These days, there are unmistakable indications that Mahdia is busying itself preparing to embrace the township status that beckons. The persistence of gold mining as the community’s primary economic activity still bespeaks of a tradition that will probably never be completely uprooted. That being said, the physical transformations, from the upgraded water and electricity services and ongoing road improvement works to the creation of a new Chamber of Commerce, Mahdia appears, these days, in a hurry to embrace a business culture in which gold will have to make room to accommodate a broader mix of commercial pursuits.
David Adams, a past Chairman of the Mahdia Power and Light Company appears eager to play his more recent role as the President of the Mahdia Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Adams, along with the Chamber’s Executive Director Daniel Fraser appear, collectively, to be the driving force behind the process pressing the Chamber into service to create the envisaged new business culture.
The Chamber has a membership of around thirty-five business entities, mostly restaurants, boutiques, barber shops and general stores. Now that it has reached an agreement with the Ministry of Business under which it receives applications for business registration from across the Region Eight (Potaro/Siparuni), Adams is confident that that will enable an acceleration in the growth of the Chamber. Fraser, too, is confident that the Chamber could grow quickly. “We are hoping to create a level playing field for doing business,” he says.
In more ways than one the unevenness of the playing field between coastal and hinterland communities has always been the issue. Mahdia itself has traditionally been plagued by infrastructural shortcomings, sub-standard electricity and water supply services, deplorable roads and an air transport connection with the capital rendered tenuous by an airstrip that always seems to be in need of upgrading. These problems are gradually being overcome.
Mahdia, the Stabroek Business was assured, now enjoys eighteen hours a day of electricity. Both the quality and the pressure of the water supply are in the process of being upgraded and the service as a whole still requires considerable improvement, not least, the rehabilitation of several mains which, over time, have been destroyed. A local company, CCS Construction Services, has been contracted to oversee the water distribution system and to maintain the local infrastructure.
The upgrading of the Mahdia roads is manifestly a work in progress. The sight of several concrete roads and drains, either fully completed or in progress, provides one of the more prominent indications of transformation in the community. The roads leading out of Mahdia and into other Region 8 communities are being rehabilitated. Adams estimates that some of them are about 40 per cent completed.
Himself a businessman, a restaurateur, Adams says he is pinning his hopes on the local Chamber to help effect an enhanced business culture in the region. He is aware, he says, that challenges lie ahead not least, the challenge the Chamber faces in its efforts to extend its services to embrace what are, in some instances, not easily accessible areas of Region Eight, like Micobie and Konawaruk, for example, traditional gold-mining areas which the Chamber is seeking to embrace in the envisaged new business mainstream.
Two weeks ago, on a visit to the capital to engage both the Ministry of Business and the Georgetown Chamber, Adams and Fraser were holding out the now upgraded Mahdia airstrip as a likely breakthrough for the Chamber’s efforts not only to improve the movement of cargo both in and out of Region Eight but also to serve as an incentive for urban enterprises, not least, commercial banks, to put down business roots at Mahdia. That, Fraser says, is close to the top of the Chamber’s list of short-term priorities.
In the immediate term, the Mahdia Chamber has its hands filled. Early next year it will host a forum, essentially an encounter between the local business community and coastal public and private sector entities. Arising out of this encounter it hopes to create a greater awareness of how to develop a structured business culture within a community robust enough to meet the requirements of a township. The expectation is, as well, that the encounter will serve to create business support linkages between the coastal community and sections of the hinterland community, hitherto virtually completely cut off from the mainstream.
In July this year the Chamber celebrated the first anniversary of its creation and in a community where there is no precedent in terms of an umbrella business organization it has had to hit the ground running. Its current priority is to seek to transform all of the enterprises run by some of its 30-odd members into bona fide registered business enterprises so that in some instances it is providing them with various forms of technical support necessary for the building of bona fide business entities. For the Chamber, there is, as well, the task of extending its reach further, to fully embrace the North Pakaraimas where the prospects for expanded agricultural production can secure a significant lift from the support of a structured Business Support Organization. (BSO).
What the Chamber is also seeking, Fraser says, is “a consultative arrangement” with government that allows for the local business community to have a meaningful say in issues that affect the welfare of Mahdia as a whole. “That will enhance the quality of life in the community as a whole.”
Mahdia’s reputation as one of the interior’s liveliest spots is centred around its night life. When we visited the Stabroek Business counted five night clubs in Mahdia itself. It makes the community a nocturnal ‘live wire’ but both Fraser and Adams concede that there is a social downside to the phenomenon that includes, amongst some younger residents an addiction to night life and the negatives that sometimes come with it.
Both Chamber officials also concede that at Mahdia “education is a challenge.” Adams explains that much of the problem has to do with difficulties associated with recruiting qualified and experienced teachers to work in the community. He says that a significant percentage of the teachers working at Mahdia are underqualified and undertrained. Accordingly, he believes that with the best will in the world their work makes only a limited contribution to raising the standard of education and improving eligibility for employment in a community seeking to embrace a more sophisticated business culture which, by definition, will require more of broader range of skills and aptitudes.
There are concerns, too, about drug addiction and teen-age pregnancy. “There is need for a stronger state-run social infrastructure to respond to these problems,” Fraser says.
One miner with whom the Stabroek Business spoke at Mahdia appeared altogether indifferent to the transformations which the new Chamber of Commerce promise. Old habits die hard and reports of a gradual drift away from the area by small gold miners does little to conceal the fact that business is still driven largely by the mining sector. The drift is also put down to the fact that these days, gold mining at Mahdia has become entangled in a thicket of land rights disputes that can sometimes turn ugly and which, some miners say, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission does not appear to have any hurried interest in resolving.