Office of the Prime Minister, Guyana, October 2, 2016.
Guyana needs transfer of Tamil technology and talent for green growth
It is with great humility that I greet the distinguished participants at this 3rd World Tamils Economic Conference.
I thank the Madras Development Society and especially its intrepid President and Conference Convenor, Dr. V.R.S. Sampath, for his persistence to ensure my presence. My wife Sita and I were moved by the generous welcome and extraordinary hospitality extended to us. I wish to thank the Indian Government, the State of Tamil Nadu and the Le Meridien Hotel for making us feel at home.
It is indeed an honour to be in your midst. For me, being in Tamil Nadu, in Southern India, is an intensely emotional experience. It was from here, from what was known as the Madras Presidency that the ancestral tree from which many Guyanese descended, was uprooted when our forefathers boarded ships at the Port of Madras for the West Indies. My own ancestors, Alvar and Veeren, left here in 1847 and 1856, respectively.
Though that journey started almost two centuries ago, many of us, from Guyana, Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and elsewhere, would remember poignant stories that were handed down to us as to why the early immigrants left their Homeland. In the Guyana story, it was about a dream of earning big money on the colonial sugar estates and finding gold, literally on the streets. That was not unexpected since, for many centuries before that, Guyana was portrayed as El Dorado, the City of gold.
While our ancestors did not realise their grand dream, they laid the foundations of a better life for their offsprings. They also opened a passage to these far-away lands for Indian traders, entrepreneurs, professionals, skilled migrants and strategic investors.
In a sense, this Conference is about that big Tamil dream, and the experiences that could be shared to strengthen ethnic and cultural bonds, promote new opportunities for networking in fields of education, technology, sports, investment and business.
I want to invite you to re-enter our history and to imagine Tamils or Madrasis in Guyana not as unskilled labourers but as innovators. I would like to see a transfer of a wide range of skills together with training and investment. I must confess that I know only two Tamil words, one of which I have used already to greet you. So, for a start, I would like to see a school that could help descendants of Tamils in Guyana to speak this understand language. And, for the first time in many, many years, I have eaten several types of exotic and delicious rice for breakfast. So, I would like to see restaurants in Guyana that specialise in tasty, Tamil foods. You can teach us how to grow better quality rice, and to invest in a modern, and more competitive rice industry in Guyana.
When I look at your themes, I gather that you have a broader interest that encompasses a lofty vision of the world and the role of Tamils in shaping its destiny. It is visionary that you should place among the sub-themes subjects such as ITC and the Web, the Law and Professional ethics and Women Education as catalysts for economic development. I congratulate you for this broader vision.
Where does a country like Guyana fit into this vision? Firstly, I assure you that we share the ideas that you seek to generate at this Conference, as they accord with our own vision of a law-governed, democratic, knowledge-based and socially-driven, modern society.
Secondly, in the global investment perspective, Guyana’s geographic location holds many attractions. It is the only English-speaking country in South America, a gateway to this vast continental market. And sitting on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, Guyana is a vital link to the Caribbean. Guyana is both a Caribbean state and a South American country. Foreign investors from as far-off as Australia, Russia and China, who are active in our bauxite, gold and forestry sectors, recognise this link.
For prospective Tamil investors, I invite you to see the bigger picture: Guyana, Surname and Trinidad are not only neighbouring states. Combined, almost one-half of our population is made up of people of Indian ancestry, of which Tamils or Madrasis form a minority. But unless you see us as a larger sub-region, you would not be interested in developing direct air link or shipping lines to our area. We will continue to be apart and distant. In June, I told the GOPIO Convention in New York: “We are relatives”. Today, I ask you, Tamils:
“Should we remain apart?”
Your Excellency and Esteemed participants: I have come here to have an honest conversation with you on how Guyana can share your vision, and how we can benefit from your immense capital, technological, cultural and human resources. I want to assure you that you are welcome to invest in Guyana.
I have brought with me a flash-drive with a power point presentation which gives greater insight into available opportunities in Guyana for your interest, involvement and investment. I ask that you take a few minutes to look at it.
Thirdly, besides geography, our sub-region has strategic resources that are favourable for investors. Take Trinidad, for example. With oil, cheap energy has made Trinidad into the manufacturing or industrial zone in the Caribbean. Guyana also has rich deposits of oil and gas and by 2020 or sooner, we will start commercial extraction of the black gold.
Guyana is a huge country, as big as the United Kingdom, the former Mother Country, with 83,000 square miles (240,000 sq km). Eighty-five percent (85%) of our land is virgin, tropical rainforests. It is also described as “Land of Many Waters” with major rivers and falls with some 70 potential sites being identified for hydro power generation.
I invite you to dream with me: with a youthful population and a 99% literacy rate, abundant energy, large tracts of arable, agricultural land and vast water, forestry and mineral natural resources, Guyana could be a profitable hub for investors.
Indian scientific and technical assistance has already been sourced by Guyana for green and sustainable, economic ventures ranging from hydro, solar and wind renewable energy, modernisation of rice and sugar cultivation, ICT, electronics, jewellery and furniture manufacturing, food production; agro-processing, aquaculture etc.
Our President, David Granger, affirmed at the recent United Nations General Assembly, that Guyana is committed to green growth.
Fourthly, Guyana has an attractive investment regime that includes tax holidays, waivers on industrial inputs and no-hassle repatriation of profits. These concessions and benefits for investors exist in the mining, tourism, aviation, fisheries, manufacturing, forestry, wood products and ICT sectors.
I ask you to surf the Web for our one-stop agency GO-INVEST for details.
Fifthly, there are investment opportunities to open up access to new lands for agriculture, industry and residential occupation. On the table are plans for a road link and railway from the Guyana Atlantic coast to Brazil, South America’s largest economy, which is our neighbour to the south. This could be the highway to the vast South American market.
Opportunities also exist for the construction of port facilities at our major rivers, one of which is populated by some 300 islands, as we prepare for oil and gas production.
Presently, India is partnering with the Government of Guyana in several infrastructure ventures, including a major highway link, and to supply river and sea vessels to access remote parts of our country.
Tamil Nadu, is a vital nerve centre for quality education. You are the cradle of what has been described as India’s Silicone Valley. For any serious business, Guyana is a lucrative destination with its young, vibrant, educated, English-speaking population. It is a haven for profitable call centre operations. Its 4GMT time zone is ideal for working with clients in Western countries. Large operators like Qualfon and Teleperformance use the Guyana base.
India has since agreed to set up in Guyana a US$1 million Centre of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) to train some 500
Guyanese professionals. They will wait on your ventures.
Excellency and Honoured Guests
From what I have shared wth you, it is clear that India has already injected itself into our dynamic and strategic developmental processes. The door is open for promoting specific networking between Guyana and the wider Tamil communities around the world. I look forward to deepening our contact and relationship.
I have the great honour of declaring open this 3rd World Tamils Economic Conference. I wish your Conference great success.