Prime Minister of Guyana Talks ICT, Electricity and COVID-19

Prime Minister Mark Phillips

Says Government is Working Hard to Deliver on its Promises

By Leon Suseran

Prime Minister of Guyana, Retired Brigadier Mark Phillips sat down with The West Indian, at his office on May 21, 2021 and outlined the administration’s plans, especially those which fall under his portfolio: Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Electricity and COVID-19.

Speaking about the liberalization of Guyana’s ICT sector in September 2020, Phillips said there are three major players now: GTT, Digicel and E-Networks, and said Guyana’s ICT Sector “is now opened to anyone and any company.”

The Prime Minister stated, “From the time we liberalized the sector, immediately there was a reduction in the cost for rates of data — they immediately lowered the rates they paid for data…”

Guyanese still complain about the slow and costly internet services provided by the two major players in the country: GTT and Digicel.

However, the Prime Minister noted that all companies in the sector in Guyana are committed to improving their services and extending such services, especially in the hinterland regions, where services degrade as you move away from the coastland. “That will take some time, but they have given that commitment,” he noted, adding, “without naming names, there are several companies that have submitted expressions of interest.”
The Prime Minister noted that 4G internet services would become widely available in Guyana within the next five years, “and there’s the possibility of 5G also being introduced.”

Reporter Leon Suseran with Prime Minister Mark Phillips (right) at the Office of the Prime Minister, Guyana.

Speaking about electricity supply and the perennial problem of blackouts, Phillips said there is no longer a generation problem, but rather a transmission issue across the country, whereby the system was neglected, with little or no maintenance, during the previous administration. He noted that 130 Megawatts of power is currently available in the Demerara- Berbice Interconnected System (DBIS). “The big issue however is transmission and distribution,” he added. He said that the current administration is effecting daily repairs to the system. The PPP/C Administration, he stated, has invested in 10 Megawatts of electricity, to cater for demand for power and boosting current supply.

Additionally, 46.5 Megs of power is currently undergoing installation at Garden of Eden, and expected to come on stream in August, boosting the supply within the DBIC. The PPP/C, he noted, has a plan to increase the power supply nationally by 400 Megawatts, mainly through the gas-to-shore project, 200 of which would become available by the end of 2024, and the remainder be made available through solar, wind and hydro.

He alluded to the “shelved” Amaila Falls project, which would have made 165 Megs of power available back in 2017. He did signal the government’s intention to re- start that project in the long- term. “By 2024, we want to provide to the commercial and domestic sectors in Guyana electricity that is reliable and that is far cheaper than what we’re paying for now, and that would come from the gas- to- shore project.”

The PM noted that a number of solar projects are being rolled out, “and over the next three years, we will have three large solar farms—in Berbice, Essequibo and Linden—and several other smaller ones, in the Hinterland.” Additionally, 30,000 TV Units have been delivered to households in the hinterland areas. Also, 1.5Meg project for Bartica, 1Meg project for Lethem, 0.15Meg project for Kato, 0.6 Meg project for Mahdia, etc are set to go on stream in the coming months.

He also mentioned the Hinterland Poor Remote Community Project (HPRP) where 200 communities would benefit from ICT hubs with their own stand- alone generation systems, using solar energy, “and we will have computers there, laptops, ICT connections and 20 persons/users at a time to log on and use the systems.”

Speaking about Covid 19, the Prime Minister, who is the National Coordinator of the Covid19 Task Force, lauded Guyana’s ability to source and procure vaccines, making the Guyana the leading one in the Caribbean, in vaccination. He urged for more or greater adherence to the Gazetted Orders also. “We want every Guyanese to come forward—and take the vaccine…it will help to protect you…”

He noted the issue of vaccine hesitancy that pervades Guyana as well as many other parts of the world. “We’re using the religious community, NGO’s, media to get the message out—because in Guyana, vaccination is not compulsory, we have to get the message out to make people aware…”.

“It is free and would protect you from getting more severe form of illness. We have the highest percentage of population that has come forward to take the vaccine…around 190,000 taken the first dose and just about 40,000 completed the first and second dose, and it is our intention to continue that campaign, and we’re opening up more sites, and many sites now closing at 8 (pm) and the more people we vaccinate, the closer we can achieve herd immunity, we can do what you’re doing in America, get back to your normal life.”

Prime Minister Phillips doesn’t believe the Gazetted Orders need to be changed or adjusted. “From the inception, Guyana was in a state of lockdown—when we took over (power)—many businesses had to lay off workers… the reality is we have to find a balance.”

“On one hand we have to protect lives, but on the other hand, we also have to look at the livelihoods, in terms of being allowed to continue their activities, and of course, the social activities would be restricted, but we need to allow some amount of economic activity—people have to go to work and earn, we cannot lock down the country and have everybody depend on government…”

“More and more, we are convinced, if people are allowed to continue their daily activities…we can have people go on with their business activities…earn their money, and at the same time, protect themselves.”

In closing, the PM, who has been serving for about 10 months, said he is there to serve Guyana and enjoys meeting the people, “going in to the communities, listening to the concerns, trying to work with the Cabinet and the President.”

“We were elected by the majority of the voters…to serve Guyana for the next five years…it is our intention to deliver on all the promises…from now until 2025, judge us from our deliverables; I can assure you that the entire government is focuses on the developmental objectives that were outlined in that manifesto and I can promise you that we are all committed to working and delivering…”