A perspective on public/private sector relations

This newspaper’s various engagements with private sector business support organizations have afforded us a more enlightened perspective on their work and the purpose that they seek to serve. We believe that they accept their responsibility as ‘the engine of growth,’ and that they recognize the importance of working with government so that the right combination of forces and facilities can be put to work to take the economy forward.

We believe, for example, that it is desirable that government consult with the private sector during the process of its compilation of data and analysis that informs the creation of the country’s annual budget and that it takes the outcomes of those consultations seriously even if the chances of the two sides agreeing on everything are well – nigh impossible. Contextually, it should be noted that in the case of this year’s budget the private sector appeared reasonably satisfied with the outcomes of the consultations and it said so. We believe that the chances for improved public/private sector relations are better where there is a listening process in place in the communication between the two sides.

Our conversations with some senior private sector leaders revealed a willingness to engage with government in order to come up with ways in which the situation can be addressed. The problem is that differences between government and the private sector over the condition and performance often tends to precipitate bouts of the most dramatic posturing on both sides that get into the way of the creation of an environment that is convivial to constructive discourse.

In recent months, however, we detect a shift in the quality of the relationship between some of the key ministers/ministries that have to do with the private sector and the economy (Finance and Business come readily to mind) and private sector leaders that has metamorphosed into bouts of discourse that have actually borne some fruit and from which some sectors (agro-processing, particularly) have actually benefitted. There have been, as well, very public instances of public/private sector collaboration to stage various sectorial events and to plan others that are connected to the growth of global markets for the country’s manufacturing sector.

There were also standout examples of public/ private sector cooperation in the work that led to the memoranda of understanding between the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and governments and business institutions in Canada, Cuba and India. Inherent in this development was a generous measure of economic diplomacy with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and more particularly our overseas missions, playing a central role.

The series of oil finds has served to create a feeling of that has had the effect of creating analyses of the Guyana economy that look positively to the future. Here, it has to be said, that if only for the reason of creating a more uplifting national mood – and while our analyses should never lose sight of the virtue of realism – it is desirable, we believe, that we venture into analyses of Guyana’s economic future that positively factors in the prospective roles of oil and gas. In that context the sense of enthusiasm at the levels of both the public and private sectors that have attended their understanding of the role that oil and gas can play in Guyana’s economic transformation is particularly encouraging. This, of course, is not to say that the upbeat pronouncements and in quite a few instances, wishful thinking, that has come to be associated with 2020 and beyond are an appropriate palliative for the country’s immediate-term economic difficulties.

One of the positive pronouncements that came out of the farewell presentation at last week’s Private Sector Commission Annual General Meeting by the Commission’s former Chairman Edward Boyer was that local businesses are achieving the standards that would equip them to make optimum use of the Local Content spinoff that derives from our oil find and attendant exploitation.   Government, wisely in our view, has taken the position that oil economy status must not allow for the setting aside of the traditional sectors of the economy so that, invariably, official pronouncements on matters of business and the economy rarely ever fail to make the point about the need to keep in focus the “greening” of  the economy though it has to be said that the focus is yet to be matched by a corresponding elaborate and aggressive public education programme which, if not implemented sooner rather than later, could quickly cause the term ‘green’ to come to be seen as just another piece of sloganeering.

It is much the same with what has been the deliberate effort on the part of the government to infuse both ICT technology and a high-profile STEM initiative into the education curriculum. These are both forward-thinking initiatives though we must be mindful that corresponding investment in terms of both human and economic resources in building strong foundations in both areas be realized lest these as well attract criticism as one-day wonders that die as quickly as they bloom.

Contemporary discourse on hinterland development has centred primarily around job-creation, with a focus on agriculture and agro-processing. With high unemployment persisting as a  serious affliction in interior communities, however, farming and agro-processing initiatives must be attended by the requisite infrastructure, inputs that require levels on investment that central government would be hard-pressed to find at this time.

If this may not appear to be quite the season for a modus vivendi between government and the main opposition – a development that will in effect solve other problems – there is at least the hope of some sort of public/private sector modus vivendi that will go some way towards the creation of a more convivial climate. One of the more upbeat articles on public/ private sector relations to appear in print for some time (A Private Sector Perspective: Open For Business, Welcoming To All investors) is sufficiently upbeat and fulsome in praise for the state of public/ private sector relations as to be taken as an indication that it has been provided with some measure of impetus perhaps over the past year or so. That is surely something that can be built upon.

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