An insurance agent, who fled Guyana decades ago at the height of economic problems and built a Pan-Caribbean insurance empire out of his adopted homeland of St. Maarten, believes that independence helped remove racial discrimination in employment practices.
“We have to give a lot of credit- we could say what we want about their political views and behaviors- people like Dr. Jagan and Forbes Burnham have done so much for a lot of us because they paved the way so that colonialism did not take away from our opportunities and they allowed the average Guyanese to flourish to become something by making us an independent country,” Chief Executive Officer of NAGICO, Imran Macsood Amjad told Demerara Waves Online News.
Guyana celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain on May 26, 1966.
You can listen to the full interview here. Mr. Macsood first tells Demerara Waves’ Denis Chabrol how long he has been living and working on St. Maarten. He also talks about the need for integrity in an era when financial institutions are coming under greater global scrutiny as part of the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
Sitting in his posh office in Phillipsburg, Macsood remembered the days when only fair-skinned people- mainly Portuguese and Chinese- held the supervisory and managerial jobs.
Evidently not an admirer of all of the policies of the then People’s National Congress (PNC)-led government of then President Forbes Burnham, Macsood credited him and Dr. Cheddi Jagan for creating the conditions for equality of employment opportunities through a politically independent Guyana. He remembered being told that the very first clerical person of East Indian descent was employed in the 1960s and that several Afro-Guyanese were mainly messengers instead of senior clerical and managerial positions. “When Guyana became independent and the term was used ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny, I think that sends a perfect message to everybody in Guyana and it sends a message to business people and sent a message to all the hierarchies in industry and otherwise that everybody has to be given opportunities and I am absolutely sure that independence had that benefit to all of us in Guyana,” he said.
Macsood- then a young, highly qualified and increasingly recognised insurance agent- opted to leave Guyana in the 1980s at a time when the economy was reduced to tatters and rampant food shortages were the order of the day.
He said his main objective was to start and grow an insurance company “from scratch” and so when the opportunity presented itself, he quickly grasped it and was interviewed by the Board of Directors.
The former manager at Guyana and Trinidad Mutual (GTM) insurance company remembers moving to St. Maarten with his wife and baby son in 1982, struggling not only to find the most cost-effective but good accommodation but also knocking on the doors of St. Maarten residents trying to convince them to invest in insurance policies. Despite the economic turbulence in the land of his birth, the now prominent insurance executive had mulled returning to Guyana because of high accommodation rent. “I remember the first two months were very, very difficult for me because where I was put up to stay was a very nice place… but the amount of rent was almost seventy-five percent of my salary and I felt that when I do quick mathematics, if I continue to pay this rent then I will be better off back in Guyana where I was already a manager at GTM and I was doing quite well and I was getting all kinds of benefits,” he said. His most difficult experience was moving into four apartments in two months.
Macsood said he grabbed the opportunity to run NAGICO and become its Chief Underwriter, after realizing at that time that the conditions in Guyana to start up a new insurance company were more government-oriented.
The insurance executive, widely known in St. Maarten for his philanthropy especially to the Guyanese community, boasts that NAGICO is by far the leading insurance company there with branches in 17 English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean islands. NAGICO was one of the major sponsors of an Independence Anniversary celebration that was organised by the St. Maarten-Guyana Association and the Guyana Hindu Association of St.Maarten and attended by hundreds of Guyanese at Port de Plaisance on May 13, 2016.
You can hear a podcast of the formal opening of that event here. The Master of Ceremonies was Frederick Ramprashad. The speakers were the Prime Minister, William Marlin; President of St. Maarten’s Parliament, Sarah Wescot-Williams; Guyana’s Director General of Tourism, Donald Sinclair and Executive Member of the Guyana- St Maarten Association, Cleveland Beresford Snr.
NAGICO has moved from a company that started with only US$75,000 and three staff members to one that today has gross assets of US$250 million and the net assets about US$100 million and more than 350 workers.