Government makes a fundamental mistake when it allows any business, local or foreign, to think the Constitution and Laws of Guyana are not held sacred and we, the people, are not entitled to be treated as first class citizens consistent with the stated tenets.
The case of Russia Aluminum (RUSAL), the major partner in the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BGCI) where it is being pressured by the United States (U.S) Government to abide by certain conditions or shall by the 23rd October cease trading with U.S businesses exemplifies what citizenship and sovereignty look like; what a nation and people are prepared to stand for.
RUSAL is a business with significant trading relations in the U.S. and an influential presence on the international stock market. When a country and its people are prepared to look beyond the dollar value to the intrinsic value of what it means to be an American and what America stands for such a lot. It’s no wonder many see that country as a beacon of hope, the attainment for justice, and the fulfillment of freedom, uttering phrases such as “God bless America.” These are beliefs and utterance they see not in their own country nor will speak of. Reports by the U.S Intelligence Agencies that Russia was involved in the undermining the integrity of the 2016 U.S elections have seen Russian businesses visited with the wrath of a country, in spite of its shortcomings, that places the highest of premium on freedoms and rights, which include the right to freely elect one’s representatives and the right to vote. Neither of these came without the shedding the blood or loss of life, values still today held sacred.
The world today watches former First Lady Michelle Obama on a nationwide tour to register voters and safeguard the sanctity of the vote. Others of similar influence have joined the call, irrespective of political differences, demanding systems be put in place in order to avoid a repeat of 2016. The Republican- controlled Congress has presented Bills with the support of their Democratic colleagues to intensify sanctions, landing it on the President Trump’s desk for assent, leaving him little to no choice, though reportedly he remains the greatest beneficiary of such violation. Such political cajoles Guyana has not seen in a long time.
And this brings me to the reported issue that BCGI may be closing shop in October, but at the same time the foreign management is playing games and the Government has either taken a hands off or apathetic approach. It is no secret since this company established business here-RUSAL with 90 percent share and the People of Guyana via the Government of Guyana 10-Government has allowed the foreign management to do as it please with the Laws of Guyana and citizens. Where unlike the U.S Constitution, our Constitution expressly states Collective Bargaining is a right Government has to safeguard the sovereignty of this nation by ensuring where bargaining units exist, Collective Bargaining is respected and conducted consistent with Section 23(1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act.
I say to Guyanese, home and abroad, to treat with the continuous abuse and trampling of the rights of bauxite workers employed at BCGI is to in effect open the floodgates for similar treatment across the society. Those who are presently flooding our shores, given the potential of our oil and gas, would be less inclined to feel obligated to treat us better, for there exists no present universal standard of reinforcement of the Rule of Law only, selective complicity. A fundamental error is being made to accept if one’s right is not directly affected not to care about the rights of others that are affected. There are reported cases in similar resources- rich countries as ours where foreign businesses become the de facto government and government officials, elected and appointed, their boy and girl toys, treating them with scant regard or having them kowtowing. The role play often happens in the environment where governments are inconsistent and unprincipled in its application of the laws. No society can have social cohesion in such an atmosphere.
With the exception of the Donald Ramotar government whose Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, instituted the process for compulsory arbitration consistent with Section 4 of the Labour Act, which was challenged by RUSAL/BCGI in the Court, the Bharrat Jagdeo and David Granger/Moses Nagamootoo governments have been timid in ensuring the Laws of the land are held sacrosanct.
Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, in a letter dated 20th December 2017, to the management of BCGI said that Government is “maintaining an arm’s length approach to union matters.” How can government maintain an arm’s length approach to a matter festering for almost nine years, the nation’s sovereignty under seize, its citizens treated as second class and the law trampled on, when it is government who is required to act by enforcing the Rule of Law?
What is instructive and also destructive about this letter is the authorship. For Minister Trotman is not only the son of a father who has distinguished himself internationally as a human rights jurist, he was part of the Opposition that rightly castigated the PPP/C for failing to enforce the law and bring resolution. More importantly by profession he is an officer of the court and would have taken the oath to defend the law without fear, favour or ill will. As a Minister of Government and Member of Parliament he sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution and Laws of Guyana, free of inhibitions.
Where we have rightly held the PPP/C government accountable for allowing BGCI to transgress the rights of Guyanese labour and treat citizens with contempt we cannot waiver now. The moral authority will be lost to be selective in condemnation or support, for right is right and wrong is wrong and the two like water and oil cannot mix.
There is much grumbling and complaints, not without merit, about what the new economy- oil and gas and green- will mean for citizens, where do we fit in, how we will be treated and benefit. Some already hold the view that the ordinary man and woman will be shortchanged because Government is yet to articulate a clear overarching policy and programme to ensure Guyanese be the primary beneficiaries, through skills training, jobs and so forth.
Minister Trotman and the Cabinet are credited for establishing a Task Force into bauxite earlier this year. At the same time it should not be lost on us that society has come to accept these are exercises in futility, given the manner in which the recommendations in previous Task Force, Committees, Commissions of Inquiry have been treated with by Government, particularly when they don’t coincide with its thinking. Reservation is being held the BCGI and Oldendorff Task Force would suffer similar fate.
The Task Force, through its then Head, Minister Simona Broomes submitted to Minister Trotman an Interim Report. Today Minister Trotman claims he has not received the report.
As a member of that Task Force I’m aware the Report was delivered to him. But let us for argument sake accept it wasn’t, where the Minister has assigned supervisory responsibility of the matter, management and political dexterity expectation would be for him to follow through or demand a Report be placed on his desk.
Minister Broomes has since resigned, more than five weeks ago, and a new Head has been appointed. To date Minister Trotman is yet to inform the group of the resignation and new appointment. The Task Force is in limbo not because its members do not want to work/deliver, but because of the machinations to ensure nothing happens. And this brings us back to raising legitimate questions as to what Minister Trotman really meant in that December 2017 letter to BCGI management.
Come October, whether Government likes it or not, tough decisions have to be made. The U.S, in its effort to protect and defend its sovereignty, the citizens’ freedoms and rights, has already moved. Its sanctions have had far reaching and financial implications. In Guyana persons will be without a job. Whether its fate or fortune, the coalition continues to hurt its chances with the working class by the shabby treatment being meted out to this constituency, having campaigned on a commitment to restore Collective Bargaining and respect citizen’s rights should the working class and their families give them their vote.
Bauxite remains a valuable product in the international market and is used in the cement, metalogical and refractory industries. Guyana’s bauxite is being used as a sweetener and while presently BCGI’s bauxite is being taken to Ireland and Ukraine, this product is marketable anywhere that buys bauxite. It is time the Task Force be allowed to return to its work, the welfare of BCGI workers command its deserving respect, government start examining the extraction from a contract that carries dire political consequences, local and international, and begin sourcing buyers who will be respecting of our laws and citizens.
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