Government open to existing Baron Foods investment inquiry

‘The ball is in their court’ - Go-Invest CEO

Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin

Notwithstanding the recently reported loss of a US$5 million investment to neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago arising out of what was widely believed to be a politically motivated ‘run around’ experienced by Guyanese-born Ronald Ramjattan, proprietor of the Baron Foods brands of sauces and condiments, the door remains open to such sought – after investment opportunity here as the St. Lucia-based businessman may be pursuing, Stabroek Business has been informed.

The Sunday Stabroek of December 17 reported that Guyana lost out on the multi-million-dollar investment opportunity because the prospective Guyanese investor was given a runaround here. However, the Stabroek Business was informed during a discourse with Business Minister Dominic Gaskin and Go-Invest Chief Executive Officer Owen Verwey that an investment proposal from Ramjattan the size of which he declined to disclose may still be active at the present time. “The ball is in his court at this time. We are supportive of the entity coming to Guyana,” Verwey told Stabroek Business.

The reported loss of the investment opportunity had been linked to the fact that the investment approach during the PPP/C government had been made by Ramjattan, a relative of the then high-ranking Alliance for Change functionary Khemraj Ramjattan who is currently serving as Vice President responsible for Public Security in the current administration. Khemraj Ramjattan had been a fierce critic of the PPP/C government at the time.

Go-Invest Chief Executive Officer Owen Verwey

What Stabroek Business has learnt, however, is that another investment approach, seemingly of a lesser magnitude had been made after the businessman began operating in Trinidad and Tobago. In addressing the issue raised by the Stabroek Business Verwey alluded to the likelihood that, the investment opportunity currently on stream in Trinidad and Tobago notwithstanding, Ronald Ramjattan may still be interested in an investment initiative here.

The reference to what has been reported as a missed investment opportunity for Guyana arose against the backdrop of  a wider discussion between the Stabroek Business, the Business Minister and the Go-Invest Chief Executive Officer regarding what has long been seen as an accustomed runaround that potential investors have had to face here in Guyana and the view that an unhelpful bureaucracy has, over time, led to a lack of enthusiasm among potential investors for engaging the authorities here.

Asked to respond to what has been the widespread notion that the procedural responsibilities for facilitating investment opportunities tends to become subsumed to the easier option of simply going above the head of the executing agency Gaskin told Stabroek Business that that was “certainly not the policy” on his ministerial watch. “We have an entity responsible for entertaining investment proposals and I certainly don’t need to be the ‘go to’ person in those situations,” Gaskin said, though he did not rule out the possibility that “touting” by locals and high officials seeking to display their influence could conceivably see moves being made to bypass the designated agency.

Stabroek Business had been made aware of instances in the immediate wake of the incumbent administration taking office in which persons traveling to Guyana from abroad and purportedly seeking to do business in Guyana were focusing their efforts on audiences with senior administration officials, including the President, as a means of having their inquiries ‘fast-tracked.’ Gaskin told Stabroek Business that while he has, on occasion, met with investors “as a courtesy,” the policy was have investment issues handled by the designated agency.

During the more than two-hour discourse mostly on investment-related issues Verwey responded to questions relating to the readiness of Go-Invest as an institution to provide an acceptable level of service to would-be investors. With regard to staffing, the Go-Invest Head told Stabroek Business that training through various sources was ongoing though he conceded that given the multifaceted demands associated with investment-related services there was need for continual upgrading.

Several months ago Verwey had told Stabroek Business that the relocation of the operations of Go-Invest had been on the cards, necessitated, he had said by the need to provide a more convivial environment for the agency to operate in. On Wednesday he intimated that “legal issues” associated with the land that had been identified to build a new complex had gotten in the way of the project. However, he said that the agency had invested significantly in upgrading the facilities at its present Camp and Church streets location, a listed building that falls under the jurisdiction of the National Trust.  He said that Go-Invest had applied for and secured permission from the National Trust to effect limited extension/renovation to the back of the building.



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