The Economy: How would the U.S Fish Ban affect the Guyanese Economy?

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In the previous column in which the pros and cons of borrowing excessively before first oil in 2020 was examined, some other critical points were highlighted in that article – that have some degree of thematic relevance to today’s topic – dedicated to examining some of the likely effects the recent ‘temporary’ U.S. ban on some of Guyana’s fish products / species that were usually exported to that country.

The causation leading to this outcome appears to be as a result of some non-compliant regulatory issues with respect to satisfying the required standard of these products for exportation.

It is, however, disappointing to learn that the U.S. had issued a warning since in 2015, almost two years ago, to remedy this situation. As such, the failure to address this matter by the relevant authorities is indeed unfortunate – against the backdrop that this ban could potentially exacerbate economic adversities for the broader Guyanese economy and more so – the persons who are directly involved and dependent on the fishing industry.

Now, readers would recall that last week this column examined how a depletion of the international foreign reserves held with the Central Bank of Guyana could negatively affect the economy inter alia – international trading – inflation and also devaluation of the domestic currency against the U.S dollar.

To this end, it was shown that international reserves fell by almost US$100 million from US$652 million in 2014 to US$552.8 million as of January 2018. In this regard, the previous article explained in some detail about the intricacies of import cover and the repercussions to that effect.

Therefore, losing export earnings from some of our fish species will only exacerbate such negative effects. To corroborate this, export earnings from fish and shrimp for 2014 stood at US$62.2 million in 2014 and increased to US$82.8 million in 2016 or 33.11 percent.

This validates the notion that the fishing industry is a rapidly growing industry for Guyana and again, having to deal with a fish ban from the major export market will invoke serious consequences on the broader economy. Coupled with the downsizing of the sugar industry thereby losing about US$70 million in foreign exchange from this commodity and a reduction in fish exports would lead to pressure on the exchange rate – in fact – this could potentially result in a real shortage of foreign exchange and further depletion of international reserves. These are obviously not good symptoms with respect to the macroeconomic stability of the economy.

Focusing now on the reasons surrounding this failure to comply with these requirements and/or criteria by the U.S. to protect the fishing industry; while some of the stakeholders both in the diaspora and locally and of course those who are politically minded would naturally tend to blame the government for this – it is the view of this author that – it is not the Government who is directly responsible per se – but rather – the respective public-sector agency and its personnel of that entity.

This view is hinged on the premise that one may tend to agree – knowing the culture of the work ethics of the public sector generally in Guyana’s context, there is a lack of professionalism, proactiveness and also, it is thus a reflection of complacency.

In support of this view, there was in fact a survey that was done to determine “the experience and perceptions of public officials in Guyana” spanning the period 1999 – 2000: a survey that was funded by the Bank of Netherlands Partnership Program (BNPP), and was conducted by the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Public Service Ministry, Government of Guyana and by the Management Services Division of the Public Service Division Ministry. Hereunder stated are some excerpts of the findings from that report.

  • Most respondents support the view that public sector jobs are attractive and that recruitment is merit-based;
  • Over half of the respondents support the assertion that public employees are poorly prepared for their jobs;
  • 59 % of those surveyed feel that political interference in recruitment and operational decisions are rare;
  • Many officials feel that instructions and policies they are asked to implement are consistent and they implement the policies even if they do not necessarily agree with them;
  • Most officials feel that salaries are low and migrant remittances support them, and there is mixed reaction about the existence of (dis) incentives for (bad) good performance, but think that individual performance evaluations will improve the organization’s performance more than higher salaries;
  • Decision making in public sector is characterized by poor communication and low employee participation;
  • There is a strong perception of the existence of corruption in the public sector and only 9 % officials reported having known of another official being disciplined for embezzlement; and
  • The budget management is weak.

“The findings indicate that corruption is a major concern among those surveyed. Annual evaluation of staff performances with incentives for good performance and clarity on the budgetary resources and the flow of funds is crucial for the better functioning of government agencies. Improving budgetary management, improving communication about government policies and decisions, and reducing further political interference are other areas of reform”, according to the report.

In developing countries, public officials are often viewed as unskilled, poorly educated and poorly motivated to perform their official tasks. Albeit, the role of the public sector is very crucial for the socio-economic development of a country.

The major institutions controlling the physical, social, economic and natural resources are governed by the public sector directly and indirectly. Against this background, the public sector is a catalyst for growth and has an important role to play as an instrument for social change and improvement.

Thus, in recognizing that the public sector is vital for economic development; human resources play a crucial role in public sector organizations; the public sector needs efficiency and effectiveness; efficiency in public sector needs capable and skilled manpower; to enhance the capacity of human resources in public sector organizations need training and development; and to utilize human resources potential in the public sector requires proper supervision.

It should be noted that the inherent weaknesses of the public sector are something that was acknowledged by the Head of State himself when he took office back in 2015 and had pledged to reform Guyana’s public sector to build capacity and professionalism etc.

However, while the Head of State and the Government are committed to addressing this matter, it requires the support and co-operation of all the stakeholders involved to remedy and improve public sector services in general. Finally, it is therefore hoped that the relevant authorities could quickly work towards lifting the temporary fish ban and avert a permanent ban as it will certainly stymie the growth and development of the economy.

 

*The author of this column is the holder of a Master of Science Degree from a UK university in Business Management, with a specialism in Global Finance and Financial Markets.

 

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