Guyana Time Zone UTC-04:00
Capital City Georgetown
Currency Guyanese Dollar GYD
National Day 26 May
“In the four months since I’ve arrived, a lot has happened,” remarks Guyana’s new High Commissioner His Excellency Dr Rajendra Singh. “I participated in the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, (which was quite an event. So well organised- and the enthusiasm from the world over was infectious.) I presented my Credentials to Her Majesty and was struck by her knowledge guiding a conversation about Guyana’s rainforest. I’ve now seen two changes in the administration at Downing Street and I was here to witness the sad event of Her Majesty’s passing. It was remarkable to see how much respect everyone had for her. It’s been a busy time.”
Raised in a little village in rural Guyana, the High Commissioner recalls “a community filled with different social values and religions. It was good to experience this diversity from a young age.” A quest for an education then took him to the United States, for undergraduate, graduate, and then post-graduate studies.
“I returned to Guyana in 1975 for my first job, which was in labour relations at what today we call the Guyana Sugar Corporation.” In 1982, he went back to the United States to start a lengthy vocation in the administration of higher education in New York. “I worked at an Ivy League university, and at a large public university as Senior Executive Director for Human Resources Strategic Planning.
While in New York, Dr Singh was asked to join the board of the Guyana Sugar Corporation, becoming its Chairman in 2011. A few years later, he was asked to return to Guyana to become its Chief Executive Officer. “At the time, the Guyana Sugar Corporation was the largest business in the Caribbean. Over the years, he dealt with major issues including retooling and repurposing the industry to increase production and bring the costs down, all while diversifying the industry. “We introduced a pilot project for bio-fertiliser. We enhanced a programme of mechanisation and a factory that could crush 300 tonnes of cane an hour. We operated a power generator plant with the waste (bagasse) from the sugarcane to create clean energy production. We also planned to build a distillery using our excess molasses, as a revenue generator.
He admits, “A good part of my career working in both the sugar industry and higher education was around labour relations and negotiation. Diplomacy today incorporates negotiations and arriving at solutions to conflicts. I never planned my career this way, but my experiences and skills are certainly an asset. I’ve also always been interested in foreign policy and politics, so it’s all coming together.”
Now in London, Dr Singh says he’s delighted to “have an opportunity to serve my country at a time when there is a lot to discuss.” He has observed “a decent working relationship with the UK government. But we want to build up on that, and I’ve been meeting with people from the administration and the FCDO. Guyana is the fastest growing economy in the world, as described by international financial institutions, including the IMF and the World Bank.” Indeed, this year Guyana’s GDP will expand by 57 per cent, mostly thanks to an offshore oil boom. “I know there is plenty of concern around the world for oil and gas exploration, but we are doing this in a careful and responsible manner, and we are learning from the experiences of others who have already gone through this process. Crucially, we are balancing this with our Low Carbon Development Strategy 2030.”
He explains, “Guyana has led the world on low carbon development for many years. We were the first developing country to produce a Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) back in 2009. The centrepiece of that was recognition that the battle against climate change could not be won unless the world’s tropical forests could be saved. Our President set out a vision where Guyana could be a model for the world, demonstrating that forests could be maintained, and this could be done in a way that boosted economic growth and job creation. Guyana has the second highest forest cover on earth –the forest is about the size of England and Scotland combined.
“This led to the world’s second largest international agreement on forests, where the Norwegian government simulated a market mechanism to pay for the climate services provided by Guyana’s forests. Thousands of jobs have been created, and some of Guyana’s villages and rural areas are well on the way to being mainly powered by renewable energy as a result.
“Guyana always planned to move from the Norway agreement into a global market mechanism. As a result, Guyana is about to issue credits that can be traded on the global carbon markets. These will be invested in the new LCDS 2030. Not only can Guyana grow its economy fivefold and keep domestic missions flat, but thousands of jobs can be created in new sectors and the country’s priceless biodiversity can be protected for the world.”
Furthermore, Dr Singh mentions, “we will not become dependent on oil and gas, and we have restarted a hydro power project and are launching several solar and wind energy projects. This is a transition for us, and we are looking to use the resources from the oil and gas, and eventually transition. I think COP27 is a great opportunity for world leaders to not only talk about climate change, but really start doing something about it. As a small country, we are ready and have resources to help.”
He’s keen to also highlight “the strong working relationship with Commonwealth, who we are working closely in terms of climate change, technology, youth and education. They also supported our democracy, which we are grateful for.” He continues, “From 1963, Guyana experienced a period of full dictatorship, where there were no free and fair elections, absolutely no democracy, and the social conditions were extremely poor. We were described as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere outside of Haiti. But then came one of the most memorable days of my career: on 5 October 1992 there was a change of administration, the return of democracy and Guyana began a new phase of development with freedom of press, religion and expression. It was a special day. Then again there was a threat that Guyana could return to being a dictatorship during our last round of elections in August 2020. We are thankful to all our international partners for their support in standing up against this.”