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—votes down opposition amendments, ignores calls for bill to be sent to select committee
By Svetlana Marshall
Using its one-seat majority in the National Assembly, the Government, on Wednesday, passed the Local Content Bill with amendments despite pleas by the Opposition to have the Bill sent to a Special Select Committee to address a number of concerns.
A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament, David Patterson, who had submitted a total of 14 proposed amendments ahead of Wednesday’s Sitting, said while the Opposition is in full support of Local Content Legislation, it was necessary for the Bill to be sent to a Special Select Committee for further consultation on issues of major concern.
Patterson told the House that while the Private Sector and Civil Society may have been consulted on the legislation, the Parliamentary Opposition was not. “Mr. Speaker, the Opposition was never invited to share our perspective. Never!” he said.
The Opposition, he pointed out, was first provided with copies of the Local Content Bill on December 16 – some 13 days ago. He said some 30 minutes before the convening of the National Assembly on Wednesday, the Opposition was invited by the Government to discuss the proposed amendments to the Bill as submitted by him. The meeting, however, never took place.
From the onset, Patterson questioned whether the Bill is in conflict with any regional or international treaties for which Guyana is a signatory, such as Article 7 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. He warned that should there be any conflicts, Guyana runs the risk of being taken to Court or sanction.
Further, he submitted that the Bill appears to be heavy on administrative requirements. “We are concern that in attempting to have a good bill in a hurry, we may have created a bureaucratic nightmare which will be counter-productive to the original intention to ensure Guyanese participation through the monitoring of activities in the sector,” Patterson told the House.
In the Bill, which seeks to prioritise Guyanese nationals and Guyanese companies in the procurement of goods and services for the enhancement of the value chain of the petroleum sector, Guyanese National is defined as a citizen of Guyana, however, Patterson, in his proposed amendments, said the definition should read ‘a citizen of Guyana by birth.”
That proposed amendment was among those not accepted by the Government, but Patterson said in light of increasing concerns that the naturalisation process here is corrupt, it should have been. It was pointed out that within a very short person, some 250 foreign nationals were naturalised. According to him, it is as simple as passing a bribe. Under such a corrupt system, born Guyanese could be short changed, Patterson warned.
Patterson had also proposed that the Inter-Agency Advisory Committee be completely replaced with a Local Content Oversight Committee, but while the recommendation was taken in part, the Government merely changed the name to Local Content Advisory Committee.
In doing so it included the parliamentary opposition, the National Toshaos Council and the Guyana Bar Association as proposed but excluded Transparency International Guyana Inc. and the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers.
Further, Patterson questioned why Guyanese cannot provide 100% of the office space required for rental, the supply of food, janitorial and laundry services, catering services, trucking services and even local legal services.
EXCLUSION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
Deputy Speaker and Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) Member of Parliament, Lenox Shuman commended the Government on bringing the Bill to the House, however, in doing so, he expressed disappointment over the exclusion of Indigenous Peoples.
“To us Mr Speaker, a local content Law should be a comprehensive and inclusive piece of legislation. It must also take into consideration that Indigenous Peoples are already marginalised and are not actively participating in the Oil and Gas sector and therefore make provisions for their alternative livelihoods,” he told the House.
According to the Deputy Speaker, his initial recommendations were not included. “I sincerely hope this is only an oversight and not a deliberate act,” the LJP MP said while underscoring the importance of meaningful consultation.
To support his argument, he pointed to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169, which Guyana has not yet Ratified on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires for there to be free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
“When indigenous communities have a right to negotiate with companies based on the principle of FPIC, agreements tend to include commitments to local indigenous content, training and enterprise development opportunities. Take for example, many Indigenous communities live on the margins of poverty and are excluded from bidding on projects because they do not have access to the requisite information, the opportunity to be trained in the process, and the Procurement Act does not define their roles in their own development. Rather, it leaves predominantly people on the coast access to bidding on work in Indigenous communities that community members are perfectly capable of doing. Guyana is rife with examples such as schools, roads, bridges, airstrips and even down to washrooms,” the Deputy Speaker reasoned.
He submitted that the LCP should be an instrument to drive change in the procurement Act to permit Indigenous Communities first preference in bidding on works and projects in and adjacent to their communities. He reasoned that it would help with the intellectual capacity and economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples and their communities.
“It will also transform communities as they start to build local capacity and can work as a lead-in to them engaging in the Oil and Gas sectors.Alternatively, in the immediate transitional period, the LCP should define that over 75% of the labour force AND where possible 51% of projects by value must go the respective communities; where necessary, all materials should be sourced locally and just as important – paid for,” Shuman submitted.
He said Local Content should be looked at not only in the macro-economic nature of such a law, but also to the micro-economic drivers of strong sustainable village economies.
In defending the Bill, Minister of Natural Resources, VickramBharrat said it was unfortunate that the Opposition, in particular the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC), did not offer the Local Content Bill its full support when it failed to craft the requisite legislation during its five years in office (2015-2020).
The Natural Resources Minister was keen on pointing out that Oil was first discovered in Guyana in 2015, and by 2019, the country commenced production. He said despite these facts, the then Government failed to put the requisite legislation in place to safeguard the rights of Guyanese to benefit from its resources.
“There was no proper local content policy in place when we took office in 2020. Worse yet, there was nothing of a draft bill on Local Content,” Minister Bharrat told the House.
He said it was President Irfaan Ali, who upon taking office, established a high-level panel to initiate the process of consultation in September 2020. It was noted that Carl Greenidge, a former Minister under the APNU+AFC Government, formed part of the panel. According to him, despite extensive consultation throughout the country for more than a year, it was only on Tuesday, December 28, 2021 that the Opposition, through its Member David Patterson, submitted its proposed amendments.
Minister Bharrat said in the interest of inclusivity, 10 of the 14 proposed amendments were taken onboard, although the Opposition was a no show at Wednesday’s meeting. He said the Bill was crafted and amended based on the consultations that took place across sectors.
However, he was keen on noting that there will be opportunities for the legislation to be amended.
“It is a working document; it is a living document. No Local Content Bill can remain static in any country in the world, nothing in the Local Content Bill is cast in stone because as we continue to assess our capabilities and our capacity, then of course, we will have to change targets, and make changes to the schedule in the Local Content Bill,” Minister Bharrat reasoned.
He said the Bill not only creates an environment for Guyanese to own more than 50% of companies operating within the Oil and Gas Sector, but for the workforce to be dominated by Guyanese. “51% of the company must be owned by Guyanese, 75% of the managers and senior staff must be Guyanese, 90% of the other staff employed in the organization must be Guyanese, that is the length to which we went Mr. Speaker to ensure our Guyanese brothers and sisters are beneficiaries of the oil and gas sector,” he told the House.
Further, it was noted that local businesses will be allowed to register with the Local Content Secretariat as well as individuals. It was noted too that contractors and sub-contractors will be asked to submit master plans. “The master plan is a five-year plan that would speak to the three areas, the sub-plans, employment, capacity development and procurement. So the master plan and the annual plan will be subdivided into 3 sub categories,” he explained, while adding that “every year the companies will be required to submit an annual plan for review by the Secretariat and approval by the Minister.”
According to the Natural Resources Minister, the plans, when submitted, will help the Government understand the needs of the Oil and Gas Sector. Turning his attention to the 40 areas listed in the Schedule, Minister explained that the percentages were set based on the sectors’ ability to meet the demands of the Oil and Gas Sector.
Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh were among Government MPs who supported the passage of the Bill, while Opposition MPs Khemraj Ramjattan, and Annette Ferguson, were among those who asked that the Bill be sent to a Special Select Committee. Notably, all of the proposed amendments submitted by Patterson, in their original format, were voted down by the Government.