It is frequently said that the private sector is supposed to be the engine of growth in any economy. This should be no different in Guyana. But is it? Is there something wrong with our Engine?
The main benefits that a healthy and vibrant private sector contribute to an economy are the payment of taxes which are necessary for the country’s development, job creation for our citizens and the creation of enterprises which yield returns for their investors.
In order for our private sector to rev its collective engine we need strong private sector representation bodies. These bodies articulate the sentiments of their members and determine the combined direction to be traveled in order to realize that somewhat elusive prosperity we all seek. Additionally these organizations provide critical business support and networking services to their members. Under ideal conditions good private sector representation should translate into a smooth running engine.
Let us examine some challenges preventing these organizations from achieving their mandate from voluntary membership, to voluntary service and finally possible fears that exist.
To begin with, in Guyana membership to these organizations is voluntary which means that only when a company decides to join, it does so. There is a complete lack of legal pressure that would demand companies becoming members. This has led to a situation where according to the registry and private sector records, less than 1000 companies of a total 20,000 or just around 5 % of companies are contributing to organized private sector direction and development.
Annual membership fees in organizations such as the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry range from $12,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of the enterprise. So, for a small business, a payment that equates to $1000 per month, surely cannot be a significant financial burden, especially given the numerous membership benefits.
Next, did you know that our private sector leaders are offering their services on a voluntary basis? That’s right, they receive no significant direct benefit for their efforts. Private sector leaders have to take solace in the fact that their efforts result in many indirect positives including of course national economic development. But why is this important? Well it is important because all private sector leaders have companies to run, jobs to do and these responsibilities will always take precedence over their voluntary private sector service. We have recently lost one of our hardest workers, who most served as the Private Sector Commission chairman. The quality of voluntary service and dedication he provided to private sector development remains rare. The challenge of discovering, attracting and retaining new voluntary leaders is very real. I can remember in my early days of private sector representation being asked by a colleague why I was giving so much effort as if I was getting paid. To maintain my sanity and excitement about this work, I have always considered it my hobby, since it fits well into those parameters.
Finally, could fear of a strong private sector be the reason for our politicians not being conducive towards making private sector body membership compulsory or at a bare minimum, recommended? We have all noted the political stalemates which are occurring. A robust third party with economic development as its mandate would be critical in providing much needed rationality and direction for continued progress. Would it not be beneficial to these same political parties and other organizations to be able to interact with a truly representative body? It makes me wonder who really benefits from this unproductive wrangling, not me!, is it you? Well if it is not any of us, citizens, can it really be beneficial to Guyana. Receiving that legal endorsement from our lawmakers could pave the way for enhanced private sector representation.
You now know the main reasons for the current weaknesses of our private sector representation ranging from voluntary membership and leadership service to fear of strong private sector bodies. I trust that the next time you are confronted with some private sector criticism you are more informed about the operating conditions. Furthermore, many of you are current and future leaders, knowing some of the flaws in our system, will give you that opportunity to propose solutions. Solutions that will make our engine rumble with energy and speed into the prosperous future we all deserve.
Recall Mahatma Ghandi’s wise words: ‘Be the Change, you wish to see in this World’