Annual Luncheon of the Linden Chamber of Industry Commerce and Development

Speech by Chairman of the Private Sector, Mr. Ramesh Dookhoo, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission, on the occasion of the Annual Luncheon of the Linden Chamber of Industry Commerce and Development on Wednesday February 9, 2011.

It gives me great pleasure to be able to address you today on this occasion of your Annual Luncheon. 

Linden holds a very special place in my heart as when everyone was closing their business here I was tasked with opening a branch of our business here .Those were challenging times and we have not regretted one moment to this day.

I would first of all like to thank you for inviting me here  and to welcome the Linden Chamber of Industry Commerce and Development as new members of the Private Sector Commission.   This membership gives you access to all that the Private Sector Commission does and access to the collective efforts of the Commission.  You are now a fully constituted Council member of the Private Sector Commission.   I am sure that your membership will be a mutually beneficial relationship and we will learn from each other in ways that enhance the vibrancy and effectiveness of the entire private sector in Guyana.  But the chamber needs support , support from the very businesses present here, support to be strong, to be vibrant , to have an important voice, to collectively drive the economy to greater heights as when all other organized institutions are failing, civil society must manage the outcomes of their efforts themselves.

A dynamic well supported Chamber can make a huge difference in determining where the town is economically in three to five years.  A great example of private collaboration with Government both Local and Central is the Rupununi Chamber.  Nothing happens in Lethem without the knowledge and consent of the RCCI.

But lets talk about some larger issues

I have noted that you have created a new relationship with SEBRAE, the Brazilian private sector organisation and I feel that this is a major development which bodes well for the private sector in Linden.  The single most important development for Linden in recent years has been the construction of the Takatu Bridge which links Guyana and Brazil.  Linden is poised to take advantage of trading opportunities which develop with Brazil and is potentially a hub for trade using the Region as a gateway to the Caribbean.  As we speak, the GMSA is gathering information on all of the products manufactured in Guyana to make a collective effort to export to Brazil.

The development of an all-weather road on the Linden-Lethem corridor is also a source of much opportunity for Linden.  It is imperative that the business community in Linden be prepared for the flows of trade which will emanate from the development of the road and, to do this, the business community must be willing to engage in inward investment which will ensure the growth of the business sector and the community as a whole. 

You need to have a plan as in the recently signed agreements with the Brazilian Private Sector.  We have agreed to lobby both Governments for continued efforts in the area of the road which has shown incremental improvements in recent years.

The establishment of close ties with the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also a positive and significant development for the Linden Chamber.  Lethem has become important for its relationship with Brazil and many of its opportunities will encompass closer relations with Linden.  The two Chambers have much in common and cooperation between the two will be beneficial to each.  For those of us who are unaware, there is now a Brazilian Consular Representative stationed in Lethem.  But let us talk a little about the workforce in Linden.

There has been, in the years of LEAP, an emphasis on training which will no doubt redound to the benefit of the private sector in the years to come.  Of particular note is the emphasis on the training of women and youth.  This is the future of Linden.  There must also be continued training of the work force to ensure that the needs of industry are met.  Technical and Vocational Education and Training is particularly crucial and should be supported by the business community.  Mr. Williams, who is the Vice Chair of the national body is determined to make a difference in this area.  We need to match what the Tech-Voc schools do against what the changed and developing economy requires, and the economy of the townships need to be recognized in this process.

While it is significant that a call centre has been established in Linden, there is potential for many more of these with your literate work force.  For this to happen, though, there must be improved internet access including the introduction of high speed broadband services and this is something that the business community must vigorously advocate for.  We in the wider private sector will add our voices to the call.

LEAP has also funded the construction of new infrastructure and Linden must ensure that its successor is willing and able to do the same.  The construction of new roads will, for example, enable better farm to market access and allow for the development of both the agricultural sector and industry.  The fostering of and support for new companies will also aid the development of the town.  Most notable has been the increase in manufacturing and wood processing which will ensure that the development is sustainable.  We have approached the Chinese Ambassador with the concept of partnerships with Chinese companies to do value added work here in Guyana.  Help us to create the jobs here and do not just export our logs please.

The successful fostering of industry should not proceed without adequate emphasis on human resource needs and, indeed, the welfare of the human resource component ultimately benefits industry.  We must not leave all concern for workers to the unions but must ensure that our workers are adequately taken care of and fairly treated…and sometimes we must exceed the expectations of the unions.  

This does not mean, however, that the unions do not have a role to play and they must be diligent in their duties.  In recent times the bauxite workers of Linden and the unions which represent them have faced significant challenges in the industrial relations climate and these must be overcome if a conducive environment for investment is to be established.

We are not an unfriendly people,we are some of the most industrious people in the world.

The issue of the bauxite workers, regardless of the strife, has left a bad taste in the mouth of the private sector and I appeal to those who can make it possible to make every effort to resolve the issues in the interest of all parties.  I would advise that companies employ qualified human resources personnel at all times.  It is not only about agreements and law but also about simplicity and fairplay on both sides.

The business community, especially the larger companies, also has a duty to ensure that they put back into the community some measure of the revenue they extract.  It is imperative, for instance, that companies utilize the goods and services which are available in the community instead of importing all their needs from outside of the Region. 

 This form of symbiotic relationship will boost local industry and enable a balanced development of the business sector.  This is something that the Omai company engaged in and which should be emulated by other large companies.

I would like to encourage the foreign companies to join our formal business associations as these associations can help you to integrate with and get the feel for the community and the country.  Try not to go it alone.

In closing, I must say that the future of Linden looks particularly prosperous but we must not forget that the current level of growth is a function of the depressed state of the community just a few short years ago.  

There is much scope for foreign investment in Linden but measures must be in place to ensure that investors do not operate in little enclaves which do little or nothing for the growth of the community as a whole and just take advantage of the geographic incentives.   Do not give me a fish, give me the proverbial rod.  Be beacons of good corporate responsibility so that the rest of the private sector can be proud of you, so that we can follow you for the greater good of Linden Town.

 Linden is poised for rapid development as trade with Brazil grows and its private sector leaders must be likewise poised to take advantage of the opportunities that will be opened up.  This is a challenge which I throw out to you today and which I know you can meet.  We will all in the private sector stand ready to support the Chamber and the wider private sector of Linden.

I thank you.

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