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By Lenox Shuman
I wish to express my views on the two bills recently passed in Parliament, the NRF Bill and the Local Content Bill.
Having finally and fully studied the NRF bill and its conformity to the Santiago Principles, I reiterate my complements to the Government of Guyana for tabling and now passing this piece of legislation. We are at a critical juncture in the history of Guyana and I recommend that we all take a little time to pause and examine the plusses of this bill. While I am constrained in Parliament by the Joinder agreement which binds the tri-party agreement and voting, I express my support for the NRF bill. It is my view that the criticism of the Government is misplaced in the Bill’s content but is justified on its process.
Firstly, while the legislation may not have benefitted from the kind of public scrutiny that we feel should have obtained, there is nothing illegal in what the Government has done. It is all provided for in the Constitution of Guyana and the Parliamentary Standing Orders which the government has committed to reviewing in due course. While my expectation was for a more consultative process to be engaged, the reality is the nation suffered tremendously in the last three years; firstly from an exhausting process from the no-confidence motion in December 2018 to elections, and then an arduous five months struggle; a global pandemic in COVID-19 that still continues to wreak havoc on our country; and some unprecedented flooding all of which produced some devastatingly negative effects on our economy. Notably, the attempted theft of the 2020 election does not give rise to an environment that fosters consensus building on anything in Parliament as one party seems bent on creating a destabilizing environment as is continuously demonstrated by their actions and behaviour in Parliament, and the other is asked to govern in that environment.
Ultimately, the aim is to ensure greater accountability, transparency, and prudent governance of the fund with the apex oversight body being the National Assembly with the Public Accounts Committee as its informative tool. Those are further supported by the of the Bank of Guyana, the Board of Directors, and the National Procurement and Tender Board Administration all in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance and all of these are included in the Bill and all are legal entities.
I reiterate my compliments to the Government of Guyana for going the route of a Natural Resource Fund (NRF), and that the benefits of the oil and gas industry should assimilate to all citizens of Guyana, and that the NRF should be part of the machinery which facilitates this. Above all, we have an obligation and responsibility to not leave our future generations in debt and in a better environment and it is important that the government is given the latitude to ensure this reality and reduce our sovereign debt and borrowing.
With such considerations, it is commendable that the Government sat on the fund for close to two years when they could have addressed the structure and drawn down on the fund, but did not. That they took no such opportunity and instead delayed it to better gauge the fiscal needs and trajectory of the country no doubt signals their intent to be responsible and prudent managers of the economy. This is further complemented and supported by the announcement of an expert from Harvard to develop a macro-development strategy and plan for all of Guyana and I commend them for indicating their intent in that direction. It is my hope and expectation that the specialist being brought in will be given a clear mandate to establish a strong collaborative partnership with the University of Guyana and other members of Guyana’s Academia to develop a Guyana Solution.
As it relates to the Local Content Law, it was long overdue and as the government has committed that there is still room for intervention, I have RE-SUBMITTED 16 pages of input to the Hon. Vickram Bharat with hopes of having the LCL recognise and address the organic nature of Indigenous Communities and the possibility of the ratification of ILO169.
I have noted the assault on the LCL by businesses from our Caribbean neighbour and state that their complaint should find no quarter in Guyana as our citizens have been mal treated in Trinidad and others for decades without any opportunity for reproach. Guyanese should never be mal treated anywhere in the world least of all be disenfranchised at home and the time is ripe for Guyana to rethink its place in CARICOM. I support the NRF and Local Content Laws 100% – Guyana first! It is time we put Guyana first and not permit political games to destroy our collective futures.