Transcript of His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Address at a Special Sitting of Parliament in St. Lucia on Wednesday 21 February, 2024.

Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali President of Guyana
Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali President of Guyana

President of the Senate, Deputy Speaker, Honourable Prime Minister, Distinguished Leader of the Opposition, Members of Parliament, and of course, dear friend, a longstanding friend of Guyana, Dr Anthony, I must recognise your presence. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

First of all, I must thank Prime Minister Pierre for your invitation, and I must say I’m delighted to be here in this beautiful country that shares an extraordinary relationship with Guyana. The relationship between Guyana and St. Lucia transcends the boundaries of trade, economy and systems. More importantly, the relationship is shaped by history, culture, friendship, and importantly, as you rightfully said, family. The relationship is deep seated as it is blood in nature. Many St. Lucians and Guyanese share the same blood, the same parentage, the same heritage and that for me, speaks to a bond that is unbreakable.

That is why for us it is not strange that St. Lucia continues to support Guyana’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that St. Lucia stands strongly with Guyana in defense of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.

I am, therefore, honoured to attend and address the National Assembly of St. Lucia. I congratulate the government and people of St. Lucia on the 45th Anniversary of its Independence. I’m delighted to be in this beautiful country as it celebrates this auspicious anniversary. I bring best wishes on behalf of the government and people of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana and the Caribbean Community, which I presently chair.

Ties that Bind

The ties that bind Guyana and St. Lucia are stronger than the distance that separates us. Guyana and St. Lucia are members of the Caribbean family. We share ties of blood and history. St. Lucia has planted its roots in my country. St. Lucians came to prospect for gold and diamond in Guyana during the colonial era; many stayed and made Guyana their home. As a matter of fact, in some of the mining communities, they introduced cocoa, took to farming, and helped in the development of agriculture in our country.

Those ties extend to our common family, the Caribbean Community. Despite the disparities in size, we both share similar vulnerabilities within this region and also in our externalities. We are both affected by climate change, the effects of which, as we know all too well, can be devastating. Both Guyana and St. Lucia are also vulnerable to unfavourable changes in international markets.

Our countries are negatively affected by the changes to the European Union’s trade regime with our region in the first decade of this century. These changes adversely impacted the banana sector in St. Lucia and sugar in Guyana.
In many respects, we’re still travelling in the same boat, the common destination. Independence set us off on that journey to fulfil the aspirations of our people, to be in charge of their own destiny, and to dispel underdevelopment, relegate poverty and give our people the good life.

These were the same aspirations which held sway across the Caribbean during the decolonisation process, including upon Guyana’s Independence on the 26th of May 1966 and St. Lucia’s 13 years later, on the 22nd of February 1979. However, Independence, far from being a singular event confined to a specific date in history, is a dynamic and ongoing process that embodies the aspirations and ambitions of a nation. Independence is a journey marked not only by a solitary moment of achievement but by continuous pursuit of development, progress and self-determination.

Indeed, independence for any nation represents the liberation of a nation from foreign control, but more importantly, it also signifies the unleashing of the boundless energy and potential of its people. Independence represented a call to action, a commitment to harnessing the collective will of the people. Independence, in this sense, transcends mere symbolism. It is a living, breathing aspect of national life that propels us forward in our quest for a more just, equitable and prosperous future for and by the people.

It is therefore, fitting that as we commemorate this special milestone in St. Lucia’s political, economic and social development, we fortify the ramparts of independence and work towards the fashioning of a united, resilient and inclusive nation and region.

In contemplating how St. Lucia can consolidate its independence and pave the way for a prosperous and sustainable future, I wish to look at some common issues that we face today and to look at ways in which both Guyana and St. Lucia can jointly navigate these challenges and bring benefits and opportunities to the people of our two countries.

Before I go into this aspect of my brief presentation, I wish to point to some numbers to give you the basis on which our work should build upon. In the last 10 years, when you look at our trade numbers, Guyana would have exported to St Lucia commodities to the tune of US$71 million, and interestingly, St. Lucia would have exported to Guyana products to the tune of US$79 million. So, despite the size, the trade imbalance for Guyana was that St. Lucia exported US$79 million to Guyana, and we exported US$71 million to St Lucia. So, when you look at the aggregate level in the last 10 years, you will see that your exports to Guyana exceeded Guyana’s exports to St. Lucia.

However, if you look at your existing housing market and let us say, conservatively you have a deficit in the housing market of 2,500 homes in the next three to five years, that is the immediate term, the medium-term need and you use the conservative figure of US$30,000 for a low income home; that is why we are building prefab homes in Guyana. You’re looking at an export potential of US$75 million in the immediate and medium term from Guyana to St. Lucia. That export potential in this one area alone is more than the combined export in the last 10 years, and these are the opportunities, the real opportunities that exists in expanding relationship and expanding the trade between Guyana and St. Lucia.

How do we use this sector, for example, this one example to create wealth, to build opportunities, to build the skill level, and to integrate our manufacturing with a housing solution in St. Lucia? These are things that I think offer immediate opportunity for the private sector and for us, as policymakers, to create the enabling environment that would allow this opportunity to become a reality.

Challenge of Human Transformation

We also face the challenge of human transformation. Today, the world is moving apace. Whether it is AI, robotics, or digitisation, we are now catching up on modernisation and industrialisation, and the world has now gone past that to digitisation. So, our human asset and our human resource transformation must also address the changing circumstances or the changing global environment in which our human assets must operate. In fact, human transformation and digitisation are linked to economic transformation if we are to broaden our economic base.

As Chair of CARICOM, there are some opportunities that exist globally that we must take advantage of. For example, the whole issue of creating nearshoring jobs where we can upskill our human resource assets to have higher paying jobs right here at home, servicing multinationals across the world.

What we’re seeing in many developing countries is a retooling and reskilling of our human resource assets to meet the needs of major corporations internationally, creating nearshoring jobs in the fields of accounting, auditing, research and development, and pharmaceuticals. So these are opportunities that we now have to work on in retraining, retooling, and rebranding our human assets to meet this new need.

That of course, requires us to rethink the education sector and to retool the education sector to look at our curriculum, to look at what we are producing, and to see whether there is a match or mismatch between the output of the education system as what is needed in the new economy and the new world in which we are living.

Digitisation, of course, would bring systemic changes. For us to remain competitive, for us to remain relevant in the world that we live in today, we have to adapt to the changing environment.
Governments must become more efficient.

We are faced with this challenge; all of us in the region and the government must become more efficient. The time to deliver service must be significantly shortened, services must no longer be delivered from an office, and the population must be able to get that service from their homes. Even the diaspora must be able to get the services of the country from wherever they are. So, we must now look at digitisation and the changes that are required for us to keep abreast with the way the world is moving.

Then, we have the issue of climate mitigation and adaptation. It is not only financing that is the issue, it is how we build a society. How do we build an economic structure that allows everything we do to be sustainable and resilient? So, for example, if you look at St. Lucia, you have a food import bill that, on average, is maybe about 2345 metric tons per annum. That is the food that you import.

If we look at some of the food that you import and see how we can create a local production system to eliminate those imports, then you will see that it is not a daunting task. And, if we apply climate financing because food security is part of resilience and adaptation, then you will see that to replace these inputs with a technology that is relevant and suitable-that is, shade houses and hydroponics facilities. You will require 51 shade houses at a size of 3600 square feet each, that is in a square footage language, which means that you require about 4.5 acres of land of hydroponics and 4.5 acres of land of hydroponics which will help you in terms of climate, pest control. All of these things give you resilience and sustainability, and with this investment, you can reduce your food import bill and save foreign exchange by almost 70% with this one investment in St. Lucia.

In Guyana, we have adopted a model that in creating innovative agro business opportunities, using technology, research, and innovation-we said that we want 35% of all new agro businesses to be owned by women and young people. 35% of all the agribusiness has to be owned by women and young people. What this does is that it allows a rethinking of agriculture. It allows a rethinking of the opportunities that exist in agriculture, and in allowing this rethink, you have new capital that comes in, you have new technology that comes in, and you have a renewed interest. Agriculture is a part of a system, and the system is food production. Agriculture is part of food production, and building that entire ecosystem around agriculture would help us focus on this objective. That is why in CARICOM, we are pursuing the 25 by 2025 objective, and all of us, if you look at the numbers in St. Lucia in the last three years, you have seen improvement in productivity, improvement in production and expansion in agriculture and that is commendable as we work towards achieving the 25 by 2025.

If you look at another opportunity that exists in agriculture, that is your fish imports; you import close to 1500 tons of fish and poultry, US$12 million of import in poultry annually. These are things if we build consortiums between St. Lucia’s private sector and the Guyanese private sector, we can resolve within the region. This import can occur within the region. This business can be developed in the region. These opportunities can be catalysed within the region, your work can be created within the region. Both St Lucia and Guyana will benefit, and the region will benefit as a whole.

What we need to do is to work out the mechanism through which the bureaucracy is removed—removing barriers and through which there is a commitment, political will and bureaucratic will because sometimes the political will is not followed by the bureaucratic will. You have good policies that are announced, but the bureaucrats sometimes do not work to ensure those policies are successful, and that is what we have to do. We have to approach these issues from a holistic perspective if we are to realise the full potential of these opportunities.

So, in the area of food security, we are creating a regional food hub. In Guyana, we are now working to link northern Brazil to Guyana. If you look at the opportunities that exist in northern Brazil, in terms of food production and raw food, one of the disadvantages that we have had in Guyana was the cost of energy because the cost of energy was inhibitive to processing, agro-processing, manufacturing, and industrial development.

By next year the cost of energy will reduce by 50%. That makes us a very competitive destination now for agro processing. How is it that we can build a regional food hub in such a way that it connects St. Lucia not only for your own needs but also for St Lucia to become a distribution hub? That is the type of model we have to build; that is the type of co-investment that the private sector must make. That is a type of joint operation that the government of St. Lucia and the Government of Guyana are committed to ensuring that we create these opportunities

If you look at other issues that we are faced with, we are faced with food security, we are faced with the issue of energy security, we are faced with the issue of climate change, but we also have to ensure that we build a technological platform that drives innovation and improves efficiency.
The fact of the matter is that we are all too small to have different technology and different platforms operating in the region. We’re going to get back to the same problem if we do not operate on a common platform. If every country in the region is operating on a different technological platform, then integration and the coexistence of systems become more difficult. So, I think on the issue of technology, we must have a common approach, a common agenda through which we build a platform that meets the region’s requirements and that the entire region can work on a singular platform.

Healthcare System

On healthcare and interdependence, this is not an important issue. In Guyana today, we are building a healthcare system that we want to be world-class, but this system is not built for Guyana. We have said before that the prosperity that Guyana is seeing today must be the prosperity that the entire region enjoys. So, we are going to build a healthcare system that can support the regional healthcare system.

How do we ensure the integration of your healthcare system with our healthcare system?

So, as I speak to you now, we are working on a program that allows telemedicine to be operable in the hinterland of Guyana, linked to the best hospitals and also linked now to India, major hospitals out of India and the US. I think there is an opportunity for us to link your hospitals, your health centres, and your healthcare system with our healthcare system so that we can exchange ideas, we can exchange thoughts and we can share. We can share knowledge, but more importantly, because of the direction healthcare is going, robotics is now used a lot in surgeries in the healthcare system, so you can have a specialist operating out of Guyana, or St. Lucia, or India, helping surgeons in our small economies in our small healthcare system in their work.

Then it makes no sense for all of us to bear specialization in every area; that is why in Guyana, we are investing and we are giving incentives to the private sector to have specialised care in almost all areas so that the region’s needs, the region’s specialised need in healthcare can be taken care of in Guyana at a fraction of the costs that we are paying outside of the region now. That is the direction in which we are going with our healthcare system. The same can be said for education.

So my position is that in this region, the integration that we want to achieve must come from systemic integration, and systemic integration requires our education system to be integrated, our healthcare system to be integrated, or technological platforms to be integrated, and this helps to resolve an important issue. Connectivity is not just a movement of people, goods, and services; it is also the movement of ideas, policies, systems, and the integration of systems. And, connectivity must be able to address all of this if we are to build a seamless system.

So, I think as we celebrate one day apart, your Independence and our Republic, that we can start by connecting our two countries, by ensuring that St Lucia and Guyana with a historical connection that we have—a connection of family, of blood—that we can start by building this model out that the region can be integrated and the region can be a part of.

As I said before, we also must work together on security. We face common threats. How are we going to share our technology in terms of security? How are we going to adopt new technologies in terms of security? It makes no sense for all of us to buy different software and have to pay annual fees when we indeed have the capability to build indigenous systems for ourselves that can help us, that can make our security interface, architecture and ecosystem agile so that we can integrate and coexist in a better way.

These are some of the things I believe that will allow us to take our relationship to new levels and allow us to demonstrate to the private sector that we are serious about creating opportunities for them. To demonstrate to the private sector that we are ready to create an enabling environment, that we are ready to create a conducive environment, and that we are ready to support their expansion by making it easier for them to do business.

We have to face the same difficulties that those who are not part of the region do not face. If you look at the time it takes to open a bank account in the US versus the time it takes to open a bank account in the region, it is chalk to cheese. It’s chalk to cheese! And, then we speak about, you know, that there is no disparity in the system. There is systemic disparity. There are systemic disparities, and the only way we can address systemic disparity is if, as a region, we stand up against systemic disparity. Slavery was defeated because we came together as a community, as a people, as a region, together and fought against the system of slavery. We have to fight the system of inequality.

Only yesterday, in an interview with a major news agency, I made the point that in the last 65 years, the world has lost more than 60% of its biodiversity. In this region and Guyana, we have kept our biodiversity, but what did we get? Is it valued? Is there a value attached to it? Is there a pricing mechanism? If the cry of the world and all the organisations is that we must keep our biodiversity. We must secure our maritime assets. Yes, it’s an asset. If it is an asset, it carries value; then let’s value the asset and ensure that the countries who are keeping the asset are paid for keeping that asset. That is a fair system. Yes, we have a responsibility, and so too do countries that have destroyed their environment and their forest in the era of industrialisation; they have responsibilities too. They had a responsibility, and they still have that responsibility.

We’re talking about energy transition, when 36% of the world’s energy still come from coal. The first objective should be, how do we get those who are on coal off of coal? 36% of the world’s energy still comes from coal. So, we have to be very careful that we are not entrapped in some debates, some global debates in which there is severe inequality in the premise from which the debate commences. It’s important. We’re all for renewable. We’re all for going green, but who is financing it, and what are the capital costs for going green?
Who’s going to deal with energy poverty that exists for tens of millions of people globally?
These are the challenges, these are the questions that are not answered. But we have a responsibility, this region has a responsibility to stand up together on all of these matters. On all of these matters.

I want to also recognise in St Lucia and I look at the parliament here, you know, it’s a nice table, I don’t know if we have any Guyanese around the table, but I mean with the approximate population of five thousand I think we can carry some influence, but it is an integration.

It is an integration, and that integration is key because what that integration did was to allow Guyanese to invest here with comfort. Today, I think you have barn foods, they are a part of the economy here. They create great value here. We have *, create great value here also, you know, recently we had to get him back for a few days to do a coaching symposium, and of course, you have one of our good footballers, Christopher here also. So these are a few of the many Guyanese who would have added value to St. Lucia.

Democratic Values

So, we have, we have integrated well here in St. Lucia, but I think one of the important things is that we share democratic values and this is important for every society. We must ensure that our democratic values remain intact. We must ensure that our adherence to the rule of law and international law remains intact. You know, one of the big issues that the world is facing today is the hypocrisy. We cannot change based on self-interest or survival. If we are sticking to principles, we’re sticking to principles; if we’re sticking to values, we’re sticking to values. And if we want a ceasefire in one area, you must have a ceasefire in every area because one life lost in war is too many lives lost in war.

We must not be afraid; we have never been a region that is afraid to speak on the side of humanity, on the side of justice, on the side of principle. It’s difficult; It is not an easy road to traverse, especially when those with great influence can create problems. In the end, if we are always on the side of justice in principle, we will always be on the right side of history. The reward may not be immediate, but in the end, we will be on the right side of history and that is what this region has always been respected for: always standing up on the right side of history and being on the right side of history.

So today, I want to say that our country Guyana, and I say our country Guyana because it’s part of our region, is open for investment. There are tremendous opportunities coming our way. Yes, double-digit growth rate, projected growth rate; well, we have just completed a growth rate of 40%, the previous year close to 60%, and growth rate in the upper 20% in the coming years.

But how do we ensure that the region is integrated into the economic expansion of Guyana? That is a conversation we are willing to have. How do we use this opportunity to create energy security for the region and to build a platform through which the entire region must enjoy energy security?

How do we use this opportunity to ensure that we enable the region to become food secure to end malnutrition and hunger? It is a problem in the region; malnutrition and hunger is an important issue that we must tackle. The growing population, especially among children, they’re becoming obese, leading to health-related issues. How are we going to tackle that? How do we work on integrating our system so that all the people of our region would have baseline access to health care?

We’re not saying everyone would have the same access. Societies are not structured that way, but how do we set a model, a baseline that every citizen must enjoy? A level of service in water, health, education, infrastructure, and recreation that every citizen must enjoy.

We have enough resources within the region to set those targets and work towards having every citizen of the region enjoy those targets. So that all the citizens of the region can live a decent and prosperous life and they can retire in dignity, and they can retire in dignity. That is important. Retirement in dignity is much more than your pension. Retiring in dignity is the ability to be in your own home, your ability to be in a safe environment, and your ability to be in an environment in which your social needs are taken care of. That is what retiring in dignity is, and I think this must be the focus of all of our countries within the region.

Before I close, I want to say that we cannot make the mistake of building our economy on oil and gas. That would be disastrous. That is why we are positioning ourselves to be a leader in food, climate and energy. We are already the leader in forests globally. Our forests store 19.5 gigatons of carbon. Our forest is the size of England and Scotland combined with our deforestation rate.

Here in St. Lucia, we must also work towards economic diversification, and we must look at the low-hanging fruits. I know Prime Minister, we have been discussing some of the low-hanging fruits and one of the low hanging fruit, I think, is how we can develop through agro innovation, an agro business industry here that supports the local economy and supports value addition for the hotels, the resorts; because we must apply a level of social responsibility for the hotels and resorts to buy produce and products that we’re producing locally especially—fresh vegetables, leafy vegetables, fruits, and if we work out the backward and forward linkages in the food industry, the agro-business sector, I think can become an important part of the economic diversification and be profitable for investors and for St. Lucia.

The other low-hanging fruit I believe, based on our geographic space, is the upskilling of our human resources. How do we upskill our human resources and our young people to benefit from nearshoring jobs, from opportunities in nearshoring, and from high-value jobs whilst being here?

It is these innovative ideas that require additional fiscal incentives that would allow a shift in focus because the environment helps in the shift in focus, and I believe that if we create that environment we can add to the value chain here in St. Lucia and diversify the economy. We must use the strength of the economy to diversify the economy and if the strength of the economy is tourism, then we have to look at the value addition to tourism as a tool to diversification.

For food production and customer care, if we have Sandals operating in the island and sandal has an accounting services [I don’t know if they have I’m just saying] that is outsourced, then how do we get them to say we’re going to train 25 young people? We are going to get them certified to the level certification you want? How do we get them to provide that service for you from here in St. Lucia, up skilling them investing in them so they can provide that service? These are the things that we’re working on and these are the things that I think we can help to share experiences on because, as I said, we see our prosperity as the region’s prosperity.

You can rely on Guyana. You can count on Guyana. And, know that in Guyana, you have a friend and a partner in your development and in your advancement.

I thank all of you, and God bless you.

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