Last Friday the President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Mr Clinton Urling summoned a media briefing to discuss – among other things – the position of the Chamber on the matter of the ongoing impasse between the government side of the House and the opposition over the so-called Rohee issue.
This is not the first occasion on which Mr Urling has sought to place the views of the Chamber on a politically sensitive issue in the public domain. In recent months he has commented on issues ranging from the need to address official corruption to the recent Linden protest.
Uncharacteristically for the private sector, Mr. Urling weighed in robustly on the issue of the parliamentary brouhaha over Mr Rohee. “Idiocy” is one of the words which he used to describe the ensuing political arm wrestling; and if, contextually, there are those who might even accuse the young businessman of recklessness, one imagines that as President of the GCCI his public pronouncements would be guided by Chamber policy.
Mr Urling’s terse comment on what is currently playing out in the National Assembly is, perhaps, not altogether surprising given his undertaking some months ago that the Chamber had no intention of shying away from commenting on issues which, in its view, had a bearing on the state of health of the country’s business environment. At that time he alluded to the imminent creation of an Advocacy Committee within the Chamber which he said would perform the function of crystallizing the views of the Chamber on issues on which it intended to make public comment. The committee has been set up and there is evidence that it has been functioning.
The point that should be made at this juncture is that, traditionally, the private sector has tended to stay away from making public comments on what are considered to be political issues, particularly in instances where such comments might offend the government given what some businessmen have told this newspaper is a fear of unpleasant reciprocity. In this regard references have been made to an occasion a few years ago when former President Jagdeo administered an aggressive ‘dressing down’ to a private sector official who had dared to comment publicly on what was felt to be a need for government to address the issue of corporate taxes. Other businessmen have shared other alleged experiences of official spitefulness.
If Mr Urling’s exchanges with the media have been measured, he seems determined to keep the Chamber’s undertaking not be muzzled and to call it as it sees it – so to speak – without looking over its shoulder to see if ‘big brother’ is watching.
If that is indeed the case it would be interesting news particularly for journalists whose professional pursuits cannot really thrive in an environment in which there is less than a healthy degree of transparency and a free flow of information that is uninhibited by fear of reprisals. Accordingly, the issue here is not whether or not the Chamber is leading a major shift away from what has become an overwhelming media shyness on the part of sections of the business community, but whether we might be witnessing a belated recognition by the business community that there is, after all, no yawning chasm between issues that might be construed as purely political and those that might properly classified as business issues.
During last Friday’s media briefing Mr Urling pointed out – to the surprise of at least some of the assembled journalists – that the perception of investors was that the country’s political climate (and not crime) posed the greatest threat to investment in the country. His other more interesting comment was that some investors might even feel that there is strong linkage between the political environment and the national environment as a whole and that even the proliferation of crime in the country might to a considerable extent, be influenced by the political climate. It is against this backdrop, Mr Urling feels, that the private sector has a role to play in ensuring a manageable political temperature given the nexus between the political climate and the investment environment; and even if Mr Urling does not say so directly, he evidently believes that the private sector cannot perform its functions efficiently if it neglects to pronounce forthrightly on issues that might otherwise be construed as being strictly political and therefore off limits to the private sector. We believe that there is much merit in that view.