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Upbeat Jamaican billionaire eyes investments in telecoms, banking and agriculture

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NCB Group Managing Director Patrick Hylton and his boss, Chairman Michael Lee-Chin (Jamaica Gleaner photo)

A Jamaica-headquartered conglomerate is eyeing the running of yet another fibre-optic cable to Guyana and getting a “toe-hold” in the financial services sector, a top official of Portland Holdings said Tuesday.

Chairman, Michael Chin-Lee said the Barbados-headquartered Columbus Communications could drop a cable here if it is feasible.

“That pipe that provides broadband we would be looking at ways to leverage the infrastructure that we already have we are still quite exploratory so I don’t want to build any expectations that are unrealistic,” he told a news briefing at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport just before boarding his private jet. The briefing was chaired by Presidential Advisor on Community Development, Odinga Lumumba.

The 20,000 kilometre-long Internet back-bone originates in Miami and hops along the Caribbean island chain, Central and South America. This country already has two fibre optic cables- one by the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GT&T) that originates in Trinidad and the other owned by the government and originated in Brazil. The latter, which is yet to be fully activated, is part of government’s E-governance programme.

The billionaire-accompanied by Group Managing Director of Jamaica’s National Commercial Bank (NCB), Patrick Hylton-arrived here Sunday at the invitation of Former President Bharrat Jagdeo and held talks with President Donald Ramotar and ministers of finance, agriculture, and natural resources and the environment.

While noting that the Bank of Guyana last issued a commercial bank license 15 years ago, Chin-Lee hinted that the NCB would examine ways offering different financial products as a first step to opening its doors in this South American country of 755,000 persons.  Actually, Demerara Bank was granted a license in 1994.

“We would hope at least we can get a toe-hold and start small and grow and once we have some mutual interest of each other and then we would be given more latitude in terms of the requisite licenses if necessary,” he said.

The business magnate, however, said Portland Holdings and NCB were “tempering” their expectations while remaining optimistic about providing financial products that are relevant to Guyana.  With the country’s economy registering 4.8 percent economic growth- seventh straight year of growth, investors are rushing to mine for gold, manganese, uranium as well as extract crude oil and  invest in booming building construction and other physical infrastructure.

“The telecommunications business and financial services have some domain expertise in that area and there is the need for it. I think there need be more competition in Guyana,” he added.

The Portland Holdings Chairman said his company was also interested in investing in agriculture and aquaculture, following presentations by Agriculture Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.

The team left Guyana announcing no firm commitments to invest here, only highly praising the calibre of ministers for their depth of knowledge about their portfolios and Guyana’s investor friendliness.

“The perception of Guyana is still not what the reality of Guyana is. Guyana is opened to business and the opportunities to do business here are phenomenal  so we came open-minded and we are leaving passionate and enthusiastic,” he said.

The Portland Holdings boss declared that “there is a tremendous runway a very long runway of opportunities that Guyana will be having.” “The quick and dirty conclusion is we want to be a part of that of those opportunities to do what we can to bring capital to the country to do what we can to bring the requisite expertise and enhance the life of the average Guyanese,” he added.

The Jamaica Gleaner last month reported that Lee Chin is the founder of Portland Holdings Inc., the current chairman of AIC Financial Group Limited and the National Commercial Bank of Jamaica. In 2011, he was appointed the chancellor at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

Born in Port Antonio in 1951, Lee-Chin came to Canada in 1970 and enrolled at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario to study engineering. After beginning post-graduate studies, he decided to explore opportunities within the field of mutual funds.

In 1983, Lee Chin borrowed money to purchase $500,000 of Mackenzie Financial stock and after four years, the stock appreciated seven-fold. He used the profits to acquire AIC Limited, a small Ontario-based investment firm. Within 20 years, AIC grew from less than $1 million and, at its business peak, posted more than $15 billion in assets under management.

Lee-Chin’s philanthropy includes a donation of $5 million to McMaster University to establish the AIC Institute of Strategic Business at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Business.

A $30 million contribution he made to the Royal Ontario Museum’s Renaissance ROM Campaign resulted in an avant-garde Michael Lee Chin Crystal gallery.

Among his accolades are: honorary doctorates from McMaster, Northern Caribbean University, the University of Toronto, SirWilfrid Laurier University, York University and the University of the West Indies.