Jul 26, 2021 News
…as fuel dealer laments GEA’s action after paying billions in taxes
Kaieteur News – It is often said “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled” and one such battle that has been waging quietly over the past year, has left some 300 persons out of a job and a businessman with billions in infrastructure and other investments across the country unable to conduct business.
This is occurring during a global pandemic where the governments of countries across the world have had to reach into their treasury’s reserves to fork over cash to their citizens to not only sustain their very livelihoods but the nation at large.
These are among the rationale behind SBF International Inc’s, Dorwain Bess’ approach to the media to lament what he considers a high handed approach on the part of the GEA.
Adamant that his description of cumulative actions over the course of the past year are no coincidence, Bess told this publication that he is currently at wits end given the punishment being meted out to not just himself but his employees.
He posits, “…the country too, is losing out because in less than two years while I was doing business, I would pay about $2B in taxes.”
Bess, the company’s Principal Director, said that there are simply too many seemingly isolated incidents that occurred within a specific period of time, involving actions on the part of GEA, a business partner and a landlord, “so much so, that this cannot be a coincidence.”
“I have over 300 employees that are directly affected, they are without work, I have not been able to do any business, there are billions in investments now lying idle at different locations across the country and are now deteriorating. Why? Because of an altered date on a lease agreement, not on a document signed with the GEA but a private arrangement between my company and Omai’s Executive here in Guyana.”
The lease agreement referenced by Bess, is the only thing that the GEA has in its hand that it is challenging and it was questioning the lease agreement that eventually led to SBF International Inc., being served with a notice of cancellation in August 13, last.
According to Bess however, his woes did not begin at that time but much earlier when one of his partners in the company approached him with a strange offer, purportedly being directed from ‘high offices.’
The proposal, according to documents seen by this publication, was signed by a former company executive and never agreed to by Bess.
The deal, according to Bess, was for him to transfer 80 percent of the shares in the company to that official or his business would, “crumble”.
At one point, the business partner who has since parted ways with the company, in making threats to Bess to sign over his company at the request of ‘high offices’ or see it crumble, the official in a recorded conversation could be heard telling the SBF Official, “let me tell you something, ah just want you observe something, you see what happen to Christopher Jones and he is a MP (Member of Parliament, the f*#king people don’t care nothing, they don’t care nothing.”
According to Bess, he took the context of the conversation as a threat implying that if a Member of Parliament could be persecuted publicly, “then who am I to challenge these powers, that’s why I decided that I had to come to the media. Because it is not only costly, it is frustrating and quite frankly overbearing, and these actions not affecting me alone.”
In the recording, a copy of which has since been shared with this publication, Bess was told by his former executive, when asked during a conversation over solutions to their shares dispute, “I am having meetings with them to find out what is the solution where the company is concerned, I will tell y’all what going on, these people either they take over or they shut we down, that is what they doing.”
The former executive of the company went on to tell Bess the fate of the company was then left up to him to hand over control of the company or not and that he was merely a broker being used in the transaction, “or is just a case of them using his name for the records.”
“The rest as they say is history,” Bess told this publication and explained that when he refused, he was bluntly told that connections in ‘high offices’ would be employed to bring him down.
Separate yet seemingly somehow connected, according to Bess, was the fact that the lease agreement for the rental of the property in Christianburg, Linden that was owned by Omai and administrated over by an executive (name withheld) was “suddenly now being investigated by the GEA.”
The lease agreement was submitted in 2019 to the GEA, but it was not until a year later after he rebuffed the ‘hostile takeover’ by one of his former executives who was acting on behalf of “high offices” that his troubles began with the energy agency.
Separate yet somehow not isolated, Bess related that the GEA around the same time was refused entry into the Linden facility in order to mark a shipment of fuel that had been imported.
Bess confesses that by this time, not only had the landlord collected 13 months rent after the purported altered the date on the lease, but he was then served with a notice to quit by the said landlord.
He told this publication that he requested additional time since his facility had not been completed as yet, and further as a result of the global pandemic, there was still a significant amount of fuel in the storage tanks at the location.
To this end, Bess said he was later informed by the landlord that permission had been given by the GEA head to have the fuel be bunkered on one of the company’s vessels to which he objected since his class of licence did not permit for that.
“I didn’t go along with that because, me knowing the straight line that I have to walk on, it would just be another reason for me to be accused of breaking the law; they already looking at me.”
According to Bess, “I was at the point where I would prefer him to take me to court if he has to make sure that the other facility is completed before I move the fuel,” he said.
The landlord, according to Bess, subsequently agreed and allowed me to stay for three more months.”
Bess posits that the landlord at the time had wanted to extract more rent from the company.
These incidents together, according to Bess and the GEA, led to an investigation which unearthed the altered date.
A police investigation was subsequently requested but that failed to yield dividends, since the police were unable to find any evidence to support the GEA’s contention that the date on the lease agreement submitted to the energy agency was in fact forged.
The official, this publication was told, never turned up to provide police with any evidence or statement to support the GEA’s contention.
According to Bess, this did not stop the Energy Agency from targeting the company.
He said, this is his contention since not only did the police investigation into the date on the lease “yield nothing, the State Counsel at the time wrote GEA and advised them not to pursue any charges since there was no basis for any such charges and they went on further to say that the licence should not be suspended or revoked.”
The SBF boss said this did not stop the GEA Head, Dr. Mahender Sharma, from filing private action in the court in relation to the licence and then on August 13, wrote to SBF in a notice of cancellation, requesting that he show cause why the licence should not be revoked.
This was done, according to Bess who related that through his attorney, a formal response was provided to the GEA but was dismissed.
Compounding the situation in what is another separate, yet seemingly connected event, Bess told this publication that prior to receiving a notice of cancellation letter from the GEA in August last, a shipment of fuel had already been ordered and part paid for.
He said the shipment arrived on September 2, several days before the date indicated by the GEA for the date with which the cancellation would take effect—September 11, 2020.
The fuel was not allowed to be cleared for discharge however, and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) even refused to collect taxes on the imported fuel.
According to Bess, he had to write to the Prime Minister, the Minister with responsibility for the sector, pleading for permission to discharge his fuel given the liabilities that could be incurred.
This was obtained, according to Bess who pointed out that the shipment was 791,000 litres of diesel of which he sold about half, or 416,000 litres to a bauxite company under the auspices of SBF International.
In April this year, Bess was charged by the GEA in litigation filed by the Energy Agency’s Boss, Dr. Sharma, purporting that the sale of fuel was illegal.
According to Bess, despite the fact that he has since constructed his own additional facilities, “the pending frivolous charges by the GEA are just being used to keep me from doing business because they have no basis whatsoever.”
The Agency on Monday last had responded publicly to Bess, saying, “throughout its tenure as a licence holder, SBF Petroleum Inc. and SBF International Inc. were written to by the GEA about various breaches of the Agency’s internal procedures and shortcomings in their operations.”
The energy agency noted that in June 2020, after the GEA and Guyana Revenue Authority’s officers were refused entry to the Christianburg facility to conduct a marking exercise, the GEA wrote to SBF International Inc. about the state of its tenancy arrangements with the owner of the facility OMAI, requesting the submission of an updated lease as the one submitted in support of its application for 2019/2020 had expired.
According to the GEA, OMAI, in a letter to the GEA signed by the company official, indicated that it had never signed any lease with SBF International Inc. for the period 2019/2020 and a subsequent investigation revealed that the lease submitted by SBF was altered.
“At that time, the company had no other facility authorised to store fuel in the manner required for their operations. As a result, the Agency issued a “Notice Before Cancellation” to the company, detailing in full, the findings of the investigation, and giving them an opportunity to show cause why their licence should not be cancelled. On consideration of the submissions by the company, its licence was cancelled.”
The agency in justifying its position was adamant that “the matter of the cancellation of the company’s licence is now the subject of litigation instituted by SBF International Inc. and Mr. Bess’ statements can be viewed as an attempt by him to have this, and other legal matters against him and his company, adjudicated in the court of public opinion rather than before the Courts of Law.”
GEA was adamant, “all decisions taken with regard to the grant and cancellation of licences and institution of charges are done fairly, transparently and in accordance with the Guyana Energy Agency Act and Petroleum and Petroleum Products Regulations which govern the Agency” and that “the company SBF International Inc. and its Director Dorwain Bess have been charged separately with offences of wholesaling and importing of diesel without the required licences following investigations into their operations after the company’s Importing Wholesale Licence was cancelled in September 2020.”
Bess on the other hand, contends, “the sad part is, the actions by these few elephants, the fighting, the feuding…, it is not just hurting me who has been unable to do any business for the past year, but they are hurting my employees; I often get calls from some of them saying Boss when we gonna come back to work and I honestly don’t know what to tell these people.”
Bess—a naturalized US Citizen but hailing from Belladrum, East Coast Demerara—lamented, “It was never an easy road for me in this country.”
Recounting his experience doing business in Guyana, Bess told this publication, “I don’t think I’ve ever brought a vessel into this country without having to fight tooth and nail to get the product released to me. Every shipment of fuel, there was a challenge.”
He said too that there was even a time, “I would’ve had to report every movement of the vessel…I was basically on probation the whole time. I was under the microscope.”
He had in February, last contesting the cancellation of the Licence by the GEA and requested that the court orders the decision to be quashed but this was met two months later by separate court action filed by the energy agency against Bess’ SBF International.
“What is happening here to me and my staff and my company by clearly what are the actions of a few persons is beyond mind boggling and sickening,” Bess maintains.
He qualifies this position by juxtaposing the actions of the GEA against himself and business versus the treatment meted out to others in the industry and pointed to several businesses obtaining fuel licences without meeting the necessary requirements while he continues to face resistance for his efforts to meet all requirements.
He pointed too to the recent public reportage involving illegal transactions involving large foreign companies where it was found that the country was being robbed of billions of dollars every year and that they are not penalised.
“Me, who they say I change a date on the document, they got me stall up for a year, they got my workers suffering in this pandemic simply because of a date, which they say I changed…Can this be fair?”
He was adamant, even if it were proven to be true that the date was in fact forged, at the minimum, it should attract a fine that he would be happy to pay and move on, “but it cannot be right to shut down a man’s business for a year now, leaving not only me but hundreds to suffer.”
Bess has since exited the Omai facility and has already constructed another facility meeting all of the GEA’s requirements with vessels already certified to load at refineries.
SBF International has since applied for licence renewal to the GEA, which has not been granted as yet.
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