several regions. Already, Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat and Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha lead from the front in distributing COVID-19 cash grants at Orealla Village.
Since taking office, the PPP Government has significantly increased COVID-19 testing, imported numerous equipment, made substantial donations and improved the health sector’s ability to combat the virus. We will all remember that, in 2017, the former APNU-AFC Government had increased land rentals for rice farmers from $1000 to $7000 and drainage and irrigation fees from $2500 to $8000. In addition, rent for cattle pastures went from $487 to $2500, and fees for other pastures to $1400.
The situation led rice farmers to protest the increase, and the then PPP/C Opposition had moved a motion calling for the reversal of the fees back in 2017, although it was ultimately defeated.
Our new Government has since reversed these oppressive measures within its first 100 days.
It’s exciting times for Guyana, exciting times for young people, and there is enough here for every Guyanese to be proud of. There is enough worth ahead of us for the future.