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engine of growth

Private Sector Business Finds Booming Growth in Guyana

B

ack in the 1970s, capitalism was a dirty word in Guyana. Under the country’s authoritarian president, Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham, Guyana’s onceprofitable sugar industry was nationalized, private businesses were denied access to capital, and the socialist-style policies advocated by Burnham sent the Guyanese economy into free fall. “Our experiment with socialism really took our economy back and decimated Guyana for close to 20 years,” says Clinton Urling, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). “But in 1992, we had a change of government and the first free and fair elections.” Fast-forward to today: The private sector is booming, new hotels are popping up all over Georgetown, foreign money is pouring into the mining sector, and Guyanese who once shied away from their homeland are coming back in droves to invest and live. This year, Guyana’s GDP will expand by a healthy 5.3 percent, predicts the Ministry of Finance, marking an impressive eighth consecutive year of growth for the country. “We welcome investors of all types, our trade policies are open and free, and our regulations are fair and efficient. I think the government has made big strides since 1992, in terms of getting our macroeconomics in order,” Urling said. “Today, they pursue fiscal and monetary policies that are very businessfriendly.” Urling’s organization, created in 1889 by an act of Parliament, has 105 members and is open to any business that operates in Guyana. It offers four levels of membership, ranging from $500 a year for large companies down to $25 annually for the smallest microenterprises. His stated objective: to ensure there’s a conducive economic

environment for business to succeed. “We want to move away from any perception that the chamber is an elitist organization, and to represent the interests of a wide cross-section of Guyanese,” said Urling, owner of German’s Restaurant and a GCCI member since 2006. At 33, he’s the youngest president in the chamber’s 124-year history. Urling says the country’s priority should be to diversify its economic base. “We’re still primarily a commoditybased economy. We need to move away from that toward more diversification and a knowledge-based economy,” he told us. “One barrier to investment is inadequate infrastructure. We see the robustness occurring within the mining sector, so we need more access to the interior. There’s still a need for more airstrips in the interior and for [completion of] the GeorgetownLethem road.” One business leader doing something to improve Guyana’s transport infrastructure is Brian Tiwarie, managing director of BK International Inc. BK, registered in 1993, is the country’s largest privately owned construction company. Its projects include sea defense works, commercial building and custom residential construction, roads, bridges, water distribution systems, wharves and jetties. We caught up with Tiwarie at his

Photo: Larry Luxner

Brian Tiwarie, managing director of BK International Inc., Guyana’s largest privately owned construction company.

office overlooking a construction site where BK is building a $10 million cruise ship port. At the moment, his company is dredging the port to a depth of six meters, which would allow ships of 80 feet to enter at low tide. “Most of the ports are made out of wood, but this is fully concrete,” he said, adding that the project will be finished

late this year or in early 2014. BK, which employs 400 people, has built more than 90 percent of Guyana’s sea defense works and 100 percent of all such projects funded by the InterAmerican Development Bank. It recently invested $15 million in a new asphalt Continued on Page 24

We welcome investors of all types, our trade policies are open and free, and our regulations are fair and efficient. I think the government has made big strides since 1992, in terms of getting our macroeconomics in order.

Clinton Urling

April • May 2013

— Clinton Urling, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry

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