Guyana’s digital economic challenge

Dear Editor,
I am neither an APNU nor PPP voter, I just want the best for our nation regardless of the Government in power – I am nonaligned. Some are apt to consider this discourse to be a criticism. However, the intent is to elevate the discussion and accelerate change. There is a big difference between secrecy and privacy and we Guyanese should demand less of secrecy.
There is not enough space to elucidate on our digital opportunities, so I will reserve some for another audience as I enjoy the cool breeze of the Atlantic and Demerara River estuary. My focus is on the 90 per cent of Guyanese and not the 10 per cent like myself, a simple discourse. Guyana’s gap in the global digital economy is enormous, however, there is a silver lining if we seize it. Guyana is approximately 20 years behind the rest of the world in technology adaptation, I am being conservative.
The technology acronyms of “AI – Artificial Intelligence”, “BlockChain – security”, “Big Data – data integration”, “IoT – connectivity”, connected retail, “Cloud – storage and usage”, “RFID – tracking”, “Mobile Money” are major technological developments in the rest of the world and Guyana’s 10 per cent. The other 90 per cent of Guyanese don’t need to know how it works but should see the benefits. My concerns are we continue to be left behind since technology is an afterthought in our central planning – most think of broadband/phone as the primary objective.
Yes, some of this was caused by our limited financial resources over the years, however, much has been driven by poor planning and execution. Governments don’t have to do everything, but create the environment that foster change, innovation and competitiveness. Blunt honesty follows!
We get an “F” for Backoffice automation – both private and public, ledger books, carbon copies, Police note pad, and physical files are a thing of the past. This is a major source of our nation’s inefficiency and corruption because of no electronic or forensic footprint!
We get a “D” for electronic payment, electronic billing, Debit/Card acceptance, etc. We are way behind. We can buy at Courts/Massy using a bank card, however, some of our well-established Guyanese institutions are cash or managers check only – Gafoors, Toolsie, Kissoon, National Hardware, etc. They have been around decades and still function as though we are in the ’70s in payment acceptance. Not unusually, most gas stations are typically run by 2 people worldwide because of automation, we have an army of 6-8 or more to service gas. Unfortunately, my dad doesn’t have to go to the post office each month to collect his old-age pension, he is dead. GuySuCo did not have its challenges because of lost subsidy only, automation and inefficacies caused it.
Grade “F” for tax and fees collection by Ministries, GRA, NIS and others are abysmal (manual option), bring cash only – my summation is we pay 14 per cent VAT because of the inefficiencies and noncompliance by a vast portion of the population. Automation can push down VAT by 5 per cent or more based on recent assessment, it pays for itself. Our recent effort of house-to-house distribution of “25k cash” is a glaring example, we need electronic systems.
Grade “F” for internet availability, and voter registration nationwide needs out of the box thinking, or else we will be faced with this ongoing dilemma. There are many options to automate these processes. No more house-to-house, this should be a one-time event at best, not every 5 years.
Most Guyanese are unaware that the BoG (Bank of Guyana) has a big impact on their daily lives, bigger than GECOM and the Ministry of Finance (Fiscal policy). BoG manages our monetary policy, primarily through the money supply, interest rates, financial institution governance, (bank and insurance regulation) and price stability (inflation). Job creation should never be a sacrificial lamb because of poor bank policies.
They (BoG) is supposed to be an independent arm of our Government. My preliminary perusal of their operations suggested they still manage our economy as a glorified “cake shop”, no global electronic banking thinking, mostly internal and regional. Time for change in the entire leadership with some economic thought leaders at the helm. There has been no discourse in the media about whether BoG was at the negotiating table with our oil-producing partners to arrange lending facilities to garner a few bases point over the next 25 years. Lost opportunity. It takes 30 seconds or more to open the BoG web page or navigate their website, unacceptable.
Ever wonder why long lines at banks, higher than required interest rates in a high unemployment market. The Bank of Guyana is directly responsible for the continued level of poverty in our nation and the lack of accelerated growth. No wonder more than 50 per cent of the bankable population doesn’t have a bank account and has high mortgage rates. I will pen a separate article on BoG deficiencies soon.
The Bank of Guyana cannot hide in the mud, they share some responsibility in our digital deficiencies, glad to see they now push the acceptance of driver’s licence as a form of primary identification, a long wait.
Ladies and gentlemen, the world in Guyana is not what it appears to be, yes, we enjoy a simple life here, but it’s a global community, we need to compete in. If you had any doubts, COVID-19 reminded us.

Everton Morris