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Of interest to me is paragraph 24 of the communique issued at the conclusion of the 33rd Intersessional Meeting of Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM held in Belize from 1-2 March 2022.
The paragraph states:
‘Heads of Government established an open- ended working group on local content for sunrise Industries with core membership from Antigua and Barbuda,Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
They also agreed that the CARICOM Private Sector Organization would participate in the working group.’
Speaking at a press conference on his return home President Ali was quoted by KN as saying;
“Let me make this clear, in no way shape or form was anyone critical on Guyana local content legislation. a matter of fact, the chairman from the (CARICOM Private Sector Organization) CPSO sought to take time to explain that they did not make any decision on the matter they were only discussing it… and this email just escaped…”
According to KN, ‘The President explained that a wider committee was established to discuss the LCP in a wider context.’
When all that was said and done, what is of great significance was first, the presence and active of participation of the CPSO at the meeting of Heads of Government of CARICOM;
Secondly, that the CPSO has real locus standi at such meetings; And thirdly, that the CPSO would participate in the open-ended working group with a view to recommending to Heads what could eventuate in a time-bound CARICOM local content policy, framed ‘in a wider context.’
No doubt, the decision by Heads was made against the backdrop of a January 2022 meeting between the Secretary General of CARICOM’s Secretariat and the Guyana Oil and Gas Energy Chamber (GOAGEC) and more-so, in the context of Articles 21,22 and 23 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguramas (RTC), treating inter alia with ‘ Institutions of the Community, the Secretariat,’ that mandates the SG to report to Conference on the ‘work of the Secretariat.’
Further, it is to be assumed that it was on the basis of representation made to the Government of Guyana by GOAGEC that the matter was raised for deliberation and a decision by Heads at their Belize meeting.
It is to be recalled that the Saturday, January 22, 2022, edition of S/N reported that the Head of the Guyana Oil and Gas Energy Chamber (and a small delegation) met with CARICOM Secretary General Dr. Carla Barnett on Thursday January 20, 2022, and ‘asked that the regional body (CARICOM) de-recognize the Caribbean Private Sector Organization.’
To support its request, the CARICOM SG was advised that:
The process of forming the CPSO was flawed;
The body was horridly (sic!) put together;
The CPSO never reached out to them and never visited Guyana;
Neither Guyana’s nor Jamaica’s apex private sector bodies have representative members;
They will write to the CARICOM SG and all CARICOM Heads objecting to the CPSO;
CARICOM suspends recognition of the body;
Begin the process of forming a new body which will have the consensus of all states;
CARICOM would be written to requesting a meeting with the business community’s representatives here (in Guyana) to register their concerns and discuss ways the matter can be resolved.
According to the Head of the GOAGEC the meeting with Dr. Barnett went “excellent.”
Guyanese were left in the dark as regards subsequent developments following GOAGEC’s meeting with the CARICOM SG since there were no further disclosures by GOAGEC in the local media.
The GOAGEC’s concerns surfaced following passage of Guyana’s Local Content Bill and the subsequent publication of the contents of a ‘leaked email’ belonging to the CPSO in which its chairman, Gervasse Warner, also President and CEO of Trinidad-based Massey Group ‘raised serious concerns over Guyana’s Local Content Act’.
But the CPSO’s concerns did not focus only on Guyana’s Local Content Act, the organization went on to claim that the Act was in conflict with the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) and by implication, CARICOM’S Single Market and Economy.
Gervasse was to later admit at the Belize meeting of Heads that the CPSO’s ‘serious concerns’ were not ‘decisions’ as such, but rather a matter that ‘was being discussed.’
Gervasse did not indicate where, nor at what level/s the matter ‘was being discussed.’
From all indications, it seems as though neither sufficient homework was done by GOAGEC as regards the basis for CPSO’s ‘serious concerns’ nor were the facts pertaining to CPSO’s relationship with CARICOM and the Secretariat taken under advisement.
On December 3, 2020, at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the CARICOM Secretariat and the CPSO, the then SG, Erwin La Roque stated that both entities had “laboured long and hard to advance a treaty that provides a legal and administrative framework for CSME arrangements of inclusion with the private sector”. Further, it was recalled that since December 2018 a structured arrangement was arrived at with the private sector.
In October, under Article 22 of the RTC, the CPSO was recognized as an ‘Associate Institution of the Community.’
However, long before, similar ‘Associate Institution of the Community’ had been designated to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB),the University of Guyana (UG), the University of the West Indies (UWI) the Caribbean Law Institute/Caribbean Law Institute Centre(CLI/CLIC) and the Secretariat of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States.
The RTC mandates meetings of conference of Heads to designate similar recognition to;
‘…such other entities as may be designated by the Conference’ provided that ‘the Community enjoys’ with such entities, ‘important functional relationships which contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the Community.’
In the circumstances, the CPSO was recognized as an apex institution and as a truly representative body of the Regional Private Sector.
Further, the CPSO was granted Observer Status at meetings treating with the Single Market and Economy, that it will serve on six committees and to participate in meetings of the Council For Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
At the signing ceremony, the then representative of the CPSO for his part, stated that the MOU mandates the CPSO to work with member states inter alia; ‘To avoid any unnecessary difficulties arising in the course of cooperation between CPSO and CARICOM.’
In the light of the prevailing situation , it is doubtful that COAGEC’s request that the CPSO be de-recognized will be accomplished. Moreover, it is unlikely that there will be any unraveling or disengagement of the CPSO’s designation an ‘Associate Institution of the Community.’
However, knowing that ‘the devil is usually in the details’, COAGEC should rest assured that all is not lost. With skillful negotiators and navigators on its behalf, the decision by Heads to establish an open-ended working group and its mandate, coupled with what was reported by President Ali, COAGEC has a good chance of arriving at its destination but by a different route.
Clement J. Rohee