What engine of growth?

Not for the first time in recent weeks the Stabroek Business is commenting on what it perceives to be a strained relationship between government and the private sector and what is widely believed to be the need for a meeting between the two sides.

The first thing that should be said about the current strain in the public/private sector relationship is that, publicly at least, government officials declare a blissful absence of awareness of a strained relationship and that is despite the fact that the last public exchange between the two several weeks ago was, to say the least, acerbic. Then there was a more recent report in a section of the media alluding to a comment reportedly made recently in Washington by Finance Minister Winston Jordan about the private sector being afraid to take risks.

In response to all this, it appears that the private sector – and particularly the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has decided to batten down the hatches and go quiet, at least for the time being.

Part of what is wrong with the relationship between the government and the private sector has to do with a long-held propensity for us in Guyana, in our political lives, to know the truth but to deny it nonetheless.

We have, for example, been in denial for years about the paramountcy of government in the public/private sector relationship which has long reached a point where, in some instances, the private sector has learnt to hold its tongue, out of concerns, real or imagined, over possible political reprisals.

The second lie that we live has to do with the dichotomy between the clichéd nonsense about the private sector being “the engine of growth” in circumstances where that engine functions only as effectively as it is allowed to by successive political administrations that revel in being control freaks and in utilizing their power as custodians of the state to throw their weight around.

What is also not in doubt is that there have been (and perhaps continues to be) instances of questionable relationships between public sector and business functionaries that compromises moral authority on both sides so that, for example, the ability of one side or another to behave properly – so to speak – becomes seriously impaired.

If it is that we are yet to know what it will take for the realization of some kind of détente between government and the private sector, the least that we can ask for at this time is for the sake of engagement, in the interest in dealing with what has now become a serious economic agenda, that the studious pretence that there are no differences be set aside and quickly.

No objective observer can deny that the country’s economy is in a less than encouraging state and that reigniting commerce, creating jobs and creating the objective conditions that would restrain the behaviour of the US$ requires the collective effort of the government and the private sector. Equally, public/private sector engagement is likely to have a positive psychological effect on the outlook of the business community which, by and large is less than upbeat at this time.

On the whole and beyond the current impasse there is an urgent need for a strengthening of the protocols (or the creation of new ones if none exist) for public/private sector engagement.

The truth is that while we believe that the “engine of growth” slogan ought to be embraced as an axiom (which of course demands that the private sector, too, adopts a responsible posture) the reality is that it continues to be trotted out, conveniently, as a slogan which, in truth, is often not actualized in the aloofness of government.

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