A new minister?

Stabroek News
August 6, 1999

The regrettable serious illness of Minister of Trade Michael Shree Chan may, sooner rather than later, pose the necessity for appointing a replacement to this important ministry as from all accounts the minister will be unable to resume his duties for some time if at all. Minister of Finance Bharrat Jagdeo is acting for him at the moment but this minister already holds the most important and most onerous portfolio (an IMF team is at present in Guyana) and that arrangement will not be viable for much longer.

The Minister of Trade, Tourism and Industry can play a key role in developing a closer and more effective working relationship between government and the private sector. Potentially, it is a very important industry, with scope for taking the lead in dealing with the problems faced by the private sector. In its Annual Guyana Business Outlook Report for l997 based on a survey of local companies Christopher L. Ram and Company stated that the chief concerns of businessmen as revealed by their answers to the questions in the survey were high interest rates, the exchange rate, the unavailability of trained staff, high rates of consumption tax, the unreliable electricity supply, income taxes, onerous customs procedures and access to capital. Asked what would help their business most, 69% cited lower interest rates, 64% the introduction of investment incentives and 60% the privatisation of the Guyana Electricity Corporation. More than half were pessimistic about the outlook for business and 27% cited lack of government support for business and private investment. The Report argued that the private sector must define exactly what it needs the government to do to promote these measures "in a professional manner that does not suggest a handout or pursuit of narrow objectives".

The new chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Mr George Jardim, an able and experienced businessman, may see it as one of his top priorities to develop detailed recommendations for dealing with the problems facing the private sector that are practical and implementable and offer the government a fair compromise. A new active and energetic minister can run with this ball and in co-operation with his senior colleague at finance, seek to chart a course for business that can energise the private sector and attract new investment. The PSC and the minister can engage in discussions on the recommendations with a view to achieving results and solutions.

It can be done, and an effective working relationship between government and the private sector can make a great deal of difference and lead to several new openings. In seeking a replacement for Mr Chan one must hope that government will be prepared to look outside the party and to make the main criterion for the appointment a person with business experience and knowhow who has some insight into the problems to be dealt with and the push and energy to get things done. Speedy and sensible decisions by the government arising out of discussions with the PSC can lead to a revitalised private sector.

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