Telecommunication Opportunities in Guyana

Telecommunication Opportunities in Guyana
Presentation to the Greater Houston Partnership Outreach
February 25, 2019 in Houston, Texas



Thank you for that warm welcome! It’s even more special to me as just about thirty years ago I was a budding television producer based in College Station, Texas and my brother who is an “Aggie” is here with us today. So the connections with Texas are deep and I’m happy to be back in a place I once called home.

I, along with my Government, am of the view that today’s dynamic and competitive global economy demands an ambitious commitment to Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I am certain that we are all aware that Technology and the Internet have already transformed economies worldwide, some in developing countries like Guyana. They have applied modern technologies to manufacturing, the extractive industries, transportation, energy production, education, healthcare delivery, and even farming.

Today, Guyana is at the crossroads of our economic development. I do not need to convince you that the industries that we have depended on for so many years – traditional, colonial era industries such as sugar and rice, no longer have the functional capacities in this changing global economy. They are not enough to support our developmental requirements in today’s digitally connected world.

It is not lost on us that we must diversify quickly; most importantly, diversify into industries that make use of our intellectual capacities.

In recognition of this, the then new Government conceived a Ministry of Public Telecommunications in late 2015, and it was gazetted in January 2016. The Ministry’s fundamental purpose is to create an ‘enabling environment’ at policy and infrastructural levels to ensure that Information and Communication Technologies are fully utilized for national development and Guyana’s economic advancement. This environment, at the very minimum, must achieve the following critical objectives:Human Capital Development

  • Digital Inclusion
  • e-Enterprise and ICT Sector development
  • Infrastructural Development
  • e-Government 

In order to achieve this, the Ministry is creating a knowledge-based society which must become globally competitive and productive, and ultimately prepare Guyana to become a premier ICT hub in the region.

This objective also envisions the “enabling environment” for a viable private sector buttressed by ICTs that will create wealth and employment, and contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To this end the following broad goals were envisioned:-

  • An ICT literate society that enables all segments of society to participate fully • Broad utilisation of ICTs which will also promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Availability of the Internet and learning tools to all Guyanese
  • Transformation of the entire public and business sectors into an e-environment
  • Implementation of appropriate legislation to support industry and innovation

Doing this right will not only boost economic growth; it leads to immeasurable social and related national benefits. We as a Government believe that with the right public policies, we can ensure that Technology becomes the main supporting pillar for broad-based growth; for reducing social and economic inequality; and for ensuring Guyana’s pre-eminence on the regional and international stage.

In a few short years Guyana is destined to become a significant player in the Oil & Gas industry, at least regionally, and it has to be said that there is a clear nexus between Oil & Gas and ICT.
We have a duty to ensure that we are all prepared – Government and population – to take advantage of the opportunities on a vibrant and secure technological landscape. We have a duty to ensure that our citizens are fully equipped to provide the best services to every entrepreneur/investor, both local and foreign, who establish or expand their businesses in Guyana.

ICT is undoubtedly the cross cutting component in this milieu – for production and manufacturing, and the wide range of essential and business services which already exist, and those that are expected to come on the landscape in the immediate future.

Nexus between ICT and Hydrocarbon enterprises
While the Oil & Gas sector has immense potential to spur economic growth, we are very conscious of certain pitfalls that have beset other developing countries, especially knowing that growth (statistics) does not necessarily translate into economic/people development. We’ve learnt how oil wealth could harm a country’s democracy and its economic instability.

It is abundantly clear that the emergence of Oil and Gas as an industry in Guyana will change our economy, our people, our expectations for betterment, our values, and our ways of life, and in the short term too. These are the natural results of economic evolution, and with it will come greater demands for different, modern infrastructures and better eco-systems, and for services and support at higher levels of delivery. This is especially true for our emerging ICT industry.

Access and Inclusion
This sector has become a critical component in Guyana. Our Governments have been preparing for this evolution for some years and more recently we began to install the necessary infrastructure to ensure that as many of our citizens as possible have free access to the Internet, along with face-to-face training in robotics and similar technologies.
To date, we have connected almost every public school and technical/tertiary education institution across the nation. This is in addition to:-

  • All government agencies and Ministries (eGovernment)
  • The establishment of 170+ ICT hubs in local communities where citizens could access the Internet free of cost if they are unable to do so from their homes; this initiative is focused on poor and remote communities
  • The hubs are managed voluntarily by selected groups of community residents who have the autonomy to manage and sustain their hubs

Developing human capital thru’ broad-based training
Our goal is to equip our citizens with ICT skills ranging from basic to advanced levels of proficiency. For example, the number of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) enterprises in Guyana has been increasing, mostly as a result of cost advantages and a widening skill pool. This particular business space is now wide open for new entrants.

Direct ICT Start-Up support
Funding support: Financing is one of the biggest challenges facing ICT Start-Ups. Our Telecommunications ministry is committed to finding new avenues for micro and small business funding. Currently, we are in the preparatory stages for an ICT Venture Capital Fund, and we are looking for partners.

ICT Park: We are also examining the feasibility and proposed designs for an ICT (Technology) Park. At the beginning, the Tech Park would be the host for start-up enterprises (incubator), a training ground, and a facility for cluster growth.

These two initiatives are ready for development and investment.

Virtual Incubators: While we wait for the completion of the prescribed studies/analyses, we are examining the probability of launching virtual incubators which could provide ICT Start-Up businesses with most of the benefits offered by normal incubators without the need for a physical space.

Provision of e-Services
To keep pace with ICT advancements around the world, our eGovernment Agency (together with several other Ministries) is working hard to reach a particular benchmark this year. They have designed a broad-spectrum software with portals to more than 200 public services including passport and business compliance applications, pension payments, etc. to be ready for use by 2020. Imagine the benefits for citizens – efficient public service delivery and cost savings.
In addition, we have been collaborating with the Ministry of Business to introduce e-commerce, e-payments, etc. We have revised Intellectual Property and Data Protection legislations … and this is only the beginning.

Modern Legislations
For the local ICT eco-system to thrive in the “new” economy, all relevant legislations must be updated to include ICTs. While we aggressively pursue full liberalization of the telecommunications sector, 2019 will see the tabling of number of Bills including the Electronic Communications and Transactions Bill, the Cyber Security Bill and an updated Intellectual Property Protection Bill.

ICT Investment Opportunities
The Government of Guyana would like to license at least one additional operator of its own submarine cable to provide physical redundancy and additional commercial options for international connectivity. This area, we feel, has tremendous investment potential that can span the depth of Guyana, and the Caribbean, and South America as well.

We believe that we are in the final stages of negotiation with our existing exclusive Telecoms licensee for release of that exclusivity. The one objective driving this process is having an open market that is competitive in service and price.

Guyana is going to become a viable option for a third mobile service provider, and it raises the possibility for a competitive process for new licensing.

Guyana’s geography also makes it attractive for the location of Data Centres. In that southern hemisphere, our country lies off the hurricane belt, outside of the earthquake zone, and we experience minimal flooding mainly because of the several elevated regions which are already populated.

Serving remote areas
Over 10% of Guyana’s population of 770,000 live/work in remote areas which are currently difficult to serve effectively, and in some cases, unprofitable without some form of subsidy.
The new Telecommunications Act makes provision for a Universality Fund for just this purpose, and it presents opportunities for Small and Medium scale investments in the sector.

The Advantages that only Guyana has
Being the only English speaking country in South America with high literacy rates, compatible accents with the USA and UK, and being on the same North American time zone, make Guyana an ideal host for Business Process Outsourcing.

As the ICT eco-system becomes more firmly entrenched and available, the price of connectivity will fall further making the country even more ideal for BPO services providers. Recent Market Research projects that contact centres and services like Telemarketing, Inbound Customer Support, Medical Transcription, Voicemail Transcription, and Data Warehousing have the space to grow in Guyana.

Call centre services

There are currently 10 call centres employing approximately 4,000 persons (primarily youths and females), and this number is expected to grow significantly in the future. Typically, employees of these companies have no prior experience in the field so they must go through on-the-job training. This attests to the high level of trainability of the workforce.

Software/App Development Support
Software/App development has become a much researched topic especially among youths in Guyana. They respond well to the Ministry’s training initiatives and some have advanced to start-up businesses. This indicates that the young workforce is becoming better equipped/trained to function in higher-level ICT-related jobs.
PS – Software testing and maintenance can be added to the jobs that could be outsourced to Guyana.

While some of the operators in the field possess University level qualifications in Computer Science and related subject areas, there remains the need to reinforce their training and test the proficiency of aspiring ICT entrepreneurs. The Ministry stages national competitions such as Hackathons and Code Sprints to identify emerging talents, and collaborates with technical institutes to produce additional skill sets.

So Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that I have given you a comprehensive overview of the direction we are headed in with Information And Communication Technologies as a principal vehicle for our national development and economic advancement.

I close by re-emphasizing that Guyana is open for business. We understand that we cannot achieve all of these goals by ourselves which is why we have approached the Private sector to seek partnerships.

Guyana is on the cusp of becoming a regional economic power as a result of the significant discoveries on Oil and Gas. We want to mould an economy that is fully diversified and competitive, one that provides the best opportunities for our people, and for those captains of industry looking for sustainable returns.
Thank you, and I do look forward to welcoming you to Guyana.

Catherine Hughes