During an extended discourse with the Stabroek Business on Wednesday, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin went to some trouble to make the point that the APNU+AFC administration was particularly keen to provide a convivial environment within which to attract investor attention and (in the presence of Go-Invest Chief Executive Officer, Owen Verwey) made the point that one of his Ministry’s priorities was to properly position and equip Go-Invest to provide the various services associated with investor inquiries.
Based on what he had to say one gets the impression that Minister Gaskin is aware of the fact that as a country that is open to investment Guyana has come under some measure of criticism as a country where ‘red tape’ and not infrequently, politics, impede the efficiency of the investment facilitation process. The discussion on this issue arose out of the recent report in the Sunday Stabroek about the frustrations of the Baron Foods boss in terms of his efforts to initiate a considerable investment initiative here. Then it went further.
Without specifically pointing a finger at the administration of which he is a part Minister Gaskin made the point that political and bureaucratic hindrances to investment processes were commonplace. Going further, he made the additional point not only the lobbying or trying to lobby government through well-placed personages was commonplace but that the practice of ‘touting’ by government functionaries anxious to demonstrate the extent of their influence was also par for the course as part of the practice.
The Stabroek Business has had reports of the aforementioned and more obtaining right here in Guyana to the extent where frustrated would-be investors have simply packed their traps and left. This newspaper recalls that for many months after the APNU+AFC administration took office a number of Guyanese in the diaspora and other would-be investors seeking to test the investment waters in the new political climate had found their way to Guyana. Whether it was that no one had told them of the existence of Go-Invest or otherwise, each of them, in turn, were expressing an interest in meeting with the President, directly, or else, through some minister or some other well-placed political functionary. What was in evidence was an intense period of influence-peddling, evidently driven by the notion that the quickest,. most effective way of dealing with the system was to get around it. And we have little doubt that some of those efforts might have been successful.
Entities like Go-Invest have repeatedly publicly denied that they are continually passed over by investment seekers and moreover that their work is driven in large measure by political directives, which, it seems, is what is being alleged in the Baron Foods instance. In the instance of the present administration – and whatever official excursions into evasiveness may be used – it strains credulity to suggest that a would-be investor with the proper political connections is not likely to have a smoother passage through what can sometimes be a labyrinthine system, notwithstanding the assurances we have received that the Guyana Revenue Authority is not, these days, inclined to brook ‘higher up’ requests for concessions that are not attended by the requisite entitlements.
The problem with these types of arrangements is that they tend to fall into cocoons of influence-peddling that can lead unerringly in the direction of ingrained corruption and create regimes of prejudice that discourage those who have no option but to engage the designated state agency.
When we spoke with Minister Gaskin and Mr. Verwey on Wednesday we gleaned the distinct impression that as far as the processing of investment inquiries was concerned Go-Invest was the designated state agency and that in the particular matter of investment or the processing of investment inquiries the buck stopped there. In fact as Mr. Gaskin said and as we reported in a story in this issue, he has no wish to be seen as the ‘go to’ person, in his capacity as Minister of Business in circumstances where some potential investor may be looking for an optional way to have his or her investment inquiry ‘facilitated.’ It would be deeply comforting if such assurances can be forthcoming from other ministers and various other well-placed functionaries whom, conceivably, can be construed as comprising cliques involved in what Mr. Gaskin loosely described as touting.