Unemployment rise blamed on fall of ‘underground’ economy – SARA

…local economists disagree, faults Govt lack of job creation, firing of thousands of Guyanese

With the unemployment rate of persons over 15 years lingering at 12 per cent and youth unemployment at 21.6 per cent, Guyana’s woeful joblessness rate has been linked to the Government’s fight against financial crimes and the so called ‘underground’ economy.

Chief Statistician Ian Manifold handling over a copy of the quarterly Guyana Labour Force Survey to Finance Secretary Hector Butts in March at the Marriott Hotel

In an interview with the media on the sidelines of a training exercise on Monday, State Assets Recovery Agency (SARU) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Aubrey Retmyer spoke about the entity’s fight against capital flight. He noted that policy analysts are still trying to quantify the Government’s impact on problems like capital flight and procurement fraud.
“That’s something that we’re working on to determine after 2015, what difference has occurred. And it’s an exercise we do have some people in the agency, the policy analysts, are working on to determine by how much have we reduced procurement fraud and capital flight.”
“People for example complain that when the drug money was here, they use to get jobs. That’s evidence that we’ve impacted the underground economy,” Retmyer claimed. “But by how much I can’t say. We have to find a way to quantify that.”
A quarterly Labour Force Survey done during the period July to September 2017 had revealed that the unemployment rate for persons aged 15 and above was 12 per cent, with the situation for women being substantially worse than that for men.
The survey was done from a total population of 550,831 persons 15 years and above, with some 72.2 per cent living in urban areas. From this figure, only 271,068 comprised the total employed population during the time of the quarterly survey.

SARA CEO Aubrey Retmyer

Males accounted for 166,873 and females 104,195. Urban workers totalled 188,774, while the rural area had 82,294 workers. The labour force participation rate for all persons aged 15 and above is 56 per cent, roughly equal to the corresponding 2012 value of 55.7 per cent. All other data gathered were compared to information continued in the 2012 census.
According to the findings of the survey, unemployment among women was 15.3 per cent and among men 9.9 per cent. The youth unemployment rate among 15 to 24-year-olds was almost twice that of adults, with 21.6 per cent. Young women were found to continue facing severe hardship, with 28 per cent of them being unemployed.

Anti-corruption policy
Retmyer also noted that SARA would have to work with other Government agencies that have lost due to financial crimes; in order to get this data. In the case of gold smuggling, Retmyer spoke of Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) that will be inked to increase collaboration between agencies. In addition, Retmyer said that an anti-corruption policy is being developed.
“In terms of the gold, we’ve begun to draw a Memorandum of Understanding with agencies in the country. The United Nations sent a long list and we’ve been working with the anti-corruption representative to this country to answer those questions and to begin to formulate an anti-corruption policy.”
“We have the AML (Anti Money Laundering) people; they’ve been here and will be returning to deal with money laundering. And various other agencies, they’re overlapping, but we will have to respond to each and we are working to ensure that we have a common position on each.”
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between SARA and the Financial Intelligence Unit on Monday. It is understood that at this signing, SARA Director, Professor Clive Thomas announced that persons who stole and want to voluntarily return State assets could strike a deal.
The MoU in question addresses issues relating to the sharing of information between the two agencies in the fight against financial crimes. Inter-agency collaboration is an important part of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism fight.
However, when contacted by this publication, several local economic commentators disagreed with Retmyer’s statement.
According to one economist, continued growth and improvement in Guyana cannot continue if investors’ confidence continues to be eroded. He noted that the high unemployment rate is as a result of the more than 10,000 Guyanese, who have lost their jobs since the present Administration took office.
The economist pointed to the 2000 Amerindian Community Support Officers (CSO) who were the first on the breadline, then thousands of sugar workers, who were fired from Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). Additionally, Barama Company Limited was forced to close its operations after several of its concessions were taken back by Government. The booming construction sector has since faded, the expert noted, causing a lot of labourers and ordinary tradesmen to lose their jobs.
He noted that added that there are also thousands of persons, graduating from the University of Guyana each year but are unable to jobs.
According to another economist, there has been lack of significant new investments in the last three years since investors and the business sector has lost confidence in the Government’s ability to honour agreements that were made by the past Administration. Added to this, the economist said, is the agenda and unchecked power of Special Orgainsed Crime Unit (SOCU) and State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA). The economist noted that investors and the business community will look at the charges against former Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh and former head of NICIL, Winston Brassington, and may be intimidated into entering contracts since they will be unsure if these will be honoured in the future.