By Devina Samaroo
As private sector officials sought clarity on government’s approach to economic development, they were greeted with a charge by President David Granger to get innovative with business techniques in order to stimulate the much-demanded investment in the country.
The discourse occurred during the opening ceremony of the private sector-led Business Summit 2017 which is being hosted at the Marriott Hotel Guyana, Kingston.
President of the Trade and Investment Committee of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Deodat Indar called on the Head of State – who was in attendance – to provide clarity on government’s policy on a number of issues critical to business development.
“Sir, could you please clarify your government’s approach to economic development? Your taxation policy, your incentive programme for businesses, how you intend to strengthen our democracy and ensure the rule of law is maintained, your plans to develop the quality of life for all citizens of Guyana and also how your government intends to work with the private sector to create jobs for our young and underutilized population,” Indar stated on behalf of the PSC Chairman, Eddie Boyer who was unable to attend the event owing to medical reasons.
Indar continued, “If your Excellency can provide direction on the oil and gas sector on areas where we will spend revenues from the expected wealth… Since the government is the biggest spender, this will assist the private sector on where and when to invest in order to an anticipated recipient of government contracts.”
The business executive said he would also like the President to explain his plans to address the prison system and the wider security issues in the country that cause businesses to be on the edge.
In return, the President reminded that he was only given 15 minutes to speak and within that time, he chose to address the areas of investment, innovation and institutional framework for economic development.
The President noted that his government, over the past 29 months, has been encouraging those in the diaspora to invest in Guyana and he said countries like America, Suriname, China, Brazil, India, Canada, Russia, have already invested. “Why can’t you?” he asked the gathering of business executives. “Why should Guyanese have to be reminded?”
He also underscored the importance of access to funds for micro-enterprises and called on the banking system to become a “gold mine” for investment capital.
According to the Head of State, Guyana’s economy can only develop once the small businesses alike are given access to resources and benefits to the proposer, noting that these operations constitute “half of the economy” and contribute roughly 30% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
He said his government’s policy is to improve the business climate in a holistic way so that households and big corporations can cash in on big returns. President Granger also stressed the need for businesses to get innovative and to diversify their operations.
Though he received harsh criticisms for this comment, the President again referred to the “curse of the six sisters”, and called on the business community to take steps to invest in other sectors to guard against external shocks.
“(The curse of) bauxite, gold, fisheries, rice, sugar and timber, does not arise from the character of the commodities but the over dependency on raw products, the lack of innovation and the absence of diversification and the neglect of value-added manufacturing,” he said.
Another sore obstacle to business development, according to the President, is the geographic layout of the country.
“We’ve heard of persons who have to collect benefits from the court system in Wismar having to travel to Vreed-en-hoop. We’ve heard of businessmen in the Rupununi, Lethem having to travel to adventure on the Essequibo coast to register their businesses and up to quite recently, our colleagues heard of NIS panels being confined to places called Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara,” he said, noting that the system of the three counties need to be rebalanced for better public administration.
He said the government has been working to address this issue through the creation of economic zones and capital townships.
This two-day event will see presentations on various sectors and panel discussions including members of the opposition and the government. The aim of the forum is to facilitate discussions on challenges and opportunities for business growth and expansion.