Tuesday, Oct 24, 2017
Education | Government | South America | Guyana

Specialized training key to developing human capital in Guyana


3 years ago
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Dr. Jennifer Westford

Minister of Public Services

A growing Guyana finds herself needing skilled labor for its changing industries. Minister of Public Services, Dr. Jennifer Westford, explains the role a skilled labor in lifting the economy and what the priorities are for Guyana

 

Guyana is truly going through an exciting time at the moment. In a period of global economic recession, it has been one of the top five fastest growing economies in Latin America and is even projected to have an impressive growth of over 5% GDP for 2014. What would you attribute this impressive growth to?

Guyana is one of the five fastest growing economies in Latin America, in this hemisphere, mainly because of the comprehensive, prudent economic policies that the government has embarked on over the last 25 years of its existence. As you would likely know, we have not had the best of economic policies in the past. Since 1992, with the new administration, there have been many changes in the economics of the country. The government has embarked in ensuring that we have maximum use of our natural resources and that we put mechanisms in place to ensure that the business environment is customer friendly. Unless you have business development in the country, you will not have social development. For there to be investments, certain infrastructure must be in place. Businesses will not enter a country if there is no proper infrastructure. Based on that, the government began looking at certain physical infrastructure that was in a poor state.  We ensured proper communication networks as most businesses will have to be located out of the center of Georgetown. Guyana’s population is essentially concentrated around a congested capital city. There is space and land for businesses to expand out of Georgetown but at one point there was no proper road network. The government invested heavily on a road network and they also invested heavily in information technology. Currently, we have a cable coming from Brazil into Guyana to provide a bigger network. Our hydro power is also proceeding with plans on the table, though we have our political challenges, which is stalling this development somewhat. Electricity in Guyana can be quite expensive, especially for investors who would be in manufacturing. The rates would prove expensive. The government is investing with international partners to drastically reduce costs. The Amaila Falls is a project that has not come into concession yet but there are other several small hydro projects in the pipeline. With Amaila Falls, we will not be able to use even half of that electricity generated. The aim is that we will be able to sell electricity to Brazil as there is already an agreement for Brazil to purchase the excess electricity that we cannot consume. 

Can you elaborate on the Amaila Falls Project?

There is a bit of a political hiccup for funding.  The momentum has slowed so it is going to happen, just not as fast as the government wanted it to be.  However, it will come online. The ground works are continuing in the interior region.  It is going to turn the economy. Even though we are having successes, this will make it exponentially greater. We will then see investors flooding Guyana since that has been the main obstacle to their entrance so far.

The government has also invested heavily in its human resources development, as this is acknowledged to be a key factor for foreign entities entering Guyana. If there are not necessary backup services, then profitability of operations are diminished. Therefore, the government has invested heavily on development of education, in ensuring that all education, from nursery to secondary, is free. There is a token fee for higher education. We have also partnered with several foreign countries in sending persons to study in higher sciences such as electrical and mechanical engineering, ICT, Human Medicine, Veterinary medicine, and agricultural sciences. From 1993 to 2013, the government has sent over 2,400 persons educated abroad who have currently returned to Guyana. Between the years of 2003 to 2006, we have sent 300 persons per year.

How have the public services fit in to these developments? What part have you played?

The Public Services Ministry constitutionally has a mandate for human resources development. One may ask; what are the determining factors? What do you develop? What do you pay attention to? First, we conduct five year economic and developmental plans, which are upgraded every five years. For instance, in agriculture, it was decided to focus on new crop development, away from the traditional cash crops of sugar and rice, to experiment with spices and mushrooms.  In order to ensure that this plan becomes a reality, you must have the relevant trained personnel to do so. With this plan, the Public Service Ministry will begin the training process of these needed professionals over the course of a designated number of years. 

You are literally building and developing the building blocks for the economy?

Exactly! For instance, we trained workers in agriculture. I love agriculture because it is the most vibrant arena. I saw somewhere that in 2025, the world will start running out of food. Countries such as Guyana, that have hundreds of thousands acres of land, can become the bread basket of the world. In order to do this, persons must be skilled as everything is based on technology. Let us take the rice industry (rice being our main economic booster) for example.  If one acre of land produces 20 bags of rice, with improved knowledge, 35 bags can be produced from that very same acre of land, just from use of better technology.   We are looking at the natural resources sector now and I hope you will get a chance to speak to the Minister of Natural Resources. This is the next big sector with many exciting developments. It is my job to ensure that they have the necessary human resources.

What are your top priorities at the moment?  It seems like agriculture is your focus but what are some of your biggest challenges?

We currently have a total of 2,300 doctors in the country. This may seem like a substantial number to a person who says that Guyana only has a total population of 750,000. Yet our geographic reality is the problem. Even though most of the population is at the coast, we still have persons living in the interior. We have to ensure that every community in Guyana has at least one doctor. Our focus now is the health of our people. Health is prioritized and health workers must be adequately trained. Two months ago, we had 64 medical doctors returning from abroad to receive their medical education and training.  New doctors will return every year.

Do you cooperate with the Ministry of Education?

The Ministry of Education is responsible for training of people from Nursery to secondary school. The Ministry of Public Services is responsible for what follows.  However, we may have persons who will not have continued on through to secondary school - the early school leavers. We also look at those categories of people to train them in the technical areas. We send them to the Government Technical Institutions. At the end of the day, they are also a part of the entire economic Human Resource focus. For instance, we have The Marriott Hotel which is soon going to be on-stream. Based on the blue print, they are going to have areas for cosmetology, massage therapy, spa services etc.  They will need professionals with certifications as they service a high-end clientele. They will also need cooks and that is where the persons going to Home Economic Schools may find employment. Therefore it is a whole thinking of ensuring that an enabling environment is created for people to come and do business. That is the basis of any country’s development.

What are some of the key institutions or services that fall under your authority that help you facilitate you mandate?

Maybe the question should be the other way round. I facilitate all the government agencies because I have to find them Human Resources; every single agency. All Human Resource requirements are channeled through us. I’m actually going into a meeting with the Minister of Finance to discuss a new database for government payroll.   

It is a very costly software but necessary. We have had some discussions with the World Bank as we strive for transparency which is very important for development. People are repelled by systems that do not function properly. Unless there is confidence in our institutions, investors will not be attracted to Guyana.  We are therefore trying to get all of those things working hand in hand.

One of the passions of this administration is to be more transparent. Could you outline some of the initiatives you are doing?

This database will ensure that the persons in receipt of salaries within the government sector are actually persons who are supposed to be receiving them.  We are also looking at how government conducts business. These include programs of building roads, building schools and investing in other areas like factories. We have placed and we are probably the only country within this hemisphere that has a procurement authority where all the government money spent must be sent to the National Procurement Authority. This ensures it is advertised publicly after which it would be placed into a bid. They would then respond after choosing the most responsive bidder which looks for the lowest tender. This is how all government ministries work. At times, it creates some issues as the lowest tender is not necessarily the best person to do the job. That happens at times but that is how it is in government spending. We have several agencies handling lots of monies and would be doing transactions that are not straight forward. For instance, the Ministry of Human Services allocates old-age pensions to the low-income elderly.  There have been occasions where pension books have been duplicated.  Thus, we must review the system often and input special security mechanisms. 

Guyana does well in terms of the anti-corruption unit?

Yes! We try and receive a lot of help from countries such as the US, UK and Canada.

United World: Do you often send your workers to America for education and then they come back or do they normally find their training in Guyana?

For public sector workers, we have partnerships with over 40 or 60 countries. Not many go to America though. We mostly send people to Japan, India, Brazil, Venezuela, Trinidad, some of the Caribbean islands and Canada.

We were told by the Prime Minister that a lot of the Diaspora is returning to Guyana. Do you see this trend as well?

Yes they do. Actually I receive many inquiries from people wanting to come back home to work. Those who would have left years and years ago want to come back. Some who have passed the age of retirement return saying they are still interested in assisting wherever they can.  Some worked for many years in the US and UK and have retired with their retirement package. Many also are returning looking for business opportunities. Agriculture is a sector many are investing in.   

In this globalized world, the importance of countries to brand themselves and again to communicate their strength to the international community cannot be overstated. Taking this opportunity to reach out with America’s number one newspaper, how would you like Americans to perceive Guyana?

Guyana is not well known and we have a very small economy. We are sitting strategically in South America, but are deemed as part of the Caribbean, simply because we are the only English speaking country in Latin America. We strategically border Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname.  I would like Americans to see us as the ‘hidden jewel in the crown’ that is yet to be found. I want to encourage all the prospective explorers and investors to come and ensure that they get a part of that jewel-because it’s huge. It is there and on the verge of coming out from the little nest that it was lying on. They will have to come very fast before losing on getting a part of that jewel.

It is there for the taking and I want to encourage this as we are a very hospitable set of people.  There are a lot of ‘virgin’ opportunities waiting to be tapped into.



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