Fiddling while Rome burns?

We note with interest that two high-profile private sector officials, one a veteran leader of both the Georgetown Chamber and the Private Sector Commission and the other the incoming President of the Chamber have endorsed the sentiment expressed in our editorial last Friday regarding the desirability of a meeting between the government and the private sector. Incidentally, when we spoke with a well-placed public sector official regarding the desirability of a public/private sector engagement he, too, was adamant that there should be an engagement though he asked that he not be identified, providing in the process yet another example of the peculiarly Kafkaesque political environment in which we live.

One point that came out of our conversation with the state official with which we agree has to do with what he believes is the preparedness of both the wider business community and the public sector bureaucrats to simply sit back and wait whilst the relationship between the public and private sectors simply deteriorates. One is likely to hear a great deal from the respective sets of advocates over lunch tables and in bars which, these days, is where some of the more enlightened comments come from. On the other hand there certainly has been no appetite for informed public discourse on the matter.

What, for example, are we to make of the comment by Roraima Airways CEO Gerry Gouveia about what he says he believes is the implied intimidation that underpins the official comment about sanctioning the foreign currency accounts of businessmen as a response to the current foreign exchange brouhaha? And what are we to make too of the bullish posture of the gold miners, not least their threat in January to stop gold mining unless the President met them and addressed their concerns over, which, in effect, was a threat to reduce gold declarations and put a further squeeze on the economy. The miners went further, one of their number declaring forthrightly that the government “does not respect the industry.”

There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with both sides – the private sector and the government – speaking their respective minds on the state of the economy and the efforts or lack thereof to right the economic ship. What is disappointing and not a little irritating is that the present state of affairs appears to be following a pattern of a falling out followed by a protracted and infuriatingly pointless hiatus of silence punctuated by vacuous statements on either side after which an out-of-the-blue a decision – that seems to emerge out of thin air – is made that the two sides should meet.

During the hiatus and the throwing of words (which inevitably ratchets up the tension) the heavy hitters on both sides remain decidedly indifferent to the impact of a toxic atmosphere on an already jittery business community and on consumers.

Afterwards, when an understanding is arrived at that the two sides would meet the rest of us are expected to pretend as though the counterproductive brinkmanship and the attendant anxiety levels simply never happened. It is just the kind of unchanging Orwellian circumstance which, over the years, has affected our social lives as much as it has the economy of our country.

In the same way that we can no longer ignore the fact that too many business owners import goods into Guyana that flagrantly fly in the face of the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act and in the same way that far too many businesses escape paying their fair share of taxes, so too we are experiencing something of economic doldrums, the extent of which is unclear though earlier this week the President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry sought to place a statistical microcosm on the wider problem by extrapolating from his recent Regent Street walkabout.

In the final analysis it is not just the circumstance of the state of the economy that is disturbing, but the endless pantomime that characterizes the discourse and the theatrics and the grandstanding that must, inevitably, lead to a meeting of minds; the point being that there is nothing to gain (and everything to lose) through the attendant prevarication.

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