Investment promotion requires a well designed strategy
I am ineluctably constrained to offer my views on a few topics raised
March 26, 2002
Letters on economic concerns
in recent letters in your publication. However, allow me to admit that the phrase "ineluctably constrained" is not original to me. It was coined by then foreign affairs minister Rashleigh Jackson some years ago as we searched for the appropriate wording for a diplomatic note being dispatched to the Venezuelan government. A team of us did several drafts of the note which the minister rejected because we had failed to adequately reflect that Guyana was left no other choice of action. He then introduced this phrase. I tell this story merely to highlight the deep thought and prolonged effort which, at that time, went into the execution of our international relations conduct.
This story is relevant to the first issue I wish to address the role of our embassies in investment promotion. I read Peter Ramsaroop's letter and Ambassador Ishmael's response. The former in my view took a rather simplistic approach to the issue while the latter outlined for us his efforts at promoting Guyana over the years. However, investment promotion is more than just speaking to a Ford executive, as Dr. Ramsaroop did and making promotional speeches about Guyana, as the ambassador does. The ambassador's efforts are to be commended, they represent a good start but a lot more is required which, frankly, needs the involvement of several other players.
I have worked as a consultant for the now defunct Eastern Caribbean
Investment Promotion Service (ECIPS) in Washington for several years and have learnt that investment promotion requires a well thought out and designed strategy. Potential investors expect ambassadors and other government functionaries to promote their countries and hardly rely on the information they get from such sources to make a decision. An investment promotion strategy needs to involve foreign companies already operating in the country and local entrepreneurs whose success would serve as indisputable testimony to a business friendly environment. It also requires the involvement of the political opposition and the labour movement which, without giving a wholesale endorsement of government's policies would at least attest to their support of foreign private participation in the economy and their commitment to maintaining an "enabling environment" so necessary for the success of any investor. Beyond this, investment promotion efforts need to include agencies of the country from which the investment is being sought. These agencies would advise their nationals about programs such as the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and those of EXIM Bank in the case of the United States and CARIBCAN in the case of Canada. There are several businesses in these countries which are not aware of some of the incentives which their own governments offer.
Guyana is among over 100 developing countries seeking to attract
investment. I am not sure that we have any significant advantages over any of the other countries. In fact, having had a history of nationalisation, the current public controversy with the two majority foreign owned public utility companies, ongoing political/ethnic conflict, less than desirable infrastructure inter alia serve to make Guyana a far from competitive, if not attractive location in which to invest. This should not however deter us from promoting the country. Our promotional efforts, because of these shortcomings, need to be even more vigorous. We need to engage the cooperation of all the players I've mentioned and seek to arrange investment promotion seminars in key locations. In the case of the United States, a Republican administration is more disposed to assisting in such efforts since they are more pro business. Democrats are more concerned about being seen to
encourage the export of American jobs.
So our embassies alone cannot do it. Investment promotion needs to be a team effort and must be coupled with sincere efforts in country, including policies which would lead to a credit rating for the country, to improve the enabling environment. In the early 1990s I arranged, as a private citizen, an investment promotion seminar on Guyana in Washington in which I brought together, with lukewarm support from the then Guyana embassy leadership, key players including Randolph Reynolds representing the foreign private sector in Guyana as well as US and Guyanese private and public sector officials. The event, which had the Washington Post , the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Caribbean/Latin American Action (CLAA) among its co sponsors was a tremendous success in terms of potential investor participation. Not a single investment resulted from the effort. Why? The seminar was just half the job. There needed to be a process whereby serious
"leads" would have been identified (and there was a hotel chain with an interest in Guyana) and afforded one on one discussions with the government. The government (embassy) lacked the capacity to follow up. We need to design an appropriate investment promotion strategy which would go as far as training our immigration officials at the airport how to be efficient yet friendly and helpful.
The other issue I want to address briefly is the role of overseas
Guyanese as outlined in Eric Phillips' letter. I agree with much of what he has said. However, I think we need not waste valuable time arguing over the seven year requirement. It's already become policy and we need to move on. It should not deter us who are abroad from making our contributions. One doesn't always have to be the captain of the ship to influence its direction. I have been invited by Congressman Tom DeLay to participate in an event next month in Washington, DC to discuss economic recovery and I plan to use the opportunity to discuss some issues relevant to the Caribbean in general. Caribbean governments need to make more use of their overseas based nationals in helping to win friends and influence policy. Just look at the impact of the Jewish lobby on US/Israel relations or the anti Castro lobby in Miami on US/Cuba ties.
Finally, I have read Mr.Mike Singh's pieces on the war on terrorism and some of the responses these generated. One component of the conduct of international relations is public diplomacy, a form of diplomacy the Caribbean, if not the developing world, has not sought to embrace as part of its diplomatic strategies. However, note should be taken that all of the criticisms of President Bush's war on terrorism or aspects thereof have come from individuals who are not at the helm of their respective governments. It was the Russian prime minister not the president, the French foreign minister not the president and the British foreign secretary not the prime minister who addressed the war issue in ways to suggest some differences with the United States. That's public diplomacy some criticisms are made to satisfy a certain domestic political audience and the recipient of the criticism understands that this is necessary. It however never comes from the mouth of the boss and room is always left for the head honcho to take a different position. For our part, Guyana should maintain its vehement condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and support the ongoing war unless or until there are clear violations of international law.
I am ineluctably constrained to offer my views on a few topics raised