Guyana is generally perceived as a rather quiet country that is known for great climates, a largely English-speaking population and a dysfunctional political system that often sparks post-elections violence (which explains why Jimmy Carter just visited). The country uses Fly Jamaica as its flag carrier, and until now it has proven much more popular with adventurous holidaymakers than finance professionals. However, recent developments are making Guyana a destination of increasing interest, and investors are beginning to take note. Three of them are confident enough in the country’s future that they have set up an asset management firm in the capital of Georgetown.
Investment management company Pollards Et Filles was founded when its partners decided to leave behind their distinguished careers in London’s Square Mile, and establish a Caribbean-focused fund using the Guyanese capital as their home base. David Pollard, the firm’s managing partner, is a Guyanese native with extensive ties throughout the Caribbean. His CV is impressive, with studies at Imperial College and Cambridge and senior positions as an algorithmic trader with Citigroup and Man Investments. Pollards Et Filles is one of just a few investment firms currently based in the region, a distinction that may not remain unique for long amidst an expansion of regional business and commerce.
In April 2015, the Guyana Marriott Hotel – the country’s first five-star lodging – opened under a public-private partnership featuring 197 rooms with plans for a nightclub, casino and restaurant by year’s end. Aside from being a major potential boon to the country’s tourism industry, which already attracts over 200,000 visitors per year, the fact that the project is being funded in part with a $27 million bank loan could pave the way for similar credit facilities and projects of comparable size and scope going forward.
A month later in May 2015, Exxon Mobil discovered oil off Guyana’s coast. Commercial viability of the discovery is still under evaluation, it is believed the field may hold as much as 1.4 billion barrels. Indeed, some are even being maintained in return for payments from Norway.
Many have also been tipping Guyana – the only South American country where English is the official language – as a favorable destination to capitalize upon growing demand for the business outsourcing industry (BPI) in Latin America. Elsewhere, Saju Bhaskar, founder of Texila American University, a global education provider in the field of medicine, recently announced a $20 million state-of the-art campus in the country’s Demerara region.
Overall, Guyana has been on an upward trajectory long before this string of recent announcements, and with economic growth of 3.8% projected for 2015, it looks set to continue to outperform other Caribbean nations by a significant margin.
From a regional perspective, many countries in the Caribbean basin are undergoing major changes that pose both immense challenges and opportunities to its 16 million inhabitants.
Although they are in process of being unified into a single 15-member economic bloc known as The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), these small economies remain highly susceptible to external forces, both manmade and natural. CARICOM, whose secretariat is based in Guyana’s capital, is perceived as a fragile organization in need of substantial improvement. As part of this process, CARICOM is discussing various ideas in pursuit of better integration, the most ambitious being a unified currency, which remains a distant goal for the time being.
The CARICOM community’s struggles are perhaps best reflected in the annual economic growth of its member states, which hovers around 1%-2% collectively. Systemically, the region struggles with high costs of food importation as smaller economies cannot take advantage of scale and therefore have little negotiating power. As the region further integrates there is hope this issue can be mitigated. Caribbean countries are also heavily dependent upon subsidized Venezuelan oil. Last month President Obama met with Caribbean leaders to encourage the development of alternative energy sources, though his efforts probably had less to do with buffering CARICOM economies and more to do with isolating Venezuela.
The opening of Cuba to American tourists and its greater overall accessibility to the global tourism market will undoubtedly have an impact upon the economic livelihood of peripheral Caribbean states and their respective tourism industries. Leaders have also voiced concerned about the precipitous decline of coral, and its potential long-term impact on both fishing stocks and tourism.
This week however, the attention of CARICOM nations and their leaders are most assuredly focused on Guyana’s presidential elections which are being held this week. Donald Ramotar, whose party has been in power since 1992, faces a new opposition coalition attempting to shake up the status quo. Guyana’s population of 750,000 has roots across India, Africa and the Americas with ancestral background having long been a leading influence amongst voters.
Competing political factions have promised a multitude of grandiose infrastructure projects in the lead-up to elections. Some promised projects include a Chinese-funded airport, a 165-megawatt hydropower plant, and a deep-water harbor with an accompanying road link down to Brazil.
Politics aside, Guyana’s brightest hopes lie with its diaspora. The country has one of the world’s highest emigration rates with more than 55 percent of its citizens currently living abroad. Notable progress in ending corruption and improving overall safety could rapidly reverse this trend and generate a valuable influx of educated and ambitious expatriates. David Pollard is already one step ahead of this trend, and sees it as only a matter of time before others follow him