By Leonard Gildarie
In the everyday run of the newsroom, the stories come from myriad sources. Very often, someone would walk off the road, just coming off a flight from the United States, to complain about their property being stolen by siblings or the NDC not doing its job.
There would be those constant calls also, from New York, to complain about our politicians.
Locally, the cleaner would call to complain and to quietly whisper about discrimination in her workplace. She knows all the goings-on of her bosses.
Board members of state companies would also have grouses and in so doing, provide details of questionable transactions.
In recent years, I have learnt one thing… public sentiments are sharper than before and there are channels to vent the feelings. There is a growing confidence, and people are becoming aware on whole new level of their power as citizens. It is very clear. The information sharing via the internet and television and social media have all changed, dramatically, the way we communicate.
The public themselves have become journalists and roving cameramen and women.
Accidents and incidents are almost instantaneously online.
I tell politicians all the time that while bottom-house meetings are all well and good, the use of social media has quickly emerged as the most powerful medium for the dispersal of information. Political parties are being judged there. It is brutal.
There is a whole movement in WhatsApp chat groups and Facebook that have relegated the mainstream medium houses, save for the newspapers, to the back of the room.
This coming elections will be the mother of all for Guyana.
At stake are the legacies and survival of the current administration and the Opposition, the emergence of the oil and gas sector (a big game changer), and the country.
It is the latter that we would want to focus on today.
For the doomsayers, save for sugar, the sectors have been doing well.
Sugar, unless there is a huge injection of cash to modernise the factories and look beyond just sugar, will be a tough sell for investors. Prices are down. A number of countries are shelving expansion plans and India, a big player, is cautious.
The lands of GuySuCo are beyond valuable and our focus now has to remain on the packaged sugar, for especially CARICOM markets. We have a huge demand for sugar there. A downsized GuySuCo will always make sense. There are options to sugar…ethanol for instance. Brazil has learnt quite well how to reduce the use of gas by mixing with ethanol.
Forestry, gold, rice and fishing have not done badly.
THE RUSAL EXPERIENCE
While Rusal complains of the world prices, it is shipping bauxite by the boatloads from its Berbice River operations.
The Rusal example, and I have said it before, is something that Guyana should never be subjected to again. The company came to Guyana in the 2000s, at a time when the country needed investors in the bauxite sector. It was granted billions of dollars in tax and fuel incentives. The tax holidays were something else.
There was the firing of 50-plus workers in the late 2000s who downed tools in protest of working conditions. Among the workers were union representatives and supervisors.
More than 10 years later, the matter remains unresolved.
Rusal’s representatives have refused time and again to turn up to meetings with Government officials. The disrespect has been almost unbelievable.
No country would and should tolerate from a foreign investor what we have allowed from Rusal. No company wants to operate without profit. It is their reason for existence.
It is therefore unbelievable that despite those billions in tax breaks and incentives, Rusal’s books are showing no profits for more than a decade.
It is either Rusal loves Guyana or our regulators are blind.
To compound matters, the people of Guyana own a part of the local operations. Yet, we have reportedly never collected any dividends (our part of the profits).
I raise the issue of Rusal, as it is but a clear example of the “Wild West” situation in Guyana that has been allowed with foreign investors. Over the years, we dole out billions of dollars in incentives to attract investors. It was the only way. We managed to attract a few. However, the coming of oil has changed things dramatically. We are no longer knocking on doors.
The investors, especially in the oil-and-gas industry, are knocking on our doors.
Consecutive governments have failed to understand their role – the raison d’être for governments.
TO SERVE OR NOT…
The job of government is a very simple one – to serve the people.
They have to find ways to protect the borders and ensure that the revenues are there for the services…including education, security, infrastructure, health and everything that comes our way.
When investors come, of paramount importance will be what Guyana is getting from the deals. The taxes, the jobs, the dividends, the fees, the spinoffs…we have to ensure that there is a system and Guyana benefits. We don’t want a few crumbs. That has to be the biggest consideration.
There is the debate raging over the ExxonMobil deal, and now Tullow, over what we are getting. While one can probably relent on ExxonMobil because it was the first, and that the company’s presence has assured of protection for our borders against Venezuela, there is little explanation for Tullow’s deal which came in 2016, and which gives us a criminal one percent royalty.
I am shocked at this and our representatives need to explain.
But back to those incentives. We have investors lining up at our doors. The considerations therefore cannot be that we are attracting them.
We need to revisit the billions of incentives we are giving out. There must be something we are offering, but the ballgame has changed.
Perhaps, to make our local businesses more competitive and really say we are serious about the growth of our people, we need to consider granting them the incentives instead.
There can be no excuse. This government and any others that come will have to understand that Guyana comes first. Our business people have struggled and persevered over the years. Now that we are about to benefit, hopefully in a big way, we have to start taking stock and reverse the tide that we have been battling in the last 60-plus years.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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