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By Mark DaCosta- Starting one’s own business in Guyana may be one of the most difficult voluntary. People are facing enormous challenges operationalising small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). They are of the opinion the unfavourable business and political environments have been cultivated by the government.
Village Voice News has spoken with Guyanese who have taken the plunge and put all their resources into becoming their own bosses. Invariably, they report that while they know that going into business would be hard, those persons say that they face obstacles that are unnecessary; obstacles that government — if it wanted to do so — could easily reduce or remove.
Audrey (not her real name), used to be a homemaker while her husband was alive. But, at age 61, invested all the money she got from her husband’s life insurance into establishing a roadside snackette in central Georgetown in 2018. Audrey said, “I’ve never been in business before, so I went to the Ministry of Business for advice — I even got to speak to Minister Gaskin. The lady at the ministry told me what I needed to do to set up my snackette legally. It was hard work but I was able to do it because I had people in the government to help me.”
Presently, persons such as Audrey must find other sources of guidance. The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) eliminated the Ministry of Business when they returned to government in August 2020. Audrey, whose work-day starts at 4:30 a.m, told this publication that her business has been doing “not too bad.” But, she said, since June, when PPP minster Juan Edghill announced that “roadside encumbrances” will be removed, people from the Ministry of Works have been harassing her.
She said, “they come here steady, and threaten to break down my snackette, and I have to give them a bribe, and they go away for a while. And I am not blocking traffic, and I am not even on a pavement or anything.” In June of this year Minister Edghill had said, “the Ministry of Public Works will remove it, and if you come to claim it, the only way you will get in is when you pay us what it costs us to move it.”
John (not his real name) started his own taxi service after years of working as a dispatcher. His taxi service currently employs about 15 drivers. His major complaint is, “the amount of running around I had to do to start this business; why is there not one office where I could go for everything? I had to spend a whole day at the registry to register the business, and another day at the National Frequency Management Unit to get a licence to use radios, and every year, filing taxes at the GRA (Guyana Revenue Authority) is another worry. Plus, I have to pay a professional accountant thousands of dollars to do the taxes. There is no help from anybody.”
Leland (not his real name), 19 years old, sells water under the traffic lights at a busy intersection in Georgetown. He told this publication that, “I wish I could do something better, but I don’t have education, and I don’t have family.” Leland said that he was put out from his home because of his sexual orientation. “This is a hard life, man,” he said as he ran toward another car to try to sell his water. Leland said that he lives at the Night Shelter; he said he is saving his money to go into the barbering business. The sweating but cheerful young man said that he is lucky because a certain Station Sergeant allows him to store his drum, full of bottled water, at the nearby police station during the night.
The saddening stories of the obstacles faced by Guyanese are certainly known to the international community. A report on Guyana by the International Trade Administration said, “Regulatory institutions remain largely paper-based and red tape is a challenge. Legal counsel and local representation may help navigate the Guyanese bureaucracy. Potential investors should be wary that government decision making processes can be slow, excessively centralised, and opaque.”
The report said, too, that “A significant number of contracts are decided by the Cabinet in a process largely closed to public scrutiny and awarded to well-connected companies. Guyana is ranked 134th on the Ease of Doing Business Index [out of 190 countries].
There is the general perception the government can do more to help ordinary Guyanese but Leland feels the needs of the majority appear not high on the government’s agenda.