Placing the Business Industry under the Microscope

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In the last 15 years, Guyana’s business industry has demonstrated unbelievable growth and resilience. But since the turn of 2015, there has been a noticeable and undeniable downturn in business.

The status quo has had a daunting effect on the confidence of the citizenry and even investors. So how will this issue be tackled and who will be addressing it?

According to the Coalition Administration, this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Business. Manning this entity is Executive Member of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Dominic Gaskin.

The Business Ministry is already set to roll out a series of transformative measures to stimulate growth and development by 2020. But many have questioned what Gaskin’s Ministry has really done, besides preparation works for the next three years? What tangibles can he even point to that the Ministry has accomplished since its creation?

In the eyes of Minister Gaskin, the achievements have been many. But before going any further, he felt it necessary to outline the mission of his Ministry. Gaskin articulated that the Ministry’s mission, as stated in its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, is “To create a business environment that fosters innovation, competitiveness, growth and diverse employment opportunities by improving the ease of doing business, attracting sustainable investment, promoting value-added exports and enhancing workforce skills through policy-making, advocacy and cooperation with the private sector”.

Its objectives include the following:

  1. Increase sustainable private sector investment through the design and implementation of a National Investment Strategy and safeguarding competitive markets.
  2. Improve the ease of doing business through the development and prioritization of key reforms and structured national collaboration.
  3. Increase value added production and exports through the development of a National Export Strategy and enhanced quality infrastructure.
  4. Support small business development through effectively implementing the provisions of the Small Business Act and intensifying the services of the Small Business Bureau.

 

Gaskin told the Guyana Inc. Magazine that the key outputs that will be achieved over the period 2016-2020 are: the National Sustainable Investment and Export Promotion Strategy, a Single Windows Automated Processing System, a Doing Business Action Plan, a State of the Art Laboratory, a Small Business Incubator or Accelerator and a Small Business Procurement Programme.

Since the creation of the Ministry of Business, the politician said that the Government has placed a lot of emphasis on institutional strengthening of its agencies, since many of them were operating well below their capacity and not delivering as they were intended to do.

The Minister believes that well-functioning agencies with competent leadership is one of the ways in which the Ministry will achieve its targets.

He noted, too, that the Ministry’s services are delivered through five subvention agencies and five technical departments. These are the Guyana Office for Investment; the Guyana National Bureau of Standards; Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission; the Guyana Tourism Authority Small Business Bureau; the Department of Commerce, Department of Industrial Development; Business Strategy and Policy Unit; and Department of Tourism and Consumer Affairs Division.

Together with these agencies, Gaskin said that the Ministry has been able to achieve the following results over the last two years:

  1. Access to credit- The Ministry of Business facilitated discussions leading to critical amendments to the Credit Reporting Act in 2016 mandating lending institutions and credit providers to provide credit information to a Credit Bureau. This information will be used to track the credit history of borrowers for future reference when applying for credit.

Further work has commenced for the development of a secure transactions system in Guyana. Once completed and implemented, one of the challenges to accessing credit would be addressed, that of collateral requirements. The secure transactions system will allow for moveable property to be accepted as collateral.

 

  1. Reduction in processing time for import and export licenses from 48 to 24 hours.

 

  1. Business registration services have been made available in Regions 8 and 9, bringing relief to business persons operating in those regions who ordinarily would have had to travel to the Essequibo Coast to register a business or to renew business registrations. By facilitating the registration within the regions, the Ministry is encouraging compliance and also paving the way for access to formal financing.

 

  1. Greater focus on achieving compliance in the Tourism Sector, leading to a gradual increase in compliance, which the Ministry hopes to accelerate in 2018.

 

  1. The Ministry has been working to build capacity in the Tourism Sector by providing various industry training (customer service, food safety and hygiene, city tour guiding, among others) to operators and their staff. Since 2015, 1,994 industry persons have been provided with training.

 

  1. Completion of the Draft National Tourism Policy- the Ministry hopes to introduce this policy as the national policy after further consultations with key stakeholders.

 

  1. Support was provided to small and micro-enterprises- over 2,448 persons received technical (cosmetology, graphic design, photography, orchard establishment, leather craft, climate smart agriculture, among others) and generic (book-keeping, managing a business) training to start businesses or to enter new areas.

 

  1. Over US$421,000 in grant funding was provided to 301 micro-enterprises and 130 loans to the tune of US$2.1 Million was disbursed under the Micro and Small Enterprise Development Project (MSED) through a collateral guarantee and interest subsidy scheme.

 

  1. Construction of two new industrial estates with modern features- these projects were inherited but had to be reviewed in order to improve their design. In 2018, the Ministry will be engaging a consulting firm to develop the prospectus and an operations plan for these estates.
  2. Development of two business incubator facilities and business incubator programmes to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurship- The Ministry said it is cognizant of the need for youth economic empowerment to drive our economy and has committed to providing nurturing spaces for start-ups to operate and to facilitate small business growth and development. It anticipates the completion and operation of at least one facility by the third quarter of 2018.

 

  1. The Ministry has also embarked on a pilot in-school entrepreneurship programme that is intended to encourage entrepreneurial ventures at the secondary school level. 100 students from 15 schools taken from the 10 Administrative Regions are participating in this programme. We estimate that 100 grants, of $30,000 each, would have been disbursed at the end of November 2017.

 

  1. The Small Business Bureau has also executed a youth entrepreneurship programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and the Ministry of Education. 68 young people benefitted from capacity building and grant funding to the tune of US$1,500 each to undertake business ventures.

 

 

  1. Investment agreements were entered into for 136 projects valued at $187 Billion (includes public corporations). As at September 2017, a total of 33 of these projects were operational.

 

  1. Supporting the international accreditation of testing facilities in Guyana to improve service levels. To date, the Guyana National Bureau of Standards has facilitated 3 laboratories to achieve ISO 15189 accreditation.

 

SLOW DOWN

For some months, there has been talk of an economic slowdown on the business front in Guyana. On this matter, Minister Gaskin said that citizens should understand that the region has been experiencing economic slow-down and Guyana is no different.

Among other things, Gaskin said that the nation’s reliance on primary commodities makes it vulnerable to volatility in global prices which seriously impacts the economy in times of weak demand for those commodities.

Notwithstanding the challenges, he pointed out that the economy has proven to be very resilient. Latin America and Caribbean states’ overall growth projection for 2017 is pegged at 0.8%, as opposed to Guyana’s, which is projected to grow by 3.1%.

While the Ministry of Business is not the implementer of fiscal policies that would largely address economic trends, Gaskin said that his priority remains to improve the business environment through reforms that seek to make it easier for persons to invest and operate a business in Guyana.

That being said, the Minister said, “We continue to seek out opportunities to facilitate business growth and economic activities in Guyana.  As mentioned before, there is high investor interest in Guyana. We have facilitated several trade missions since 2015, two to date in 2017. In June 2017, a Business Processes Outsourcing (BPO) trade mission was arranged and this has been positive for the BPO sector, with local operators expressing optimism about the potential outcomes. This is a sector where a single contract could result in hundreds of jobs being created.”

The Minister continued, “In September of this year, an Oil and Gas trade mission from Newfoundland was facilitated and that has opened up opportunities for joint venture partnerships with local companies. In that regard, GO-Invest recently concluded a two-day joint venture training seminar, which attracted over 200 local companies. We expect that this will put in motion a few joint venture arrangements in the very short-term.”

The Minister added that his Ministry has also been facilitating access to overseas markets for local companies and products. For 2017, 44 companies were matched with overseas buyers.

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