Sunday, August 10, 2008

Privatization forum fell well short of expectations

Privatization forum fell well short of expectations

Posted By Staff On August 1, 2008 @ 5:08 am In Business

Last Tuesday’s forum on Guyana’s Privatization and Taxation Policies organized by the Privatization Unit in collaboration with the Guyana Office for Investment and the Guyana Revenue Authority was intended to enable discourse between the state agencies responsible for taxation, investment and privatization and particularly – though not exclusively – the private sector. There could have been no other reason for the forum since most, if not all, of what was said by the Heads of the organizing agencies was actually replicated in documents distributed during the seminar.

The speakers – the respective Heads of the Privatization Unit, Go-Invest and the GRA - were informative – rather than inspiring – even through none of them said anything particularly ground-breaking and all of them went to a great deal of trouble to make the point about how well their respective agencies were pursuing their mandates.

And despite the vicious downpour that preceded the start of the seminar a healthy number (in excess of sixty) of the “captains” of industry and the “admirals” of business turned up and listened to presentations on the laws and regulations governing privatization, taxation and investment. The substance of which, presumably, they would have been familiar with long prior to the seminar.

It is of course no secret that there are differences between the state sector and the business community in matters relating to privatization, taxation and investment and that these issues have come to light over time. Sections of the private sector hold the view, for example, that the Privatization Unit is – as Private Sector Commission Chairman Captain Gerry Gouveia put it – “not even-handed.” More recently, issues like the Queens Atlantic deal have raised further questions about privatization

On the issue of taxation the private sector has made no secret of the fact that the business sector is seriously overtaxed and it will be recalled, of course, the government and the private sector have clashed repeatedly over the issues of Value Added Tax and Corporate taxes.

Given the multiplicity of issues in the state/business sector, therefore, one would have been entitled to expect an interesting, even vigorous debate on those issues. It may have been infinitely wiser, for example- given the fact a programe of such magnitude was squeezed into about five and a half hours - to reduce the forum to a single major opening presentation, leaving the rest of the programme to discourses on half a dozen or so issues agreed upon jointly by the state sector entities and the private sector.
Long before the major presentations were completed it was clear that the assembled audience had had enough and the urgings of the moderator notwithstanding, that expected discourse between the various stakeholders and the panel was reduced largely to a brisk exchange between Christopher Ram and selected members of the panel, chiefly Head of the Privatization Unit Winston Brassington over issues pertaining to the transparency of some privatization deals and whether or not monies accruing from privatization have all been deposited in the Consolidated Fund.

In sum it would be entirely fair to say that if the purpose of the forum was to deepen the level of discourse between the state and the private sectors on issues of privatization, taxation and investment then it was – in that particular respect, an underachievement. Christopher Ram and the Actuary Patrick van Beek being the exceptions, not a single other businessman raised a single issue, concern or query.

In the final analysis and while it can be argued that the forum could have been structured differently it has to be said that the business sector – outside of its PSC representatives – showed no inclination whatsoever – to engage the state sector officials on these issues despite some obvious prodding from Mr. Ram to persuade the PSC to take a publicly robust position on the much talked-about 16 per cent VAT rate. And at the end of the proceedings some of the attendees could be heard expressing disappointment with the forum without, it appears, recognizing that at least some of the fault for the disappointment was theirs.

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