By Jeff Trotman
The long-delayed seven-member Board of Directors of the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN) was inaugurated yesterday in the Macaw Conference room of the Region Ten Business Centre, Linden by Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh.
LEN is intended to facilitate start-up funding for businesses and commercial ventures in Linden through borrowing from a revolving fund and those entrepreneurs that meet their payments on time can also seek further funding. It is a successor entity to two previous funding mechanisms – the European Union-financed Linden Economic Advancement Programme (LEAP) and the Linden Economic Advancement Fund (LEAF) – that had been set up to promote entrepreneurship in Linden and Region Ten following the decline of the bauxite industry.
The LEN Board of Directors comprises Dustan Barrow, former CEO Guymine, who was absent at the inauguration exercise; Andrew Forsythe, Deputy CEO, Linmine Secretariat; Nolan Walton, a member of the Linden Chamber of Commerce; Youlanda Hilliman, REO, Region Ten; Tarachand Balgobin,
government representative; Basil Jaipaul, Linden businessman; Patrick Dublin, General Manager of the Linden Electricity Corporation.
The composition of the board has since been sharply criticized by Region 10 Chairman Sharma Solomon.
Coordinator of LEN, Valerie Patterson, in delivering the opening remarks at the inauguration exercise and noting that LEAF ended on 31 December 2009, thanked those persons, who had done business with LEN’s predecessors for their patience in waiting the past four years for the LEN board to be constituted and for them to have renewed access to funding for their respective businesses. She also thanked the staff of LEN for their patience.
Bishop Juan Edghill, Minister in the Ministry of Finance, said the inauguration of the board is a public declaration of the government’s policy to work with Region Ten to ensure economic development and opportunities. According to him, LEN is intended to revitalize the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Region Ten. “We have no doubt, whatsoever, that a post-bauxite mining town, Linden is possible.” He said those who are aware of the background of LEAP, LEAF and now LEN, would recall that it was a search to diversify economic activities in Linden.
Finance Minister, Dr Singh in delivering the feature address at the exercise which attracted more than one hundred persons from all strata of the Linden society declared that the long-term prosperity of Linden will come through long-term investments by the residents of Linden, themselves.
Highlighting that LEN is geared towards facilitating Linden and Region Ten residents with funding for innovative and creative enterprises, Singh said that 701 loans amounting to $732M were given out under LEAF to entrepreneurs in Region Ten, principally to spur economic growth within the Region. According to him, this facility to encourage a wide cross-section of businesses, created 3,095 jobs.
Stressing that LEAF was intended to be self-sustaining, the Finance Minister, pointed out that there were a number of defaulting borrowers and that the newly constituted LEN Board will have the task of selecting applications for prospective borrowers in a reinvigorated effort to develop economic and business activities in Linden and Region Ten in a variety of micro enterprises.
Solomon in a statement to the media following the commissioning decried what he said was the establishing by the government of the board outside of the overall economic plan for Region 10 which had been promised in 2012 but has still not materialized.
“A board is responsible for conceptualising and developing policies and seeing to its implementation.
“The short-sightedness of the Government to re-establish this board outside of its full effects on the economic development programme, which forms part of the 21st of August (2012) agreement illustrates the vision that the Government is promoting for People of Region #10, which is piecemeal…
“The board’s composition is not geared to ensure the involvement of the people whose lives this project is intended to impact on. The government may want to say the otherwise however the consultation process used, reflects the Government’s intentions, Government must know that the People will be watchful and mindful.
“This country has a local government system and it must be allowed to work. The composition of LEN’s Board should be representative of the people who would have been appointed by their respective groups- for instance a representative from the RDC appointed by the councillors. What is happening here today is another violation of the right of the people of Linden to economic self-determination. It is wrong to foist a Board on the community, who by its very composition does not feel duty bound to answer to the community for the management of this Fund because they were not appointed by the people, through representative organisation.”
Solomon who last week led a protest against the stalled agreement from August 2012, said that it was important to remind the nation that the first set of monies assigned to this project was for a club to “disburse money to friends and persons outside the region. We take serious objection to this continued look by the government to the People as second–class citizens which is likely to have similar problems as in the past.
This is clearly a continuation of the programme to economically marginalise the people. This will not be countenanced. It is gross disrespect and it is hoped the European Union, who funded this project take note of the system being put in place to violate Lindeners’ right to economic self- determination, a right enshrined and continuously reinforced in the Guyana Constitution.”
During his address, Singh stated that the government would like to see every business opportunity succeed, He implored the residents of Region Ten not to lose sight of the interconnectivity of every part of the country as he stressed that the successes in Region Ten will impact other parts of the country and vice versa.
He commended Linden and the bauxite industry for making important economic contributions to the country’s development in earlier years when the bauxite industry was dominant. Singh, however, cautioned that any economy that is dependent on a single sector is vulnerable. Referring to the maxim: don’t put all your eggs in one basket, the Finance Minister said that is why the government strategically shifted the country’s economy from dependence on the trifecta of rice, sugar and bauxite to include other sectors such as tourism, non-traditional agriculture and other areas of mining.
He said bauxite still has importance to Linden and the national economy but there is need for diversification. He said because of the importance of bauxite, the government worked hard to attract foreign investors – Bosai in Linden and Rusal in Berbice – to make the industry more competitive.
According to him, in the government’s strategy of attracting investors to the country, a high priority is being placed on Linden in an effort to create employment within the town. Singh reiterated that the opportunities that would be presented to Linden entrepreneurs to obtain funding through LEN should be meaningfully accepted.