Against the backdrop of the frustrating ‘on-off’ relationship that has obtained between government and the private sector for many years, one has every right to wonder aloud as to precisely how we should interpret the recent media release from the Private Sector Commission (PSC) arising out of its meeting with President David Granger. By now we have grown familiar with the routine ‘drill’ of lengthy periods of little or no contact interspersed with excursions into vitriol on both sides, the odd meeting and amenable subsequent statements that do their best to massage what, customarily has been an icy relationship, into a cordial one. It is a circumstance which, frankly, continues to make something of a mockery of the long-espoused axiom about the private sector being ‘the engine of growth.’
The truth of the matter is that it is concrete and sustained transformative action rather than press releases that talk a lot but say little that will change that relationship. In fairness, there has been a fair measure of contact and collaboration between the two sides for much of the past year or so, not least, the GUYTIE event, the documented outcomes of which we await in order to secure a better understanding of just where we stand in terms of export markets and our agro-produce. Before that there was UNCAPPED 1 and 11, which again featured government/private sector cooperation and then there have been the various ‘High Level’ meetings involving senior private sector officials (members of both the PSC and the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association) discussing manufacturing in general and issues like agro-processing and value-added considerations pertaining to the forestry sector. The Ministers of Finance and Business and the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority as well as the various private sector functionaries have been much busier this year talking about the best ways of realizing public/private sector cooperation.
While all of these may have amounted to positive signals as far as improved public/private sector relations are concerned, they have not, up until now, had a clear-cut transformative impact on relations between the two sides, though the statement from the private sector following the meeting with the President could well help create a climate that could push the two sides in the direction of a better relationship. What could help in the immediate term is if the expressed concerns by the manufacturing sector over issues like import duties on raw materials, private sector brooding over the prevailing tax regime and high electricity rates and the impact of these on production costs, issues that have been on the top of the public/private sector agenda for years could begin to be resolved, even if incrementally, in the short to medium term.
What would help too is if those joint public/private sector initiatives like UNCAPPED and GUYTIE yield results, at least in terms of sending clear signals that external markets are finally beginning to open up for those commodities – not least agro-processed goods – that are beginning to create genuine entrepreneurial opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises.
In the statement that followed its engagement with the President, the PSC also alluded to an interest in having its representatives being included on government Boards and bodies across the country and in keeping with what it describes as the government’s “thrust for localized development” have private sector representation become “part of the governance and regulatory systems in their communities.” These ideas/recommendations, whilst possessing the potential for the creation of a more meaningful public/private sector relationship and even bringing the private sector much closer to the mainstream of the global governance structure, are almost certainly going to drift into the realm of political contemplation that will have to take account of the paradigms of the structure that gives the private sector greater say in areas that have conventionally been regarded as government controlled. That being said, there is nothing wrong with putting forward, seriously discussing and seeking to implement initiatives that would give real meaning to public/private section cooperation.
As this newspaper has repeatedly pointed out, there has been, over the years, a hollow ring to the oft-repeated clichés like the private sector being ‘the engine of growth’ and the desirability of ‘enhanced public/private sector cooperation.’ Instead, what has obtained are bogeys, prejudices and suspicions driven by the entrenched political axioms that keep getting in the way. Frankly, it will be impossible for us to realise a regime of genuine and potentially rewarding public/private sector relations unless we are prepared to engage those demons.