‘Free Zone’ agenda for Region Nine still in the works
President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, during his recent address to members of the private sector (Office of the President photo)
President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, during his recent address to members of the private sector (Office of the President photo)

–President Ali says legislation still being crafted

THE government is currently working to craft a piece of legislation which will allow for Region Nine (Upper Takutu–Upper Essequibo) to be designated as a “special area for investment,” according to President Dr. Irfaan Ali.

In his address at a Christmas dinner hosted by the Private Sector Commission (PSC) on Thursday last, Dr Ali said that the intention is to develop and establish the region, which borders Brazil, as a ‘Free Zone.’ To put it simply, a ‘Free Zone’ refers to a designated city or area of a country where business and trade can be conducted without the burden of certain taxes and restrictions.

“We are actively working on the legislation,” President Ali said definitively.

It is believed that the realisation of the Lethem area as a ‘Free Zone’ will essentially unleash the region’s potential as an investment hub. “There will be great opportunity for logistics and transportation; terminals for containers, all of these for Region Nine,” President Ali indicated.

He shared too the government’s plans to further “scale-up” Lethem by transforming its aerodrome into a modern municipal airport.

In a visit to Lethem back in September, President Ali was keen on acknowledging the gap that exists between communities on the coastland and those tucked away in hinterland, pledging his government’s intention to level the playing field by ensuring that rural villages are economically empowered and integrally involved in the country’s decision-making process.

Dr. Ali had also highlighted the “enormous” potential of Region Nine, particularly as it relates to becoming a “heartland” for agriculture.

“The region possesses massive plots of land which can be adopted to large-scale agricultural production, including the cultivation of products used for local feed production and for exports,” the President said previously.
He noted too that notwithstanding food production, the region’s greatest asset is its eco-tourism product, which can be also be developed as a hotspot for adventure and nature-based sports.

Dr. Ali also hinted at the establishment of similar ‘free zones’ for Regions Two and Three. He said that going forward, the government has a specific and customised development agenda for each of Guyana’s 10 administrative regions.

The President went further to ask the Private Sector representatives to pin-point any region they wish to know about, and he will brief them on the development strategy. Asked about Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Upper Berbice), Dr. Ali said that the mission is to create additional jobs and create the requisite conditions to advance entrepreneurship within the region.

As it relates to Region One (Barima-Waini), the Commander-In-Chief said that the region is facing a security risk that must be addressed.

“The most important policy direction and strategic issue to deal with in Region One is that of the migrants; a security and migrant problem,” Dr. Ali said, referring to an influx of migrants from neighbouring Venezuela.

“While we are helping and supporting all that we can, we are in a peculiar situation; we have a security risk. We have to be very careful as to how we deal with this challenge,” the President posited.

He said that even with the existing issues, heavy investments are being made to improve the lives of citizens in Region One. Dr. Ali said that in addition to massively upgrading the region’s infrastructure, the region is also expected to benefit from increased trade and economic enhancement, owing to the implementation of a number of initiatives.

“…We are doing the roads, opening new areas for farming, supporting the farmers with capital and equipment, and very soon, we will have two new ferries servicing the route to bring out produce to Georgetown…containerised goods,” Dr. Ali noted.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether Region One is also slated to become a ‘Free Zone’, but it was previously deemed as a likely location. As a matter of fact, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest), Dr. Peter Ramsaroop had said that “Those are the areas where you look at free zones.”

Even though work on the ‘free zone’ legislation is now being done, it not a new idea from the government. During its pre-2015 stint in office, People’s Progressive Party/Civic was examining the establishment of such designated areas. Now, President Ali is looking to pair these with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) hubs.


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