Outcomes often ‘distorted, damaging to business, investment climate’
World Bank delegations visiting Guyana to undertake surveys of the Guyana economy to be used in the compilation of widely circulated reports are neglectful of the need to consult with the private sector, according to Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Captain Gerry Gouveia.
“Sometimes we are genuinely surprised over what the World Bank has to say about social and economic issues in Guyana and we really do wonder as to the sources of their information. The tragedy is that those reports sometimes misrepresent the actual facts and lead to misleading assessments of the state of affairs in Guyana. Frankly, the private sector is offended by the outcomes of many of these reports,” Gouveia said.
The PSC Chairman told Stabroek Business that the private sector’s concern with what he described as “this serious omission” by the World Bank had to do with the various consequences that derive from a lack of consultation with the private sector. “In the first instance any sober assessment of the state of the Guyana economy and the social environment in which business is conducted cannot be completed unless there is a significant level of consultation with a number of independent sources including the labour movement, civil society and the private sector. The bank’s approach to gathering information on Guyana is certainly not as widespread as it ought to be. Our second concern has to do with the overall impression that these reports sometimes leave. World Bank reports paint pictures of our economy and of the social setting which are less than flattering and which present Guyana in a less than flattering light. The other concern, of course, is that, coming from an institution as well-respected and as trusted as the World Bank, there is always a danger that potential investors will use those as a barometer for determining whether or not they should invest in Guyana. That kind of reporting is damaging to the local private sector and to the country as a whole.”
Meanwhile, Gouveia told this newspaper that he believes that the various private sector organisations are “perfectly well-equipped” to provide the World Bank and other international agencies with “reputable and reliable information” on the social and economic climate in Guyana. “I can tell you that the PSC has been working in recent times to continually enhance its capacity to provide such information. Our new executive director is a skilled and competent functionary who is capable of generating the kind of research that can satisfy the kinds of enquiries that are usually raised by institutions like the World Bank.”
Government has grown increasingly critical of reports on social and economic issues in Guyana that focus on crime, corruption and investor delays associated with state bureaucracy and Gouveia claimed that sometimes the reports are grossly exaggerated. “I recall a recent report on Guyana which stated, I believe, that it takes somewhere in the region of 40 days to set up a company in Guyana. That is entirely untrue. Our own investigations suggest that the process probably takes between eight and ten days.”
Meanwhile Gouveia told Stabroek Business that “the strength and the influence of the private sector” will grow only if business houses become members of the various PSC affiliates that are concerned with their particular business pursuits. “The private sector needs to provide the kind of leadership that equips it to play its role in taking the country forward. Being an entrepreneur in a country like Guyana has to do with what more than making money. It is about embracing a corporate responsibility that causes us to recognise that we have an important responsibility for the development of the country. I believe that those businesses that become a part of the various sectoral organisations do so because they feel that they can contribute to the growth and development of the business sector in Guyana.”
Asked about the private sector’s assessment of the country’s investment climate Gouveia, who demits office as PSC Chairman on May 6, told Stabroek Business he believes that “discernible efforts” have been made to facilitate the entrepreneurial interests of both local and foreign investors but that these are often stymied by bureaucrats. “The truth is that sometimes you are inclined to the view that many state bureaucrats, in some instances even ministers, are not seized with the spirit of the government’s mission. It is very easy for them to become seized with a sense of their own importance and to lose track of the bigger picture. That, sometimes, is where the government comes in. Frankly, sometimes I think that some of these high officials need to be placed under greater pressure to perform more effectively.”
Gouveia said it would be absurd to suggest that there are not “serious concerns” about corruption, some of which involve public/private sector collusion. “The media generally points fingers at some of the problems being faced by the Customs and Trade Administration.
“We have seen efforts being made to render that system more efficient but the pace has to be quickened. There are still far too many reports of systems not being in place. The other thing is, of course, that unless we move to remove discretionary authority from the hands of individuals and place more emphasis on systems and regulations we are always likely to have problems with Customs.”
And the outgoing PSC Chairman told Stabroek Business he believed that in his final days in office he had a responsibility to emphasise the expectations of the private sector “regarding the importance of an economy that is underpinned by free enterprise and a society that is firmly rooted in democracy and good governance. None of these tenets are acceptable without the others. A stable society is one which accepts the principles of free enterprise while recognizing the economic, social and political freedoms cannot be separated one from another. That, in a sense, is the central message of the private sector.”