The Central Corentyne business community may have experienced a drop in commercial activity of between 30 and 40 per cent for this year so far, newly elected President of the Central Corentyne Chamber of Commerce Rafeek Mohammed has said.
Speaking with the Stabroek Business earlier this week just days after his election to the presidency of the chamber, the building contractor said that tackling crime and high unemployment are important prerequisites to boosting commercial activity and transforming the business fortunes of the community.
Crime, particularly, Mohammed said, has been a deterrent to commercial activity. He pointed to what he said was the recent absence of an accustomed spike in business activity during holiday periods—when the number of overseas visitors usually peak—and a corresponding reduction in spending.
And according to the new Chamber President, his own enterprise, Rafeek and Sons Construction, continues to be inundated with requests for employment in circumstances where there are simply no jobs available. His experience, he said, has been mirrored by other businesses in the community.
Mohammed said revival of the business fortunes of the Berbice community would have to begin with an aggressive regime of job-creation. He said his administration would seek to sustain the lobby that has been ensuing for years for government to create industrial hubs at Belvedere on the Corentyne and in New Amsterdam. The chamber, according to Mohammed, believes that the development of the two sites will stimulate the creation of small businesses in the creative industries and the manufacturing sector that will not only generate employment but create an improved investment environment.
Mohammed said the quality of the existing information technology infrastructure in the Central Corentyne area was insufficient to support a business community seeking growth and expansion. He said the existing internet service was both costly and unreliable and the Central Corentyne Chamber under his presidency could be expected to enjoin the lobby for the liberalization of the telecommunications sector with a view to realizing a more competitive industry.
The chamber will be pushing for the realization of the various promised developments in the Berbice area including the proposed deep water harbour whilst the continued strengthening of business links between Guyana and Brazil including the paving of the road between Lethem and Linden will also be high on its agenda, he said.
And notwithstanding the broader challenges facing the country’s sugar industry, the new President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber told Stabroek Business that the estates at Albion, Rose Hall, Blairmont and Skeldon were continuing to perform well. “I does not see any of them closing in the near future,” Mohammed said, adding that he believed the country’s sugar industry could be “saved’ through more efficient management.
He said too that there are broader challenges facing the agricultural sector which had been exacerbated by the recent loss of the Venezuelan rice market. The Chamber President said the Ministry of Agriculture needs a “higher profile” in the community. “I am aware that farmers are seeking advice about ways in which they might further reduce their production costs. They need education, training and good crop husbandry practices.”
At a sector-wide level, Mohammed is advocating more collaborative work between the Berbice farming community and the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) with a view to improving the efficiency of the agricultural sector as a whole.
Stating that the chamber is aware that if the business environment in the Berbice area is to improve significant progress will have to be made in reducing crime levels, he indicated that a chamber delegation is to meet shortly with ‘B’ Division Commander, Assistant Commissioner Christopher Griffith to discuss tackling crime and creating confidence-building measures in the business sector and in the community as a whole.