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Finance Minister, Canadian envoy differ on focus of investment conf.

Canada’s High Commissioner to Guyana, David Devine addressing the opening of day-two of the Guyana Investment Conference.

Guyana’s Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh on Friday objected strongly to the omission of energy and bandwidth from the agenda of an Investment Conference, but Canada’s High Commissioner David Devine lashed back saying that government was consulted about crafting the two-day programme.

“Whilst the conference is styled Guyana Investment Conference, one could be forgiven sometimes to think –listening to some of the presentations – that it was a conference on crime and corruption.

The reality is that while crime and corruption are indeed an important aspect of the investment environment there are by no means the only aspects of the investment environment,” Singh said at the opening of day-two.

In taking issue with the programme being seemingly weighted in favour of crime, security and corruption, Singh chided the head of CARICOM’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) Francis Forbes for referring to the “scourge” of corruption in Guyana.

The Finance Minister cautioned against repeating positions by politicians in labelling Guyana as a country where crime and corruption were major impediments to investment.

While Singh admitted that work needed to be done to address those concerns, he highlighted that Guyana has been attracting “sophisticated” foreign investors such as a Mexican call centre that employs about 2,000 Guyanese and the Blackstone Group that is part of the planned construction of a 150 megawatt Amaila hydropower station here. “The real authorities are the investors who answer to capital markets, who answer to their shareholders, who answer to their regulatory authorities and who everyday are making investment decisions and that is where we really need to look to ascertain what the prerequisites are that the sophisticated investor looks for,” he said.

Like President Donald Ramotar on Thursday, the Finance Minister did not detail exactly what government has been doing to combat corruption and poor security.

Reacting to the Finance Minister’s concerns, the Canadian envoy said the minister was absent when matters such as energy were discussed during Thursday’s session on challenges and opportunities. Reacting specifically to the absence of discussions on unreliable and high cost of  electricity and insufficient Internet bandwidth from the two-day conference programme, Devine said government and business leaders were among those consulted.

The Canadian High Commissioner, whose mission spearheading organising the conference along with the American, British and European Union missions here, said the presentations, outcomes and follow-up actions would be included a package in moving the process forward.

“We did share our programme as to developing this rather broadly including with quite a number of ministers of the government, with the private sector, the chambers of commerce and we tried to be able to structure it in a way that provided balance and tried to be able to get some of the main issues,” Devine said.

The High Commissioner acknowledged the need for balance, but said the time was limited. He assured that nothing was being done to exaggerate the situation or engage in scaremongering or politicking.