Coming from one of the more high-profile executives of the Guyana Manufacturing & Services Association (GMSA) there was an uncharacteristic frankness to Mr. Ramsay Ali’s recent exchange with this newspaper during which he reported, among other things, that the manufacturing sector was “at a standstill.” That is literally what he told us and that is what we reported. “Who are here continue to do what they are doing. There is no excitement or no new development taking place at the moment,” is what the former President of the GMSA has to say when asked to assess the current state of manufacturing in Guyana.
Complete openness, especially on issues where the information being disseminated is less than good is not a habit of the business sector. Sooner or later the discourse tends to become mired in disagreement, harsh words and protracted standoffs. It may, however, be pertinent to point out that in Mr. Ali’s case, his frankness about the state of the sector may well have everything to do with what one might call the he-who-feels-it-knows-it syndrome that arises out of his being the CEO of one of the country’s better-known multi-product manufacturing companies in Guyana.
We have, incidentally, been promised a meeting with the current President of the GMSA Mr. Shyam Nokta in the course of the new week. If and when that meeting takes place we intend to secure Mr. Nokta’s perspective on the state of the manufacturing sector and the GMSA’s plans, going forward, for positively altering the existing state of affairs.
The GMSA has already listed what it says are the key reasons for the state of the manufacturing sector and one imagines that the July 28 Round Table between GMSA officials and a government team that included no less than four cabinet ministers would have gone some way towards a meaningful, high-level discourse on the state of the sector, the issues affecting its growth and the sorts of remedial initiatives being contemplated. Certainly, the presentation to the July 28 meeting by Mr. Nokta dealt with the GMSA’s take on the issues affecting the manufacturing sector including cheaper electricity, the impact of VAT on manufacturing inputs, imported substitutes and unfair competition and fiscal support mechanisms required by the sector. Beyond those issues the meeting addressed quality assurance and marketing for locally manufactured goods, investment agreements and the whole business of competitiveness. Not a great deal is known – in concrete terms, that is – about just what came out of either the July 28 meeting or the subsequent one last month as far as remedial measures are concerned though we understand from the GMSA that government has committed itself to re-examining the particular issue of the impact of imported substitutes on the competitiveness and viability of the local market by revisiting the whole issue of tariffs and concessions. Here, it might be pertinent to add that we have become sick and tired of these kinds of exchanges that lead nowhere whilst the manufacturing continues its descent into further decline so that on both sides one hopes that the will can be mustered to take the process forward.
One of the positive things about the two earliest meetings between the GMSA and government teams is that it helps to put a damper on what, for some time, had been the widely held view that government and the country’s major Business Support Organizations continued to be at loggerheads. One cannot, however, ignore the fact that government and the private sector organizations share an uneasy relationship that can sometimes collapse at a moment’s notice under the weight of a reckless remark on either side, as has been known to happen. The reality of the situation is, however, that in a free market economy it is always in the interest of the country for the relationship between the public and private sectors to be on even keel, even though it is understood that there will almost certainly be disagreements from time to time over policy issues.
It would, of course, be easy to say that we now have a thrice yearly, high-level meeting to iron out such difficulties as may arise but also a joint technical (GMSA/Government) team to engage on other areas that are agreed upon. This, as has already been said, assumes that the forum does not, over time, get reduced to a counterproductive talk shop or else that it does not collapse suddenly under the weight of some ill-advised pronouncement by one side or the other. Conversely, there are issues that readily lend themselves to discussion and to the beginning of a process of applying remedial measures…issues like the limited institutional support for the agro processing sector, the challenges associated with reducing/removing the barriers to agro-processed exports and the need to improve the capacity of the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department to provide reliable certification for locally produced goods seeking access to the export market. There is really no persuasive evidence of any real effort to engage and earnestly seek to find remedies to these kinds of challenges and the concern, as the GMSA and Government settle into another season of engagements problems whether, for the sake of the manufacturing sector and the economy as a whole, is for a greater awareness of the sense of urgency that exists.