We are in a period of greatness and uncertainty and must tread these waters carefully. This is the first time in our lifetime the nation is poised to exploit a national resource, which if properly managed, can redound to the masses’ benefit.
Political uncertainty and concerns regarding the management of this resource, if not well handled, can seriously divide this nation for a long, long time to come. We the people need assurance, across the political divide, that our collective welfare, the nation’s sovereignty and management of our resources will take primacy. We need it now.
A population growing increasingly wary of the wedge created by politicians, finds it hard to trust politicians. We are of the era when one’s word is no longer seen as honour or bond. It behooves us in the interest of self and nationhood to set aside differences for the common good. We the people must stand up and demand of both government and opposition – whom we are paying to discuss, debate and make decisions in Parliament – the nation’s highest decision-making forum – that they return to work in the National Assembly.
The petroleum sector is virgin territory for us. Whereas we should shy away from avoiding risk and welcoming investors, such must not come at the expense of selling ourselves short or down the drain. The cry for a Local Content Policy (LCP) that places the interest of local labour, business and our environment up front and centre must no longer be ignored by our combined elected representatives. The partisan approach has to stop.
This newspaper on 12th September informed of a shift in government’s policy that going forward, under the Production Sharing Agreements, “interests would no longer be a recoverable/deductible expense.” Though commendable that government has taken note of public outcries, it has not gone far enough. What we need is national consultation and a review of the third draft of the LCP which is said to be final. In its current iteration we must reject it.
Evidently the interest of Dr. Michael Warner, who was contracted to prepare this draft, does not converge with ours. It is cause for alarm that we are being advised that he has removed protective mechanisms put in place by previous consultant Anthony Paul, such as putting Guyanese first and meting out sanctions to the oil companies for non-compliance.
This nation has to come together. It is weakness of our people that allows foreigners to treat us anyhow. We need strong government, opposition, civil society and citizens batting for the interest of Guyana and our resources. Governance of the country cannot be left to one party/group alone without an effective opposition.
Presently we are witnessing threats to our sovereignty not unlike what RUSAL/Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated was allowed to get away with for years under the PPP administration. RUSAL must not be repeated.
Almost two weeks ago, a young man visited my office and requested my personal attention. He showed me a contract issued by a company in the oil industry. This contract is not only a violation of the Constitution and Laws of Guyana, but also a departure from International Labour Conventions. Employees of this company are being asked to sign a contract which stipulates they “may not without the prior written consent of the company engage, whether directly or indirectly, in any…association including union membership…”
A call is being made to the government to fix this ‘eyepass’ (disrespect) now. These foreign employers must know workers can’t be in such a contract, as it violates the law and their rights. Article 147 of the Constitution protects the right to freedom of association to join political party or trade union of choice. Section 26:2 of the Trade Union Recognition Act clearly states the employer would be engaging in violation should it seek to deny workers the right to join a trade union of choice.
At the same time, we must take note of the opposition’s promise that should it be elected to office it will renegotiate the oil contracts. The PPP’s track record and the nature of Guyanese politics present no guarantee contracts will be renegotiated to our best interest and any reform made by the coalition will be built on. There is enough reason to believe that this will not be upheld.
The PPP when in opposition condemned the privatisation and investment policies of the PNC administration, accusing that administration of issuing sweetheart deals, and campaigned on a commitment that a PPP government would cease such practice. Evidence will show acts to the contrary, as in investment deals with the bauxite industry in Berbice and Linden, Bai Shan Lin in forestry, the Chinese and Russian in the gold and diamond industry, etc. Neither is their certainty the coalition grouping can return to office and/or move to expand the announced incremental change.
It cannot be underestimated the lack of trust in society. Mistrust is at the point where some feel despite public commitment given by the opposition should it form the next government, contracts will not be re-negotiated. On the other hand, coalition supporters feel if their group is not elected to government, they stand the chance of not benefiting from any resources of the state. The machination of the politicians in this society is contributing to heightening divisions and tension amongst the different races/groups, a challenge we must confront head-on as one.
We need surety supported by law that would safeguard us, regardless of which party or group secures the Executive and/or Parliament. We require laws be passed with the support of more than a simple majority. The approach will facilitate an inclusionary approach to governance as stipulated in Article 13. For our form of governance to be effective it necessitates engagement, negotiation and approval by all sides. This stands to eliminate/minimise decades-old reservations amongst the people that their elected representatives cannot rise above partisan interest.
As we proceed in this environment, conduct must never give rise to Guyana ruing the day announcing a date for election in violation of the Constitution, requiring at least the vote of two-thirds of all the elected members of the National Assembly, to extend the period consistent with the proviso “or such longer period” as stipulated in Article 106 (7).
Likewise, we must not regret holding an election in the absence of a Local Content Policy and law with strong checks and balances to protect us, our natural resources, environment and sovereignty.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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