President David Granger (C) with officials from the Islamic Development Bank
By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Guyana, which joined the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1998, but not the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), an organ of that group, will finally join the bank by mid-year according to Finance Minister Winston Jordan during an address to Parliament.
Since Guyana is now a low-middle-income country, it cannot easily access concessionary loans from traditional lenders, and this is one reason why Guyana will join 56 other countries that are members of the IsDB, Jordan revealed in Parliament. The Islamic Bank offers concessionary financing that is far more generous than market loans.
The current opposition, which held office for over two decades, was finally on the verge of joining the bank before it lost the general election this past January. Thus, there is consensus across the political divide to join the Islamic Bank.
The IsDB is rapidly expanding in Africa and Asia. Kenya recently announced that it will also join the OIC and the Islamic Bank. The IsDB now wants to market its product in the Caribbean and, with Guyana now poised to join, the bank will open an office in a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
Neighbouring Suriname, which has been a member of the bank since 1997, is looking to enter into a permanent "membership country partnership strategy" agreement with the IsDB, which could see the Islamic Bank funding about US$300 million in projects in the near future in Suriname.
In Suriname, the bank has funded various projects in education, healthcare and transportation. According to CEO of the IsDB, Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali, the bank wants to be a strategic partner to address challenges facing member countries, particularly in the area of financial inclusion. He said that the IsDB Group will support special strategies to promote financial inclusion, implementing quick-win programs and innovative solutions that enhance socio-economic development, prosperity and well-being.
Ali added that the success of the bank has attracted the attention of international development institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the French Development Agency.
Disadvantaged groups also benefit from some of the bank's programs. The Islamic micro-finance program offers financing to those who do not have access to banking services. It helps people participate in economic activities that will provide them with decent livelihoods. The program has had great success in Sudan and Tunisia. In Bangladesh, Islamic micro-finance, a rural development program, was also successful in helping women create small-and medium-sized projects in rural areas.
Since 1971, the Islamic Bank has promoted economic and development in various parts of the world amounting to about US $235 billion, 60 percent of which has gone to support public and private sector investments, including infrastructure for energy, transport, communications and social services.
The new coalition government that took office in Guyana has strong historical links with Africa and the Islamic world, and has strengthened ties with Africa and Islamic countries since it came to office last year. President David Granger visited Saudi Arabia in November and held meetings with King Salman and the OIC secretary general, Dr Ameen Iyad Al Madani.
Granger also accepted an invitation from Madani to attend the upcoming April OIC heads of government summit in Turkey. If he does, he will become the first Guyanese head of state to do so. Former heads of state of Guyana, mostly Hindus, stayed away from such summits. However, heads of state from Cameroon, Mozambique and Uganda, who are non-Muslims, have had no issues attending OIC summits.