GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- Ahead of next month’s meeting of the 42nd annual governors meeting of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Guyana has expressed concern at the “the sloth like pace at which programmes and projects are being technically evaluated and designed by officials of the bank, resulting in the Islamic Bank having non-tangible outcomes in Guyana.”
This issue will dominate Guyana’s agenda at the upcoming board of governors meeting.
Guyana and Suriname, the only two members of the IsDB outside the Middle East, Africa and Asia, are preparing to attend the meeting and will each be represented by their finance ministers, Gilmore Hoefdraad from Suriname and Winston Jordan of Guyana.
According to Suriname’s deputy governor to the Islamic Bank, Dr Anwar Lall Mohamed, who will also be part of the delegation to Jeddah, Paramaribo is working robustly to advance and commence various pending projects with the bank, including, among others, a healthcare strengthening project, detailed design of the new academic hospital, two education projects and the work program for 2017-2020.
However, one year after Guyana joined the Islamic Bank “there is no programme in place that is a testimony to the partnership of the bank and the government of Guyana” according to the Guyana ministry of finance.
As to why progress has been slow, one official affiliated to the Islamic Bank and who visited Guyana said that it may be “due to the transition of leadership at Islamic Development Bank Group.” The current president is Dr Bandar Hajjar who took over from Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali Al-Madani in October 2016.
The official said, “In relation to Guyana-IsDB relationship, it's not correct to state that there is no programme at all in Guyana. In fact, IRTI-IDB organised a three-day training on Islamic finance in mid February 2017, and this week the IsDB sent a mission to Guyana to explore “reverse linkage activities in rice production with Malaysia and artificial insemination with Indonesia.”
According to a statement from the Guyana finance ministry, the objective is to initiate a reverse linkage project between Guyana and Malaysia in rice production, like one currently being implemented in Suriname. Guyana sees this as opportunities “to benefit from a similar arrangement are currently being explored.”
Guyana has submitted various projects in the agriculture, education, healthcare, and transportation for the bank’s evaluation and approval.
Guyana has kept a low profile at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Islamic Bank is an organ of the OIC. To date, Guyana has never appointed an ambassador to the OIC, and lacks strategic contacts with decision makers at the OIC and the Islamic Bank. It also allocates little or no funds to pursue OIC and Islamic Bank diplomacy. There are reportedly no funds for officials to travel and attend meetings.
If Suriname and Guyana cooperate strategically, and especially that Guyana will soon be an oil producer, they may be able to convince the bank to open a branch in South America, which could lead to faster evaluation and execution of projects between the bank and these countries. With the lack of a permanent envoy to the OIC and the Islamic Bank in the Middle East, Guyana and Suriname’s ties with these groups face constraints.
The Guyana government is keen to jump start various projects with the Islamic Bank as it feels the pressure from slumbering economies of neighbouring countries like Venezuela, Barbados, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. The lack of foreign currency and social unrest in some of these countries are sending their nationals to buy US dollars in Guyana. Thus, neighbouring countries are pinning their hopes on Guyana, and that they may benefit from its recent oil discoveries off its Atlantic shores.