Urging members of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) to form consortiums, President Dr Irfaan Ali foresees that Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) will become an economic free zone ripe with business opportunities.
The Head of State, accompanied by Tourism, Industry and Commerce Minister Oneidge Walrond, met with members of the RCCI on Saturday. During the meeting, he discussed Government’s plans for Region Nine and encouraged them to form themselves into consortiums.
The Head of State, who was also in Lethem for the Regional Toshaos Meeting, said that his Government is aware of the desire to have parts of Lethem designated as economic free zone. He explained that they have had discussions with the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
“The declaration of areas as designated areas here in Region Nine, Lethem, as a free zone—was a major issue that was raised. What I can say to you is that we are presently drafting the legislation. I received some options from the Guyana Revenue Authority, and the Attorney General is doing the draft legislation,” the President said.
In view of this, President Ali encouraged members of the chamber to form consortiums and told them that the investment opportunities are greater as groups than as individuals. He highlighted large scale farming opportunities as an example.
During the discussions, the President also informed the RCCI about the various plans by his Government to improve the region’s infrastructure. This will include upgrading various health centres, schools, roads, improvement to the electricity supply, and other major initiatives that will drive more investments and businesses in the region.
He was optimistic that once the major projects kick off, investments could help negate the negative impacts of the pandemic. Once his opening remarks were out of the way, the business community asked questions and highlighted issues that affect them.
Pandemic, high cost of electricity
Most persons linked the decline in business to the pandemic and the high cost of electricity. The President reminded the gathering that Government is embarking on transformative investments in electricity, including the establishment of solar farms in the region that will reduce energy costs by more than 50 per cent in the coming years.
The group also raised issues about poor infrastructural work being done in the area and suggested the establishment of a committee that would monitor future infrastructural works in the region.
As a result, President Ali immediately asked the group to nominate a representative and instructed the Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, the Honourable Deodat Indar, to form a monitoring committee and ensure that the representative be included.
There has been talk around the establishment of economic free zones, which would allow for trade and commerce between companies who would not be taxed or only face a small amount of tax.
This is to facilitate increased economic activity and a business-friendly environment. In an interview last year with the State media, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of GO-Invest, Dr Peter Ramsaroop had spoken about the Government’s plan to create these zones.
“We will be working collectively with all Ministries and private stakeholders to foster an enabling environment and promote a model whereby free zones or special zones are created to help promote investments and exports,” Ramsaroop had said.