Rupununi Chamber Speaker wants politicians to stop “monopolizing” the township’s economy

The Lethem community, specifically the business community there, seems optimistic rather than optimistic about the prospects for a Rupununi rodeo this year.

Another year without the usual financial “fix” the township gets from the rodeo could create even greater challenges for a community that is already significantly depressed economically. No one seems inclined to bet significantly on a rodeo this year yet. The portents offered by the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic do not allow for this level of optimism.

The president of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce, Daniel Gajie, prefers to offer a more macrocosmic vision of the municipality, its socio-economic situation and its future. Gajie is not inclined to “shoot”. There is, he said, an urgent need for the central government “to stop the haphazard planning that has been going on in Rupununi for several decades. We need a permanent development plan that can extend over thirty years and continue, whether or not there is a change of ministers or government.

Cyclists entering Brazil via the Jakatu Bridge

The Rupununi businessman cannot, he says, recall the number of “development plans” for the township that have been drawn up by the government in collaboration with the private sector over the years. “As ministers and government change, they put aside the plan from the previous administration and come up with their own,” he adds.

He cites official attitudes toward flooding in large parts of the interior as a microcosm of a larger problem. “It’s something that happens on a regular basis. In 2011 there was flooding; in 2015 there was a flood; in 2019 there was a flood; then they send the farmers back to the farm, give them swords and cassava sticks and tell them to go and plant. There is no serious thought or commitment here. There is no trace of equivocation in Gajie’s statement.

Gajie does not claim the traction of the Rupununi Chamber of Commerce in its quest to influence state policy on the private sector and its role is slim. “We have been lobbying for the development of an industrial site in Lethem for eighteen years … but it has not started,” he said, adding: “It didn’t matter that there were several men. business people who were ready to occupy the land.

The lack of a cohesive plan to enable the creation of a strong, local business community in Lethem has meant that, to a large extent, Chinese and Brazilian entrepreneurial opportunists have stepped into the void. Gajie says that what started as a relative trickle “around 2007-2008” has now grown into an “open sepulcher”. “They [the Brazilians] started by crossing the river on pontoons. It started with a few dozen Brazilians a day. Subsequently, vehicles began to pass on the pontoons. They started to come in greater numbers, especially on weekends and Brazilian holidays.

The operationalization of the Takatu Bridge in September 2009 opened the door wider. “More Brazilians and Brazilian vehicles started to cross the bridge. At that time, they came to do their shopping in Lethem and there was an increase in Guyanese businesses, ”explained Gajie.

Enter the Chinese… who, according to Gajie, arrived in Lethem well prepared to meet Brazil’s excess demand for a range of consumer goods. He estimates that between 2010 and 2020, around twenty-seven Guyanese, Brazilian and Chinese companies were established on Barrack Retreat Road in Lethem. These, he says, include supermarkets, clothing stores, hardware stores, and cosmetics and beauty stores. Ironically, Speaker Rupununi says, it is the Brazilians who “cross” into Guyana who are the biggest spenders in these stores.

“Before the pandemic, Lethem would see around a thousand Brazilians per day shopping in Lethem and that number increases during the holidays. There is an influx of buyers on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, ”the president of the Rupununi chamber told Stabroek Business.

He also doesn’t hesitate to admit that what he says has been the considerable marginalization of local business enterprises which, on their own, cannot provide any effective response to what has been a Brazilian and Chinese invasion.

It is, according to Gajie, the historic leadership of the central government over the years that has created a business environment in Lethem that clearly puts Guyanese businesses at a disadvantage. Aside from the state’s failure over several years to create a friendly physical environment for Guyanese businesses, the high costs associated with moving goods from the coast to the hinterland have created a situation in which Guyanese companies are simply unable to compete with the Brazilian and Chinese “invasions”.

Gajie recalls that under the Jagdeo administration, a “Lethem commercial area was established, 24 hour electricity was installed… the development of a maintenance program has started between Linden and Lethem. Subsequently, we got the national insurance plan, the police service expanded to include a certifying officer. Previously, drivers had to travel to obtain this service, ”the President of the Chamber told this newspaper. He also stated that under the previous administration the [Rupununi] Chamber was successful in securing government approval to begin the process of registering businesses in the community. “Previously, business owners had to travel to Suddie on the Essequibo coast, a trip that cost over $ 100,000. These days business owners apply to the House office and pay a nominal fee and within two weeks they have their business registration, ”says Gajie.

He also alluded to the lobbying of the Rupununi House of the Guyana Revenue Authority to provide service directly to the Lethem community.

The second part of Lethem’s recent coverage will be featured in the next issue of Stabroek Business.

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