Ending the standoff: Time for a public/ private sector summit

A few days ago the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) issued a public statement echoing much of what the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has already had to say about the business sector’s unease over what it sees as indicators of a decline in the Guyana economy. In its statement the GMSA paid particular attention to the sliding value of the Guyana dollar a condition which, given the continued heavy dependence of the sector on imports, will understandably be an area of concern for the business support organization (BSO).

From a consumer standpoint it is what the GMSA describes as “our ability to keep prices stable,” which now becomes a matter of real concern. As the GMSA points out “the burden of the changes in the VAT regime” has already resulted in production costs – and, by extension, consumer costs – being driven up so that the GMSA is encouraging the implementation of “cost cutting exercises” which, worryingly, could well include loss of jobs. There is validity too in the GMSA’s contention that “the rise in the price of the US dollar will have far reaching effects on our country as a whole both socially and economically.”

The GMSA’s perspective on a first step towards a putting of heads together to meaningfully address the aforementioned issues is that government and private sector “hold broad consultations… urgently.”

The Stabroek Business, has, of course, been advocating a serious engagement between the government and the private sector with the particular purpose of seeking to arrive at some kind of common understanding as to exactly what the prevailing ills in the economy are and whether there can be some kind of shared agreement on the way forward. We have noted in the process that for reasons that have never been explained the two sides passed up an opportunity after the APNU+AFC coalition entered office almost two years ago to start off on a footing of constructive engagement on the economy.

This week’s statement by the GMSA, of course, follows an earlier similarly terse pronouncement of the PSC on some of the same issues. Meanwhile, the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) would appear to have taken a much more bullish posture in communicating its own concerns to the government.

None of this has, at least up until now, led to any kind of understanding with regard to the desirability of putting heads together to talk the problems through. It is in the nature of the business community and the consuming public as a whole to worry a great deal more in circumstances where a situation such as the one with which we are confronted is attended by the iciness of a standoff between government and private sector, which is exactly what appears to obtain at this time. A situation of this nature requires the assumption of postures of broadmindedness and an understanding that there is a great deal at stake here.

We believe that everything that has been said up until now about the economy and the direction in which it is headed, mostly by the Minister of Finance, from the government’s perspective and the PSC, the GGDMA and now the GMSA, from a private sector perspective, is now sufficient to constitute an agenda for a public/private sector summit out of which, one hopes, will emerge some kind of consensus on the way forward. We believe too that it is the government that must make the call here as far as the convening of such a summit is concerned. Such an engagement, should, of course, include the various other public and private sector stakeholders including the Bank of Guyana.

What we do not believe will help is what is now emerging as a succession of dire pronouncements on the state of the country and the prognosis for going forward, none of which have attracted any substantive official response. Out of this has arisen a condition of incremental public nervousness and a jitteriness as to exactly where the country’s economy is going. When we add to this the GMSA’s more recent prognosis about likely loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector the feeling of gloom deepens. An early public/private sector engagement against the backdrop of a collective commitment to tackling the challenges together and with an underpinning of practicality and pragmatism will help change a souring public mood.

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