by Zena Henry
The government is adamant that Guyana is a “law abiding” country and eagerly wants to honour outstanding payments due to two large companies in Trinidad, and Suriname after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) found that Guyana breached Caribbean trade rules.
Two major decisions staring Guyana are rulings in favour of the Trinidad and Tobago Cement Limited (TCL) where Guyana was ordered to pay that company over TT$2M and the Surinamese beverage manufacturer, Rudisa Beverages & Juices, over US$6M, but failed to do so.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon said that government will be honouring those obligations before stating that Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams has been directed to enter into negotiations with the companies in the hope that they would accept smaller settlements. “Cabinet has taken the position that it will honour these commitments,” Harmon posited.
“However in the spirit of our accepting this responsibility, Cabinet has advised Minister of Legal Affairs to seek to enter into negotiations with these companies with a view to finding out whether they are prepared to accept a smaller sum as a final settlement.”
Minister Harmon said that the government was also not prepared to accept any blame for the current dilemma.
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall had made statements to the effect that the government, then in opposition, shot down pieces of legislation that had prevented the payments to the companies. Harmon said the failure of the former government to honour the CCJ rulings is a violation of Treaty of Chaguaramas signed by Guyana and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states that are part of the Single Market.
TCL won a case at the level of the regional trade court after proving that Guyana had unilaterally waived the 15 percent Common External Tariff (CET) on extra-regionally produced cement, although the Trinidad-headquartered company had had the ability to supply the local market.
“It is not as if the opposition in the Tenth Parliament voted down a piece of legislation directly related to this issue,” he said.
In relation to the CCJ’s ruling in favour of Rudisa Beverages, Harmon said at the time, the government brought a piece of legislation styled “environmental tax”. “It was meant rather than removing this obnoxious imposition of a container tax, it was meant to create additional taxes on other persons so that they bring them even.”
Harmon said that is what the then opposition objected to. “We said if you want to have an environmental tax, then in the first place the tax should be connected to the purposes of the environment,” rather than putting it with a lump sum for purposes other than the environment.
He highlighted other concerns which led the then opposition to oppose the legislation, including the fact that, “billions of dollars were already collected on that tax that was never applied to anything that had to do with the environment.” The promise of a separate account for the environmental tax was also not forthcoming, he said.
He added that the former government was warned that the legislation they were proposing at the time “would be running afoul of CARICOM Treaty obligations.” Harmon said, “They insisted on doing it, and that was the result.”
He expressed discontent that the former Cabinet would have approved the payment for the companies, “but in spite, this crass contempt continued.” He said the contempt caused increases o the sums to be paid.
Harmon charged that respect must be shown for the law and the CCJ as the final jurisdiction. “Once you subscribe to the jurisdiction of the Court then you have to abide by its judgments.”