Public/private sector relations

You get a strong sense from some of what transpired at yesterday’s public/private sector encounter at the Marriott Hotel that many things continue to be unwell in the relationship between the APNU+AFC administration and the private sector, more specifically the Private Sector Commission  (PSC).

This, it should be noted, comes against the backdrop of the very different signals sent just a few weeks ago in the form of the high-level engagement between senior Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) functionaries and several of the administration’s key Ministers – Finance, Business, Public Infrastructure and National Resources. When this newspaper engaged the GMSA after the meeting, its President, Mr. Shyam Nokta certainly made it clear that the Association was pleased with the outcome of the first encounter and that both himself and the Association as a whole had been encouraged to believe that the continuity of the forum could advance the relationship between the government and the private sector in various significant ways. It was noted, for example, that arising out of the high-level engagement had come the disclosure on the part of the GMSA that it would be collaborating with government in the staging of an agro-processing event which, in effect, follows the various other more-or-less failed attempts to ‘put some fire’ under an agro processing sector which, up until now, has simply failed to take off in terms of making a meaningful impact as a money-earner on the export market. Other initiatives focused on the wider enhancement of public/private sector relations have also been outlined by the GMSA.

After that there was the encounter between the private sector – led once again by the GMSA – and the Guyana Revenue Authority at which forum GRA Commissioner General Godfrey Statia trotted out his key personnel to engage the business community in matters pertaining to what, over the years, has been the highly controversial issue of taxation and being mindful of the need for everyone to pay their fair share. The exchange also dealt with the various tax-related concessions/regulations which businesses need to pay more attention to so that they can work to their benefit.

But there is a Jekyll and Hyde dimension to the relationship between the government and the private sector the manifests itself from time to time as occurred in the sharp exchange between the two earlier this year that ended up with the administration launching a sharp attack on the PSC, insinuating that its posture was underpinned by a political agenda.

That theme has hung heavily over public discourse on public/private sector relations for more or less the whole of the Granger administration’s time in office. In fact, it has even been suggested that the increasing noises in the private sector about what it says is the poor performance of the economy is driven by a political agenda.

That being said the point should be made that concerns over the economy including high unemployment and businesses that are finding it difficult to keep their doors open extends beyond the private sector and into the general population as a whole.

It was almost certain that there would be some sort of blowback from this week’s private sector summit at the Marriott Hotel. With President Granger and senior members of his administration having agreed to be there and to make presentations on critical issues, the forum was, unmistakably, an opportunity for the PSC to increase the decibel level of what has been its persistent call for government to give more attention to the underperformance of the economy.

The presentations on both sides would have provided an enhanced public understanding of the various issues that might possibly be placed on an agenda for a deeper public/private sector discourse which, hopefully, can lead to arrival at decisions that can take the process forward. That, however, cannot be accomplished if the blanket of uneasiness that shrouds the relationship between the two persists and if engagements like the present one are characterized by the kind of muscle-flexing and cat-sparring that obtained at the Summit.

The PSC’s position with regard to the pointlessness of ‘talk shops’ is entirely understandable though, ironically, and given the discourses that ensued at the Marriott on Wednesday and Thursday one is left to wonder whether we have not just witnessed the conclusion of another such forum.

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