Thursday, January 26, 2006


Consensus Politics vital to Guyana's stability

(by Dr. C. A. Johnson)

With General Elections imminent this year in Guyana, debate on the country’s future of the country is at fever pitch. At times, Guyana’s politics has bordered on the theatrical, melodramatic and retrogressive, but despite the antagonism which is understandably historic in nature, Guyanese from all walks of life now have the opportunity to `grasp the nettle’. The survival of nation states depends hugely on their ability and capacity to resolve internal differences while having to negotiate difficult terrain of external pressures of one type or another. These opposites demand tactfulness, not posturing and ridicule. For all intents and purposes, Guyana’s case is crucial, but soluble.

To compete in global power politics, Guyana should recognise the destructive nature of partisan politics since its weak bargaining position, financially, does not offer much scope in the world economy if internal divisions are overzealously propagated because of sectional interests on either side of the political divide. The implied suggestion of tacit acceptance to Western diktats however, is unacceptable since it violates the sovereignty of Guyana. Moreover it is vital that the gains of Political Independence and Republican status are not squandered or unwittingly undermined by the paralysis of ideological contestation and ethnic discontent.

The country needs a huge investment of change management capital to alleviate inequities created by the appropriation of British and US Republican-styles of governance rulebook. For nearly half a century this twin-approach has proven fractious to the democratic traditions that Guyana has been trying to galvanise since the mid-1980s.

Discussions on Guyana’s future have been implicated by the seepage of `blame politics’ and `ideological deviance’, allied to Western persuasions of `divide and rule’, `divide and conquer’. To the casual observer, these attitudes are invariably, embedded in the psyche of Guyanese societies everywhere, especially when a constructive agenda is being advocated and it is also prevalent on issues dealing with the process of regional integration in the Caribbean.

Historic Dilemma

What is more, past Administrations in Guyana have been vilified for countless sins of `omission’ and `commission’ even in cases where consensus was evident on key national priorities – free education, ownership of essential industries, land reforms etc. It is certainly the case that Guyana’s current difficulties are a manifestation of internal and external circumstances some of which are yet to be analysed from informed and objective perspectives.

Yet, if Guyana’s political leadership were to be examined in some measure, the main point of reference will be the management styles of its leaders, a critical element in any type of governance system. It acts as barometer in redefining Guyana’s self-styled democratic traditions. The Forbes Burnham Administration (1964-1985) was conceived by the attractive socialist experiment, a tool of expediency utilised at a time when developing nations were perceived to be unshackling themselves from colonial-imperial vestiges, whilst steering a path of self-governance. Guyana’s situation was therefore comparable to other emerging independent states – Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and African nations, including Ghana (which became the first African country to gain Political Independence in 1957). Ostensibly, the Indian sub-continent and China had experienced their share of ideological successes ranging from social democracy to a mixed economy (in the case of China, one country three systems and in the case of India, one country two systems or at least so it appeared to outsiders) .

As the politics of opportunism took root, the Burnham Administration was tarred with the brush of autocracy even though this period of enlightenment failed to recognise and consider the Republic’s acute dilemma. Even though Guyana obtained Political Independence from Britain, it inherited a virtual `elective dictatorship’ a rather close semblance of the (British) Westminster model, a fact that is widely quoted by British and European analysts, and one which is less known in the Caribbean. Proportional Representation or `PR’ has been the most controversial system of government since the mid-20th century and Guyana’s almost powerless adherence to its principles is a stumbling block to genuine reform in the democratic institutions of governance – locally and nationally, as the evidence suggests.

The recent debate on the Iraq war in Europe reminded many of us that the `fairness doctrine’ should always be upheld even in the most difficult of circumstances. It was therefore pleasing to observe the swathe of opinions on Proportional Representation and its implications for countries that embrace it. To quote a leading campaigner for modern and fair democracy, “There is only one weighty democratic argument deployed against Proportional Representation in principle. The job of elections is not only to reflect opinions but also to aggregate them so as to make effective decision-taking possible after polling day. A trade-off between fairness and aggregation is therefore essential, particularly if very small minorities are not to wield disproportionate influence because they happen to hold the balance of seats between the larger parties. In reality, this argument mainly applies to the use of PR without a reasonable threshold requirement for gaining seats.” It is known that most countries using PR impose a threshold of at least five per cent — either nationally or within a region — to gain seats. Few fringe parties get over this hurdle, but representation of the larger parties is nonetheless fair, which must be the case for Guyana.

Contrary to the rhetoric, a close study of economic indices at the time, showed that the Burnham Administration had little choice; with Guyana’s small and dwindling population, a narrow economic base, poor returns on exports, limited technology and lack of high-order skills, the choice was either re-colonisation or the pursuance of a national programme of self-reliance. The success of leaders is due, partly to their charisma, integrity, and dedication to the cause, apart from the quality of expert advice and guidance offered by endowed professionals, including political careerists. The issue of whether the advice given to the Burnham Administration (especially in exceptional and pressured circumstances) had to do with traditional Manifesto pledges or broader national interests is a subject that hasn’t attracted much credible analysis in recent times, even though it should be. Instead, his personal excesses have been used to paint a gloomy picture of Guyanese politics to the rest of the world.

Managerial Politics

The Desmond Hoyte Administration (1985-1992) was a mixed bag of ideological realignment and administrative deftness and although criticised for his `partnership with the Burnham legacy’, he infused renewed credibility and faith in the electorate’s political leadership. Elements of change management were apparent with the gradual overhaul of administrative processes and procedures within Central and Local Government authorities. Under his leadership, Hoyte guaranteed Guyana’s position in the universal fraternity of democratic nations. His Administration’s determination to change the national economic culture was also profound - opportunities in non-traditional areas were maximised. Guyanese witnessed a flourishing free media, the proliferation of new and varied literature, innovation and growth in key production and service sectors and the growth of political Parties and movements, as the nation oozed confidence and renewal. A deliberate attempt was made to woo experienced and highly-skilled Guyanese abroad, a move that paid significant dividends.

The Dr. Cheddi Jagan Administration (1992-1997) period of rule was revealing; Guyana was repositioned strategically in the marketplace of ideas and commodity bargaining. Dr. Jagan’s notion of ideology was cleverly contextualised in an atmosphere where the weight of democracy was felt by all, and in a move that defied his critics, he initiated the politics of consensus and accommodation. It was his Administration that demonstrated the mastery of modern statecraft in Guyana, by blending traditional ideology with pragmatic politics (the Civic component is a classic example of realignment politics). In doing so, Dr. Jagan exemplified a compelling case for ethnic unity reinforced by social cohesion and ideological finesse. Such emphases became invaluable coordinates as Guyana punched above her `weight’ at regional and international forums by articulating modern approaches in tackling inequalities affecting the world’s deprived and excluded. Contemporary politics is about compromise and Party leaders concede that the centre ground of politics is far more expedient than adopting rigid `Left’ or Right’ inclinations. Political Parties usually wear each other’s ideological garb and this slick piece of advertising has thrown most electorates into confusion and doubt. Issues on trust, believability and integrity are routinely questioned by experienced and first-time voters in their anxiety to know genuine contenders in the political leadership terrain.

The current Administration led by President Bharat Jagdeo therefore has an imposing challenge; that is, to continue building on the good work of its predecessors. Jagdeo has ennobling qualities of youth, experience, exuberance, affability and patriotic zeal - the kind of repertoire associated with modern political management styles in emerging economies such as Guyana. The reconstruction programme will demand that every Guyanese – home and overseas – pool their skills and talents to find practical solutions to the country’s problems, some of which have been alluded to in these columns.

Politics of Maturity

It will be very interesting to observe whether the `Politics of Maturity’ has finally gripped Guyana as campaigning in General Elections intensify. Firstly, all Parties will have to `up their game’, with leaders demonstrating the capacity and ability to tolerate criticism and not descend into pettiness and vitriol. They must focus on enforcing discipline among the rank and file activists and members alike, using political/voter education as a tool to empower and provide a moral boost for disaffected sections of the electorate.

Secondly, each Party must have a credible Manifesto outlining reform proposals, with leaders setting up appropriate Working Groups to carry out detailed reviews on issues affecting the country and presenting them to the electorate. A major emphasis should be to attract overseas-based Guyanese since there is a pool of untapped, multidisciplinary professionals and experts. Project management and related technical skills are in short supply in Guyana and the continued dependency of non-Guyanese expatriates is gradually depriving the country from some of its finest brains. This policy step should be reversed by all concerned with Guyana’s development thrust.

Thirdly, Parties must have a social agenda that derives strength and vitality from the political and social divide. The time is opportune to dismantle the pervasive ethnic and cultural partition that has weakened Guyana’s dynamic political culture and driven nationals abroad in droves, only to find themselves imperilled by bitter alienation and isolation in so-called `Greener Pastures’, even while enjoying new-found material trappings. An equivocation of national interests rather than cheap Party politics or narrow self-interest, must be the overriding factor in this year’s Elections.

However, since political parties are the ones that form governments in the first place, it might be unwise or even difficult to disassociate Party interests from national priorities. Above all, Parties must define their ideological credentials (no one is advocating that leaders must `nail their flag to the mast’ as it were); they must demonstrate their strategy through practical ideas on enabling Guyana’s prosperity. There must be clarity in all Party Manifestos on Guyana’s relationship with the Caribbean and Latin American Region, as well as the wider international community. Politically, Guyana should not be isolated from global currents.
There is an urgent need to hold Regional Elections to offer citizens the chance to elect the leaders of their choice. Apart from an exercise in democracy, these elections would guarantee the reforms needed to strengthen the hands of representative and participatory democracy by citizens in neighbourhoods, districts, sub-regions and regions as a whole. It is possibly a good idea to have a mandate whereby Regional Elections are held annually and National Primaries held every two years to enable citizens to monitor the effectiveness of Parliamentarians and Councillors in various constituencies in the country. It is a thought worth pursuing in this day and age of change management politics (sic).

Although Guyana has a small population compared to its size and composition, it’s blessed with an abundance of infinite natural resources, and equally, a fertile history of ideas and commodities that the world has valued in some measure. Its future in the 21st century and beyond hinges on the commitment, dedication and will of all Guyanese and Caribbean citizens to ensure that the country pursues the path of harmony and sustainable development.

Indeed, contrary to popular lay and expert opinion, it is unfair to compare Guyana with America, Britain, Europe and other developed parts of the world in terms of financial resources, multinational corporatism, expansive government structures and global militarism. There is much evidence to suggest that Western nations did not earn their superior status ordinarily; most of their gains have been obtained, if not founded, on the practices of commodity protectionist measures, imposition of ideological doctrines and domination of world capital, to name a few. Quintessentially, these virtuous qualities that Guyanese and other Caribbean citizens glamorise or satirise, reflect the inherent contradictions in the global economic system that hearkens lesser nations to be more democratic or else!

For all of its problems – economic and social though – Guyana is still a relatively peaceful country, devoid of civil unrests and ethnic cleansing which are recurring headlines in parts of Africa, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and Europe. Guyana has a healthy balance of moral and spiritual power and this should be used as force for good. Indeed, the politics of consensus and accommodation will ultimately salvage the Guyanese nation, enabling lasting institutions of political, economic and social governance. Conventionally, governments are the elected representatives of the people and like most things, they come and go. Guyanese of all description and prescription, have the chance to get it right this time, if not, we would have failed our beloved country, especially our children and theirs too.

(This article was first published in The Guyana Gazette and appeared on:

Monday, January 23, 2006


Perceptions versus Reality of Black Businesses in the UK

(This article was first written after the 2005 Handsworth disturbances)

We are in the first few years of the 21st century and we are still consumed by the hang-over of the last century’s ethnic insecurities - economic deprivation and social exclusion in sections of British society. Some argue that future prospects for African and Caribbean peoples remain dim, while others say that, from indicators, it is not true. It is often said, that `a nation that forgets its past is condemned to repeat it'.

So what is the real history of Black people in general? Is it only about physical enslavement, oppression, degradation and inhumanity to man by man? Is it about negative stereotyping? What about today's Britain where sections of the Black community continue to wallow in despair, living a sense of hopelessness, powerlessness and seemingly endless frustration? What sense are we to make of these symptoms? Many of us feel that British society is far more developed and enlightened to be experiencing, more so tolerating this endless human scourge. These searching questions have many answers, but space limits a measured response.
Black people have been in Britain since the 17th and 18th centuries and have contributed much to the political, economic and social advancement of this country. However, recent history suggests that the growth of the Caribbean population particularly, was triggered in part, by the British Government's invitation to Caribbean nationals to help in the post-war reconstruction effort in the construction, health, hotel, transport and other sectors of the economy.

Caribbean Presence

In fact, although Caribbean people have settled in the UK for over 300 years it was not until 1948 that large numbers migrated to the UK and this is demonstrated in the census returns, 1891-1951. It is not possible to identify ethnic origin here although it can be assumed that the majority of migrants were of African descent and to a lesser extent European and Asian. Today, most of these settlers have become worthy citizens and their contributions have all but seemed forgotten.

Long before the term `diversity' gained political currency, Caribbean peoples embraced this principle. From birth, they have integrated into the universe of similarities and differences due to a combination of physical enslavement, indentureship and further interference by colonialism and adult suffrage. The arrival of Caribbean people in British was met initially by shock, apprehension and withdrawal. These responses were symptomatic of the ignorance and the negative propaganda fed to create fear and insecurity in the minds of the British public. Very few people knew that Caribbean nationals who came to the country by invitation, were part of the broader British imperial project that lasted more than 200 years taking in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and even early America.

Over the past 45 years, Britain has witnessed a phenomenal rise in economic activity among Caribbean people, with the rapid creation of businesses and social firms. For a community numbering just over 560,000 Caribbean people have an estimated 10% stake in the total self-employment activities of the UK. To date, African and Caribbean people own and manage over 20,000 businesses with a wealth creation of £3 billion per annum. In Birmingham, one of the leading cities in England, there are more than 1,260 Black firms, with approximately £180 million generated every year. Nationally, these firms employ 150,000 - 200,000 people. Such a comparatively significant contribution to economic development has gone virtually unnoticed for decades in Britain where acknowledgement is often symbolic and recognition, stifled.

Black businesses are located in growth sectors such as cleaning, construction, food, manufacturing, personal care, health care, information technology, education and training and professional services. Official statistics show that in the West Midlands; for example, Black firms' market share in manufacturing is 12%, construction 8%, tourism 10%, transport 5%, cultural industries 6%, IT 4%, retail 23%, professional services(including consultancy)15% and healthcare 15%.

Yet the issue around (ethnic) ownership, the means of distribution and supply of Black hair care products for example, has been contentious in recent years. It is perceived that this issue (amongst others) may have served as a catalyst for the conflict between among sections of the Asian (Sikh and Pakistani) and Caribbean communities in October 2005 in Handsworth, one of the deprived wards in England.

Historically, the success of Black enterprise in the UK, is associated with the hair trade, beginning with the pioneering work of Dyke and Dryden in the 1960s which gave rise to the number of saloons, including barber shops, owned and managed by African and Caribbean people. This industry has helped create innovations of style, texture, and technology and market segmentation involving a range of alternative therapies. The truth is, other communities recognised a niche market and have capitalised on it which makes good business sense. However, this should be seen in light of the harsh realities of ethnic commerce vis-a-vis business planning regulations which convey the impression of favouring one set of ethnic groups over another. Evidence on the ground can shed some light on this fact.

Market Distortions

Asian and Eastern European firms control vast distribution outlets for Black hair care products and owners of Black hair care firms claim that their operations are under-cut and disenfranchised in a market which they feel historically, they have a sense of belonging as consumers and producers alike. Procurement of Black hair care products is tricky and problematic for Black firms, since their limited purchasing power, along with the use of effective distribution and supply chains by competitors, have almost frozen Black hair care businesses out of the market. Such sensitivities may not be relevant to the hard-nosed nature of business, but in a racially-divided British society, these issues need careful examination and investigation to find appropriate solutions to remedy this situation in order to avoid unnecessary tension and potential explosive results.

Anecdotal evidence in the ethnic market shows overwhelming disparities in trading and consumption practices. In Southall, West London, where there is a largely dominant and segmented Asian/Indian population, very few if any, Black firms can trade successfully in products and services, including hair care commodities. Trading by that community is practically disallowed because of the overwhelming presence of, and pervasive influence by the Asian community in general. According to a Caribbean business student, "The system is not interested in whether or not these people are involved in unfair trading practices and tactics, once they can pay their taxes and open as many shops as they possibly can, the system will protect them. If we try to set up a small business, we are finished; they will make sure that we never have customers and they would even attempt to block any expansion we undertake. One way or the other, the planning regulations system is stacked against us and if I were to start a business, I would be very keen to consider these factors."

In North London, prior to the 1990s, a thriving Black business community existed until Cypriots, Greeks and Turkish and other nationalities from Europe arrived as a result of the opportunties afforded by the growing enlargement of the European Single Market. These `new comer' firms also trade in `Afro-Caribbean products even though in principle, they do not employ Black staff. In Brixton, the situation is even more puzzling where Caribbean firms are unable to compete with either Asian or Eastern Europeans whose primary intention is to access the `Black Pound'. Again, very few employ Black staff or even trade with this community's entrepreneurs.

Black businesses are continuously lectured on equal opportunities and other inclusive doctrines, yet Chinese, Jewish, Asian or Eastern European businesses fail to adhere to these `racial integrationist' caveats. Based on concrete evidence `on the ground', it would appear that the planning regulations governing the location of businesses, including premises, need reviewing, especially in areas where there might be potential for conflict involving different ethnic groups. If the impression is routinely conveyed that there is one law for Black people, one for mainstream Whites and another for other ethnic groups, according to the current evidence in the market place, then there is a rather compelling case to be made for the system to be changed. There is not much literature available on the trading disparities involving different ethnic groups in the UK because most of the research on this subject is biased in favour of the majority and issues affecting small minority communities such as African and Caribbean peoples, are pivoted around immigration, race and negative stereotyping.

It is important, that as Britain maintains its passion for a racially stable and prosperous society, that the authorities in collaboration with various communities, resolve prevailing inequalities found especially in local planning regulations. Where possible, efforts must be made to find a balance between encouraging and supporting ethnic markets accessibility with appropriate safeguards to resolve unnecessary tensions. Historically, Britain's obsession with race, prejudice and other discriminatory behaviours, has inherently clouded its judgement on making sure that there is an even-handed approach when (victim) firms are caught up in the crossfire of `ethnic monopolies', as in the case of Caribbean hairdressers and barbers.

Contrary to popular opinion, Black people have contributed immensely to British society. A few examples of this fact will suffice. Lee Williams is owner of a cleaning firm, one of the fastest 100 inner-city firms in England. As Chair of the Birmingham Black Business Association he is engaged in a procurement initiative for minority firms, collaborating with the distinguished Professor Monder Ram of DeMontFort University who is the brainchild of this initiative. The BBA is a lead partner in the National African and Caribbean Business Council, a national body, formed in 2004 that represents all Black businesses and social firms in the country, and one which has been endorsed by Her Majesty's Treasury Department in January 2005.

Other Entrepreneurs

Karl George is also among leading members of the Black community. Apart from running a successful accounting firm, he is founder of the 100 Black Men organisation which provides education and training opportunities for young men, using a culturally sensitive approach. George was awarded an MBE for services to the community in 2004. Nikki Walker, another successful entrepreneur in the healthcare sector, is head of a local business forum. Then they are the veterans - Clyde Pile who owns an industrial company and Tony Sealey who runs a Mc Donald franchise - both are described as "successful businessmen" and "civic statesmen" for their pioneering efforts around empowering and supporting economic development within Black communities in the West Midlands Region.

Since Caribbean people arrived in the UK, they have been working ceaselessly to be part of the society, by identifying areas where they can have a direct input. For instance, their participation in public life is manifested in the growing number of MPs, councillors, civil servants and others who hold a variety of positions in public and private life. The Caribbean business presence is a signifier of that community's abiding interest in impacting positively on the economic management and development of the UK. Through the ceaseless efforts of Black peoples generally, the country has begun experiencing greater tolerance and social cohesion in inner-cities especially. Indeed, the sole purpose of Black people in the country is to contribute, by encouraging and supporting various initiatives to make the UK more prosperous, stable and viable in the 21st century and beyond.


REA as a modern instrument of National Reform

In an article dated 18th December 2005 in the Guyana Gazette, mention was made of the importance of another structural tier to complement the existing Regional Democratic Council (RDC) in Guyana. On that occasion, I alluded to the primary aim of the RDC – to citizens to participate in the democratic process. The creation of Regional Enterprise Agencies represents another step towards economic reform in Guyana.

In its current form, the RDC is historically flawed: too politicised, unadaptive, inflexible and unable to articulate a consistent economic and social policy conducive to the demands of local communities. The suggested REA system has a comparative advantage from a policy instrument position, since philosophically, it avoids the pitfalls of ideological correctness in an environment where expediency tends to be outweighed by the imperatives of market forces.

Within reason, REAs can be integrated in the constitutional provisions, including the 1996 reforms under the Local Government Act. Detailed parameters of this initiative can be set out, along with the necessary institutional arrangements that required ensuring that it works coherently. REAs can facilitate space for various organisations, agencies and groups to take part in enterprise activities and events and are designed to promote regional co-operation among diverse communities. The suggested format for the REA system is wide and varied, but it represents nevertheless, a logical step towards broadening the scope of regional democracy.

Legislative Process

It is proposed that, as a start, the authority responsible for Local Government or Regional Affairs, should devise a Concept Paper after extensive discussions with interested parties - business, education, training, social, cultural among others. A Bill outlining terms of reference for the RDA system and principled aims and objectives, should be framed for debate in Parliament. The legislation should cover too, a clear timetable and a feedback mechanism.

At the end of the consultation process, roadshow seminars should be organised to promote this initiative especially to rural parts of Guyana. Once approved, the Bill should have cross- Party support and feed into the views of experts to strengthen its legislative framework. The legislation should then be given a gestation period of 8-10 months before actual implementation, during which time, there will be reflection and consideration of emerging views from the Regions, as well as an opportunity for clarification.

The implementation of the REA Bill should allow for further pre-testing of delivery and this means that piloting the initiative in at least six Regions - 2, 3,4,5,6 and 10 respectively – where more than 70% of Guyana’s productive sectors are located .This is approach is crucial for success of the REA system. Naturally, these pilots will test the efficiency and effectiveness of the new structure and its impact on communities in selected Regions. An evaluation of each pilot should be carried out; measuring outcomes and outputs, since each Region may have unique features along political, economic, social and cultural lines. Different methods of intervention would be required to determine the results or outcomes of this initiative.

The REA Implementation

The implementation of the REA system is sine qui non to regional liberalisation. It tests the Establishment’s `fairness doctrine’ as it applies to local government politics. It offers fresh impetus for the creation of regional excellence models and stimulates a series of innovations underpinned by education, training and social (investment) provision. It frees spare capacity for infrastructure, labour and other resources within each of the 10 Administrative Regions. In effect, it offers maximum advantage for growth and development all round, not forgetting value for money. The REA will enable skills retention, increased growth of new local economies, improved managerial competence, accountability and enhanced fiscal discipline.

From a practical standpoint, the REA system is premised on a fundamental shift of economic policy aimed at citizens in far-flung areas who will be the main beneficiaries in accessing manifold opportunities through the creation of enterprise and entrepreneurship activities in the Regions. The challenge in all of this, will be the medium-term impact, apart from its lasting benefits. The current RDC system is limited in scope for a real economic breakthrough for regional viability. So then, what are the implications and how will it translate into meaningful benefits for both the `haves’ and have-nots’? The following implications of the REA are possible: -

1. Its structural framework will have to adapt to the variations and variables in each of the 10 Administrative Regions.

2. Though qualitative and quantitative in character, aims and objectives should demonstrate the intention of improving production and productivity yields. Realism should prevail rather than flawed assumptions of one type or another.

3. REAs activity profile should be specific and tailored to meet the demands of the regional populace. Accurate information and reliable data are necessary to ensure that programmes are not overly ambitious or based on the whim of partisan interests.

4. The management structure should reflect an array of legal composites; namely, limited companies with charitable objectives, social enterprises or quasi-corporate entities less share holding and profit motive considerations or tendencies. Boards with multidisciplinary foci should be instituted and balanced by executives. These personnel should have considerable experience in economic affairs, regeneration, business management, project development, financial and accounting, as well as relevant cultural and social skills. There should be scope for a sub-regional element to take care of larger regions such as those found in the Berbice and Essequibo counties. Sub-regional Chairs should be appointed to sit on Regional Boards to ensure sound decision making and realistic programme delivery.

5. Apart from the ideological flexibility, possibly the greatest challenge, will be the political will of Central Government; that is, testing the Executive’s long-term commitment to additional reform to reinvigorate the national economy through the creative use, and application of modern approaches to local governance to bring about greater prosperity and stability in deprived and excluded communities in Guyana.

6. The REA system will contribute to economic buoyancy through additional jobs, new skills, innovation, technology developments, improved physical infrastructure, confidence and a morale boost for citizens.

7. Partnership working would be further enhanced, with better co-ordination and the harmonisation of various segments of the Guyanese economy. Increased procurement and tender opportunities will benefit micro firms and social enterprises. The challenge for large companies will be how to `play ball’ within the regional context.

8. Equality and equity standards (for everyone irrespective of race, class or creed) would also be tested to the hilt.

Ultimately, the REA system will demonstrate the validity of its actual creation. Would be seen as another legislative hurdle to implement? Would it be regarded as another tool of economic expediency? Would it be considered an invaluable instrument for unleashing the potential of citizens in poor districts and neighbourhood-villages in Guyana? The answer to these questions would be judged by the desperate need to spur economic growth by implementing practical and responsible reform measures, whilst balancing the risk of current economic necessity with quaint ideological models.

Yet, this is an opportune moment for Guyana to harness the necessary resources to generate sustainable development. That is why it is important to have a constructive debate on a Regional Enterprise Agency system to strengthen economic governance in 21st century Guyana.

Contact the author at


Guyanese researching Caribbean businesses globally

(first published first in the Guyana Gazette 15th January 2006)

A former Guyanese journalist and publisher, now a leading business management consultant, is at the forefront of researching the organisation and performance of Caribbean businesses. This ground-breaking work is the first of its kind, since it addresses firms using a sectoral model. Dr. Christopher Johnson, who worked with the Guyanese media and later published the highly acclaimed `Young Blood’ magazine series which won countrywide plaudits, began researching the impact of Caribbean firms on the global economy over a decade ago. He was the second Guyanese and Caribbean national to be awarded the Nuffield Commonwealth Press Fellowship to Cambridge University for his outstanding contribution to print journalism in Guyana. Later, he earned an MBA in Marketing Management and PhD in Business Management at London and Scottish Universities respectively. In between his extensive studies, he was commissioned by Hansib Publishers Limited to write papers on successful Caribbean citizens the world over. His constructive analyses attracted widespread interest among professional bodies, public, private and civic sector agencies, and he was invited to offer advice and support to small and medium-sized enterprises. He also tutored college and university students in areas diverse as Business English, Marketing, Financial Management and Corporate Governance. His MBA dissertation examined the impact of an economic union of the Caribbean in the 21st century, while his doctoral thesis analysed the performance of Caribbean businesses in the UK. He has since expanded his work in areas, lecturing on the importance of greater regional community participation in the Caricom Single Market Economy and publicising the contribution of Caribbean firms and social enterprises generally. “The CSME brings immense challenges and great prospects , and we need to ensure that there is a collective convergence of the various national economies in the Caribbean. Opportunities for increased trade and open market access are but a few of the many options. This economic instrument will also strengthen our regional institutions of governance and enable the Caribbean to demonstrate its potential as a genuine trade market player, intra and extra-regionally.”

Dr. Johnson has profiled hundreds of Caribbean firms and carried out reviews on numerous business and trade associations using a sectoral approach. He explained the importance of this approach. “It is important to locate Caribbean businesses in a much wider context than restricting their analysis to a purely Eurocentric or traditional method of investigation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these firms function invariably, quite differently to mainstream companies. Owners operate on an informal basis and they are more likely to be engaged in multiple enterprise activities even though their companies’ name may reflect a single product or service output. Solutions to problems such as lack of investment capital, poor premises and limited market intelligence, could only be resolved if an objective approach based on a sector-by-sector analysis is undertaken. As the saying goes, if the objective conditions do not exist, one has to either create them or appropriate them, bearing in mind that market forces are influenced both by consumers and suppliers alike and they in general terms, dictate the way how customs and values are coalesced in a global economy.”

The Guyanese business management specialist stated that most of the current economic literature tended to analyse Caribbean entrepreneurship through the microscope of culture, ethnicity, migration, politics and race. Issues such as market orientation, trade alliances, sectoral performance, network groupings, business planning and funding techniques, among others, are not emphasised sufficiently, thereby offering a more objective appraisal or evaluation of this sector of the global economy.

Dr. Johnson hopes that his book, which is due later in the year, will test the validity of several theories pertaining to the SME sector, the input of immigrant firms in developed societies, the challenges of the global economy and more importantly, the impact of Caribbean enterprises on regional economies, including the Latin America and the Caribbean Region that is working to achieve an eventual Free Trade of the Americas (FTA). “I would be very interested in observing how this book will shape the way Caribbean businesses are viewed by institutions and agencies worldwide, and also the effect it will have on the academic community in their understanding of how Caribbean people, through creativity and innovation, are pursuing relentlessly a variety of enterprise initiatives to compete in the global economy, thereby making room for a level playing field in the global market place of ideas, products and services.”

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Can Guyana benefit from a Caricom Single Market Economy?

(By Dr Christopher A. Johnson)

As 2006 ushered in the Caricom Single Market Economy (CSME), the debate has centred on the readiness of national economies to move to the path of convergence for a sounder and viable regional economy. More than 40 years ago, the Carifta experiment proved fatal in terms of ambitions for a regional economic union. Of course, the political federation that preceded that also failed after four years in 1962. The question is, how can Guyana, which is considered a low to middle-income economy globally speaking, benefit from a regional market economy such as the CSME? What are the challenges and prospects, and what affect this new reality will be for various sectors of the economy? In 2002, Dr. David Lewis, Chief of Party Caribbean Policy Project, published a paper on preparations necessary to facilitate free trade in the Americas. He argued that Caricom should make rapid progress in deepening integration even while seeking to broaden membership of the Free Trade Area. Yet, it was this punch line by Dr. Lewis that reflected the gravity of a real economic convergence necessary to facilitate a dynamic regional market economy in the Caribbean. According to him, “Herein lies the importance of making progress towards the Caricom Single Market & Economy (CSM&E) as a foundation upon which to then enter into extra-regional Free Trade Agreements (FTA'S). Similarly, the regional private sector can only really contribute to such FTA negotiations when it has successfully been able to effectively negotiate an intra-regional CSM&E based on a set of private sector interests. To the degree that the regional private sector is able to engage the public sector and social partners in this process, both domestic/regional and extra-regional, then to that degree the role of the private sector in FTA negotiations will be important to Caribbean economic Development and integration.” The fact, is Guyana, like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Jamaica, has been in the forefront of campaigning for a one-tier regional economy with national economies working towards a gradual conversion of currency, stocks and shares, traditional goods and services, as well as the wider commodities market sector. The drawback here, is that the narrower the economic base, the more difficult it is for developing economies such as Guyana, to benefit adequately from the CSME instrument. It was interesting to observe the cautionary note by Grenada on the timing of `joining’ the CSME. Her case is understandable judging from the recovery of Hurricane Ivan, which devastated more than 90 percent of that country’s infrastructure. It was the way Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell put his country’s point over that made interesting reading. “While we are committed to the CSME we will not do so until sometime in 2006. We believe that this is necessary to allow us the time to finalise a number of outstanding legal matters, in addition to providing a much-needed window to complete our public education programme,” Mitchell said in a radio and television broadcast recently. Six member states have signalled their readiness to be part of the CSME, which will allow for the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour across the region. Guyana has been working with other Caricom states, to work out the modalities for a freer movement of people through the region. However, there are challenges for Guyana in her quest to be an active participant in a regional market economy, as there are prospects or opportunities. Challenges for the CSME Reading from the economic indicators so far, Guyana has enjoyed appreciable growth in agriculture, bauxite, rice and sugar, along with timber exports in the past five years, but this alone cannot guarantee economic stability, nationally. Guyana’s trade with Caricom neighbours is yet to reach levels of 30-40 percent - this is vital to generate greater confidence among national producers and a strong boost for consumer confidence. In the 1980s, Guyana, out of economic necessity, pursued a partial import replacement policy as rising cost of production for goods and services took their toll on the economy, allied to an ever-increasing foreign debt situation. The need to stimulate greater production in manufactured goods via the cottage industry and the traditional three-some (bauxite, rice and sugar) is vital if Guyana is to benefit from a Caricom Single Market Economy. The fluctuating Guyana Dollar remains a problem for the country’s Exchange Rate Mechanism, and while Guyanese benefit from attractive rates of exchange from foreign currencies, traded through formal and informal channels, the economy suffers since the return on traditional exports is not sustainable for real economic growth per capita. The need to strengthen national currencies is an acid test for Guyana and Jamaica, but more so, the former. Jamaica enjoys a relatively strong stock exchange change market and tourism has propelled economic growth on the island. The manufacturing sector in Guyana needs technology improvement in areas such as materials, equipment and information. Quality skills in technical supervision, project management and corporate leadership at the level of international corporate culture, are essential ingredients for a more vibrant private sector. Having a competitive advantage is a powerful instrument for Guyana to bargain in the regional trading space in her quest to improve market advantage both inter-regionally and extra-regionally. Negotiating her way though, will demand a high degree of sophistication borne of market intelligence and the cultural understanding such as language, values, customs and related social contexts of other Caribbean states. Another perceived challenge is that of political will. Would a lack of this strategic input place Guyana in a quandary? Can the country really challenge its collective might to achieve this objective? Can it use its history and present set of circumstances to be what is commonly described as the `Best of the Best’? Undoubtedly, the CSME will test Guyana’s pride in its ethnic and cultural mix, a somewhat great advantage if utilised effectively, and in the process, help shed its skin of the racial impurities that has dogged the Republic for nearly 50 years. Guyana has the ideological experience and political maturity to help shape a Caricom Single Market Economy, but all political parties will have to examine their own position in the wider context of a progressive agenda and this will be the real crunch. Interesting ProspectsFrom the above challenges, there seems to varying prospects in which Guyana can truly benefit from the CSME in 2006 and beyond. The current administration, along with the opposition and other political organizations, will need to institutionalize the importance of a CSME, showing its value to a future strong and vibrant economy. The importance of increased regional co-operation should also be stressed, since this will cement links with Guyana and her counterparts in the smaller Caricom or Eastern Caribbean states whose economies, though varied in type, can relatively converge because of the ties that has been fostered by the OECS since 1981. Guyana stands to benefit from a regional single market by maximising production in goods and services, as well its overall commodities market. Through bilateral ventures – commercially and industrially – this aim could be realised. Twin energy projects involving Guyana and Trinidad are possible, and so are similar projects involving Barbados and Jamaica in the area of tourism, even tough eco-tourism for Guyana, may have greater economic and financial spin-offs than cruiser-line tourism for instance. Other joint ventures with Eastern Caribbean states such as the Bahamas, the Virgin Islands and St. Croix in the area of stock market (exchange) support, among other financial sector ventures, are equally crucial, as Guyana endeavours to have an impact on the opportunities afforded by the CSME. The prospect of a greater social benefit should not be ruled out. As a multi-racial country, Guyana has blended a range of cultures with the history of various civilisations the world over. This can be shared and commercialised in the form of national and regional artistic and cultural events such as Carifesta and possibly an extra-regional extravaganza, linking the cultures of the Americas where similarities and differences reside alongside each other. The fusion of culture and sports can create innumerable economic benefits and other trade-offs for Guyana and her Caribbean counterparts. Since the CSME is not only about economics, but is also about the social value system of each nation-state in the Caribbean and its role in the modern world, Guyana’s best chance of benefiting from this machinery, will hinge on its desire to fix what needs fixing and open the floodgates of opportunity so that the nation can not only see sparks of regionalisation, but also breathe the fire of true globalisation, with a healing effect of course! Next time, I will examine the role of the private sector in the Free Trade of the Americas (FTA) from a Guyana-Caribbean perspective.

(The author is a Guyanese- Caribbean business management consultant who is currently writing the first ever history of British-based Caribbean businesses. He has been campaigning for Caribbean communities overseas to be actively involved and engaged in the various mechanisms behind the creation of a Caricom Single Market Economy (CSME) Email: or and click on The Equivalent to see more features by this author)


Transforming Guyana's Image is Crucial

(By Dr. C.A. Johnson)

I have watched with interest and intrigue at how sections of the national and international media have sought to besmirch Guyana's image by propagating the notion that the Republic is in a state of self-destruct and is equally, incapable of managing its affairs. As an overseas-based Guyanese, I would like to suggest a myriad of ways in which Guyana can revive its state governance thereby sustaining and building on today's global democratic traditions. PoliticalA re-examination of the country's political system is vital, to determine whether there is a complete dislocation of the nation's ideological and political sense of governance. The politics of revenge should be sanitised by fairness, meritocracy and reconciliation, given that the Eurocentric adaptation of racist ideologies has almost made Guyana democratically bankrupt in terms of sustaining its regional and international status, as a democratic nation. A great deal of creative energy is being dissipated by the totality of fears and insecurities reminiscent of early 20th century politics. This legacy has corrosively undermined Guyana's genuine desire for consensus politics, founded on harmony and respect, irrespective of differences across the political and social divide.A constructive debate is urgently needed to push for a viable alternative to the Republic's incestuous, partisan, patriarchal and party political culture. The idea of a national front government involving major political parties is not far-fetched. In the long term, it will reduce, if not alleviate ethnic tensions; provide a balanced representation of various ethnic groups in public and private sector agencies and institutions; strengthen voter confidence and stabilise the political apparatus of change management. The long overdue local government elections should be held at the earliest opportunity to infuse new dynamism in local governance. Local elections will also boost participative and representative democracy by providing citizens greater opportunities to be involved in the decision-making process in both urban and rural areas of Guyana. Economic Situation Maximising Guyana's resources are far more critical than any other time in history to deal with the perennial balance-of-payments issue. Revenge politics have blighted the country's economic fortunes. Boasting about infinite resources, and at the same time, lacking a definitive strategy for sustainable economic development is an exercise in tinker politics. Strong and credible leadership is a prerequisite towards harnessing the enterprise culture through innovation, competition and opportunity, so that our entrepreneurs can contribute meaningfully to the economy. Guyana needs a modern "rural economic" strategy, premised on encouraging citizens to play a strategic role in the development of the cottage industry which has major spin-offs for agriculture, tourism and the cultural sectors. For instance we can improve yields in fruits, vegetables and other farm produce if farm-to-market roads are maintained regularly and mini-canning factories are constructed to preserve the nation's food that is either spoilt or wasted. Such a strategy will help advance orderly, rural economic development. It will create increased employment opportunities, introduce new technical and vocational skills and add to existing local technologies as well. By stimulating new industries and services in rural areas, the population density in townships, including Georgetown, the capital, could be reduced considerably. In addition, Central Government should mandate the ten Regional Democratic Councils (RDCs) to establish neighbourhood satellites to transform the present community enterprise system. Government must facilitate the drive towards urban renewal in partnership with NGOs and other grassroots organisations that can influence broad-based changes in diverse communities. Funds can be obtained from international agencies matched by Government set-aside resources. Guyana's history of collective self-help is well known and should be maximised at all levels of local and national development. A 5-10 year development plan is a must for every administrative region, done through extensive consultations and active participation by citizens from diverse backgrounds. The current Iwokrama Project is paying great dividends. The recent setting up of a training institute to equip Amerindians, including young people, with a variety of academic and vocational skills, is the beginning of a modernised approach to hinterland development in the Co-operative Republic. Social DimensionPoverty and ignorance have proven to be divisive in both the developed and developing world. In the case of Guyana this situation is evident by the way attitudes towards new ideas have hardened and become resistant to constructive or positive change. When economic deprivation is compounded by social exclusion, they have a debilitating effect on social governance. We must mobilise our social capital – both nationally and internationally. Guyana's diversity is a blessing not a curse. It makes the country deservedly special, rich and durable, since as citizens, we are major players in the global quest for peace and security. Another main ingredient towards lasting development in Guyana is the transformation of education and training systems to keep pace with global scientific and technological advances. The transformation of existing teaching and learning methods is an effective way of helping young citizens to access newer and greater opportunities in the job market. A case in point is the lack of key project management skills in Guyana and some parts of the Caribbean. This has resulted in either the partial development or the stultification of potentially viable projects earmarked for excluded communities. Excellence models in the arts and sciences should be encouraged through the incentive mechanism, particularly for citizens from impoverished or deprived backgrounds. Inventions and innovations should be rewarded and publicised widely to foster confidence, pride and civic renewal. From an international perspective, Guyanese-Caribbean citizens in the Diaspora are forging new pathways in race equalities, legislative affairs, economic policy, education and training strategy, business management, cultural unity and social development. Despite institutional racism and other prejudices in the metropolis, many have overcome barriers and are making considerable progress through combined private initiative and collective action. Guyana must therefore work in partnership with its Diasporic communities and other peace-loving nations, to combat its ills. I am confident that while we are beset by complex problems, the current struggle presented us with glorious opportunities to overcome. We can do so by goodwill, honour, perseverance and trust in our ability to modernise Guyana's political and social value systems. As a Guyanese and Caribbean citizen who have been immersed in the tedious process of human development – nationally and internationally - I am convinced that Guyana can help forge a better world, based on a lasting commitment to political consensus, economic pragmatism and social cohesion. It is time that we embrace modernity; we cannot fail Guyana. If we do, we will fail the rest of the Caribbean and those in our world hungry for peace and stability. This remains our real salvation!

About the Author: (Dr. Christopher A. Johnson is a Guyanese-Caribbean award-winning journalist and business management consultant. Through the culturally diversity model, he has empowered public, private and professional associations in valuing the importance of change management practices. His expertise is sought on business planning, funding, strategic management, cultural development, consumer affairs, research methodologies, conflict resolution and general policy. Dr. Johnson is writing the first detailed history of the Caribbean firm sector in Britain.Email: or and click on The Equivalent to see more features by this author)


Dispelling the Myth about Guyanese and Guyana

(By Dr. C.A. Johnson)

Since Guyana gained political independence in May 1966, there have been discussions concerning the country’s political culture – ranging from the adoption of social (emulation) principles to social democracy cum semi-capitalist tendencies. Equally, a lot of blame was exacted upon our erstwhile political leaders whether they involved Messrs Burnham, Jagan and Hoyte and/or their successors. Today we seem to have much of the same. In fact, just reading the various columns of both the local and national press, one is constantly aghast at the ethnic rancour, irrational logic and lack of constructive dialogue that exists. Few commentators or analysts have really tried to proffer workable solutions for a complex, ethnically stratified and resource-rich Republic such as Guyana. It is futile and counter-productive through our emotionally charged debates, to destroy Guyana’s image as a country that has tremendous potential, borne of experience and understanding the wily nature of global power politics.During much of the 20th century, despite the ideological differences, social tensions and economic difficulties, as a nation through its leaders, Guyana represented at one time, over 100 other nations across the globe in the fight against domination and oppression from the industrialised North. Guyana sought, through institutions such as the Commonwealth and the United Nations to work, through peaceful means – shuttle diplomacy and advocacy – to bring to the attention of the international community the necessity for non-industrialised states to conduct their democratic affairs through peaceful co-existence; the lowering or dismantling of protectionist walls that inhibit the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of countries from trading in agriculture, textiles and other raw materials in the European market. Almost every Guyanese leader – past and present –fought for the country’s right to self-determination – a moral and legitimate right we take for granted when discussing our usual partisan politics. Yet as our nation continues fighting for greater peace worldwide - based on political, economic and social governance – we cannot seem to resolve intractable problems such as racial insecurity, democratic deficits in the political culture, underperformance in traditional business sectors and lack of social consciousness from a national point of view. A Better SystemThere are significant drawbacks in our political culture that need addressing as a nation. Firstly, we need to recognise that we inherited a racist, fragile system that is divisive in both content and form along the lines of both the British Westminster and the US Executive Presidential style of democracy, which can only work efficiently and effectively if the objective conditions are suitable. There is need for a better system of political and voter education to enable the electorate to better understand what party candidates and their parties stand for. A mechanism should be instituted to ensure there is a threshold for sponsoring political parties. Moreover, constitutional reform is badly needed in Guyana to address imbalances in the political executive vis-à-vis the political directorate and the various arms of national and local government. There should be clear distinction in duties and responsibilities between the political executive and administrative arm of government. While they cannot function exclusively of each other, their tasks should be clearly delineated to avoid friction between Ministers and Heads of Government ~ Departments and agencies. Political parties and their operatives should be thoroughly examined for their aims and general purpose – this is where an effective and proactive media can scrutinise candidates so as to be able to furnish factual information and correct data on issues to do with the country in general. Political debates should be of greater programmatic substance rather than personality vitriol which has tarnished Guyana’s image as a tolerant and civilised nation unlike other parts of the world where dissension occurs with alarming frequency when even the slightest of debates take place. There is also a need to encourage the establishment of independent, mini-institutes, in collaboration with the University of Guyana, to study and advance the ideas of various communities that may not be in a position to access to the largely national body of politics in the country. For example issues such as education, culture, employment, social development, women’s development and youth affairs, could be represented by separate institutions whose work is primarily concerned with promoting such agenda(s) rather than be driven or controlled by rigid party political imperatives. Leaving Regional Democratic Councils to carry out such sensitive tasks is unwise to say the least. These independent institutions could be funded by reputable charities, via a series of programs around community governance and participation in local and regional happenings in particular. The creation of these entities will allow for greater use of talent and resources in far-flung areas of Guyana. This move will help too, to reduce the brain drain and the out-migration of experienced and technically proficient citizens who leave in droves for `greener pastures’ either in urban areas or at worse, overseas. Business and Economic CompetitivenessSecondly, we need to address the economic problems being faced in Guyana. Previously I referred to a review of the so-called commanding heights of the economy – sugar, bauxite and rice. Recent figures from the information ministry showed an appreciable level of improvement in production in these areas. The fact that Guyana is operating in a global economy makes the case of further reforms more urgent. Efforts to raise production should include the technology improvements in both business and industry; the provision of technical, managerial and customer-focused training for executives, directors, managers, supervisors and other non-management personnel in public and private sector agencies. Annual targets for all state corporations and private agencies should be encouraged, with corresponding incentives provided to stimulate productivity and initiative. A system of business mentoring by large companies should be encouraged to support under-performing firms across key sectors. Business or economic competitiveness is best guaranteed when there is competence, investment, technology and consistent market-oriented approaches – this act as spurs towards increasing levels of production and productivity in any enterprise. Government should recruit the best and the brightest among the Guyanese population –both at home and abroad. Guyana needs men and women, including our young and talented generation, to raise standards in public life and improve higher yields in private enterprise. Exports could only be sustainable if the country has a combination of quality skills, managerial and technical experience and an unerring commitment to the process of development and change, and of course, through an enlightened view of regional and international market forces. Project management skills are affecting Guyana’s pace and quality of development. In several business sectors there are issues around product development, marketing, limited capital investment to take a product to another stage and poor data collection of small firms in the country. The Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED) is doing a remarkable job in the circumstances, but needs greater infrastructural support. Each of the 10 Administrative Regions should have a development agency that is primarily concerned with business, economic and environmental issues. Funds can be accessed from the European Union, the Caribbean Development Bank and related agencies. These agencies will facilitate the growth and development of cottage industries especially in predominantly agricultural areas. There is still considerable wastage of farm produce and some of this could be preserved for exports in metropolitan market, taking advantage of the current Fair Trade campaign by Britain and the EU. Regional enterprise centres of excellence are absolutely necessary to encourage innovation, creativity and maximise every human resource – whether skilled or unskilled. There was a time when each Region in Guyana established industries; for example, a tanning/shoe factory, as well as a bicycle factory in Berbice, as well as the Small Industries Corporation (SIC) in Georgetown. Guyana needs more of these industries and with the right mix of policies, galvanised by political will, and proper investment, the country can become a beacon of commercial, industrial and scientific development in the Caribbean and the wider Americas. Trained Labour SupportThirdly, the decline in literacy standards in Guyana is a symptom of underinvestment, decreasing managerial and technical skills and poor data collection. I would like to advocate that the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with public and private agencies review its entire education and training policy – by publishing educational trends separately and collectively in neighbourhoods, districts, regions, sub-regions and regions – nationally. Identify levels by ethnicity, age, gender – so as to obtain a balanced and truer reflection of the state of education in the country as a whole. A national institute responsible for education policy should be established to work with primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, including the University of Guyana, to have a system of monitoring and developing policies and programmes that are appropriate for each area based on needs and expectations. Each Region should be allowed to develop a Regional Education and Training Policy based on a fluid national framework. Both the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers and business associations have routinely complained about a lack of proper data collection nationally. Guyana needs to train more scientists – both social and natural – to be able to support the state in delivering on policies and programmes to support the recovery of the country. Essentially, government should examine the possibility of creating satellite training centres in key bauxite towns, rice producing areas and locations where service industries are making an impact on the economy. Both emerging and existing sectors should feed into this initiative. Specialist training centres could be manned by using the expertise of trade associations since they would more attuned to the needs of, and vagaries in their respective industry sectors. Establishing an International Cultural IdentityFourthly, the culture of each community needs to be celebrated, so this has always been the case in Guyana. My parents and grandparents taught us – including my brothers and sister - to value and respect Guyanese in general, whether they are of Amerindian, African, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese (European) or other mixed ethnicity. Guyana is renowned for its fertile culture in its food, music, sports, religion and the like, and this should be profiled among various communities in the media as a whole. Some of this is being done, but more is required. Very few international media houses understand for example, where Guyana is located in natural geographical and geo-political terms, very few of the ethnic newspapers can readily analyse the events, trends and developmental issues in the country. Guyana has much to learn about itself and others, but equally, it can teach the world, especially the more developed parts, how to manage political governance, how to encourage creativity in both the economic and business sphere, how to use culture to unify and harmonise diverse communities and more importantly, how to live in peace in an environment where wealth and poverty `shake hands’ every day.

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Big Business Should Invest More In Rural Communities

(By Dr. C.A. Johnson)

In most of the developing states, especially those that depend on agricultural products as a means of generating domestic and foreign revenue, private monopoly companies are reluctant or at best, hesitant to invest in materially-poor communities. The fact is that the goal of any business is to generate a profit, not to count its losses through poor investment. Management of large companies however, should not regard ploughing resources into poor communities as a “bleak vision.”Over the past 15 years much of this situation has occurred in the global economy and has caused middle-income economies such as Guyana to be deprived of the innovation and technology that big businesses bring with its resources. Here, a balanced approach to investment is being advocated or better still, one based on sustainable development – balancing the demands of customers with the protection of the natural environment, not forgetting fairness and economic parity are integral to the investment planning and development. Guyana has a fair measure of appreciable economic growth, but how much of that growth has been attributed to rural productivity? There is no real figures to suggest how rural agricultural, semi-processing or services sectors growth is measured. This is important to determine gaps in production and productivity and the requirements needed to redress such imbalance. If the wider Guyanese economy is doing well and the rural economy in particular is underperforming, this situation can give rise to deflation and it means that the apparent stagnation of other agricultural products such as citrus, vegetables, ground provisions, among others, will require examination. Thus the value of big business investment, along with capacity support from government, is an absolute necessity. Deflation in any economy of any size usually threatens and exacerbates the gap between rich and poor, leading to incidents of economic chaos, governmental collapse and civil unrest, some of which Guyana has experienced over the past few years. Civil unrest is not a not a recipe for both internal or external investment, but with the right mechanism in place, funds required to build basic infrastructure such as bridges, farm-to-market roads, irrigation canals, booster services in local markets and support for micro business advertising can help a long way to defuse the plight of the rural and suburban poor Guyana. It is known that some large companies in Guyana especially, public entities, through organizations such as the rotary, Lions Club International, the Jaycees and other civic bodies, do show some of form of altruism, but more is needed. As someone who has been associated with civic causes, I am acutely aware of the limited funds civic organizations can muster at any one given time and therefore mainstream businesses are often needed to input into local economic initiatives. The general perception is that large concerns find it difficult to expand, and many are risk averse, slowing investment and pulling back from either non-developing or gradual emerging markets. For instance, how many private companies have thought about investing in Buxton, East Coast Demerara, Belladrum, West Coast Berbice, Soesdyke on East Bank Demerara and the outskirts of New Amsterdam or East Bank Berbice – areas where historic poverty threatens to scupper the lives of hundreds? Let us however, consider a brighter scenario where studies in other parts of the world have shown that driven by private investment and widespread entrepreneurial activity, the economies of developing regions have grown steadily, creating jobs and wealth and bringing hundreds of millions of new consumers into the global marketplace every year. China, India, Brazil and, gradually, South Africa are today’s new engines of global economic growth, promoting prosperity around the world. The resulting decrease in poverty produces a range of social benefits, helping to stabilise many developing regions and reduce civil and cross-border conflicts. The threat of civic unrest and conflict recedes. Private companies can expand rapidly in an era of intense innovation and competition, and both of these scenarios are possible in Guyana. By helping and supporting commerce and development at the bottom of the economic pyramid, large companies could radically improve the lives of thousands of citizens in rural communities in Guyana and help bring into being a more stable, less dangerous world. Achieving this goal does not require businesses spearheading local or national social development initiatives for charitable purposes. They need not only to act in their own self-interest, since there are enormous business benefits to be gained by entering developing markets. With a carefully thought-out strategy of selective incentives for businesses investing in rural regeneration, the government can unleash the entrepreneurial talent of many young and matured rural citizens, some of whom are no longer interested in farming pursuits because of either poor returns or lack of available agri-extension (officer) support. In other cases, young people do not possess the experience, the patience and the investment portfolio to pursue agriculture in a commercial way, let alone (basic) subsistence farming. Rural citizens are more keen to compete in the ordinary buying and selling of products that attest to their latent enterprise skills, which often need harnessing and developing by a financial “godfather” or “godmother.” National business or trade associations, along with neighbourhood co-operatives and districts, can spearhead this initiative by identifying the needs of rural communities by prioritising locations that are vulnerable to economic suffering, social decay, skill deficiencies and non-investment. Setting up various committees within various rural communities is also an ideal way of dealing with the issues, since a process of consultation will be useful in obtaining factual information and data to proceed. Of course, no one expects these companies to solve totally, the plight of the rural poor in Guyana, but their very involvement can encourage and boost confidence among these communities. Through corporate involvement, a more targeted approach to financial support can allow for improvements in the governance of rural and suburban areas. Prosperity can come to the poorest areas only through direct and sustained involvement of companies, working with government and non-governmental organizations and private individual, committed to relieving poverty and raising the standard of living among the underclass in Guyanese society. Equally, businesses can further enhance their own prosperity and reputation as socially responsible citizens, in the process.

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The Private Sector can help Guyana bolster Free Trade

(By Dr. Christopher A. Johnson)

In a previous article, mention was made about the Caribbean movement towards a Single Market Economy or `CSME’. Indeed, preparations for global free trade is a process of erecting a framework to move the regional economy from protected inward looking arrangements to a system which will improve their chances in dynamic global markets, in the Western Hemisphere, Western Europe, Asia or elsewhere.

Guyana is largely dependent on foreign trade for external revenues than some of her larger, contiguous neighbours - Brazil and Venezuela. The Republic also maintains a lower percentage of international reserves and consequently, has a stronger dependence on external financing, a more liberalized trade system and a concentrated and vulnerable export structure that poses greater external risks for the country.

It is important that as Caricom countries prepare to join the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), they continue to implement macroeconomic policies and institutional changes designed to achieve low inflation rates, stable exchange rates and higher levels of saving and reserves; promote gradual processes of trade liberalisation, particularly in agriculture; implement policies and allocate resources to improve the coverage and quality of education and increase the assimilation of technology; and, in general, make a significant effort to improve their public administration.

Guyana’s private sector needs support from Government in export information for various goods and services, as well as competitive indicators on countries Guyana does business with. This type of support is very necessary in light of the pervasive influence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which links the US, Canada and Mexico. This Agreement can affect Guyana’s chances of favourable access to North American markets and European markets.

Further, limited concessions offered by the developed world to non-industrialised states, bring into question whether global trade co-operation is a fair. The recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Hong Kong was an object lesson in brinkmanship where on the one hand, developed countries insisted on protectionist measures while on the other hand, the developing and emerging states, fought to bring agriculture and services to the negotiating table. Developed states that have a liberal agenda, tend to prattle free trade, but continue implementing huge tariffs on agriculture, textiles and other raw materials from developing countries. Though the provisions were inadequate however, the WTO Agreement demonstrated that Guyana can work with other nations successfully to help dismantle trade barriers, regionally and internationally.

Expedient Approach

Traditional development economists tend to argue about free trade from a purist and generalist notion without due regard for the domestic imperatives of each Member State in the Region. One of the foremost authorities on the subject in the Caribbean, is Dr. David Lewis, who threw `down the gauntlet’ at the Region’s private sector in this way. “Caribbean exporters should take advantage of Caricom’s preferential trading arrangements with Colombia and Venezuela and similar arrangements being sought by Caricom with other Latin American countries and groupings such as Mercosur. It might be possible for Caricom countries to pursue all options at once, to assure its exporters of maximum market opportunities. But this will demand extensive negotiating energies, even if there can be an effective division of labor of the various issue portfolios with various Member States and the Caricom Secretariat, as well as effective collaboration between the government and the private sector in Caricom/OECS countries.”

Guyana has a matured private sector comprising the Chambers of Commerce and the Guyana Manufacturers Association, two distinct bodies that have carved a niche of trade liberalization, creativity and the capacity for adapting to challenging, economic times. Their leadership was tested severely during much of the 1980s when Guyana’s exports were declining and an import substitution and export replacement policy was introduced to stem the flow of a declining national economy.

However, experience teaches that the vagaries of regional and extra-regional markets demand different tactics so aptly illustrated by nearly all of the Eastern Caribbean states as they struggle to save their economies from being swallowed by the financial might of the industrialized North and the burgeoning economic power of the Far East. As far as Guyana’s private sector is concerned, apart from market intelligence, global markets require operational efficiency of scale, high order management resources, adaptive organizational and institutional systems of governance and advanced negotiating skills, especially in dealing with multinational corporations or related conglomerates.

The extent to which the private sector becomes an effective co-facilitator in Guyana’s quest to access opportunities in the FTTA, will depend on the extent to which the Government invests and encourages long term strategic planning, market diversification, stronger institutional capacity, and efficient marketing for goods and services. If the services sector is anything to go by, then the trade machinery must be fully integrated to allow for services to remain the `main engines of (stable) growth’ for Guyana’s economy.

The South American Republic stands a good chance of transforming its economy through free trade in the Americas as a result of the current status enjoyed under the Association of Caribbean States (ASC). Dr. Lewis posited that the ACS could provide a "way-station" to the FTAA, but he added that “this will only be possible if the process of transformation within the ACS is so efficiently and expeditiously managed as to provide a liberalizing momentum to cascade into the FTAA. The chances of using the spur off the FTAA to persuade the "laggers" seem to be better within the familiar confines of CARICOM than in the newer and more heterogeneous ACS. For the "leaders, the ACS could provide a test ground for market opening but the timing is unlikely to be sufficiently generous for that benefit to be realized.”

So the role of the private sector is especially important in this instance. In the mid and late 1980s, as was the case with other Governments in the region, Guyana introduced a free-market system in which a reformed private sector was expected to be the engine of economic growth. In the new strategy, government was expected to concentrate on the provision of public goods (such as education, health, roads, etc.) and set an environment that facilitated private sector growth largely through an enhanced policy and regulatory framework.

Private Sector’s Role

This period saw both a whole new dimension of market forces and policy `free-wheeling’ combined with the `say-so’ of the international financial institutions such as the IMF/World Bank. As a first step, the Government had to free up the economy – selling off national assets and introduce more liberalized forms of governance. In effect, the priority was to concentrate, although not exclusively, on macroeconomic stability and structural adjustment, a key element of which was trade liberalisation. To cushion the blows at the local and national levels, the Social Impact Amelioration Program better known as `SIMPAP, was the `carrot’ used to build capacity and tackle social inequalities exposed by rigid, prescriptive economic measures.

The second phase sought to deepen reforms by liberalizing the foreign exchange market, accelerating privatization programmes and removing the barriers to domestic and foreign investment. Thus the introduction of the Cambios or the alternative foreign exchange window system in both Guyana and Jamaica brought disastrous results in the 1980s but later enabled both countries economy to benefit from increasing flows of foreign revenue. To varying degrees and different speeds, all these reforms are either being refined to strengthened to prepare the Caribbean economies, including Guyana’s, to fully participate in free trade and universal trade and investment liberalisation. A significant amount of reforms however, remains to be implemented in order to complete the adjustment-process.

The response so far to these reforms has been varied in the Region with some economies performing much better than others; while some have enjoyed relatively high growth rates over the last decade largely due to the accelerated diversification of their economies into tourism, other services and manufacturing. In part, too, this success was due to sound macro-economic management, high levels of foreign investment and the development of the human resources of the country. The Guyanese economy has shown appreciable growth in recent years, but foreign revenues are still comparatively low when one considers the huge investment still needed for its infrastructural facilities to boost production in rice, sugar and the forestry sector. Export performance has also lagged though there have been improvements in export control information mechanisms particularly for small exporters.

The Guyanese private sector is made up of firms varying between small and micro-enterprises to large foreign corporations. Micro and small enterprises (less than 10 employees) cover a range off activities and segments in industry, agriculture, construction, distribution and other services. The informal sector or the parallel market is also vital. Guyana requires huge investments in eco tourism to make this new `nature economy’ sustainable and one effective way of doing so, are possible partnerships with Caribbean and Latin American companies that have access to larger markets for consumers who are interested in either leisure tourism or in nature tour exchanges, in the case of young people from Western countries fascinated by the exotic nature of Guyana and the wider Caribbean. Traditionally, free trade is often disguised by the exchange of goods and services, but the natural environment could also be commercially optimized and exceedingly good return of investment, providing that sustainable measures are put in place to protect the natural habitat.

In almost every Caribbean country, the private sector has played a dominant role in trade liberalization policies, but fresh research has shown that in doing so many national economies have paid the price for such reform. Traditional commodities such as agriculture and textiles have been affected by price controls, business licensing, import tariffs, quantitative restrictions, absence of adequate company law, excessive controls and discretionary criteria on foreign investment, etc., all of which prevent the promotion of competitiveness and the growth of the private sector.

Experts have offered a plausible reason for this situation; some say that Caricom countries have not focused on private sector development in any systematic way because the public sector is not large and government expenditure huge to the point where credit to the public sector is seen as crowding out the private sector. Other say that fear of government increasing its taxes to finance the public sector is not a major concern in the private sector. Even though the reduction in the size of government is not a burning issue, government still needs to reduce its role in the economy by enabling a stable environment and the adequate provision of public goods.

Guyana’s President has spoken about the importance of the private sector to economic development, although critics say that in other Caribbean states, this sector is hardly debated nowadays. In order to assume this responsibility fully, the private sector must be aware of the nature of the challenges faced in today's globalised world, be able to evaluate its strengths and possibilities, and make a psychological leap that would shift it unreservedly to a more competitive mode through adjustments at the firm level. Information and quality human resources are critical factors in this equation.

Guyana can work in greater collaboration with the Caribbean Association of Industry of Commerce (CAIC) a regional institution that promotes trade and industry in the Americas although it needs to redouble efforts to improve research capability in data collection on growth sectors among Member States of Caricom. The regional chamber should provide too, up-to-date information on regional and international marketing trends, industry classification standards, as well the quantity of managerial, supervisory, technical and non-technical staff in various industries in the Caribbean. The tourism strategy unveiled by the Guyana Government over a year ago highlighted the importance of these requirements.

The GMA and the Chambers of Commerce in Guyana should work towards empowering micro traders to integrate their activities into the formal economy. A thorough annual skills analysis is required to determine capacity in the private sector and also to detect changes that are necessary for better education and training provision. Current market opportunities offer the necessity for seminars, workshops, and other training sessions on a national and regional basis, as well as the provision of business advisory services in terms of studies in relevant areas, the compilation of market information, covering regional sources and markets, sources of technology, as well as trade rules and regulations.

It is hoped, that as Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean prepare for active participation in the FTTA, politicians and the business community will accommodate each other through compromise, constructive dialogue and practical steps on sensitive issues, bearing in mind that the wider agenda is about making `structural’ poverty history, rather than allow it to remain a shallow and perpetual and slogan cliché. [Next time we will examine the importance of Regional Enterprise Agencies to national reform in Guyana].

(The author is a Guyanese and Caribbean journalist and business management consultant who is currently writing the history of the Caribbean firm from a sectoral approach. He is an authority on Small and Medium-sized Enterprise (SME) policy and is a firm believer in regionalism as an appropriate instrument for wealth creation and stability particularly where there are imbalances between economically well-off and social deprived societies: Email: or and click on The Equivalent to see more features by this author)

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