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Govt floats financing model to dredge Demerara River

Minister of Finance Winston Jordan as he addressed the gathering at the Shipping Association of Guyana Dinner and Award ceremony (GINA photo)

The Guyana government has pledged to partner with the private sector in dredging the heavily silted Demerara River in the “shortest possible time” by taking advantage of the huge cash reserves in the banking system.

Finance Minister Winston Jordan said government was in favour of co-joining with the special-purpose company to be owned exclusively by the Shipping Association of Guyana (SAG).

“We are all aware of the excess liquidity being held in the local banking system. These are investable funds which can be accessed to finance worthwhile projects such as those being mentioned here rather being parked in government securities,” he told the annual SAG awards ceremony held Friday night at the Pegasus Hotel.

Authorities estimate that dredging the Demerara River harbour will cost between US$10 million to US$12 million. The overall cost to modernize and improve port facilities is likely to be about US$25 million.

The Finance Minister appealed to the business community to understand that government has to balance its priorities with demands for rice, sugar, government employee salaries and old age pensions.

Jordan said that under the proposed special purpose company, wharfage companies could partner in the initiative to dredge the Demerara River to allow bigger cargo ships with larger amounts of cargo in Port Georgetown. SAG has repeatedly complained that the shallow draught of the Demerara River has been reducing the overall volume of imports and exports and driving up costs.

The Finance Minister said based on figures shown to him the dredging of the Demerara River “provides a very lucrative business opportunity” with the private sector playing the lead role. “There appears to be no reason why this business is not a bankable venture. This in no way suggests that government wishes to divest itself of any involvement in the improvements of the Demerara channel,” he said.

Jordan cited the involvement of the Canadian oil exploration company, CGX Energy, in the construction of a deepwater harbour in the Berbice River at a time when the Panama Canal is expanding to accommodate larger ships.

CGX Energy hopes that other oil exploration companies would take advantage of the Berbice Deepwater Harbour rather than opting to use such facilities in Trinidad about 450 miles  away from Guyana.

Another source of funding, the Finance Minister said was China.

Jordan floated several ideas Friday night at the annual awards of the Shipping Association of Guyana (SAG).

The association had for years lobbied the previous government to dredge the Demerara River with the aim of lowering the cost of shipping by allowing larger cargo ships..

SAG and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) have established a 10-member working group to formulate and examine and a number of strategies to improve Guyana’s ports and harbours.

The other idea floated was the formation of a licensed Public Private Organisation which would be subjected to MARAD’s regulation and oversight.