Government and opposition spokesmen have agreed that this week’s two-day Private Sector Business Summit was a good engagement and the organiser is also optimistic about the way forward.
Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin had told the forum at the Marriott Hotel that while the government’s ministers were presenters, all participants should be vocal and openly express views and give their ideas to develop the business sector.
“We as ministers are not infallible and certainly not the fountain of all knowledge or the spark of every idea and that is why a forum like this can be constructive and (find) solutions for some of the challenges that face businesses in Guyana,” Gaskin told attendees.
He later told Stabroek News that while some felt that the forum had too much political talk, his colleagues should not be blamed.
“The politics certainly did not come from us. The opposition certainly made no bones about it, they were firing from day one. Apart from that, I thought it went well and has the potential to do some good if the follow-ups are properly and professionally done. Some of the issues raised really could benefit from a broad consensus and an action plan on the way forward. They are not simple issues to deal with. It requires a driving force, such as issues on a capital market and how do we get our markets to be more actively geared to the industry. I think those discussions, among others can really bear fruit,” Gaskin said.
“Also, there were things that can be discussed among more stakeholders, not just the government, so we get a better sense of what the private sector wants and how they plan to develop the concept and how they can put it to use to stimulate economic development. There is this perception that the government is not sharing enough information, but we also want to hear from them so we need to know what we are doing. So, it was good and if it can lead to some high-level follow-ups, it will be able to achieve its objective,” he added.
Gaskin said that while no such forum is one hundred percent successful, the summit on Wednesday and Thursday can show that it met its objectives by having follow-ups that it promised.
“If there are no follow-ups … then it would not have served its purpose and would just be another talk shop,” he said.
The Business Minister gave government’s commitment to the follow-up process. “We are committed to making the follow-ups and (taking the) necessary action… We have no reason to see this fail. If it is (the) first and it fails then there is no reason to happen again. We don’t want that. We want this dialogue, we want this think tank,” Gaskin said.
Opposition parliamentarian and part of the PPP/C’s delegation at the summit Anil Nandlall said that at a forum where both opposition and government would have the opportunity to push their plans for the business community, some politicking should have been expected. But he believes that the government’s representatives should absorb any blame for using up too much time in the slots allocated.
“My observations were the themes which were discussed and the issues raised invariably excited discussions that eventually had a political sway to it .Most of the issues that were up for discussion touched and concerned policies of both the PPP government of the past as well as the current government. You had participants from both sides of the political divide. So inevitably the discussions had a political content,” he said.
“Personally, I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with political policies, governmental policies, economic and fiscal policies … merged into one amalgam, which formed the subject matters of the conference. What I found objectionable was that ministers, several who were not originally slated on the programme, were interposed as the conference got on its way and were allowed to make remarks which turned out to be feature presentations. Other persons were not accorded the same facilities. In fact, I was informed that the panel that I participated in suffered a change of format whereby the opportunity to make opening remarks as was originally programmed was removed and entire sections became a question and answer session,” he added.
Nonetheless, Nandlall said that he believes that “it was a very good engagement” and that other discourses of that type should be encouraged. “It provided a great opportunity for the ventilation of many thorny issues that very often times are swept under the carpet because of a lack of an opportunity to discuss them,” he said.
Chairman of the organising committee for the business summit Deodat Indar rejected the view of some participants that the forum was overly politicised.
“I don’t share that view and I reject that view. Politicians are the policy makers and they have to be in the conversation…there was decent discourse with each other. The summit ended on a high note because we had the Vice President (Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan) say this has raised the bar and has paved the way for institutional dialogue between the private sector and whoever wants to get involved. We at the PSC wanted everybody to see that Guyana is a people that can sit down and talk about their issues, how pressing they are and we got that,” he asserted.
Indar said, too, that participants were chosen from the PSC’s countrywide membership, civil society, and government and the opposition had the option to select their participants to deal with the themes to be discussed over the two-day period.
“It was a list we went through to ensure we had the best and the brightest in the room to contribute. Those that…can help to take Guyana forward. For this summit I think it was a huge success. I have seen people who don’t normally talk to each other. We discussed serious issues. They were passionate about it. There were mixed responses from each of the sessions, but the overarching thing is that everybody here wants to see Guyana develop and move forward. We might not agree on everything, but those things we do agree on we will start working on immediately to kick start stuff,” the summit Chairman said.