Outrage over regional objections to local content law: Operators in Guyana’s healthcare system bemoan duplicitous treatment of local products
… “we must act in our interest” – Dr N Rambaran
As public outrage continues to build over the objections by some major businesses entities from regional countries to Guyana’s Local Content Law, stakeholders are highlighting the discrimination that has been meted out to Guyanese and local business when it comes to trade in the region.
Since last week’s leaked email from the Caricom Private Sector Organization (CPSO) claiming that the recently passed Local Content legislation violates parts of the Caribbean Community’s Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and subsequent threats of legal challenges to the law by certain sections in Trinidad and Tobago, there has been a growing widespread push back in Guyana from various stakeholders including the local Private Sector.
In fact, there have been arguments of the duplicitous nature of some Caricom neighbours, who are now laying claims to benefits from Guyana’s oil and gas sector, but have deliberately blocked Guyanese companies from enjoy such privilege in the past.
While examples of this treatment were highlighted in the export of processed agricultural products and trade barriers, a few local companies that operate within the healthcare system in Guyana are now speaking out their woes in getting into some regional markets.
One of the companies pointed out that historically, business between Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has been a lopsided affair with the island-state enjoying healthy trade surpluses.
“The reasons for this are many but amongst them is that T&T regulators employing strategies that deny intra-regional competition and protecting their local companies. In the healthcare sector, Guyanese companies have always been shunned by the T&T public health sector even when all requirements are met and even if a Guyanese submits the lowest bid.”
The company referred to an instance several years ago, when officials from T&T’s procurement management body, National Insurance Property Development Company Limited (NIPDEC), frankly expressed their preference for their own local companies and sidelined Guyana-based companies’ bids, which would have been the clear winners on the basis of price and quality, having already satisfied the prerequisite quality standards.
“This was not an isolated incident,” the company stressed, adding that agencies such as NIPDEC use its enormous powers to keep Guyanese products and companies out of the country.
On the other hand, the Guyanese company outlined that it is relatively easier to sell to the Jamaican public health sector where, although there is preference for products from extra regional sources, the Government seems to have opened a window for products manufactured within Caricom. Similarly, there is some accommodation for locally manufactured products in Barbados and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
Meanwhile, another local operator within the healthcare sector contended that despite the discrimination Guyanese companies have faced in T&T, companies from that country are having “a grand time” in Guyana.
“In the health sector they have managed to outfox everyone including Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). The formula which they have employed is quite ingenuous. Existing T&T companies incorporate a shadow company using the same name in Guyana and this is where everything becomes hazy. The local shadow entity is a minimalist operation. It only engages a skeleton delivery staff.”
Having made these points, both of the locally operated businesses asserted that with the advent of oil and gas, Guyanese companies in all sectors are now being forced to compete against a growing list of such foreign operators.
In addition to local companies, Guyanese professionals in the healthcare system are also facing similar challenges with being allowed to practice in some regional countries.
This was highlighted by prominent medical practitioner, Dr Navindranauth Rambaran, who is the Head of the General Surgery Department at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC). He lamented on the unreciprocated homage that Guyana pays its Caricom neighbours.
According to Dr Rambaran, who also serves as the Head of the Medical Council Board, Guyana is “remarkably invested in Caricom” in ways that are institutionalised via the country’s laws and by cultural practices.
This, he pointed out, is reflected in the Medical Practitioners Act 1991, which states that a medical practitioner is eligible for registration in Guyana if he/she… a) Is a citizen of Guyana, a spouse of a citizen of Guyana, is resident in Guyana or is a national of a member state. The latter intent and practise is “Citizens of Caricom”.
“Thus, a physician who is fully registered in a Caricom state can easily have his/her credentials transferred to Guyana. The reverse is virtually impossible for a Guyanese physician. As a matter of fact, where else in the confines of the ever-unfulfilled Caricom can any countryman, save for possibly the OECS, find such accommodation?” Dr Rambaran contended.
He went on to remind of Guyanese being hassled at regional ports of entries including automatic deportation of entire flights and, the infamous benches at certain ports.
These, he added, “…have caused a latent but ever flaming grudge in our countrymen that can only be erased by reciprocity or unabashed apology. Certainly not by disdain and self-righteousness to our local content laws now emanating from predictable quarters.”
Nevertheless, the medical practitioner stated that while Guyana will forever be grateful to Caricom for its intervention in the contentious 2020 elections, the country needs to put its interest first.
“If culturally and by existing laws, Guyana’s human capital is not welcomed, good luck in getting our products accepted. Our Government, surely with ears to the ground, can feel the sentiments prevailing across Guyana. I urge them to act accordingly. We must in moving forward act in our interest and not dally too much in appeals to sense of fairness vis a vis lip service agreements that are now being conveniently exhorted,” Dr Rambaran asserted.