I am a firm believer that the private sector in every country must be the engine of growth and development and this must be facilitated by an enabling environment created for the most part by governments. Guyana is no exception.
I am currently in Guyana and was given a tour of the Sleep Inn hotel and casino on Church Street on Saturday by Mr Clifton Bacchus, the owner. I had never met Mr Bacchus before nor was I aware of the principal(s) in the Sleep Inn investment. However, during the tour Mr Bacchus lamented the fact that he has been waiting almost a year for the casino licence which he applied for based on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) he signed with the Government of Guyana, prior to May 2015.
According to Mr Bacchus, US$18 million has been invested in the Church Street hotel and casino. The tour revealed to me some 150 nicely appointed rooms, some elegant suites with contemporary upscale furnishing and a state of the art casino with facilities for top class restaurants, gift shop and a stage for nightly entertainment.
Most important, in my view, is that when operational the casino and its attendant facilities will create employment for some 300 people, 80 of which are currently on the payroll having undergone specialized training for employment in a casino. These workers are being paid although the casino is not open for business because the training is expensive and Mr Bacchus does not want to have to retrain new people, if he lets go of the current crop of trained workers. But for how much longer can he sustain this not having the slightest clue when, if at all, his company will be granted a licence?
He says his first application was turned down on the basis of some financial requirements which have since been met and a second application was submitted last October.
Bacchus’ business partner in the casino, a foreign national, is contemplating removing the state-of-the art casino machines and equipment since he is unsure if and when a licence will be granted. In the meantime however Bacchus is moving ahead with upgrades to the hotel and casino complex, currently installing some 300 solar panels that will eventually supply electricity to the complex. I saw some of the panels. He indicated that he had just paid $279,000 in duty to access the panels from the wharf. I thought investment in Guyana, whether local or foreign, attracted duty free concessions, especially when it comes to ‘greening’ the economy. Most countries offer incentives such as duty free concessions and tax holidays for genuine, job creating investment.
Against the backdrop of the above mentioned I am perplexed as to why Mr Bacchus has not been told, having submitted his application over eight months now, whether a licence will be granted, and if so when, or whether there are still other criteria he is required to meet. This is a major investment by a Guyanese. Why is it taking so long to give the man an answer? The governments of Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines are encouraging him to invest in those countries. In fact I was at the opening of the new airport in St Vincent on Valentine’s Day when Prime Minister Gonsalves mentioned Sleep Inn of Guyana as a potential investor.
I asked Mr Bacchus what he thought was causing the delay. He claimed not to know. Are you a drug dealer, I asked. He said no. Are you a criminal I asked next and the answer was again no. Are you among those denied a US visa? Again the answer was no. So why is such a huge investment in the Guyana economy being made to eventually fail? That is the purpose of this letter. I hope the relevant authority would publicly advise what are the factors delaying a response to this application. If there are legitimate reasons for delaying or even denying the licence then let the man know. And having invested so much into this project, on the basis of an MOU with the Government of Guyana, and given that 300 plus jobs will be generated, I can see
no reason for denying a licence, although there may be other requirements that need to be met before a licence is granted.
At the end of the tour someone whispered to me that Bacchus is a good friend of former President Donald Ramotar and that could be the reason for the frustration Bacchus is being made to endure. I would hate to believe that this is the reason. The APNU+AFC coalition government promised good governance and this would certainly be evidence to the contrary, if it were true.
I hold no brief for Bacchus. I just met the man on Saturday. But his licence application deserves a response and favourable consideration once he has met all the requirements. Three hundred jobs should not be denied young Guyanese. I hope the relevant authority will respond to my letter.