ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Business leaders grouped under the Grenada Private Sector Organisation (GPSO) are again warning that without help, dire economic consequences could befall the country.
“The private sector is gasping for breath," Aine Brathwaite, president of the Grenada Chamber of Industry and Commerce (GCIC), said at a news briefing on Thursday.
The GPSO comprises the GCIC, the Grenada Employers Federation and the Grenada Hotel & Tourism Association (GHTA).
At the briefing, GPSO members said they have had discussions with government officials and now want urgent action to avert the growing crisis, especially in the tourism sector.
“Government has to play its role in upholding our private sector," Brathwaite said. “It cannot be about sound bites and lip service."
Among requests GPSO members have made to government in the past few months are for manufacturers’ relief on paying value added tax (VAT), and assisting hoteliers’ who are struggling with high energy costs.
In June, members of the organisation asked for the establishment by cabinet of an emergency task force to address the issues raised by the GPSO.
“The private sector businesses have made it very clear that they are tired of the rhetoric and want positive action," said Brathwaite.
“This is about jobs, investment, opportunities and growth for all. Government must exercise real-time strategies to curtail the serious demise of the Grenadian private sector which continues to spiral downwards and out of control."
GCIC member and managing director of Sissons Paints, Christopher De Allie, said what the private sector desires is for government to be “more proficient" in what it does and how it does it, and also to facilitate the local private sector in accessing grant funding from international agencies.
Hotels also want a mechanism set up for securing soft loans to help refinance their debts.
“All we are asking for is some assistance to help us stay afloat through the difficult time," said GHTA president Ian DaBreo.
One-third of hotel properties are no longer in operation and among those remaining, said DaBreo, “six are stressed; eight are severely stressed out; which means by this time next year, these properties could be closed without significant intervention to stimulate the tourism economy."
De Allie, who is the private sector representative in the senate, said the GPSO is unconcerned that some may interpret the airing of the organisation’s grievances as politically motivated.
“What you can be assured of at any time in this private sector," said De Allie, “is that you would never see us coming and say we support the demise of this government over another one. That you will never see."
The GPSO, he emphasized, is focused on business and not politics.
“From a business point of view," he said, “if we don’t have an environment that speaks to confidence and predictability, we have a problem. And we’re going to say that to the prime minister. How he deals with it – whether politically or otherwise – that’s his call. He’s the politician, not us. We’re just the business people."
It is not the first time De Allie has spoken publicly about the problems confronting the country’s business sector.
He told a sitting of the senate in July that Grenada is “heading to a precipice," with unemployment “approaching 50 percent."
Brathwaite told reporters on Thursday that the private sector had done “many, many belt-tightening exercises to streamline and survive this crisis. They’re just trying to keep their nose above water."
Many are hoping for a major economic stimulation, particularly in the tourism and hotel sector, with the takeover of LaSource Resort by Sandal Resort International (SRI).
Prime Minister Tillman Thomas has called SRI’s presence a “strategic addition to the hotel sector and a potential game-changer for our tourism industry".
The government’s concession arrangement that wooed Sandals to Grenada included a cap on property taxes for 25 years, as well as a waiver on SRI’s payment of corporate taxes for 25 years; no payment of import duties for 25 years; and no payment of VAT for 15 years on consumer goods.
LaSource, which ceased operations in October, is expected to start business under the Sandals’ brand in the first quarter of next year.
Sandals Resorts was established in 1981 by Jamaican businessman, Gordon “Butch" Stewart.