The time may be right for public/private sector ‘summit’

In the space of a week, two of the country’s more Important Business Support Organizations (BSO’s) the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) held their Annual General Meetings, the forum at which, among other things, opportunity is provided, through the presentations of the respective Presidents, to get a sense of where the business community is headed and perhaps more importantly in our circumstances to learn more from the standpoint of the respective umbrella organizations about the challenges confronting them in the course of their private sector advocacy effort.

It is, of course, necessary to make the point that the state of health of the private sector is determined, in part by its relationship with the government since it is central government through its policy decisions and its attention or otherwise to providing an enabling infrastructure that plays a central role in determining the state of health of the private sector.

The sense we get at this time – and this has been the case for some while – is that of a discomfiting coolness between government and the private sector as a whole, of which the GCCI and the GMSA are two critical corporate members. The differences in recent years have arisen over what turned out to be the generally unpopular official decision to place a Value Added Tax on school fees. Then there are a few more long-standing grouses including the protracted (and deeply damaging particularly to the manufacturing sector) deficiencies in our power supply system and a tax regimen which the private sector continues to insist seriously threatens productivity, the cost of consumer goods and profits.

There exists, as well, the view – and this is nothing new – that the advocacy of the private sector is sometimes driven by partisan political perspectives and every so often that view comes to the fore in the form of public pronouncements from one side or the other that provide evidence of that perspective.

What the Stabroek Business has sought to do for some time now is to seek to engage both the government and the private sector as a means of taking the temperature of the relationship since we do not believe that there is much doubt that the more amicable the relationship between the two the better the chance that the private sector – which, after all, has long been dubbed the engine of growth – to thrive.

One of our achievements, and one of which we are particularly proud, has been the success we have had in building bridges with the GCCI and the GMSA to the point where we are able to access information that allows us to determine what their priorities as much as their concerns are. It is pretty much the same with the Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin, and in more recent times, with the Head of the Small Business Bureau Dr. Lowell Porter. We believe that at a time when the issue of a more open relationship between the media and both state and private sector institutions has become a matter of some concern, that a juncture may have been arrived at where there might be an opportunity for an improved relationship between the public and private sectors.

During this newspaper’s recent and ongoing interface with senior members of the GMSA we detected a strong sense of preparedness to work with government to iron out the various issues of concern some of which, like electricity and the prevailing tax regime are serious issues. Significantly, those senior GMSA officials were particularly ‘talking up’ the mood of optimism and the sense of “going forward” that attends the ongoing ‘High Level’ discourse with Ministers of Government and out of which have already come some significant decisions on the forestry sector.

More recently, we noted the attendance at the AGM’s of both the GMSA and the GCCI of Minister of State Joseph Harmon and particularly his important and well-received presentation at the GMSA event during which he spelt out some details of government’s perspective on the enhancement of the electricity sector. We found too, in the presentations of the Presidents of both the GMSA and the GCCI a focus on their respective agendas both of which are underpinned by a continual lobby for improving conditions for the private sector but without the presence of what, sometimes, is the sort of negative over-assertiveness intended to send distinct signals that all is not well.

Cautiously, and against the backdrop of what we sense might be an opportunity for the creation of a more convivial environment, we venture to suggest that the two sides can begin to put heads together on the convening – perhaps a month or so down the road – of a public/private sector summit characterized, particularly, by an absence of clutter and multiple presentations and as well by a ‘tight’ agenda  that encapsulates (and seeks to discuss to the point of some sort of modus vivendi) the half a dozen or so broad issues that periodically sour public/private sector relations.

If no one is assuming that a single event can bring immediate and comprehensive change, what is important is that the discourses do not, as they frequently are, become cluttered by prejudices, political and otherwise and that the idea of a Summit is not simply pushed aside purely for the sake of doing so, The reality here is that whatever reasons there may be for pushing aside such a Summit at this time we sense that there exists the elements of an environment in which sitting down together could accomplish something. The other point to be made and one which no one can refute is that we cannot stop trying.

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