The new administration pledges to play by the rules
On May 11, 2015, General Elections were held in the Co-operative Republic of Guyana. The People’s Progressive Party, which had held political power in the country for years, was defeated by a coalition of two broad groups: A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), a grouping comprising the major People’s National Congress and several smaller political parties; and Alliance for Change, a small political party. The coalition won a majority 33 seats in Guyana’s 65-member Parliament, thus giving it the right to form a new government. Today, Guyana is headed by President David A. Granger, who has appointed his own fresh cabinet of Ministers to help run the country.
The new Minister of the Guyana Ministry of Finance is the Honorable Winston Jordan. Minister Jordan believes that victory at the polls last year freed his country from the stigma of being not only one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere, but one of the most corrupt ones, as well. “Part of the mantra on which we ran the election was to ‘throw the corrupt ones out.’ Because, over 20 years, they violated virtually every system that we had in place for transparency and accountability. We had slid to become the second most corrupt country within the CARICOM region,” Jordan laments.
“There was visible evidence of that corruption,” he continues. “What the government essentially did was rule in their favor and in favor of their friends and a close circle of relatives. All the wealth was being concentrated in a few hands, while the mass of the people remained in poverty. We have former politicians here that have houses that will make those in Miami seem like huts. They’re huge mansions with swimming pools – and they were being built on salaries of less than $3,000US a month,” he adds.
According to the first-term minister, every new administration has a honeymoon period – a “hundred days” – in which it needs to quickly advance a short-term agenda, in order to stay true to its election promises and establish a long-lasting trust with the people. Jordan lists some of the promises made by the winning coalition: “We have promised some salary increases because some of the salaries in public service are abysmal; we promised support to the elderly in terms of pensions; we promised support to the private sector in terms of some incentives for expanding business; we promised support to some of the traditional sectors that are in some form of crisis – sugar and rice; and we promised to link the hinterland with the coast because a significant number of people live on the coast but it is in the hinterland where the wealth exists. Some of these promises were made in the context of a hundred days and some of the promises were made in the context of our five-year life.”
Jordan further outlines some of his Ministry’s most pressing initiatives, as he attempts to put those electoral promises into action: “The last government used a set of offline accounts to skim from those accounts, so we are closing those accounts and transferring the revenues to a main bank account which is our consolidated fund. We have set up a State Assets Recovery Unit and this unit is meant to go after state assets that have been stolen or given away, whether for free or for a pittance, to various people. So we are looking for support from the United States and other agencies to trace and track down these assets. We are looking to strengthen our accounting and other systems; we’re looking to strengthen constitutional and oversight bodies; and we’re looking to put in place a procurement commission to oversee the tendering and procurement system. So, those are some of the actions that we intend to take, and have started taking.”
The official Mission Statement of the Ministry of Finance is: “To foster strong economic development by managing and maintaining sound public finances, providing a positive framework for public and private initiatives, and mobilizing inflows and resources.” Jordan elaborates its mandate as follows: “Collecting and safeguarding the government’s revenue; undertaking expenditures to promote the well-being of the Guyanese people; providing proper systems of accounting, auditing, and reporting of revenues and expenditures; and undertaking short and medium-term planning for the country.” The Ministry is comprised of several agencies and units:
o The Central Bank of Guyana – Its primary purpose is to formulate and implement monetary policy so as to achieve and maintain price stability. The other major purpose is to foster a sound, progressive, and effective financial system. In the discharge of its functions, the Bank strives to: promote a sustained and non-inflationary growth of the economy; maintain the integrity and value of the Guyana dollar; and secure the credibility of the financial system, including payments arrangements, through supervision and oversight.
o The Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) – Responsible for requesting, receiving, analyzing, and dissemination of suspicious transaction reports and other information relating to money laundering, terrorist financing, or proceeds of crime.
o The Guyana Securities Council – The principal functions of the Council are to: advise the Minister of Finance on all matters relating to securities; maintain surveillance over the securities market and ensure orderly, fair and equitable dealings in securities; and protect the integrity of the securities market against abuse arising from the practice of insider trading.
o The Bureau of Statistics – Conduct Censes; collects, compiles, analyzes, and publishes socio-economic and other statistical data.
o The National Procurement and Tender Administration (NPTA) – The mission of NPTA is to facilitate the establishment and implementation of regulatory environment conducive to transparency, economy, efficiency, openness, fairness, and accountability in public sector procurement.
o The Guyana Revenue Authority – Its mission is to promote compliance with Guyana’s Tax, Trade and Border Laws and Regulations through education, quality service, and responsible enforcement, thereby contributing to the economic and social well being of the people of Guyana.
o The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) – The mission of NIS is to: establish and maintain a system of Social Security through which enough income is secured to take the place of earnings when such are interrupted by sickness or accident; to provide for retirement through age, or sudden death of a breadwinner; to meet exceptional expenses as those concerned with birth and death; and to ensure that monies collected which have to be used for future payments are invested in such a manner that the economy of the country would reap maximum benefit.
o The National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) – A Private Limited Company. The primary objectives of the company are that of subscribing for, taking, or otherwise acquiring, holding, and managing the Government’s shares, stocks, debentures, or other securities of any company, co-operative societies, or other corporate body.
Historically, the economy of Guyana has been built around agriculture, notably sugar and rice, and extractive materials, such as gold, bauxite, and timber. Jordan maintains that that model will likely continue into the foreseeable future. “There is no push towards industrialization,” he asserts. “There is a push to more value-added in the extractive and agricultural industries because those are more close to us. Industrialization would require an energy base that we don’t have at the moment. It would take a while before that initiative is pursued in earnest.”
Key to jump-starting those industries is to “use the private sector not only as an engine of growth, but as a driver of growth,” Jordan says. “But there’s only so much capital that we have here in Guyana – it’s a very small country in terms of population and doesn’t generate a great deal of income. So, we want to invite foreign investment in bauxite, and gold, and forestry, and in non-traditional areas like light manufacturing, plantation agriculture, tourism, eco-tourism, and services like data processing and IT services. We are trying to diversify the base of the economy to produce wealth by providing the incentives – land, business, tax – to attract foreign and domestic investment in both traditional and non-traditional areas. The idea is to expand the wealth base and at the same time, provide jobs.”
In order to advertise to the world that Guyana is open for business with a new cast running the show, it has enlisted the help of its Foreign Ministry. “Our Foreign Ministry has been charged with ‘economic diplomacy,’” Jordan explains. “That is, to use our foreign relations aspect not only in the traditional diplomacy sense, but as the means of attracting foreign investment to the country. At our embassies, we are trying to reorient our diplomats and consulars about selling the country; providing them with material about the areas that are available and the concessions and processes involved, and so on.”
While Guyana’s Ministry of Finance embarks upon its tasks of helping the country to develop both economically and socially, while also providing support and assistance to investors so that businesses can prosper and grow, perhaps most important, both to potential foreign partners as well as to the citizens of Guyana, is Jordan’s pledge that “the Ministry intends to observe the law and enforce the law.” Indeed, Jordan relates that following the outcome of a series of forensic audits initiated by the administration, criminal charges are likely against officials who may be found to have flouted the law.
The good news in Guyana is that after years of institutionalized corruption, the Ministry of Finance wants the world to know that this new administration intends to play by the rules and conduct its business with honesty, transparency, and accountability.