“Sanatagate” and the EU micro-projects cause angst locally and abroad Is this “much ado about nothing”?
Stabroek News Business. Friday 20 June 2008
Karen Abrams holds an MBA from UC San Francisco. She is a Marketing and Small Business Consultant in the US and Caribbean. Karen is also a partner in a party rental business in Decatur, GA.
This week I had serious doubts about writing another article on business matters. As an overseas-based Guyanese with an interest in expanding business in Guyana, several recent developments have caused me significant angst. Those issues happened to be the local furore over “Sanatagate” and apparent arbitrary withdrawal of support by the Government of EU funded micro-projects. These issues have also been the subject of considerable discussion in the international community leaving many confused and seeking answers.
Over the past two weeks, the facts of these two issues have plagued me; I read tons of online comments from Guyanese all over the world, engaged in discussion among potential overseas investors and debated long and hard my comment on these issues. What became clear to me was that, although I had fought the urge to comment on the debate, I realized that to “take a pass” on this issue would be to join the ranks of the less than courageous business elite in Guyana who benefit from a sometimes unfair system and thus are not compelled to work for a more equitable business environment. They will speak up however; one day, when the same system impacts them.
Clearly, trust in the decisions of certain government agencies is lacking by a significant portion of the electorate, simply put the Sanata deal if taken at face value is consistent and almost routine for agencies like Go-Invest. What some find objectionable is the appearance of impropriety which leads a large portion of the electorate to feel that there are “friends and family” investment opportunities available to some and not to others. But honestly, the Sanata building structure has been an eyesore for decades, no one had come forward to pitch a development plan, there were no takers to the initial bidding and thus a decision was made somewhere at some level that a friend was going to be given a deal to develop an eyesore. Yes the “friend” aspect is worrisome but really who else but a friend would invest $28M USD into that building right now?
Consider this folks, the Bidco building on Church Street is an eyesore, the GMC building in Festival-City is an eyesore (and should be revived as a marketplace for the growing population in North and South Ruimveldt and the surrounding area especially in light of increasing gas prices), and I’m sure there are numerous other government buildings around town which are desolate, dilapidated, overgrown and unused. So I encourage all local entities interested in those building to speak to the government right now, stake your claims, and propose development ideas now. That way, you will have a legitimate gripe if the government disregards your proposal for a friend or overseas investor.
The truth is, if the government was more popular, if there was no adversarial relationship between the government and many groups of its people, then this decision would have looked almost common sense and straight forward. I still remember my first Marketing professor stressing to me that in life and in business, “perception is reality and thus the truth often matters very little”. Unfortunately, some say that because of the past abuses by a handful of representatives of the Guyana government, they now have to live with a suspicious and questioning media and electorate.
To be clear however, I do not subscribe to the script of painting the entire government leadership and her public servants with the same brush of ineptitude, corruption and bias. I have interacted with many government representatives who were bright, and professional and who display a level of humility in leadership not usually displayed by their peers. People like Minister Manickchand, Minister Anthony, Mrs Kissoon from Go-Invest, and Nizam Hassan of GMC come to mind immediately as class acts. Sadly, people of this ilk are not the norm in Government offices in Guyana, but they should be and citizens of Guyana should insist on this, and should accept nothing less.
I feel no consternation in my encouragement of the media to root out the inept and corrupt leaders and to shine a light on the dark corners of bias and abuse in Guyana; wherever it is to be found. A democracy needs a courageous and unfettered media. What we must be careful to do in the process of going after the guilty, is to acknowledge the hardworking and talented and support those who work towards empowering communities of all races and income levels. This discussion of course leads to the next topic of recent angst which is the withdrawal of government support for EU funding of several micro-projects in Guyana.
Again, I struggle to be respectful in my assessment of this situation, but how can it be ok on any level, in a struggling economy, with high oil prices, high cost of living, increasing unemployment, and a high migration rate that a program which can aid several small business people to drag their families out of poverty, to hire members in their communities, to provide low cost food and service options to the community; how can it be possible for support of such a program to suddenly wane. Considering the difficulty in getting an international agency to approve the funding of any project, considering the lack of funds available in Guyana for community development, considering how hard the small business people must have worked to pull those proposals together, I am baffled at these recent developments. Recent discussions among Guyanese in the Diaspora have led us to two explanations; gross incompetence or vindictiveness.
We are not naïve, we know that our leaders are human and because of their humanity, there is an urge to retaliate against perceived threats to power, to destroy enemies, to steer resources and opportunities to friends, but government leadership is a higher calling and not an opportunity to plunder. Government leadership in a democracy requires fairness to all, mandates that personal issues be left out of decision making and that leaders respect the rule of law. Clearly, Guyana belongs to the people of Guyana not to some small group of people, who decide to acquiesce or not based on whims, fancies, folly and favor. This idea is horrifying. Leaders should serve the people, not the other way around. Anyone, regardless of race, party affiliation or socioeconomic status should be rewarded if they work hard and play by the rules. Those small business people who applied for EU micro-projects funding worked hard and played by the rules and they SHOULD be rewarded.
Because we are optimistic, we choose to believe that this situation was caused by some administrative mix-up or red-tape and will soon sort itself out. We in the Diaspora are rooting for this scenario and we wait with bated breath for some movement or comment on this issue. The government of Guyana is clearly better than rule by vindictiveness or “God help us all”.