By Clinton Urling
Last week, Mr Keith Burrowes was appointed the non-executive Chief Executive Officer of the struggling national investment agency Go-Invest. A quick aside, I’m still perplexed as to what constitutes a non-executive CEO and therein lays the introduction to the following concerns. It is not clear if Mr Burrowes will continue as chairman of the agency’s board of directors but if he continues in that capacity, he will both manage and coordinate the agency’s day-to day affairs and lead the team responsible for supervising his performance as chief administrator. This approach does not align with good corporate governance standards and we hope the government will conduct the proper search to find a qualified successor to Mr Burrowes as chairman of the board of directors.
Another recent development surrounding the agency arises from the acknowledgement that the combined parliamentary opposition in Parliament did not lend its support toward approving the agency’s budgetary allocations.
This leaves the future and faith of the agency in limbo and we will have to wait and see how the agency will continue to operate.
The unfortunate approach of rejecting budgetary funding will affect the functions and operations of many critical state and parastatal agencies, some of which are essential to Guyana’s mission – notably, Go-Invest and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) – for achieving and sustaining a position of global competitiveness. In IAST’s case, we read in a public letter from that agency’s head to the dailies complaints about the loss of funds for his agency. He squarely placed the blame at the feet of the parliamentary opposition. It also is debatable why Mr. Suresh Narine believed that publicly blaming the opposition exclusively for the infringement was a good strategy. The fact is both government and political opposition forces must be accountable for this situation. Both sides have failed during the past few years to engage in meaningful, constructive engagements before budgetary estimates were laid that would have led to political compromise and agreement.
Mr Burrowes might want to follow suit, but by adopting a slightly different approach from that of Mr Narine, he could articulate a prudent, pragmatic public plea to both government and opposition to engage in talks for the purposes of assigning supplemental funds to the agency.
This could be then followed up or executed in concert with behind-the-scene talks and engagements with all political policy making stakeholders. These talks should include Mr Burrowes presenting his detailed plan of action for moving the agency forward.
This proposed programme of action is needed and its endorsement should be examined not only by political policy makers but also by private sector organisations and their leaders. In recent years, the agency has been extensively criticised from the private sector, which contends the agency is underperforming and does not represent a bona fide one-stop agency for investors.
Moreover, as chairman, Mr Burrowes has been criticised severely by leaders in the private sector, who have placed the blame for the organisation’s ineffectiveness squarely on his shoulders, as he has served as the highest-ranking officer in the absence of a permanent CEO.
Many have called for an agency shakeup and the immediate appointment of an effective CEO. Many in the private sector were surprised that Mr Burrowes was appointed CEO, as they believe he was a major part of the concerns surrounding the agency’s inability to function optimally.
However, Mr Burrowes should be allowed space to establish a leadership role and be given the sufficiently practical opportunity to prove he can turn the agency around with fresh energy and vigour. But for that to happen, Mr Burrowes will have to be proactive, taking his plan of action to both political and private sector stakeholders in order to obtain their input and to convince them that the agency plays a significant role in Guyana’s development. Thus, this would make for the stronger case to have the agency’s activities funded.
Additionally, Mr. Burrowes should be given complete reign by the government to implement and execute his mandate without any unwelcomed interference.
The government has to provide Mr Burrowes and his team reasonable space and time to develop and craft appropriate strategies to woo and facilitate investors according to the laws and established frameworks governing the agency.
Only time will tell how effective Mr Burrowes will be as CEO of what should be one of Guyana’s most important agencies for improving the nation’s competitive position in the world economy and markets. Thus, I wish him the best of fortunes.