Politics and public/private sector relations

Relations between the public and private sectors in the economic sphere are generally considered – and justifiably so – to be essential to Guyana’s economic health, the reason being that while it is government that creates and provides the policy framework within which the private sector functions, it is the private sector by investing in economic initiatives that makes critical goods and services available, paying taxes and creating jobs that are, in fact, the engine of growth.  That suggests that the two must work together.

It is no secret that the public and private sectors in Guyana have, for many years, shared an ‘on and off’ relationship, that is to say a relationship that ebbs and flows, moving from evidence of collaboration in key areas to circumstances where the two are at daggers’ drawn. In the latter instances the differences get dragged into the sphere of what, sometimes, are strident public statements which, at times, tend to venture into the uneasy realm of politics and ‘political sides.’

The reality is, however, that some measurement of engagement between the public and private sectors is important to the two arriving at some kind of understanding with regard to managing the economy. On the part of the private sector there is a recognition of a desirability to engage government – sometimes at its highest level – a point acknowledged by the now outgoing Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Edward Boyer  during an informal exchange with this newspaper earlier this week. Arising out of that conversation we gleaned the distinct impression that Mr. Boyer favours a policy of keeping doors open to public/private sector discourse even in circumstances where the general climate might not be all that it should be.

There has been, for the past two or three years talk about a public/private sector summit though there has been no persuasive evidence that either side has been pushing really hard for it. One suspects that part of the reason for the absence of a Summit so far has to do with the lack of any real likelihood that some of the really thorny issues will be resolved anyway. One private sector leader even told this newspaper recently that a thorough and frank ventilation of the key and critical issues that ought, correctly, to be part of such a Summit may actually have the effect of worsening relations between the two sides, a line which, frankly, we found it difficult to fathom.

And yet, having kept tabs on public/private sector relations over the past year and more this newspaper contends that there have been modest but not insignificant signs of a preparedness on the parts of the public and private sectors to work together. Here, we cite the ongoing High Level exchanges between two teams of government and private sector officials that have already examined mechanisms for taking the ago processing and forestry sectors forward, the work being undertaken by the Small Business Bureau to try to hasten the process of bringing into effect the provision in the Small Business Act of 2004 for allocating 20% of state contracts to the small business sector (even though we believe that this particular matter can be addressed with a far greater sense of urgency than appears to obtain at this time), and what both sides have said has been the successful public/private sector partnership to stage two offerings of the UncappeD Agro Processing Show, even though, here again, there needs to be greater clarity as to where we go from here as far as finding both local and overseas markets for our agro produce.

Earlier this month, yet another public/private sector initiative, the Guyana Trade and Investment Exhibition (GUYTIE) which its organizers say is the latest attempt to accelerate exports and attract investors to Guyana was launched with much aplomb at the Marriott Hotel.  Here again, though, one has to admit that our track record in these matters entitles observers to raise the issue about the proof of the pudding being in the eating.

It would seem that at the very least the frequency with which, – in recent months – we have seen repeated public demonstrations of high-profile public/private sector collaboration in projects that target business growth suggests that a climate may exist in which we can begin to contemplate the start of a longer-term effort to begin to try to mend public/private sector relations. But it is not only the collaborative efforts that have been noteworthy. From the private sector side has come plaudits for what some of its leaders say has been the positive posture taken by the government ministers involved in the High-Level talks. Similar positive things have been said by private sector officials about the receptivity of the Ministry to the collaborative efforts between itself and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) to the UncappeD initiatives as well as the forthcoming GUYTIE exercise.

 The announcement on Wednesday at a launch event that the Government of Guyana is being backed by the European Union-funded regional business promotion entity, Caribbean Export and by the local private sector in seeking to launch an initiative to replace a largely failed attempt in GUYEXPO to accelerate the country’s exports will cast the spotlight on the Ministry of Business. In this context what private sector functionaries say has been Minister Dominic Gaskin’s willingness to undertake joint initiatives with the business community is encouraging.

We understand that significantly improving public/private sector relations in the longer term is a process and that what we are witnessing is at most, a seeming preparedness on both sides to begin the journey. This is not to say that we are starry-eyed about what lies up ahead since this is not the first time that a process appears to have started only to simply fall by the wayside. Somehow, we believe, politics, partisan politics, to be precise, could be much of the problem. If that is so, dealing with it is unlikely to be easy.

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