Over a protracted period of time the relationship between the Government of Guyana and the private sector as represented by the major Business Support Organizations has proceeded in fits and starts and if the truth be told the failure to see eye to eye has not always been on account of differences that have had to do with business and the economy. Some of the differences – and this has been manifested from time to time in the utterances made on both sides – have been political. The problem is that even as they indulge in their periodic slanging matches both the government and the private sector are aware that ‘bad blood’ is an indulgence which neither side can afford given the joint responsibility that they have for building a strong and vibrant economy with an emphasis on, among other things, aggressively promoting Guyana’s manufactured products overseas.
Due in no small measure to functionaries on both side of the public/private sector divide there has definitely been a modest rapprochement between the two sides, born it seems of an increasing recognition that the two sides are ‘joined at the hip,’ so to speak, so that it makes little sense in them trying to run simultaneously in different directions.
Granted, there are issues which, for the foreseeable future, will continue to cause some differences to remain between the two…like the altogether justifiable private sector concern over both the high cost of electricity and the unreliability of power supply, tax levels on imports that are important to the manufacturing sector and the sloth of the bureaucracy in the processing by state agencies of matters pertaining to investment initiatives. For its part, government and more particularly the Guyana Revenue Authority will continue to brood over the issue of businesses paying their ‘fair share’ of taxes.
All that being said we are at least in the midst of a period where the two sides are not only talking but are also doing things together. For example, two high level public and private sector teams are, even now, engaged in ongoing ‘High Level’ talks on issues to do with taking some of the business sectors forward; (we are aware that significant progress has been made in the areas of agro-processing and forestry. Additionally, between late last year and a few weeks ago, government and the private sector have been openly working together to stage two ‘episodes’ of the UNCAPPED agro-processing, first, at the Sophia Exhibition Centre and more recently at the Providence Stadium. In this context it is instructive to note that the two UNCAPPED events provided much evidence of significant improvement in both production preparation and presentation so that when the time comes – and that time is likely to be later this year – for agro processors to parade their products on a much bigger stage, our agro processing community will almost certainly be in a better position than it has ever been before to parade what it has to offer.
Earlier this week government and the private sector sat down together once again to launch yet another initiative which they say is aimed at “expanding export and attracting investment.” The Guyana Trade and Investment Exhibition (GUYTIE), the first instalment of which will be staged between September 19 and 22 will have as its principal objective, bringing local sellers and overseas buyers together in a manner which government has now conceded, GUYEXPO was unable to do. On Wednesday, at the launch of GUYTIE there were clear signs of an encouraging energy and enthusiasm to get the ball rolling in the direction of promoting exports and attracting investment.
The point is, however, that we have seen all of that enthusiasm and eagerness in previous years and all of it had come to very little. Upon reflection, the fact that we have fallen short has been, for the most part, a function of over bureaucratization, an absence of proper planning, inattention to detail and failure to provide a convivial environment that offered the best chance of realizing our stated objectives. In other words, it is a matter of stepping up our game by, among other things, having, perhaps, smaller, less cumbersome planning committees that place greater emphasis on pressing specialists rather than generalists into service. More than that, differences, including political ones, insofar as those exist, must be subsumed beneath a broader realization of the greater good that can materialize out of the public and private sector working together. We detect signs of a greater sense of urgency and a greater willingness to work together. If the indications are the reality then it is good sign for public/private sector relations and for the country’s economy.