Small steps taken in removing barriers to competitiveness – Chamber

-crime, skills shortage still big concerns

Removing some of the country’s critical barriers to the realization of an internationally competitive economy requires a greater sense of urgency on the parts of both the public and private sectors, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has told the Stabroek Business.

On Wednesday this newspaper met with GCCI President Vishnu Doerga to seek the Chamber’s views on the extent to which progress had been achieved on realizing critical benchmarks in  twenty areas considered as barriers to Guyana’s competitiveness. Promulgated in 2013 in a document styled a Competitiveness Manifesto, the Chamber said at the time that it considered the realization of the set benchmarks as critical to “sustaining significantly higher economic growth, reducing poverty, creating good jobs for our labour force, building strong businesses and a healthy private sector. The so-called twenty barriers to competitiveness set out in the GCCI ‘manifesto’ in 2013 included concerns   over political and economic instability, the need for local government reform, improving the tax system, expanding training and educational opportunities, security sector reform, transparency and accountability in management in the public and private sectors, resolving the country’s skills challenge and making Guyana “a magnet for foreign direct investment.” In his review of the extent of progress that has been made towards the removal of the barriers Doerga said that while there was evidence20160916gcci-cover that “some progress” had been made in key areas and that work was underway in others, there is still some distance to travel in lowering the barriers identified in the ‘manifesto.’

GCCI President  Vishnu Doerga
GCCI President
Vishnu Doerga

On the plus side, however, the Chamber President identified the increasing assertiveness of the posture towards working with the private sector which he said had been assumed by the University of Guyana in the wake of the recent assumption to office by the new Vice Chancellor, Professor Ivelaw Griffith. “We certainly welcome the announcement regarding the intended creation at UG of a School of Business and Entrepreneurship and we have included on the Chamber’s agenda the deepening of discourse with both UG and the Ministry of Education,” Doerga said.

Some of the Chamber’s lingering concerns centre around what Doerga said was still the possible need for a Development Bank, tackling and arresting crime and addressing the country’s skills challenge. With regard to the need for a Development Bank, Doerga said that particularly against the backdrop of an expanding small business sector there was clearly a need for “more lending options at lower rates of interest to stimulate the growth of small businesses.”

And in evaluating the extent of the progress made in the area of tackling crime, Doerga said that not only did there still remain “much room for improvement” but that there may be an argument for the assertion that the current discomfiting crime situation may well be “a consequence of a weak economy.”

Meanwhile, the GCCI Chamber President has opined that resolving Guyana’s skills challenge remains a matter of major concern to the private sector. Doerga said that both the public and private sectors continued to be affected by a scarcity of skills linked to a brain drain. He said that higher salaries have not been helpful since migration frequently meant exposure to other types of opportunities not available in Guyana.

Doerga told Stabroek Business that it was entirely conceivable that given the country’s developmental priorities it would have to resort to significant levels of recruitment of skills from abroad.

Doerga also identified modest movement in public/private sector cooperation including collaborative initiatives between the Chamber and both the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Additionally, he said that there has been some evidence of efforts to reduce somewhat the disproportionate tax burden on the business sector though there was still need to address the issue of tax reform in a more holistic way.

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