Recently declassified documents released by the Office of the Historian of the United States, indicate that political directions by senior government officials were given to circumvent customs controls on items imported into Guyana for the Jonestown commune.
Guyanese will recall that Jim Jones and American evangelist had established a commune at Port Kaituma. On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones and 917 others of his People’s Temple committed a mass suicide, which shocked the world. It took place on Guyanese soil.
There has never been a commission of inquiry into this incident. A great many persons’ reputations will crash if ever there was an investigation into the operations of Jonestown. Enough has already been revealed to prove complicity between the then government and the People’s Temple in a range of illegal and improper activities.
Declassified documents have revealed that the People’s Temple provided favours for government officials, including sexual in nature. In turn, the Temple operated virtually above the laws of Guyana when it came to its imports which included weapons, and which were allowed into Guyana without customs control, under political instructions from then Deputy Prime Minister Ptolemy Reid.
A declassified cable states that because of Dr. Reid’s patronage, representatives of the People’s Temple were able to gain privileged status with the Guyana customs service and enjoyed protection denied others. One senior customs officials cited as an example of instructions he received from Dr. Reid to waive customs inspections in order to facilitate the entry of heavy duty machinery for use by the People’s Temple in developing an agricultural project in the northwest region of Guyana.
Jonestown was forty years ago. The laxity in customs controls on items imported by the People’s Temple may have been forgotten. But the GRA’s concerns over possible leakages in revenues should have led the APNU+AFC government to be more careful in the conditions it attached to fiscal concessions offered to investors.
This column has already argued that the stability clauses within the oil contract virtually places Exxon above the parliament of Guyana, since once there is anything in any law which is adverse to the benefits enjoyed by Exxon, it has to be put right by the government. In other words, government will have to fix that law to ensure it does not deprive Exxon of any of its interests and benefits.
The provisions of the 2016 Exxon contract have led to speculation that customs controls have been overridden in some instances. Article 21.1 of the contract exempts Exxon from the payment of import duties, VAT, all other duties, taxes, levies or imposts in relation to items to be used for petroleum operations. There is a long list of items contained in Annex D of the contract items which are deemed to be pre-approved and certified. This is a long list with no caps on quantities. In other words, there is no need for the Chief Inspector, whoever that person is to be, to certify that the items will be used for the purposes intended. The items are deemed to be pre-approved and certified.
The approval of items for specific purposes is an important aspect of customs control. In this instance it is not the GRA which is slackening its controls. It is the contract itself which will allow these items to be deemed to be approved for the petroleum operations. The GRA therefore will have no need to verify from Exxon or anyone else, including the Chief Inspector, whether these items are for the petroleum operations. They are deemed as pre-approved and certified. The GRA cannot second guess the situation. Even if it does, Exxon’s interests are so paramount under the contract that the relevant regulations will have to be fixed so as not to disadvantage or inconvenience Exxon, in keeping with the stability clauses
However, the GRA will be able at least to keep a record of what was imported. But once an item is deemed preapproved and certified, there is no need for GRA to question whether the items will be used for the purposes intended. There is no need for GRA to ask any more questions.
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