By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana — Next week, Guyana will send a delegation led by finance minister and governor to the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) Winston Jordan, and including David Patterson, minister of transport and infrastructure, and Dr Shamir Ally, Guyana’s ambassador to Kuwait/IsDB alternate governor, from September 18-25 to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Five other officials from the ministries of finance and public infrastructure will also be part of the delegation.
The first part of the trip, September 18-22, will be a fact finding and familiarization mission to expand Guyana’s ties with diverse financial and investment partners of the Islamic Bank Group in Jeddah.
The team will explore Sharia-compliant financial products, some of which neighbouring Suriname has begun to offer, through the opening of Amnah Bank, the first Islamic bank in the region according to the finance ministry.
Additionally, Jordan Patterson and Ally will hold discussions with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) secretary general, Dr Yousef Al-Othaimeen at the OIC Secretariat.
The foreign ministry of Guyana has been urged by the OIC since 1998 to name a diplomat to the group, and with a Guyana diplomatic mission in Kuwait, this is very feasible.
The Guyanese delegation will meet with the president of the Islamic Bank, Dr Bandar MH Hajjar, and Jordan is expected to sign agreements on September 19, for concessional funds amounting to US$20 million for the upgrade programme of the Guyana Power and Light Ltd, and for a technical assistance grant totaling US$578,000.
The power upgrade project envisages the rehabilitation of two substations, which will contribute to the improvement of the distribution network.
The grant funds will support a reverse linkage project in the rice industry, involving a partnership between Guyana and Malaysia that will contribute new skills, technology and rice varieties to strengthen and enhance rice production and (value added) processing of rice products in Guyana. This is an excellent example of the benefits of South/South Cooperation. Other similar South/South agreements to improve agriculture, finance and tourism are in the pipeline.
The government has committed to the diversification of Guyana’s economy, which is in need of major infrastructure development, in preparation for the first oil coming ashore in 2020. Since becoming a member of the bank, the government has been aggressively pursuing projects that will reduce Guyana’s infrastructure gap, and increase productivity in the areas of agriculture, trade and competitiveness, human and rural development, according to a release from the finance ministry last week.
In 2017, the IsDB made available a resource envelope of US$900 million to Guyana. Working within the constraints of Guyana’s capacity to contract more debt, Patterson will explore funding possibilities for various mega projects on the agenda of his government, according to the finance ministry.
Guyana has already benefited from two grants from the Islamic Bank totalling more than US$500,000.
The delegation will travel to Kuwait from Saudi Arabia on September 23. There, meetings will be held with government officials from the ministries of economic affairs, finance, commerce and industry, social affairs and labour, and the foreign affairs department of the Americas.
The Guyanese delegation is also expected to meet with the former prime minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Dr Nasser Al Sabah, who visited Guyana in 2010.
Jordan and his team will meet with the regional manager for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Abdullah Al Musaibeeh from the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development. Additionally, the minister will hold talks with the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) to seek a resolution of Guyana’s debt to this entity.
With wider and more robust cooperation recommended by the OIC, Guyana will benefit from the products of other Islamic Bank organs such as the Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC) and Islamic Centre for the Development of Trade (ICDT), the Islamic Research and training Institute (IRTI), and the Standing Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the OIC (COMCEC).
Although the resources of the Kuwait embassy are limited, the current ambassador has done much to build a network in the region to advance Guyana’s profile in the Middle East.