Minister of Business:
The fact that I’ve been doing this job for a little over a year is starting to hit home now that I find myself attending annual events the second time around.
One year ago I was here for the very same reason that I am here today. It was not a very good day for businesses in Guyana and I remember arriving late due to an emergency walk-about that I had undertaken as a result of the flooding that took place that day due to the excessive rainfall.
I had said then that there is a cost to our entire nation whenever so many businesses take such a big hit and this is a cost that Guyana cannot continue to bear on an annual basis.
I believe everyone is aware that the situation when it comes to flooding has improved tremendously since then and while it is still not perfect, it certainly goes to show what has always been possible.
If we look around Georgetown today we will see that the drains are cleaner and that the water is running off a lot faster than it used to a year ago. We live in a basin below sea level and flooding will always be a risk for us so maintenance of our drainage and irrigation infrastructure is critical.
Today I arrived on time, as I like to do despite the glitches that so often occur, and I am reminded of an occasion about two weeks ago when I attended the launching of Berbice Expo 2016, and I arrived on time BUT unfortunately the year before which was last year I attended a similar event and I was delayed by over an hour and so this year when I showed up there was no one there except for two of the organizers and everyone who subsequently arrived seemed genuinely surprised to see that I had actually arrived on time.
I’m raising this because in everything there is a lesson to be learnt and in business just like in politics and many other areas of life, first impressions count and you cannot undo them.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression and it takes a lot of hard work to redeem yourself if you do not get it right the first time. I’ll probably have to go to Berbice every year on time for another few years before they finally forget that first occasion.
The business environment is a competitive one and in any competition you need to give yourself the best possible chance of success, and this means getting ahead of your competitors right from the start.
Whatever you’re selling or doing for a living, somebody has to like it, or need it, or want it enough to pay you for it otherwise you’re not going to make a living.
And trust me, in business you are unlikely to be the only one in town offering that product or service and therefore you will have compete.
One of my responsibilities as Minister of Business is to create and maintain an environment that is conducive to good business and good business practices and that means as far as possible to provide a level playing field for you to compete on.
As long as there’s a level playing field you will quickly realize the importance of having that competitive advantage because that is how you will make a living and grow and develop your businesses.
Not everyone likes fair competition because it forces us to work harder to get the results we want. But a competitive environment is an improving environment where necessity becomes the mother of invention and we are all forced to be reliable, efficient, more quality conscious and more innovative.
Otherwise we cannot compete and we will not succeed. In many countries you will find that reliability, efficiency and quality are already a routine for most businesses because of decades of competition.
We need to get to that stage in a hurry otherwise the goods and services that you are providing will soon be undersold and you will be replaced by larger enterprises and even by foreign owned enterprises.
As in cricket, where every run counts and every ball counts and every wicket counts because a single run or a single ball or a single wicket will many times separate the winner of a tournament from those who also played, so too in business does every little advantage increase your chances of success.
And therefore when I started out speaking about the power of first impressions and why it is important to get it right the first time around, I was doing so because I believe that we in Guyana have an opportunity now to set a course and create a national brand.
We have been ignored by the rest of the world for a very long time because no one really knew about us and what we had to offer.
But now that we have one of the largest companies in the world operating in our country, things have changed and people are paying attention to us all of a sudden.
It has already started to happen and we need to get our act together quickly if we want to benefit from the attention we are receiving because word gets around in the world of business, and if we do not showcase ourselves as a country that means business we will not be treated like a country that means business.
In weeks and months and even a few years to come, many people and companies will be experiencing Guyana for the first time and unless something goes badly wrong, we will see an increase in economic activity.
This increase can be significant and you can be a part of it if you are ready and if you mean business.
And just to be crystal clear, I am talking about the discovery of oil of the shores of Guyana by ExxonMobil last year. This is putting us on the map, whether we want it or not. And I would say we need it.
And whether or not we become an oil producer, once we are on the map we will become the focus of various types of interest and this will see many businesses wanting to establish a toe-hold in Guyana just in case.
These businesses will require many of the products and services that small businesses can provide.
I am not suggesting that small businesses can supply big oil companies, because the oil industry, especially the offshore oil industry, is very specialized.
What I am saying is that big oil companies will attract other companies and those other companies will have needs and this can create opportunities for small businesses.
Nothing is guaranteed in business but if you are not prepared when opportunity knocks, I can guarantee that you will lose that opportunity.
As I said last week to a gathering of larger business, we need to prepare ourselves for an increase in business activities over the coming years.
And so I am urging you as small and micro-enterprises to look ahead and try to figure out where you’d like to be in about five years time and start making plans to get there.
If you need training, get the training, if you need equipment, start sourcing your equipment – and make sure it’s the right equipment for the future of whatever sector you’re involved in.
And above all make sure that you utilize the technology that is available to all of us through computers and internet and wireless networks and 4G communication.
Because this is what your competitors will be doing and you will not even get off the starting blocks if you are unable to navigate in the modern world – even in Guyana.
So like I said, we have to prepare for better days and we have to show the world that Guyana means business. We need to create a national brand that sends that message out loud and clear.
And we need to ensure that large and small businesses alike are able to benefit from whatever opportunities arise.
Let me close by commending the Small Business Development Fund Trust for its significant contribution to the small business sector over the years and for satisfying yet again its annual obligations to its stakeholders and contributors through this AGM.