African business council in the making By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
December 3, 2006

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An African business council is currently in the making and how it operates would be determined at a meeting in January, Eric Phillips, the civic society activist and business executive who is leading the initiative says.

In an interview, Phillips told the Sunday Stabroek that "We have identified all the businesses and the process through which we would invite everyone to a meeting in January."

The African business council, he said, was designed to be an organisation that comprised economists, small businesses, large businesses, youth organisations, and any group that is interested in economic activity. "We hope to get professionals and lawyers among others because the goal of the African business council is to stimulate economic activity within the African community with the goal of job creation," he said.

Asked why "an African" business council and why not Guyanese, Phillips said that, "We are organising ourselves to deal with issues the government cannot deal with. The government has a framework that has excluded us." This council, he said, is part of a shared governance model which he would be sharing with the public sooner than later.

He contended that in organising Cricket World Cup 2007, the government has excluded Africans. "We have been excluded from anything with building the stadium. We are excluded from anything with building Buddy's (Hotel). We are excluded from management positions at Buddy'sā€¦ even the restaurant, they are bringing in Chinese."

He said that when contracts are being given out Africans are excluded from that. "So we need to organize ourselves within the African community. We have to look at where we are and what our needs are because the Council for Competitiveness cannot deal with our needs."

Giving a background to the formation of the African business council, Phillips noted that the idea came out of a meeting involving "all African organisations at ACDA (African Cultural Development Association) during Holocaust Week in October. One of the three areas discussed was the issue of African businessesā€¦ Out of that meeting came a mandate to head and set up a non-profit organization which would essentially be this African business forum."

He said that the government establishing a 'Council for Competitiveness' would not serve the interest of African businesses. "If you look at the Council for Com-petitiveness, the government would nominate six and the private sector would nominate four. The private sector representatives would come out of the Private Sector Commis-sion (PSC). There is no African representation there. The PSC represents about 40% of the GDP covering 15 top 20 companies. None of those companies are owned by Africans, so whoever they nominate would be disconnected from the African community."

More importantly, the PSC cannot represent African small businesses, he said adding that Africans have no collateral and there is no financing institution to provide a loan without collateral. The African business council, he said, would have to find a mechanism, such as a development fund or something to deal with those issues. "To deal with those issues, we have to provide better services to make sure that the business plans are solid, that they are fundable, executable and operational," he contended.

'Economics is politics'

He added that the African business council would work with Africans who are interested in business but who are not certain how to proceed. The goal would be to provide them with marketing support and entrepreneurship information. Some of the business services would include helping out with business plans, providing courses and dealing with financial literacy - a basic understanding as to how a business works, and to provide counselling and legal support when challenging issues arise.

It is envisaged that the council would work with the Institute of Private Enterprise Development.

Stating that the African Business Council would be part of a larger council of economic advisors with some responsibility to the state and within the context of a shared governance model, Phillips said that "instead of politicising a Cabinet position to do development, we believe that this country should have a council of economic advisors not to leave economic planning to political strategies coming out of elections. There is no reason why Clive Thomas should be wasted the way he is. We have brilliant Indians and intellectuals and economists of all races all over the diaspora."

He suggested that a council of economic advisors should have its best and brightest whether they are at home in Guyana or in the diaspora. "We believe that no minister of finance or economic planning has the intellectual and networking capability to bring us out of this economic stagnation," he said.

He added that the issue of crime has to be dealt with but within the realms of economic reality and the African business council would be dealing with this issue through self-employment. Another suggestion, too, he said was that of joint ventures with Guyanese of other racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as others in the Caribbean and further afield.

Charging that the government has no vision, he said had the government accepted the Guyana 21 plan of which he was one of the architects, and implemented it some 100,000 jobs would have been created, there would have been another road to the airport and housing along that corridor so that security and transportation would not have been as big an issue as it now is. "We would have been ready for world cup. We took care of the world cup eight years ago."

Asked whether his suggestion was not bordering on political activism, he said that, "Economics is politics. Look at the contracts. We have been excluded from economic power through political power. What we are essentially saying is, let us create our economic power and that would ultimately translate downstream into more sustainable political power. The political parties here have led us down a path that political power leads to economic power."

Asked whether he was leading a political organization or on the way to creating one, he said "We're dealing with economics. I am not leading any organization. Those who want to pigeonhole me are stupid."

He contended that he has been a leader all his life. "I was the first African head prefect at Queen's College after 154 years; I was the first African White House Fellow from the Caribbean; I led QC in sports three times internationally; I led six others teams internationally. So what is the issue of Eric Phillips. All I am trying to do is to organise within our community so that we are no longer marginalised and part of that marginalisation is that we do not have access to economic resources."

He added that if it means that by organising economically Africans would gather more political power, then that is how it would be.