Government/ private sector relations and the investment climate

The issue of investor confidence, that is to say whether or not Guyana is currently enjoying a business environment the conviviality of which lends itself to the acceleration of investor interest in the country has been a matter of muted discourse in business circles for some time now. The retention by the APNU-AFC administration of the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-Invest), which, for years, had been touted as a key cog in the country’s investment promotion wheel. A diligent search for a new Chief Executive Officer for the organization appeared to provide further evidence of government’s seriousness about retaining GO-Invest at the forefront of its investment promotion drive.

There is a case for suggesting that things have slowed, perhaps even retrogressed, since then. When we were granted a lengthy interview with GO-Invest’s CEO, Mr Owen Verwey, almost a year ago we had been briefed on, among other things, upgrading plans which included upgrading staff and the relocation of the offices of GO-Invest. At the time we got the impression that these were priority considerations so that one has every right to wonder about the status of these upgrading and relocation plans given the fact that, as far as we are aware, there has been no official pronouncement in this regard.

During the interview, Mr Verwey had also touched on the issue of a GO-Invest that envisaged more direct engagement with potential investors in their home capitals – which presumably accounts for Mr Verwey’s travels abroad – as well as increased interaction with Guyana’s diplomatic missions abroad, the assumption being that the missions would provide such support as they could in the investment promotion drive. In relation to the latter issue, that is, the collaborative work with diplomatic missions, we have heard little so far.

Of course (and this has been said before) whatever the efforts of GO-Invest Guyana’s investment promotion drive is likely to fare far better if it is underpinned by a broader strategy of marketing the country as a whole, a pursuit that requires a much weightier financial investment than the government appears prepared to ‘shell out’ at this time.

GO-Invest and its pursuits aside, there is the question of the relationship between government and the private sector and the implications that derive therefrom for both local and foreign potential investor interpretation of the prevailing investor climate. One makes this point in view of the fact that more than two weeks after an acrimonious exchange between the private sector and the government that escalated beyond what might have been expected, the space that has been left has been filled by a deafening silence that bodes ill for an early healing.

One particularly disturbing dimension to the public/private sector row is the fact that the gold-mining sector or at least that part of it that is represented by the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association is at the centre of the quarrel in circumstances where the miners have dropped a broad hint that they are prepared to exert the leverage they enjoy given the present importance of gold to the country’s economy to have government meet their demands.

Assessments of the state of public/private sector relations are likely to be influenced by differing political points of view though there is likely to be a condition closer to consensus on the issue of the tenor of relations between government and the private sector at this time. What usually happens in these situations is that contact is never really entirely broken off and for all we know there may already by engagements across the divide which, if not designed to bring about an immediate-term healing seeks, at the very least, to ensure that the situation does not worsen.

All that being said it does no harm for us to remind ourselves that setting aside the domestic audiences, there is also an external investor audience that would want to benefit from a much clear picture of the quality of the investor climate and whether we agree or not there is every chance that some, arguably even most of them, will probably take their cue from the state of relations between the government and the private sector.

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