Kaieteur News – Yesu Persaud, the former Chairman of Demerara Distilleries Limited (DDL) was stinking rich and famous. But that fame and fortune was achieved principally via state protectionism.
Yesu Persaud left his mark on Guyana. Since his death, the tributes have been pouring in and have been reproduced almost religiously in the daily newspapers and through virtual eulogies.
But if there are lessons to be learnt from his life, then analyses have to go beyond the sentimental and seek to offer a balanced assessment of his achievements. His achievements should be unravelled even at the expense of exposing unkind truths.
Yesu Persaud’s name will forever be associated with the Demerara Distilleries Limited (DDL). DDL made him what he is today. It is that company to which he owes his formidable reputation … and some may say his massive wealth.
DDL was a state company before its privatisation. Yesu’s entrepreneurial achievements have their origins in state protectionism under Burnham.
Burnham protected the local rum and beverage industry. He shielded it from foreign competition. Both of the major rum and beverage producing companies in Guyana owe their superior corporate and financial standing to those many years when they were able to dominate, exclusively, the local market and to have monopoly on the exports of bulk rum. Without that protectionism achieved under Burnham and during the early years of the post 1992 PPP/C, Yesu Persaud would have been a footnote in the local business history.
To his credit, Yesu recognised that changes would eventually be needed of his company’s high dependence on rum exports. He began to diversify his exports towards more branded liquor since he realised that his company could no longer survive and expand without increasing exports of branded liquors.
DDL, under Yesu and using the wealth accumulated under state ownership, not only adapted but it also diversified and expanded to other countries. It widened its investments and diversified into beverages, insurance, juices, jams and jellies, carbon dioxide, matches, internet services and shipping. It pioneered green energy for its local operations through the use of bio-methane. It also expanded internationally setting up what has been described as ‘subsidiaries’ in Europe, the USA, Jamaica, India and St. Kitts.
Yesu did not have the Midas touch. He enjoyed his fair share of failures. The matches company and the acquisition of Solutions 2000 were among some of the firm’s investments which flopped. In 2008, DDL had a decline in pre-tax profit of almost nine percent and some of its overseas operations as well as local investments cannot be deemed success stories.
Yesu Persaud used his acquired reputation as a corporate entrepreneur to great political effect. He was a ‘back room’ player and skilfully manipulated or attempted to manipulate the economic direction of the country. He is believed to be among one of the businessmen who had sought to encourage Cheddi to have an alliance with businessmen as part of a civic arrangement and even to influence the choice of the PPP/C’s choice of Finance Minister and some of its fiscal and monetary policies in the post 1992 era.
In that regard, he was the face of local neo-liberalism setting the stage for deepening free market reforms by gaining permission to establish the Institute of Private Enterprise Development (IPED), which was supported by western countries because it was the perfect forerunner for the eventual liberalisation of the financial sector. He began, running his own television programme, promoting pro-business opinions and giving a voice to western diplomats. He eventually inveigled Desmond Hoyte to grant him a licence to open Guyana’s first indigenous bank.
Yesu remained faithful to the neo-liberal creed, notwithstanding that it was his unchallenged position in a state enterprise which hurled him into the national limelight. But his new found neo-liberal creed pushed him also to appear on a GUARD platform which was a reform movement, limited not only to democratic reforms.
That appearance cost him his position at Seals and Packaging Co. Ltd and as head of a shell-company (similar to NICIL) called the Guyana Liquor Corporation. But Hoyte vindictiveness could not extend to removing him from DDL over which Yesu had always held an iron grip.
The PPP/C later turned against him by trying to establish a competitor in the liquor business and in attempting to starve his company of molasses. He did not take this lying down and fought tooth-and-nail to forestall the threat to DDL.
As the later face of local neo-liberalism, Yesu Persaud, was duty-bound to protect democracy in Guyana. Much of the tributes of his contributions, over the past week, have centered around him mounting a GUARD platform to support reforms. But his greatest contribution to saving local democracy lay in the behind-the-scenes role he played in helping to engineer a political solution to the crisis which erupted following the 1997 elections. It was Yesu who was instrumental in having the three wise men come to Guyana and to broker accords which led to the presence of the Caricom Audit Team. For that effort alone he is worthy of being remembered.
(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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