New head of private sector body sees economic policy unit as key
Says July 3rd was turning point for him
By Gitanjali Singh
August 16, 2002
Rice miller Dr Peter deGroot now heads the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and faces the challenge of changing the institution's image from one of being moribund and ineffective.
DeGroot, a graduate in veterinary medicine who has held positions as head of the Guyana Rice Millers & Exporters Development Association (GRMEDA) and Vice-Chairman of the PSC on more than one occasion, was elected unopposed to that position on July 15th.
DeGroot said last week he was challenged to canvas support for the PSC chairmanship after the July 3rd storming of the Office of the President and the near destruction of his company's new supermarket (Bounty) on Regent Street. He said it was not an easy decision as it would affect his professional and social life.
"I was motivated by a desire to do something to try and correct the way in which the country was spiralling out of control with the political stalemate and the crime situation," deGroot said in an interview with Stabroek News.
He said July 3rd was the turning point when he realised something had to be done urgently to arrest the decline.
DeGroot is now a key player in the social partners group seeking to bring an end to the political impasse and to broaden the consultation process beyond the government and the main opposition PNC/R to include all parliamentary parties. That core group comprises the PSC (which deGroot represents), the Guyana Bar Association represented by attorney Nigel Hughes and the Trades Union Congress, represented by Lincoln Lewis.
That group is lobbying for shared governance based on Article 13 of the Constitution of Guyana. DeGroot, who heads Fairfield Investments Inc, a rice milling operation, says the dialogue process between the government and the PNC/R failed because they were looking at issues of concern to the parties and not to the wider community and the persons whom those issues concerned were not involved in the dialogue process. He noted that because there were no defined objectives on what the outcome of the dialogue process should be, the public was left to form its own opinion on the success of that process as were the two parties.
He anticipates that the process of encouraging change in society would be a slow one but is upbeat that the momentum within civil society would be maintained and not lost. The new executive of the PSC comprises Ramesh Dookhoo as the new vice-chairman, a post held by deGroot until his ascension to higher office last month and Paul Cheong of the Beharry Group as Honorary Treasurer, replacing Edward Boyer of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry. David Yankana was returned as the Honorary Secretary unopposed. The PSC - which represents the interest of the wider private sector - has for some time been seen as an association without the clout to effect changes in society and has been accused of being selective on the issues on which it chooses to pronounce on. DeGroot recognises that the PSC suffers from an image problem and said this was in part because the association in the past did not keep the wider private sector aware of all the things it was doing. He said the commission represents the interests of its members but has not gotten the support of the membership to do its work or suggestions from it on what needs to be done.
He said the strain has been on the executive to get things done.
He anticipates that with the PSC's Economic Policy Unit now in place, the PSC is better positioned to be a vigilant partner in effecting changes in society.
The Unit is being funded initially by Canada for two years after which the private sector would have to ensure that it is self-sustaining. It has at its helm Canadian economist Don McGyver and had its full staff complement in place at the end of June.
DeGroot said the Unit has a plan of action it is working on and should be in a position to give constructive and thoroughly thought-out advice to the government on policy issues.
He said the unit has issued its position on the mid-year assessment of the economy and is right now working on comments on the IMF Fiscal Affairs Department's study on tax reform in Guyana. He said the PSC intends to use its clout to move the process forward as tax reform is absolutely necessary for Guyana since the tax burden is felt by too few. A number of other issues are to be looked at by the unit including a review of the financial crises on the rice sector.
DeGroot noted that the PSC is comprised of persons who have busy schedules and are engaged in other business activities and as such, the PSC could not have meaningfully effected change without the support of a secretariat which provides well thought-out positions on issues. Now, he said, the PSC would be well set as it would be able to articulate positions on issues of concern to society.
He said he plans for the PSC executive to have meetings in September with the executives of each member organisation to strengthen the relationship.
He said GRMEDA is one association which has to be looked at as it has lost some 50% of its financial members who have gone out of existence in recent years as a result of the crisis in the rice sector. GRMEDA, a member of the PSC, has lost its secretarial structure and is only serviced by a secretary.
He said that the PSC has an increasing role to assist these organisations and mentioned that the forestry and tourism sectors are also affected and the commission will have to look for remedies to their problems.
Additionally, deGroot said the PSC expects to create a website soon which will publish a fortnightly newsletter to keep members informed on what is taking place.
The PSC which has 11 umbrella organisations as members and a host of corporate members has been affected by the slump in the economy in recent years as a number of businesses have fallen out as corporate members. Corporate members boosted the financial capability of the PSC as such members pay $500,000 in annual fees whereas umbrella organisations pay $50,000 per year.