NEWLY-appointed Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin, has said: “We (Guyanese) must put ourselves on the map, as in ‘have to market Guyana’, and grasp all the opportunities to brand Guyana as a newly-emerging regional economy that is ready for business…based on fairness and transparency. All businesses must have a level playing field, and (must) abide by Government’s regulations.”In an interview with this publication on Friday, in his temporary office set up at the Ministry of Tourism, Minister Gaskin disclosed that he would be letting businesses understand that they have an obligation to market Guyana according to this vision. “We want our businesses to succeed,” he declared.
Elaborating that the welfare of all businesses is important to the economy, because without businesses persons won’t get jobs, and also because businesses pay taxes, which are a source of revenue for any Government, Minister Gaskin said he would like to assure all businesses that they can raise their concerns with the Ministry. He noted that if a regulation is not business-friendly, it would be reviewed, if necessary.
Although the Ministry’s focus would be on ‘pushing’ for businesses to succeed, Minister Gaskin made it clear that there is a degree of non-compliance and non-enforcement of regulations that needs to be addressed. The intention is not to be high-handed, but to ensure businesses know that regulations are good; when they pay taxes they are entitled to the services the Government provides.
With regard to promoting the business sector, Minister Gaskin said: “The maximum capacity of the sector will depend on the resources available. I am currently familiarising myself with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the Ministry, and I have several reports that I have to get on ongoing projects, because they would need to be reported on, and (because) I would like to see the final reports on these projects… I would like to know if they were successful (in order to determine) whether they ought to be continued.”
Speaking about the Small Business Bureau, particularly the Small and Micro-Enterprises Development Fund, which gets funding from the Guyana Redd+ Investment Fund (GRIF), Minister Gaskin said: “US$10M (were) pumped into this fund; and, according to my current knowledge, just over US$100,000 have been disbursed to small businesses…so this is something I must get up-to-date with.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and we need to ensure that (they) can be globally competitive. As far as development is concerned, the whole business community in the international community can be accessed as long as we explore it…hence I am familiarising (myself) with the various departments.”
Focus, he noted, would also be placed on the ‘Rural Development Fund’, which he said is highly suspicious.
“We have to look at that particular project to see if it was properly conceived and if it was vetted properly. Also, (we need) to examine and see if there is any way it could be put to some real use; because, if anything, budgeted-for large amounts of money must deliver a specific set of results. Therefore, these funds will now be properly monitored and adjusted, rather than (being a conduit for) just squandering tax payers’ money without any results,” he posited.
As there is always room for improvement, Minister Gaskin said he intends, very early, to improve the “little things” that make the services of the Ministry more efficient and effective, as the little hiccups in the system can cause quite a damage.
Minister Gaskin said President Ganger has disclosed his intention to make this country an exciting and enterprising country; and the Minister said this tells us that the President is interested in seeing businesses develop, with the existence of a strong private sector.
Assuring that there is room for increased economic activity, Minister Gaskin pointed out that in the past, businesses used to complain of foreign investors gaining more concessions than locals.
“I don’t see any reason why local investors must not benefit…If you have a regime of concessions, it must apply to all investors, once (they) reach the criteria,” he declared.
He noted, however, that certain concessions depend on the size of the investment, and certain mega-investments need to be negotiated at a higher level because they clearly establish themselves as benefiting the country and not competing with our private sector but are providing outsourcing opportunities to local companies as well.
“The principle of fairness is one we want to apply to all businesses…if the playing field is not even, then there will be problems,” he opined.
Asking about any possible increase in foreign investment, he referred to a report from Go-Invest which indicated that investments had increased by 20%, from US$214M to US$255M, between 2013 and 2014.
“The purpose of the figures is for us to measure our performance over the long term, and (to) give us an idea on where we need to improve,” Minister Gaskin proffered.
A lot, he noted, is currently in the pipeline and can be accessed but the country is not taking advantage of those created opportunities. He said there are regional initiatives that Guyanese can tap into if we were proactive. These, he noted, are “areas I would like to explore, so we could maximize on (them) in terms of investment.”
Additionally, he said, when Guyana exports raw materials, foreign businesses are utilising them profitably. As such, he said Guyanese need to look at the constraints preventing them from profitably utilising those same products, especially if those constraints are bureaucratic.
Two major constraints he could think of are attitudinal problems and lack of exposure. Gaskin said the Ministry he heads intends to examine the various sectors with a view to identifying definite room for growth.
Business persons, he said, would always tend to believe that there is nobody at the Government level who understands the problems facing their sector.
“Therefore, we will find a way to listen and find a way to break those barriers, in order to further develop this sector,” Minister Dominic Gaskin declared.
The new Ministry which Minister Gaskin heads was formerly known as the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. It now comprises the portfolios of Industry and Investment, the Small Business Bureau and Commerce.