Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Does business have anything to do with experience?
(An informal Discussion Paper)
Could entrepreneurs be measured only by their ability to generate wealth with an uncompromising stand for business principles? Or better still, can business consultants quantify their achievements without feeling that, despite their years of experience, they can only measure the differences made to societies especially those that are impoverished. It does appear that in both fields, there is a marked division of labour and variations in the way both an entrepreneur and a business consultant operate in their respective provinces. One is deemed a practitioner and the other, a specialist or expert, yet they perform one basic function; they sell products and services to consumers based on demands. They both have to account for what they produce and sell too, hence the delicate balance between the profit motive and (consumer) social responsibility.
Basically, entrepreneurs are people whose ideas are often considered radical, unconventional and contradictory to the norms of society (meaning groups of experts who sometimes claim legitimacy to the rules of business engagement). Business consultants are credited with experience in a particular type of enterprise or with considerable expertise in the principles and practices of a range of enterprise sectors.
Oddly, there is a direct relationship between a business owner and business consultant on the basis of shared expectations and outcomes. One expects to benefit from reputable technical support, while the other expects that advice and support will eventually result in tangible benefits for business start-ups. Are these expectations realistic or are they troubled by the way in which potential entrepreneurs choose to pursue their business ideals? This informal discussion paper will examine the challenges of starting a business from scratch and the pitfalls that should be avoided, if the original idea of setting up a productive entity is to be fruitful, let alone rewarding.
Starting a business is a painful and frustrating process, but for the most part, there are tangible rewards, if you stick to the task at hand. What about your present job in the public service, is there scope for growth? What about the opportunities in your current private sector employment? Do you have a real chance of sustaining yourself in relation to career development and fulfilling your dreams of financial independence? Starting a business despite your present occupation, has nothing to do with being overly ambitious or being an occupational `show-off’. It is an effective way of harnessing your honed skills and placing them to work in a uniquely different way that your are generally accustomed.
Nevertheless, besides cash, you need ingredients of knowledge, experience, skills, contacts and a good dose of common sense. Other essential qualities are self-confidence and (calculated) risk taking techniques, along with a desire to self-manage and manage others in a business setting. How many of us who manage departments, units or sections of a public or private sector agency, recognise, that in effect, we are involved in aspects of business management and risk taking? It is just a question of adapting and or transplanting the same experience into a more self-driven business mould and this is where the MIGHTY challenge begins.
How can you really start a business? Should you begin by reading a business plan or manual? Should you read the latest book on marketing, financial management, corporate planning, risk assessment or the latest audit of a major corporation in town? Should you seek out a business management guru? Should you ignore all of these leads and just get on with it? The answers to these searching questions are both complex and straightforward. No business can be established without due care given to advice, expertise and proper decision-making. The fruits of one’s labour in business should not be taken for granted – it is a huge sacrifice and for many at the outset, it can be daunting, if not awesome, yet it is entirely possible with the right mindset and excellent support.
How do you begin the business race from the starting block when there is nothing – no competitors by your side, no sound of a whistle and no murmur from spectators? There is a strange feeling around you; you are treading into the unknown, you are chartering into `choppy’ waters and there is no real guide to help you. At the beginning of this process, believe it or not, your greatest believer and supporter is you – you are your greatest fan and this is not a selfish before or after thought, it is real as it can get.
You should begin by jotting down your business idea – no matter how unclear or unsure it may appear - on paper, stating what you aim to do, how you are going to do it, where the investment will come from, how many people would be involved, where the business will be located and so on. Prepare an exhaustive `hit’ list of what you need and what you want. This might be a bit difficult bearing in mind that wants are classified as desires and needs as necessities, but experience teaches that at the beginning of your business, you will have to convert customers' wants into real needs by adapting the product or service to suit their requirements. The mere thought of that side to the business, presents another daring challenge.
Steps to Climb
Consequently, there are several steps to take before actual business start-up; you might call it the process syndrome. It is advisable to prepare a list of Dos and Don’ts and you may contact people you know in your line of business. Consulting with formal business plans or outlines is also invaluable. You might think of contacting your local enterprise agency, providing that it has adequate resources in terms of personnel, technical and related forms of support. In the modern world of business, such an agency should possess expertise in cultural, economic, social, technological and allied resources based on the sector of business you are aspiring to own and manage. There is evidence to suggest however, that there are severe limitations in the operations of enterprise. There are drawbacks such as scare resources, including their limited capacity to provide sector-based enterprise support with a culturally sensitive approach. In your list of Dos, make sure you include the following: -
(a) Time of official business launch or start-up
(b) Number of products and services on offer
(c) Pricing strategy for your product(s)
(d) Type of staff to be recruited
(e) Channels of advertising and promotion to be used
(f) Type of quality control procedures
(g) Knowledge of your sector market (known as micro environment)
(h) Knowledge of the economy (better known as macro environment)
(i) Number of market researches you will carry out
(j) Actual start up funds required.
The above is by no means exhausted, but it is important to consider as many areas as possible. Equally, you also need to make a list of Don’ts for formal guidance - it is not necessarily a golden rule, but doing it is very satisfying. Some of the vital Don’ts are: -
(a) Don’t underestimate the timeframe for your product launch
(b) Never undervalue your initial products
(c) Don’t deal with customers randomly
(d) Never undervalue the cost of start-up
(e) Experience is not always wisdom in running a business
(f) Do not ignore criticisms regarding your business idea
(g) Never feel that businesses outside your sector are not your competitors
Once you have completed both lists and you have decided to start the business, you should embark on writing a business plan. This is also a challenging undertaking because contrary to most business advisers, while the main principles of a business plan remain the same throughout, every sector demands a unique approach towards defining it and ensuring that the contents are clear, with a rich presentational style to give it a professional outlook. Consultants in banking and other financial professions in particular, tend to argue against the volume and shape of business plans. The tendency occurs when a completely new business idea is sprung and the expertise might not be there initially, or advisers are too proud to admit that they don’t have a clue about such an idea or product-service being proposed. Quite honestly, the number of pages in a business plan will not make a real difference since the important point to remember, is that it is aimed at persuading and convincing financiers to invest in the business, while providing a platform for the business to take off.
Principally however, a business plan is a marketing and sales document, as well as a strategic tool and in effect, it also defines whether or not the business idea could be turned into a tangle set of products and services capable of competing reasonably well or highly successful in the market place. It is a tool for measuring the growth periods of the actual business – short, medium and long term. The plan allows for the owner and investor(s) to monitor routinely, the progress of the business in terms of its own lifecycle. In short, a business plan is like a paddle or rudder to a boat. Without it, the business can falter badly and become insolvent by losing its market share because of a lack of (formal) direction and strategic focus.
Modern Business Plans
Yet it is not always possible to get it right, but it is very important that any new business owner try as much as possible to get the facts right. It might be useful to test your business ideas with someone in the particular sector. On the one hand, a firm that is based on the provision of services is essentially offering what is commonly known as `a set of intangibles’ – meaning, the owner has to sell, apart from the features, the benefits of the service(s) to customers. On the other hand, selling a product though not altogether, difficult, is a bit simpler. Products are tangible consumer items because they can be seen by buyers, but their long-term sales volume and financial success hinges again, on the method used to communicate features, including benefits such as usage and guarantees/warrantees, to a range of customers. That is precisely why in formulating business plans, potential entrepreneurs must take into consideration the type of products or services they intend to offer, along with the composition of the business organisation in general. There are several business plans that are produced frequently to benefit different start-up companies, but for the purposes of this guide, we will examine three known types: -
1. The Simple Business Plan, this plan is ideal for sole traders trading in a one product business; for example, a small retail shop or a micro sales firm selling stationery etc. It contains basic information regarding the would-be owner’s personal details, professional experience, qualifications and general expertise, along with relevant marketing and financial data. This type of plan also consists of a statement setting out the reason for wanting to start a business.
2. The Multiple Business Plan, this plan is relevant to partnership type firms such as legal firms, education and training agencies, public relations organisations and welfare support schemes, especially if they involve two or more people. The greater the personnel, the more complex legal issues are, compared with those of a sole trader, although sole traders are likely to suffer greater liabilities if their business investments are tied to personal assets or vice versa. This plan does include too, a wider range of information and data on the owner, partners and other details similar to the Simple Business Plan. The difference here is that this plan has to detail the type of business, along with sectors and possible segments, plus other information on marketing, customers, finance, quality control and possible contracting partnerships.
3. The Complex Business Plan covers a range or multiple business activities; for example, in the case of a manufacturing or a production firm. Issues such as staff recruitment, technology equipment, materials, investment portfolios including equities, marketing, procurement etc, all have a considerable impact on the process of business start-up. This type of business plan must have various managerial, technical and operational features, with controls to measure estimates, actual and projected income and expenditure schedules.
Besides experience, qualifications and the ability to deliver, the overall success of any business plan and its actual implementation, depends largely on the clarity of ideas (methodical and systematic approach is advisable), quality of expert advice received, the scale of market research undertaken and the sustainable level of start-up investment obtained. If these necessities are in place, then likelihood of hiccups occurring at the beginning phase of your business could be reduced considerably.
The literature on business planning is filled with prescriptive menus and suggestions as to how to make this process work effectively, but what is often unclear, are the angles to take when crafting business plans for specific sectors. It should be stressed that if you are concerned with sustainable business growth, you need to review your business plan at least every two years, though of course, this may depend on the type and nature of the business. The majority of successful firms have strong leadership, managerial competence, quality staff, loyal customers and a steady stream of contracts equal clients – all of which add to enrich your portfolio as a successful entrepreneur. A final piece of advice to those interested in starting a business and desirous of making it work, allocate quality time to read the business columns of newspapers – broadsheets and tabloids - business magazines, as well as biographies of successful business people. Develop an eternal commitment to developing business ideas and make it a habit of documenting them; you will soon realise that they can be very useful.
© Christopher A. Johnson, February 2006
Monday, February 20, 2006
Can the Remittance Industry help modernize the Economy?
In the Stabroek News edition of 20th January 2006, the Country Director of Grace Kennedy Remittance Services (Guyana) Ltd, Anna Lisa Fraser-Phang suggested the hastening of legislation to regulate the local money transfer industry. “The remittance industry in Guyana is simply too large and too important to the economy to be left to operate without effective regulation,” she explained. Her comments are pertinent to the current debate on the developing world’s use of migrant remittances as a source of development finance.
Yet, whether remittances are used for consumption or buying houses, or for other investments, in the case of Guyana, they stimulate demand for goods and services in the economy, and enable the country for pay for imports, repay foreign debt and improve creditworthiness. According to the World Bank, annual inflows of money transfers to Guyana were estimated at 17% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or $143 million (World Bank 2004). Remittances exceed the total overseas aid and foreign direct investment in Latin America and Caribbean alone, with 75% of the total value of remittances originating from the US, Europe and London.
In the context of the remittances trade, therefore, it is vital to understand the importance of encouraging overseas-based Guyanese to invest their knowledge, skills, finances and other resources, in an effort to create economic prosperity and improve the general well-being of Guyana. The present Administration can learn from the object lessons of other developing countries where a variety of intelligent and creative approaches have been adopted. In this article, I will show how a set of practical measures including imaginativeness, can help Guyana to maximise effectively, the value of her most precious assets – human resources – abroad.
Estimates suggest that more than 500,000 Guyanese reside all over the globe - North America, Britain and Europe, with a small number residing in parts of the Caribbean. The first generation of Guyanese emigrated in the 1950s – prior to Political Independence (in 1966); and thereafter, there was an increase in the out-migration of nationals in the 1970s-1980s as the economic situation deteriorated. The early 1990s witnessed, a gradual trickling return of Guyanese, with some as `occupational’ retirees and others as `professional’ investors, although both categories were significant wealth creators. Interestingly those who left the country in the early years have been visiting and spending some of their holidays in an effort to rekindle their roots, with the hope of a permanent return one day.
Successive governments have made efforts to attract nationals from abroad with incentives ranging from tax concessions, quality housing location and promises of concessions for business investment and social entrepreneurship. Efforts to attract overseas-based Guyanese have had mixed results and valid questions have been asked on both sides of the divide. Questions such as, what can the Sate offer to expatriate citizens? Have nationals lost their patriotic spirit and replaced it with fervent commitment to their new homeland(s)? What steps should be taken to ensure that the diasporic community enjoys the benefits and privileges of their brothers and sisters at home?
Challenges and Opportunities
An international study was commissioned some years ago, to examine attitudes to migration, and the findings revealed that Guyana’s challenges were similar to other emerging democratic states especially in Asia and Africa. One example, is that the receiving country tends to benefit more in terms of `new skill entries,’ while the exporting country’s economy suffers from a loss of key labour which has a corresponding effect on various sectors of the economy. A recent study by the World Migration Group revealed that the cost and benefit of migratory trends varied according to the size of economies. Giant economies in Far East benefit hugely, but the costs for smaller, economically weaker sending countries like those in the Caribbean, including Guyana, are not sufficiently known and “factored into migration policies.”
Overseas-based Guyanese maintain contact with families, relatives and friends through `hometown’ associations (HTAs) and the remittances trade. HTAs are charities or social firms set up to promote exchanges in goods and services between migrants and nationals – there are hundreds of civic groups in America, Canada and Britain particularly. While individuals use informal and formal money transfers to send monies to family and friends, diasporic charities raise funds for just causes and `wire’ a portion of funds back home. Guyana Watch, founded in 1992 and based in Queens, New York, provides an annual medial outreach service in Guyana, whereby a group of 20-25 doctors and nurses travel to the three Counties in Guyana (Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice) and work at a clinic for one day, attending to between 2,500 and 3,000 people.
Guyanese HTAs are motivated by a practical desire to improve economic and social conditions in their hometowns, and their leaders and fund-providers argue that this strategy is also intended to reduce migration. Ironically, since these projects alone do not substantially boost development, they also do not prevent out-migration from continuing at least as a matter of choice, if no longer as a necessity. The effect of remittances as development aid is often limited however. Migrants who settle abroad and have their family join them, are likely to contribute less to development through remittances. Guyana’s history of receiving remittances has not really impacted on `initial investment as a spur to longer term economic growth, but rather than a way of life’. Poorer nationals benefit more from monies couriered to them than the immediate physical environment. The unregulated flow of funds coming into Guyana is therefore both a problem and opportunity.
Remittance flows to Africa which amount to several billion dollars per annum, contribute to poverty reduction as the authorities earmark resources for micro projects in villages, towns and suburbs. Projects include purchase of educational materials, water and sanitation requirements, support for small non-governmental organisation and `set-aside’ resources for street children and other impoverished citizens.
According to Fraser-Phang, the money transfer industry requires strict national laws, but why does it need regulating? The industry itself operates in a rather laiseez- faire manner and the level of competition is measured by the number of transfers conducted by financial institutions (such as banks and `informal’ organs such as Western Union agents) versus the number of recipients who benefit directly from the funds. In come countries, transfer agents need to require full banking licence, even when they have no intention of providing banking services. Entry barriers also include lack of access to existing payment systems, which forces new entrants into the remittance market to build their own costly proprietary transfer systems.
Some larger remittance service providers have persuaded the postal network or large banks with extensive branch networks in developing countries, to sign exclusive contracts that limit the access of competitors to these distribution networks. To address this problem, however, it will require policy co-ordination – especially harmonizing regulatory and compliance requirements between both the source and destination countries. This could prove very expensive.
A set of halfway house measures might be a useful consideration by let’s say the Ministry of Finance, although any legislation to be passed, must be done after, in the words of Fraser-Phang, "genuine consultations with the operators in the industry" rather than any imposition. The different costs structures associated with the remittance trade are important considerations; they include transfer agent’s fee, currency conversion fee and other charges associated with both the receiving agent and the recipient-customer. It is argued that with existing cost structures there may be scope for reducing average remittance costs.
For the sake of argument, if a person sends £100 per month for a period of six months, the total remittances cost for that period is estimated at 10% or £90. If on the other hand the person could send the entire £600 in one transaction, the remittance could fall to just £60 or less depending on what deal could be made with regular known providers. The difficulty is that many poor remittance senders typically do not have sufficient funds to bundle remittances. Banks and other finance institutions could play a role in alleviating such liquidity constraints and reducing the effective cost of remittances.
Impact of Remittances
In an effort to stimulate the domestic economy through the `personal inflows’ trade, the Guyana Government could introduce flexible policy measures to act as a counter-weight in the fight against money laundering and facilitation of remittance flows. Informal channels are cheaper, and informal agents work longer hours, operate in remote areas where there are no formal channels, and have often have staff to speak the language of migrant customers. Informal channels however, can be subject to abuse.
Strengthening the formal remittance infrastructure by offering the advantages of low cost, flexible hours, expanded reach and language, can induce a shift in flows from informal to the formal sector. Both sender and recipient countries should support migrants’ access to banking by providing them with identification tools. On the positive side, remittances are believed to reduce poverty, as it is often the poor who migrate and send back remittances, even though in Guyana’s case, nationals from different economic and social backgrounds tend to migrate. Yet, remittances have practical developmental potentialities. By improving the quality and flow of remittances, the following could be achieved:
• lowering transfer costs, for example, lower fees and more favourable exchange rates, reducing the risks involved in these transfers, and offering more attractive investment alternatives
• create appropriate savings services for migrants and their families internationally, for example `repatriate' foreign currency accounts; foreign currency denominated (remittances) bonds; savings certificates denominated in foreign currency • micro-finance institutions could expand their micro and small business portfolio; and
• Government and developing agencies could provide services such as training, business advice and marketing assistance for micro and small entrepreneurs to enable matching of funds for development projects.
Remittances may also help improve economic growth in Guyana, especially if they are used for financing children’s education or health expenses. Even when they are used for consumption, they can have multiplier effects in the case for high unemployment in local villages and districts in Guyana. Encouraging account-to-account remittance flows instead of cash transfers could result in increased savings by recipients (and senders) and better matching (by banks) of available savings. Improving financial opportunities in the recipient country would also encourage more investment. The Government and the private sector could also ensure that other parallel measures are in place to support investment in development-related activities such as community development projects, mortgage support, health insurance for dependents and similar allocations.
National policy makers in Guyana should keep an open mind since remittances are not public money and any harsh degree of regulation can cause senders and recipients to carry revert to `underground’ methods to carry out transactions. Remittances are personal flows, often better left to the remitters and recipients to decide how they should be spent. Efforts to tax remittances or direct them to specific investments may well prove difficult. Experience has shown in other parts of the world, that remittances are more effective in generating incomes and investment, when “they are supported by good public policy sand financial infrastructure.”
Another measure in which remittances can impact on Guyana’s poor in particular, is the introduction of what is described as the `Community Funds Programme’. This involves Government or the private sector match funding projects that aim to harness the productive potential of communities. In Guatemala for example, where many villages suffer from the economic crisis and high jobless rates, aggravated by falling coffee prices on the international markets, the Community Funds concept is operational.
The concept draws on the income-generating capacity of the Diaspora to establish grassroots joint ventures and investment project in the home communities to fund social, infrastructure and generally, development-oriented projects. It builds on the banking capacity of migrants as a value-added incentive to help them manage their financial resources and to channel these towards seed capital-generating small investment projects.
Guyana can pilot these initiatives in poor areas on the East and West Bank of Demerara, East Bank Berbice and the Lower Corentyne areas especially. The programme can facilitate linkages with local and national markets through business centres, and attract financial and technical support from villages and emigrants for local productive and social projects. The benefits of this programme can be thus, to: -
• Overcome the division that traditionally has isolated small producers, by aggregating their harvests and through greater volumes strengthen their price-setting power;
• Bring together local merchants to bid jointly for larger purchases and obtain better prices through strengthened bargaining power;
• Develop business training programmes; and
• Develop credit programmes with a sound basis and realistic outlook and objectives to obtain credible access to modern commercial and marketing networks.
The Community Funds Programme could be an important experiment in social engineering in which the Government and partners can provide a model for other communities experiencing high emigration rates – both internal and external of Guyana. While there is a compelling case for regulatory reform, in general, the combined use of remittances and expertise of overseas-based Guyanese represents powerful instruments of economic and social policy dynamics. This measure has the potential of possibly, alleviating or reducing the critical gap between rich and poor, especially in suburban areas and other far-flung parts of the country. It is worth pursuing now!
© Christopher A. Johnson, February 2006
Monday, February 13, 2006
ATTACK THE MESSAGE NOT THE MESSENGER
The recent views by Sir Ian Blair on racial stereotyping in sections of the British media are clearly justified and factual. On the basis of analysis, in both the tabloids and broadsheets, there is a consistent pattern of under-reporting the successes of African and Caribbean people in commerce, industry and civic affairs.
Stories that embody Black achievement are largely ignored by editors under the pretext that such stories are not in the public interest or that readers are not interested in Black people’s success.
Another case in point is that although Baroness or Lady Valerie Amos is Leader in the House of Lords, very little is reported on her brilliant work as a head of the country’s legislature. Why? Because she is a Caribbean woman who has succeeded on merit, contrary to popular opinion that Black people are innately, underachievers and underperformers.
However, in contrast to the negative stereotyping, the media is terribly obsessed with gang feuds, drug trafficking, killings and anti-social behaviour in deprived and excluded inner-city communities. The society is subjected to a regular diet of these incidents and in some instances, facts are distorted beyond compare. Little wonder that independent think-tanks have been challenging crime statistics published by the authorities - allegations of `fiddling' with figures to make them look politically plausible are both a travesty and an inherent flaw in the `proud' criminal justice system.
As a public institution, the media is also culpable especially when editors, in their defence of free speech or public service journalism, argue the indefensible that reporting negative news sells newspapers and without them, readers would not support the media trade. Such a shallow retort does not make good commercial sense or sound moral judgment in a multicultural society where the sensitivities and sensibilities of ethnic communities should be respected irrespective of the conventional rule of `fair comment' that is often biased in favour of the victim rather than the perpetrator.
Each day columns inches are dominated by subjective, persuasive and passionate views on the much vaunted democratic values that Britain should export to other countries, yet sections of the press conduct unwittingly, clandestine campaigns to silence the enormous contribution of Black people in the country. To the average lay reader and uninformed mainstream institutions, by rendering Black achievers invisible, the media is silently propagating prejudice and racial insecurities, giving way to the age-old imperial tradition of ‘Divide and Rule'.
The reputable commentator and social policy analyst, Asian-bornYasmin-Alibhai Brown, of the Independent and the former Editor of the Sun newspaper, who appeared on the BBC2 Newsnight programme, January 27 last, agreed that the media had a moral and ethical obligation to publish good and bad stories since it was in the public interest to know the facts. The facts may not always be the truth but they offer an opportunity for the press or any other media institution to demonstrate their credentials in the best light, and more particularly, in the eyes of a suspicious and increasingly enlightened and technologically sophisticated media audience.
Both journalists echoed the importance of ensuring that the traditional ‘fairness doctrine', an essential principle in the media, prevail at all times. Principally, the functions of the media are to inform, educate and entertain, not deform, antagonise and exasperate. When a news agency unwittingly or unconsciously misrepresents the facts, distorts information and ignore vital data, it creates a cardinal sin in newsporting called `the propagation of faslehood' or the process of disinformation/misinformation. While these are readily accepted in today's media frenzied world as control techniques regarding what people read or believe, there are, over a long-term period, a destructive ploy that could well backfire in cases where reliable and accurate information is presented by an alternative, but authoritative source.
Negative reporting is a job for `professionals' who thrive on unethical practices and ostracise others who have an aversion to posturing, and that is precisely why Sir Ian’s comments on racial steretoyping should not be dismissed as ‘tittle-tattle'‚ or rubbished, but instead be carefully analysed since there is much wisdom in his expert observations.
By implication, the media should carry out out its own introspection, since the findings may prove that, as a democratic institution, it routinely contradicts its own expectations of liberal values founded on the tolerance of Britishness and at best, the prudence of Englishness. (This article first appeared as a letter to the Editor in The Voice newspaper, Monday, 13 February 2006)
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Industrialisation the greatest gift for Guyana
As Guyana celebrates with Trinidad and Tobago (1962) and Jamaica (1962), 40 years as an independent nation, her political leaders should activate a dedicated plan of soul-searching to answer these pertinent questions. Has the country developed since the British Union Jack was lowered for the last time in 1966? Has the economy grown since the `commanding heights’ were nationalised starting in 1976? Has a policy reversal in nationalisation changed anything? Is there greater unity in the country now, prior to 1966 when Guyana was divided by racial cleavage? What are the real prospects for the country in this century?
Guyanese from all walks of life were obviously proud of Political Independence, a new anthem, a new flag and a set of patriotic songs. There was general euphoria that the South American nation that is geopolitically part of the Caribbean Region had won a kind of pyrrhic victory. After 150 years of intense struggle involving different European powers, Britain, as the last of the `colonial apostles’, had agreed to cede self-rule, even though Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica had a four-year head start in this democratic tradition.
However, the newly independent Guyana inherited a servile political structure and a fragile economy that was subordinate to Western capitals. In short, Political Independence was not a palliative cure for economic freedom such was and still is, the much avowed democratic fallacy of nation states buying into a shared expectation only to be marginalised by inequitable trade bargaining and financial muscularity.
Much hope was pinned on the abundant reserves of bauxite, sugar, rice, timber and mineral products as the economic mainstay, not forgetting agriculture. As she was then, Guyana should have been, in sustainable terms, `the Bread Basket of the Caribbean’ and the “envy of the world” in economic terms. This proud national boast was shattered by a gradual decline in political and economic fortunes. The economic renaissance was arrested by ideological rigidity and economic inflexibility, as Guyana struggled to maintain its political autonomy whilst moving to an almost paralytic state of economic dependency. For all its plentiful resources, the `werewolf’ of ideological mimicry threatened to engulf the country’s youthful political culture. With a lack of technical expertise and inadequate financial power to bargain with, the country summoned its intellectual, cultural and social assets to great advantage as a counter to the machinations of global power politics, founded on a merciless obsession with racism and trade disparities.
As the scars of racism opened, Guyana’s evolving democracy was in effect, still born, but this situation gave rise to new vistas – slogans such as `Feed, Clothe and House the Nation’ and the active promotion of self-help initiatives through individual creativity and imaginativeness became entrenched. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran (1934) was quoted extensively, `Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress,.’ to infuse national pride and relevance to the powerless and the dispossessed.
In such trying times, a nation’s resolve is tested to the limit and citizens took on the challenges in one of two ways; by migrating in droves to `greener pastures’; meaning North America and Europe, including the UK and or stay and `tough it out’. Since the 1960s, `Uncle Sam’ and the `Mother Country’ have absorbed nearly half of the entire Guyanese population. Those who remained (were and still) are considered true patriots, having joined their leaders as inventors and innovators of change, with the fervent hope of rebuilding the country from the near ashes of the past.
The Era of Epochs
Nearly 20 years after Independence, seemingly lost fortunes for the country were regained, as a new leader emerged with a profound and unique vision. It was truly the end of an era and the beginning of a new epoch. Or was it? As if in a hurry, the new administration rekindled the spirit of the past, the glory of the present and a pointer to an expectant future. Only the best of the best was appropriate for the country, nothing else really mattered, even though this was not necessarily the case.
In the early 1990s, Guyana once again experienced a change in its political fortunes, as adaptation, compromise; accommodation and consensus were appropriated in the national political vocabulary. Proven to be the new dispensation, the country brimmed with renewed confidence as the politics of national unity gave way to ideological distortion and empty sloganeering. Guyana began to show `her true colours’ as its hard-won independence was being atoned. In effect, a delicate balance was found to ensure a more bipartisan approach to national politics. In the face of three successive administrations with mandates to turn the country around, what is the major stumbling block that prevails in the country at the moment? I have alluded to various possible solutions in this publication, but there are other critical areas that require urgent attention.
Very few commentators and analysts have used their expertise and weighty knowledge of Caribbean and international systems, to discuss at length, the implications of Guyana’s present Constitution, promulgated in 1980. Short of a complete overhaul, it has been a contentious issue for years as critics have often turned to personal vilification to put their points across. They have rounded on the Presidency, often blaming it for having a less pragmatic institutional approach to consensus politics in Guyana. In all this, the Rule of Law becomes a casualty, though constitutionally, the President is Head of State and the Prime Minister, Head of Cabinet.
Yet in Guyana’s present constitutional arrangement, both President and Prime Minister’s positions are coterminous and at times, they practically obscure and obfuscate the distinction between the Executive and Administrative Branches of Government. I stated in a previous article that Guyana inherited a twin political system biased in favour of the American and British model and while attempts have been made to correct inherent flaws, a more urgent and vigorous attention to detailing the changes necessary to heal this fissure of governance is desirable.
As a nation approaching middle age, Guyana, its leaders and its people should challenge the problems of the country through constitutional means which is really a perfect legitimate way of handling the affairs of statehood. The suggestion for a cross-Party Constitutional Reform Committee to look at the anomalies of the current situation is not an overly ambitious or overzealous act. A possible referendum might be useful to give the nation a chance to debate issues of national importance and serve as a reminder that the country is truly democratic in principle and practice. A constitution that is riddled with structural flaws and historic irrelevancies is a recipe for chaos and confusion, and at worst, the undermining of sound democratic traditions which Guyana must maintain as a modern nation-state.
The management of the economy is top priority and after 40 years of socialist and free-market experiments, the time is opportune to review the cost and benefit of these expedient models. A suggested `Third Way’ or `Middle Way’ is probably viable, since it will test the country’s will to adopt an alternative form of development to guarantee lasting prosperity and stability. The late Nobel Prize Laureate, Professor Sir Arthur Lewis, who was also a Caribbean patriot, wrote an extensive exposition on the use of agriculture as a strategic tool of industrialisation for Caribbean states. He advocated the conversion of the farming sector to a gradual industrial complex as a means of improving exports and increasing employment opportunities for all, whilst generating foreign exchange to invest in national programmes. So then, what are the real chances of Guyana pursuing a path of industrial reform? Does it have the capacity and capability to muster the resources to move into this vital and strategic orbit?
The idea of progressive and gradualist agricultural-industrial system of reform to take advantage of its limitless natural resources and its vast experience and exposure of international markets is absolutely necessary for the Republic. The wastage of farm produce – vegetables, citrus and ground provisions to name a few – could be curtailed if mini-factories and plants are installed in rural areas where a higher yield per acreage exists. The country could join the current Fair Trade campaign in Britain and Europe with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Marketing Board and the Ministry of Trade and Tourism, along with international trade specialists and marketers.
Quality processed food produced in abundance and at the right price could be negotiated for in large supermarkets across Europe. For Westerners, this could their tangible social investment contribution to the so-called `Third World Debt’ problem, commercially speaking. Economic Attaches from Caribbean High Commissions abroad could facilitate transactions of one type or another to ensure that a fair balance in trade is struck. A further move can be the optimum use of the WTO via the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as Caricom, can all do the trick.
While industrialisation itself might be years away, a process of reform should begin soon. Political leaders should seize the opportunity to have dialogue with overseas based Guyanese and their Caribbean counterparts in `exile’ to draw on a pool of managerial, scientific, technical and strategic expertise in every facet of commerce and industry to carry out a comprehensive review of potential areas of industrialisation. The reform should take into account the organisation and performance of existing industries, their activity profile, financial arrangements, challenges and prospects, partnership contracts, as well as a critical skills path analysis.
Preparatory work should also include carrying out a risk assessment and an audit of potential sites where plants and other installations could be accommodated. A cost benefit analysis should be done to measure the impact such reform will have on the economy, especially on the cultural and social psyche of citizens. It is crucial that the audit includes the sourcing of expert views from regional and multilateral agencies and institutions to test their credibility, readiness and intent to support reforms in developing countries like Guyana. Indeed, the benefits of an agro-industrialisation reform programme far outweigh the disadvantages usually associated with ventures of this type. Among the benefits are to: -
· Optimise Guyana’s vast resources by utilising the latent skills of every citizen at home and abroad, along with other concerned Caribbean nationals.
· Diversify the economy by creating segments of unique productive sectors.
· Encourage the use of new and renewable sources of technology in terms of energy and allied materials.
· Infuse confidence and pride in nation-building pursuits, thereby galvanising collective self-reliance and trusted leadership in Guyana’s political administration.
· Attract internal and external investment by creating avenues for wealth creation and value-added resources.
· Establish centres of scientific and technological excellences through the profusion of new skills and knowledge bases in each of the 10 Administrative Regions.
· Enhance education and training systems whilst contributing to a larger pool of technical, intellectual and managerial expertise.
· Strengthen Guyana’s bargaining position in the marketplace of finance, trade and ideas at regional and international levels; and
· Magnify Guyana’s quest for democratic legitimacy to be used as an ideal instrument of change towards imbalances between the North and the South.
Every thing has a price tag, but a country’s prosperity is not a great price to pay if policies are informed by detailed analyses, meticulous planning, proper consultation and consensual views of the populace, added to resources from institutions that can help mobilise the necessary capital to initiate the process. Industrialisation is probably the greatest gift that our leaders can offer to Guyana; it remains a formidable challenge and a real prospect for the 21st century. The time for it to happen is now!
© Christopher A. Johnson, February 2006
Monday, February 06, 2006
IMPORTANT PUBLICATIONS (books, papers, presentations etc)
■ Perspectives of the Mass Media in Guyana by Christopher A. Johnson, in collaboration with Wolfson College, Cambridge University, England 1990.
■ Research book on `How They Made a Million: story of Dyke & Dryden’ by Tony Wade, MBE, Hansib Publishing Ltd, England 1999.
■ Research book on Black Enterprise in Britain by Tony Wade, TCS College Publications, England 2003.
■ A short biography of Dr. Eric Williams, TCS College Publications, England 2002.
■ Book on British-based Caribbean Businesses (in progress)
■ “Can Multicultural Societies Work?” – Nuffield Commonwealth Press Fellowship Lecture, 7th February 1993, Cambridge University.
■ Paper on Culture as a form of Social Enterprise, Caribbean Literary Expressions Conference, 15th January 1997, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
■ Keynote Address, “The Future of Urban Regeneration in the 21st Century, 18th November 2000, Wembley Plaza Hotel, Middlesex.
■ Paper on “The Organisation and Performance of Caribbean Firms in Britain”, Diversity Benefits: Business Practice Conference, Slough Race equality Council, Reading, England, 24th October 2002.
■ Guest Lecture: “The Impact of SMEs on the British Economy: the Caribbean Dimension”, University of Westminster Business School, London, May 2002.
■ Keynote Speech: “The Caribbean Contribution to Britain and the Commonwealth”, Queen’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations, Wembley Plaza Hotel, Middlesex, 12th July 2002.
■ "A Landmark in Regional Integration: Caricom 30 Years of Progress", International Lecture, Guyana High Commission, London, 3rd July 2003.
■ Presentation on “Dimensions of Co-operation between Caribbean ad International Agencies”, Symposium on `Sustainable Socio-economic Development of a Nature Island State’, Joint Dominica Associations in the UK and the High Commission for the Commonwealth of Dominica, 21st August 2003.
■ Presentation to Brent Employer Partnership, “The Impact of Local Businesses on Economic Regeneration”, Brent Council, 30th September 2003.
■ Presentation, “African and Caribbean Firms: Challenges and Prospects”, European Social Fund, Business Conference, Loughborough University Business School, 18th March 2005.
MAJOR CONSULTANCY PROJECTS
Over the past decade, Dr. Christopher A. Johnson has undertaken a range of high profile ventures nationally and internationally, using the Partnership Excellence Model that involves public, private and community sector agencies and institutions. The initiatives comprise policy and strategic matters on business, education, training, economic development, urban regeneration, capacity building, advocacy and performance management. Below are profiles of major consultancy projects: -
1. Project: Profile of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)
Aim: To publicise the challenges and prospects, as well as achievements of minority firms (African, Caribbean, Indian/Asian)
Client Group: 200
Value: £10,000 (funded by private donor)
2. Project: SME Enterprise Support
Aim: To offer support to African and Caribbean firms and social enterprises
Client Group: 300 (20 business sectors and various social firms)
Value: £60,000 (European Regional Development Fund)
3. Project: Women Into Business
Aim: To provide training in business planning, communications, customer care, finance, marketing and strategic planning.
Client Group: 100 (at least 10 business sectors)
Value: £90,000 (European Social Fund)
4. Project: Cultural Industries Sector Capacity Building
Aim: To provide capacity building to creative firms owned by social entrepreneurs.
Client Group: 1,000 (25 sectors covering enterprises and social firms)
Value: £30,000 (European Regional Development Fund)
5. Project: Consumer Research Survey
Aim: To examine the spending patterns and related consumer attitudes of various communities.
Client Group: 500,000 (professionals, organisations, groups, communities etc)
Value: £3,000 (privately funded)
6. Project: Performance Review of The Council of Asian People
Aim: To examine the organisation and performance of the Council, recommend funding reforms and the implementation of a medium-term strategy for accessing public healthcare contracts.
Client Group: 11,000 (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans etc)
Value: £6,000 (Social Services Department, Local Authority)
7. Project: Performance Review of a respite healthcare Consortium
Aim: To carry out audit of firm and prepare medium-term strategy for the acquisition of Local Government care contracts.
Client Group: 300 (Management Board members, carers, supervisors, managers)
Value: £8,000 (Social Services Department, Local Authority)
8. Project: Review of healthcare Group
Aim: To examine organisational systems and procedures and produce a 5 year business plan.
Client Group: 100 (management, carers, supervisors and support staff)
Value: £3,500 (privately funded)
9. Project: Audit of Day Centre
Aim: To review operational systems for the elderly, as well as children and young persons.
Client Group: 200
Value: £3,500 (privately funded)
10. Project: Windrush Economic Conference
Aim: To celebrate the contribution of Caribbean people to economic development in Britain 1948-1998
Client Group: 200
Value: £5,000 (Economic Development Unit, Local Authority)
11. Project: Cultural Industries Sector Strategy
Aim: To examine the concept of a multicultural `Millennium Village’ and formulate a cultural industries sector strategy.
Client Group: 200,000 (African, Caribbean, Asians, Greek-Cypriots, Irish, English/British and other ethnic groups)
Value: £18,000 (Lottery Charities &Regeneration Dept of Local Authority)
12. Project: Caribbean Conference and Exhibition
Aim: To celebrate the Caribbean contribution to the British Commonwealth on the occasion of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee
Client Group: 200 (Universities, Commonwealth Secretariat, Local Authorities, Sport England, professionals, exhibitors and cultural performers)
Value: £26,000 (Queen’s Golden Jubilee Office and Heritage Lottery Fund)
13. Project: Capacity Building
Aim: To improve the organisation structure and staff competence of social enterprises
Client Group: 100 (social entrepreneurs involved in community affairs)
Value: £20,000 (Fastforward, European Social Fund, private donors)
14. Project: BME Enterprise Support Programme
Aim: To look at consumer spending patterns of residents and provide enterprise support initiatives for start-ups and existing businesses
Client Group: 20,000 (African, Caribbean and other ethnic firms and residents)
Value: £180,000 (funded by the Neighbourhood Renewal Team, Local Authority)
15. Project: Community Enterprise Workshop
Aim: To refurbish existing business incubator units and deliver enterprise support services to businesses and social firms
Client Group: 1,000 (various ethnic groups – African, Caribbean, European, British etc)
Value: £250,000 (European Regional Development Fund, Regional Development Agency)
16. Project: Case Studies on SMEs
Aim: To examine the organisation and performance of African and Caribbean SME sector.
Client Group: 175
Value: £5,000 (European Social Fund, Loughbrough University, Leicester, England)
17. Project: Performance Review of Business Association
Aim: To examine the organisation and performance of business association and recommend a development strategy for success.
Client Group: 1,260-odd (including 50 member firms and 24 business sectors)
18. Project: Medium-term Economic Strategy, St. Lucian Government
Aim: To review and recommend a variety of business, economic, education and social reforms for the Government of St. Lucia, West Indies.
Client Group: 160,000
Value: Not Applicable
19. Project: Kingston Restoration Company’s (KRC) Urban Programme
Aim: To review the performance of, and recommend business, education, training and capacity building priorities for delivering the next phase of the KRC Urban programme, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies.
Client Group: approx 7,000 (including residents, businesses, premises etc)
Value: US$250M (US, Caribbean consortium managed and other private donors)
· Academic support for College/University undergraduates and postgraduates
· Tutorials for professionals in all areas of public, private and civic life
· Lectures/Presentations and writing of Concept and Position Papers
· Researching books, articles, features etc.
· Advising Government bodies and departments.