by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 03 October 2007)
Guyexpo 2007 is officially over. The booths are being disassembled, the merchandise is being hauled back to the places of business and the Sophia Exhibition Site will soon return to its normal state.
From all reports, the expo was a success and even better than in former years. It is encouraging news that this showcase of local (and international) businesses was such a hit even though there is a segment of society that I’s suffering financially.
However, of late it would be difficult to ignore the frustrated tone emanating from the business community due to any number of unresolved issues – including the large number of crimes targeting businesses.
Another of the many problems always causing frustration for the private sector is the red tape and endless bureaucracy standing in the way of creating a healthy business environment. As such, it was quite encouraging to hear President Jagdeo reinforce the fact that he intends to stand up for the business community.
At the opening of this year’s Guyexpo, the President said, “I want all investors to know that if you obey the law and practice good corporate governance, my government will not stand in your way. Your investments will be protected by law and not subject to the whim of politicians, and you will be supported by economic policies that are unambiguously pro-business, pro-profit and pro-growth.”
Putting aside my sarcastic whit long enough to be highly impressed by the President’s acknowledgement that there is indeed corruption amongst those in his administration, still this statement begs a few questions of which no one has yet to ask.
The very first question the President’s statement stirred in my ever-churning brain is regarding those “economic policies that are unambiguously pro-business, pro-profit and pro-growth.” Since this sentence was preceded by a sentence that gives the impression that the President is going to protect businesses from his whimsical politicians, can we expect new legislation to be introduced that will send crooked politicians to jail for demands of bribes, kickbacks and other corrupt practices?
Also, should businesses only expect the President to protect them from whimsical politicians or does this protection also extend to the various shady officials all the way down the governmental food chain? Surely the President is well aware that corruption and whimsical ways are evident in more than just his politicians.
The next question has to do with the phrasing of the first sentence in this short quote, “I want all investors to know that if you obey the law and practice good corporate governance, my government will not stand in your way.” Firstly, I can see a million ways in which this statement could be used to give the government a reason to stand in a business’ way on nothing more than a whim – which counteracts the next sentence.
It is not as if people have not been unjustly accused before. I am quite sure it has happened on an occasion or two – or more. Again, does the President intend to implement a fair and unbiased process in which an accused party can appeal an accusation made by whimsical politicians or shady government officials?
You see, when a businesswoman or businessman attempts to create jobs and help the local economy, there is also an element of wanting to make money for personal gain. However, if the President cannot assure these investors that they are no throwing their money down the drain, Guyana will continue to suffer economically.
The President’s assurance of protection is heartening if it is indeed genuine and not just more hot air. After all, let us not forget that he promised the very same thing two years ago and yet those pesky whimsical politicians and shady government officials still run the show. They have made the President look foolish by practicing their corruption right under his nose.
Which brings me to the last question I have concerning this short quote from the President. Does President Jagdeo actually have the power to protect the business community from the whimsical politicians in his own administration? Up until now it does not appear that he does.
Until new legislation is in firmly in place that prosecutes corrupt government officials for their whimsical ways, the President will not be able to protect the business community. The funny thing is that the President must persuade some of the very whimsical politicians themselves to pass this legislation.
In short, the President spoke some very powerful words that could mean a promising future for business in Guyana if he has the capability of carrying them out. But does he have the power to protect businesses from his own administration? Let’s all sit back and watch the show.