Local Content legislation passed in National Assembly

…as Govt amends Bill to include 10 of Opposition’s 14 recommendations

Guyana finally has much-anticipated local content laws after the Local Content Bill was approved in the National Assembly on Wednesday with the inclusion of 10 of the 14 amendments that were proposed by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Opposition.

Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat

During his presentation to open the debate on the Local Content Bill in the National Assembly, Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat explained that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has spent over a year conducting widespread consultations with various stakeholders to create the much-needed local content legislation.
But the Minister pointed out that Government only received recommendations from the APNU/AFC Opposition on Tuesday – a mere one day before the proposed bill was set to be debated in the National Assembly.
“As a Government, Mr Speaker, we’re always willing to listen, we’re always willing to work with anybody who is willing to work with us especially in the development of the oil and gas sector… If there are suggestions from any group, including the Opposition Members, that will strengthen the Local Content Bill and will add to bringing more benefits to Guyanese people, we are open to that. But it is unfortunate that we only received [the amendments on Tuesday],” he stated.
Bharrat further expressed disappointment that a meeting was set up with the Opposition MPs Wednesday morning, prior to the National Assembly session, but only two members were there and indicated that the matter would be dealt with “on the floor”.
“We were willing to meet… and discuss the 14 amendments that they’re proposing,” he contended.
Nevertheless, the Natural Resources Minister said that Government went ahead to include 10 of the 14 amendments proposed by the coalition Opposition.
“The amendments will strengthen the bill and what do we want as a government, we want a strong Local Content Bill. We want a bill that will bring benefits to Guyanese and if your contribution will do that, then we are happy to accept it,” he noted.
Among the accepted recommendations is the creation of a Local Content Oversight Committee, which Government would rename the Local Content Advisory Committee.
Another recommendation was for four additional entities to be represented on the Committee. These are the National Toshaos Council, the Guyana Bar Association, the parliamentary Opposition, and local petroleum organisations.
“We are saying yes, that we agree to it; that one of our MPs on the opposite side will sit on the Advisory Committee to ensure that this Bill is fully implemented so that Guyanese can benefit. And that is the bottom line… Regardless of which political party we’re in, our main objective here should be to ensure that Guyanese benefit from the oil and gas sector,” he asserted.
There was also a recommendation that the President should appoint the Chairman of that Committee and the committee members select a Vice Chairman.
This First Schedule of the Local Content Bill caters for the establishment of a Secretariat that will oversee the implementation of and adherence to the Local Content Act. It will also be responsible for the creation of two registries that will list qualified Guyanese available for employment and local companies that are offering goods and services required by the oil and gas sector.
One other Opposition proposal that was accepted by Government is for these registries to be made public.
Additionally, Minister Bharrat also tabled an additional four amendments that include equal pay for qualified Guyanese, commensurate with what foreigners are being paid; and to increase the usage level of local services such as accounting and insurance from 20 per cent to 90 per cent, and from 90 per cent to 100 per cent, respectively.
The Natural Resources Minister explained that these changes were undertaken upon the realisation that there is capacity in the provision of these two services. He explained that similarly, the Local Content legislation would be updated over time to reflect the changing circumstances in Guyana as the country continues to build capacity to service the oil and gas sector.
“We will keep changing that schedule and we will also keep adding different services to that schedule based on our capacity. As we build capacity, we are willing as a government to make changes to the schedule with support from the Opposition,” Bharrat stressed.

Nit-picking at issues
But despite Government accepting the majority of the APNU/AFC recommendations, Opposition MP David Patterson, who tabled the amendments, claimed that his party was sidelined during the consultation process and asked that the Bill be sent to a Special Select Committee for review and scrutiny.
However, Minister Bharrat had expressed fear that if the Local Content Bill is sent to such a committee, then it would face the same fate as other Bills that the coalition had sent to Special Select Committees such as the Petroleum Commission Bill which never returned to the floor of the House.
Meanwhile, Patterson went on to express concerns with certain aspects of the local Content legislation. He argued that certain services such as janitorial and trucking should be fully provided by Guyanese.
The Shadow Natural Resources Minister posited that rental of property should also be 100 per cent provided by Guyanese and not the 90 per cent that was listed.
“Why do we need an expat to come to Guyana to build an office to rent to Exxon? There is no explanation why… as if we can’t build a building and rent it for money. Accommodation services, apartment and houses – why only 90 per cent? Why Guyanese can’t [fully] own and rent apartment and houses. Why do we need expats to come…?” Patterson contended.
In response, however, Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall called out the Opposition MP for nit-picking at issues, reminding that it was the coalition Administration that gave approval for ExxonMobil to construct and own a headquarters building here.
“We have the local people at heart. This is our Bill, you did nothing. So don’t come and accuse us of short-changing locals here when you did nothing for them in the form of a legislation… The Private Sector, in our consultations with them, said that they begged y’all for about three years to pass this bill because of what was taking place right across the length and breadth of Guyana with foreigners coming into the country and invading, taking over the sector; buying all the river lands on the East Bank [of Demerara], taking over the contracting services, bringing in the heavy-duty equipment to the exclusion of Guyanese. We responded to that… and those are being addressed in this Bill,” Nandlall detailed.
Moreover, the Attorney General went on to address a concern that was raised by Patterson regarding the Local Content Bill discriminating against Caricom citizens, who are entitled to move, get employment and even set up businesses here under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to which Guyana is a signatory.
But AG Nandlall asserted that this would not be an issue. In fact, he pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago as well as Suriname, which are also bound by the Treaty, have implemented Local Content laws without any ramifications.
“We have addressed our minds to this and when the issue arises, we will deal with it. So, you have the Government’s assurance that we have addressed that issue and we will deal with it at the appropriate time,” the AG stated.
After hours of intense debate by over a dozen speakers from both sides of the House, the PPP/C Administration’s historic Local Content Bill was passed in the National Assembly Wednesday evening with 10 of the amendments proposed by the coalition Opposition. (G8)