OP-ED | Guyanese must be treated as equal partners in business and investment ventures

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By Audreyanna Thomas

In a Newsroom article on November 15, 2020, titled “‘Think big’ – Tourism Min. disappointed with lack of proposals to match scale of foreign investors”. The article focused on Minister Oneidge Waldron’s encouragement to local businesses with an interest in the tourism sector, to think outside of the box relative to business ventures in the sector.
The article stated ‘minister Oneidge Walrond said on Sunday she was disappointed that with major investors coming to Guyana there were little to no proposals readied by locals that could be presented’. Some of these investors, as reported in the news article were from the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Dubai.
The Minister further indicated that she was disappointed that she could not find any private sector tourism products to present to officials and investors from Qatarand Dubai during their visit, althoughbillions were available for investment in these kinds of projects.
In another Department of Public Information (DPI) article published on December 5, 2020, and titled ‘Tourism Ministry invites proposals for development of eco lodges, resorts’, the Ministry is inviting the submission of proposals by January 30, 2022.

It is commendable that the Ministryis exploring opportunities for funding, to assist in the development of the local tourism industry and has launched a call for proposals, however, my interest is, that Guyanese must be treated as equal partners in business and investment ventures.As such, has theMinistry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and or the Ministry of Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce entered into any agreement, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with Qatar or Dubai, relative to the development of the tourism industry in Guyana? If yes, what are the terms?
The Minister further stated in one of the articles ‘If I have those proposals, I can send them to Dubai and Qatar”. Can the Minister educate the Guyanese public on what system is in place at the level of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and or the Ministry of Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, to protect the intellectual property and business propositions of those businesses that will be submitting their proposals? What are the arrangements for sending the proposals to Dubai and Qatar? What happens to the proposals ifthey are not accepted? What protections are there for Guyanese businesses, to ensure that their business proposals are not implemented otherwise, without their permission? If the proposals are accepted, will the businesses submitting the proposals be treated as equal partners? These are just a few of my questions.

With Guyana emerging as a significant business and investment space, Guyanese and Guyanese businesses have to understand that ‘Guyana is big business’ and to be very clear on the value of what we have and what we bring to the table, as partners. The value investors and foreign officials may bring, as in this case of tourism, is money, technical expertise, etc.; the value the Guyanese businesses bring, is the business proposition (idea), land, local knowledge, etc., as such, it would be a good idea for the Ministry to ensure that a framework is in place to enable sustainable business arrangements, ventures, etc. and ensure that businesses and their intellectual property (proposals, ideas) are protected in these partnerships and that there is mutual benefit.

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The Ministry also has to work on building integrity within its own organisation,as well asits associated agencies. I have had an experience with the Ministry and the National Trust Guyana which I consider to be unprofessional and unethical. I am working with a group to develop a tourism product in the East Bank and Upper Demerara areas around heritage, history, etc., we even have a registered business, ‘Demerara Countryside Tours’. In late September of 2021, I met with anofficial of the Guyana Tourism Authority and shared our business idea for the tourism product and then in early October, 2021,I spoke with a senior official from the National Trust Guyana on the telephone and sent an email, about the possibility of arranging a meeting on a discussion on developing the Borsselen Island in the Demerara River as a heritage site, as a part of our tourism product, as well as to discuss other matters around the history and heritage of the Demerara River.

I included in the email that I had contacted a culture and heritage organisation in the Netherlands on the possibility of support for developing a ‘Cultural Heritage (Historical) Tourism’ product around the ‘shared Dutch history’ in Demerara, but more specifically, around the Borsselen Island, as the former Capital of the colony of Demerara and that this could be a part of our discussion, but since I was an individual, the discussion was not as fruitful as expected, however, as a government agency, the interest might be different.Having done some extensive research, I also included in the email that we can explore the posibility of whether Guyana can be included as one of the partner countries in the new strategy for anorganisation in the Netherlands on the ‘Shared Cultural Heritage Programme’ which is a part of the international cultural policy.

Until todate, I have not received a response from the senior official from the National Trust Guyana, however, I subsequently read an article in the press that the Ministry of Tourism in association with the National Trust Guyana will embark on a project to rehabilitateDutch sites in Essequibo and Berbice’. I suspect that the reason why the project was not being extended to Demerara, is because my group has a registered business (Demerara Countryside Tours) to develop the idea in Demerara.
Finally, if the Ministry of Tourismthought that the idea was a good one, the ethical thing to do, would have been to contact me, and indicate that they liked the idea and wish to implement it in Essequibo and Berbice also. Now how can we share our entire proposal with the Ministry after this experience? One would have thought that if you have a tourism idea, the place to go for support in developing it, is the Ministry of Tourism; similarly with an idea on heritage, the National Trust is the place to go.
However, we are still looking for investors who are interested in treating us like real partners, to develop the idea into a tourism product, it could provide significant employment to communities along the East Bank and Upper Demerara areas.



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