Apr 26, 2016 News
By Abena Rockcliffe – Campbell
Malcolm X’s policy, “If you do not stand for something you will fall for anything” was brought to the fore
last evening as President of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis stressed the need for Guyanese to stand together for the protection of the country’s patrimony.
Lewis told Kaieteur News that he is unimpressed by the APNU+AFC government’s handling of matters surrounding the operations of foreign companies in Guyana.
He said that like what was given during the reign of the PPP/C government, there is still to be a clear message to be sent out, that the loyalty of the Government of Guyana lies with the people of and not with foreign companies seeking to exploit the country’s resources.
The trade unionist said that he was very expectant that many wrongs would have been corrected under the wings of the change touted by the APNU+AFC administration. He said though, that the “proof is yet to be seen.”
Lewis’s biggest problem seems to be the concessions granted to foreign companies.
Indeed, Guyana has been granting big concessions to foreign companies coming to operate here. The controversial logging company, BaiShanLin International Forest Development Inc has been given over a billion dollar in concessions.
The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) audit report highlighted that during the period 2012-2015, BaiShanLin brought in US$38 million worth of machinery, equipment and materials of which fiscal concessions amounting to G$1.8B.
The auditor, Anand Goolsarran, said that the investment agreement specifically states that if the machinery, equipment and materials for which fiscal concessions have been granted have not been used for the purpose(s) specified, the value of the concessions must be repaid to the Government.
BaiShanLin has not done so to date. Only two vehicles have been seized. Lewis said, yesterday, that the government is yet to fully address the concessions granted.
Lewis said that it is unacceptable to have ordinary workers bear the burden of subsidizing such concession. Workers are being made to pay for this through taxes while trying to survive on meager salaries, he said.
He added, “These tax concessions are taking away from the possibility of having improvements being made to the way of life of the masses. I am disappointed that the government has not taken a strident position on addressing this issue…This big set of concessions must be cut out.”
Lewis said that if government decides to collect the taxes that would be due in the absence of these concessions, there would be more money in the system to provide for basic health care for Guyanese.
“As a people, we simply cannot afford to continue subsidizing these companies.”
Lewis said that that he followed the news about the Chinese state-owned company that is coming to take over BaiShanLin. He shuddered at the thought that that company might receive another set of concessions.
The trade unionist said that negotiation should not be on going with the new company until BaiShanlin comes clean.
“No new negations, no concessions, nothing at all until this company comes clean to a nation that deserves at
least that much respect after all it endured.”
Lewis continued, “This is our national patrimony we are taking about. We are trading concessions for these companies to come and exploit our national patrimony.” He said that it is a win, win for the companies.
“Why should all these foreign companies be granted concessions, when the average Guyanese man who is surviving on an average salary and has a family of five has to pay high taxes.
“Let us say he wants to buy a car to ease the stress in taking his children to school, that man, a Guyanese by birth, has to pay duty on that car.”
Stressing that he does not subscribe to that amount of concessions granted to foreign companies, Lewis said, “And don’t bring that creation of jobs business to me. These companies do not come to create jobs they come to make money; they come to exploit Guyana; that is their aim. The government’s aim should be to secure the interest of its country and its people.”
The trade unionist told Kaieteur News that the few jobs that some foreign companies give to Guyanese do not conform to international standards with regard to payment.
Lewis is one of the few public officials whose publicized views on BaiShanLin have not changed despite the change of government.
During the reign of the PPP/C government, Lewis had told the media, “The people are on one side fighting to ensure the nation’s protection…and government officials on the other side seem aligned with foreign forces to plunder and rape our resources for personal enrichment.
He said that he is standing by that view until the APNU+AFC government proves otherwise.
Lewis had said that the concerns and alarm by local stakeholders over the management of Guyana’s forest and infrastructures, environmental impact, the exclusion of local workforce and the conditions of service for those employed, are not to be dismissed and treated as though it’s business as usual.
“The GTUC is not adverse to foreign investments. The GTUC is adverse to investments that disregard the rights of citizens, the laws of our land, and the sovereignty of this nation.
“These are concerns of every Guyanese regardless of race, class, creed and political persuasion. The President needs to understand this, desist from the political grandstanding, and address the people’s concerns with the seriousness they deserve.”
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