Presidential candidate for the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Dr Irfaan Ali on Friday laid into the Government for its lack of a clear economic vision and policies, noting the importance of facilitating the growth of a robust and competitive Private Sector.
Ali was at the time making an appearance on a local radio programme, where he was asked about complaints from the Private Sector about being muscled out from the oil sector by foreign companies.
According to the presidential candidate, Government, in fact, has a responsibility to lay out a comprehensive and well-articulated strategy for facilitating the growth and increased competitiveness of the economy and the Private Sector… something the Green State Development Strategy (GSDS) has been criticised for lacking.
“We can’t be indecisive on major transformational projects. Today we want this, tomorrow we don’t want that. We have said the deepwater harbour is coming. The Private Sector has to understand it is coming, where is it going to be located, where is it going to be connected to, so they can invest in the opportunities surrounding the investment. In terms of logistics, business and so on.”
The former Minister of Housing and Tourism reminded that long before oil was discovered in Guyana, the Private Sector was playing an integral part in the economy. He noted the responsibility the Government has towards the Private Sector and the wider economic implications.
“We had a Private Sector that committed itself to Guyana before this newfound wealth. We had a Private Sector that worked with our people in ensuring that we weathered great storms, whether it was the great floods or the global financial crisis. And we cannot be ungrateful to that Private Sector.”
“We have a responsibility in ensuring that the local Private Sector is equipped and provided with the framework and incentives that would make them competitive and give them a fighting chance against those that are coming in now, unlike what is happening now,” Dr Ali added.
Ali reminded of the recently held Trinidad and Tobago Energy Chamber’s Safety Forum in Guyana, which sidelined the local Private Sector Commission (PSC). But Ali noted that the Private Sector also has a role to speak up and advocate against measures that are counterproductive.
“Can you imagine, we have a non-national Private Sector body, coming here and hosting a seminar on how to do business in Guyana? Can you imagine this is allowed, that someone is telling us that we’re not good enough to do brokerage service, so brokerage service has to go out to a foreign company? Those are basic things.”
“This has happened because we are not paying attention to these things. The Government has to facilitate the growth and development of the Private Sector. Government has to facilitate the advancement of the Private Sector and a process through which they can become competitive, but the Private Sector has to stand up against injustices coming their way.”
Ali also spoke about the Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOOT) concept, which he noted is used around the world as a way for the Government to partner with the Private Sector on large, transformational projects. While the premise is good, however, he spoke of some things that must be catered for.
“Developed countries have a lot of models built around BOOT. That process itself has to be scrutinised. It has to have layers in terms of transparency and accountability. Recently, a white paper was laid in Parliament on public-private partnerships.”
“And if you go through that paper, you will see that it is built in a way where the political system has total control. From identifying who the investors are, to tendering and awarding who will get the contract,” he said, adding that this can facilitate corruption.
While Guyana heads closer to first oil, concern has been expressed about the large number of foreigners grabbing up local opportunities. Only recently, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) had noted the rampant displacement of local companies by the Trinis.
In a statement, GCCI President Nicholas Boyer had said that companies from Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) are coming into Guyana with deeper pockets than their local counterparts. These companies, Boyer had noted, use their greater access to capital to outcompete locals.