Last week, Banks DIH Ltd announced it will be entering the car and motorcycle retail business, meaning it will import and sell these items. This has to be one of the strangest decisions in the business world in Guyana the past hundred years.
Banks DIH is essentially a manufacturing entity. It takes local ingredients, manufactures them, and the finished product is local stuff we as Guyanese are grateful for and proud of. My wife only eats Banks sweet biscuits. There are literally over two dozen areas of local production that Banks DIH can get into. Some of its rivals are heading in this direction.
Take DDL. It now produces fresh juices of the following types – orange, cherry, passion fruit and sorrel. The company has cemented an arrangement with farmers for a daily supply of fresh fruits. After coconut water, my choice is sorrel. Sorrel is a seasonal fruit appearing in the November/ December time of the year. DDL now produces sorrel juice each day. I only, let me repeat, I only drink sorrel juice, fresh from DDL.
Why is one of the Caribbean’s most enduring and respected companies, Banks DIH, going into the retail business in vehicles and motor-cycles? Why not leave that to small entrepreneurs? When I was young this country boxed its own milk. It came in three sizes. Today, Guyana imports boxed milk from Barbados. We import canned luncheon meat from Barbados.
The Marriott Hotel only uses imported beef from Miami. Any food scientist from the Third World will tell you that such meat is chemically treated. It is less healthy than the local stuff. I go into Massy Supermarket and staring you in the face is the graphic reality of the failure of Guyana. Massy sells local meat and its cuts of beef can rival any shelves you see in foreign countries. Why then is the Marriott importing beef from Miami? What an asinine country. A state-owned company importing beef, pork and chicken from Miami.
This is an area that Banks DIH can get into. Forbes Burnham is turning in his grave. Burnham would have told the oil officials who stay at the Marriott that either they eat Guyanese cuts or leave. They would not have left, because oil is more important than beef.
Why in the 21st century can we not can our own fish and look at the varieties of fish we have in the ocean and rivers. Did Banks DIH think about this? Why aren’t we canning our fruits? Did Banks DIH think about this before they looked to Japan for cars to sell?
Selling imported vehicles is a foreign exchange negative. You need foreign currency to buy the stuff and you are selling it in local currency. How is that a foreign exchange earner? Every vehicle and motor cycle you import, foreign currency is leaving the country.
Once the sugar industry collapsed and rice got into trouble, this economy should have moved into production areas where foreign exchange would be guaranteed. What were needed were state incentives to nurture the manufacturing sector. But with the exception of President Burnham, subsequent presidents succumbed to the “invoice mentality” where we import everything, from the most complex industrial machine to bubble gum.
Here is what I am asking my readers to do for me. Don’t take my word for it. Go to Massy Supermarket and see the deluge of imported fruits and vegetables. The shelves will rival anything you see in Manhattan. Any foreign meat, vegetable and fruit you see in Europe and the US, Massy Supermarket has it. This country is haemorrhaging foreign exchange from imported foods and food-related materials. Do you know a local company started from scratch importing apples and grapes? Now it is a huge business making huge sums?
I used to view Trinidad with uncontrollable rage when I saw those supermarket shelves. It reminded me of my freshman days at UG and the textbooks I read (including our own boy, Clive Thomas, who has since metamorphosized) denouncing the colonial mentality of our leaders in the Third World after Independence, with the exception of Burnham (Burnham was deeply visionary; it is such a pity he was a narcissistic autocrat). Now look at my own country today.
I am going to end on a note that you may find facetious. But I am making a serious point with this joke. I grew up on D’Urban Street in Wortmanville. About six houses west of Hardina Street there was a huge tree that bore a fruit named in local parlance, “stinking toe” (I don’t know the scientific name). I plan to start a company importing stinking toe.
(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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