Political and economic instability, overdue local government reform and the skills deficit are among the top 20 barriers to the country’s competitiveness that need to be addressed by policymakers, according to the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI).
The GCCI yesterday launched its “Competitive-ness Manifesto: Top 20 Barriers to Guyana’s Competitiveness – An Agenda For Action” and its President Clinton Urling acknowledged that the contents were nothing new but said the publication is aimed at cataloguing, in a comprehensive way, what the private sector is advocating for.
Urling noted that while he was aware that change in policy is done at the executive level of government, the private sector had to continuously advocate for changes.
He would not say whether he believed the manifesto would have an impact on policy within the next year, noting that “there is a belief that the government has all the answers and the government is the only stakeholder in Guyana that can actually make something happen.” However, he added that the private sector and the media all have a role in advocacy. When asked by Stabroek News which one of the 20 barriers could be overcome without some form of government intervention, he did not answer.
Although the barriers identified by GCCI members are not listed according to priority, “Ensuring Political and Economic Stability” is the first entry in the publication.
“If political stability deteriorates in this country, you’ll see how fast the growth will evaporate,” Urling explained, while adding that the GCCI was concerned with the national interest as opposed to the political interest of any one given party.
Other entries in the manifesto include Enacting Local Government Reform and Administering Elections; Improving the Tax System; Transforming the University of Guyana and Expanding Training and Educational Opportunities; Resolving Guyana’s Skills Challenge; Implementing Comprehen-sive Security Sector Reform; Enacting Urgent Commencement of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and Inclusion of Private Sector Concessions to the Mandate of the PPC; Ensuring More Transparency and Accountability in the Management of the Public and Private Sectors; and Accelerating the Implementation of the National Competitiveness Strategy.
Asked to identify the primary objective of the manifesto, Urling said that the Chamber had to remind policymakers of the pressing issues. “Sometimes, in the past, we have not been aggressive enough as private sector and civil society actors to let the government and let the other opposition know where we stand, but at the end of the day it comes down to our policymakers and we can’t force them. But I don’t think we should abdicate our responsibility to remind them and to advocate to them that look we have issues,” he explained.
Urling noted that so far there has been no formal engagement with the government to present the top 20 barriers and to elicit definitive responses as to how to proceed. He said that the manifesto was the first stage of breaking barriers and by the end of the year the GCCI would create a detailed list of how to overcome the challenges as opposed to just identifying them. He noted that it was not the chamber’s place to tell the politicians what to do, while saying that the GCCI could not “force” politicians to make changes.
He, however, noted that advocacy is working and stated that the government will soon establish a PPC and that international pressure has seen the government working toward the hosting of local government elections.
Urling stated that the manifesto would work in the same manner. He said that the GCCI had to continue to push for private sector concessions to fall under the PPC’s purview. “I think the way it is done at the moment I think the government has a lot of authority of who gets what and what commissions are issued,” he said, while adding that the PPC would take that responsibility and would assist in another one of the barriers dealing with transparency and accountability.
He also addressed the issue of lack of skills, saying that year after year the private sector suffers from personnel without the skill level necessary for businesses to advance. He noted that the lack of skilled workers continuously was the number one barrier to GCCI members and the private sector as a whole.
Urling added that “our firms need to look globally for markets. Domestic markets aren’t sufficient for any company to be competitive.” He said that the “the international arena is the market” and that Guyana had to aggressively move past the domestic scene.
The manifesto stated that the establishment of a development bank would greatly assist in businesses building from the grassroots. Urling stated that “innovative enterprises, small business, risky ventures… it is very difficult for those type of operations and those type of initiatives to access financing from the traditional commercial banks.” He added that commercial banks have collateral requirements that many entrepreneurs can’t meet and banks simply don’t want to take risks.