You report President Ramotar as telling Go-Invest that he “would like to see it more institutionally driven and become a [stronger organisation],“ (‘Ramotar urges Go-Invest to stop making excuses, be more proactive,’ SN, December 16). President Ramotar encouraged Go-Invest “to seek out new types of investment to match the wave of new industries that are creating wealth and jobs.” Although the Go-Invest website dates mainly from 2006 and 2007, and appears to have been last updated in mid-2008, it covers the range of most practicable investments and offers a comprehensive investment guide (2007, 72 pages). Priority sectors largely match the National Competitiveness Strategy (NCS, 2006) and the National Development Strategy (1995-7). The range of incentives is similar to that in other developing countries. For agriculture, Go-Invest refers to the excellent market surveys undertaken by the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (New GMC) and to the market support services and infrastructure then provided by the donor agency USAID through the Guyana Trade and Investment Support (GTIS) project but now sadly closed.
So why isn’t low-risk legitimate business growing in Guyana, with such backing? Why instead is high-risk illegal business thriving – drug and gold smuggling, gun running, illegal logging and mining, money laundering, people trafficking – and enterprises which could not possibly be based on the legal incomes of the owners and backers? How has Guyana become so topsy-turvy that low-risk legitimate business becomes high-risk, for bankers and for the entrepreneurs.
Some reasons are spelled out in the NCS document itself. For example, “This slight competitive edge can easily be whittled away quickly unless the interventions highlighted in Chapter 3 are not promptly implemented to deal with factors such as high transaction costs due to overregulation, red tape, discretionary concessions process, customs delays etc” (page 91). These barriers are not within the mandate of Go-Invest. As operated during the regime of former President Jagdeo, Go-Invest could recommend the award of investment concessions but the cabinet (in effect, Jagdeo and his close colleagues) took the decisions, so unlevelling the investment playing field. Jagdeo’s notorious micro-management failed to prevent the encroaching decisions of the Commissioner of the Guyana Revenue Administration, who makes personal decisions about the award of investment incentives regardless of what has been confirmed by Go-Invest. That is precisely the arbitrary “discretionary concessions process” which the NCS had criticized.
Every year, a number of international business surveys comment on the difficulties of starting and operating enterprises in Guyana, noting the excessive licensing and petty bureaucracy which facilitates petty corruption – the payment of numerous ‘small pieces’ just to move the papers through the approval processes, while politically well-connected entrepreneurs are apparently exempted from many of the rules and the customs procedures; as the independent press has repeatedly reported.
President Ramotar cannot do much about the shortage and unreliability of international aircargo capacity to move manufactured products from Guyana (although GTIS showed how some of the obstacles could be avoided or minimised). What he can do, and what his PPP promised in election manifestos they would do, is to get rid of the excessive regulation – other countries don’t need it, so why does Guyana put up with it – and get rid of the czars in government agencies who appropriate illegitimate powers to themselves. This will call for leadership from the top, starting with the greedy ministers and the apparatus in the Office of the President which is absurdly outside the regime of the civil service and has few transparently described functions.
This is not rocket science, Mr President, you just need to use the authority of your executive presidency as you did in the case of the national flag carrier airline decision.