The continued decline in the price of gold on the world market sends a clear signal to countries like Guyana that a point has long been reached where assurances of economic growth can only be realized by embarking on programmes aimed at significantly encouraging the growth of value-added industries. “We had arrived at a point where high prices in the gold industry were propping up the economy. The chickens are now coming home to roost,” Georgetown Chamber of Com-merce and Industry (GCCI) executive member Clinton Urling said.
Urling, who, along with Chamber President Lance Hinds and Senior Vice President Vishnu Doerga spoke with Stabroek Business earlier this week, said evidence of the heavy dependence of the economy on a high gold price was reflected in the fact that the decline in that price at the end of 2014 coincided with “one of slowest Christmases that we have had in 15 years. Last year the economy retracted in in all areas of economic activity save and except forestry,” Urling told Stabroek Business.
Hinds said he expected that the Chamber would be better-positioned to make a more definitive pronouncement on the issue of the 2014 year-end performance “after we have consulted with our members. That having been said I think it is clear that we cannot continue to depend on gold. We simply must begin to take diversification seriously.”
And according to the senior private sector officials local consumers are yet to benefit from the fall in the price of oil. “Guyanese are still to feel the positive effects of falling oil prices in their pockets. Electricity, transport and manufacturing costs, particularly, ought to come down on account of oil prices. Ideally, falling oil prices ought to have helped offset the negative effects of the lower gold prices,” Hinds said.
Part of the discourse addressed relations between government and the private sector and while Hinds said there had been opportunities for discourse between the Chamber and the government, Urling told Stabroek Business that there was good reason for some measure of skepticism over the results of those negotiations. “What we have found is that the government appears to have a good deal of difficulty in meeting the understandings arrived at during public/private sector fora. Up until now we have heard nothing about the understandings that were reached at the forum held in 2013,” Hinds said.
Meanwhile, all three Chamber officials alluded to what they conceded were “divisions” in the private sector. “The truth is that private businesses often have different interests and there are times when that can make for differences in terms of the way we see things,” Hinds told Stabroek Business.
Asked to comment on the economic positives that emerged in 2014, Urling said it was difficult to think of any; though Hinds said the proven resilience of the banking sector coupled with “the fact that the business community was able to withstand the shocks of 2014 were positives.”
And according to Hinds, with business becoming an increasingly complex phenomenon and given the critical need to attract investment to Guyana there was a sense of sloth on the part of the government in moving to implement invest-friendly legislation. “What do we say to investors who come to Guyana and ask to be shown the legislation that protects their investments and allows them to take legal action in the event that their vital interests are transgressed? Despite all that we have said there has still been no discussion. When you look around the region Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and some other territories all have modern, investor-friendly legislation. Where is our own legislation to protect investors and how long can we be expected to wait for that type of legislation?” Hinds asked.